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David Ignatius

Winning a War For the Disconnected

By David Ignatius
Tuesday, December 14, 2004; Page A27

It hasn't been reviewed by the New York Times or The Post, and it's little known outside the military. But the red-hot book among the nation's admirals and generals this holiday season is a work of strategy by Thomas P.M. Barnett called "The Pentagon's New Map."

Imagine a combination of Tom Friedman on globalization and Karl von Clausewitz on war and you begin to get an idea of where Barnett is coming from. His book tries to rethink strategy for a post-Cold War, post-Sept. 11 world caught between order and anarchy, self-satisfaction and rage, prosperity and ruin.

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Barnett's central thesis is that today's world is divided into two categories: the "Functioning Core" of nations connected to the global economy and prospering as never before, and the "Non-Integrating Gap" of nations disconnected from the matrix of wealth and progress and therefore spinning toward chaos. Most of America's military interventions in recent years have been in the Gap, notes Barnett, but we have failed to understand that we face a common enemy there.

The enemy "is neither a religion (Islam) nor a place (the Middle East), but a condition -- disconnectedness," writes Barnett. "If disconnectedness is the real enemy, then the combatants we target in this war are those who promote it, enforce it and terrorize those who seek to overcome it by reaching out to the larger world." It's hard to think of a better definition of the cleavages that underlie the war in Iraq or the battle against al Qaeda.

Barnett doesn't see America's role as a neo-imperialist global centurion. Instead, he argues, the U.S. goal must be to promote "rule sets" that are shared by Core and Gap alike. "All we can offer is choice, the connectivity to escape isolation, and the safety within which freedom finds practical expression," he writes. "None of this can be imposed, only offered. Globalization does not come with a ruler, but with rules."

Barnett has been tinkering with these ideas since the late 1990s, but they came into focus, not surprisingly, after Sept. 11, 2001. Three months later, he was giving the first versions of a briefing that has now been heard by hundreds of senior military officers. His concepts have spread so fast among the military brass that when I was in Bahrain two weeks ago, I heard a Barnett-style briefing from the commander of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Vice Adm. David Nichols. He outlined a strategy of encouraging countries in the Middle East to move toward "connected" economies, orderly "rule sets" and democratic political reform.

Barnett's ideas have been taken up by other military commands that must reckon with disorder in the Gap, including those responsible for the Pacific and Latin America. The Air Force has asked him to brief every new roster of one-star generals, and the Navy has him lecture each year at the Naval War College. And Barnett was the featured speaker last week at a meeting of the Pentagon's high-level technology group, the Highlands Forum. With so many officers buying books, "The Pentagon's New Map" has managed to sell more than 50,000 copies.

So what does Barnett's strategy imply for the vexing problems of today, such as Iraq and Iran? Barnett argued in his book that linking Iraq to the Core is job No. 1. "Show me an Iraq that is as globally connected as an Israel in 10 years and I will show you a Middle East that can never go back to what it has been these past two decades -- overwhelmingly disconnected, populated with dispirited youth, and enraged beyond our capacity for understanding." Barnett would still like to see such an Iraq emerge as a stabilizing local pillar, but he told me this week that the U.S. occupation there has been so "totally snafu-ed" that Iraq may not be able to play that role.

Barnett sees Iran as the potential bridge between Core and Gap in the Middle East. He will argue in an article in the next issue of Esquire that the United States should try to make Iran its local security partner in the region, accepting its hegemony over a future Shiite-led Iraq and the Persian Gulf. The alternative is a new Yalta-style fault line between East and West -- one that could divide the West from emerging Core countries such as India and China.

Visiting Iraq, as I did this month, you can see that the United States has gotten itself into a heck of a mess in that part of the world. Reading Barnett's book gave me a rare moment of hope that perhaps we can still think ourselves out of these problems, rather than just shoot our way out.


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