As I write this, Barack Obama is minutes away from taking the oath of office as president of the United States. It’s a fitting time, then, for an overview of the foreign policy challenges and opportunities ahead.
Let’s continue our look at Thomas Barnett‘s forthcoming book, America and the World After Bush, with Chapter Two: A Twelve-Step Recovery Program for American Grand Strategy.
1. Admit that we Americans are powerless over globalization. Barnett uses the analogy of a general contractor, who subcontracts “the lower-end jobs to the most competent, entry-level providers.” We should quit trying to prevent the natural flow of simple manufacturing jobs to the developing world and the demand of immigrants who want to do wage labor from crossing our borders. We should instead embrace these trends and remember that “demand determines power far more than supply.”
2. Come to believe that only a bipartisanship far greater than that displayed by most national leaders can restore sanity to America’s foreign affairs. Barnett argues that the reign of the Baby Boom generation has been disastrous for our politics and that it’s time to pass the torch. We need a “comprehensive and thus centering middle-class consensus on issues like globalization and overseas military interventions.”
3. Make the decision to coordinate all elements of America’s national power according to a grand strategy that we have collectively defined. We should supersize the Bush administraton’s laudable reinvestment in development of the Gap nations but he’s skeptical that the State Department is the right vehicle for this. He also believes the intelligence community, with its “collective cult of dysfunctional secrecy” is largely outmoded. We should radically shift defense spending away from heavy forces into those who can fill the SysAdmin missions of COIN, SASO, and the like.
4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of the “Global War on Terror.” Barnett is pleased with our progress in killing al Qaeda’s leaders and weakening that organization generally but contends “America’s efforts to date have made us safer at the expense of allies in Europe, Asia, and Africa” because the terrorists have shifted their focus to softer targets there. Thus, we’ve made “no strategic headway” while “effectively isolating America from the world.”
“We’ve got to get better at defining both enemies and allies,” realizing that “Not every Muslim is an Islamist is a fundamentalist is a jihadist.” Barnett believes “our definition of progress must inevitably broaden beyond simply ‘killing weeds’ to ‘growing some lawn.'” Specifically, we should shift our focus on expanding globalization and economic progress, which will empower women and otherwise weaken the power of radicals. Sadly, the killing isn’t going to stop any time soon; indeed, it’ll likely get worse before it gets better, as the radicals struggle to avoid being trampled by modernity.
While it will be difficult to sustain our will politically with little obvious progress, the demographic trends are on our side. Within the next quarter century, the Middle East will “middle-age,” meaning fewer young radicals to foment violence. Meanwhile, he predicts, Islamist parties will emerge in Western Europe and Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia will present alternative models of success for Islamic states.
5. Admit to the world and to ourselves the exact nature of our mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Barnett’s an outlier here, arguing that Afghanistan is actually a peripheral mission that matters little and that we should redouble our efforts at fixing Iraq. He believes strongly that Big Bang strategy for shaking up the region by toppling Saddam was the right move and that the mistake was in not doing the postwar right.
6. We are entirely ready to work with the international community to remove these defects of wartime injustice. America has made a grave mistake in rejecting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which would have been a far more suitable venue than Guantanamo for dealing with illegal combatants. Reverse that and set a precedent that American troops can act as global cops to root out bad guys and turn them over to the international courts for justice.
7. Humbly ask the incoming president to reverse America’s unilateralism. The Bush administration largely corrected its mistakes on this front in the second term but a new administration provides a chance to make a clean break. America must set the example for following the rules because the rules are ultimately of our own making and enforcing them broadly is to our own advantage.
8. Make a list of all the great powers whose national interests we have harmed, and become willing to make concessions to them all. We must recognize that regional powers have interests and respect that fact. In turn, we can work with them to address our own interests in their spheres of influence.
9. Make direct overtures to violent nonstate actors whenever possible, except when doing so would damage existing alliances. The tagline here is misleading. Barnett argues that we tend to take the worse-case view of the impact of the spread of technology when, in fact, it almost always creates more opportunity than danger. Connectivity breeds trust which breeds peace.
10. Continue to review our goal of accelerated democratization, and when we are wrong in our strategic approach promptly admit it. We need to take a longer view on democracy and globalization, helping them along where we can rather than trying to force them. “Feed stomachs and wallets first, then hearts and minds will follow.”
11. Seek to create strategic alliances with rising powers through diplomatic linkages and military-to-military cooperation. Help India and China along when we can rather than seeing themas a threat to our power. Seek to co-opt them as allies, much as Britain did with us during our rise.
12. Having had a strategic awakeningas the result of these steps, America must still try to sell this grand strategy to the world, and practice these principles in all its efforts to shrink the Gap and make golbalization truly global. President Bush pursued security virtually to the exclusion of all else while President Clinton did the same with trade. We need to learn to do both at the same time.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.