Barack Obama has been president for more than 24 hours now.  America is once again beloved by one and all.  Hubris and overreach are things of the past, as the inmates of Gitmo have been freed and the troops are all home from Iraq, participating in rebuilding the infrastructure at home.   Or, certainly, change is in the air.


As we wait for the Obama administration to settle in and finish whatever remains of the above tasks, we continue our look at the post-Bush era and Thomas Barnett‘s forthcoming Great Powers: America and the World After Bush.  Rather than continuing a chapter-by-chapter treatment, today’s installment will look at Chapter 5: “The Diplomatic Realignment: Rebranding the Team of Rivals” and Chapter 6, “The Security Realignment: Rediscovering Diplomacy, Defense, and Development” as an interwoven thread.

We need a rethink our grand strategy, which Barnett defines as a “diplomatic approach to shaping this age.”  Because of our role as the global Leviathan, it should be “mostly about trying to shape every other state’s grand strategy.”   Our main problem at the moment is “unreasonable expectations for immediate success.”

Rather than obsessing about nuclear proliferation, we should remember how effective nuclear deterrence has been.  As Thomas Schelling reminds us, “no state armed with nuclear weapons has ever attacked another state similarly armed.”   Therefore, a nuclear Iran might actually be a good thing.  Historically — US v. USSR, China v. USSR, India v Pakistan, etc. — nuclear arms stabilized “highly unstable two state standoffs.”

Speaking of Iran, it’s time to leverage their help in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian conflict.   This means abandoning Stephen “Hadley’s Rules” of stupidly refusing to give anything in return for help from states we considered bad actors.

Abandon the ridiculous notion of “energy independence.”  Not only is it not achievable in the short run but “it makes zero sense.  Why America, right at the dawning of the most intensely integrating period our model of globalization has ever seen, considers autarky on energy to be an ideal is truly bizarre.”

We must embrace Russia’s potential as a “cruelly utilitarian partner” in “pushing globalization’s advance.”  They’re a major power with regional interests that we need to respect.  At the same time, they have overlapping interests in promoting good behavior and enforcing international trade rules.

He invokes Colonel Joseph Nunez’ maxim that “one NATO is not enough,” arguing “there should be one that corresponds to every American regional combatant command (Latin America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, East Asia) meaning we’re at least four short and probably could use two more beyond that (South Asia, Central Asia).”  Similarly, we need to “ramp up dramatically our military-to-military cooperation” with new powers, especially the BRIC quartet of China, India, Russia, and Brazil, as well as at least a dozen other rising states.

We must resist with every fiber of our being our historical urge to “reset” our military force after a major war.  Rather than treating Iraq as a never-to-be-repeated one-off event, we must embrace the skill sets developed there as the primary model for force planning.  Barnett notes that the Army and Marine Corps have already done that in terms of its officer training and doctrine but that we must beat back the forces that want to go back to a major wars mentality.

Relatedly, the Army will have to embrace the same force posture mentality that has long been the norm in the Navy: keeping “a significant portion of its force deployed overseas continuously.”

Our military’s “big war” planning scenarios — a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, a North Korean-South Korean war, or a U.S.-Iran war — will all “evaporate well before 2020.”   In particular, planning for a major war with China could become a self-fulfilling prophecy and a totally unnecessary one.  We must embrace China’s capitalistic growth and do what we can to encourage them to evolve in the right direction.   By treating them as a potential enemy, we’ll ensure their resistance.

Realizing the above means a radical rethink of defense procurement.  We need “more training, better guns, more maintenance, more linguists, no Future Combat System, less Navy power projection but more minesweepers, less stealth aircraft and more electronic countermeasures platforms, more close-air support, a whole lot more helicopters and a lot more unmanned aerial vehicles for real-time surveillance.”

We need a Department of Everything Else, a concept Barnett has touted for years.  Our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have only made this more clear, as the State Department is virtually immune to change and the Defense Department is the wrong place to put civilian reconstruction efforts.   Instead, a cabinet level agency dedicated to doing international development right should be allowed to evolve organically out of several ongoing efforts, notably the AFRICOM project.  To be sure, a cabinet department doesn’t solve everything, as Homeland Security aptly demonstrates.  But we need “institutional integrity” if we are to attract allies and private NGOs into the effort.  “By performing badly, America advertises its incompetence” and puts off those who might otherwise help.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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