TCS Daily

Mind the Gap: Revisiting 'The Pentagon's New Map'

By Dean Barnett - February 11, 2005 12:00 AM

When Thomas P.M. Barnett's controversial book "The Pentagon's New Map" was published in April 2004, it received an odd sort of bi-polar public reception. On the one hand, former Pentagon briefer Barnett was the subject of a favorable profile on the front page of the Wall Street Journal as his book quickly attained best-seller status. On the other hand, several prominent outlets such as the New York Times Book Review opted to ignore "The Pentagon's New Map." Those who chose to ignore it chose unwisely. Whether you like Barnett's vision or loathe it, ten months after the book's publication it is clear that Barnett's prescience was stunning.

"The Pentagon's New Map" was and remains controversial because in part of its original way of looking at the world. Barnett suggests that the globe is basically divided into two different kinds of nations. The first, which Barnett labels the functioning Core, consists of all the places where you might buy goods from or take vacations in. The second type of country, those in what Barnett calls the Gap, are the political and economic basket cases.

Before 9/11, Gap nations were not considered much of a security problem for the United States. While Americans would have humane concerns for those forced to suffer the tender mercies of Saddam, the Taliban or Iranian Mullahs, the only threats such potential malefactors posed to our way of life typically concerned our oil supply.

But Barnett argues that the world has shrunk to such an extent that countries in the Gap have an increasing relevance to American security. As evidence of how the world has become smaller, consider that you can get a Starbucks blended latté in Riyadh as you can in Raleigh, or that you can get a Big Mac not only in Kansas City but in Karachi. And consider how the internal politics and developments of a once obscure Gap nation -- Afghanistan -- had an enormous impact on American soil a few years back.

What offended many about Barnett's vision was his suggestion that for their own security the Core nations, primarily the United States, urgently had to set about integrating the Gap into the Core and that the first step of said integration might come at the tip of an American bayonet.

Leviathan and System Administration

Barnett also offers guidance for how to continue the integration when the bayonet has fully completed its deadly work. As we've discovered in Iraq, once a regime is toppled there remains much to be done. Therefore, Barnett advocates breaking the military into two distinct branches: A Leviathan branch which will serve as the aforementioned bayonet, and a System Administrator branch which will be tasked with helping create a society that can join the Core group of nations.

While in the wake of the Iraq experience much of this now seems obvious, change comes slowly to enormous bureaucracies like the Pentagon. Nevertheless, Barnett was perhaps the first to fully grasp the great difficulties in transforming a Gap nation and to provide a playbook by which to do so.

Although Barnett eschews jingoism, his book evidences a faith in America that is not universally fashionable. Moreover, the enormity of the task that Barnett prescribes suggests a conflict with no immediate end in sight and where "exit strategies" are a barely relevant concept.

But there can be little doubt now that Barnett's vision is ascendant. President Bush's Inaugural Address reads as if disciples of Tom Barnett had written it. By acknowledging that spreading democracy and freedom is not only noble but actually vital to American strategic self interest, Bush endorsed the cornerstone argument of "The Pentagon's New Map": Either we'll reshape the dangerous corners of the world, or their pathologies will revisit American shores in increasingly destructive forms.

What's more, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was an early proponent of transforming the military to confront precisely the kinds of obstacles that Barnett outlines. As Barnett said on his blog a couple of weeks ago, Rumsfeld "gets the challenge and the need for change, and he'll push the uniformed services to get it done." In addition to putting forth an original, provocative and persuasive theory about how the world now operates, "The Pentagon's New Map" has also cracked the code of how the Bush Administration is likely to function.

Dean Barnett (no relation to Thomas P.M. Barnett) writes about politics and world affairs at under his online pseudonym James Frederick Dwight.


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