Among the critics and reinterpreters of Fourth Generation war, the bad is most powerfully represented by Thomas Barnett’s two books The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action. What Barnett advocates is bad in two senses: first, that it won’t work, and second, that if it did work the result would be evil.
In both books, Barnett divides the world into two parts, the Functioning Core and the Non-Integrating Gap. This is parallel to what I call centers of order and centers or sources of disorder, and I agree that this will be the fundamental fault line of the 21st Century. Barnett’s error is that he assumes the Functioning Core will be the stronger party, able to restore order in places where it has broken down. In fact, the forces of disorder will be stronger, because they are driven by a factor Barnett dismisses, the spreading crisis of legitimacy of the state. By ignoring Martin van Creveld’s work on the rise and decline of the state, Barnett’s books end up anchoring their foundations on sand.
Barnett’s second error, manifested almost comically in Blueprint for Action, is that he thinks restoring the state in places where it has failed will be easy. According to a Washington Post review of Blueprint for Action by Joseph S. Nye, Jr.,
Barnett has a six-step plan to accomplish this: First, the U.N. Security Council acts as a grand jury to indict countries; second, the Core’s biggest economies issue " u2018warrants’ for the arrest of the offending party"; third, the United States leads a "warfighting coalition"; fourth, a Core-wide administrative force (with the United States providing 10 to 20 percent of its personnel) puts things back together with the help of the fifth element, a new International Reconstruction Fund; followed by a sixth step, criminal prosecution of the apprehended parties at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. "That’s it, from A to Z," Barnett notes cheerfully.
A cynic might suggest that the United States can’t even do this in New Orleans much less in foreign countries. In fact, as the FMFM 1-A, Fourth Generation War, argues strongly, even if an outside force does everything right, the probability of success in such endeavors remains low. Why? As Russell Kirk wrote, there is no surer way of making someone your enemy than to announce you will remake him in your image for his own good. To many of the world’s peoples, what Barnett argues for in such blithe simplicity represents Hell, and they will fight it literally to their dying breath.
This brings us to the third problem with Barnett: what his books advocate does represent Hell, or at least Hell’s first cousin, Brave New World. He would create an inescapable new world order that bears a remarkable resemblance to the one Aldous Huxley described in his short novel Brave New World, published in the 1930s — a "soft totalitarianism" where the first rule is, "you must be happy." Happiness, in turn, is a product of endless materialism, consumerism, sensual pleasure and psychological conditioning. If that sounds like a good description of American popular culture, it is exactly that culture Barnett proposes to force down the throat of every person on earth, with the U.S. military serving as the instrument of coercion.
What Barnett’s books end up revealing is the combination of moral blindness and international political hubris that characterizes the whole quest for American world empire, a quest initiated by the neo-cons. Like the (other?) neo-cons, Barnett sees the world and its cultures in Jacobin terms, as a combination of Rousseau’s natural goodness of man and Newtonian clockwork mechanism. Just twist a few dials here, throw a couple of levers there and presto!, Switzerlands spring up from Ouagadougou to the Hindu Kush.
It’s piffle, pure and all too simple. Unfortunately, it is dangerous piffle, both in the evil that would result if it worked and the catastrophes that will come when it doesn’t. Real Fourth Generation theory counsels caution, prudence and a clear grasp on the limits of American power in a world where the state itself is in decline.
Regrettably, in the uneducated and nostrum-hungry powerhouse that is Washington, Barnett’s piffle is just the sort of patent medicine that sells. The more widely it sells, the more Iraqs America will have to endure. At present, it looks as if the next Iraq is spelled Iran. It’s as good a place as any for Barnett’s thesis to expire from sheer lightness of being.