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Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
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The author of the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller The Pentagon¡¯s New Map brings us a remarkable analysis of the post-Bush world, and America¡¯s leadership role in it.

In civilian and military circles alike, The Pentagon¡¯s New Map became one of the most talked about books of 2004. ¡°A combination of Tom Friedman on globalization and Carl von Clausewitz on war, [it is] the red-hot book among the nation¡¯s admirals and generals,¡± wrote David Ignatius in The Washington Post. Barnett¡¯s second book, Blueprint for Action, demonstrated how to put the first book¡¯s principles to work. Now, in Great Powers, Barnett delivers his most sweeping¡ª and important¡ªbook of all.

For eight years, the current administration has done much to disconnect or alienate America from the world, but the world has certainly not been standing still. Now, with a chance to start over, what do we do? Where¡¯s the world going now, and how do we not only rejoin it but become a leader again in what has become the most profound reordering of the globe since the end of World War II?

In Great Powers, Barnett offers a tour de force analysis of the grand realignments that are both already here and coming up fast in the spheres of economics, diplomacy, defense, technology, security, the environment, and much more. The ¡°great powers¡± are no longer just the world¡¯s major nation-states but the powerful forces, past, present, and future, moving with us and past us like a freight train. It is not a simple matter of a course correction but of a complete recalibration, and the opportunities it presents are far greater than the perils. Barnett gives us a fundamental understanding of both, showing us not only how the world is now but how it will be.

There are those writing now who say America is in decline . . . and we just have to deal with it. Barnett says no. Globalization as it exists today was built by America¡ªand now it¡¯s time for America to shape and redefine what comes next. Great Powers shows us how. Bibliography. Notes. Index.

Customer Reviews:

  • Does Barnett just keep writing books out of habit?
    After the "Pentagon's New Map" and "Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating", Mr. Barnett's writing career has finally jumped the shark. Nobody cares what he has to say anymore. He just keeps trying to invent cute new words to describe what's going on in the world. Such as: "System Reset or Perturbations".

    Why didn't Barnett quit when he was ahead? I bought this book with great anticipation. Boy, was I wrong. He has absolutely nothing new to say except that the Chinese will make everything better one day. Mr. Barnett is also famous for advocating that Iran get an atomic bomb since that would help stabilize the Middle East. ...more info
  • Provocative but way off the mark
    This is Mr. Barnett's 3rd major book on globalization and the role of the US in it. Very well done but I have my own problems with the minor arguments of the book regarding Iran or China. When the author is so wrong about Iran and the regime that runs it, how could he be trusted on other major issues? When he is so wrong about the fascists running China, then how could he be so right about other issues? The fact that Dr. Barnett doesn't get the simple facts about Iran makes me think twice about his whole book and theory. I think he is a great story teller. I liked how he mapped out the way the US presidents from Nixon, Ford and Reagan tried to destroy the Soviets from within. But this doesn't make me think his book is just plain great. He's wrong on so many issues that I can't really see how he could be right on other subjects. All in all, this is a very well written and researched book. Though he repeats his arguments about China and Iran over and over again in his books and I disagree with him on those. I hope he simply corrects his views in his future books....more info
  • Finally, the Big Picture
    Great Powers: America and the World After Bush is the third of what is developing into a series of books about globalization and American foreign policy by Dr. Barnett. Readers who are unfamiliar with the two earlier books, The Pentagon's New Map and Blueprint for Action, are advised to read both in order to gain a better understanding of many of the concepts put forth in this latest book. Dr. Barnett has a language all his own in describing what is going on in the world today. While a glossary of sorts is including in this book, the concepts are far more fully explained in the two previous books.

    A central theme of this book is that the process of globalization currently taking place is, in many ways, a repeat of the American experience during the Industrial Age. The book includes a sweeping review of American history, showing how the nation developed from a fragile, isolated country into a global superpower. The American experience thus serves as a template for the other rising Great Powers of today, most notably China and India. The key difference is that, while America's development into a superpower took place over a period of roughly 150 years, the new rising powers are compressing this development into a much shorter period of time. In a sense, these countries are playing "catch up," but are able to do so due to being able to follow the American example. The fundamental point to take away from this discussion is that, contrary to what you might hear in some quarters, the world today is becoming more like America, and not the other way around.

    What I like most about Dr. Barnett's view of the world is that it is fundamentally optimistic about the future. Given the current state of the economy, this may seem to be a hard sell, but Dr. Barnett carefully and methodically lays out the reasons why we should be hopeful about the future, even when the present is so uncertain. Ironically, it is this optimism that has drawn the most criticism from some reviewers.

    I did find the subtitle, America and the World After Bush, to be a little misleading. Readers expecting a harsh criticism of the Bush Administration will be either relieved or disappointed (depending on their political point of view) to find that the critique of the administration is actually quite balanced, offering criticism for the mistakes made, but also heaping praise for many things that the administration did right that didn't receive a lot of media coverage.

    The strongest attribute of this book is Dr. Barnett's ability to weave a myriad of foreign policy, economic, military, and cultural issues into a coherent vision of what is really going on in the world today and where we are headed. In a sense, it's as close to the mythical "Big Picture" as we're likely to get. Predicting the future is a tricky business, and I'm sure that not all of Dr. Barnett's predictions will come to pass, but for the most part his ideas seem far more reasonable and believable than any of the competing worldviews being expressed these days. Highly recommended.
    ...more info
  • A Conversation on Strategy
    Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this book is that it reads more like a long one sided conversation than a written discourse. As a result the prose flows easily and conveys a sense that Barnett is talking directly to the reader. A more unwanted result is that the prose is laced with clich¨¦'s, colloquialisms, and gaffes that are usually ignored in conversation, but stand out in written communication.

    That aside what about the contents of this book? Well by any standards Barnett is a generalist rather than a specialist in geo-political scholarship and this book reflects that. It generally avoids details and specifics in favor of broad generalizations and simplified analysis. This in itself is not a bad thing. Such an approach makes the book highly accessible to everyone from Joe the Plumber to harassed senior government officials who don't have time for a lot of in depth analysis. Of course presuming that the opinions Barnett offers are valid, the book offers such general descriptions and prescriptions that before any of its ideas are implemented specialists of various ilk will need to flesh out the ideas it contains into actionable concepts.

    Now like all good conversationalists, Barnett sometimes forgets what he said earlier and will contradict himself. For example on page 7 he makes the cogent observation that the "Leviathan' (i.e. U.S. Conventional Military Forces) is the principal reason that conventional state-on-state war is increasingly improbable. (This harks back to Mahan's "fleet in being" concept and is quite good). Yet on 253 he seems to support his observation, but also seems to argue that the threat of Nuclear Holocaust was what made conventional wars impossible. Admittedly many of the seeming contradictions in the book are due to Barnett's often fuzzy prose, again something that would be ignored in conversation but detracts from his book.

    There are also broad areas that Barnett clearly has no understanding of yet have a good deal to do with strategic thinking. For all his talk of connectivity he seems to have no understanding of the misnamed Global Telecommunications Network on which the Internet rides. This is odd since his former mentor the late Admiral Art Cebrowski noted brilliantly that if the sea was the `commons' of trade and commerce as Mahan observed, then `cyberspace' (i.e. the Internet)was the 21st Century commons. Equally bizarre since Cebrowski was the principal proponent of Network Centric Warfare (NCW) and Barnett was part of his team when Cebrowski was head of the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation and promoting NCW; Barnett appears to have no awareness that NCW is in point of fact a command and control system (C4ISR) that has been successfully adopted by both the U.S. Navy and Air Force.
    Well be that as it may, this is a good book for people who want an easy and enjoyable introduction to what Barnett calls "Grand" Strategy (which term he never satisfactorily defines).
    ...more info
  • Thought Provoking, But Prepare to Disagree With Many Conclusions
    Tom Barnett's Great Powers: America and the World After Bush is an engaging, detailed discussion about the world today and the coming decades. I did not agree with all of Barnett's assessments or recommendations, but I respected his thought process. Particularly engaging was Barnett's discussion of the American military, what he refers to as the Leviathan. Barnett discussed the role of the American military in the world, the true challenges it faces and what it does not face (China for instance), and how other nations should more openly rely on our Leviathan force.

    But I part ways with Barnett on many of his other thoughts. First, his description of what a grand strategy is struck me as strange. I am not a geopolitical expert, but when I hear the phrase grand strategy I recall George Kennan's Long Telegram, which essentially stated the US strategy for the Cold War before it even began. What Kennan set out was more or less followed, with some variation, by ever US president form Truman to Reagan. But Barnett seems to say that grand strategy can be an accident of history. He discusses the development of the "American System," which has transitioned to globalization. But unlike Kennan's strategy, which was first implemented by the State Department, he seems to acknowledge that this "strategy" could be considered accidental or unintentional. Is that a strategy?

    I am also not fully convinced that we should be viewing every nation on earth, and every struggle, as a microcosm of the American experience. Barnett is right that the US had developmental growing pains and we should not be surprised to see other nations having similar problems as they develop towards, we hope, democratic/capitalist nations. But I do not think all our interactions with the world should be based on that assumption. It assumes a certain logical progression of human history that I am not sure holds true. For example, Barnett spends some time discussing "development in a box." The concept being there are certain systems that need to be put in place in every nation, for example banking services, for them to develop. While it may be true that development requires banking, what type of banking can vary. In Iraq, a retail banking model might work. But in vast parts of Africa, micro credit is more appropriate. Barnett acknowledges that there are local differences that need to be accounted for, but these local differences seem so vast to me that is undercuts the entire theory of "development in a box." So far, the concept has only been used in Northern Iraq, the Kurdish reasons. It may work well there, but packing that same box for a vastly different terrain just might not work.

    But part of the issue may be that I do not fully understand Barnett's language. I have not read his previous highly regarded works and recommend that anyone new to Barnett seeking to tackle him, as I was, start with his earlier works first.

    The book makes you think about changes in our world and how we allocate resources. While I can nitpick many of its points, I appreciate Barnett's efforts and thought provoking writing.
    ...more info
  • The Democrats' foreign policy
    I am about half way through and am having increasing trouble with Barnett. I almost gave up when he tried to explain how John Kerry would have been a better president than Bush. He has some interesting points and I even agree with a few. China will not be a major problem for us. If I were asked about buying this book, I would recommend George Freidman's The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. If you voted for Obama, this may be a good book for you and he does make some reasonable arguments. I just disagree with most of them. I will struggle on and add to this review later but be forewarned about the book's tone....more info
  • The Fierce Urgency of 1862...
    Cross posted from my blog - Fear and Loathing in the Blogosphere -

    In his new book Great Powers:American and the World After Bush Tom Barnett provides some much needed perspective on where America stands almost 8 years after 9/11 and what challenges lay ahead.

    Barnett begins the book by laying out perhaps the fairest reading of both the achievements and missteps of the Bush administration, including the single most realistic assessment of the invasion and occupation of Iraq offered by anyone. Barnett offers a point by point critique of the administration's blunders in both the post war and the attempted rerun of the WMD narrative on Iran while also maintaining that a world without Saddam is still preferable to a world with Saddam and giving the Bush administration credit for riding out the public disapproval and pushing ahead with the surge.

    After offering a balanced assessment of recent history, Barnett reaches back in history a few hundred years to compare the current rise of the 3 billion new capitalist of the New Core with the rise of the American middle class across the 18th and 19th centuries and eventual spreading of the American model via the Atlantic Charter, Marshall Plan, etc, after WWII. Placing our current challenges in the context of American history is Great Powers single biggest contribution to our current understanding of public policy. Again and again Barnett backs up his point that our current challenges are a result of our success, not failure (i.e. moving from our primary national security threat being the Soviet Union to the primary threat being a dude in a cave is progress). A corollary to that point is this: the new global middle class will not accept being denied their opportunities anymore than the rising American middle class would have, and America can lead or get out of the way, but we cannot stop it (nor would we want to).

    Great Powers is in some ways more and in some ways less ambitious than Barnett's last two books, The Pentagon's New Map and Blueprint for Action. Both PNM and BFA offered ambitious scenarios for possible future American military interventions (preferably with our New Core allies) abroad in hot spots such as North Korea. GP avoids such speculation and instead tracks the progress of the department of everything else. GP offers a pathway for that department to take as it grows out of DOD and eventually into its own cabinet level position - a clear pathway that I felt was lacking from his previous two books.

    On the other hand, I found the lack of ambitious scenarios somewhat disappointing. BFA ended with a section Tom called "Blogging the Future" in which he speculates on everything from the collapse of North Korea to the expansion of the United States - GP offers no such wild speculation (as Tom says "nobody likes a wishy washy visionary") but teases with a brief mention of H.G. Wells Things to Come but fails to offer a Barnett branded look at the future.

    Let me be clear, the lack of sci-fiesque ending in no way takes away from the important policy points made by Great Powers and should not dissuade anyone from picking it up. In fact I'd say GP continues Barnett's streak of writing outstanding single volumes (meaning you can read just one and get plenty - even if you're unfamiliar with his previous work and even if you don't make a habit of reading books about foreign policy). Add in the fact that Barnett offers probably the most balanced and reasoned view of foreign policy of anyone writing today and you have a book that is both highly informative and very accessible. Great Powers should be read by anyone who - given the topsy-turvy nature of the headlines recently- feels that they need a little realignment. ...more info
  • Lots of hits.....lots of misses
    Anyone familiar with Barnett from previous books and Esquire articles knows that his writing style is witty and engaging. Always an enjoyable read.

    Barnett's strength is to simplify concepts around a short cliche...such as that 'Job Creation Is The Measure Of Victory In Iraq'...which ties into his previous book's emphasis on the value of globalization. Of course, this is also a weakness for at times the author comes off as breathy and slick as that guy selling the ShamWow in infomercials.

    I appreciate the section on what Bush got right. If only so we can avoid the knee jerk arguments about policy that go like, "Well, since Bush did X we should do Y"

    The use of the 7 Deadly Sins and 12 Steps references should have been avoided as it gives the following discussions a shallow feel. Better to stick to the important points, whether that turns out to be 6 or 8...no need to shoe horn it into 7.

    In his first work, The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century, Barnett interjected his personal experiences with the brass to the point where the reader wondered if it was a policy tome or an memoir. Great Powers suffers from much the same. Too much name dropping and self-referencing. Interesting, since Barnett does not need to prove his credentials anymore.

    Clearly Great Powers is written for a general audience, and in that regard Barnett's book is great to get the average guy thinking anew about the world.

    ...more info
  • a lot less here than meets the eye
    I rather think that the most impressive thing about Thomas P.M. Barnett is his handle: those initials let you know you are in the presence of the Eastern Establishment. I guess. I wouldn't sink to a lousy ad hominem attack but for the velleity of what Mr. Barnett has to say. I don't disagree with him, but --my goodness!--haven't we all said these things to ourselves before? Where is the originality? I am not surprised that TPMB loves the good old power-point. Like John Meachem, (or however you spell his name) TPMB shows how easy it is to become a fixture in Washington circles, if one will only ruthlessly self-promote. ...more info
  • A Conversation on Strategy
    Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this book is that it reads more like a long one sided conversation than a written discourse. As a result the prose flows easily and conveys a sense that Barnett is talking directly to the reader. A more unwanted result is that the prose is laced with clich¨¦'s, colloquialisms, and gaffes that are usually ignored in conversation, but stand out in written communication.

    That aside what about the contents of this book? Well by any standards Barnett is a generalist rather than a specialist in geo-political scholarship and this book reflects that. It generally avoids details and specifics in favor of broad generalizations and simplified analysis. This in itself is not a bad thing. Such an approach makes the book highly accessible to everyone from Joe the Plumber to harassed senior government officials who don't have time for a lot of in depth analysis. Of course presuming that the opinions Barnett offers are valid, the book offers such general descriptions and prescriptions that before any of its ideas are implemented specialists of various ilk will need to flesh out the ideas it contains into actionable concepts.

    Now like all good conversationalists, Barnett sometimes forgets what he said earlier and will contradict himself. For example on page 7 he makes the cogent observation that the "Leviathan' (i.e. U.S. Conventional Military Forces) is the principal reason that conventional state-on-state war is increasingly improbable. (This harks back to Mahan's "fleet in being" concept and is quite good). Yet on 253 he seems to support his observation, but also seems to argue that the threat of Nuclear Holocaust was what made conventional wars impossible. Admittedly many of the seeming contradictions in the book are due to Barnett's often fuzzy prose, again something that would be ignored in conversation but detracts from his book.

    There are also broad areas that Barnett clearly has no understanding of yet have a good deal to do with strategic thinking. For all his talk of connectivity he seems to have no understanding of the misnamed Global Telecommunications Network on which the Internet rides. This is odd since his former mentor the late Admiral Art Cebrowski noted brilliantly that if the sea was the `commons' of trade and commerce as Mahan observed, then `cyberspace' (i.e. the Internet)was the 21st Century commons. Equally bizarre since Cebrowski was the principal proponent of Network Centric Warfare (NCW) and Barnett was part of his team when Cebrowski was head of the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation and promoting NCW; Barnett appears to have no awareness that NCW is in point of fact a command and control system (C4ISR) that has been successfully adopted by both the U.S. Navy and Air Force.
    Well be that as it may, this is a good book for people who want an easy and enjoyable introduction to what Barnett calls "Grand" Strategy (which term he never satisfactorily defines).
    ...more info
  • Well Worth It
    In reading Mr. Barnett's blog over the last several months in which he described his work on writing this book, I had assumed it would be a lightweight effort driven more by the need for a follow-up to his previous books than any new insights. I was wrong.

    After hearing him last night at Politics and Prose, and delving into the book today, I am repeatedly impressed with the insights Mr. Barnett brings to bear. Everything in his presentation and in the book is suffused with an optimism that is sorely missing elsewhere in commentaries I read about the "State of the World." (Nouriel Roubini is one such pessimist among many that I would cite.) Not only is Mr. Barnett a "cock-eyed" optimist, as he describes himself, but his agile and fertile mind makes connections between subjects that are almost always eye-opening.

    His take on American history is in the mold of Walter McDougall, whose two volumes of U.S. history form an antidote to the warped Marxist interpretations of Howard Zinn & Co. In other words, we have much of which to be proud and don't let the nay-sayers get you down. A welcome tonic.

    Can't ask for more than that....more info
  • Barnett Gets It (mostly) Right
    Thomas Barnett is a genuine grand strategist. His two previous books, "The Pentagon's New Map" and "A Blueprint for Action" have demonstrated that he is someone to be listened to in the world of post September 11 strategic thinking.

    Central to his thesis is the concept that the main challenge facing the world in the 21st century will be integrating the areas of the globe that he calls the "non-integrating gap" with the "core." This is also focus of this book, however he explicitly begins to outline what the post-Bush era will need in this regard.

    I have to say that I agree with many of his precepts, including the notion that what we fundamentally lack is not a big war force, the military that he calls the Leviathan force, but rather what he calls a "SysAdmin" force. A military/civilian structure to fight irregular wars, perform stability ops and nation build.

    This is currently at the heart of the Pentagon debates over what our force structure should look like in the next 10 years. Should we be gearing up for war with potential peer competitor like China? I agree with Barnett that this scenario is ludicrous and is damaging to the United States' needs in the post-September 11 strategic environment. Similarly, I agree that post September 11 strategy has been too focused on *political reform.* Specifically, spreading democratic institutions.

    Barnett has a lot of interesting things to say and should be listened to very carefully. However I do disagree with him in several areas. I think he goes wrong fundamentally when he begins to argue that it is not political reform that is needed, but rather economic reform. That the gap countries need to be integrated in to the globalization system and that the U.S. and other core nations should focus on a strategy that looks to increase the linkages and communications flows necessary for that economic system to flourish.

    I absolutely agree with Barnett that the most important strategic challenge facing the United States is integrating the gap with the core. I also agree that this is mostly an economic function. I essentially buy that what is needed is for the gap countries to become successful and to develop the linkages and communication necessary to develop the networks allow for that economic success. But where I think he goes wrong is that this economic integration must be preceded by *cultural* change. The inhabitants of the gap, what I would call traditional societies, want to keep their traditional culture and also be successful. *This is impossible.* They cannot be successful and retain the elements of their traditional culture that retard that growth.

    Therefore, although I agree with Barnett's eventual end state goals, I think he is missing the cultural forest for the economic trees. Barnett is too dismissive of the role of culture in this regard. He thinks that with the establishment of the connectivity and the networks from the modern world into the pre-modern that economic success will follow, but in reality it is necessary for the traditional culture to begin to change first. Otherwise, the build out of that connectivity will fail. This does not mean the traditional culture must change all at once. However you *must* start an actual path to liberalization. And that liberalization cannot be economic without first engendering some cultural liberalization.

    I also think that Barnett is too dismissive of the concept of a nuclear terror strike and its second order effects. Barnett seems to think that a nuclear strike is not likely at all and that we spend way too much time and effort on the issues surrounding this fear. I'm not so sanguine. Anyone who dismisses the significant possibility of a nuclear strike by the traditional culture on an American city is simply suffering a failure of imagination.

    And more so is ignoring the second order effects. He is correct in that United States is the most successful political, monetary and cultural union in history of the planet. He is also correct in noting that we are exporting the system to the rest of the world and have been for two centuries. But there's no reason that a society has to continually move forward. Societies can also move backward. If Barnett thinks that we made rash mistakes in the aftermath of September 11, he will be absolutely horrified at the steps the United States takes after New York is destroyed in a nuclear terror strike. We will destroy, or rather we will disassemble, the connectivity and the networks which are so crucial to our success, which Barnett focuses on as the great engine of progress.

    And that is where the critical problem lies. Barnett is more sanguine about this eventuality not only because he sees it as unlikely, but he has great faith in the ability of the American system/the globalization system to integrate traditional cultures. After all this is what we've been doing for the past 200 years. He notes, very perceptively, that we fought a very similar war to the one that we are fighting now in the mid-to late 19th century integrating the American West into the American system. After World War II we integrated about a third of the world into the system. Our record of success stands for itself.

    The problem I see is that Barnett thinks we have all the time in the world for the gap countries to integrate with the core. The prospect of a nuclear terror strike on New York hinges on that assumption. I agree with Barnett that the connectivity and integration that he seeks is mostly a "pull" function. A demand side function. But I'm not convinced that we have so much time that we can ignore the need for a bit of a "push" function from our side.

    The fact is that we are in a race to integrate the traditional culture into our system before it can do us so great damage that we ourselves dismantle that system. This is not idle speculation. The Realist has always thought that liberalization, be political, economic or cultural, will come in its own time. And Realist that I was, I bought this argument. After September 11, I came more around to the Neoconservative point of view. There are millions of people in this world who feel that their traditional culture is under threat of extinction, and actually they are *correct.* What's more, hundreds of thousands of them are willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to destroy that threat to their way of life. Given such realities, the fact that we cannot rely on any moral restraint on the part of our adversaries, we must seek to integrate the gap into the core as quickly as possible by any means available. We simply do not know how much time we have left.
    ...more info