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Great Powers
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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 th

Customer Reviews:

  • Great Powers Provides Blueprint for America
    Dr. Thomas Barnett does it again with a brilliant treatise on grand strategy and how America can once again be an awesome force for good in an uncertain, but global world. I have read all three of his books and this one is the best, providing everyone from Secretary of State Clinton to the local County Commissioner the means to understand the who - what - where - why and how - of American geostrategic policy. What's best, Barnett provides a "12 Step Recovery Program" for the future. Just as America must transform our economy - Barnett stresses the importance of redesigning our foreign policy to close the gap between rich and poor, connecting us all to a brighter future. His book is brilliant - read it and learn. Mark Sharpe Hillsborough County Commissioner ...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
  • 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
  • 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).
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  • 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.
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  • Barnett, The One-Man Think Tank
    As a writer, Barnett is as funny and entertaining as he is when he speaks.

    However, people with an attention span of less than 15 seconds are not going to get past the Preface. This book requires actual reading and comprehension on more than just a surface level.

    I ordered the book because a couple of years ago, I saw Barnett speak on one of those cable book review shows. He had another book at the time and I realized that he was one of the Bush administration "insiders".

    If you want to gain insight into what is going on in the world and what has brought us to this point militarily and economically, read this book....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.
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  • 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.
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  • A tragic book dealing with crucial issues in a narcissistic fashion
    This could have been a great book encompassing as it does very important and serious issues. It is highly informative, focusing on a vast array of developments, events and policies and certainly thought provoking.

    Nevertheless, its message and delivery are considerably impaired through an ever-present and unrelenting "Big I" complex, which imposes a highly narcissistic and self-promoting and ego-puffing aura across most pages. The constant use of "I" gives the distinct impression that the objective is primarily personal grandstanding rather than academic and objective analysis.

    Beyond this, there are major conceptual and analytical weaknesses. The author seems unaware of the serious economic impoverishment that has spread throughout the U.S. for decades relative to other nations. It has caused the physical appearance of the state of human habitation to look literally pitiful, filthy and almost irredeemably hopeless and slum-like from coast to coast, in particular in the medium and smaller towns. A simple trip to some other advanced nations to compare slums and trailerhomes and infrastructure, etc. would thoroughly help realistic evaluations.

    Military spending to the point of economic self-immolation and military poisoning of the environment, which has caused many deaths (similar to the former Soviet Union), are not touched upon. Massive fraud in the nationwide and highly collectivized investment flow into Wall Street also added enormously to economic self-immolation. This, too, is avoided. Private sector socialism/collectivism that benefits the super wealthy, who do not sufficiently produce products that enhance the living standard for the masses, is also neglected. There is no hint of the fact that the U.S. private sector has vast cost shifting not seen in even socialistic economies. Why should consumers pay higher product prices imposed on them by corporate sponsors of Rush Limbaugh's outlandish 40 to 50 million annual income if they are not in the market, don't have a choice and have almost no transparency?

    The Manichean approach to foreign policy and the deification and overadulation of democracy---a view that seriously neglects ethics and even too often actually overpoliticizes people to the point of eroding ethics---are the underpinning of Barnett's opus. He, in effect, still adheres to the unrealistic mindset which historians term the Foundational Mythology, which tells us that the U.S. is pure, virtuous, and beyond history, i.e. the notion of exceptionalism, which has contributed to foreign policy and domestic catastrophies.

    There is no resumption of leadership possible without a stunning 10 year long U.S. economic miracle. And such requires a realistic assessment and not a vigorous defense of America's Foundational Mythology, which Bush pushed to an apex at the horrible cost of evading economic realities that brewed the worst economic crisis on Wall Street in all of modern economic history.

    In spite of these shortcomings, the book is right on the mark in most points criticizing Bush. It also has many sound and meritorious policy recommendations, though the reader is left with the impression that they are open to similar criticism as Barnett's commentaries were, long ago, when he expressed no worry about illegal immigrants since many would join the military services and advocated global recruitment for the military. Is he familiar with the implications of what happened to three Roman legions in 9 A.D. and does he want to go into the direction of the French Foreign Legion or the "Waffen SS" which near the end of World War II was composed almost half of foreigners?

    Finally, though Barnett is correctly critical of Bush and cronies, one cannot help getting the distinct impression that his "Big I" complex may express a hidden form of parasitism which patently showed through Bush, his cronies and all the crooks and thieves on Wall Street, who have caused the current economic catastrophe. If so, Barnett, ironically, is too much like Bush and not just in parasitic practices but also in the use of the Foundational Mythology to cover it up.

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  • 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 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.

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  • Great Powers focuses on "Winning" by Retaining what's valuable to us
    Thomas' Great Powers is exceptional for many reasons. Barnett discusses American power in terms of economics, military might, and foreign policy exposing exclusively-American 'democracy' as a red-herring in success' definition. In terms of economics, Barnett paints our culture of globalization with far more vim and clarity than Friedman. Weaving economic evolution through our nation's history he demonstrates our gift for navigating and embracing risk with agility, citing effectively without miring the reader in detail that bores or distracts in similar works. Those readers anxiously awaiting crucifixion of Bush-Cheney enjoy some pleasure, but Barnett addresses the previous administration and broader history without partisanship--he seems to care deeply about the correct answer instead.

    Readers will appreciate Barnett's keen understanding that America can not win only by naming and vanquishing a clear adversary but must rather manage an evolving world so that probable future outcomes more consistently meet your long-term needs. Those security-savvy will smile as Barnett discredits the over-hyping of each modern day boogie man (China, Russia, and Global warming to name a few), positing in each case a more strategic alliance or opportunity.

    If Great Powers warrants criticism, it's for the distinct change in treatment as Barnett leaps from describing key properties of a grand strategy to more tactical specifics. Barnett's final chapter seems to suffer from a mash-up of the multiplicity of future 'what ifs' and some of his clearer thoughts on 'must have' eventualities.

    Notwithstanding Barnett's work does not lack conclusion. The reader simply comes away sober and brighter for it--complete with memorable aphorism and great humor with which to spread Barnett's Grand Strategy gospel. ...more info
  • Barnett Sounds Like A Smart Man, Innovative Thinker!
    I listen to a lot of talk radio, I heard the interview of Dr Barnett on Hugh Hewitt and was impressed enough to look up the book here. This guy's thinking is in the circle with innovative future thinking military circles, it sounds like he is in close contact with them also. I have not read the book, but the author sounds like a man who is very knowledgeable in predicting where the military's future will go in projecting and protecting America's sphere's of influence. I'm sure it's required reading in certain circles domestic and abroad. ...more info