THE BARNETT AND ROBB SHOW [UPDATED]
“Primary loyalties in Basra” by John Robb
“Robb’s weak day” by Thomas P.M. Barnett
“Barnett Bites Back? ” by Federalist X
“Barnett Dings me Too” by John Robb
“Unpacking the connectivity straw man” by Thomas P.M. Barnett
“The Global Platform: Connectivity can be both Good and Bad” by John Robb
DC, a commenter, asked me the following question:
“where you stand on the basic difference between JR / TB, as it looks, on whether the US is (i) in principle capable of connecting a country like iraq or (ii) whether in principle such difficult/complex ‘imperial’ tasks are beyond a modern democracy itself wired to media and system that enforces transparency to a large degree and therefore inevitably torpedos difficult projects…”
First, I have to allow myself a caveat that I understand Thomas Barnett’s ideas probably better or more comprehensively than I do John Robb’s for the simple fact that Robb’s book hasn’t come out yet and I have not had the same opportunity to enjoy his laying out a methodical argument. John’s blogs have given me a decent grasp, I think, on his strategic analysis but the book will give me a better one. So, while I will do my best, I am more than open for correction from John if he believes I’ve misunderstood or forgotten an important aspect of Global Guerilla theory.
My interpretation of the basic differences between Tom Barnett’s and John Robb’s approaches to analysis is determined first, by selection of perspective and timeline; secondarily, through the emphasis of a particular operational dynamic, though there remains a lot of overlap between the two ( my kingdom for a venn diagram designed by Dan of tdaxp !).
As an object will look different when viewed with a telescope or with a magnifying glass, a geopolitical situation can give you a significantly different concern depending on what point of the strategic hierarchy you care to view it. Barnett and Robb are both experts and capable of giving you chapter and verse on Iraq, or Afghanistan or wherever from the tactical level upward to the enunciation of grand strategy. By inclination, education and background, Tom tends to focus on long term strategic outcomes and grand strategy while John is generally more over the board but definitely edges toward tactics, grand tactics and scenarios with shorter time horizons ( incidentally, this focus is better suited to blogging as a medium. I expect John’s book will be more strategic in outlook than some of his daily readers of his blogs are used to, but that’s just an intuitive guess on my part).
In terms of dynamics, Robb frequently refers frequently to the negative potentialities and implications of systemic disruption, an approach I once categorized as entropic. Dr. Barnett tends to look beyond tactical disruptions until you reach the “Big Bang” level of magnitude, a full-fledged system perturbation. Tom’s focus on the effects of connectivity is an investigation into nonzero sum outcomes, an evolutionary and somewhat economically deterministic perspective. John too recognizes the power of the evolutionary paradigm in his discussion of “open-source” developments, though on military topics he’s usually talking about something destructive like rebels or terrorists becoming more efficient at wrecking havoc.
Are Barnett and Robb writing about mutually exclusive variables? No. Are these variables all interacting at once at varying and constantly changing degrees of scale and situational importance ? Yes. Is the interrelationship of the variables perfectly discernable and easily conveyed ? Hell, no ! That’s what they are arguing about. You’re an impressive intellect if you can get even part of the comprehensive picture right most of the time ! There’s a lot of room to debate even if you agree on a conclusion.
Now for the second part of DC’s question:
Do democracies have the grit or persistance to endeavor to undertake long term and comlex tasks of strategic policy without undermining themselves through the intrinsic nature of media drenched democratic politics ?
Democracies are more politically resilient than we tend to give them credit for being. Containment was undertaken for a half century despite numerous catastrophes and misfires along the way. One of the worst debacles, American involvement in Vietnam, was by itself a seventeen year project. European integration was nearly fifty years. German reunification, from Brandt to Kohl was twenty years. Democracies can muster longitudinal will to carry out a policy with greater endurance than can tyrannies but what democracy cannot guarantee is that the policy will be carried out with either wisdom or ultimate success The media is a factor, yes, but not a primary variable. It is a method of communication, the content of the message still matters and facts of a certain strategic importance can neither be finessed nor spun.
Iraq has been carried out, after the initial, brilliant, military operations, about as poorly as can be imagined short of the destruction of the American Army. On the other hand, if you look at Kurdistan, you see how “connecting” the Gap might work when the Core’s efforts are in sync with the aspirations of the residents we are trying to help ( if anything, the Kurds are far more enthusiastic than we are, given our sensitivity to the concerns of the Turks and Saudis) instead of in violent opposition to a significant minority.
The learning curve has been costly.
More posts today… I will try to update if /as more develops…other bloggers besides Tom or John who are also commenting can email me a link and I will include your two cents as well.
“Unpacking the connectivity straw man (II) ” by Thomas P.M. Barnett