The current debate about US foreign policy focuses on finding (or not finding) WMD in Iraq, the role of faulty intelligence in presidential decisionmaking, and - for conspiracy theorists like Michael Moore - how foreign powers shape US policy. In the short term (since, say, Sept. 11, 2001) these seem like large issues. But they are not. Thomas Barnett's book, "The Pentagon's New Map," puts these and many other matters in a compelling and elevating context that points toward "a future worth creating."
As the 21st century opens, Barnett suggests, the world is divided not between good and evil or "clashing civilizations," but between the connected and the disconnected, between globalization's "functioning Core" and the "non-integrating Gap." The good news is that the age of wars between states is over and roughly two-thirds of humankind - despite great disparities in wealth, health, education, and political rights - now live in the connected parts of the globe. The bad news is that only the US can shrink the Gap. Only the US can make globalization truly global.
In some sense, this is a personal intellectual odyssey. A new political science PhD (Harvard, 1990, with a dissertation on East German and Romanian policies toward the third world), Barnett learned to think "horizontally" from his mentors in the Center for Naval Analyses. He joined the Naval War College in 1998 and then worked for the financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald on post-cold-war global assessments, before the company was decimated Sept. 11.
Throughout this odyssey, Barnett's thesis evolved. Its key elements reflect a variety of other views but are assembled here in a new and powerful fashion. A key theme is how hard it is to get new ideas into the minds of military leaders. Change is always threatening to patterns in congressional funding and to the military, whose leadership tends to be tied to the worldview that was dominant when they made "flag" (in this case, the cold war).
But Barnett calls on the military to attune itself to the real needs of Globalization IV - that is, the need to shrink the gap. This means a "bifurcated" military, something along the lines of the US military before the split into separate services. "America now has, for all practical purposes, a Department of War and a Department of Everything Else," writes Barnett. In his view, the US leviathan needs to be ready to strike into the gap with overwhelming force (as in Iraq) and lead a multinational process of rebuilding that creates opportunities for the affected country to join the core. This latter role, what Barnett calls System Administrator, is the most difficult for the US military to accept.
Barnett's book forces a rethinking of the current debate on the Iraq war. It encourages one to give up convenient but petty ideas that President Bush declared war on Saddam Hussein to settle old scores for his father or that his evangelical Christian views have drawn the US into a foreign policy "quagmire." And it forces one to recognize that preemption and unilateralism are not new in US foreign policy.
America's current action in Iraq is the grandest foreign- aid project since the Marshall Plan - something Democrats had called for over the decades for other parts of the world. Why not in the Middle East? Barnett asks. Anyone looking for a vision of how the new American Empire can be better than its predecessors may well find it here.
To be sure, his brilliant policy wonkiness leads occasionally to self-indulgence. The high he experiences when delivering rapid fire "killer briefs" is described far too often. And a fantasy account of his career as a Fox Mulder Doppelganger with top-secret clearance goes over the top without adding anything to his argument.
More important, Barnett's book opens up a "future worth creating." His vision of Globalization IV - the historic opportunity to make globalization truly global - will take patience and a better balance between using America's overwhelming military force (as global leviathan) and its postwar multilateralism (as System Administrator). But shrinking the gap will enhance America's security even as it improves life around the world. As Barnett points out, it's both worthy and self-interested.
• John D. Heyl is executive director of international programs and professor of history at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.