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Great Powers: America and the World After Bush Paperback – Bargain Price, February 2, 2010
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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 regions. It may work well there, but packing that same box for a vastly different terrain just might not succeed.
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.
Aside from perhaps Thomas Friedman, there's not a more optimistic thinker who's worth reading. While by no means a Pollyanna, Barnett sees the world as in much better shape than most of his counterparts in the national security policy community and sees it becoming progressively better. The things that keep most strategists and economists up at night are mere bumps in the road that, if properly managed, will lead to a more peaceful, prosperous planet.
Suffice it to say that Great Powers isn't summer beach reading. The prose is breezy enough; the author has polished it over years of lectures, PowerPoint briefings, and blog posts. But the subject matter is weighty and you'll want a highlighter and a pen to underline things and write notes on the page. You'll find yourself nodding in agreement at times, finding that the author has captured your thoughts perfectly, explaining them in a way where it finally makes sense. At other times, you may think he's mad and want to shout obscenities at him.
To make the leap countries need to educate their children, boys and girls, adopt the business rules and institutions that permit foreign business to deal with them and gradually transition to governments that will work for the people not the ruling class. In Barnett's world, prosperity is king. By engaging with the other big economic players in the world the US can lead a team that can make this happen. If you are feeling sorry for the state of the world these days, this book will lift your spirits with its very believable "Yes we can!" message.
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