Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Missing the Genius

Thomas Barnett is a terrific military and foreign affairs commentator. I first saw him giving an amazing presentation on CSPAN about what the future may hold and how the US can best position itself to take advantage. Later I read his book, The Pentagon's New Map and we interviewed him on NARN. I continue to follow his blog, now from a new location, at an outfit called Wikistrat. The best thing about Barnett is that he's an exciting thinker, always bringing new ideas and new perspectives, to even the most over analyzed topics.

On the other hand, he's also an avowed Democrat. And a Packer's fan. I guess nobody's perfect.

Given his party affiliation, it wasn't a complete shock when he expressed support for Obama over McCain in 2008. Having someone I respect as much as Barnett get behind Obama gave me some hope that the guy wouldn't be a complete disaster while in office. The jury's still out on that verdict. Although I've seen some signs from Barnett that he's not been thrilled with Obama either, for example, this recent comment:

But of course, we now bow to the "international community," Obama's pet phrase decoded as, "I'm with chickens@$t!" Just some leadership here would be nice.

I thought perhaps the honeymoon might be over and that my respect-o-meter could get back in perfect harmony with my rigid ideology. Alas, that's not the case.

In a recent post for Esquire's Politics Blog, Barnett reveals that those rose-colored glasses haven't slipped entirely off his nose yet. These are excerpts from a longer piece, that merits reading in full, on Obama's actions with regard to Libya. While many critics say that Obama's actions exposed a lack of strategic planning and outright dithering, Barnett has a different perspective:

By waiting on virtually every imaginable stake-holding nation to sign off — in advance — before unleashing America's military capabilities, the Obama administration recasts the global dialogue on America's interventions. All of a sudden it's not the "supply-push" US intervention into Iraq, where it's all "this is what America is selling and if you don't like it, get out of the way!" Now, we're back to the type of "demand-pull" crisis responses by the US in the 1990s, where the world (aka, "international community") asks and America answers.

Moreover, by limiting US military participation up-front, the White House forces further "demand-pull" negotiations by our more incentivized allies (Vive la France!) and nervous neighbors as the intervention unfolds. That way, every step Obama takes can be justified in terms of the facts on the ground and how they make the rest of the world feel, while our cool Vulcan simply mutters in reply, "Fascinating."

But again, the key revelation: This negotiating tactic does an excellent job of uncovering the actual global demand out there for America's intervention & stabilization services. A lot of anti-interventionists (and sheer Bush haters) want to pretend that's a myth and that there is no such demand for the American Leviathan, but the truth is, there's plenty of demand out there. The question is US bandwidth, which Bush-Cheney narrowed considerably.

Obama's approach — so long as it works, of course — is true genius.

I must admit I did not see that coming.

Could it be true? That no clear articulation of US goals, inconsistent treatment of the various protest movements in the Middle East, reacting to the daily news cycle with contradictory statements, delayed action and then hasty agreement to participate in military action without getting the approval of Congress or a mandate from the American people -- it's not just making it up as he goes, it's true genius!?

That just blew my mind.

I have to admit, the dynamic he identifies, of the US getting to pursue its interests in a way that draws support from the rest of the world, would be nice. But I'm not convinced this is a war that is in our interest. Especially not in our financial interest, as Kevin Williamson from NRO details, the hourly cost of the operation so far is $4 million. And the cool, Vulcan like patience Obama shows in getting the support of the world community for US military action contrasts sharply with his ignoring of the US Congress.

I'll be shocked, shocked if our expensive, half-assed meddling in Libya proves to be ultimately beneficial to US interests. Then again, I ain't no genius.