By lex, Posted on March 21st, 2007
As an aside, I should note up front that Barnett is a very impressive speaker with a well-polished pitch who covers a great deal of ground in a relatively short period of time – three to three-and-one-half hours. I spent most of my time listening carefully, and most of that time agreeing with what he said. When I took the notes that you’ve been reading from over these last few days, they were in response to one of three stimuli, which occurred in roughly equal proportion: 1) something he said seemed particularly profound, 2) he said something that startled me, or 3) he put forth an intriguing idea with which I nevertheless viscerally disagreed.
I only say because, in re-reading my earlier posts, I found myself being more critical in reconstruction here than I remember being during the event. Thinking over it, my notes and later analysis reflect short attention to the profundities in the first instance, and relatively more time mooing over the startling and disagreable aspects. I suspect that’s natural: Something that startles a man my age is probably a notion that goes down a world view alleyway that has long ago been walled off, while I am (like most people) too stubbornly set in my ways to shift my point of view on fundamentals based merely on someone else’s strongly held opinion, no matter how eloquently put – it isn’t that we’re bad people to disagree – but ?† priori assumptions are leavened by subsequent experience and even sought knowledge viewed through the filter of that ?† priori.
That doesn’t make me right or Barnett wrong, and I am likely too obscure to attract his defense/rebuttal. But never mind: It is the second category of stimuli – the startling notion – that a strategic visionary like Barnett provides as value to the listener. He forces us to at least challenge our underlying presumptions, expose them to the air for the first time in what might be years and consider at least the possibilty that they may be wrong. That’s useful, and we’ll be getting a lot of it in this final segment.
Today I think I’ll represent Barnett’s view of the world (as I have received it) uninterrupted for the most part by any analysis, saving that for another opportunity – it’s rather too large and complex a subject to play pattycake with.
So: China. Barnett argues that US economic power has peaked and that the PRC’s is rising. Just as the UK retained world influence far out of natural proportion during the decline of empire by hitching its wagon the rising US economic star, so too should the US seek to align ourselves(ed. sorry, I couldn’t resist) with the rise of China. A fifth generation of leadership is rising in China to whom the Communist ideology is merely a vehicle to power rather than a real philosophy of government. The people now in power in China grew up during the Cultural Revolution – they didn’t go to university, they went to the barricades and were ideologically purified.
The generation rising behind them? They went to Harvard.
Our focus is fighting terror, a role for Leviathan. China’s focus is making money and improving the lot of its people – SysAdmin functions. Locking in a relationship now – getting a discount on future Chinese power at today’s prices – could result in a US/China relationship wherein the US retains the Leviathan role and China (and India) provides the body factory for SysAdmin. Standing in the way?
Taiwan galls China in a way that is difficult for those of us in the West to understand. To us, it is a bastion of free markets and (relatively) free minds. Originally of course, it was the rally point for Chang Kai Shek’s nationalists, the mortal enemy of the Communist Party of China and People’s Liberation Army. It doesn’t help much that it was referred to by Douglas McArthur as “America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the Far East.
To the Chinese, it represents not just a renegate province of Chinese nationals, but also a blocking power which sits athwart their access to the region, and indeed the rest of the world. Barnett says that “Archduke Ferdinand is alive and well and living in Taipei,” a reference of course to the Austrian duke whose assassination plunged Western Europe into the slaughter of World War I, setting the stage for an even more barbarous affair twenty-odd years later. His meaning of course is that the US and China should not allow themselves to be dragged into a crippling war to satisfy the urges of domestic Taiwanese policy, that Taiwan should not be able to unilaterally declare war for us. Hong Kong was reabsorbed with relatively little fuss, as was Macao.
Our policy in Asia – and China can help – should be to get rid of Kim Jong Il in North Korea, a true monster who by the way is building nukes. There are three ways, per Barnett, to do so:
1) Ease him into reform – (unlikely, Kim’s got zero interest in reform)
2) Engineer a coup – (next time, send the train back empty)
3) The hard way – (worst choice, for all the obvious reasons)
I’d like to see what’s behind door number 2, Bob!
“BRIC” is the new, or emerging core: Brazil, Russia, India and China. These countries tend to take more risks because of the stresses on their societies.
In the US, people born before 1960 (and some of them born during that year) are imprinted by a Cold War definition of friends: If you’re like us politically, you’re our friends, and if you disagree with us politically you’re our enemies. Most people born after the 1960′s are not so imprinted. Barnett’s thesis is that we should be friends with people who are more like us economically. In that way, we’d be more like China, India and even Iran – once the current regime is co-opted.