Empire Made Easy

BY Phyllis Eckhaus

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Banish those nasty guilt twinges over America’s ambitions to empire. Getting a jump on the holidays, Thomas P.M. Barnett is marketing a feel-good guide to conquest and capitalism, a sequel to his bestseller, The Pentagon’s New Map. In Blueprint for Action, the Esquire editor and former Defense Department strategist declares that we’re doing the world a favor by bombing our way to global free enterprise.

Brash and breezy, Barnett’s plan for world conquest comes complete with its own video game vocabulary: The industrialized West is the Core. The Third World is the Gap. The aim of the game is to “shrink the Gap” by deploying the Leviathan, America’s “high-speed, high-lethality and high-precision” warfighting capacity, “a force for global good that … has no equal.”

Through conquest, occupation and occasional diplomacy, America will cure the world’s ills. This transformation will be achieved through the miracle of globalization, or “connectivity,” Barnett’s code for capitalism, which magically produces universal affluence, pluralism and democracy.

By contrast, Barnett believes, “disconnectedness defines danger,” a mantra he repeats with the confidence of someone who confuses alliteration with meaning. He simultaneously asserts that his plan for world domination will eliminate terrorism–because ultimately, everyone will have a cell phone and laptop and live happily ever after–and acknowledges that in the short run, “regime change doesn’t exactly reduce your terrorist pool.”

No matter. Against all evidence to the contrary, Barnett insists that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a wonderful thing because it somehow flushed out terrorists by immiserating the masses: “In the end, it was almost impossible for the Iraq occupation to go too badly, because the worse it became, the more it transformed the region.” The reality that Iraq never threatened us, that it was a secular state–and a relatively globalized one at that–pales next to the glory of Shock and Awe, the first strike in grand global conflagration: “The Big Bang in the Middle East was … about speeding the killing to its logical conclusion,” that “logical conclusion” being lasting world peace and prosperity.

Unfortunately, he’s not kidding. And he’s got plenty of fans across the political spectrum. Barnett’s recipe for war-to-end-all-wars is a sort of stone soup, chock full of ingredients to whet liberal appetites. Good-guy Barnett hints that he opposes the Patriot Act and regrets abuses at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. He advocates for “transparency” (when he’s not drooling over covert operations). He gives lip service to internationalism and urges greater use of the International Criminal Court (though not for the United States–he seems to suggest we deserve permanent exemption from prosecution because we’re pure of heart). Moreover, he lays claim to a passionate desire to better the world, asserting that since 9/11, America understands that “there is a world of pain beyond the expanding global economy. I think we see one-third of humanity with noses pressed against the glass, wondering what it will take for them to come inside and enjoy the same sense of security and economic opportunity.”

Keep your eyes on the prize, Barnett exhorts. By killing the few, the many will get iPods and maybe a chance to host the Olympics. American power and privilege are intrinsically beneficent. Heck, it would be “misguided in the extreme” for Americans to give up our gas guzzling because reducing our dependence on foreign oil would diminish our influence on the Middle East, to that region’s great detriment.

Though he pretends otherwise, in Barnett’s cosmos, democracy doesn’t count for much. He cheerfully suggests that America forge a strategic alliance by giving Iran the Bomb, cites Venezuela as a “rogue state” ripe for American invasion, and anticipates hooking up with China, India and Russia, “military partners who won’t run at the sight of blood, argue incessantly over the rights of ‘enemy combatants,’ or see their governments collapse every time the terrorists land a lucky strike back home.” He carefully refrains from characterizing terrorists as implacable foes–someday we’ll want to negotiate peace with them.

There’s only one group that earns Barnett’s enduring enmity: antiwar protestors. By obstructing American empire, they’re deemed “most guilty of denying the Gap positive integration with the Core.” Antiwar activists condemn the Gap to instability, Barnett claims, thus impeding economic development and imposing “death and destruction, as well as … both disease and distressed refugees.” Funny, I thought war did that. Alas, all of Barnett’s Orwellian doublespeak cannot be dismissed as too stupid to do damage. After all, look who’s president.

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Phyllis Eckhaus is an In These Times contributing editor who has written essays and book reviews for the magazine since 1993, covering everything from the history of Mad Magazine to the economics of terrorism. Her work has also appeared in Newsday, The Nation, the Guardian (U.S.) and the Women's Review of Books, among other publications. Trained as a lawyer and social scientist, with degrees from Yale, Harvard and New York University, she works in nonprofit management and lives in New York City.

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