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Thursday, October 27, 2005

NEW WORLD MAPMAKER: THE SECOND LIFE OF THOMAS P.M. BARNETT, PART I

Three hours in-world with a leading global analyst-- background here and here. Part I: an Introduction, and a cocktail chat pitch to Bill Clinton.

So one day, you're briefing General Abizaid and Central Command; another day, you're briefing the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I spent much of this month worrying how great a leap it would be for someone like Barnett, going right from the halls of the powerful to something so apparently trivial as an online world. At the same time, I had an inkling the divide wasn't so vast. A thinker who calls the tradition of American governance the "source code" for the future and his army of nation builders a "SysAdmin force", Barnett is a digital age Wilsonian, merging a strong-jaw internationalism with the metrics of a culture already ablaze with broadband. (That's not even to mention his prediction of a near future when an online world will overthrow a real world dictatorship-- but more on that later.)

So maybe it wasn't so surprising, after all, that when we teleported to the Second Life island made for him, he easily found and donned the custom avatar by lilith Pendragon, chuckling while he watched his alter ego morph into something resembling him, then when we had trouble teleporting into the United Nation's Grand Assembly Hall, he just began the journey there on foot, where an engaged and fairly rambunctious audience already waited for him.

And it was rambunctious. Since the talk started around Noon (PST), much of the audience there was from the EU, where it was early evening-- Britain, Germany, and France being the country names I caught, when my co-host SNOOPYBrown Zamboni gave an impromptu "Where you from?" shout-out to the audience at event's end. Generalizing broadly, most of the deepest skepticism to Barnett's ideas seemed to emanate from the European Residents gathered there. (Via Instant Message, one French Resident described themselves as so scandalized that they were tempted to create tomatoes for the purpose of pelting Barnett's avatar.) Barnett's own blog cites a review in a British publication which begins with qualified praise, but ends in a declarative, "[I]f you imagine modern Europe trying to follow his advice, you will laugh." It was fascinating to see that dynamic apparently play out in avatar form. And Barnett taking on all comers with a blogger's agile wit, when we moved to audience Q&A, generously staying with it for twice the 90 minutes alloted.

Anyway, just my first, exhaustion-wracked recollection. Barnett's equally exhausted post-event wrap-up is at his blog here, and Zamboni's is here, featuring nearly the entire transcript. My somewhat edited transcript will run in bite-sized portions over the next 5 days.

AN INTRODUCTION

Hamlet Linden: Not too long ago, Thomas P.M. Barnett helped run meetings between top Wall Street analysts and top Pentagon brass that pondered the future of the world. The financial folks were mostly excited by the potential of China. The military folks were mostly worried by the potential of China.

The year was 2000. The meetings took place atop World Trade Center One.

Very shortly after that, China would be about the last thing the Pentagon officials were worrying about. And many of the Wall Street analysts sitting around the table would be dead.

In the months after 9/11, Thomas Barnett left his post as senior strategic researcher at the Naval War College. He became the Assistant for Strategic Futures in the Department of Defense's newly-created Office of Force Transformation. His task was nothing less than creating a grand vision of US strategy in a profoundly changed world.

"Don't we have one? Isn't it written down and kept in a locked drawer somewhere deep in the Pentagon?" Barnett wondered out loud.

Nope, his boss told him. That was his gig.

What eventually came out of that assignment was "The Pentagon's New Map", a much-read Esquire article published in 2003, just as Coalition forces were poised to cross into Iraq. It became a 2004 bestselling book of the same name, spelling out a unique and powerful way of looking at the world...

Blueprint for Action, the book he's here to talk about today, is the political/humanitarian/
military course chart for the map he's already laid out... For finding, as the book's subtitle suggests, a future worth creating.

And because global connectivity is so essential to his vision, it's a future worth discussing here, with an audience from all over the world, in this international culture and economic community we call Second Life. So ladies and gentlemen, we are very proud to introduce Thomas Barnett.

[Applause]

A BRIEF OF THE BRIEF

HL: Tom, since most of our audience hasn't read Blueprint for Action yet, can you give us the cocktail pitch, to start us off? Say you meet Bill Clinton at a party, and he says, "Tom, I hear your new book has a lot of great ideas that I want to mention on my next international friendship tour. Give me a summary." What do you tell him in the 3 minutes you have before he wanders off to talk with Bono on the balcony?

Thomas Barnett: Sure. The whole map concept began quite simply by mapping where we sent U.S. military forces around the world in the 1990s, or since the end of the Cold War. Once we plotted all those crisis responses, I simply drew a line around 95% of them, leaving outside only the most distant outliers. Then we asked a simple question: what was it about all these regions that brought U.S. military interventions time and time again?

The operating theory? These are the regions least connected to the global economy. So PNM the book basically laid out that map and proposed that the grand strategic goal for the U.S. after 9/11 was to "shrink" those regions by integrating them. Some of this would require military interventions (i.e., rogue regimes that kept their populations involuntarily disconnected from the outside world, failed states that simply couldn't provide adequate connections to the global economy).

But most of the integration would be peaceful, and performed by the private sector through foreign direct investment. In many ways, then, PNM proposed that the military come back to society, eschewing the distance that had emerged between them and civilians during the Cold War. I call this the military-market nexus: admitting that the warrior class exists to protect the merchant class and that merchants pay for that protection. This is what keeps the global economy safe to prosper and expand. To accomplish this, I made a series of arguments in PNM for a new type of military organization.

In Blueprint for Action, I extend those arguments even further. Next slide please...

Continued tomorrow...

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Ever since Barnett and that political protest ( http://secondlife.blogs.com/nwn/2005/10/protesting_the_.html ) I've been waiting for a RW political campaign to make use of SL. And just like that protest, I again suspect there will be someone behind a protest or disturbance of some sort (btw, didn't anyone figure out why the Barnett protest was likely a paid effort?).

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