Here are some initial thoughts. Obviously many points need further development, but this should get some discussion rolling.
To a large extend I agree with the primary premise of the essay, “disconnectedness defines danger,” or, further elaborated, it is those regions which have least successfully integrated into the global order (the gap) which pose the gravest threat. Where I disagree, however, is in the follow-up proposition that this strategic threat is best addressed through military means.
Barnett is dead on in identifying, as he puts it, the “ozone hole” in globalization as being in serious need of attention, and I second his call for approaching globalization not as a “binary outcome,” but rather as a complex historical process. I think the simplistic approach to globalization is exemplified by people such as Thomas Friedman with his slogan “the world is flat.” Well no, it’s not. Between the “functioning core” and the “gap” is a world of difference (and even between, say Shanghai’s business district and China’s interior provinces there are huge gaps).
Barnett’s argument for the Iraq war essentially comes down to that it is in our strategic interest to establish a functioning, stable democracy there and integrate Iraq (and other “gap” regions) into the core. Were I a supporter of the war, this is essentially the argument I would make. His thesis is that ““disconnectedness defines danger,” is a succinct and astute assessment.
I disagree, however, that large scale military action such as our current engagement Iraq is the answer. Military action will likely take place almost exclusively in the “gap,” as it has since the end of the cold war. Where Barnett sees such activity as primary, however, I see it as supplementary. Arms can uphold the peace, but I do not believe an army can ever “win” the peace, as we are attempting to do in Iraq.
For a democracy to succeed, there are several perquisites, including legitimacy and vibrant civil society. When an outside power (e.g. the US) invades and forces regime change, it undermines the legitimacy of the succeeding government. We tried to get around that problem in Iraq by handing over sovereignty. Some argue that we should have done this earlier; I have strong doubts that even an earlier date for the hand over could have countered the fact that a foreign army deposed a native (even if thoroughly corrupt and repressive) regime. A far better candidate would have been Iran, were strong civil society and democratic institutions already exist – with the fetters of the mullahs removed, native democracy could very well flourish. However, the U.S. is viewed with such distrust by the Iranians (for good historical reasons) that were regime change initiated by the US, I doubt the successor government would be able to garner sufficient legitimacy.
Pre-invasion Iraq had far weaker civil society and democratic institutions, and so presented a poor target for attempts at democracy-building through regime change. A far better strategy would have been to nurture the development of civil society while pursuing a containment strategy against Hussein’s government. The situation in the 90’s wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the current one. In a sense, I am somewhat arguing for a “unilateral” or rather non-UN approved approach here. I would not have lifted the sanctions or the no-fly zones, regardless of what France or Germany or anyone else wanted. However, I would have also encourage greater engagement with the Iraqi people themselves – encouraging Iraqi students to western universities, supporting dissident, democratically minded exile groups, etc.
Remember the lessons from when we face a much larger strategic threat. We did not liberate eastern Europe. Eastern Europe liberated itself. We cannot integrate the gap into the core at gunpoint. Instead, we need to foster the growth of “connective tissue,” and limit the role of the military to providing supplementary security rather than trying to play the role of liberator.