Day By Day

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sophomoric Alarmism

Thomas P. M. Barnett is an interesting guy who understand far better than most what is going on in the world. Recent silly statements by Michael Gorbachev to the effect the world is careening into disaster and that President Bush is at the root of most of the world's problems sparked this comment:
[P]retending we're all the same in this globalized economy and security situation is truly sophomoric. The reason why America must lead in military matters is that we have the ONLY military that can project power anywhere. Contextualizing that employment within a larger rule set is the main problem, not simply our having it. But that contextualization is a multipolar "street," so to speak. We can't manage that rule-set adjustment on our own, although we can definitely start the process.

Just like DoD has to get the rest of the USG to grow up and take on the responsibilities of what comes next, the U.S. is forced to do similarly with rising powers like Russia, Brazil, India and China. Admittedly, Bush has done this poorly in many ways, but not too bad in others.

But it's the larger alarmism that I find so silly, much like Krauthammer's asinine specter of Chavez haunting our presidential photo-ops: this is a "confused and complicated world" that features the biggest, broadest and fastest growing global economy we've ever seen. It also includes the least amount of mass violence, world-wide, than we've enjoyed in decades. Deaths from natural disasters are down about 98% from 1900 (per capita and over 90% in absolute terms--according to research Bjorn Lomborg compiles in his brilliant Skeptical Environmentalist). The great powers are integrating their economies like never before (and puh-leeze, do not pull out those Germany-Britain stats from 1910s, because if you think Wal-Mart's global supply chain can be compared to that simplistic stuff, then it's back to International Economics 101 for you!) and we've got global cooperation on stuff that was simply unimaginable as recently as two decades ago.

Look around you! Our big fights are over farm subsidies, tainted products and unfloating currencies. We've even got space to debate global warming responses ad nauseum. All this while terrorists are allegedly "running our world"!

Read the whole thing here.

I would disagree with Barnett's assessment on the relationship between military and civilian agencies [he is after all a defense analyst and plays to his audience] and most definitely think he undervalues President Bush's contribution to reshaping global relations, especially as regards Asia, but his central point is valid. We are living at a time when the world as a whole is being transformed for the better, but moralistic idiots, like Gorbachev, refuse to see what is happening all round them.

Alarmism might be politically useful for administration opponents, and it makes for attention-grabbing headlines, but it represents a failure to engage reality that can be downright dangerous if taken too seriously.