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Friday, October 13

E gives sage advice; Jim Ellsworth does Feng Shui, sort of; Pundita draws bead on Barnett

When I last left the Reader, I dutifully popped copious amounts of an anti-inflammatory drug, wore the hand brace, and continued to power through a rush project -- well, actually, a project I deemed rush on account of wanting to rush through it.

After a week there has been zero improvement in the tendonitis and the Ibuprofen hasn't made a bit of difference, although the condition has not worsened.

In the middle of this I received emails from two Pundita readers. I have forgotten the following reader's pen name and because it would take troubling him with an email or mousing to look it up, I am posting the letter signed simply "E."

"Hi Pundita,
[...] You want my advice? Well, even if you don't here it is:

If you're at the computer a lot, you can inadvertently develop a bad posture where you almost unknowingly put too much weight or stress on a particular point such as a hand, elbow, even (believe it or not) a shoulder. This has happened to me.

Then eventually it reaches a point where it gets sore. Sometimes really sore and the pain seems out of proportion to anything you could have done to set it off.

So what to do? It gets better on its own but takes some months. But you have to rearrange where your mouse, arms, and everything are, to guarantee you won't keep falling back into the same position, 'cause that's what most people will do. Only way is to change the layout (seat, mouse, things you might rest your arm on, put pressure on). Otherwise when its 95% gone, you can do the same thing and bring it right back. Once you got it, it comes back easy."

After mulling E's advice I realized that I didn't relish the idea of chronic injury to my right hand. I decided that I could not do both the project and the blog, so I decided to hang up on the blog until the tendonitis was completely healed, instead of messing around with steroid injections that only dull the pain, and get through at least the first phase of the project (which is for a friend) before hanging up on that too.

Then came an email from James B. Ellsworth of the US Naval War College, who was in town to present a forthcoming land warfare paper with the title, SysAdmin: Toward Barnett's Stabilization and Reconstruction Force.

The paper, Jim explained, takes Thomas P. M. Barnett's "Department of Everything Else" proposal from Barnett's Blueprint for Action book and "operationalizes it, with a roadmap (well, a sketch anyhow) aimed at the senior military [leadership] of how we might go about making it real."

Readers with a long memory will recall that this is the very same James B. Ellsworth who intuited last year that Pundita was sticking her head in the sand about an impending personal crisis.

This time a warning from Jim not to push myself again beyond what is sensible. But his mention of Barnett's latest book had an effect on me reminiscent of a wonderfully silly lottery ad that ran in my region a few years back:

An elderly woman lies on her deathbed surrounded by grieving relatives. Then a Feng Shui expert shifts the placement of a bureau in her room, and she immediately rises from her bed.

What Barnett does not mention in his book -- indeed, what is rarely mentioned anywhere -- is that the intelligence department that Donald Rumsfeld and some Neocons in government set up in the Pentagon after 9/11 created a fine "department of everything else" to manage post-conflict stabilization in Iraq. Indeed, with the help of Iraqi expats they created a working model for post-conflict Iraq, right down to the ministry levels.

I learned about the model from a PBS Frontline episode some years back. Frontline was allowed to photograph the 'shadow' government at work, and which was created in advance of the US invasion of Iraq. (Ret.) Major General Paul Vallely mentioned the model during a speech at the Intel Conference in early 2005 and spoke darkly about its tragic abortion by forces in government other than the Pentagon.

For reasons that are still unclear, the model government was not transferred to Baghdad after the invasion. Instead, we got Paul Bremer and the bumbling of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Yet given the epic war between the Pentagon and the US Department of State that launched after 9/11, I suspect that at least some of the blame for the abortion rests with State.

One can't base a critique of Barnett's book on his omission of the model and it would have been outside the scope of his discussion to examine why such a useful project was blocked from implementation in Iraq. Yet Barnett's ruthless pragmatism, which informs his entire blueprint for action in the post-9/11 world, is jarringly out of place in the current war.

The observation would not be a criticism if narrowly applied to Barnett's discussion of the 'new' US military that has been taking shape under Rumsfeld's guidance. Barnett's book is a godsend for a general public trying to understand how the military is finally grappling with a post-Cold War defense environment. So I recommend the book but with great misgivings; I joked to Jim that I had trouble finishing the book because I kept throwing it across the room.

Barnett takes the world as he finds it, and so he's designed his blueprint to mesh with globalization. The problem is that the term 'globalization' has become a euphemism for multilateralism and what I call the Chirac School of foreign policy. So one might say that if Thomas P.M. Barnett didn't exist, the State Department would have invented him -- or at least the factions at State that still cling to the Chirac School.

Chirac's multilateralism is barely disguised neomercantilism; the school of foreign policy that he and his advisors pushed at the UN and EU, and which so greatly influenced US policy under President Clinton, excludes all but the exigencies of doing business from a government's foreign relations. That effectively places dictatorships on the same level as democracies, which includes decisions about development loans, aid monies, and trade.

In the war on terror, democracy is fighting for its life. Until and unless the realization percolates to all levels of the Pentagon, State and the US Congress, we can expect to fight the war for many decades.

And speaking of the French, one need only read of the proposed bill to arrest anyone who publicly refuses to acknowledge that the Turks practiced literal genocide on the Armenians to realize that many French have only the most tenuous understanding that freedom of speech is a pillar of democracy.

I will stop myself here, but the above is enough to convey the wondrous effect on me that Jim's mention of Barnett's book wrought. I think it was Ethan Zuckerman who wrote, or quoted another blogger as saying, that a blog is the "remnants of attention." The Pundita blog is not a remnant for me; it is my way of speaking out instead of fuming in silence about the kind of pragmatism that Thomas Barnett represents, and keeping myself focused on news developments that I consider important.

Then again, I don't want to end up with chronic tendonitis. So I informed my friend that I was at least temporarily suspending my work on his project. As for the blog, I'm going to check back on November 1st and stay off the computer until then, and hope that there has been considerable improvement in the tendonitis by that time. In any case, I am not giving up the blog.

Jim's paper should be posted online by November, and I will pass along the URL at that time. The Department of Everything Else is a concept that is growing in importance in the defense establishment, and one that needs considerable attention at the operational level.

For readers unfamiliar with the "Department of Everything Else," it's an envisioned "department of global security that speaks to the world in terms of our shared responsibility [to further and defend peace in the world]."

Until November, then, and best regards to all.
1:30 PM update
I have just learned that Dymphna at Gates of Vienna blog is suffering from the genetic disorder fibromyalgia and releated chronic fatigue syndrome, which has made many physical activities difficult for her. And here I thought I had a health problem! It seems that her condition has taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks, which occasioned an apology that she had not replied to an email of mine. Dear Dymphna, no apology needed. You will make Pundita happy if you coddle yourself.
6:00 PM update
See this post, just up, for more of my discussion about Barnett's ideas.
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