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July 19, 2005


mark safranski

John Robb wrote:

"Of course, Thomas would counter that the current force isn't a full version of what he has in mind. However, in my view Iraq was an important test case for the concept. So far, it has failed miserably "

Incorrect, Barnett expected Iraq to go poorly. (unless Tom has changed his view recently)The screw-up that was/is the occupation of Iraq would become the reason that a true System Administration force would be put together for future wars, much the way that the Vietnam war forced junior officers at the time to re-think how the U.S. should approach interventions overseas. System Administration would become an institutional product of lessons painfully learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I don't believe that Dr. Barnett sees System Administration in Iraq as anything but sketchy and a model for how *not* to do that concept. The Bush administration certainly did not have System Administration in mind when they went in to Iraq and long-resisted the implications of their failure to plan, so it's somewhat unfair to saddle PNM with that baggage.


The concept of the SysAdmin force is certainly sexy and, just maybe, if trained and staffed properly it could work better than what we have now. The experience of Guard units largely consisting of civilian police officers points towards a possible model.

My problem with the SA force is the notion that other nations will participate. Under the "Map" plan, the U.S. makes up the majority of the "Leviathan" (war making) force. Presumably we will continue to refuse to allow other nations to control our decisions of when and where we send that force into the field. How then can we expect other nations to fund and staff the force that follows along and 'repairs' the physical and cultural infrastructure our "Leviathan" has just rolled over? We pick the wars, they pay the bills and clean up the mess? I doubt it.

Jacob H

You completely ignore Barnett’s discussion of the need for a new international rule set. Such a rule set would – among other things - set the parameters for what conditions justify deploying military forces (both Leviathan and SysAdmin) into the Gap. The US doesn't get to "pick the wars;" common interests among Core states create a shared rule set that produces consensus regarding where and if a war should occur.


"[A] new international rule set" - that sounds a lot like a dotcom "boil the ocean" business plan: "once we all agree to the rules, action/reaction can be preordained". I reject the notion that nations could sit down and explicitly develop such a rule set (see League of Nations, UN). Alternatively, I suppose you could postulate that such a rule set would emergently 'appear' among interconnected, first world trading nations (e.g. the US, Germany, the UK and France, et. al.). Our current experience in Iraq (US & UK participation, German & France opposition) and Sudan (little to no substantive activity) belies that notion as well.

The best I think we can hope for the "Map" is an acknowledgement by US leadership that a SysAdmin force is necessary and different from a traditional fighting force. That SA force could be created w/in the US military with a specific nation-building focus. Perhaps, ideally, an 'API' of sorts could be envisioned for such a force so that other nation's forces could be 'plugged-in' more effectively.

The act of going to war and the shedding of a nation's blood is intensely personal/political and unlikely ever to be allowed out of the control of a specific nation's leaders.

Jacob H

You are dancing with a straw man here.
1) None of your ideas regarding the character or nature of a SysAdmin force disagree with anything I have read by Barnett. Nor do I disagree with their substance.
2) Your dismissal of the possibility of a rule set reset indicates that you do not understand Barnett's use of the term. The formation of a rule set is not some starkly legal action (your League of Nations / UN example), nor is it some natural process that will simply emerge with no outside effort (your subsequent examples). I point you to the post-WWII / early Cold War and the variety of processes (NATO, the Bretton Woods Conference, the Marshall Plan, ...) that created the Cold War's rule set.

This exchange really won't be productive if I'm simply going to be regurgitating my understanding of Barnett's work to you. Let's just put it on the shelf, shall we?

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