The search for a positive narrative in US Foreign policy

The search for a positive narrative in US Foreign policy

In the USA we face a desperate search for new positive narratives in the US Foreign policy as democracy, human rights, globalization are loosing attraction.As an example for this we recommend the new article by Thomas Barnett and will discuss the context and the ideology of the article afterwards:

The New Rules: A Positive Narrative for U.S. Foreign Policy

By Thomas P.M. Barnett | 27 Feb 2012

Where is the positive vision for U.S. foreign policy in this election? President Barack Obama and on-again, off-again „presumptive“ GOP nominee Mitt Romney now duel over who is more anti-declinist when it comes to America’s power trajectory, with both slyly attaching their candidacies to the notion that „the worst“ is now behind us. On that score, Obama implicitly tags predecessor George W. Bush, while Romney promises a swift end to all things Obama.

Halftime in America? Indeed.

But what’s the animating vision, besides rebounding? What course are we setting, besides up?

So far, all the candidates‘ visions seem negative — as in, things we should prevent — with no proposals for what we might bring to fruition. We’ve got to get America „back,“ not so much to do anything but to avoid all the other alternatives.

The only thing we’re certain about when it comes to the future is that we don’t want China to own it. For that matter, we don’t want Beijing running Asia, or the U.S. economy, either. Heck, we don’t even want Beijing running China.


As for more slowly rising India, let’s be honest: Despite sharing democratic values, a common language and often common interests, we can’t seem to get past the sometimes prickly obstacles to a true partnership. To the extent we champion that behemoth of a civilization, it’s primarily driven by the desire to keep China contained.

We don’t want Russia back — on any terms, really — and we’re rather ambivalent about its former spheres of influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus. We’ve lost interest in the Middle East, just in time for the Arab Spring. But that glorious turn of events only increases our lack of interest: For those of us satisfied with its progress, we see less to worry about; for those who see only more scary religion at work, there’s even less desire to care. Israel tugs on us incessantly over Iran, and we’re mostly annoyed by the prospect.

Africa may be booming right now, but to the extent that any of us recognize that, it just becomes the excuse to finally indulge our long-standing compassion fatigue regarding the seemingly nonstop series of internal wars, famines and epidemics that continue to plague the continent. That strategically shortsighted view is reflected in the U.S. military’s recently established Africa Command, whose marching orders might as well be to make sure what happens in Africa stays in Africa.

We’re even less kind toward Latin America, which we imagine — rather guiltily — as one never-ending drug cartel shoot-out. Despite its magnificently burgeoning middle class, Latin America, in our darkest fantasies, is best fenced off in a sort of „Escape from New York“ way. Geopolitically, we’re as grudge-focused there as we are in the Middle East, with the clingy old Castros and cancer-stricken Hugo Chavez dominating our thoughts. When we imagine progress, it usually comes in the form of a dictator’s last breath. And while the region has effectively decoupled itself economically from the U.S., embracing that Southward future somehow still feels to many Americans like joining a race to the bottom.


So where do we go with all this ambivalence?

A good place to start is with what’s giving us the most-positive feeling right now, and that’s easily the fracking revolution in „tight“ oil and shale gas: nice cheap energy that’s putting Americans back to work in impressive-enough numbers and triggering some regional waves of wealth-creation for those landowners lucky enough to benefit from U.S. mineral-rights law. If it’s done right in terms of acceptable environmental costs, energy experts tell us we’re on the verge of an industrial renaissance. Good-bye to King Coal and, if we can see our way to the Keystone XL pipeline, hello to Canadian oil sands that will now be more cheaply processed. But again, that would require our political leadership to be for something instead of always against the „others.“

America being a net exporter of petroleum products for the first time in six decades is exciting news: Not only would we no longer be the global sinkhole for hydrocarbons, we’d be working to reduce the cost of energy more generally around the planet. So what is good for America would be good for globalization, too.

It gets even more compelling in a geostrategic sense. Six of the seven largest shale gas reserves are found in countries that line the Pacific rim — namely, China, America, Argentina and Mexico in the top four positions respectively, with Australia and Canada at six and seven.

So, instead of a military strategic „pivot“ toward East Asia — again, that pesky Arab Spring beckons — and instead of a Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade scheme that purposefully excludes China, why isn’t some political leader talking about a Pacific Shale Gas Community that shares technology and promotes rapid-but-careful exploitation of this vast energy bonanza? The Obama White House already has a president-level agreement on clean energy cooperation with China, so why isn’t that the positive vision for the way ahead — the „bridge to“ the next big era of this century?

Such a vision would tell the Persian Gulf, „Pick up the pace on reforms, because the clock is ticking a bit faster now on the centrality of your energy exports!“ It would encourage Russians to move past backward-looking Putinism. It would energize our NAFTA partnership and hopefully encourage us to think more positively about our neighbors down South, because nothing says „free trade area“ quite like the offer of cheap energy reliably delivered — and consumed — in bulk.

In short, we can once again become the bearer of good news and not just the eliminator of bad guys. We’ll lead with our soft power, while smoothing out our hard edges.

It’s no coincidence that, historically, the great American statesmen have known that bringing America „back“ means getting it to face forward. Today that means focusing on a global future worth creating and not just a landscape of „risers“ that need containing. Americans tend to elect optimistic candidates, not just alternatives to the „complete disaster“ represented by the opposition’s possible victory. Such happy endings are what get us out of the locker room, ready to play that much-anticipated „second half.“

Thomas P.M. Barnett is chief analyst at Wikistrat and a contributing editor for Esquire magazine. His eBook serial is „The Emily Updates: One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived“ (September-December 2011). His weekly WPR column, The New Rules, appears every Monday. Reach him and his blog at

Thomas Barnett’s optimistic vision of a “ fracking revolution in “tight” oil and shale gas“ which shall revolutionize the USA and the world sounds very good, but also very simplicistic. Many Europeans and I once had the idea to revolutionize Europe by a revolution of reneweable energy–means: Build Italy, Portugal,Spain and Greece as the solar powerhouses of Europe with a renaissance of their economies, greater independence for Europe from foreign oil and gas, enabling those PIGScountries to pay their debts and thereby solve the Eurocrisis.However, many politicians and experts told me that this vision sounds nice, but is impracticable ( Therefore I am also very skeptical about the simplicistic approach of Tom Barnett.

There seem to be three interconnected positive narratives of the USA:

-Political narrative Democracy and human rights

-Economical narrative  US-/Worldwide Middle-class societies Globalization

-Technological narrative Technological innovation and revolution by NASA, IT ( Bill Gates. Marc Zuckerman and Steve Jobst), Star Wars,New Euarsian Silk Road, shelf gas and tight oil revolution, etc.

It is interessting to see that Thomas Barnett is shifting to and is emphazizing the technological narrative as it seems that democracy, human rights and globalization after the desaster of the finiancial crisis have lost their impetus.To me this sounds like Lyndon La Rouche who also emphazised technological innovation as the center piece of the US narrative. La Rouche wanted to build nuclear-chemical complexes along an Eurasian New Silk Road (Lissabon-Beijing equipped with German Transrapid technology and railways)—in the centre an European productive triangle which should lead the world economy out of its crisis.There also have been futuristic plans to dry up the Mediterrean Sea and build a infrastructure zone from Europe to Africa.And the new presidental candidates also try partly to revitalize the technological narrative:

Newt Gingrich wants to sponsor a new moon project as George W. Bush wanted to travel to Mars or as Reagan wanted Star Wars ( I never understood how the Russian could take this science-fiction-crap for real).I hope that the first two narratives of the USA will gain momentum again and I hope that Thomas Barnett´s idea of a fracking revolution in shelf gas and tight oil won´t be a new Jules Verne novel.However, I think it would be better to start with a revolution of renewable energies and not with hydrocarbons, shelf gas and tight oil which will also reach its Peak Oil moment at a foreseeable future. The shelf gas and tight oil revolution can buy us time, but will not solve the fundamental question for our civilization: What should we do after we are running out of oil and gas?

It is interesting that Thomas Barnett has a vision of a technological energy revolution or of globalization, but not of democracy like Fukuyama.Fukuyama with „The end of history“ had this grand narrative, but failed in the short term.Therefore the next I read from Fukuyama was a much quoted article in the Chinese People´s Daily: The USA has little to teach China, not even democracy

 ( Now Francis Fukuyama ( „The Future of History“: „The alternative narrative is out there,waiting to be born“) and Charles A. Kupchan („The Democratic Mallaise)“in the Foreign Affairs issue January/February 2012 ( try also to restore an American vision for the world which tries to restore the vision of democracy with an antineoliberal concept.I really feel sad that the USA is still such defensive and culturalpessimistic–from Obama to Romney to  Gingricht to Santorum.Barnett, Fukuyama and Kupchan seem to be the only ones who try to revitalize the vital, missionary USA we had during the Cold War.However, I ask myself: Are the postmodernist philosophers right when they claim that all grand narratives are already told and that there is no space for a new positive narrative?
I  read an article in the mouthpiece of German Catholicism „Die Debatte“ which portrays the liberal, benign hegemon consensus of the USA as an anomaly–from Roosevelt to Carter. The USA before and afterwards had its deep identity crisis and the struggle of different factions to win this „Kulturkampf“and the struggle between different narratives and visions is what we will face in the near future. Therefore in Europe and the rest of the world we have to get accustomed to the idea that the USA has returned to its old pattern and abolishes the anomaly of a liberal consensus we know from the short period of the Cold War.Therefore we will have a fierce struggle about the American narrative in the future as the USA has abolished this liberal consensus.

I forgot to mention a fourth narrative of the USA:

Religious Narrative (God´s own country, city on the hill, New Jerusalem) Evangelicalism which is spreading in the USA, Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia

However, most Europeans find this religious narrative threatening as we had all this religious wars in Europe and have now a very moderate religion, most Europeans being secularists and agnostic.The Evangelicals remind us more of the Clash of Civilization zealots and new crusades in the name of Christianity and when we see Thomas Barnett´religious map of Africa or hear  Evangelical anchorman Pat Robertson´s proposal for the assassination of other countries`political leaders or watch the Evangelical TV station „Day Star“which promotes Zionist propaganda, we think that this religious narrative of the USA is nothing positive. Maybe a Rick Warren is the first representative of a new, moderate Evangelical church, but till now we mostly hear the Pat Robertsons and Day Star -the representatives of a far right religious Evangelicalsim which wants to spread its belief even by military force and assasinations of other countries´politicans.The consensus between all those Evangelicals is that Isreal is the Holy Land of the Bible and God and that there should be no compromises to a 2-state solution with the Palestinians. In the long/medium term this will bring us in a conflict with the Muslim world. With the Muslim secularists who want to make compromiss about the Holy Land, but who want to see a real solution for the Palestinians. For the religious Muslims who see Jerusalem as „Quds“ and the Holy City and who–under the leadership of Muslimbrotherhoods in Egypt, Syria,Jordania,  Tunesia, etc. which will follow the Arab spring- won´t compromise on anything. Therefore this religious narrative is  hazardous to the USA as it is to the Muslim world—it will bring us to the brink of a Clash of Civilizations.

Maybe to revitalize the narratives of democracy and human rights AND globalization it is necessay to reform the USA from a two party system into a multiparty system or have more people´s democracy like Switzerland („Volksabstimmungen“). Maybe the best way to revitalize the narrative of globalization is that the USA becomes the forerunner of regulated capitalism, some sort of internationalist social democracy.However, it seems unlikely that the two old parties will do this and that Thomas Barnett will like those ideas. Therefore America seems only to have the third and fourth narrative–technological innovaton and Evangelicalism. But a US narrative which is based on hydrocarbons and  religious zealots won´t be the answer for the 21st century problems.

Kommentare sind geschlossen.