Philip Bobbitt's The
Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History (Alfred A.
Knopf) received a few glowing reviews when it was published in early 2002 but
did not get much attention beyond the confines of think-tanks and academia.
Perhaps the book was too heavy for the broader readership (well, with more
than 1,000 pages, it certainly was) and it is quite possible that in the aftermath
of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, not a lot
of people were interested in reading a Big Picture analysis on the future of
But, in fact, the scenarios about the prospects of globalization drawn up by
Bobbitt were – and are – very relevant to any discussion of the post-9/11 global
reality and the campaign against terrorism. If anything, as the controversy
over the sale of US port operations to an Arab-owned company has demonstrated,
the kind of American nationalist fury that exploded after 9/11 and the ensuing
Afghanistan and Iraq wars that have helped ignite Arab and Muslim rage and stir
up anti-American sentiment worldwide could become a volatile political mix,
and together with more economic nationalist pressure in Europe and the coming
to power of left-wing governments in Latin American could end up blowing up
the open global economic system, with its emphasis on the free flow of products,
investments and people.
Or to put it differently, rising sense of nationalism that manifests itself
in antagonism to the "other" – Arab companies in the United States, American
companies in Latin America, Arab immigrants in Europe, Latin immigrants in the
United States – are likely to provide momentum to the forces of economic nationalism
and prove to be the most serious challenge to the idea of globalization.
In his book, Bobbitt sketches the outlines of three possible worlds that could
be brought into being by the choices that nation-states, and in particular the
global hegemon and other leading powers, make in response to the political,
economic and cultural pressures that globalization produces:
First, there is the world of The Meadow that is a society of
states in which entrepreneurial "market-state" – replacing the archaic
nation-state – has become predominant. In this world, success comes to
those who exploit the fast-moving opportunities brought about by high
technology and the global market which transcends the borders of the
state. The United States, the political-military and economic hegemon
becomes the locomotive the drives this global transformation by
providing the global "public goods" that are necessary in order to
maintain the open system, including by forming coalitions aimed at
containing military aggressors and leading the efforts to liberalize
trade and investment.
Then there is the world of The Park which reflects an international
society in which the values and attitudes of the managerial market-state have
prevailed and government plays a far larger role in defining the common interest
and using the political power of government to assert that interest. Political
and economic interest groups play a crucial role in determining policy outcomes
in Washington (and other world capitals). The global economy is being grouped
in competing regional markets: a U.S.-led hemispheric bloc; the European Union;
an East-Asian system dominated by China.
Finally, there is The Garden in which government's role is less a regulatory
and more a central-supportive one, providing long-range strategic planning based
on the perceived good of the national society where a sense of common identity
based on ethnicity, religion and race overrides individual assertiveness and
the power of interest groups. The states here have become more and more protectionist,
ethnocentric, and more protective of their respective cultures, creating the
condition in which international conflicts, ranging from trade war to military
confrontations become more likely.
Bobbitt had written the book during the height of the roaring 1990s, during
which political and economic elites, the Davos Men and Women were quite confident
that globalization – dramatized by the growing flow of trade and investment
across borders, the integration of the former Soviet bloc and China, a booming
Wall Street and the birth of the Internet – would indeed create a global political,
economic and cultural environment in which would resemble The Meadow.
Those were the years when pundits were speculating about the Decline of the
State and the rise of the Sovereign Individual and proposing that in a world
of corporate mergers, rising immigration, and peaceful coexistence, the answer
to "Who is Us?" was not as simple as it used to be.
When the book was published against the backdrop of the bursting of the high-tech
bubble, a bearish stock market and 9/11, things were starting to look a bit
different. "Us" was suddenly perceived as a national community being under attack
by pre-globalization (pre-modern, some would argue) religious fanatics. We were
discovering that the Dow would not rise forever to the stratosphere and that
the Business Cycle was still alive and well. In fact, Bobbitt warned in the
book that a failure by the United States to lead the campaign against terrorism
through a multilateral front combined with protectionist pressures in the US
would make it more likely that the international system would take the form
of The Park and encourage the creation of regional security and economic
blocs. In retrospect, he seems to have been too optimistic.
Indeed, it is looking more and more that many
of the elements in The Garden scenario are becoming dominant in the evolving
international system as the leaders of the global hegemon are beginning to respond
to pressure from a public that is less willing to pay the costs of providing
those "public goods" that Bobbitt argued were needed in order to maintain the
stability of a free and open global economy and to counter the challenges from
Bobbitt introduces us to The Garden by imagining the results of the
future 2008 US elections, which led the new leaders in Congress and the White
House to conclude that the governance of the preceding years, both Democratic
and Republican, has been misguided. A slow recovery from an economic recession
encouraged protectionist barriers to trade; these further constrained the global
recovery and invited foreign criticism that Americans found irksome.
Moreover, "American preeminence in many arenas was perceived abroad as
hegemony and contributed to a US/European estrangement. Traditional ethnocentrism
in Asia coupled with mercantile trade policies intensified the sense of mutual
alienation that arose between Americans and Asians."
And "in a stunning repudiation of previous policy, a public
consensus in the United States emerged that the multilateral
interventions in the previous twelve years had been a mistake,"
creating pressures for US disengagement from the Middle East and other
parts of the world, with the Muslim world being the first "to turn its
back on the West and the ethos of consumerism, secularism and
libertarianism that was the engine of economic growth of this era,"
leading to increasing suspicions and tensions – and eventually to
military confrontations – between the Muslim world and the West.
Bobbitt's book was published before the US invasion of Iraq and even he could
not have predicted the disastrous outcome of that military adventure and the
way it would affect America's global status, its ties with its European allies
and its relationship with the Muslim world.
It is also very doubtful that even Bobbitt's creative imagination would have
led him to propose the following scenario: US Congress, reflecting the rising
fears and prejudices of their constituents, succeeded in blocking a Dubai-owned
company from taking over the management of terminals at six US ports. Considering
that Dubai is an model of American-style capitalism in the Middle East and a
reliable trade and military partner of the US, Bobbitt would have found it difficult
to conceive a scenario in which a company from Dubai would become the target
of a nationalist campaign that in the name of national security was setting
to close the American market to foreign trade and investment. Such a development
would not have made sense under the conditions prevailing in The Meadow
or even The Park.
According the Washington Post, the successful effort by US Congress,
which was backed by close to 80 per cent of the American public, to force Dubai
Ports World to abandon its attempt to take over terminal operations in the US
(after buying the British company that operates terminal in five US ports) suggested
that "the global message (America) sends – and in particular, to friendly
Arab and other Muslim countries – is that we don't really need your money, and
in this post-9/11 world we're going to be very picky about whom we do business
Other observers would probably dispute such dramatic interpretation of the
Dubai debacle, pointing out that if a rival Singaporean bid for the British-based
Peninsular & Oriental Steam would have taken control over the US ports,
the issue would not have aroused any public and Congressional attention. In
fact, foreign companies, including those from Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea
and Denmark, are managing the majority of the terminals at US ports, especially
the big ones such at Los Angeles and Long Beach in California and New York and
New Jersey, and much of the US merchant marine fleet was bought by foreigners,
including by Singapore's Neptune Orient Line.
Those who argue that the Dubai flap is not a reflection of a growing economic
nationalist sentiment are proposing that fears over Arab terrorism were translated
into concerns over the possibility of US strategic assets being owned by Arab
But the fact of the matter is that Americans were sending the same message
last year when a company controlled by the Chinese government was bashed and
hounded out of town after trying to bid on an American oil firm, UNOCAL. Like
in the case of Dubai, a coalition of economic nationalists and security hawks
argued that China should be considered as a threat to US national interests
and should not be allowed to take over so-called strategic assets such as American
'Strategic Asset' Test
And in fact, there is growing pressure on Capitol
Hill to adopt legislation that would make it even more difficult, if not impossible,
for foreign firms – not only those owned by Arab and Chinese interests – to
take over a US firm with national security implications. Hence a Congressional
committee has already voted to block the implementation of a new "open skies"
accord that would permit foreign investors to own more than 25 per cent of the
voting stock of a US airline, and there is now more talk in Washington to apply
the "strategic asset" test to other business sectors.
Economists would argue that with the US trade deficit reaching a record US$724
billion, the slowing down of foreign investment in the US economy could lead
to higher interest rates and weaken the US dollar. But the fact is that the
anti-Dubai campaign had to do more with politics and less with economics. The
revolt by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers against the Bush administration's
decision to give a green light to the Dubai deal exposed the rising anxiety
among most Americans about their country's place in the world. It doesn’t make
a lot of sense to the Davos Men and Women who dominate The Meadow or
to the government and business technocrats in charge of The Park. But
in The Garden, it’s The Political Man – a master in exploiting these
fears and anxieties – and not the Economic Man who calls the shots.
If Chinese and Arab companies are helping produce economic nationalist pressures
in this country, similar trends can be seen in Europe where a multi-billion
dollar bid by Mittal Steel, the global company headed by Indian entrepreneur
Lakshmi Mittal has been greeted with hostility in France, Luxembourg and Spain.
At the same time, the French government has designated 11 "sensitive"
economic sectors to "protect" against foreign bids, after locking
out an Italian company from its energy market, while in Latin America, the backlash
against American-led "neo-liberalism" has manifested itself in the
election of leftist governments in Brazil and Argentina, and the growing power
of movements representing the indigenous populations in Bolivia and Peru.
Historians would probably be intrigued by the fact that the first White House
occupant to hold an MBA ended up making it possible for the Political Man to
make a comeback. But it was President Bush’s post-9/11 nationalist agenda, leading
to the mess in Iraq and to bloody quagmire in Mesopotamia that is responsible
for the current angry mood among Americans: They watch on television every day
the way US designs to bring democracy to the Middle East produce anti-American
terrorism and the rising costs on terms of US lives and money: US soldiers are
killed, its embassies are attacked and its flags are burned and spit on.
They blame the erosion in US industrial base on the "outsourcing" of
jobs to places like China and India. And they are angry over the
continuing flood of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
In a way, the controversy over the US ports – where trade is being
conducted and where immigrants disembark – has become a symbol of this
angry public sentiment that is directed against the outside world and
is putting pressure on Washington to reexamine US engagement with the
And it is only an opening shot in what could become a very nasty mid-term election
campaign during which those wishing to get elected (or reelected) could be expected
to bash China and India who are now replacing the United States as the engines
of world economic growth of "stealing" American jobs, to call for
taking more drastic steps to restrict immigration and to demand that American
troops withdraw from Iraq. If the Democrats gain control of Congress in 2004,
one could envision how Capitol Hill, in the form of Congressional committees
would become a forum in which the Bush Administration’s Iraq fiasco would be
investigated in the next two years and ignite even more public pressure to reevaluate
U.S. foreign policy.
Welcome to Bobbitt's Garden.
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