- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

The world seems aswirl. Where do we stand today?

Let’s use the analysis of best-selling author Thomas Barnett, who divides the world into a functioning “Core” (North America, Europe, East Asia, rising China and India) and a nonfunctional “Gap” (the Middle East, most of Africa, part of the Andean chain in South America). Mr. Barnett argues that our task is to expand the economically interconnected core and establish what he calls connectivity to shrink the gap.

How are we doing? Actually, not badly. Let’s look at the hot spots.

(1) The Israeli campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon seems to be encountering more military resistance than expected, and it’s not clear they can wipe out Hezbollah as an effective force. Nor is it clear the United States can install a combined European and Lebanese military force to control southern Lebanon. But if — a big “if” — the Israelis succeed and Hezbollah is reduced to impotence, that would significantly shrink the gap. If not, we’re back where we started.

(2) The Doha round of trade negotiations collapsed last week. They might be revived later, but in the meantime we’ve missed a chance to open North America and Europe to agricultural exports from Third World countries that desperately need dollars and euros. That’s a shame. But the zone of free trade continues expanding as the United States, during this administration, negotiates one free-trade agreement after another — Oman and Jordan, Central America and Australia, Peru and Colombia. All are increasing connectivity and shrinking the gap.

(3) The immigration bill sponsored by Republicans Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, with border security and free-market guest-worker provisions, has some small chance of passing. A law regularizing illegal immigrants would close our internal gap with 12 million illegals.

(4) In Latin America, Venezuela’s oil-rich demagogue Hugo Chavez continues to pal around with dictators and tries to stir up trouble. But Latin American voters have been rejecting Chavezism. Victories of anti-Chavez candidates in Peru, Colombia and Mexico in the last few months show irresponsible demagogy is not popular in the region. Connectivity is increasing, not decreasing, to our south.

(5) China and India, with one third of the world’s population, continue to have scorching economic growth — 11 percent in China, 8 percent in India. And they’re increasingly interconnected with the thriving economies of the core. Hundreds of millions of people are rising out of poverty. And despite high oil prices, we have solid economic growth in North America and Latin America and even some growth in sclerotic Europe. The world economy has never been in better shape.

The cloud. Do we still face problems?

Sure. Iran, to name one — though its ally Hezbollah seems to have overreached. North Korea, to name another. Baghdad is a mess with sectarian violence. Islamist terrorists continue to plan mayhem against us, and in Europe, Muslim immigrants threaten to impose their values on free and liberal societies.

But as we ponder these problems, we need to take a deep breath and reflect on the larger picture, as Thomas Barnett does in his blog (www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog): “Plenty of people look at the world today and see only decline and violence and chaos since September 11 [2001]. I am amazed at how little the Functioning Core of globalization has suffered since that date: no real violence or threats of same amidst our ranks, slow but steady political integration that’s still not keeping up with the economic bonds that are booming, spotty but emerging sense of shared security values, and the usual pinpricks of harm inflicted by terror and God, but all in all, nothing really bad despite all this ‘tumult’ centered in the Middle East and the rising price of oil.”

Even so, most Americans continue to moan and groan about our situation, and to yearn for the holiday from history we seemed to enjoy in the 1990s. As Mr. Barnett argues, “Time is on our side, as are all the major dynamics that count — energy, investments, demographics, sheer firepower, enduring ingenuity, strength of our societies, our enduring resilience.” With fits and starts, the core is expanding, connectivity is increasing, and the gap is closing.

Michael Barone is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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