And now, the good news

Michael Barone
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Posted: Jul 31, 2006 12:01 AM
And now, the good news

The world seems aswirl. Where do we stand today?

Let's use the analysis of bestselling 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). 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.

First, the Israeli campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon. It looks as if the Israelis are encountering more military resistance than expected, and it's not clear that they can wipe out Hezbollah as an effective force. Nor is it clear that the United States can install some combination of 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 amount to a significant shrinking of the gap. If not, we're back where we started.

Second, the collapse last week of the Doha round of trade negotiations. They might be revived later, but in the meantime we've missed a chance to open up 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 to expand 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.

Third, immigration. The bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, with border security and free-market guest-worker provisions, has some small chance of passing the Senate and House. A law that regularizes illegal immigrants would close the internal gap we have with 12 million illegals.

Fourth, 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. The victories of anti-Chavez candidates in Peru, Colombia and Mexico in the past few months show that irresponsible demagogy is not popular in the region. Connectivity is increasing, not decreasing, to our south.

Fifth, 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 growing 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 9/11. 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 be enjoying in the 1990s. As 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.