Thursday, November 09, 2006

Can Pittsburgh Change Course?

Pittsburgh needs to start thinking about itself in a global context. When local columnist Dan Simpson voices concern about China's growing presence in Africa, Pittsburghers should take note. The problem is figuring out how Chinese oil interests in Sudan affects a local in East Liberty. Teasing out these connections would give someone cause to read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for international coverage instead of heading to the websites of the New York Times or Washington Post.

Aggregated Globalization Scores

The big news yesterday was the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, signaling a dramatic shift in US foreign policy:

Beyond the immediate issue of Iraq -- and Afghanistan, where the Taliban have re-emerged as serious menace -- are larger questions of how the United States will fight the longer term battle against terrorists, rogue nations and nonstate actors that many analysts believe have supplanted traditional nation state warfare as one of this century's biggest threats.

Rumsfeld's answer to that call was dubbed "Transformation," which he described in a 2002 speech as a necessary response to the events of Sept. 11.

"Our challenge in the 21st century is to defend our cities and our infrastructure from new forms of attack while projecting force over long distances to fight new and perhaps distant adversaries," he said. "Our goal is not simply to fight and win wars, it is to try to prevent wars."

But many analysts said that despite the cutting edge rhetoric and early successes such as the tight integration of U.S. Special Forces with Northern Alliance fighters in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld focused too much on gee-whiz technology and heavy air power instead of human intelligence and boots on the ground.

"All of 'Transformation' was about building a force that was superb at fighting the Soviet Union in the Sahara Desert," Hammes said. "Unfortunately, that's no longer the kind of war we are in or will be in for the next 10 to 15 years."

Part of that emphasis came from a concern shared by Rumsfeld and others in the administration about China, which they saw as an emergent military threat and a "near peer" to the United States, said Thomas Barnett, author of "The Pentagon's New Map" and "Blueprint for Action."

"The fixation on China, which was strong with this administration when it came in and certainly remained strong with the China hawks under Rumsfeld and with Rumsfeld himself became the excuse for over-feeding the war force and starving the occupation force," he said. "The Air Force and the Navy probably get happier than they need to be ... and the Army and the Marines are left hanging."

Gates, a former director of the CIA, might bring a different perspective to that equation, in the view of some analysts -- with possible ramifications in Iraq and beyond.

Optimistically, Rumsfeld stepping down signals a change in how we view China, an ally in the promotion of globalization instead of an enemy competing for resources. To the extent that Pittsburgh is linked to the global economy, this would be a significant paradigm shift. In this sense, Pittsburgh might view China as an opportunity.

The change in course would be away from protectionism and fears about economic globalization. While quaint, Pittsburgh's predominantly parochial mindset stands in the way of regional development and progress. Withdrawing from Iraq and the rest of the world would be a grave mistake.

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