Will empowered Democrats build fences or walls?

Globalization is more domestic policy than foreign policy because when America connects to the world outside, that outside world inevitably penetrates our communities, our workplaces, our homes. This recent election had a lot to do with modulating America’s connectivity to the world, whether we’re talking immigration, trade or Iraq.

The question for son-to-be ruling Democrats is, Will they build bridges or will they build walls?

There are really two types of people in this world — those who believe there are two types of people in this world and those who do not. I fall into the former category.

I believe everyone’s either an extrovert or an introvert. You’re either energized by spending time with other people or you’re exhausted by them and require solitude.

You see this distinction in religion. Some want to spread their faith while others want their faith to remain as separate as possible from a corrupt world. We call the former "evangelicals," and they exist in every faith. We call the latter "fundamentalists" and they too exist in every faith.

Many look around our world and see rising intolerance, in large part because the radical jihadist movement that we fight in this long war is made up of true fundamentalists. But religious experts will tell you the opposite is occurring. They will say that as globalization spreads we see increasing evangelicalism in all faiths, not fundamentalism; more selfless missionaries than suicide bombers.

We see the same phenomenon among states. Membership in the World Trade Organization grows with each passing year, as do bilateral and multilateral trade accords. Yes, we spend a lot of time worrying over the dictatorships that keep their populations cut off from the outside world, but this list grows smaller, not larger.

Viewing the world as a system, we clearly see the same balance overwhelmingly in favor of connectivity over isolation. A quarter-century ago the "global" economy consisted merely of the West, a sliver of the world’s population controlling the bulk of its productive wealth.

But now that functioning core of globalization has expanded to include an additional half of the world’s population, including the 3 billion-plus new capitalists found in the former Soviet bloc, south and east Asia, and in Latin America. Today, globalization’s connected core encompasses roughly two-thirds of humanity and more than 90 percent of the global GDP.

Yes, one-third of humanity remains largely disconnected from that global economy; their trade narrowly defined by raw materials such as energy. This "non-integrating gap" stretches from the Caribbean Rim through virtually all of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and into the littoral states of Southeast Asia. Within these regions, we can locate virtually all of America’s overseas military interventions since the end of the Cold War.


Millions have perished in endemic conflicts and civil strife inside globalization’s gap regions over the past decade and a half, even as globalization’s core regions have lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. Some see a split between haves and have-nots, but I see a divide between connected and disconnected. There’s plenty of poverty inside the core (e.g., India, China), it’s just that these states tackle that challenge by successfully globalizing their societies.

Increasing any nation’s connectivity to the outside world demands change of the most intimate sort. Don’t believe me? Then just watch how ineptly the male-dominated Middle East adapts itself to a global economy in which women’s empowerment rises commensurately with their growing role in labor.

America’s newly empowered Democrats face many difficult calls: Do we continue connecting the Middle East to globalization or do we accept Osama bin Laden’s offer of civilizational apartheid? Do we successfully conclude the WTO’s "Doha development round" or deny Africa’s entry into globalization’s core through our continued protectionism in agriculture? Do we raise income levels in Latin America through more fair trade or simply raise a fence to deter all those economic refugees?

In sum, do we continue our nation’s historic role as a revolutionary connective force in global affairs, expanding globalization’s core that was built on America’s source code of free markets, free trade, collective security and transparency? Or do we retreat from that burdensome effort through trade protectionism, anti-immigration bills and unilateral "phased redeployments?"

America has displayed two distinct political personalities throughout its history: expansionist and isolationist. Democrats must decide which is theirs for now.

Do we connect or disconnect?

(Thomas P.M. Barnett is a visiting scholar at the University of Tennessee’s Howard Baker Center and the senior managing director of Enterra Solutions LLC. Read his blog at www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog. Contact him at tom(at)thomaspmbarnett.com.)