This month's Esquire contains (just is?) their annual "Esquire 100": "The Ideas, Trends, Products, People, and Obscene Gestures You Should Know About Before Everyone Else." Well, Thomas Barnett's idea (five, actually, No. 5-9 on the list) must be counted as one of the "obscene gestures." Barnett's premise is that "in the lives of men and nations, either you are growing or you're dying" and that we should be asking the question, "...What will our next five states be?"
With the possible exception of Puerto Rico (which probably should become a state, or independent--the latter prospect of which would probably be great for the U.S., but horseshit for the Puerto Ricans), all of Barnett's ideas are historically-challenged in their basis, of questionable benefit, and, frankly, bat-shit stupid crazy. Barnett's list? British Columbia, Cuba, Mexico's northern states, Panama, and Puerto Rico.
Barnett starts his piece with the folksy premise that he's the first member of his family in seven generations to miss out on getting a new state. Well, that's sort of true. But not really. Let's work backwards from this idea first, before we even get to the new states.
Alaska and Hawaii were both admitted to the Union 1959, three years before Barnett was born. But Hawaii's independence ended at the point of a bayonet (literally and figuratively) in 1887 and became a U.S. territory in 1898, as America was expanding its Pacific holdings to project its power eastward to fulfill the ambitions inspired by Admiral Mahan. Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867. So, realistically-speaking, the U.S. acquired these territories during Barnett's great grandfather's era.
Arizona and New Mexico, the next most-recent states (admitted in 1912), were booty from the Mexican-American War: gained at gun-point in 1847, with a $15M apology the following year (and a half-paid subsequent tender for the Gadsden Purchase in 1853). We also got most of what is Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, and, the big enchilada, California. So now we're all the way back to Barnett's great-great grandpa, and the only territory we haven't acquired by violence is Alaska (of course, we paid Russia, but didn't ask permission of it's native population and gave no remuneration to them).
We acquired Texas by treaty in 1845 and Oregon's northern border with Canada was drawn in 1846, after tensions between the U.S. and Great Britain grew so tense that Democrats ran a heated election on the matter and coined the term "Manifest Destiny" as a rallying cry. The rest of the contiguous 48 were acquired from France in 1803 (Louisiana Purchase) and Spain in 1819 (The Adams-Onis Treaty).
In none of this were the actual inhabitants of the land, the various Native American Tribes, asked whether they gave a damn about all the white people trading blood, bullets, and gold for the rights to what wasn't even theirs.
So, Barnett's folksy story should really begin: "There was a sixty-year period of bloody expansion following the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, which my great-great-great-great, and great-great-great, and great-great grandparents cheered. The nation went through a grim distraction for another twenty years over slavery, and then spent several generations trying to figure out how to organize all their loot. And now I'm pissed, 'cause I don't even have anything to organize except Puerto Rico, and who the hell knows what to do with that?"
Now we get to the fun part: the first time our territorial ambitions turned into disaster, The Spanish-American War. From 1898 to 1933, the U.S. embarked on a long string of "Really, Really Bad Ideas," ended our adventures with one "Really, Really Good" one, and then, after two more "Really, Really Good Ideas" following World War II, have bumblefucked our way around the globe in one disaster after another. But back to 1898...
After a very short war with an uninspired and out-gunned Spain, we acquired Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Cuba was the only place we actually invaded. The Filipinos, on the other hand, who had already achieved significant victories against the Spanish on their own, were surprised as hell when they learned that they'd won the war but lost their country. And when they refused to hand it over, it cost tens (maybe even hundreds) of thousands of lives for us to take it from them in a war that took between 3 and 14 years, depending on who you ask... Before giving it back three decades and several hundred million (would now be several billion) dollars later. Cuba we just occupied on-and-off and to a greater or lesser extent until... well, until now.
Over the next decades, we invaded or occupied, under various auspices (including, but not limited to: the desire to end brutal revolutions, to prevent the Germans from occupying or annexing them, and the preservation of good markets and lucrative U.S. investments) Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama (which we created from whole cloth out of a chunk of Columbia we liked for the Canal). Only Panama among these really took as an idea or a reality, and in 1933 we had the first Really Good Foreign Policy idea since, oh, I don't know: Washington's Farewell Address. That idea was expressed in the Montevideo Convention, in which FDR and Cordell Hull declared an end to "U.S. armed intervention in inter-American affairs."
WWII goes without speaking as the greatest man-made disaster ever, and if you start it with the 1931 invasion of Manchuria in the East and either the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 or the Spanish Civil War in 1936 in the West, it occupied more than a decade of crisis. The Marshall Plan and Japanese Occupations that followed were landmark successes, after their fashions, but... during that crisis we somehow forgot, in fighting that war and in starting the Cold War, the hard lessons we'd learned from 1898 to 1933. It also didn't help that the rest of the world had learned two pretty neat tricks (made much more powerful with new developments in communications and military technology) since the days of worldwide colonial expansion: insurgency and propaganda. You can read about Dien Bien Phu (1953) and the Suez Crisis (1956) and the Battle of Algiers (1957) on your own, but even though they had little to do with America (Eisenhower's intervention in Suez excepted and the U.S.'s later involvement in Vietnam a later development), we should really, really have paid closer attention. Because they effectively marked the permanent end of useful military occupation on this planet. But we didn't learn from these, or from our earlier 35-year adventure in our own hemisphere, and instead launched a twelve year war in Vietnam, which we lost, and are now in year four of our war in Iraq, which we are also losing.
Which brings us all the way (and sorry, I practically sprinted through that little history lesson) to Barnett. So, not only has it been three or four generations since the Barnett family was on hand for the U.S. acquisition of permanent territory, but every generation since has seen every attempt at even occupying, much less annexing, territory end in disaster (I stipulate here: We're still in Germany, Japan, and Korea, as well as the Balkans and the non-Iraqi Middle East, all new since just Pa Barnett's lifetime: but Korea was a stale-mate that cost too many lives and involved the psychotic MacArthur's invasion of China; it's an open question whether we allowed as many killings in the Balkans as we prevented; and we'll see about the rest of the Middle East as Iraq winds up).
And he wants to do what? Acquire new states? Heh. That's an idea so fucking stupid it just might earn him a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Look, there are probably more Americans who want to be British Columbians than vice-versa: they've got dollar parity and universal health insurance. Panama's doing just fine, thanks: they're expanding the canal and just might become the Hong Kong of Central America (unless global warming really makes a significant dent in polar ice cap and Northwest Passage is open, like, six months a year). Mexico? Would taking their (relatively) prosperous states into the Union (assuming they would come) really make their more impoverished, rancorous southern states better off? Cuba? The marielitos and balseros sure as hell wanted to get out--but if Castro was gone, and the U.S. just lifted its embargo, couldn't they turn Cuba into one of the economic powerhouses of the Carribbean all by themselves? Which leaves us with Puerto Rico. Barnett could have come up with one really good idea: how to actually solve their indeterminate status. Instead he chose to make an obscene gesture. It's too bad.