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Iraq: Dyer's Consequences

The go it alone Bush doctrine, says a rock hard conservative, could bring us World War III.

By Crawford Kilian 23 Nov 2004 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian was born in New York City in 1941. He was raised in Los Angeles and Mexico City, and was educated at Columbia University (BA '62) and Simon Fraser University (MA '72). He served in the US Army from 1963 to 1965, and moved to Vancouver in 1967. He became a naturalized Canadian in 1973.

Crawford has published 21 books -- both fiction and non-fiction, and has written hundreds of articles. He taught at Vancouver City College in the late 1960s and was a professor at Capilano College from 1968 to 2008. Much of Crawford's writing for The Tyee deals with education issues in British Columbia, but he is also interested in books, online media, and environmental issues.

Reporting Beat: Education, health, and books

Crawford's Connection to BC: Though he was born in New York City, one of Crawford's favourite places is Sointula, a small town off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

Twitter: @crof

Website: H5N1

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"The United States needs to lose the war in Iraq as soon as possible," Gwynne Dyer says in the first pages of Future Tense: The Coming World Order (McClelland & Stewart).

He's not a crypto-Islamist, but a rock-solid conservative. He believes the war is a disastrous attack on the international order that the UN has maintained since 1945. The sooner Bush's radical unilateralism fails, the sooner the U.S. will return to multilateralism and international law.

Future: Tense is a kind of sequel to Dyer's 2003 book Ignorant Armies, a brilliant but hastily written argument against going to war in Iraq. Much of the present book must have been written in haste also, since it covers very recent events, but Dyer is more in charge of his material. He rolls out the history and analysis like a general sending a well-trained armoured brigade into action; the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Why Iraq in the first place? Dyer is deeply unimpressed by both Bush's arguments about weapons of mass destruction and those of his opponents who think it's all about oil. Nor is he overawed by Al Qaeda and other Islamists. They are "dangerous but not serious," he says, because their ultimate goal of a transnational Muslim community is impossible.

But Bush's neoconservative supporters want to restore the Pax Americana of the Cold War era. That means a war to tell the world that the old UN rules are finished. The neocons and Islamists have therefore become "objective allies," each needing the other.

Killing foreigners always works

Dyer concisely summarizes the Islamist background, tracing the roots of Al Qaeda to the "Arab Afghans" who fought the Russians in Afghanistan and then returned home confident that they could take charge of their homelands and set up Islamic states. These, in turn, would blend into a single transnational umma (community), blessed by God and facing the West as an equal.

The Islamists, failing to gain power, turned to terrorism. But terrorists who kill their own people always lose, Dyer observes. Terrorists who kill foreigners in their country always win: Algeria against the French, Vietnam against the Americans, and Afghanistan against the Russians are examples.

So to gain political power in the Muslim world, the Islamists needed to lure the U.S. onto Muslim soil. That was the purpose of 9/11: to provoke an invasion of Afghanistan that would bog down the U.S. as the Soviets had been in the 1980s.

Evidently Islamists, like western nations, are always preparing to fight the last war. Imagine Osama bin Laden's surprise when the U.S. knocked out the Taliban in a matter of weeks, and by pouring money, not troops, into the country. Only 500 Americans were in Afghanistan when Kabul fell, but CIA agents with satchels full of cash had bought the loyalty of enough warlords to win the war.

Neocons as Al Qaeda's enablers

Fortunately for the Islamists, 9/11 also provided a pretext for a decade-old dream of the US neoconservatives: a war against Iraq. Dyer covers the history of the Project for the New American Century, which had even lobbied Clinton to launch a war against Saddam, and cites high American officials who were appalled when the war on terrorism was aborted in Afghanistan. Instead, troops and money would go to Iraq.

But they would not go in search of oil. As Dyer points out, half of Iraq's oil output was already going to the U.S. in the month before the invasion, easily obtainable just by writing a cheque.

Far from being a threat to the U.S., Iraq got invaded because it wasn't dangerous. Attacking North Korea or Iran would have meant a really serious war, with intolerable numbers of American casualties. Saddam, after a dozen years of sanctions, was a pushover. A cheap victory would tell the world that the U.S. was now restoring Pax Americana and everyone had better fall in line.

Saddam was a pushover, but the Iraqis were not. Aided by the mistakes of grossly incompetent American administrators, the insurgents have turned the country into a classic quagmire. With an endless supply of recruits, they can keep hammering away at the Americans until U.S. taxpayers-sick of the cost in lives and money-finally pull the plug.

The Perils of unilateralism

Gwynne Dyer doesn't object to the Iraq War because war is a bad thing. He objects because it results from a change in American policy that will lead to far worse wars. Having played a huge role in establishing the UN and the rule of international law, the U.S. is (under its current government) dismissing the UN as "irrelevant."

But the UN is a hundred-year project, Dyer argues, going against a 5,000-year trend of international anarchy and endless war. By violating the UN Charter, George W. Bush and his government are returning the world to the old anarchy.

The neocons expect four percent of humanity, the U.S., to dominate the other 96 percent forever. This is impossible, especially given the precarious economic situation the U.S. now faces. Pax Romana lasted centuries, and Pax Britannica a couple of generations. Pax Americana, as a unilateral U.S. position, probably won't last a decade.

We in the 96 percent, however, must very gently restore the U.S. to its old self, the leader of a multilateral world. A collapse of the dollar could bring down the global economy. A humiliating withdrawal from Iraq (or other quagmires) could leave the Americans sulking like Achilles in his tent. So we have to contrive some kind of soft, ego-protecting landing for the Americans after this awful binge they've been on.

Return to anarchy

Worst of all, Dyer suggests, would be a protracted binge of unilateralism. The UN would indeed become irrelevant. The world would revert to the late 19th-century world of alliances and inevitable war. Europe and Russia would eventually form one such alliance (probably minus Britain, which seems determined to become Airstrip One in Bush's version of Oceania). The U.S. might well ally itself with India against both the Muslim Middle East and China. Canada, like it or not, would be Airstrip Two.

Everyone, of course, would resume the arms race, and at some point World War III would break out.

Future: Tense is a concise, calm, and well-informed exposition of Bush's radical break with the efforts of the past sixty years: away from international law, away from restraint in pursuit of national interests. We who have grown up since 1945 simply take the UN world for granted. We don't realize what a remarkable achievement it is and how lucky we've been. Bush and the neocons (and their Christian-right allies) have only contempt for the world that nourished them, when they might well have died in a nuclear holocaust.

Published on the day Bush was re-elected, Future: Tense is an essential handbook for anyone who's trying to make sense of events, and who wants to get the world back to the rule of law. That must be a lot of people. On Friday, September 12, the book's Amazon.ca sales rank was an impressive #23. Twenty-four hours later, it was #14.

Crawford Kilian, a frequent contributor to The Tyee, teaches at Capilano College.  [Tyee]

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