Why it's necessary to lose the war in Iraq

March 29, 2007

Future: Tense — The coming world order

By Gwynne Dyer

Scribe, 2006

256 pages, $27.95

With ever growing unease over our military engagement in Iraq, it may be time to once more consider Gwynne Dyer's latest book, Future: Tense. Dyer seems frustrated by the many distortions and mistruths that have been published regarding Iraq and the "war on terror". Against this, his work proceeds largely through counter-argument, in which he systematically dissects the prevailing theories, both for and against the war in Iraq, in an effort — perhaps Quixotic, but certainly necessary — to urge us to deal directly, not just with the reality of the situation, but with the consequences arising from that situation.

Dyer argues convincingly that most commentators have either missed or purposely ignored what is most significant about the war in Iraq. It is not a battle against Islamic extremism, and it is not just about the imperialist pretensions of the current US government. It is about how all the nations of the world are going to deal with each other in the future. The United States — along with Britain and Australia — dismantling a 60-year project to abolish international war is only the beginning. The war in Iraq is only a relatively small conflict compared to all the future conflicts that it has set a precedent for. This is why, rather provocatively, Dyer argues that we must lose the war, and lose it quickly.

For all our sakes.

His chapter on the Islamist project is one of the most informative pieces on this topic I have yet read. Dyer successfully separates the legitimate grievances of the Middle East regarding the West from the distorted Islamist explanations and solutions which have resulted in terrorism. Moreover, he shows how this project is doomed to fail, and how grossly disproportionate the response by Western media and ruling elites has been. "A world where terrorism is seen as the biggest problem is a world without big problems."

His chapter on the neo-conservative project shows how since the collapse of the Cold War, the United States has been trying to assert a new Pax Americana. This project was planned prior to and outside of the context of the "war on terror". However, the economic and military power base of the US has been grossly exaggerated, and the capacity to actually create such a hegemony, let alone maintain it indefinitely, is limited.

Dyer shows how this US project and the Islamist project have formed a symbiotic relationship, that they feed off each other in order to pursue their own narrow ends. But his main point in this book is that these ends are of secondary importance to the fate of the multilateral international system, which began with the League of Nations, and is now being pursued haphazardly by the United Nations. The survival of this system is what is really at stake here. For without it, when the United States eventually fails to achieve its hegemony, the world will be left without the leadership, structures or mechanism to hold us back from the major global conflicts that will brew between the two or three loosely aligned power blocs that will invariably form in the interim vacuum.

"The objective is to get through what promises to be a very difficult half-century without a world war, and what happens in the next couple of years may be decisive", Dyer concludes. "Either we get back to building the international institutions we started working on sixty years ago, or we get used to the idea that we are working our way up to the Third World War."

But Dyer does not view the United Nations through rose-tinted glasses. He is as critical of this project as he is of the Islamist and neo-conservative projects. But just as this does not lead him into demonising Islam, or slipping into anti-Americanism, so too his criticisms of the UN do not result in his dismissing the necessary role it plays in international affairs. His own position is closer to that of Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Republican senator and US delegate to the UN in 1955 (cited in this book), who said: "This organisation is created to keep you from going to hell. It isn't created to take you to heaven."

This is also the task that Dyer is committed to continuing. So should we all.

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