Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Future: Tense

Book cover photo: Future: Tense, The Coming World Order. Future: Tense
The Coming World Order

By Gwynne Dyer
McClelland & Stewart, 2004

Review by Stephen Downes, July 5, 2006

In his column in today's local newspaper author Gwynne Dyer looks at the recently signed deal between the United States and India to assign the latter 'exception' status regarding the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. This will allow the greatly increased sale of arms to India, including 'dual purpose' arms, which could be used to support nuclear proliferation. This despite India's continued failure to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

What does Pakistan think, one might wonder. The erstwhile ally in the War on Terror seems particularly left out by the deal. But as Dyer comments, the value of the Pakistan alliance is long past. The Islamic terrorists are, if not caught, at least contained. And in any case, the real question is, what does China think? Because the purpose of the deal with India is not to contain Pakistan or even the Islamic world as a whole; it is to contain China.

This strategy may make no sense when viewed against the War on Terror, but as Dyer aregues in his book Future: Tense it was never about the War on Terror. As has been pointed out by numerous commentators, plans for an invasion such as that of Iraq were in place well before September, 2001. He devotes a full chapter to the Pax Americana project - readers will recognize the Project for a New American Century - and offers this as an explanation for the invasion and America's global stance since the turn of the century.

According to Dyer, Tom Friedman - yes, that Tom Friedman - "one of the head cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq at the New York Times, wrote in October 2003 that "this is the most radical-liberal revolutionary war that the U.S. has ever launched - a war of choice to install some democracy in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world." (p. 114) Maybe so, writes Dyer, but it is also doomed to fail - no colonial power has ever won a war against a colony, if only because the locals have nowehere else to go - and the sooner the U.S. loses the war and goes home, the better for everyone.

To explain why this is the case, Dyer explores the original role of the United Nations and examines why it failed to, say, depose obvious dictators such as Saddam Hussein. "The United Nations as constituted in 1945 was a profoundly cynical organization, more explicitly so even than the League of Nations." Its purpose was not to instill democracy - how could it be, when half its members were dictatorships? Rather, it was established solely to assert that territorial gains achieved by conquest would not be recognized by the other nations of the world. "The U.N. was not about love, or justice, or freedom, although words of that sort are sprinkled freely through the preample to the U.N. Charter; it was about avoiding another world war." (pp. 207-208)

What the great powers recognized, writes Dyer, is that the expercise of war could backfire, even against themselves. So the U.N. has become in effect a hundred year project to get nations, and especially the great powers, out of the habit of resolving their differences by means of armed conflict. The problem, he argues, is that the great powers, more than fifty years later, don't always see it this way.

The Americans, in particular, felt that they had brought down the Soviet Union and won the Cold War. "It was not too long a journey from that belief to the conclusion that the United States could and should use these same assets to remake the whole world in its own image - a transformation that would, in the eyes of most Americans, simultaneously do everybody else a favour and make the world a safer place for Americans." (pp. 119-120)

The problem, notes Dyer, is that this puts the great powers of the world in the same position shared by the other great powers prior to the start of the last war - a carefully balanced networked of alliances in which differences of opinion can be - and will be - solved by "pre-emptive war." The invasion of Iraq was supposed to be a lesson to the other nations - and especially China - that America was now in charge. It has instead started to shift these nations into this uneasy set of alliances.

What is the saving grace in all this? That the other democracies of the world - and in particular, Canada, Germany and France - did not take part in the Iraq war. That the other nations of the world, either via their governments or their people, expressed genuine disapproval of American conduct. And with good reason. Consider the position of New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark. "The day will come when the United States is no longer the superpower bestriding the world, but New Zealand's geography will always be the same as it is now, so it needs a global system that will protect it from harm even when China is the greatest power: a system based on law and multilateral consensus." (p. 243)

Everybody understands this, it seems, except the Americans. The "ridiculous" scolding Condoleezza Rice gave America's allies at the G8 summit after the invasion of Iraq illustrates this. "It suggested an almost total inability to see the administration she served and its policies as others saw them." (p. 247) Moreover, "Nobody in Washington in 2001 could have imagined that only two years later half of the European Union's citizens would see the United States as a danger to world peace rather than a force for good." (p. 248)

This is why the United States needs to lose the war in Iraq sooner rather than later, argues Dyer. It needs to get past the idea that it can impose its will by force and return to the project of creating a habit of diplomacy and negotiation. "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." (p. 246)

It is unfortunate that Dyer, while widely syndicated in Canada, is not more widely read in the United States. He brings with his analysis an easy familiarity with world issues, including the history and culture of diverse peoples. He also brings with him a pragmatism born of a lifelong study of the subject of war and a compelling writing style nourished through hundreds of weekly columns.

If Dyer's analysis is incorrect, it is only incorrect around the edges. The current American government, for example, could have been more aware of that nations weakening economic situation than Dyer imagines, allowing self-interest, along with hubris, to be motivating factors in the Iraq war. But the over-riding cause of the war, the idea that there is a pas Americana rather than a diplomatic global order, is almost certainly correct, and his projections of the difficulties that may arise as a result well supported in history.


Blogger Paul said...

stephen, good to see you writing in this area. I look forward to future posts.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

oops. forgot to mention a really powerful book I recently read about US foreign policy -- The Iron Triangle, by Dan Briody.

2:42 PM  

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