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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Mess They Made: The Middle East After Iraq

Reviewed: July 21, 2010
By: Gwynne Dyer
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
267 pages, $21.99

Between 2011 and 2014 the world will change drastically. That’s the time frame during which all the outside interests which have been messing around in Iraq and Afghanistan will be pretty much gone from the game there, and whatever natural order these places can rustle together will take shape.

After centuries of outside control during which the region has been dominated by the Greeks, the Romans, the Ottoman Turks, the French, the English and, most recently, the Americans, the people who live in the Middle East may finally be able to decide for themselves what they want to be.

The rest of us may not like what happens within their borders. Gwynne Dyer says that’ll be just too bad, but it’s none of our business.

The countries which are proving to be so problematic for us (the West) these days are largely the result of meddling by the Western powers which can be easily traced back to the treaties of 1919 which ended the Great War. Margaret McMillan has written extensively about that process in her excellent book, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. In it she traces the the compromises and map doddling that led to the nonsensical boundaries which now dot the area.

These were further complicated by the creation of the state of Israel after the Second World War and by the creation of Pakistan when the British relinquished control of the Indian subcontinent. The mess that runs from Egypt to the Indian border is a volatile mixture indeed and one that requires very little stirring to become toxic.

Western nations, particularly France, Britain and America, have been stirring it constantly for decades now, and the Soviet empire did its bit just before it disintegrated.

Dyer has written elsewhere that the invasion of Afghanistan right after the 9/11 attacks on the United States seemed to make sense at the time that it happened. That situation has changed since, largely due to another major decision that was taken by the Bush administration even before the World Trade Centre disaster. They were waiting for an excuse to invade Iraq and they took it when it came along, even though all the reasons they gave for doing it ultimately proved to be lies.

That decision, and all the deception around it, kept America and its allies from handling the Afghan situation properly and, just as it did after the failure of the Soviet occupation, that state collapsed and fell back into the hands of the warlords, leaving us where we are today, with the original Canadian nation building mission transformed into a combat mission.

In nine chapters Dyer gives us his analysis of the Bush administration’s motives, some possible outcomes for Iraq and Afghanistan, a good look at the genesis and development of the terrorist agenda (which does much more damage to the indigenous people than it does to anyone else), and the problems both facing and posed by the current policies of the state of Israel.

The biggest loser in all of this has been, and still is, the USA. As Dyer notes in his final chapter, it is not enough to be the sole superpower in the world, as the USA has been since the collapse of the Soviet experiment. If you want to be an agent of positive change you must also be seen as reasonable, moral and intelligent. After eight years of George Bush the Second, American no longer has that kind of credit in the eyes of the world.

The world may have breathed a sigh of relief and have given Obama the Nobel Peace Prize just for being “Not George W. Bush”, but America’s Bush years adventures “in the Middle East are having a more profoundly damaging effect on America’s reputation, because they call into question its motives, and even its basic competence. This is occurring at a time, moreover, when its relative power in the world is already on the slide, due to the emergence of new great powers in Asia.”

Appearing first in 2007 (and seeming very relevant three years later), this book follows Dyer’s earlier work on this subject: Ignorant Armies (2003), Future: Tense (2004) and With Every Mistake (2005).

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