The World Today – Friday, 1 June¬ , 2007¬ 12:27:00
ELEANOR HALL: A US military analyst who’s served in the armed forces and has written on international affairs for more than two decades, is issuing a warning today about the collapse of the United States as a superpower.
In his latest book, The Mess they Made: the Middle East after Iraq, Gwynne Dyer says there’s no doubt that the US will withdraw its troops from Iraq once President George W. Bush leaves office.
But he predicts that already that war has set in motion events that will radically transform not only the Middle East but the role of the United States in the world.
Gwynne Dyer is in Sydney this week and he joined me earlier in the World Today studio.
There’ve been a series of conflicts in the Middle East over the last 40 years, why do you see this latest war in Iraq as likely to be so transformative for the region?
GWYNNE DYER: Well the Americans actually have never committed troops in the Middle East, never actually fought a war in the Middle East, the United States, before. I think this is having an impact on the American public, comparable to the impact on the American public in the Vietnam War though the casualties are far lower this time. So now, there is developing, a Middle Eastern allergy in American public opinion, rather similar to the South East Asian allergy that you had by the end of the 1960′s.
That is transformative because if America is not there enforcing the status quo, the status quo probably collapses. It is very old and shoddy. The regimes of the Arab world, with zero exceptions, except for Iraq, where the Americans overthrew Saddam, have all been in power for at least forty years.
They’re all dictatorships or absolute monarchies, most of them are corrupt beyond imagining. So this is a very unstable status quo, maintained by American subsidies, American troops, American guarantees, and when those are withdrawn, I think that there will be very large changes in the Middle East.
ELEANOR HALL: You’re certain that all of those will be withdrawn, not just the US troops, but the US subsidies as well?
GWYNNE DYER: Not all and not right away, but enough to create a momentum, in which Congress will be reluctant to vote new funds, Congress will be very suspicious about new commitments to support Arab regimes, and meanwhile the momentum in the streets in the Arab world will be moving very rapidly in the favour of the revolutionaries. And that’s what they are, after all, the Islamists, after all, are political revolutionaries, they’re not just religious fanatics.
ELEANOR HALL: So what will be the shape of the Middle East at that point?
GWYNNE DYER: I think that you’re going to see some, I can’t tell you which ones, but some Arab regimes fall in the next five years, fall to Islamists of various variety. Some of them perhaps very radical, some of them less so.
ELEANOR HALL: So what would this mean for terrorism in the West
GWYNNE DYER: I think it would drop. I mean the terrorism in the West has two sources, really, first of all the actual 9/11 attacks were a strategic move by a revolutionary Arab organisation, al-Qaeda, to trick the United States into invading Muslim countries. If you pull the troops out of the Middle East, and the West is no longer occupying Muslim countries, I think the wind goes out of the sails of that particular interpretation.
ELEANOR HALL: There’s not a danger that having Islamist republics in the Middle East might inspire terrorism around the world?
GWYNNE DYER: No, I don’t see why, because I mean, once they’re in power, what do they need to bother us for?
ELEANOR HALL: You suggest that the Iraq war could also transform the role of the US in the world, that it’s actually done far more damage to US power and prestige than the Vietnam War. What are you predicting for the US?
GWYNNE DYER: Well, think about the Vietnam War for a moment. The United States suffered a humiliating defeat and frankly the US armed forces were a complete shambles for 10 years after that. And yet, within five years, it was all forgiven and forgotten. And in the world at large by the end of the 1970′s, the United States was back as the leader of the free world ‚Äď trusted, beloved by all, well, by most. That could happen again, if the US pulls out of Iraq, as soon as Mr Bush leaves power.
Which is what I think will happen. About 10 minutes after the inauguration of the next President in January 2009, the evacuation starts. However, there is the possibility that the United States before Mr Bush leaves will attack Iran. And if that happens, I think we have a very different outcome. Former National Security Adviser in the United States, Zbigniew Brzezinski is on record as saying if the United States attacks Iran, it will lose its place in the world. And I think he’s right.
ELEANOR HALL: What do you think the odds are though, of the United States attacking Iran?
GWYNNE DYER: I have no idea, I change in my view from week to week on this, which presumably means they’re about 50/50. I mean, the forces are in place, the runways have been lengthened, you know, the extra carriers are in the Gulf.
ELEANOR HALL: And yet there are constant denials from the Bush administration‚Ä¶
GWYNNE DYER: Well of course there are, but that’s what you’d have in this situation, so it means nothing. Could all be bluff, and I hope it is, but if it isn’t, then it is imaginable that the Bush administration decides to roll the dice one last time. If they attacked Iran, they would lose, and of course, the Iranians would close the Gulf to the tanker traffic, and so suddenly there’s a global economic crisis, and then in two or three months we get America off the hook, somehow and get the Gulf reopened. But by that time, frankly, I think NATO will have broken up, I think the Russians will have decided they’d better make a deal with the Chinese, it would change the look of the chessboard very dramatically.
ELEANOR HALL: Why would it change it so dramatically, when you’re saying that the Iraq war, you’re expecting that the world and the American people will forgive the Bush administration, why wouldn’t they equally forgive it for a disastrous war in Iran, were that to happen?
GWYNNE DYER: It’s the rogue state phenomenon. I mean, this could be another unprovoked, illegal American attack on a sovereign state. It would actually convince a great many people that the United States is congenitally a rogue state.
A senior Japanese diplomat said to me, last year, he said “You know the United States is a twelve year old with a shotgun”. And what he meant was that as the United States begins to suspect that it’s past the apogee of its trajectory, its on the way down, as a great power no longer on the way up or at the top securely, that it is becoming extremely erratic, that is lashing out in all sorts of ways to try and slow or stop what it perceives as insipient decline.
So there is concern that we’re getting into rather deep water here, that we may be going into an era where the Americans become highly unpredictable and quite dangerous.
ELEANOR HALL: Gwynne Dyer, thanks very much for speaking to us.
GWYNNE DYER: You’re welcome.
ELEANOR HALL: And that’s the military historian, Gwynne Dyer, speaking about his latest book, The Mess they Made: the Middle East after Iraq.