WITH EVERY MISTAKE
By Gwynne Dyer
Journalism has been described as the first draft of history. Which is a nice
way of saying journalists don't always get it right. Reporting on the news as it
happens gives us only part of the picture, a picture that inevitably needs to be
expanded, modified, examined, and, where necessary, corrected.
As a columnist, someone who stands back and interprets the big picture,
Gwynne Dyer knows he is held to a higher standard. And so it really bugs him
that in the aftermath of 9/11 he "got things so badly wrong." Of
course he's quick to point out that a lot of other people got things wrong too,
but he doesn't have to answer for them. What he does feel he has to answer for
are his own mistakes. And so what we have here is a
collection of his newspaper columns written between 2001 and 2005, with a brief
running commentary pointing out where he went wrong and why.
Columns on international affairs from South America to Africa to Asia to
Outer Space are included, but it's clear from the outset that Dyer's main focus
is on Iraq (a subject he has already covered in two other books: Ignorant
Armies and Future: Tense).
In a nutshell, Dyer is opposed to the American invasion and occupation of
Iraq because it undermines the system of international law, implemented mainly
through the UN, to prevent global chaos and a Third World War. In a column that
he alerts the reader to pay special attention to, "The UN is Not a Morality
Play," he explains why moral justification is simply not enough. Punishing
the wicked should be left to God. To the basic rule that you cannot legally
attack another country Dyer will allow no exceptions. Even humanitarian military
interventions to stop massacres in Bosnia and Kosovo "opened doors that
should have remained shut." "Countries should be left to deal with
their own dictators . . . Foreign invasions are not the solution."
And so the invasion of Iraq was wrong from the start, not just a botched job.
In this Dyer can at least claim to be consistent. In a column published November
14, 2001 he congratulates the US on their quick Afghanistan operation but warns
against overconfidence. "Above all," he cautions, "don't let
anybody talk you into attacking Iraq."
Here Dyer admits to blindness. In fact, the Bush administration did not need
anyone to talk it into attacking Iraq. That was always part of their plan and
there was literally nothing that was going to stop them.
Dyer has an interesting excuse for being wrong about American motives. As he
points out, to understand America's Imperial Strategy even this early in the
game all that was necessary was a visit to the website for the neoconservative
"Project for a New American Century." Or he might have read any of the
plethora of neocon columnists at the time. Were people like Thomas Friedman,
Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, and all the others of that ilk, among the
journalists who "got it wrong"? Hardly.
To this day, as every justification for the invasion of Iraq has been
exploded (and Dyer reminds us that none of them were very convincing at the
time), there is no clear message coming from the White House on what the actual
mission was that was supposed to be accomplished, or what goals were to be
achieved. And in this vacuum any analysis in the mainstream media that goes
beyond the official platitudes about spreading liberty and freedom has come from
the same Right-wing commentators, who have never been afraid to say what this is
all about. It is only well-meaning critics on the Left who have had difficulty
stating the obvious.
In his Introduction to The Great Unraveling, New York Times
columnist Paul Krugman draws on the doctoral dissertation of Henry Kissinger to
explain exactly the failure that Dyer has such trouble with: How the American
media establishment responded to the radicalism of the Bush administration.
Kissinger is describing the failure of the Great Powers of Europe to confront
the revolutionary force of Napoleonic France (and, implicitly, their similar
failure to confront Nazi Germany). This is what Kissinger has to say:
Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed permanent, they find
it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary
power that it means to smash existing framework. The defenders of the status quo
therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if its
protestations were merely tactical; as if it really accepted the existing
legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes; as if it were
motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions. Those
who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel
adaptation to circumstance are considered balanced and sane. . . . But it is the
essence of a revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its
convictions, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their
Dyer is just such a defender of the old status quo. In the early going he
admits to not being able to credit the idea that this was all about forcing a
military Pax Americana upon the world. Now he views current American
foreign policy as basically an "attempt to head off impending relative
decline by the US back in the global driving seat." He doesn't think it
will work, but even here he seems to avoid giving the neocons credit for the
courage of their convictions. For example, he concludes that "there is no
way of stopping China and India from catching up with the current Lone
Superpower short of nuking their entire economies. And no: I don't think the
neocons would do that."
Why not? Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons against Korea, and by
the end of the Vietnam War Nixon was in favour of dropping them on that
unfortunate country (a decision that a majority of Americans probably would have
supported). In the lead-up to the second Gulf War the US made it clear they were
willing to use them against Iraq, a country it already knew to be defenseless.
So why wouldn't America choose to destroy a real threat like China or India, or
for that matter a good chunk of the rest of the world, rather than experience a
decline in their "non-negotiable" standard of living? Given the
smashing of the existing framework of international law, what's to stop them?
The rising economic power of other parts of the world is not a military
Will the current strategy for global dominance work? "Don't be
silly," Dyer tells us. "It never works." Maybe not in the past,
but things are different today. Previous military empires have never had such
apocalyptic military power. After the American Empire, there is no other.
Review first published December 24, 2005.