Monday, October 08, 2007

Definitely Not Oprah's Book Club - 4th ed., ch. 2 - The Mess They Made

Military historian Gwynne Dyer is adept at the art of understatement. If anything this style makes his analysis and arguments more compelling. In his latest book, The Mess They Made, he asks what should the West do about the Middle East and comes up with the answer, nothing:

The Middle East as we have known it for the past ninety years is coming to an end, because the Americans Will soon be leaving. President Bush is so determined to resist that conclusion that the legions will not finally depart until he has left office, but it is coming as surely as the sun sets in the west. And although Bush will leave defeated and disgraced, he has set events and emotions in train that will transform the region - if not quite in the way he intended.

...The destruction of the Iraqi state and the subsequent defeat of U.S. military power there have finally destabilized the Middle East, a notional region that came into being after the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1918. ...It was initially controlled by the British and French empires, who drew most of the borders, but a surge of revolutions in the 1940s and 1950s brought independence to the Arab countries. By then, however, both oil and Israel had made the region of great interest to the United States, which took over as the dominant power from the 1960s onwards. And under that American dispensation, there have been no further changes of regime for forty years, apart from the revolution in Iran in 1978 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003; the undemocratic regimes that were in power in 1967 are all still in power, within the borders that the European empires drew in 1918.

It is that Middle East that is now coming to an end. It is ending because defeat and humiliation in Iraq mean that soon there will no longer be the will in the United States to go on with the task of maintaining the status quo, and because the forces unleashed by the destruction of Iraq are going to overwhelm the status quo. Everything is now up for grabs: regimes, ethnic pecking orders within states, even the 1918 borders themselves might change. Five years from now there could be an Islamic Republic of Arabia, an independent Kurdistan, almost anything you care to imagine.

So what should the rest of the world do about this? Nothing. Just stand back and let it happen. Outsiders to the region have no solutions left to peddle any more (nor any credibility even if they did have solutions) and they no longer have the power or the will to impose their ideas. For the first time in a century, the region is a going to choose its future for itself - and it may, of course, make a dreadful mess of it. Even then outsiders should not intervene, because foreign intervention generally makes things worse - but also because its none of their business.

For several generations the West has insisted that the Middle East is its business, because that is where half the world's oil comes from. Radical change cannot be allowed there because it might interrupt the flow of oil, and so the region has remained politically and socially frozen for generations. But today every major oil-producing country in the Middle East depends on the cash flow from oil exports to feed its growing population, so they are all compelled to sell pretty much every barrel they can pump - and to sell it into a single global market that sets the price for buyer and seller alike.

...the oil will go on flowing no matter who's in charge, so it's all the same to the customers. If the new regime is better than the old, good, if not, too bad. But it's their business, not ours.

1 comment:

ottlib said...

I have read the book and I enjoyed it. I agree he does make a compelling argument.

However, I see one major flaw in his argument that oil producing governments will continue to export oil regardless of who is in charge.

What he does not address is what happens to that oil production during any transition from an old regime to a new one?

We have seen from other parts of the world that shutting down oil production can be used as a weapon by political entities that want to overthrow the existing regime. As well, we have seen that such disruptions can go on for extended periods of time.

In such places as Nigeria that is bad enough but in the oil rich region of the Middle East it would be devestating to the world economy.

Of course, that still does not address what the rest of the world can do about it and I am not certain that his conclusions are incorrect on that score. But I believe he is being much too sanguine about the effects of his "vision" may have on Mid-East oil production