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Crawling from the Wreckage

by Gwynne Dyer

Gwynne Dyer is the author of books with titles like Future: Tense and The Mess They Made, so it comes as a surprise to open his new volume and read that, in 2010, the author’s “sense of sliding out of control towards ten different kinds of disaster has gone.” Dyer admits that, from a global geopolitical perspective, “we still have a long way to go,” but “the prospects have improved considerably.”

These relatively sunny statements occur in the introduction to Dyer’s new collection of newspaper columns, written between 2004 and 2009. In what follows, Dyer spans the globe to analyze the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the economic ascendancy of China, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and many other topics. In the process, he ends up convincing his readers that his introductory statements were meant ironically.

Here, for example, is Dyer’s 2007 summation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: “There will be no comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal this decade. In the next decade there could even be a war.” If president Mwai Kibaki doesn’t cede power in Kenya, Dyer wrote in 2008, “violence may claim yet another African country.” (Two years later Kibaki is still in power.) The 2009 Copenhagen Accord on climate change was “a drive-by shooting,” Iran “is in for a lengthy struggle, with an unpredictable outcome,” and “Russia has learned nothing yet in Chechnya.”

Feeling better?

The plain fact is that optimism sits uncomfortably on Dyer’s shoulders; he is too much of a realist to play the Pollyanna convincingly. However, it is his clear-eyed realism, coupled with an apparently encyclopedic knowledge of international affairs, that makes his commentary so bracing. When he calls out America’s folly in its futile and misguided global war on terror by pointing out that Islamic terrorists have very limited and specific political goals, his analysis is pointed and refreshing.

In the end, this is where Dyer’s message can be seen as upbeat. Sure, things are bad, he seems to be saying, but they’re not nearly as bad as government forces that depend on a complacent and fearful citizenry make them out to be. (The one exception is in the area of climate change, where Dyer asserts that if we don’t act now, we really are doomed.) We may be crawling from the wreckage, but Dyer knows enough about human nature to realize how easily we could backslide and find ourselves buried alive.