Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Thoughts on Gwynne Dyer

Here are some regurgitated thoughts, mostly Gwynne Dyer's, from a talk he gave recently at the U of W. Enjoy!

Why do care what happens in the Middle East? The Middle East contains 10% of the world's population and 3% of the world's GDP including oil. Which is.... surprisingly low, especially the GDP number.

Twenty years ago, you could answer that question much easier. The primary reason we cared, 1900 to 1990? Oil, of course. Throughout the last century oil from that region must have represented a large enough percentage of that strategic resource to warrant the West's interest. Since then oil has become plentiful (if a bit more expensive) through new discoveries and extraction technologies. Dyer says that most of the Middle East's oil goes to China, India, and Japan.

In his mind all this begs the question, "Why is this our problem?" We're down to humanitarian reasons (though there are people in Africa, too, but we never really cared about them), historical reasons (we helped create this mess) and religious reasons (Israel). All of these could play a part.

However given the fact that Al Qaeda, Isis and any other revolutionaries in the area are specifically trying to get the West to intervene in these countries, we should treat this whole intervention thing with caution... so as to not do anything stupid like invading Iraq again. That went far beyond "caring too much" and instead destabilized the region, created ISIS, etc.

Dyer believes that in Syria, Russia basically has it right: Assad is the lesser of the only two realistic (and horrible) options... which speaks to how awful the other side is given how Assad is a monster. In the short term I can wrap my head around this, but where do things go, longer term? Will Bashar al-Assad pass down Syria to his son, one day? There have been uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen - and I'm probably missing a couple. I've heard that Tunisia is the success story of the bunch (with Egypt returning to a military dictatorship). So that's good... hopefully there can be one example that didn't devolve into a failed state with all the violence and strife that accompanies it.

Maybe the reality now is that we should certainly care a lot for our fellow human beings in the Middle East... but that we need to expect to save or fix the situation. "Helping" is probably a better word so long as we remain pragmatic and subtle about it.  Support countries that are working with financial aid and pressuring countries that are stable but corrupt to make some reforms.

I've heard the Arab Spring / failed states / extremism stage we are in described as an Arab civil war or reformation.... and that rings true to me. Last time I checked those things take time and are sorted out, for the most part, internally.

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