Columnist Reflects on World "After Iraq"

Author: Renée LaReau

What will the Middle East look like after the United States withdraws its military forces from Iraq and Afghanistan? To answer that question, it’s necessary to understand the strategies underlying past terrorist attacks, said journalist and historian Gwynne Dyer, speaking at Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Center on October 6.

“Terrorists are people with political goals who use terror as an instrument to get them closer to those goals,” he said. “The people in charge are not in the business of self-immolation; they’re almost always revolutionaries.”

The principal strategy of terrorist groups is to drive their richer, better armed, more powerful opposition into becoming so aggressive that they drive people into the revolutionaries’ arms, Dyer said.

Osama bin Laden enlisted such a strategy in masterminding the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Dyer said. While the United States’ subsequent invasion of Afghanistan didn’t generate the widespread opposition bin Laden had hoped for, the invasion of Iraq did, he said.

“The Iraq invasion provided all of the images bin Laden hoped to get out of Afghanistan,” Dyer said. “The Middle East has been radicalized very significantly over the past five years by what happened in Iraq.”

Despite this radicalization, it’s unlikely that an Islamist revolution will sweep the whole Middle East, Dyer said. Most Muslims view Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban with trepidation.

Other shifts in the region, Dyer said, may include the revival of Iran’s prominence. The country will continue to enrich uranium with the goal of “getting one step away from nuclear weapons” as a defense against nuclear activity in Pakistan, he said.

After a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, Arab countries will continue to export oil to the United States simply because they need the money, Dyer said. With the exception of oil, the region produces little else that the U.S. needs, and thus interest in the Middle East will decrease as the U.S. turns its attention to countries such as China and India, he said.

“With only eight percent of the world’s population, we’ve been led into an obsession with a place that actually matters less than we think,” Dyer said. “Our obsession is going to dwindle – it’s about time, too.”

Dyer writes a twice-weekly column on current events that is published in more than 175 newspapers in 45 countries. He has a doctoral degree in military and Middle Eastern history from the University of London and is the author of several books, most recently After Iraq: Anarchy and Renewal in the Middle East (2008).

Dyer’s visit was sponsored by Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

Contact: Joan Fallon, (574) 631-8819