Monday, November 12, 2007

Blowback: Unintended Consequences of Empire

I have been voraciously reading Chalmers Johnson's Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. I originally came to an awareness of the term Blowback while listening to Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul talk about why we need to get our troops out of Iraq, as well as why we were attacked on 9/11/2001. His comments came during a debate on Fox News several months ago, and was widely publicized due to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani taking umbrage to Paul's stance.

Immediately following the debate, Fox News spun Paul's words into him blaming Americans for the attacks. Over and over again, the representative from Texas had his words misrepresented. The noise machine had done its job well: instead of American people actually listening and questioning whether our foreign policy over the years has had or could have any negative unintended repercussions, they simply branded Paul as a "loon." Name calling is quite often a preferred alternative to actually discussing real issues.

However, my interest was piqued; I proceeded to look into the matter further. What could the United States have possibly done in the past that would incite such hatred that people might actually fight back? Before Paul brought up the issue I thought, much like many in this country undoubtedly have, that if our nation had committed any serious atrocities, we would have heard about it. After all, Abu Ghraib was splattered all over the mainstream news media for quite awhile while admittedly some of us thought those crimes were not nearly as egregious as some of the horrific acts perpetrated by dictators like Saddam Hussein.

Not surprisingly, examples were not in short supply. In fact, I would proffer that they are so abundant that making the argument that our policies do not impact foreign relations has about as much utility as arguing that Phoenix is not in the desert. For some reason we expect these facts to be out in the open when they in fact must be kept secret as much as possible - for if they were made public knowledge, many might actually be concerned. Just slightly less startling is the amount that has been published while a good number of "great Americans" turn a blind eye, either because they couldn't care less, or due to the fact that they will not believe America could ever be in the wrong no matter where the information comes from. Understandably, it is difficult to separate the fact that this nation, which I believe was divinely organized, has done so much good in the world while concurrently being capable of doing so much evil.

Regardless, I also believe that we cannot move forward unless we acknowledge the error of our ways and correct them. Denying a doctor's diagnosis will not help the patient heal his ailment.

Enter Chalmer's contribution, which foreshadowed 9/11 by little over year. This text examines the United States' often secret involvement with so many of the world's power players since World War II ended as well as U.S. foreign policy toward these countries following the end of the Cold War. Needless to say, Johnson offers much that makes one sit and wonder. Generally, the United States has been involved with staging uprisings in various nations against leaders whom the U.S. opposed in order to create instability that would lead to installing a political figure that could pull in the reins and whom the U.S. supported. Often these involvements take place behind the scenes, but large scale destruction and serious human rights violations are the norm.

One of the most glaringly awful incidents that we seem to ignore is that Iraq sanctions imposed by the United Nations (due mainly to US pressure) from 1991-98 likely caused the deaths of close to half a million Iraqis due to "disease, malnutrition, and inadequate health care (p. 9)." While the U.S. government will justify these deaths and say Saddam deserves responsibility, it is doubtful the Iraqi people will see it that way. Causing the deaths of tens of thousands of the innocent while failing to take Saddam down is a pretty serious offense. And while we may forget and diminish the fact that we (the U.S. government) placed Saddam in power initially, no doubt Iraqis still remember painfully. To maintain that only al-Qaeda terrorists are fighting our troops in Iraq is asinine. No doubt many of the "insurgents" are those who are seeking vengeance for the harsh consequences suffered by them and their families while the U.S. tinkered with them during decades of despicable foreign policy toward the Middle East.

While this example may be on the extreme end of the spectrum, similar findings are available in countries on every continent of the globe. From Okinawa, Japan, to Chile, to Guatemala, to Turkey, to the Sudan, the United States has organized countless operations that to us may have seemed in our best interest, while not even considering the impact on the country in question or its citizens.

What is the bottom line here? Secret societies which were formed to increase security have actually made the world less safe.

Another issue for another time: why is the mainstream media, as well as government leaders, republican and democrat, so scared of Dr. Paul?

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