Terrorism...or Merely Blowback?
Lincoln Wright, The Canberra
Times (centrist), Canberra, Australia, Sept. 19, 2001.
Central Intelligence Agency uses a curious word when terrorists
strike at the United States: blowback. That occurs when
U.S. foreign policy enrages its opponents so much that they strike
back at the U.S. heartland with devastating violence.
stupefying demolition of the World Trade Center and a section of
the Pentagon last week represents a form of blowback against Americas
Middle East policy. It was directed by Islamic terrorists aggrieved
by Americas support for Israel and emboldened by their former
close ties to the CIA, which had funded them in the early 1980s
to undermine the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Bush administration is now putting together an international coalition
to crush Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the bombings.
No one would want to downplay the need of our American friends to
bring justice to the terrorists and their backers. Yet, rather than
engaging in a global orgy of violence against Muslim peoples, President
George W. Bush should consider a diplomatic solution.
A big push to solve the Palestine-Israel issue would go a lot further
to remove the threat of Islamic terrorism than a massive and unjust
reprisal. If the United States starts killing innocents in the Middle
East as part of its new global anti-terrorist policy, there is no
guarantee the attacks will stop in the United States or not extend
to a country like Australia.
factor is probably weighing on the minds of the U.S. leadership,
which has been waffling for months over the merits of missile defense
when it should have been looking at the risks of blowback from its
Middle East policy.
the United States pressured Israel to provide some justice to the
Palestinians, even Islamic fanatics like Osama bin Laden would come
under pressure from other Muslims to modify their actions.
Chalmers Johnson, a renowned American political scientist, has published
a book on how blowback was generated by the vast array of U.S. global
interests, which he called Americas informal empire [Blowback:
The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, Holt Metropolitan
Books, 2000.WPR] He said: [Blowback] refers to
the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from
the American people.
the daily press reports as the malign acts of terrorists
or drug lords or rogue states or illegal
arms merchants often turn out to be blowback from earlier
American operations.As an example of blowback, Johnson cited
the blowing up of the Pan Am jet over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988.
That bombing, he said, was a revenge attack for former President
Ronald Reagans decision to bomb Col. Muammar Gaddafis
Libya in 1986.
also warned that the conditions for blowback were being laid by
Americas Middle East policy, citing in particular the longstanding
sanctions against Iraq, which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds
of thousands of Iraqi children.
the time, Johnsons views on blowback were ignored. They were
regarded as paranoid and polemical. After the terrorist attacks
in New York and Washington, they seem like common sense.
George W. Bushs father pushed for a peace deal in the Middle
East after the end of the Cold War and the war against Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein. His son should do the same. Osama bin Laden and
the odious Taliban should be brought to justice if they committed
the atrocity. But the United States must realize that the terrorist
attacks were not the work of apolitical types.
Osama bin Laden and his buddies are upset with the United States
in no way justifies the horrible crime, but it serves as a clue
to the long-term diplomatic policy the United States should adopt
as a solution. Arab terrorists hate America for a variety of reasons.
Their main grudge is that Washington supplies Israel with the arms
and moral support to attack Palestinians and steal their land.
The Bush administration has largely turned a blind eye to Israels
current policy of officially assassinating its Palestinian enemies
and has not taken an active role in brokering a peace deal. In retrospect
that was a serious mistake.
contrasts with former President Bill Clintons bold move to
bring Yasser Arafat and Israels Prime Minister Ehud Barak
to the peace table at Camp David last year, when a peace deal that
would have given back to Palestinians more than 90 percent of the
West Bank was nearly sealed.
activities of Bin Laden represent blowback in another sense of the
word. His group knows the Americans and their working methods. This
former closeness has given them the confidence in staging a major
attack in the United States. They dont believe the United
States is willing to sacrifice their own people for political causes.
thing that will hold America back from finding a just and diplomatic
solution to the problem is that the American people are to a large
extent kept in the dark about the impact of their foreign policy.
American television coverage of the terrorist actions seemed sound
enough on the basic facts, but there was very little to answer the
underlying question as to why anyone would plan and execute such
violence. As far as a lot of American commentators were concerned,
the culprits were just a bunch of irrational maniacs striking out
at a perceived enemy. The U.S. media and the Bush administration
have a responsibility to educate their public about what might be
driving Islamic terrorism. That political naïveté is
characteristic of America, where foreign policy is often dressed
up in fancy ethical guise. As Johnson put it in his book, Most
Americans are probably unaware of how Washington exercises its global
hegemony, since so much of this activity takes place either in relative
secrecy or under comforting rubrics. Only when we come to see our
country as both profiting from and trapped within the structures
of an empire of its own making will it be possible for us to explain
many elements of the world that otherwise perplex us.
will support violent retribution, but will they look to the deeper