Distorting Blowback

Ever since the tragic events of the 11th, the media was been quick to shoot-down the "blowback" thesis for explaining the role of US foreign policy in giving rise to terrorism. Of course, not all this criticism has been honest. The best way to remove from discussion uncomfortable topics is to misstate their premises in order to ignore an unpleasant reality. With regards to US policy and events of the 11th, the best way to effect this has been to merely point out that Osama bin-Landen has no interest in discussing the finer points of foreign policy. Instead, the media instructs us, correctly, that he is on a missionary mission to introduce the most reactionary of measures for running society by the most reactionary of means.


All this is true, yet it should be obvious to all that US policy has given rise to these fundamentalist movements. Once up and running, however, they will not be reasoned with. Yet, it is also true that the public support and sympathy for these movements is centered on public antipathy toward US policy and its affect on daily life in the Middle East. In short, the mess that took decades to create in the Middle East will not be cleaned-up overnight. Terrorists will not put down their weapons upon hearing of a sea change in US policy. In Dr. Strangelovian fashion, the most committed terrorists are now committed to a warped world view and strategy for changing policy in the Middle East grounded in a simple-minded Islamic utopian vision for solving the area’s problems.


Given that US policy has contributed to the elimination (often times murdered) of the left in the Middle East we should not be surprised that we are dealing with the blowback of only a radical right-wing fundamentalist opposition existing in any numbers. For, indeed, not only did the US help suppress the left throughout the Middle East, but we promoted the extremist right in Olivers North "neat idea" fashion when Polish opera colonels running our foreign policy, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski as Secretary of State in 1979, thought it clever to play out their Cold War games with the Soviets by supplying religious fanatics with aid to Afghanistan. As Brzezinski himself admits in a 1998 interview in Le Monde the US supported these people to bait the Soviets into intervening in order to give the Soviets their own Vietnam. The revelation is astonishing not only in its shear inhumanity and racism, but also in its stupidity. Rather than merely reacting wrongly to a crisis already underway, the US helped–by the admission of Brzezinski himself–initiate it for its own power politic ends. Tragically, today many innocent people in the US and Afghanistan alike are paying the price.


Yet, in the medium and long term, peace is dependent on a change in US policy in order to starve terror movements of public support in the Middle East for these movements. This would also suffocate the smoldering hatred US policy creates in the region from which future terrorists will be drawn.


Yet, the punditry wishes no part of arguments suggesting that US policy has any role to play in resolving the issue of terrorism. Most disappointingly, Christopher Hitchens has even presented this analysis in the pages of The Nation.


It is difficult to say what motivated Christopher Hitchens to stray so far from the truth with his recent essay "Against Rationality." Like a B-52 laden with unguided bombs, the usually careful Hitchens let loose a torrent of unsubstantiated assertions against a "Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein" crowd. Any careful reader will see through his arguments "directly" connecting the motivations of Islamic extremists, who probably bombed the World Trade Towers, to US policy. Unfortunately, Hitchens can count on everyone not having time to read carefully….


To correct the record, Chomsky, in particular, has called the events of the 11th "mass murder." Moreover, citing the perceptive remarks of Robert Fisk, who has appeared in the pages of The Nation, Chomsky has asserted that Osama bin Laden has little knowledge of the world and certainly has NOT exacted "justice" for past US foreign policy through these bombings. Instead, at least with Chomsky, only the more subtle, although certainly easily grasped, argument has been made that US policy has contributed to an environment in which Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda can recruit from a pool of alienated people capable of committing such demented actions.


This is like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. By bombing the region back to the stone age during the US war in Indo-China, Cambodia was made ripe for such bizarre reactions as the reactionaries desiring to take Cambodia toward a warped vision of an agricultural past as utopian future.


Returning to the Middle East, US policies–in conjunction with its client regimes–have so devastated the region that the fanatical vision of Islam that arose in the 1970s in response to struggles against the Shah of Iran’s regime resonates all too unfortunately with all too many people. This type of "Islamic fascism"–as Hitchens calls it–made its first contemporary appearance among Iranians opposing the Shah: the US client in Iran. At the time of the US Hostage Crisis in 1979 President Jimmy Carter was approached with the reasons why US policy created such hostility among Iranians. He reportedly dismissed those historical lessons as irrelevant to solving his immediate problem. He was right. Taking those hostages was neither justified, nor would have addressing US foreign policy errors have pacified those already in the throws of Islamic fundamentalism. Yet, he was wrong in assuming that this crisis was hermetically sealed off from US foreign policy, or from the potential of that policy to create future problems. The future has arrived.


In sum, changing US policy will do nothing to stop those currently possessed by "Islamic fascism"–as Hitchens terms it. Yet, a more just foreign policy for the region will begin to starve these fanatical groups of the rage and destitution that provides them with new bodies to carry forth their "struggle." While we must address the short-term problem of terrorist threats, we would be wise to also look into medium to long-term solutions for a changed foreign policy that works against creating an environment in which extremist groups thrive, rather than one which nourishes them. Yet, Hitchens wants none of it in his jihad against those who do not see the problem as "clearly" as does he.


Hitchens further "elaborates" his argument in a subsequent Nation article. Here he counsels the US take action against the Taliban. He hints at violent action. Yet, he ignores two significant problems. One, is the Russian example in Chechnya. In round two of the Russian struggle against Chechnya the imperial Russians would have been welcomed by locals terrorized by Islamic fundamentalists. And, yes, Mr. Hitchens, this is in part "blowback" from US support of these extremists dating back to the policies of Cold War hawks like Zbigniew Brzezinski who used the Voice of America and any other instruments at their disposal to fuel Islamic fanaticism on the Soviet’s southern flank. Instead, by heavy-handed action, the Russians have further alienated the Chechen people who would have viewed them as liberators. This is not a call for inaction in Afghanistan, but caution. Two, the wrong moves might result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands–if not more–through associated affects of military action, such as famine in this thoroughly destabilized region. Let’s be careful.

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