Terrorism...or Merely "Blowback"?
Lincoln Wright, The Canberra Times (centrist),
Canberra, Australia, Sept. 19, 2001
World Press Review, November 2001
The 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.
The stupefying demolition of the World Trade Center and a
section of the Pentagon last week represents a form of blowback
against America's Middle East policy. It was directed by Islamic
terrorists aggrieved by America's 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.
The 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
A big push to solve the Palestine-lsrael 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.
That 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. If 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 America's informal
empire. He said:
"[Blowback] refers to the unintended consequences of
policies that were kept secret from the American people.
"What 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 Reagan's decision to bomb Col. Muammar Gaddafi's Libya
Johnson also warned that the conditions for blowback were
being laid by America's Middle East policy, citing in particular
the longstanding sanctions against Iraq, which have resulted in
the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.
At the time, Johnson's 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. Bush's 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.
That 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
The Bush administration has largely turned a blind eye to
Israel's 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. It contrasts with
former President Bill Clinton's bold move to bring Yasser Arafat
and Israel's 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
The 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 don't believe
the United States is willing to sacrifice their own people for
One 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
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
naiveté 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."
Americans will support violent retribution, but will they
look to the deeper causes?
11th, 2001 - New York City