If you want to understand why terrorism is increasing in the United States, you might want to read a book published before it all started: Chalmers Johnson: Blowback, The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, published in 2000, the year George W. Bush took office. Apparently, the new president, his vice president, his coterie of appointees, and his successor Barack Obama and his foreign policy team never read it. Because it says what causes the terrorism we now see increasing and what is necessary to contain it.
What is Johnson referring to when he says “American Empire”? An empire is a
country whose economy and raw military power is unchallenged in the world. It is
logical for such a country to assume that it must be exceptional, since it
achieved this status. It follows that it may also assume that the system it uses
must be superior to that of other countries who haven’t achieved similar status.
And it may further assume that if other countries would only adopt their system,
they would be better off. Continuing this scenario can become very hubristic to
the point where the assumptions don’t conform to reality due the different
development paths, and ethical, cultural and religious norms adopted by other
countries throughout their history.
So what happens when an empire decides to use its economic and military power
to change other countries toward the goal of making everything better for them.
In such an endeavor, the justification is usually righteousness. We know what
will make the country better. Selfish reasons like accessing the country’s
resources and controlling commerce by various financial schemes are usually
presented as being necessary for the good of the country. Making political
changes is a logical next step. Get the people in power who will agree with what
we are trying to do. These moves usually result in resentment that the country
being “helped” is losing its autonomy. Factions within the country that share
this resentment are the first to rebel in some way, first in a diplomatic way,
progressing to protest, and ultimately to violence. The “rebels” eventually look
for a way to get back at the empire. When the empire faces this, they consider
such rebels as troublemakers, interfering with benevolent actions the empire is
trying to implement, and who must be rooted out. Eventually, disproportionate
force is used by the empire against the rebels to suppress them. As we have seen
in many instances in history, the end result is a coup that installs a
government sympathetic to the empire.
But, the problem doesn’t end there. If rebels are successful by sheer
numbers, or receive aid from another strong power as the case was in Vietnam,
the empire is kicked out. If the empire triumphs, blowback starts. Rebel actions
turn to terrorism on the empire’s assets abroad, such as the bombing of the USS
Cole, or attacks on the empire’s embassies abroad. The last rebel resort is to
attack the empire homeland, as was the case in 9/11, and finally inspire rebel
elements in the empire’s homeland toward indiscriminate violence, which is what
we are seeing now.
So what are specific acts by the empire that inspire the most violent rebel
response? On top of the list is asymmetric response. Using an air force or
drones, which impact the people of the country in question greatly, but hardly
affect the empire are major sources. Financial sanctions and trade embargoes are
just war by other means that strangle the country, but cause little harm to the
empire. All of these measures are viewed as being extremely unfair and inspire
As these activities escalate, destabilization eventually results. When a
country is destabilized and survival is paramount, religion, ethics, and
morality are secondary considerations to the suffering people and brutality
increases dramatically. If the livelihood and security of the people in the
country are threatened, and hope for a solution is lost, extreme blowback to the
empire may even lead to destabilization of the empire. The bottom line is, when
people have little to lose by losing their life, they will do whatever causes
the most damage to the empire that is causing their problems.
The only logical solution is for empires to get out of other countries where
they are not wanted and let whatever happens, happen unless an international
body not dominated by empires sanctions a solution. Empires should not pick
winners and losers. International bodies have a role in such disputes, and
should not be dominated by empires. The more countries are allowed to solve
their own major problems with help from international institutions, the less
likely they are to have an interest in causing trouble in an empire.
The focus of empires should be getting along with other strong countries that
could become empires that could challenge them. If empires challenge each other
with force, or sanctions that lead to force, what results is world war, as we
have seen twice in one century. For the survival of the world, it is imperative
for empires to resolve their differences diplomatically and work together and
with international organizations to solve the many problems to world faces, and
give weaker countries the non-military help they ask for, not what empires want,
without any carrots or sticks.