Thursday, June 16, 2016

Power Disparities, Disproportionate Response, and Blowback

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 rage.

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.