First things first, what is "blowback"? Per Johnson, it's "a term the CIA invented to describe the likelihood that our covert operations in other people's countries result in retaliations against Americans, civilian and military, at home and abroad." Why does this book have special significance today? Many see the 9/11 attacks on the United States as blowback from CIA training and support of the muhajadeen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the late 1970s, early 1980s (the USSR then occupied the country) plus US basing of large numbers of combat troops in Saudi Arabia after the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. Bin Laden was a CIA asset during the Afghanistan war for independence. He turned against his former patrons, the United States, due to the basing of US combat troops on Saudi soil which conservative muslims such a Bin Laden view as their holy land.
Does the book focus on covert CIA operations and the unintended fallout against America from same? To my great disappointment, the answer is decidedly "no". Absent the 14 page introduction (written subsequent to the book's initial publication in 2000), the work is substantially a rambling historical summary of American hegemony of South East Asia from WWII to the end of the Clinton Administration. Chalmers Johnson is an East Asian scholar of the first order and, therefore, he focuses on Korea, China and Japan with only passing references to US involvement in Vietnam. What about CIA activity in Cuba, Guatemala, El Salvador, Iran, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, etc.? Hardly a whisper upon these hotbeds for black CIA ops in the original edition of the book.
Mr. Johnson correctly identified an important topic for public policy discussion in the United States; however, except for the first 14 pages, I'm hugely underwhelmed by his treatment of same. Below, I'll take his premise and set forth where I think the book should have went.
Further definition of 'Blowback' and examples
Newton's third law states: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." Stated another way, "For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Galatians 6:7. Do these principles apply to countries? The premise of "blowback" is "yes, it does". The best way to describe the phenomenon is to list a few examples.
Cuba. The United States has a long and ugly history in Cuba. The Cuban people were in revolt against their colonial rule by Spain when a US battleship blew up in Havana harbor in 1898 (which the US blamed on the Spanish). With excuse in hand, the United States declared war on Spain and attacked Cuba. The US won the war and Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba which the American military ruled from 1899 to 1902. Thereafter, Cuba was formally granted sovereignty by the United States; however, the Cuban government installed by the United States was corrupt and undemocratic. Also, American businesses took control of all major resources in Cuba (especially, the sugar crop). There were uprisings by the Cuban people against the US supported Cuban government that resulted in US military intervention in Cuba during the period 1906-1909 and, again, in 1912. Democracy eventually, but slowly, started to take hold in the years after WWII. However, in 1952, former president Batista (also a former general) seized power from the Democratic elected government of the island in a coup with covert US support. Batista ruled the island, as most dictators do, with a heavy, merciless hand. This gave rise to the insurgency of rebel Fidel Castro. In 1959, Castro's forces overthrew Batista and expropriated an estimated $1 billion in U.S.-owned properties in 1960 (which was real money in 1960). Batista was a US creation and his repression of the Cuban people ultimately led to the coming to power of a ruthless and virulently anti-US, communist dictator in the person of Fidel Castro. The US reaped what it sowed. How might the government of Cuba look today had the United States supported the Democratic government of Cuba in the 1950s as opposed to installing the dictator Batista?
Iran. Shah Riza Khan of Iran (formerly Persia) was friendly with Germany before the outbreak of WWII. Due to the importance of its oil resources, the British and Americans occupied Iran during WWII and replaced Shah Riza Khan with his son, Shah Muhammad Riza Pahlavi (the last Shah of Iran). In 1949, Iran became a constitutional monarchy with power concentrated in the hands of an elected prime minister. In 1951, the Iranian parliament nationalized the oil industry in Iran (to the detriment of US corporations). In 1953, the CIA orchestrated the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Muhammad Musaddiq and returned the Shah to absolute power in Iran, thus, subverting the Iranian constitution (i.e., the US destroyed Iranian democracy). Link. The CIA equipped and trained the Shah's internal spy agency known as SAVAK that terrorized the people. In 1979, the Shah was overthrown by a revolt led by Shia Muslim extremists resulting in a virulently anti-US, undemocratic theocracy coming to power in Iran. How might the government of Iran look today had the US not overthrown Prime Minister Musaddiq in 1953?
9/11 and Muslim Blowback
The first line of the book's introduction by Mr. Johnson started us off in the right direction. A quote from George Bush in a speech given September 20, 2001 reads: "Why do they [Muslim extremists] hate us?" Apparently Osama Bin Laden heard the President's speech for he issued a response through Al-Jazeera:
And what America is facing today is something very little of what we [the Muslim world] have tasted for decades. Our nation, since nearly 80 years is tasting this humility [at the hands of the Americans]. Sons are killed, and nobody answers the call. ... [We] retaliated to what their brothers and sisters have suffered in Palestine and Lebanon. And there are civilians, innocent children being killed every day in Iraq without any guilt. ... And every day we see the Israeli tanks going to Jenin, Ramallah, Beit Jalla and other lands of Islam. And, no, we never hear anybody objecting to that. ... They [America] supported the murderer [Israel] against the victim, so God has given them back what they deserve. ... [I]n Japan, hundreds of thousands of people got killed. This is not a war crime. Or in Iraq, what our -- who are being killed in Iraq. This is not a crime. Link.
Notice that the top item on Bin Laden's bill of particulars against the US is our military, financial, and political support of Israel in its crimes committed against the Palestinian people. Mr. Bin Laden, whatever his talents as terrorist leader, is not a concise and coherent communicator. Let me try and build a fuller list of the Muslim grievances against America over the years:
- Financial, military, and political support for the State of Israel,
- Turning a blind eye to the genocide committed against Palestinians by Israel
- Overthrow Prime Minister Musaddiq in Iran
- Support through arm sales and other means of undemocratic, repressive governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan
- Basing of US troops in middle east, especially upon holy land of Saudi Arabia
- Economic domination of world trade.
In Bin Laden's eyes, his al qaeda organization is only dishing out to the US "something very little of what we [the Muslim world] have tasted for decades [at American hands]." How did Bin Laden and al qaeda gain the expertise and organization to run a global insurgency? They learned from the best CIA operatives our country could field in Afghanistan during the late Carter and early Reagan years. In a very real sense, Bin Laden is a US / CIA creation.
Jesus said "love your neighbor as yourself". American foreign policy must take this lesson to heart lest we sow future blowback of misery and death upon our children's heads. After WWII, America gave Europe the Marshal Plan and reaped decades of friendship and cooperation from our European brethren. In the Muslim world, we have backed the Israelis in their brutality against the Palestinians and, also, the dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Now we have invaded and currently occupy Iraq. The blowback from Iraq comes in the form of coffins arriving by air at Dover AFB daily.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Have we learned?