Sunday, February 03, 2008

Blogging through Blowback, Chapter 1

I’ve gotten through the first chapter of Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback: Costs and Consequences of American Empire, and so far I’m enjoying the read. Since 9/11, there has been much debate over our foreign policy, and this book lays a good foundation for those who wish to learn about the actual nature of American imperialism.

He spends the opening chapter discussing what blowback is, and why it occurs. He provides a contextual framework by discussing at length the American-Soviet competition during the cold war, and how each tried to maintain of string of “satellites” to protect its sphere of influence from encroachment by the other. Indeed, when he discusses the nature of American (and Soviet) empire, he clarifies that unlike traditional empires that sought physical territory to rule over, the nature of American empire has been more ideologically based. The rule has been that through foreign policy, often utilizing covert CIA operations, American policy has sought to undermine regimes that were not compliant to the demands of the political class in Washington, D.C. Regimes that were amenable to American military demands, would be provided with all the support needed to maintain power, and if that meant looking the other way while some of these governments brutally oppressed their people (which happened almost 100% of the time), then so be it. In short, our “colonies” consisted of compliant puppet governments. And most ironic of all, there was very little difference between American and Soviet policy in this regard.

One can argue whether all of this was necessary, given the conditions of the Cold War. What Johnson fears most, however, is that unless American foreign policy adapts to a changed world, the model of hegemony that arose from the Cold War era will lead America to collapse. He uses the analogy of two scorpions doing battle, and although one is the victor in the struggle, the wounds incurred may lead to death shortly thereafter. The realities of the modern world have changed, and unless America doesn’t re-examine its foreign policy, its inflexibility will be its ultimate demise.

What’s most amazing to me, however, is that this book was written before 9/11. It actually discusses briefly people like Osama bin Laden, and made a prediction that we would continue to see more and more blowback. I remember when 9/11 happened, and I had made some comments to people that I knew that this was the chickens coming home to roost, many had no idea what I was talking about. Libertarian writers had been saying for years that our interventionist foreign policy was going to cost us dearly, yet they were ignored, which is why that day came as such a shock. At the time, many were very hostile to the idea that our own policies may have been to blame. These days, as cooler heads can discuss the events rationally, it is safer to raise the issue of whether Empire is a prudent, let alone desirable, strategy.

I’m glad I started reading this. Its been sitting my shelf for about 3 years, waiting for me to get to it. As Johnson has come out with two more books as a follow up, which I intend to get and read, I figure its high time I read this book and start boning up on the true nature of American Empire.

Read Blogging Through Blowback, Chapter 2 - Okinawa: Asia's Last Colony


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