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Flash back to those fearful days after 9-11 when Susan Sontag told the obvious but inconvenient truth. She was vilified for pointing out that this was "an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions." She was accused of treason, of hating the United States, of justifying the attack. The usual. Never mind that it's only common sense that American violence triggers anti-American violence and that there's ample social science showing it does and that terrorists themselves say it does, to speak of blowback was taboo. Only anti-imperialist cranks like Chalmers Johnson, Ward Churchill, and Ron Paul ventured onto that lonely territory.

Eleven plus years later and we're all Sontag now. Well, not quite, but members of the national security establishment are warning that the "war on terrorism" -- in particular drone warfare -- is breeding anti-American terrorists. The New York Times recently wrote about this trend, highlighting the words of a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In recent months, the criticism from human rights activists, United Nations officials and some friendly foreign governments has been joined by a number of former senior American military and intelligence officials who argue that the costs of the drone program might exceed its benefits. In the latest example, Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a favored adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, expressed concern in a speech here on Thursday that America’s aggressive campaign of drone strikes could be undermining long-term efforts to battle extremism.

We’re seeing that blowback,” General Cartwright, who is retired from the military, said at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”

Blowback is a term favored by critics of empire, so it's striking that Cartwright uses it. Striking but not surprising. After all, the CIA coined the term.
"Blowback" is a CIA term first used in March 1954 in a recently declassified report on the 1953 operation to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran. It is a metaphor for the unintended consequences of the US government's international activities that have been kept secret from the American people.
Speaking of the CIA, the former head of the agency's counterterrorism center, Robert Grenier, has been airing concerns about blowback for many months.
"It [the drone program] needs to be targeted much more finely. We have been seduced by them and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences."...

"We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regards to Pakistan and Afghanistan."

But of all the security leaders warning about the potential results of American violence overseas, none has done so more vividly that General Stanley McCrystal:
..."[A]lthough to the United States, a drone strike seems to have very little risk and very little pain, at the receiving end, it feels like war. Americans have got to understand that. If we were to use our technological capabilities carelessly – I don’t think we do, but there’s always the danger that you will – then we should not be upset when someone responds with their equivalent, which is a suicide bomb in Central Park, because that’s what they can respond with.".
Taken together, their comments represent a significant shift in accepted and acceptable opinion. But there's little indication it's influencing the counterterrorism policies of the Obama administration, which continues to wage drone-heavy dirty wars in Pakistan and Yemen and expand its the terror war into North Africa. There's simply no chance that more than a decade of American war won't spawn disaster for the United States.

Although it's not always (usually not?) security concerns that drive American national security policy, its self-destructiveness is nonetheless astounding. For example, the United States has reestablished a military presence in Saudi Arabia, a drone base. You'll recall that the American military presence in Saudi Arabia topped Bin Laden's list of grievances. It's as if the United States is trying to trigger another catastrophic terrorist attack.

And when it does, will these national security leaders make like Sontag and tell the truth, inviting vilification, or will they join the chorus calling for a massive military response that will only perpetuate the cycle of American violence and blowback?

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Comment Preferences

  •  One of my periodic posts (16+ / 0-)

    on the horrors ahead. On a related note, Hillary Clinton has gotten into the act, sort of, discussing the American role in creating Bin Laden (h/t Corey Robin):

    "The people we are fighting today we funded...It was President Reagan, in partnership with the Congress, led by Democrats who said, you know what? It sounds like a pretty good idea. Let's deal with the with the ISI and the Pakistani military, and let's go recruit these Mujahadin and that's great, let's get some to come from Saudi Arabia and other places, importing their Wahhabi brand of Islam, so we can go beat the Soviet Union...So let's be careful what we sow, because we will harvest."
  •  I remember right after 9/11 thinking (10+ / 0-)

    "Somebody pissed Somebody off!" I thought in the financial sector, and made the mistake of mentioning it to a private financial advisor I knew, and he took my head off, and that was the end of any civil conversation we had about anything.  I never changed my mind, and it's interesting to me that others in gubment think so too.

    Flying is simple. You just throw yourself at the ground and miss. Douglas Adams

    by Portia Elm on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 11:04:59 AM PDT

  •  Why does Sontag hate America? (10+ / 0-)

    Since there is no justification for the level of evil that results in 3,000 instant deaths, there can't be any cause of it, either.

    ergo ipso notso.

    And there's no comparison of that to causing hundreds of thousands of deaths in the wrong country in retaliation...


    try to keep your eye on the walnut shells...

    What's the point of letting neoliberals into the tent when neoliberalism is burning down the campground?

    by Words In Action on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 11:08:04 AM PDT

    •  Well Since Neither Country Attacked Us Both (9+ / 0-)

      retaliations were in the wrong country.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 11:13:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good point. (7+ / 0-)

        Took my eye off the walnut.

        What's the point of letting neoliberals into the tent when neoliberalism is burning down the campground?

        by Words In Action on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 11:24:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I disagree with your assertion. (0+ / 0-)

        Iraq definitely didn't.  However, Al Quaida was based in Afghanistan and operated with the knowledge and cooperation of the Afghanistan government controlled by the Taliban.  When the US sought to get those responsible for the attack on America, Afghanistan refused.  Now I can't remember 11 years ago exactly how they refused and I will freely acknowledge that Bushco wanted them served up on a platter without really acknowledging any concerns over the sovereign country of Afghanistan's laws.  When the Taliban refused to immediately hand over Al Quaida, Bush started making plans for war, and I believe he really wanted the war, both there and ultimately in Iraq.  There were indications that he could have not had to go to war to get Al Quaida into some sort of court but that would have taken time and wouldn't give him his war, so of course he pushed and got the war started.  When the war looked like it might succeed in the goals he had for it, he had the troops pulled from Tora Bora and focused on Iraq, ensuring the bogey man would remain free and he could get the US into the war he really wanted in the first place.

        While Afghanistan didn't attack the US as Afghanistan, the group that did was in Afghanistan with the cooperation and protection of the Afghanistan government.  There was no place to attempt to bring the perpetrators of justice other than Afghanistan.

        •  Afghanistan "as a country" didn't allow and (5+ / 0-)

          cooperate with Al Qaeda.   A relatively few Taliban fanatics did.  

          The country itself, a vast land of many different peoples, was not too happy with the Taliban all along, which is why it was possible for a few dozen special forces troops, operating with local forces, to "topple" the Taliban.

          Afghanistan was not operating as a traditional "country" in the manner of Italy or Sweden when Al Qaeda, a shadowy international criminal group of terrorists, attacked the USA.  The Taliban had power through their oppression of the region, but what government existed was not in the form of traditional government representation of people and common services provided to all, etc.

          The fact that we consider the entire geographic area and populace of Afghanistan as having backed, supported or tentatively permitted the attack is just more inaccurate framing from the Bush administration days.

          The great tragedy in all this is that having removed the Taliban from power in most of the country, the USA did not work to build real institutions and infrastructure for that desperately poor land. Instead we turned to corrupt officials and continued to grease their palms. (to this day, too)

          Bush's hatred of nation-building and the troika's (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld) insistence on attacking Iraq made Afghanistan failed US policy from the beginning.

          "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

          by YucatanMan on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 01:45:03 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  There was not an option to not deal with the (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.  They controlled the central government, such as it was, including the representation to the United Nations and such control of the borders as they cared for.  The US couldn't just send special forces into the Al Quaida tribal areas and ignore the Taliban in Kabul.  

            Or am I not understanding what you're saying here?

            •  I agree with your earlier comment, but was just (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              pointing out that "the government" wasn't anything as formal as seen in most every other nation on earth.  It was rule by brute force and terror, everywhere (except perhaps the home provinces of some).

              Also, I was trying to point out that it was not really a "nation" as we think of other nations. It was a broad expanse of disparate groups which don't really get along, governed (if at all) in name only by the Taliban in the capital city.

              So, because of those opinions, I see it as hard to say that "Afghanistan" was at fault.  Some people in Afghanistan were at fault.  That's all.

              "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

              by YucatanMan on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 08:55:05 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  Not really (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          YucatanMan, ColoTim

          The Taliban did offer up Bin Laden and Bush refused

          President George Bush rejected as "non-negotiable" an offer by the Taliban to discuss turning over Osama bin Laden if the United States ended the bombing in Afghanistan.

          Returning to the White House after a weekend at Camp David, the president said the bombing would not stop, unless the ruling Taliban "turn [bin Laden] over, turn his cohorts over, turn any hostages they hold over." He added, "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty". In Jalalabad, deputy prime minister Haji Abdul Kabir - the third most powerful figure in the ruling Taliban regime - told reporters that the Taliban would require evidence that Bin Laden was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, but added: "we would be ready to hand him over to a third country".

          The Taliban wanted proof that Bin Laden was responsible for the attacks.

          Some people have short memories

          by lenzy1000 on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 08:21:08 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The war was already on by that point (0+ / 0-)

            At least the air strikes were.  It was Afghanistan and the Taliban who had been standing in the way of Bush's pursuit of Al Qaida and had they been dealing with someone who didn't have a lust for war, like Gore, this would have been resolved without hundreds of thousands of lives lost and two countries decimated.  However, the Taliban delayed, and by the time they got to this point it was really too late and there was no stopping Bush's wars.

            As I suggested above, Bush wanted a war more than he really wanted Bin Laden and Al Qaida, since he stopped going after Bin Laden when it looked like he might actually be captured and therefore not give a reason to start Bush's preferred war with Iraq.

          •  Also, I think this would have worked and (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Bin Laden could have been tried, for example, at the International Criminal Court even though the US (with Republican opposition) has refused to ratify it.  This actually might have been the thing to get the US to sign on (they might have said either sign on or you don't get to try him).  

            But as I have said, Bush didn't want anything less than full war, since he got to live safely in Washington and nobody he knew was in danger on the battle lines, yet he could read and see videos of all the brown people being killed in high-def.

            Al Qaida wanted to strike back at the US for the slights of Gulf War I, the bases in Saudi Arabia and many other actions of the US against Muslims - right or wrong.  They wanted to bring down America.  They wound up costing hundreds of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars of damage, and though they lost their lives themselves (most of them), they did cause America to go against our values, lose our credibility with the world, damage our economy and more than double the number of lives that were lost in fighting the war after the initial losses on 9/11.  Who won?  Dunno.  I do know the people of Al Qaida, Afghanistan, Iraq, the member countries of the "coalition of the willing" and definitely the people of the US, Britain and Spain where terror attacks all occurred - we all lost.

  •  they hate us for our freedoms (10+ / 0-)

    so we'll give our freedoms, and they won't hate us any more.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 11:18:38 AM PDT

  •  But... COIN! Low Intensity Conflict! (4+ / 0-)

    All these things always made us safer!

    If there's anyone who knows how to put troublesome conflicts right via secret wars, counter-insurgency, low-intensity-conflict theory, bombing, airstrikes, etc., it's got to be the US!

    Look how well things turned out when the US turned its skills in these affairs to Cambodia, Laos, and of course Vietnam;  and to Central America and Colombia (and none of those places had problems with the violence continuing post-conflict and arriving at other countries & our shores such as in gangs and paramilitaries and narco-trafficking and money laundering);  and to Southern Africa (what problems has anyone seen since Reagan tried helping save Angola & Mozambique from Communism?);  and of course to South Asia.

    Oh, I know, I know, if only we'd stayed longer in Afghanistan after paying & hiring & arming & protecting murderous Islamic radicals, thugs, and narco-traffickers, it would have all gone well, because, well, that's just how things go with US involvement.

    I'm sure there's a record proving it somewhere.  Either that or mumble-mumble WWII mumble-mumble Japan or something.

  •  Ward Churchill was vile in his description (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    david mizner

    using "Little Eichmanns" in his justification of the attack on the WTC.  He is not someone to try and make into a hero about speaking out against US imperialism.  

    I am glad he's not teaching at the University of Colorado anymore.  Sure he's got a right to say what he said, but the State of Colorado doesn't have to continue to have him teaching at a state university.  He was removed from office when his plagiarism and dishonest scholarship was discovered by people looking for ways to fire him dug into his work, but that's a case where I really am not sorry.  Again, he's not someone who should be held up as someone to admire.

  •  Chris Hedges on the 'Treason of the Intellectuals' (8+ / 0-)

    The rewriting of history by the power elite was painfully evident as the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Some claimed they had opposed the war when they had not. Others among “Bush’s useful idiots” argued that they had merely acted in good faith on the information available; if they had known then what they know now, they assured us, they would have acted differently. This, of course, is false. The war boosters, especially the “liberal hawks”—who included Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken and John Kerry, along with academics, writers and journalists such as Bill Keller,  Michael Ignatieff, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Fareed Zakaria, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, George Packer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kanan Makiya and the late Christopher Hitchens—did what they always have done: engage in acts of self-preservation. To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.
    These apologists, however, acted not only as cheerleaders for war; in most cases they ridiculed and attempted to discredit anyone who questioned the call to invade Iraq. Kristof, in The New York Times, attacked the filmmaker Michael Moore as a conspiracy theorist and wrote that anti-war voices were only polarizing what he termed “the political cesspool.” Hitchens said that those who opposed the attack on Iraq “do not think that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy at all.” He called the typical anti-war protester a “blithering ex-flower child or ranting neo-Stalinist.” The halfhearted mea culpas by many of these courtiers a decade later always fail to mention the most pernicious and fundamental role they played in the buildup to the war—shutting down public debate. Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught of right-wing “patriots” and their liberal apologists, became pariahs. In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience, turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly wanted to demonstrate its own “patriotism” and “realism” about national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational hatred of all war critics. Many of us received death threats and lost our jobs, for me one at The New York Times. These liberal warmongers, 10 years later, remain both clueless about their moral bankruptcy and cloyingly sanctimonious. They have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on their hands.
    (emphasis mine)

    without the ants the rainforest dies

    by aliasalias on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 12:01:52 PM PDT

  •  "We" need to leave people alone, but it's about (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    FREEDUMZZzZZZZZZZZ. Yeah the freedom to screw people over, that is.

  •  I like the way Chomsky stated it (0+ / 0-)
    "If you want to stop terrorism, stop participating in it"
    This American exceptionalism crap is real getting old. Quit meddling in everyone's affairs. It only comes back to bite us.

    Some people have short memories

    by lenzy1000 on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 08:12:44 PM PDT

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