I wrote this proactive essay in the hopes of bringing some understanding to the tragic cycle of violence existing between the US and Middle East. Our first reaction to those horrid events of the 11th was grief. This was followed by anger. On the 12th I had several university freshman state their desire to kill Palestinian children they saw on CNN who were celebrating the terrorist attack on the US. I concluded that the warped reactions of these Palestinian children were in part produced by the destitution and sorrow of their daily lives and the historical legacy of conflict they have inherited. More importantly, I felt it important to convey to my students why many in the Middle East hold the US in such contempt. This is important for without understanding these causes, our reactions to the horrible events of the 11th risks being neither just, nor ending the cycle of violence. While those responsible for this attack must be brought to account, we must also be careful not to act in ways that will bring an entire people to further resent America. If this happens, we will all surely lose."Blowback!
At the end of WW II the US took empire from a weakened Britain and France. Among the first casualties was East Europe, which was sacrificed on the mantle of superpower relations. That same deal between superpowers saw Greece put down by England and the US, with Soviet compliance. The Soviets and the West also concluded that the people of both their respective spheres would be put down if necessary in the interests of "stability." Democracy on both sides of the Cold War divide was shelved.
The US maintained order during its tenure of hegemony through use of both covert and overt operations that helped signal the very blowback we witnessed on the 11th. In 1953 Allen Dulles, brother of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, thought it clever to maintain order in Iran by overthrowing its democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadegh. The popular Mossadegh "erred" when he decided Iranís oil belonged to Iran and not the multi-national corporations who held "rights" to it. He nationalized Iranís oil. Allen Dulles sent in the CIA with suitcases full of money (the CIA had no oversight and so could spend liberally) to destabilize the government. They sent their agent Kim Roosevelt to remove Mossadegh. Kim Roosevelt was the grandson of that famous defender of the Spanish American War that brought the US no end of blowback. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf accom panied himóno, not the General we all know who commanded US forces in the Persian Gulf war, but his father. Schwarzkopf trained the Shah of Iranís secret police in all sorts and manners of techniques that brutal dictatorships employ against their citizens. This bought "stability" and the return of oil to its "rightful" owners. The US oil companies got 40%, the Brits 40%, the Dutch 14% and the French 6%. Yet, in overthrowing Mossadegh a 25-year-long period of repression was launched against dissenters in Iran with significant blowback for all parties concerned. Most significantly this created a radical Islamic fundamentalist response that led to the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeni. In part, yesterdayís tragedy is blowback from Washington policies executed 50 years back.
During the 1980s the US found another opportunity for CIA mischief in the Middle East. In 1978 the Soviet Union frowned upon the more radical Marxist government that arose on its border in Afghanistan. Given that the Soviets cynically wielded terms like "Marxism" in the same way the US has often done with "democracy," the Soviets felt no compunction about overthrowing a radical Marxist government with democratic impulses. As a superpower it sought obedience. The Soviets installed a government in Afghanistan loyal to themselves and would suffer blowback that in part led to the very dissolution of the USSR.
Coming off its own failed decades long attempt to install and maintain unpopular governments in Vietnam, the US was bemused by the Soviets finding themselves in a similar situation in Afghanistan. Among opponents of the Soviet backed regime in Afghanistan were Islamic fundamentalists. The CIA fanned the flames of fundamentalist fervor in order to fuel the ant-Soviet Afghani movement, the Mujahadeen. Yet, here too there would be blowback. When the Soviet Union collapsed the highly motivated fundamentalist force the US helped create and train in covert operations (the stuff of terrorism) they now turned their sights on their former benefactor. The marriage between Afghani fundamentalists and the CIA was purely one of convenience. When no longer "convenient" these highly-trained militants could now turn on that other source of misery in the Middle East: the US. Again, this was blowback.
This begs the question of why the US was perceived as a source of "evil" by Islamic extremists? We are all familiar with the reasons. A decade of bombing and embargoes have left Iraqís electric, water, and health infrastructure in tatters. Saddam Hussein remains in power, but millions live in abject misery, and the United Nationsí own data shows over 700,000 children having died as a consequence of these US measures against Iraq. The Iraqi leadership has been unaffected. Hussein has punished the Kurds in the north of Iraq with impunity and the Shiite Muslims of the south were treated to Husseinís bloody fist too. Yet, Iraq did not dissolve into separate nations. This was the goal of US policy. This has been achieved at a terrible human cost and is another reason for blowback against the US.
The specter of US policy toward Israel continues to haunt America. Copious amounts of aid flows liberally to the Israeli government and spills out into Palestinian communities in the form of state violence. But, peace between Israel and Egypt is critical to Middle East stability. The US gets little of its oil from the Middle East, but US oil companies are present there and more importantly oil must flow freely and predictably for the smooth functioning of the global economy over which the US presides. Palestinian homes are routinely bulldozed and its people live under military occupation. When the Arabic nations try and address this matter civilly in the United Nations, as they just tried last week at the Durban conference, they are rebuffed by the US. Consequently, Palestinian children greet with delight the news of thousands of innocent people dying in the US on the 11th. This is blowback.
America will make many choices in the near future regarding how to engage the Middle East. Letís hope it remembers that actions have consequences. Jingoistic responses can backfire. Blowback might erupt quickly, or simmer for decades. When it strikes the consequences are devastating. We are poised to escalate the violence or we can begin to plumb the depths of our history in ways that might reveal how we can end these cascading series of tragedies. Hopefully, reason will prevail.