March 9, 2008

"Monsters to Destroy" - How America Creates Its Own Blowback

An interesting interview with Dr. Thomas Woods on a website I've never visited before (for the obvious reason ;) ). The interview, entitled "Monsters to Destroy: Foreign Policy, Then and Now," looks at how American modern foreign policy (say, from WW1 onwards) has created severe problems (i.e., blowback) for itself by intervening in the affairs of others. What makes matters worse for Americans is that, as one blogger put it, "It’s sad when Osama Bin Laden makes more sense than Americans do." A couple of quotes:

One insight that conservatives have long had is that when you intervene in the domestic market, you always have unintended consequences. Put a price control on milk and make milk less expensive and pretty soon, you'll have shortages, because no one is producing milk anymore and the discounted milk was bought up. That's what happens.

Foreign affairs are even more likely to have unintended consequences. Woodrow Wilson did not intend to exacerbate every existing problem in Europe by intervening in World War I. But that's what he did, and he helped create the fertile soil for the rise of a hyper nationalistic party like the Nazis.


In the 1980s, the Ayatollah Khomeini called for a jihad against America, on the grounds that we were degenerate, had filthy movies, our women didn't know their place -- all the reasons that we've been told are the causes of the current attacks. The result was absolutely nothing. No one blew himself up. No one did anything. Khomeini issued the call and there was no interest. It was a total flop -- no one wanted to sacrifice himself on those grounds.

Then the 1990s come along, and we have Osama bin Laden. He does not make that fundamental cultural critique -- obviously, he doesn't like those aspects of American culture, but that wasn't his main critique.

His criticism is actually very specific. He says the U.S. is responsible for propping up police states around the Arab world; exercising undue influence over oil markets; showing undue favoritism toward Israel; supporting countries that oppress their Muslim minorities; basing American troops on the Arabian peninsula, and on and on.

This is the sort of thing he offers as a rationale. So while there may certainly be the potential for Islam to be violent, what sparks that fire? It's the combination of practical grievances and the Islamist ideology. Some people will do battle on behalf of an abstract philosophy, but most people will only fight and die for a specific grievance. For example, when you look at the Al Qaida recruitment tapes, they don't simply quote from the Koran. They actually show images of people killed by U.S. weapons.

Why are they making those tapes if there's no connection between U.S. foreign policy and what the terrorists are doing? It just doesn't make sense.

Some of the comments were also interesting. One man asked, "What about Beirut?" (Meaning, the 1983 bombing of the American and French barracks in Beirut.) One very good response was:

Heeding the advice of then-national security adviser Robert McFarlane, President Ronald Reagan authorized the USS New Jersey to fire long-distance shells into Muslim villages in the Bekaa Valley, killing civilians and convincing Shiite militants that the United States had joined the conflict.

On Oct. 23, 1983, Shiite militants struck back, sending a suicide truck bomber through U.S. security positions and demolishing the high-rise Marine barracks. “When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American ‘referee’ had taken sides,” Gen. Colin Powell wrote about the incident in his memoirs, My American Journey.

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