The Price of Empire
can understand the shock, the horror, the unbelief as the war most
Americans didn't know was going on or didn't choose to acknowledge
came home in such a brutal, deadly fashion in lower Manhattan and
the Pentagon. This was obviously a coordinated attack, carried out
with skill and stealth. Its success reflects a failure of Intelligence
and intelligence on a massive scale.
short, the United States, as a government and to some extent as
a society, seems to have no idea how it is perceived in much of
the world and no effective defense against the most dangerous threats
to the continuing functioning of our society. It is hardly unique
in history for officials to spend their time and spin their wheels
preparing for the last war, or operating on assumptions that haven't
been valid for decades. The attacks in Washington and New York
and possibly attacks planned elsewhere that either failed or were
thwarted demonstrate that official intelligence in this country
is sadly ineffective.
FOR REAL INFORMATION
media have been full of speculation about which groups, organizations
or states might have been involved in these terrorist acts. I talked
with Geoffrey Kemp, Middle East expert at the Nixon International
Center in Washington and hardly a dove. Knowing a good deal more
than most people about the people, players and organizations in
the Middle East, he simply refused to speculate. He believes it
could take several days for the first intelligence breaks that could
be viewed as reliable to come through.
the operation was clearly well-coordinated, highly professional,
and had to have at least some kind of cooperation from what Mr.
Kemp referred to as foreign "entities," it is simply impossible
to be sure at this point who carried out these terrorist attacks.
A talk-show host in New Orleans with whom I spoke, Ed Butler, suggested
narco-traffickers might have been behind them, and they just
might have the resources and the capability.
is difficult to wait for reliable information, especially insofar
as you understand that it might never become available. But to respond
without reliable information to target, just to take a recent
example, an aspirin
factory rather than a real terrorist headquarters would be
worse than ineffective. It would increase resentment.
that we don't yet know and might never know exactly who perpetrated
these terrorist acts, it might be appropriate even though it
might be early in the game for most Americans to be ready to consider
them to ask questions about our own policies and posture in the
talked with Chalmers Johnson, political scientist, authority on
Japan and author of Blowback:
The Costs of American Empire, published last year by Henry
Holt. He was saddened but not surprised by the attacks. His book
had come close to predicting roughly similar attacks on American
soil as resentment, hatred and hopelessness become more commonplace
around the world that the United States tries rather desultorily
pertinent questions have been studiously ignored in most of the
media and in most of the centers of policy-making and analysis,
Johnson. Why was the United States a target? Why was the World
Trade Center the target? Was it a symbol of capitalism or a symbol
of American hegemony? What have we done or what has the government
done in our names to create such intense and organized hostility?
have 65 major U.S. military installations in other peoples' countries
right now," Johnson told me, and not everybody in those countries
is happy about those bases' presence. Although plenty of people
have speculated, for example, that Osama
bin Laden, a Saudi national who is supposedly estranged from
the Saudi government, has been behind numerous terrorist acts and
masterminds a worldwide terrorist network, nobody has suggested
that the United States withdraw its troops or bases from Saudi Arabia.
If we were simply considering possible alternatives without preconceptions,
that would certainly be at least on the table as an option.
remarkable success of the terrorist assault the ability to get
hijackers through airport security and onto four or five different
airplanes, to hijack all these airplanes simultaneously, to have
people available who could not only fly an airplane reasonably competently
but were willing to undertake a suicide mission suggests a catastrophic
failure of intelligence. But it is not just a failure of information-gathering
but a failure of imagination and understanding of how the world
is, rather than how it was.
Johnson maintains that US defense and intelligence services have
seemed incapable of imagining the world as it really is for at least
a decade, maybe longer. He thinks that the Cold War actually ended,
in terms of the Soviets posing a genuine threat, before the Soviet
Union deteriorated. Even if that's arguable, however, the world
changed profoundly in 1989 and our defense and intelligence agencies,
whether through bureaucratic inertia or the comfort of old preconceptions
or a number of other reasons, still don't understand and haven't
even tried very hard to understand the new shape of the world.
we are almost completely unprepared for the dispersed, decentralized
kind of terrorist threat that was proven, yesterday, to be capable
of creating incredible destruction.
more important, however, is a failure to understand just how deeply
hated the United States is in many parts of the world and hated
by people ready and able to take desperate and ruthless actions.
It's not just that most CIA analysts have never even been to the
countries they are supposed to be analyzing, nor that they often
speak the language. It is that we are careless and arrogant
in our ignorance, that we exercise our hegemony without much forethought,
analysis or intelligence.
is a CIA term referring to an operation that comes back to bite
you, often in unpredictable and certainly unintended way. The terrorist
operations against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon can be
seen as blowback, the unintended consequences of American hegemony,
the costs that have finally begun to be paid by Americans, on American
soil, for our leaders' casual and often thoughtless form of empire-building
temptation US leaders will struggle with in the next day or so is
to respond intelligently and in a measured fashion rather than blindly
and disproportionately. It is almost certain, for example, that
airport security will be significantly tighter, that access to government
buildings and major office building will be more difficult. Some
of these measures may be required but some may be overdone.
of people have compared this attack to Pearl Harbor , and in terms
of casualties and the surprise element the comparison may be apt.
Chalmers Johnson reminded me, however, that one of the responses
to Pearl Harbor was what he called a "racial pogrom" against
Japanese-Americans, almost all of whom had nothing to do with the
attack and had no sympathy for their former country. (It is a point
of pride to me that the Orange County Register was one of
the few newspapers to oppose the internment
of Japanese-Americans in 1943 and 1943 rather than years later.)
also can be said that Pearl Harbor (and other affiliated activities)
led to the formation of the intelligence services that became the
CIA. Perhaps the World Trade Center assault, which exposed the ineffectiveness
of the CIA as it is presently constituted, will lead to a deconstruction
of the CIA and the building of a better information capability from
the ground up. I don't think that's likely, but I do think it would
Johnson points out one more phenomenon that makes such attacks,
especially suicide attacks, feasible.
we have seen perhaps most notably in the Middle East but elsewhere
as well is a loss of hope among wide swaths of people. It is
not too difficult to understand that a lot of Palestinians have
lost hope that anything positive is likely to happen in their lifetimes.
It is also becoming more the case that Israelis are losing hope
people have no hope or see no possibility of a decent life for themselves
and their children, then war and even suicide become less unthinkable,
less unlikely. Insofar as increasing numbers of people have lost
hope for the future, perhaps we will see more people willing to
engage in what most of see as incredibly desperate acts of violence
hope Chalmers Johnson is wrong about that one. But there is little
question now that the United States has begun to pay the price in
bloodshed at home for the arrogance and breastbeating of our almost
breathtakingly ignorant foreign policy leaders. One may hate those
consequences, but until we begin to recognize that retaliation against
innocents is among the consequences of our foreign policy, we will
make little progress either in understanding September 11 or avoiding
more attacks in the future.
contribution of $50 or more gets you a copy of Ronald Radosh's out-of-print
classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets on the
Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form