The title of this book, “Blowback,” notes Chalmers Johnson, author of this jeremiad about United States foreign policy, is a word originally coined by the Central Intelligence Agency to describe “the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people.” Mr. Johnson, a distinguished political scientist, writes:
“What the daily press reports as the malign acts of ‘terrorists’ or ‘drug lords’ or ‘rogue states’ or ‘illegal arms merchants’ often turn out to be blowback from earlier American operations.”
As an example of “blowback,” Mr. Johnson cites Afghanistan where U.S. military assistance, ordered by President Carter following the 1979 invasion of that country by the Soviet Union, produced the present tyrannical fundamentalist Taliban dictatorship. Assuming that such a causal relationship is provable, the question which the author fails to answer, remains: Should the United States not have helped the Afghan people to resist Soviet imperialism? After all, by aiding Afghanistan, say many Russian observers, America helped bring down the Soviet empire without starting World War III. Measuring the dreadful Taliban against the fall of Soviet communism, one could argue that it was not a bad price for such a boon.
And for that matter suppose the United States had done nothing in the 1980s while Cuba and the Soviet Union were instigating military coups in El Salvador, Nicaragua, in Latin America generally would we have a better world today? Of course, if you place the bar high enough you can’t jump over it.
Mr. Johnson finds “far more symmetry between the postwar policies of the Soviet Union and the United States than most Americans are willing to recognize.” This symmetry continued during the 1980s, he writes. When one recalls the (Andre) Zhdanov Cold-War oratory in 1946, the satellization of Central Europe and the Stalinist purge trials which followed, the Soviet Gulag, the anti-Semitic doctors’ plot, the campaign against Tito, the bloodily suppressed uprisings in East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the Stalin-inspired invasion of South Korea by North Korea, it is willful blindness to see a policy parallelism between the two countries.
Moreover, it is nonsense to talk about “American demonization of Castro’s Cuba” when it was Fidel Castro who demonized himself. It is obvious that Mr. Johnson’s research didn’t inspire him to read the first-hand testimonies of victims of Castroism like Armando Valladares. Whatever valid criticism Mr. Johnson has against U.S. foreign policy is vitiated by his unending dirge of its failures, corruption, short-sightedness, selfishness and on and on. Is there a single example of a U.S. foreign policy initiative in the last half-century that he approves of? I couldn’t find one.
Mr. Johnson says the United States is “more sensitive” to abuses of civil rights while the Chinese Communists are more sensitive to economic rights, a distinction demolished in one sentence by Robert Conquest: “Even with political freedom, there may be economic injustice; without it, it is inevitable.” The author also writes that “American officials and the media talk a great deal about ‘rogue states’ like Iraq and North Korea, but we must ask ourselves whether the United States has itself become a rogue superpower.”
Mr. Johnson seems to regret the fall of the Soviet Union when he writes: “Even as the United States gloats over its ‘victory’ in the Cold War, future Russian revanchism becomes more and more likely.” So the United States should have been fearful of Russian revanchism and done nothing to organize resistance say, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization against Soviet imperialism and, of course, done nothing against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait for fear of Saddam Hussein’s revanchism.
In his anger against the United States, some of it justified, Mr. Johnson has failed to deal with the unofficial global plebiscite underway for decades against Marxist socialism and Marxism-Leninism by an almost unanimous vote among hundreds and hundreds of millions of people, victimized for generations by these baneful doctrines.
Mr. Johnson condemns the United States for seeking to “impose” a market economy on Asian countries. But that is precisely what the Asian urban masses have wanted; see Hong Kong, Chinese coastal cities, Taiwan and study why people are willing to hurdle high voltage fences, to sail in leaky tubs in the South China Sea and across the Pacific, to risk asphyxiation in crowded freight cars, to fly in homemade planes, anything to get to the free market democracies.
Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington Times. He is the editor of the forthcoming “CNN’s Cold War Documentary: Issues and Controversy.”