Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Lee Harris: Reflections on "Blowback"
tcsdaily.com ^ | December 12, 2007 | Lee Harris

Posted on 12/13/2007 7:32:53 AM PST by Tolik

The following is a conclusion of a long article by a philosopher Lee Harris where he is deconstructing a frequently heard lately charge of "blowback" to US actions in the world (i.e. that 9/11 was a "blowback" for the United States' foreign policy toward the Muslim world over the past half century or so, going back to the CIA engineered coup in 1953 that ousted Iranian leader Mossadegh, and that  "we had it coming" as a response to "American imperialism")


...This conclusion, however, poses a radical dilemma. A libertarian can plausibly argue that politicians should not interfere with domestic affairs, since these affairs can manage themselves, so to speak. But the libertarian cannot make the same argument about foreign policy. The individuals of a society can decide, on a one by one basis, what is best for them at home, but they cannot decide on the same basis what policy they will have toward other nations in the world. Nations alone can have foreign policies, and these policies must inevitably be devised by those who have been designated to act on behalf of the society as a whole and to represent its interests in international affairs. The rule of laissez faire can never be the basis of a foreign policy.

This obvious fact, when coupled with the libertarian argument from complexity, leads to the melancholy conclusion that no nation can be safe from disastrous blowback effects the moment it tries to devise any kind of foreign policy whatsoever. Even those nations whose leaders only desire to pursue peace, and to keep from meddling in the affairs of other nations, will be exposed to the same risks of blowback as the nation that desires to expand its territory and to dominate its neighbors. If a policy of disarmament and appeasement turns out to increase the power and prestige of nations ruled by warmongers, this is every bit as much a case of blowback as the defeat that an aggressive nation unexpectedly brings on itself when it precipitately goes to war. Mere good intentions are not spared from yielding bad consequences, either in domestic or foreign affairs.

A libertarian like Buckle can recommend a policy of non-intervention in domestic politics and recommend it with a clear conscience; but a policy of non-intervention in international politics is another matter. We may persuade our own government not to intervene, but what have we achieved if other nations do not follow suit? Dean Acheson used to say: "Don't just do something—stand there." His point was that by just doing something, we often find ourselves confronted with the unexpected negative consequence of our action. Yet it is a beguiling illusion to think that by standing there and doing nothing we can manage to avoid blowback. When another party commits an act of aggression, and we take no action against it—as the English and French took no action against Hitler's march into the de-militarized Rhineland in 1935—we will inevitably find that our passivity has only served to embolden the aggressor to behave even more aggressively, which was precisely what happened in the case of Hitler.

This brings us back to Ron Paul's remark. If the inherent complexity of the world exposes any foreign policy to the risk of blowback, then it would be absurd to criticize a nation's foreign policy simply because it led to unintended negative consequences. Furthermore, such criticism would be unwarranted in direct proportion to the degree that the behavior of other players on the world stage was unpredictable and inscrutable, since any factor that increases the complexity of a system makes it more difficult to manage intelligently. Given the fact that the behavior of radical Islam is on an order of unpredictability and inscrutability that eclipses all previous geopolitical challenges that our nation has faced, it is a utopian dream to imagine that the United States, as the world's dominant power, could possibly escape blowback by any course of action it tried to pursue. We are both damned if we do, and damned if we don't.

We may agree with Ron Paul that our interventionist policy in the Middle East has led to unintended negative consequences, including even 9/11, but this admission offers us absolutely no insight into what unintended consequences his preferred policy of non-intervention would have exposed us to. It is simply a myth to believe that only interventionism yields unintended consequence, since doing nothing at all may produce the same unexpected results. If American foreign policy had followed a course of strict non-interventionism, the world would certainly be different from what it is today; but there is no obvious reason to think that it would have been better.

If the concept of blowback is to serve any constructive purpose in our current debate over our future foreign policy, it must not be used to beat up those whose decisions turned out in retrospect to be wrong, but to remind us of the common lot of those sad creatures, known as human beings, who are constantly forced to deal with the future without ever being able to see into it.

Lee Harris is author of The Suicide of Reason and Civilization and Its Enemies.



TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Philosophy; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: americanimperialism; blowback; empire; imperialism; interventionism; isolationism; leeharris; noninterventionism; ronpaul

Lee Harris's articles at the TCSDaily are archived here: http://www.tcsdaily.com/Authors.aspx?id=218. His ideas may be controversial at times and are not always easy to digest. I disagree with him often enough. But take time to read some of his classics -- the following articles are the reason why I started paying attention to what Lee Harris says. I am sure you will find these articles interesting.

Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology By Lee Harris (FR post)   "Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology," (original)

The Clausewitz Curse (FR post)             The Clausewitz Curse (original)
Given our uncertainty, what alternative does this, or any, administration have? 

 Our World-Historical Gamble  (FR post)           Our World-Historical Gamble (original)
The collapse of the liberal order and the end of classical sovereignty.

 The Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing  http://www.policyreview.org/dec02/harris.html

America-bashing has sadly come to be “the opium of the intellectual,” to use the phrase Raymond Aron borrowed from Marx in order to characterize those who followed the latter into the twentieth century. And like opium it produces vivid and fantastic dreams.

His books:  Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History 

 

Civilization and Its Enemies : The Next Stage of History

 

The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam's Threat to the WestThe Suicide of Reason


1 posted on 12/13/2007 7:32:55 AM PST by Tolik
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Lando Lincoln; neverdem; quidnunc; .cnI redruM; Valin; King Prout; SJackson; dennisw; ...

Nailed It!

This ping list is not author-specific for articles I'd like to share. Some for the perfect moral clarity, some for provocative thoughts; or simply interesting articles I'd hate to miss myself. (I don't have to agree with the author all 100% to feel the need to share an article.) I will try not to abuse the ping list and not to annoy you too much, but on some days there is more of the good stuff that is worthy of attention. You can see the list of articles I pinged to lately  on  my page.
You are welcome in or out, just freepmail me (and note which PING list you are talking about). Besides this one, I keep 2 separate PING lists for my favorite authors Victor Davis Hanson and Orson Scott Card.  

2 posted on 12/13/2007 7:33:39 AM PST by Tolik
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Tolik

***The rule of laissez faire can never be the basis of a foreign policy.***

Ron Paul should take note.


3 posted on 12/13/2007 7:37:11 AM PST by wastedyears (One Marine vs. 550 consultants. Sounds like good odds to me.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Tolik
..any conversation of ‘blowback’, especially by unnamed politicians, completely lack a discussion of positive blowback as well as the blowback of inaction. Frankly, major negative blowback instances can be counted on one hand but get all the media attention, but we have hundreds, if not thousands of examples of positive blowbak (rebuilding after WWII for example) or blowback from inaction (1937 Europe)
4 posted on 12/13/2007 7:37:29 AM PST by mnehring
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wastedyears

A political vacuum in the World will be filled, always. If we withdraw, somebody else will take our place. Who is going to provide a better stewardship? China, Russia, Islamic world? No, thanks.


5 posted on 12/13/2007 7:40:43 AM PST by Tolik
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: mnehrling
"Given the fact that the behavior of radical Islam is on an order of unpredictability and inscrutability that eclipses all previous geopolitical challenges that our nation has faced, it is a utopian dream to imagine that the United States, as the world's dominant power, could possibly escape blowback by any course of action it tried to pursue. We are both damned if we do, and damned if we don't."

Our current enemies are less predictable than Nazis, Japanese imperialists and Soviet communists ever were. Radical Islam lives in a fantasy world and acts in the real word with fantasists expectations. We've got to be nuts to let them get away with that (unfortunately we were and are).

See his articles linked above.

6 posted on 12/13/2007 7:49:03 AM PST by Tolik
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: mnehrling

“positive blowback”

Just one small example: maritime safety. Without US leadership and fleet presence everywhere, world wide shipments would be subject to world wide piracy.

We take so many things for granted, when in reality our freedoms were/are paid in sweat and blood.


7 posted on 12/13/2007 7:56:31 AM PST by Tolik
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Tolik
If American foreign policy had followed a course of strict non-interventionism, the world would certainly be different from what it is today; but there is no obvious reason to think that it would have been better.

Excellent point. I wholeheartedly agree.

8 posted on 12/13/2007 8:05:06 AM PST by Sherman Logan
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Tolik
"...Given the fact that the behavior of radical Islam is on an order of unpredictability and inscrutability that eclipses all previous geopolitical challenges..."

Really?

World conquest seems pretty clear to me.

9 posted on 12/13/2007 8:05:39 AM PST by Paladin2 (Huma for co-president!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Tolik
America-bashing has sadly come to be “the opium of the intellectual,” to use the phrase Raymond Aron borrowed from Marx in order to characterize those who followed the latter into the twentieth century. And like opium it produces vivid and fantastic dreams.

He's misusing Marx's metaphor. Marx used it primarily because the proletariat used religion to dull their pain and distract themselves from their hopeless condition.

He was not referring so much to the addictive and recreational aspects of opium use, which are the parts of the metaphor that apply to America-bashing for intellectuals.

10 posted on 12/13/2007 8:08:45 AM PST by Sherman Logan
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Tolik
I’ve seen atheists & agnostics argue, if there is a God, why does the world have (insert something in the world that’s bad)?

I’m not equating any government with God, but a lot of blowback we’re dealing with now doesn’t have to do with previous intervention, so much as it does with our lack of intervention. If we were the good guys & the most powerful nation in the world, why didn’t we use some of that power to make their lives better? Why didn’t we throw down all of the evil dictators instead of dealing with them?

It has left a perception that we are a) weak or b) evil. If we withdrew from the world into fortress America, both choices a & b would remain. If we continued to arm ourselves to defend fortress America, many would think we're gathering strength to strike. If we didn't continue to arm ourselves, we'd be sitting ducks.

Good article. Thanx for the ping.

11 posted on 12/13/2007 8:22:44 AM PST by GoLightly
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Tolik

I think this article is good but does not go far enough. The muslim world has had no more generous friend than the United States. Whether liberating muslims in Kuwait, Afghanistan or Iraq, we have suffered for the well being of muslims. If one only looks at the oil trade, no larger exchange between rich and poor has ever taken place in world history. All of this trade primarily benefits allegedly muslim fiefdom lords. US provides direct security assistance to a variety of muslim nations such as Egypt and Jordan.

Blowback is an absurd metaphor which presumes that the US has done something to offend or harm the muslim world. That is positively absurd.


12 posted on 12/13/2007 8:26:58 AM PST by lonestar67 (Its time to withdraw from the War on Bush-- your side is hopelessly lost in a quagmire.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: GoLightly

“If we were the good guys & the most powerful nation in the world, why didn’t we use some of that power to make their lives better?”

Yes. Its for real. There are utopian expectations of what US can do. When it does not happen, or not quickly enough (like in reconstruction of the abused ran down Iraqi infrastructure) - its because we don’t WANT to do it.


13 posted on 12/13/2007 8:29:07 AM PST by Tolik
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Tolik
There are utopian expectations of what US can do. When it does not happen, or not quickly enough (like in reconstruction of the abused ran down Iraqi infrastructure) - its because we don’t WANT to do it.

Exactly! Even in domestic affairs you'll see that kind of thinking. New Orleans isn't put back to the way it was before Katrina yet?

14 posted on 12/13/2007 8:39:59 AM PST by GoLightly
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: Tolik

exactly


15 posted on 12/13/2007 8:52:16 AM PST by NonValueAdded (Fred Dalton Thompson for President)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Tolik

Lee Harris is such a fine writer and thinker.


16 posted on 12/13/2007 8:56:49 AM PST by ModelBreaker
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Sherman Logan
He was not referring so much to the addictive and recreational aspects of opium use, which are the parts of the metaphor that apply to America-bashing for intellectuals.

Spiritual emptiness would qualify as a "hopeless condition." But that brings the analogy full circle.

17 posted on 12/13/2007 8:58:36 AM PST by ModelBreaker
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: Tolik
An excellent article, and thanks for posting.

If a policy of disarmament and appeasement turns out to increase the power and prestige of nations ruled by warmongers, this is every bit as much a case of blowback as the defeat that an aggressive nation unexpectedly brings on itself when it precipitately goes to war.

Certain Europeans who have been adamant about appeasement, negotiation, and against deployment of missile defense are about to find themselves within range of the missiles of a country that is simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons. A policy of denial is suicidal.

On the broader topic of foreign policy, it should be fairly obvious that it is affected by factors different from those of economic policy, especially when the latter are governed by any degree of laissez faire. Harris points this out from a theoretical basis; I simply note that whether it is theoretically true or not that difference is demonstrable in application. The economic policies of certain other Europeans in promoting the progress of Iran in both the nuclear and the missile technology arenas run directly contrary to the putative foreign policies regarding non-proliferation. A good deal of ineffective legislation attempts to mediate between the two. There may be a model under which laissez faire might produce a successful foreign policy but I humbly suggest it hasn't much congruence with the real world, and all the self-righteous rhetoric coming from its proponents is most unlikely to change that fact.

18 posted on 12/13/2007 9:06:54 AM PST by Billthedrill
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: beckett

Have you seen this Lee Harris’ article?


19 posted on 12/13/2007 9:16:57 AM PST by Tolik
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Tolik
Our current enemies are less predictable than Nazis, Japanese imperialists and Soviet communists ever were.

No, they're not. Just like the Nazis, Japanese imperialists, and Soviet communists, they're telling and showing us exactly what they have in mind.

The problem is that, just as in those earlier cases, we cannot actually believe that people will act that way; and we therefore ignore the reality of what they're doing, and we're afraid of the possible bloody consequences of action -- which will only make bloodshed inevitable. The barbarity of radical Islam is such that we want to pretend that we don't understand what they're doing.

That doesn't mean that our only options at present involve massive bloodshed. But what it does mean is that we need to do two things. First, don't be shy about stating what it is that Radical Islam is doing. And second, don't be shy or reticent to defend and proclaim our culture.

And, most deadly of all to Islam, free their women.

20 posted on 12/13/2007 9:31:12 AM PST by r9etb
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: Tolik

Islam hates America not because we have abused them or attacked them or done bad things to them, but because they envy our power and success. Hollywood movies and popular magazines probably have done more to stir up their hatred and resentment than fifteen Gulf Wars could have done.

Indeed, we have intervened on their side more often than not, ever since Dwight Eisenhower told Anthony Eden & Co. to get out of Suez. Does Egypt thanks us for that? Of course not. If they remember it at all, they resent it, because they needed the help of infidels to protect them, and that is intolerable.

So, why did they attack us on 9/11? For the same reason they attacked us in a hundred earlier cases, some minor and some not so minor. Because they have been fighting a war of aggression against the Infidels for 1,500 years. For a while they had to draw back and wait, because the infidels were so much stronger and more technologically advanced than they were. But now they are moving again. And other than buying their oil and giving them money, we have done nothing to bring it on. And we can do nothing other than defend ourselves against their hatred of all infidels and their determination to conquer and enslave them.


21 posted on 12/13/2007 9:31:53 AM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Tolik

Why did Saddam attack us on 9-11?
He attacked because he had been at war with us since 1987.

Nailed it.


22 posted on 12/13/2007 9:53:13 AM PST by Blue State Insurgent (Thompson Democrats)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Tolik
If American foreign policy had followed a course of strict non-interventionism, the world would certainly be different from what it is today; but there is no obvious reason to think that it would have been better.

Perhaps not, but I think Ron Paul is referring to the USA's habit of establishing unnecessarily warm relationships with the Arab world's most brutal villains just to secure certain economic conveniences.


23 posted on 12/13/2007 10:03:33 AM PST by Mr. Jeeves ("Wise men don't need to debate; men who need to debate are not wise." -- Tao Te Ching)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: r9etb

I like your analysis and solutions. Thanks.

Unpredictable probably is not the best word. They indeed say clearly what they want. The better word should be “rational”. With all their menace and with all their disregard to expendable foot soldiers, Soviet leaders, for example, still did not want to be remembered as the ones bringing nuclear obliteration of all major cities of the USSR. That’s why the MAD actually worked. There is no MAD equivalent with Jihadists. There is nobody to have a direct phone line with (as with Kremlin). And they promise no economical, material rewards in this life, as communists did and were blamed for not delivering. I see them as more implacable enemies than Soviets.


24 posted on 12/13/2007 10:28:54 AM PST by Tolik
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 20 | View Replies]

To: Cicero; Tolik; HardStarboard; ExTexasRedhead
"...Given the fact that the behavior of radical Islam is on an order of unpredictability and inscrutability that eclipses all previous geopolitical challenges that our nation has faced, it is a utopian dream to imagine that the United States, as the world's dominant power, could possibly escape blowback by any course of action it tried to pursue. We are both damned if we do, and damned if we don't..."

"...So, why did they attack us on 9/11? For the same reason they attacked us in a hundred earlier cases, some minor and some not so minor. Because they have been fighting a war of aggression against the Infidels for 1,500 years. For a while they had to draw back and wait, because the infidels were so much stronger and more technologically advanced than they were. But now they are moving again. And other than buying their oil and giving them money, we have done nothing to bring it on. And we can do nothing other than defend ourselves against their hatred of all infidels and their determination to conquer and enslave them...

It's fairly simple - Islam intends to kill us or enslave us. Today, it is a fight to the death, but a variety of politicos in the USA and worldwide try to colour the fight as something else, in order to further their own agenda and increase their own personal power.

They're 'playing-with-matches' in the middle of a gunpowder factory, and some of the powder is Nuclear.

Excellent article and comments ........................ FRegards

25 posted on 12/13/2007 10:30:53 AM PST by gonzo (My Mother never understood the irony of calling me a 'son-of-a-bitch' ...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

To: gonzo; freekitty; oneamericanvoice; Clintonfatigued

The DC political morons are so hungry for power that they delude themselves into thinking they will be in power rather than slaves like the rest of us peons. Reminiscent of Nazi Germany where everyone watched as evil grew and no one seemed to care until it was their turn to be marched off to their death(s). That included millions more than the Jews in the Holocaust. This time around the stakes are higher as our enemies continue their plot to destroy us with nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Pelosi, Reid, Hildebeast, Kerry, Kennedy, and the rest of the DC aristocracy play their power-hungry political games. They couldn’t care less about our security and the future of our children and grandchildren. We have arrived at the crossroad of our time. Pray that the American people wake up before it’s too late. Send these power-hungry politicians home in disgrace.


26 posted on 12/13/2007 3:46:40 PM PST by ExTexasRedhead
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 25 | View Replies]

To: Tolik
Thank you for remembering that I'm a Lee Harris fan, although I must admit that he wrote something a few years ago that I thought was decidedly ill conceived. I can't remember the exact nature of the offense, I'm ashamed to say, but I do recall it dimmed his star in my eyes somewhat. If I get a chance I'll do some research and figure out what he said that irked me so.

Nevertheless, he's spanked Ron Paul with a stinging hand in this piece, and provided us with a great example of the superb logic and deep learning he can bring to a topic. I'm more libertarian than I was at the beginning of the Bush presidency, but still I was offended by Paul's use of the term blowback, a "blame American first", Malcolm X "chickens coming home to roost" insult of the first order.

Ron Paul has some things to recommend him, but, bottom line, libertarianism is not ready for prime time, and may never be.

27 posted on 12/13/2007 10:43:30 PM PST by beckett (Amor Fati)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: Running On Empty

Marking


28 posted on 12/13/2007 10:49:38 PM PST by Running On Empty ((The three sorriest words:"It's too late"))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Paladin2

The uncertainty lies in the means by which they attempt to achieve this goal. Do they do it like Bib Laden , or as a state or coalition of states.


29 posted on 12/13/2007 10:52:27 PM PST by RobbyS ( CHIRHO)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: ExTexasRedhead

I agree. This is the crossroads and if we elect a democrat or Rino; watch our future go down the toilet.


30 posted on 12/14/2007 4:39:51 AM PST by freekitty ((May the eagles long fly our beautiful and free American sky.))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 26 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson