Critiquing the Concept of Blowback
One of the things that originally attracted me to libertarianism about 20 years ago was the concept of “blowback”. I assume most on this sub are familiar with the idea, but if you are not, it is the idea that the US meddles in some other part of the world, stirs things up, and triggers some unintended consequences that later prove disastrous. The prime example is 9/11, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being cited by some as a more recent example, and there are others that are commonly thrown around (e.g. the Iranian revolution).
To be clear, I still strongly support a humble foreign policy, both for moral and practical reasons. I am largely a pacifist. But I don’t really believe in blowback anymore and think it is mostly nonsense that makes people feel good, on par with conspiracy theories.
To many on the right, the concept of blowback doesn’t make them feel good. Like Giuliani in his famous exchange with Ron Paul, the idea that the US did something wrong or immoral makes them feel very bad. But for some people of a certain psychological disposition, it’s actually comforting, because it suggests a solution. We can reframe 9/11 from a random act of violence to something that was the obvious, controllable consequence of something we specifically did. This is comforting, because it means if we simply stop doing that bad thing we are doing, we won’t have to worry about another 9/11 or anything like it in the future.
I used to believe this — really, I did — but I don’t anymore. And the reason why is because the more I learned about history and international relations, the more I realized the concept of blowback can’t really be falsified or used to make predictions, and therefore, it is more akin to a religious belief.
Take the example of 9/11. Bin Laden writes in his letter that he did 9/11 because the US backed the Saudi regime and had military bases near Muslim holy land. Seems reasonable. But the US has military bases in 100 countries, and has a presence near various holy lands of virtually every religion. The US supports now, and certainly has in the past supported, many brutal dictatorships across the globe. And yet, there’s only one 9/11. Why didn’t we have, say, a Korean Osama Bin Laden? The US has military bases all over Korea, for example, including near shrines. What’s the explanation there (I know Korea is a functioning democracy today, but it had a dictator that the US backed for 20 years)?
Another example would be the Iranian Revolution. Yes, the US helped install the Shah. But the Shah was only one such example. Why wasn’t there, say, a similar revolution in Chile (US installed Pinochet under similar circumstances)? Or Brazil (again, socialist-friendly democratically elected leader overthrown for military dictator)? I can go on.
Take Russia now. If the US’s meddling in Ukraine is what prompted Putin to invade, where was he when the Baltic countries joined NATO?
I am not excusing any of this. I do not agree with it, and think Americans and most of the rest of the world would be better off had we not intervened. But I simply don’t think the idea of blowback represents an accurate picture of the world, or gives you any real insight.
Simply put, the US is meddling in world affairs often, and often has in the past. If you wait for something bad to happen — bad things always happen, that is the nature of the world — and you go digging for US involvement at some point in the past, you will certainly find it. But that doesn’t mean the two things are related, or that one caused the other.
If you don’t agree, and remain a proponent of blowback, I would ask that you specifically, and concretely give a few specific predictions about things that will happen in the future because of US meddling.
Article from r/Libertarian: For a Free Society