Sunday, May 20, 2007

Blowback for Thee, But Not for Me

Julian observes that hawkish Republicans simultaneously deny the theory of blowback while exemplifying it in their own policy prescriptions.
[H]ave you ever noticed that there's a radical disconnect, according to the mainstream hawk narrative, between how we react to attacks, and how our opponents are imagined to react? If someone attempts to attack or intimidate us, as we all know, this invariably backfires, for the American people merely become more resolute and determined to defend ourselves and/or strike back. We don't back down. It's dangerous to attack us.

But apparently, we're supposed to be unique in this way. If, as Ron Paul did last night, you suggest that people elsewhere in the world might react similarly when we intervene in or attack other countries, it is offensive and crazy to even suggest that this may fuel their animosity or make them prone to retaliate. I guess we're just special here.


Ran said...

I'd guess this is tied to a belief that people fighting for good and righteousness are more strongly motivated than people fighting for evil. The problem is, most of the people fighting for evil think they're fighting for good and righteousness.

Craig said...

Well, you are right that we, too, suffer from "blowback." But we have the military power to negate it -- if we'd only use it.

doctorpat said...

One could argue like this:

If they attack us, we will become hostile to them. But they are ALREADY hostile to us, so attacking them isn't going to make any difference in their attitude, and might reduce their capability.

plopplop said...

doctorpat, one could address your proposed argument, which is a false dichotomy, as follows: hostility is not a sentiment that is either on or off; instead, it's a continuum. Thus it's reasonable to suspect--if the Blowback theory can be applied to terrorists--that attacking them might ratchet up their resolve to a higher level (though it might commensurately reduce their capability to carry out acts of aggression).

Glen Whitman said...

Craig and doctorpat -- Sure, sure, there are some quasi-reasonable responses to blowback theory. (The marginal effect won't be too large, or it will be counterbalanced by destruction of their capabilities, or whatever.) But what's most annoying about the response of Giuliani and others is the notion that it's bizarre and insulting for anyone to even suggest blowback is a real possibility -- while simultaneously exhibiting the very psychology that creates blowback.

And PlopPlop is dead-on. The error of the "they already hate us" line is that it treats hatred like an off-on toggle switch instead of rheostat.

Colin said...

Mansoor Ijaz had some interesting observations about the way Muslims will react to attacks. He claims that if they are so thoroughly routed, defeated and humiliated, they will start to realize that at least for the time being, they will not get their way. He goes on to say that they may decide to go dormant lick there wounds and hope that their enemies let down their guard. He also points out that Muslims' enthusiasm for fighting in war is based on momentum, which comes from successful terrorist attacks. If they can pull off an attack and better yet, for them, get some sort of favorable political outcome, then more Muslim males will joint their cause.

Decisive, resounding victory can stop Muslims in their tracks. The victory at Tours in the 8h century saved Western Europe from future Muslim advances. Granada and the complete reconquest of Iberia set the Muslims packing. In 1699, the final victory for the Austrians over the Ottomans halted all Muslim advancement into Southeast Europe. American's war with the Barbary pirates effectively put an end to the barbery pirate's raids, which had led to the enslavement and sexual slavery of over a million Christians.

They may always hate us be if we can humiliate them sufficiently they may cease hostility for a brief interlude and in their culture that brief interlude can mean centuries.

When it comes to violent Muslims, history has shown us that doing nothing does not work and doing something halfway does not work either. It takes victory and dominance to keep those people pacified. Sadly, very few people in the West are willing to play the role of Charles Martel, be that “hammer” and emphatically put violent Muslims in their place.

Anonymous said...

The argument between Giuliani and Paul is not entirely about causality. It is also about moral blame. Recall Giuliani's exact words (the key word is "invite", which is not entirely a causal word):

"That's really an extraordinary statement. That's really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that."

Ron Paul's own argument meanwhile suggests (intentionally or not) the casting of moral blame. It is not entirely causal - the last line is essentially a "how would you feel if that other kid stepped on your sandcastle" kind of argument - it has the look of a moral lesson, implying blame for our past actions:

"They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East [for years]. I think (Ronald) Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. Right now, we're building an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the
Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting."

A lot of Americans do not like arguments that imply that America should be blamed and that America got what was coming to it, and Ron Paul failed to clearly enough distinguish his argument from that line of argument. You may of course agree with Ron Paul in this, but be aware that a sizable part of the American public is going to be turned off by arguments that blame the US. Also keep in mind that arguments about blame are distinct from arguments about causaility. It is possible to say that A caused B without implying that B is justified because A was wrong. Ron Paul, unfortunately for his candidacy, did not clearly enough do this, but made the argument in a way that, in the listener's ear, seemed to cast moral blame on the US.

Finally, those who seek to cast blame on the US, and even those who carefully argue, without casting blame, that the US ought not intervene in situations such as the invasion of Kuwait, had better not be in favor of the US lifting a finger to help the genocide in Sudan, and they had better not be among those who cast blame on the US, or indeed on any country, for failing to intervene in Rwanda.

JC said...

Your theory of Muslim response to attacks is false. You've been reading Rafael Patai's awful book, "The Arab Mind," right?

After Tours, the Muslims halted because their leader was dead and they were consumed by a vicious power struggle. Later on, they halted because they were beaten in continuous war for a long time by the Carolingians.

After the siege of Vienna failed in 1683, it took 16 years of war for the Ottomans to give up.

Muslim Turkestan was the last part of the old Russian Empire to stop resisting the Soviets.

It took the French 17 years to pacify Algeria after 1830, and even then they had to make a relatively fair treaty with Abd al-Qadir before they could get rid of him.

Muslims react to humiliation by continuing to fight. Witness the case of the Palestinians--has any group in the twentieth century been humiliated more than them, and has any group fought harder and longer?

Talk to anyone in the Arab world--they'll mention their first demand from the West as "Dignity." Not democracy, not money, not freedom...dignity. They feel disrespected and are fighting to be respected. That's only going to be made worse by humiliation.

Anonymous said...

I presented no theory of Muslim attacks. Perhaps you are confusing me with the previous poster, colin, who did present a theory of Muslim attacks.

JC said...

Indeed I did. The two long posts must have elided together in my mind.

I'm sorry.