Politics Are Hell

It’s the title of Chalmers Johnson’s new book, a sadly necessary sequel to his prescient 2000 book, BLOWBACK which predicted that U.S. foreign policies were creating resentment abroad that could result in retaliatory attacks. Johnson was in Los Angeles recently and gave a talk at a local bookstore.

Blowback, Johnson explained, is a CIA term coined to describe the reaction to foreign operations the government keeps secret from its citizens. For example, the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini was blowback to the CIA’s covert actions in 1953 overthrowing Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosadegh.

“ On the morning of 9/11,” Johnson said, “when my publisher called to tell me blowback had just hit, I didn’t think about Muslims, but, instead, I thought of September 11, 1972, when the government of Salvador Allende was overturned in Chile. Later, I saw photos of women in Manhattan holding photos of their loved ones, and I thought of the women in Santiago and Buenos Aires holding photos of their disappeared ones.”

In the aftermath of 9/11—as Americans asked, “Why do they hate us?”—George W. Bush had to look no further than to the people in his entourage who clandestinely trained and supplied arms to the mujahideen in Afghanistan, Johnson stated. After the Soviets were defeated, he noted, the Americans walked away, leaving the nation in shambles.

“ Osama bin Laden wasn’t a Muslim fanatic,” Johnson said. “He would be skiing on the slopes of Gstaad, or sailing in the Greek Islands today if we hadn’t betrayed him in Kabul.”

After BLOWBACK became a bestseller and was reprinted 13 times in the post-9/11 era, Johnson wrote THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE, which predicts the downfall of the U.S. military-industrial complex as it overextends itself globally.

“ I’m 72 years old,” he told his audience, “but, given the pace of events, I think there’s a good chance I’ll live to see the end of the American empire.”

Noting that the U.S. maintains 725 military bases worldwide—not including espionage bases, Air Force bases or 14 permanent bases under construction in Iraq—Johnson said this could bankrupt the nation.

“ Americans may still prefer to use euphemisms such as ‘sole superpower,’” he remarked, “but since 9/11, our country has undergone a transformation from republic to empire that may well prove irreversible.”

Drawing upon his own experience, Johnson, a specialist in Japan-U.S. relations, said he was invited to Okinawa in 1996. The former Japanese colony is an island smaller than Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands with a population of 1.3 million, he noted, but 38 U.S. military bases are maintained there. The best real estate is given over to recreation facilities for Americans which exclude locals. Troops rape an average of two Okinawan women per month—an outrage that fuels native objections to the U.S. presence.

Okinawa is just one example of U.S. intrusion upon foreign populations, Johnson pointed out. If, however, Turkey (for instance) had a military base in Southern California, American fathers would be encouraging their sons to attack the Turkish occupiers at any time. Because Americans never have had to put up with foreign troops, he noted, they have no idea of the resentment our military bases create all over the world. There are 101 U.S. bases in South Korea, he said, and others in Germany, Italy, England, and the island of Diego Garcia, from which all the strategic bombers left for Iraq.

“ Life in the military today is not the same as most veterans knew it,” Johnson continued. “Kitchen duties, laundry, clean-up are farmed out today to Kellogg, Brown and Root (a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company Vice President Richard Cheney was CEO of before becoming vice president).” A state of perpetual war is a prerequisite of the military state, Johnson averred, and this is what Cheney foresees in his call for a regime change in 50 countries.

The retired professor recalled the words of Founding Father James Madison, who warned against entrusting the right to go to war with just one man. “Yet,” he exclaimed, “the Congress gave this right to Bush in August 2002!”

According to Johnson, “The fact that Bush has imperiled Articles 4 and 6 of the Bill of Rights—habeas corpus and illegal searches of property and person—should be enough to start impeachment proceedings. If he declares you a Bad Guy, he can put you in prison indefinitely.

“ In the neocon world view,” he asserted, “America was to be the new Rome, led by the boy emperor from Crawford.

“ In September 1999,” Johnson continued, “Bush II accepted the neocon flag as demonstrators protested the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization in Seattle. The elder Bush had Brent Scowcroft as an adviser and was wise enough to seek a second opinion before accepting neocon advice.”

In Johnson’s opinion, the same forces that brought down the USSR. are working on the U.S. today. “The decline of the military empire began May 1, 2003,” he said, “when the president pretended to fly a plane onto the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln replete with a banner reading ‘Mission Accomplished.’ Well,” he noted, “the Iraqis are no longer stooges of the Saddam regime—and they want the Americans out.”

Rather than comparing Iraq to Vietnam, Johnson would compare it to Algeria. The American attack on Fallujah, he said, is akin to the reprisals the Nazis made on occupied civilian populations. “The Iraqis who perpetrated those atrocities on the four American mercenaries were out of Fallujah within the hour,” he pointed out. “And so to bombard the entire city is like the Gestapo rounding up every third person and executing them.”

Johnson believes bankruptcy is what will bring an end to the Pax Americana. “The military is expensive,” he explained, “but we aren’t paying for it. Instead, we are borrowing to finance it. And if those creditors in Asia find the Euro, for instance, more lucrative than the dollar and tell us to pay up, it’s all over.”

Though he is not optimistic, Johnson’s advice to the peace movement is to encourage like-minded foreigners to demand that U.S. bases be closed in their respective countries.