One of the prerequisites for a classic is the ability to withstand the test of time or, more precisely, the winds of change. For Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, that test wasn’t very long. Dr. Johnson wrote Blowback in 1999 as a warning of what the imperial policies of the United States will do to unsuspecting Americans in the future in the form of severely strained international relationships and ever increasing acts of terrorism in both scope and scale.

In Blowback, Johnson describes these imperial activities. The U.S. is heavy-handed in its short-term policy goals yet ineptly extracts nothing from its satellite nations for anything resembling a longterm strategy beyond allowing military activity. Part of the reason that the focus is militaristic is because the U.S. military-industrial complex is calling the shots without deference to economic or political impact at home. Economic blowback comes in the form of an eroded manufacturing base. Political blowback comes in the form of Khobar Towers, the USS Cole, the U.S. embassies in Africa, countless minor crises and, just little over one year after this book’s publication, airliners slamming into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The term “blowback” comes from the CIA and refers to the unintended consequences of U.S. misadventures abroad. Where blowback comes from in the 21st century is a fairly simple and scary answer: everywhere.

Johnson focuses on Asia for his book. He is a political affairs specialist on Asia with a focus on Japan. Much of what Johnson describes, particularly U.S. activity in South Korea, training troops on internal repression in Indonesia and the regular half-century torment of Okinawa, is unknown to most Americans and, quite frankly, very upsetting.

There was a time when the U.S. could marginally justify the presence of soldiers on Asian soil. The Soviet Union was quite successful at exporting its brand of capitalism. Through ideologically motivated nation building programs like the Marshall Plan, the U.S. planted the seeds of its economic demise. While the U.S. thoroughly separates military and economic concepts, countries like Japan adapted military philosophy to economics to effectively destroy U.S. manufacturing and maintain a chokehold on Washington through an army of lobbyists.

Japan, however, is the only country to come out ahead in their dealings with the U.S. It didn’t come without a price, however, and that price is that Japan pays for the continued military occupation of Okinawa and its 20 + bases on the island despite forced appropriation of the land and a glaringly tyrannical deportation of thousands of dissident Japanese farmers to Latin America.

Yes… you read that last paragraph correctly. Moving on…

The remainder of Blowback is an analysis of failed U.S. policy in the region from providing unnecessarily favorable economic terms for Japan to interfering with the reunification of Korea to arming Taiwan to supporting political repression by force in Indonesia–a country with no geography to warrant their large military.

The U.S. political structure says one thing while the military structure does completely the opposite, causing severe damage to our credibility on the outside and to our civilian legitimacy on the domestic end. The United States continues a Cold War military strategy with a set of armed forces that can effectively destroy any country on the planet. Because the U.S. foreign policy elite with their hegemonic dreams cannot allow regional powers to settle disputes or even exist, the U.S. suffers from imperial overstretch without the benefits of empire.

A complete lack of foreign policy direction is an old problem for the U.S. As has been said in this publication many times before, U.S. policy is made upon waking in the morning and forgotten about after bedtime. Diplomacy for the U.S. depends on the barrel of a gun rather than education or skill in general.

Johnson argues that blowback is a natural phenomenon for any expansionist country. Since the military is a huge, and the only, beneficiary of American global deployment, it will be difficult to reverse the expansionist trend despite no Cold War and no military equals to be concerned about. The primary problem of reversing the global military deployment is that the military is an extralegal organization that no longer pays heed to the civilian leadership and has no congressional opposition because of military industries in every political district. Within the executive branch, the civilian leadership has no military experience to counter anything that the Pentagon wishes.

In short, the U.S. has a rogue superpower military-industrial complex that does everything for its own interest rather than the general political and economic welfare of the nation. Until that changes, we can expect blowback and the severity of blowback to grow for the indefinite future.

Johnson advocates an honest reassessment of strategic interests in Asia, calling troops home, closing bases, managed trade and a general exit from the region. He advocates the heretical concept of staffing diplomatic interests with personnel that are actually educated in the history and culture of the countries that they work with and providing international leadership by moral example rather than displays of military might.

Unfortunately, you need morals to provide moral leadership. Right now, all that the U.S. has is military might.

While Johnson focuses on Asia, that focus is instructive. Rather than confusing readers with the endless activities on all the major continents, the perspective on Asia allows readers to digest the general concepts of U.S. behavior. Too many critiques of U.S. foreign policy seem to forget that overwhelming readers with facts doesn’t work in the real world. To build political support among the masses, ideas need to be concise and to the point. Johnson does a fantastic job of keeping things simple and providing details without beating readers over the head with them.

The book is easy to read and it is strongly suggested that you pick up a copy at your library or buy one at the bookstore.

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