Saturday, January 3, 2009


The term blowback was initially brought into political discussions by the CIA in predicting the results of US involvement in the 1953 coup in Iran that deposed Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq and his cabinet. Although the neo-cons are loath to admit it, US involvement with the coup and our subsequent support of the Shah, led to the blowback of the Iranian (or Islamic) Revolution in 1978.

But blowback isn't just about Iran. The more we use force (either overt or covert) in the world to gain access to the resources we want, the more blowback we'll see in the future. In his book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, Chalmers Johnson discusses the ways in which our country's misguided policies are planting the seeds of future disaster.

Blowback is obviously something Bush and the neocons didn't take seriously when they invaded 2 countries and utilized things like torture and rendition in their war of terror. But my guess is that the blowback from these crimes will be in evidence for decades if not centuries to come. That's one of the reasons the petition for a Special Prosecutor is so important...holding them accountable might help limit the blowback.

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I find the notion of blowback fascinating when placed up against the views of someone like Cheney. From what I can tell, he thinks that terrorizing and killing people will persuade them to do what we want them to do. I guess you could call it motivation by intimidation. And it can be the short-term. Its the long-term consequences that can be a bitch. The anger, rage and resentment that builds from that kind of treatment seem to always find a means of expression, even if it takes generations.

But its not just Bush and Cheney that believe in motivation by intimidation. You see it all the time in our "survival of the fittest" approach to power and money. How it usually works is that you declare an enemy, polarize, and do everything in your power to destroy them, leaving you at the "top of the heap" defending yourself against the blowback.

As Democrats/progressives/liberals (no matter which word you prefer), we've been on the receiving end of that intimidation for almost 30 years now. We've been shouted down, called traitors, and generally demonized for a long time. And the folks who have been doing so are experiencing a little bit of blowback right about now. They may not want to admit it - but they're scared. In their authoritarian mindset, they're projecting that we'll do the same thing to them that they've done to us.

And so I wonder what we're going to do with all of that now. Are politics in this country destined to be two warring factions that live from one blowback cycle to another? Perhaps. But I wonder if its the best we can do.

It all reminds me of years ago when I was a family therapist. The most difficult cases to work with were those I labeled "divorce wars." I saw families that lived for years with the cycle of one side taking a swipe at the other (too often through the children) leading to retaliation. It was always addictive to both sides. The only hope for change was if one person finally had the maturity to take a blow and not send one back.

Taking a blow and not returning it does not mean appeasement. It just means leading with our heads instead of our rage, what Nightprowlkitty referred to as responding rather than reacting. And I wonder if that's not exactly what Obama is working on when he talks about changing the culture of DC. Like with this - one of my favorite moments of this past election cycle.

Is it possible that we can ever get to the place where we talk about our differences and work towards our ideals without letting our rage lead us to try and "kill" the other side, only to find ourselves eventually on the receiving end of blowback?

It will certainly be difficult. We're dealing with a media that acts like 2 year olds in their addiction to this kind of thing and too many elected officials that don't seem to know another way at this point. But if we want permanent change rather than just another blowback cycle, we're going to have to figure this one out I think.

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