Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Blowback Amnesia

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on April 15, 2009

It seems like only yesterday when Ron Paul was nearly guillotined on live television for suggesting that 9/11 was caused by this thing called “blowback.” It was 2007, and the Republicans were jockeying for the position of frontrunner during the national debate season. Rudy “9/11″ Guliani, never one to pass up reminding everyone of a national tragedy so we’ll forget what a horrible, little human being he really is, lept for Paul’s jugular. 

Some pirates operating off Somalia's coast claim to act as coastguards [GALLO/GETTY]Salivating, Rudy made a series of unchallenging commonplace remarks: “That’s really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attacks of September 11th…” (Pause for awed silence…two…three…four) “..that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq.”

Of course, Paul was right. The attacks on September 11, 2001 were carried out by a group of 19 hijackers (15 of whom were Saudi Arabian), and Al-Qaeda clearly cited their principal grievances as:

1. America’s unwavering support of Israel.

2. America’s military presence in the Middle East, particularly near holy landmarks.

Instead of learning a valuable lesson from 9/11, America (led by its mainstream media, political hawks, and overinflated military) seems hellbent on inviting more cases of blowback. As Paul mentioned way back in 2007, America has built an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. But that probably won’t pissed anyone off. …Right?

Now, certain hawks, led by the ever vivacious John Bolton, are discussing a ground invasion into Somalia as retaliation for the kidnapping of Richard Phillips. Bolton wants to do this with – I shit you not – “a coalition of the willing.”

Can I pay someone to beat John Bolton with the 9/11 Commission Report?

“We need to look at what we do from the perspective if someone did it to us,” Ron Paul said that fateful night. This simplistically beautiful sentiment called the principle of universality often invites the sneering rebuttal: “So you’re saying we (or the victims) deserved this?” That was the question the moderator posed to Paul during the debate. 

Paul’s response: “I’m suggesting we listen to the people who attacked us.”

Surely, this is the only way to break the cycle of violence. If we refuse to listen to our enemies, then we don’t know their grievances, and we can never make amends. We’ve learned that bombing and bullying alone cannot build bridges between us. Iraq taught us this, and Afghanistan will teach us the same lesson.

Somalia waits to offer us the same lesson (yet again.) As anyone with even a basic understanding of history could have predicted, the killing of the three pirates may set off a domino effect of retaliations.Waiting to reenforce the message are a slew of angry Somali pirates, who vowed to avenge their fallen comrades. “This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it,” said Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, the commander of United States Naval Forces Central Command. The New Zealand Herald reports

Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the Somali town of Gaan, said: “Every country will be treated the way it treats us. In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying. We will retaliate [for] the killings of our men.” 

To put it another way: Blowback.

On Tuesday, armed pirates attacked an American cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. The Times article concludes with a quote from John Wick, the director of International Security Solutions, a maritime security firm in London: “Somali pirates have typically not mistreated their captives.” Of course, now we’ve killed three of their guys. That may change their policy toward American hostages. Such is the danger of letting men eager to make war make our policy decisions.

My last piece, in which I sought to explain the causes of Somali piracy, inspired some colorful hate mail. Americans seem comfortable with the mainstream media’s cartoonish depiction of villainous pirates, and they aren’t interested in humanizing the three men who were just executed by Navy snipers. 

The media certainly isn’t helping to explain the Somali situation. Apart from Democracy Now, most newscasters and journalists seem comfortable with recycling the old explanation for these acts of aggression: terrorists hate out freedom, brown people are incapable of running a functioning state, etc.

Determined to repeat the same sick exercise that led the American citizenry, blind, into an illegal war, the mainstream media spent the day after the pirate executions drooling over the awesome awesomeness of the US military. Aren’t they great, everyone? Those bullets just pierce flesh so wonderfully!

Even the progressive messiah, Rachel Maddow, called the spectacle of the US Navy shakily standing-off against four poorly armed pirates “riveting.” Maddow further commented that the Navy-Somali standoff had Americans brushing up on their, “How freaking impressive are Navy Seals-ology?”  

(Really glad that 9PM slot on “liberal” MSNBC went to someone aggressively challenging America’s bloated military. Oh well, what can one expect when Ms. Maddow operates on a network owned by G.E., which manufactures some of the very weapons used by the navy?)

I explained in my original article that Somali pirates claim their motives stem from the West overfishing in their seas, and then dumping nuclear waste in their waters. Unable to sustain themselves with traditional modes of employment, they have turned to acts of piracy out of desperation. The nuclear waste dumping charges have been confirmed by the United Nations envoy for Somalia.

Though the mainstream newspapers have documented the Somali’s qualms with western powers, they have not gone the extra step to link these grievances with acts of piracy. Furthermore, most of the major network conversations about Somalia are worryingly moving toward a place of militarism. I always grow concerned when news networks break out their extra spiffy graphics during War Game time: showing Navy snipers shooting faceless bad guys, troop deployments in a “theoretic” ground invasion of Somalia, etc.

It reminds me of the lead-up to Iraq. The chatters starts to sound like war drums.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath. If Americans can collectively act like adults and think past the next thirty seconds, they’ll see that a ground invasion into Somalia is an awful idea. Another awful idea would be bombing Somalia’s coastline, which is roughly as long as the eastern seaboard of the United States. Imagine blanketing such a huge swath of land with bombs. Imagine how many innocent women, children, and young men will die. Yet another terrible, terrible idea would be to harass innocent fisherman and profile all citizens because of the acts of a minority of young men.

All of the above terrible, terrible, terrible ideas breed blowback. The opposite of these mind-numbingly stupid plans comes from addressing the Somalis’ grievances and offering them aid and support as they try to rebuild their country. Western states need to end their overfishing and the dumping of hazardous waste.

If America fails to understand the world’s grievances with its militaristic, imperialist agenda, then it is destined for decades (maybe centuries) of blowback. America must break this endless cycle of blowback if only to finally (please God) stop the pirate puns.

3 Responses

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  1. Josh said, on April 17, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Allison, although you’ve explained clearly that you do not support piracy, I’m still a little hazy on what conclusions you’d like us to draw from your apologist message (a worthwhile point to make). International Law has for hundreds of years sanctioned the use of deadly force to combat pirates on the high seas. In this sense, the US Navy was justified in shooting the 3 pirates. Do you think the law should be changed, and that deadly force is never justified? I’m just trying to pin down your stance. It seems to me there is little difference between the “plight” of the pirates and that of say, a gang member in LA or NY. They see no options, no way out of poverty, so the turn to violence. Sure, in Somalia there are exponentially fewer options and paths out of poverty, but then we’re dealing with a question of degree. Surely, you wouldn’t condemn the police in NY if they shot a gang member who tried to ransom a random citizen. So, I guess what I’m asking is, how would you deal with Pirates in the short term? Should the ransoms be paid? And what if we provide aid, and do all that we can but still the piracy continues? Thanks.

  2. allisonkilkenny said, on April 17, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Josh –

    Thanks for the reply. I’m saying the rule of law ought to be applied fairly to everyone in this situation (the pirates, but also the CEOs who poisoned their environment.) Oftentimes, the law is a two-tier system where those in power (CEOs, major industrial fishing companies, etc.) get to do whatever they want (poison the environment, overfish, destroy indigenous populations,) and are never held accountable. Conversely, poor people always receive the brunt of the justice system. Usually (but not always) poor people that commit crimes are acting out of desperation as we find in the fishermen-turned-pirates situation in Somalia.

    What I’m calling for is justice for all parties who have broken the law.

    Of course I realize that there is no such thing as an absolute. There may be situations where deadly force is necessary, but it should always be a very last resort, and when it does happen, we must examine the root of the problem to prevent such a terrible stand-off from ever happening again.

    Unfortunately, what we see in the media now is not a serious conversation about that causes of piracy, but a celebration of three executions.

  3. Josh said, on April 18, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Your observation about a two tiered justice system is basically correct, at least in practice, which is what really counts. In theory, the system isn’t designed that way, but money and influence changes things. Wealthy companies and individuals use lobbyists, lawyers and local governments to change the rules for them, so that these “crimes” they commit are not defined as such. Or they simply operate in areas, like Somalia, where there are no rules, and there is no one to enforce sovereign rights. Unfortunately, one of the foundations of our legal system is that you can’t retroactively criminalize something. On the whole, this principle is a net positive, and is really kind of indispensable for the legal system to operate in a consistent, predictable manner. But obviously, there is a price to be paid, and that is abuse by the powerful. This principle is probably the reason Obama decided not to prosecute the CIA agents who tortured – because they were acting within the scope of their orders, and did not believe they were committing crimes (although with some crimes, that’s irrelevant) I think this was the correct decision, at least with regards to the ones who were receiving the orders. The ones that gave the orders, well, they are fair game and should be prosecuted. They don’t have the benefit of the “following orders” defense, since they were the giving the orders. John Yoo should not be teaching law right now.

    It’s sad that the pirate situation won’t be resolved anytime soon. Our government’s resources are stretched thin as it is, and it seems the rest of the world is waiting for us to take care of the “problem” on our own. And we can’t. All we can do is throw our military at the problem.

    If the pirates were smart, they would avoid American ships entirely. If they do that, they can probably continue doing what they do, and other nations and companies will continue to pay the ransoms. We’re the only ones with the capability of chasing the pirates down to their home bases, since our Navy is bigger than all the Navies combined. If they do kill an American, you can be sure our response will be fierce. I imagine we’ll wipe out some villages on the coast and many innocent people will be killed. Because it’s a logistical nightmare to follow them ashore, as they will probably take hostages with them, and then dissapear into the local population. I really hope they leave Americans alone….because if they don’t, they will sign their own death warrants and those of many, many of their innocent countrymen. It’s ugly, but that’s how i see it playing out.


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