From the Comments: Intervention, Blowback, and Bad Faith

I find the debate they’re having somewhat confused. Your response to Kling is on the right track, but I would question the terms of the debate from the outset.

The relevant question is whether US intervention produces armed resistance, and whether that resistance counts as blowback. It does, on both counts. Whether that resistance/blowback counts as “terrorism” by some narrow definition is really beside the point. And whether the resistance is morally justified is yet another issue altogether.

Kling mentions US intervention in Latin America and claims that there’s been no “terrorism” in response. How would he characterize the Cuban-Soviet precipitation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was a response to the Bay of Pigs invasion? Soviet positioning of nuclear weapons system was meant to strike fear in us (and did). “Fear” is a synonym for “terror.” The Cuban-Soviet policy was a response to our intervention. That’s blowback.

Re Asia, you’re right to adduce the Saigon counterexample you come up with, but that understates the relevant point. The relevant point is that the whole Tet Offensive was blowback for our intervention! The NVA and Vietcong may not have attacked the mainland of the US, but they killed more Americans than Al Qaida did, so again, I don’t see the point of a narrow fixation on a particular tactic, terrorism.

While we’re at it, why not try US intervention in…the US? Think Wounded Knee 1973 and generally, the armed confrontations between the American Indian Movement and the FBI in the mid 1970s (which most Americans regarded as terrorism on the part of the Indians). AIM regarded Indian reservations as occupied land and acted in kind. That was blowback for our Indian policy.

This is not to deny that terrorism can arise from causes unrelated to blowback or perceived blowback. Nor is it to deny that Islamist terrorism may have distinctive features. But it’s very misleading to suggest that Middle Eastern terrorism is sui generis, and confusing to distinguish “Middle East” and “Asia,” as you correctly point out in your post.

This is from Dr Khawaja (of Policy of Truth infamy). I found the dialogue somewhat confusing, too. I think the fact that economists, who are used to thinking in terms of costs and benefits, were stepping outside of their comfort zones (something I wish more of them would do, by the way) goes a long way towards explaining why there is so much confusion.

Yet I also think that there is much to learn from narrowing the terms of the debate. Kling wants to talk about “terror” rather than “armed resistance,” and I think it’s good to meet him on his own terms. This way it is easier to knock down ignorant arguments for all to see. Dr Khawaja broke down a complex misunderstanding (or simply Kling’s bad faith) in a straightforward manner, but sometimes I find that arguing on Mr Bad Faith’s own terms  – knowing full well that his argument is being made in bad faith – leads to useful outcomes. Jacques, for example, has become noticeably less hawkish since he first tried to pick on me. He has not necessarily become more dovish mind you, but he has become much more cautious about promoting US militarism abroad.

Why Would Somali Militants Attack A Kenyan Shopping Mall?

I was going to write up a small essay on this topic, but economist Joe Salerno beat me to it. I’ll just reproduce it here:

The U.S. government and the establishment media are in a quandary.   How are they to explain  the heinous attack on a Kenyan shopping mall by Al Shabab a militant Somali group with links to al-Qaida which  left 59 innocent civilians dead and another 175 injured, with the victims ranging in age from  2 to 79 years old?  After all, since the horrific events of  September 11, 1991, U.S politicians of all stripes have repeatedly hammered home the message that  ”fundamentalist” Islamists  hate us and want to kill us simply because we are free and prosperous.  But Kenya is neither.  According to the  Index of Freedom in the  World that attempts to measure economic, civil, and political liberties, Kenya ranks 91 out of the 123 countries included in the index.   As for prosperity, based on the CIA World Factbook 2012, Kenya’s per capita GDP was estimated to be $1,700 per year which ranks 192 out of 225 countries.

Could it be that Al Shabab was telling the truth about the reason for its murderous assault yesterday when it tweeted: “For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now its time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land.”  After all 4,000 Kenyans troops invaded and have been occupying part of Somalia since 2011.  But then this raises the uncomfortable possibility  that terrorist attacks by militant Muslim groups on the U.S and its interests throughout the world were not motivated by envy and hatred of our freedoms and high standard of living.  Maybe, just maybe, Ron Paul was right and they were provoked by incessant U.S. meddling in the Middle East since World War 2  through numerous wars and economic embargoes including on  food and medicine and  the billions of dollars sent to payoff and prop up tyrannical and oppressive regimes that do U.S bidding, e.g., the Mubarak dictatorship in  Egypt.