PATRICK LAWRENCE: ‘As the Clever Hopes Expire’: A Look Back at the Ending Decade

A monumentally destructive U.S. decade — symptomatic of imperial decline  — exposed a shamefully pliant press. But we have at least one reason to resist incurable pessimism. 

 By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-Second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade.

These are W.H. Auden’s lines, written as the 1930s drew to a close and six years of global conflagration commenced. Eighty years later, they are pitifully, painfully apt as the second decade of our new century gives way to the third.

With 2019 staggering to its end, what do we see when we look back over the 2010s? What when we look forward to the 2020s? These are our questions, each to be answered without flinching, dissembling or deflecting.

It requires a wide-eyed Boy Scout’s optimism to consider the decade now behind us and see anything other than a steady descent into global disorder, violence and abuse of international law. If this seems unduly pessimistic, it is merely because the 2010s were also a decade of probably unprecedented mis– and disinformation, both deployed to mask responsibility for 10 years’ worth of calamities that, with no obvious exceptions, could have been averted.

In this same line, you would have to be Hillary Clinton or Mickey Rooney, fresh from a rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” to miss the rampantly pernicious character of American foreign policy this past decade. The evident trajectory resembles what we find on the climate-change question: Amid copious signs of crisis, the U.S. spent the last 10 years hurtling in the wrong direction. By any measure, it is now very arguably the primary source of global disorder in this century.

Image of  Earth taken from Apollo 17.

U.S. as Major Planetary Threat

The world comes to understand this, even if many Americans prefer to bury themselves in illusions and self-deceptions.  

A Pew Research Center study published earlier this year indicated that nearly half the planet now considers the U.S. “a major threat” to their nations. This is almost double the rate of negative views Pew found in 2013, when it began this series of surveys.

Two years ago, the Council on Foreign Relations convened a workshop of Europeans to consider “Managing Global Disorder,” as the event was titled. “To some,” CFR reported afterward, “the principal source of instability has been the overzealous actions of the United States — particularly in the wake of 9/11 — in promoting democracy, human rights, and regime change around the world in contravention of established principles of state sovereignty.”

The good people at Pew seem intent on sanitizing the 2010s by dropping the blame for this rise in anti–American sentiment on Donald Trump’s doorstep. The president certainly bears responsibility for souring the global mood, notably in pulling out of the Paris climate pact in 2017, the Iran nuclear accord a year later, and various arms-limitations agreements with Russia. But let us disabuse ourselves on one important point. The world’s wariness and weariness of America’s conduct beyond its shores was well in train before Mr. Trump went to Washington.

Bearer of Many Clever Hopes

President Barack Obama, then a year in office, was the bearer of many clever hopes when the 2010s began. It was not two weeks into the new decade before the first signs arrived that these were to be years of blighted expectations and media manipulation by way of a shamefully pliant press.

The decade announced itself on Jan. 12, 2010, when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just outside Port–au–Prince, killing some 250,000 Haitians, injuring 300,000 more, and leaving 5 million displaced. In less than a month, it was clear that the U.S. was using its contribution to the rescue effort to establish a formidable military presence in Haiti. This corruption foreshadowed the many frauds to come under the Responsibility to Protect rubric.

Houses destroyed by earthquake in Haiti, Jan. 21, 2010. (EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid/Flickr)

A year later and at Washington’s insistence, the U.N. Security Council cited the R2P doctrine as it authorized a disastrous military intervention in Libya. Low and dishonest hardly do justice to Hillary Clinton’s determination to destroy an entire nation. It was Clinton, as Obama’s secretary of state, who persuaded the Russians not to veto the Security Council’s resolution by promising to limit the mission to humanitarian amelioration. NATO bombing operations then led to Muammar Gaddafi’s gruesome assassination —  about which Clinton infamously cackled, “We came, we saw, he died.”

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One year in, the decade’s template was already evident. Let us note its constituent parts as these recur again and again. 

In 2012, the U.S. began its not-very-covert regime change operation in Syria by arming the very types of jihadist militias it claimed to be countering. Seven years later, this story continues. We now have liberals and “progressives” howling in defense of U.S. intervention when Trump proposes even a minor withdrawal from Syrian soil.

Regime-Change Ops

The coup in Egypt was the premier event in 2013. This was a classic case of wholesale deception. The director of this “regime change” op was Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, who green-lighted the Egyptian military’s move against the legitimately elected Mohamed Morsi hours before it began.

The New York Times reported Rice’s role — once, on July 6, three days after the coup was complete. This was plainly judged an error, for Rice’s telephone call to Cairo was never again mentioned anywhere in the American press. A few weeks later, the Times dutifully quoted John Kerry, Obama’s secretary of state by this time, as he praised the Egyptian generals “restoring democracy.”

Neat and nice. The U.S.–cultivated coup in Ukraine, on Feb. 21, 2014, by contrast, was neither neat nor nice. There is abundant evidence of Washington’s key role in this “regime change” — not least a recording of Victoria Nuland, the State Department apparatchik, as she directed the op against the (once again) duly elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.

President Barack Obama and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine talk after  their bilateral meeting in Warsaw, June 4, 2014. (White House/Pete Souza)

We still live with the resulting mess, of course. But the U.S. press has not once reported accurately on the events leading to Yanukovych’s ouster, instead pretending that the Ukraine crisis began when Moscow, entirely out of the blue, annexed Crimea (after a properly conducted referendum) to protect its naval base on the Black Sea. Neither has there been any acknowledgement of Kiev’s post-coup dependence on neo–Nazi militias for its survival.

Fabrications Known as Russiagate 

On the decade goes. In 2016 the fabrications collectively known as “Russiagate” began their long life, setting back any prospect of a constructive new détente with Moscow by at least a decade and very probably more. Two years later the Pentagon declared Russia and China America’s two most threatening global adversaries.

This brings us to the year now ending. January gave us the attempted-and-failed coup in Venezuela, starring a jumped-up flunky named Juan Guaidó, whose moment, we now read, has passed. In November we saw the coup — and to be clear, there is no other word for it — against the (again, duly elected) Evo Morales in Bolivia.

Even this pencil sketch of the 10 years gone by yields six U.S.–directed coup operations on three continents, four of them successful (Egypt, Ukraine, Honduras and Bolivia). We end the decade with two officially declared adversaries in the Cold War mold — both of which are on the record preferring a cooperative relationship with the U.S. in the interest of securing a global order we do not now enjoy.

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What conclusions are to be drawn? Let us derive one from our backward glance and another from our look forward.

If the 2010s have a single lesson for us, it is that the U.S. has entered its late-imperial phase — those years when its preeminence as a global power begins to fray at its edges and its conduct abroad takes on a hue of desperation.

Look back: America has cast itself as global spoiler these past 10 years — forlornly attempting to hold back an arriving era the way Cú Chulainn, the mythical Irish warrior, wielded his sword to battle back the incoming tide. For all the damage the U.S. has done elsewhere this past decade, notably but not only in the Middle East, it has done as much or more to itself.

There may seem little of good in prospect as we peer into the 2020s, but before succumbing to incurable pessimism and yet more of the deadly ennui that saps our energies, let us consider a few more lines from Auden’s “September 1, 1939.” These appear toward the poem’s end:  

 Defenseless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

 Ironic points of light

 Flash out wherever the Just

 Exchange their messages…

At the end of our low, dishonest decade, we find that the ranks of those able to see this nation for what it is—so recognizing the urgent need for remedies and redirection— have swollen considerably since 2010. There are more of us, with our ironic points of light, and newcomers arrive by the day. This already matters, and it will matter ever more as the new decade proceeds.

In this connection, the collapse of corporate media’s ethics and professional standards over the past decade — and hence their credibility — is of special importance. These media bear much of the blame for the messes just outlined. This assigns an ever-greater responsibility to what is commonly called “the alternative press.” This is a phenomenon easily discerned these past 10 years. As these media grow into this responsibility, they stand to re-establish the press as an independent pole of power — a station our corporate media have (with no apparent hesitation) abdicated in favor of a craven devotion to the reigning orthodoxy.

In truth, there is no such thing as alternative media: There are only media, good and bad, of greater or lesser resources, of greater or lesser loyalty to principle. If the 2020s turn out at all well, this will become ever-more evident. If we are to make more sense of the decade to come than we find in the decade now ending, these media will have much to do with it.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

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The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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26 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: ‘As the Clever Hopes Expire’: A Look Back at the Ending Decade

  1. January 1, 2020 at 16:57

    without violence? Repression is the currency of the times, in France, in Chili, in Bolivia, in Iraq, in Spain, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, so-called stable places, background to open illegal mayhem in a dozen other arenas.To dream these madmen can be “persuaded” is beyond delusional.

  2. hetro
    December 30, 2019 at 13:27

    Also, Patrick, much as I agree with you here, a longer perspective indicates this latest long-running iteration of American arrogance was strengthened after the fall of the Soviet Union, and one of its tendencies, starting with the Progress for an American Century (PNAC), announcing a plan for dominance of the globe, has since increased–to become more flagrant, more brazen, and in your face than ever. Recall Karl Rove from the Bush era:

    “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    Unfortunately, when nations take on this sort of attitude, as the supremacist element of the globe, much as persons with this sort of supremacist personality, disaster is the next order of things, and where this country appears to be headed at this time. Sorting it out toward correction and a balanced, sane view of global relations is the key question Patrick has raised, and I appreciate his optimism.

    The question never answered, for me at least, is how powerful “alternative media” actually is, how numerous, how effective as cure to the propaganda machine. For example, in a local newspaper supposedly “left” where I live, for several years now, that there WAS collusion in the 2016 election between Trump and Putin has been stated as FACT. Friends who seem otherwise reasonable claim with a straight face they mainly get their news from CNN and NPR and do not countenance any possibility of the Mueller report’s denial of said collusion.

    I’m not sure I have much hope for change and waking up here at home, but there is a possibility that other countries will at some point turn from their vomit bowls and say, “Enough of this America. We must act.” Of course, I hope very much, and in the spirit of Patrick’s clear analysis, that this response will come without violence.

    The Dec 28 Loud and Clear, with Joe Lauria and counterpart Diani Baretto, in an important discussion of Julian Assange, contains a hint of this possibility, an upcoming “litmus test” with the extradition hearing in February, to keep an eye on.

    • Paul Easton
      January 1, 2020 at 22:19

      The media are properly irrelevant compared to personal experience. People all over are rising up against their governments and it will happen here too when climate change gets bad enough. Why be so pessimistic?

  3. michael
    December 29, 2019 at 17:56

    The US has over 30 ONGOING National “Emergencies”, mostly with crippling sanctions against countries, dating back to Carter with Iran and six from Clinton, eleven from Bush, nine from Obama, and five from Trump.
    The names of the countries for these National Emergencies read like Blueprints for War: Yugoslavia and Serbia (1998) and Western Balkans (2001), Iraq (2003), Syria and Lebanon (2004), Yemen (2012), Libya (2014), Belarus (2006) and Ukraine (2014).
    Central Africa seems like a general covert war with ONGOING National Emergencies for: Sudan (1997), South Sudan (2014), Somalia (2014), Democratic Republic of the Congo (2006), Central African Republic (2014) and Burundi (2015).
    North Korea (2008) looms, along with Venezuela (2015) and Nicaragua (2018) with no mention of Honduras, Egypt, Bolivia or the failed coup in Turkey in 2016 in the National Emergencies list. Note this had lasted much longer than the last ten years.
    Given the dismal reprehensible SNAFU of our neocons in Afghanistan (following the WMD fiasco in Iraq), a more appropriate poet is Mathew Arnold:
    Ah, love, let us be true
    To one another! for the world, which seems
    To lie before us like a land of dreams,
    So various, so beautiful, so new,
    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night.

  4. Charlotte Ruse
    December 29, 2019 at 16:46

    “For all the damage the U.S. has done elsewhere this past decade, notably but not only in the Middle East, it has done as much or more to itself.”

    The hoodwinking of an entire electorate turned the optimism of 2008 into the most cynical of political calculations. The public was convinced they were saying adieu to Bush with Obama’s arrival. But, this was just a
    metamorphosis. Barack Obama, as it turned out was cleverly manufactured possessing the ability to not only appear decent but charismatic. A political creature devised to be fiercer than Bush, capable of dismembering numerous sovereign states while maintaining an outer glow of munificence.

    Little did it matter to these mad scientist what came next, inasmuch, as the electoral options are always self-contained–you see, the “house always wins.” It’s the working-class who are the perpetual losers. Three years later we’re still managed by all the same fiends, but they’re upping the ante in anticipation of more exciting adventures against “indestructible challengers.”

    • Paul Easton
      January 1, 2020 at 22:31

      I never liked that jerk Obama. Once I decided not to be a grinch and joined the Hope contingent but in two or three days my hopes were smashed.

  5. Jeff Harrison
    December 29, 2019 at 14:49

    Very credible summation, Patrick. I’ve often accused you of being overly optimistic but not this time. Two small events I think help provide me with the vertigo I feel. One, the Newsweek correspondent that went public with Newsweek’s refusal to publish his indictment of OPCW and their complicity in the Douma Fake News or disinformation. (A reprise of the sort of thing that pissed Robert Parry off in the first place?). Corporate media hasn’t gotten any better. And two, is that Wikileaks, without Julian Assange at the helm, was the organization that broke “The West’s” psyop/disinformation campaign and exposed it for what it was, another campaign for the imperium. The Empire will not be safe. One wonders why the US is so intent on Assange. Murdering him (which is what we seem to be intent on) will make him more powerful than the US can possibly imagine.

  6. Kent Morrow
    December 29, 2019 at 13:27

    The Republic is certainly in decline but the Empire is in full ascendancy.

  7. DVC
    December 29, 2019 at 09:10

    ”There are only media, good and bad, of greater or lesser resources, of greater or lesser loyalty to principle.“ a great thought and reason for hope too. and thank you for this excellent summary. I’m about to vacation in the US for more than two months. We Canadians know that the best, only?, strategy for survival there is to just never broach politics as a subject. Sad.

    • nondimenticare
      December 29, 2019 at 14:53

      Fine article.
      However, as a USian living in Canada, I have to beg to differ slightly with your statement re politics. I’ve found that the vast majority of my Canadian acquaintances have swallowed hook, line and sinker the US MSM version (transcribed almost verbatim in Canadian media) of world events. We may decry the local – not international – violence, privatized health care (now being fought for in BC), etc., etc., but the general view of American interventions and Canada’s role in them is either un-nuanced or ignored.

    • nondimenticare
      December 30, 2019 at 13:07

      Just an addendum. Not on point re Lawrence’s article, but related. Our Canadian government, through our former foreign minister, had a big hand in the coup in Bolivia (attempted coup in Venezuela as well). That action, instigated by the US, Canada, and others, has now entered a phase of entitled white supremacists clamping down (massacring?) the indigenous population. So Canada simultaneously apologizes to our First Nations (indigenous) people for past wrongs while supporting the very same wrongs of our forebears in another country, another indigenous group. Startling hypocrisy, acknowledged nowhere. The crimes of the empire become the crimes of the subaltern states.

    • December 31, 2019 at 11:22

      On the contrary, I would suggest that you take any opportunity to engage in political discussions. The U.S. public is generally woefully disinformed and in need of facts. Most people know we are being lied to every day.
      Perhaps the well-known politeness of Canadians will be better accepted by the masses. I wish you safe travels.

  8. December 29, 2019 at 00:30

    I am an avid reader and supporter of the World Socialist Web Site, an “Alernative” media source as referred to in the article. The Marxist Journalists who daily prepare articles for this wonderful site, have an outlook and method of analysis that is unsurpassed anywhere in the world. They work together as truly international comrades, who consider all world events from the point of view of the working class and what will take forward and lead the working classes of the world into struggle for a socialist future. For without that, we are doomed.

    • Robyn
      December 29, 2019 at 07:43

      Mary Kerr – I agree about the World Socialist Web Site. For anyone who likes WSWS reporting and analysis but is short of time to spend at the computer reading, WSWS has a podcast with someone reading their leading articles – a handy way of keeping in touch during commutes or chores. I also download the podcast Loud and Clear hosted by Brian Becker and John Kiriakou – they cover a range of topics and offer a platform to knowledgeable guests and analysts (including Joe Lauria).

  9. William Perna
    December 28, 2019 at 22:53

    Great article.

  10. Cornish Hen Face
    December 28, 2019 at 18:13

    Another major sign of imperial decline is the increased use of sanctions as both economic warfare, but also to hide serious flaws in the US economy. The US falls behind on wireless tech–so they sanction Chinese firms and get a Huawei exec arrested. US can’t compete on a fair basis on Euro energy–they sanction Russia to try to stop them from taking the gas market with Nordstream. On Venezuela, sanctions lead to the country losing control of their oil to flunkies. Britain’s bank steals their gold. US manufacturing is now hollowed out, leading to sanctions to try to make up for it.

    The good news for the rest of the world is that some resistance to these unilateral sanctions is developing, to separate economies from US control. Hope that continues, and that some countries and blocs start to bite back with sanctions on the US and some of its corrupt corporations and leaders. Or sanctions based on human rights, such as the US still having slavery (literally, 14th amendment allows an exception), which it’s employing via the largest gross amount and per capita amount of prisoners (slave labor).

    • Digby
      December 29, 2019 at 18:09

      US can’t compete on a fair basis on Euro energy–they sanction Russia to try to stop them from taking the gas market with Nordstream

      I’m reminded of this graphic from The Balance listing four reasons monopolies are bad for the economy:
      1. They can set any price they choose
      2. They can supply inferior products
      3. They lose any incentive to innovate
      4. They create inflation
      Reasons 2 and 3 could apply to the crumbling state of American wireless tech, energy, and manufacturing. Since the USA cannot accept other countries creating superior products at lower prices, it attempts to throw sanctions at them the same way Microsoft has taken down DR-DOS, BeOS and OS/2. (Who else remembers these?)

    • michael
      December 30, 2019 at 10:36

      Since Reagan, America has steadily moved away from a manufacturing economy to a debt peonage financial economy (which stockbrokers will explain is the highest form of economy in the world, neoliberalism; that’s why Obama injected $29 trillion into Wall Street, and Trump has continued with $billions more each year. The pump has to be primed continually). The problem with offshoring jobs and technologies to other countries, is that chasing such short-term profits only built stronger competition long-term. China’s rise was inevitable based on America’s actions. There is no innovation arising from managers (who just count money), and while America’s offshoring policies undercut American labor short-term, it killed the manufacturing advantages long-term, as parallel foreign competitors pop up with every advantage (except maybe branding). In theory, the US could work in a more cooperative manner with these upcoming countries, but that would be like a hyena working with chickens, and the arising countries know it. As with climate change, explained to Congress in 1988 by James Hansen (who complained about government attempts to muzzle him), it is far too late to reverse short-term greed and incompetence over the last 40 years. True American exceptionalism.

  11. SteveK9
    December 28, 2019 at 17:54

    Agree completely. For me it began with the NY Times lies regarding Iraq on WMD. Since then, less and less of what I was reading made any sense to me. I decide whether something is true or not, based on logic and evidence. I was constantly reading or hearing stories where a conclusion was presented with no logic or evidence to support them. So, I started looking for outlets with explanations that I could believe. Consortium News was one of the places I found, with many more added since then. I do hope that there are many more like myself, because we need more people not blinded by this relentless tide of lying propaganda.

  12. JohnDoe
    December 28, 2019 at 17:46

    I don’t share the same optimism. What can be seen as a sign of agitation can also be seen as a sign of arrogance backed by the increasing grip on power. Those in power have a lot of resources to invest in further studies on how to manipulate the people psyche. The increasing number of voices that seem to oppose the current power system are for the majority fakes trying to grab the attention of those who don’t buy the mainstream version of the story and fool them. The current empire of the rich western elites is way, way far from the end.

  13. December 28, 2019 at 17:12

    The author does an admirable job of describing – with an almost observation-from-space perspective of Earth – the previous decade and high good potentials for humanity moving forward into the year 2020. People might be so bold as to describe the author’s vision as focused on a coming human evolution dependent for success on philosopher journalists, whose higher consciousness understanding surpasses previous failed forms of lesser consciousness observing and reporting – with negative human situations affecting the lives of millions globally perpetuated due to non-exercised, unavailable, absent moral arrest.

    Such a beneficial shift toward philosophical solutions identification joined with humanity’s desire for practical manifestations of found solutions – seen growing by leaps and bounds in recent times – gives rise to good 2020-decade predictions of a world in peace driven by the best ideas possible, generated in the minds of philosopher journalists, philosopher presidents and prime ministers etc., philosopher government representatives, philosopher businessmen and businesswomen, plus philosopher citizens in all fields across the Earth.

    May future generations look back with profound gratitude at the ten years beginning on this date: January 1, 2020, – and forever remember the time frame 2020–2030 as humanity’s reaching the achievement of wisdom-guided action to end, first and foremost, unnecessary and heartbreaking wars harmful to so many innocents. May future generations always fondly remember “The Greatest Decade of Philosophy: 2020-2030”.

    World Peace is possible.

  14. Drew Hunkins
    December 28, 2019 at 16:23

    “I sit in one of the dives

    On Fifty-Second Street

    Uncertain and afraid

    As the clever hopes expire

    Of a low dishonest decade.

    These are W.H. Auden’s lines, written as the 1930s…”

    Hey, that’s better than right now, in the 1930s the New Deal was rolling, right now we have nothing in the foreseeable future that could come close to the New Deal. The “Green New Deal” is of course a nice proposal, but it’ll get nowhere with Mitch McConnell and crew at the helm. And of course the corporate Dems will water it down to a shell of itself before it would ever get signed into law.

    So, the end of the 1930s weren’t as bleak as things are now for 80% of the working population in debt up to their eyeballs, living one paycheck or broken down car repair away from homelessness.

  15. Nathan Mulcahy
    December 28, 2019 at 14:29

    Thank you for all you do.

  16. December 28, 2019 at 13:32

    No better validation of Hanna Arendt’s “banality of evil” thesis than the immense bi-partisan inter-generational criminality of the American empire. Who needs a Hitler in order to commit mass murder, when you have literally thousands of willing Eichmann’s in the employ of the Federal government spread from the CIA to the military, to the political class, to the media, and beyond. That Western populations can’t seem to notice the illegality and immorality of this never ending mayhem is a testament to a seamless propaganda apparatus that would make Goebbels green with envy.

    • ML
      December 29, 2019 at 09:36

      Excellently said, Gary W!

    • DrewHenson
      December 30, 2019 at 19:48

      Patrick writes that Susan Rice approved the military coup removing Morsi. The link to an article claiming that Susan Rice approved the coup has no link. Just wondering where this information came from.

      Good article.

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