PATRICK LAWRENCE: A United State of Delusion

Americans are caught in a kind of national psychosis, wherein little of what is said about foreign conduct — from Germany to the South China Sea — can be taken at face value. 

Applause for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech on “Communist China and the Free World’s Future,” at Richard Nixon Presidential Library, Yorba Linda, California, July 23, 2020. (U.S. State Department, Ron Przysucha)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Let’s face it: The Trump regime has from the first had a tenuous relationship with reality. A thousand jobs at a Midwestern air-conditioner plant don’t go to Mexico and the revival of American manufacturing is coming to a theater near you. The U.S. supports jihadist savages in Syria in the name of “freedom” and human rights. The administration is about to ban TikTok, a harmless but highly popular video application, and it’s not about suppressing a superior competitor: It’s about protecting Americans in the name of “national security.”

Sure thing.

President Donald Trump can hardly be blamed for inventing this nation’s dangerous detachment from what we quaintly call the real world. By my reckoning, the last president to speak honestly of things as they are and to say what he meant was Franklin D. Roosevelt. But the national malady, our shared delusions, has worsened markedly under the Trump regime, it is true.

Look westward across the Pacific, eastward across the Atlantic and southward to Latin America: The U.S. leadership and the clerks in the press who serve it have swooned deeply into delusions of this sort over the past couple of weeks. Here’s the thing to note: Fewer and fewer people, other than a regrettable proportion of Americans, seem any longer to take seriously what America says it is doing and why. The effect, we must not miss, is increasing isolation.

A few weeks ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a wildly deranged press conference in which he made these statements:

“Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”


“In the South China Sea, we seek to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law, maintain the unimpeded flow of commerce, and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes. We share these deep and abiding interests with our many allies and partners who have long endorsed a rules-based international order.”

Official graphic publicizing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement on maritime claims in the South China Sea, July 16, 2020. (U.S. State Department, Flickr)

It is easy to dispense with this speech: Nothing in it, nothing at all, is true. This mattered not at all to the government-supervised New York Times, which subsequently published an editorial, as ignorant as anything Pompeo had to say, under the headline, “China’s Claims to the South China Sea Are Unlawful. Now What?” Here is the pith of the Times’s position:

“Mr. Pompeo’s statement is meaningful only if it is accompanied by a firm commitment by the Trump administration to a robust and coordinated policy. However incensed China’s neighbors are by its bullying, they are in no position to push back unless they can be certain of American support and leadership.”

It is one thing for the worst secretary of state in my lifetime to make it up as he goes along. That is s.o.p. for the dimwitted Pompeo. But the Times’s editorial appeared two weeks after Pompeo’s preposterous remarks, leaving the paper’s editorialists plenty of time to think things through. They appear to have done no thinking whatsoever.

U.S. guided-missile destroyer, right, receiving fuel during an underway replenishment while patrolling Indo-Asia-Pacific region, 2015. (U.S. Navy/Corey T. Jones)

Here are a few things our friends on Eighth Avenue might have thought about:

  • China lodged its claims to jurisdictions in the South China Sea years after the other nations involved had asserted theirs, in effect leaving Beijing to take the crumbs. China’s claims come to six. By the time it lodged them, Malaysia had registered three-to-five claims, depending on how one counts, the Philippines nine, and Vietnam 48.
  • China’s assertions of sovereignty intersect with others’, but they are at least as well grounded in law and history. This is what must eventually be adjudicated.
  • Beijing is as committed to negotiation as the other nations involved. There has never been any evidence of coercion or bullying on China’s part.
  • At the moment, all parties appear satisfied to leave things as they are for the time being on the Roman principle of qui tenet teneat, he who holds may go on holding. This is likely to be the context in which resolutions will eventually be achieved.
  • No one involved wants the U.S., which is party to none of these disputes and has not even bothered to ratify the Law of the Sea, to intrude with threats of military force. No nation has ever asked it to do so.
  • The U.S. Navy is not wandering the South China Sea in the name of freedom of navigation. It is there to defend U.S. primacy in the Pacific and to make sure the region remains a sinkhole for the self-perpetuation project the Pentagon and the defense industries require to justify extravagant budgets, expenditures and profits.
  • The sea lanes the U.S. constantly cites are secure, will remain so, and bear no relationship to the competing claims to maritime sovereignty. Two-thirds of the maritime traffic through these lanes is either Chinese or is en route to or from the mainland.

Major crude oil trade flows in the South China Sea, 2016. (U.S. Energy Information Administration, Wikimedia Commons)

One can go on listening to the “peace and stability” song as long as one likes. It amounts to a dreamy lullaby at this point — an illusion that will continue to lead America in inadvisable directions as long as we insist on entertaining it.

Jump cut: The Trump regime’s announcement last week that the U.S. will withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany gives us an uncanny trans–Atlantic mirror image of Washington’s chicanery across the Pacific. The theme, once again, is that our friends and allies need us. We are the sine qua non of Europe’s survival in the face of “Russian aggression.”

Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper briefing media on plan to bring some American service members home from forward-stationed assignments in Germany, July 29, 2020. (DoD, Chad J.McNeeley)

Are we now? Mitt Romney, the Republican senator from Utah, wants us to know that Germany is mightily insulted by this move, and he has this “from the highest levels of the German government.” Do tell, Mitt.

Ever wonder why Germany comes up consistently short in its NATO contributions? (And Trump is right, it does.) The Federal Republic is rich: Wherewithal is not the issue. But Germans don’t like to waste money. This is the issue. Germany’s contributions reflect German priorities, and conjured animosities toward Russia do not rank among them. Interdependence and a post–Ostpolitik variant of coexistence do.

U.S. Department of Defense-owned Edelweiss Lodge and Resort recreation hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in the Bavarian Alps near the Austrian border. (U.S. Army)

Where are the voices of German protest against this move? The highest levels of the German government can mean only one thing, and we haven’t heard a word from the chancellery in Berlin. Those fretting about the withdrawal of American troops, if you have not noticed, are provincial governors and pols whose districts have become complacently dependent on U.S. bases for employment and commerce.

“Unfortunately, this decision by the U.S. administration will mean the loss of German jobs,” said Roger Lewentz, a party functionary of no particular distinction in Rhine–Palatinate,  where a U.S. base is home to 4,000 Air Force personnel. “The German employees don’t deserve this.”

One is sure they don’t, but that is another conversation. This seems to be the best we can do by way of marshaling German fear and trembling. What we’re actually listening to, it is time to note, are Americans telling us the Germans are insulted and frightened. Another illusion: Know it as one, readers.   

Maybe our grandest illusions are those we cling to when we think about U.S. conduct in Latin America over many decades — more than a century, depending on how we count. Here we enter you’ve-got-to-be-kidding territory. Lamenting “a general decline in democracy across the region” in last Thursday’s editions, the Times treated us to these doozies: 

“Adding to these challenges, democracy in Latin America has also lost a champion in the United States, which had played an important role in promoting democracy after the end of the Cold War by financing good governance programs and calling out authoritarian abuses.”


‘In the last few years, we have not only abandoned our role as a democratizing force in Latin America and the world, but we have promoted negative forces,’ said Orlando Pérez, a political scientist at the University of North Texas. ‘Our policy is now: “You’re on your own—America first.” ’

Latin Americans should be so lucky. The U.S. knocked over the Morales government in Bolivia a matter of months ago and appears to have no intention of letting up on Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. All in the name of democracy, of course. Shame on the Times for publishing this fantastical rubbish.   

Bolivia’s Evo Morales holding a press conference in Mexico City after seeking refuge in Mexcio as a political refugee, Nov. 13, 2019. (EneasMx, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

All nations entertain illusions about themselves to one or another extent. This has been so since the consolidation of modern nationalism in the second half of the 19th century. But none matches the U.S. as it acts so thoroughly according to what it wishes to be so as against what is. It produces a kind of national psychosis, wherein little of what is said can be taken at face value. There is a meta-meaning that must be detected. Language is hollowed out, as it was in the old Soviet Union.

We all own these latest delusions and all the others preceding them, in truth. I do not know where and when Americans got the idea that it is best not to see straight, but it seems to be the reigning ethos. Maybe it is the mark of a declining empire. But — the greatest of our illusions — America doesn’t have an empire, does it? One must not speak of such a thing.

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. 

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

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21 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: A United State of Delusion

  1. E Wright
    August 9, 2020 at 01:13

    Just to stay focused on the South China Sea. I suffer no illusions about the MSM, but do remember that China is also a past master at propaganda. Take a look at the nine dash line and how it carves up the the entire area. Obviously none of the regional claimants would stand a chance if Uncle Sam didn’t have an iron in the fire. Whatever the rival claims, preventing the South China Sea from becoming a Chinese lake is a legitimate foreign policy aim.

  2. Surrealisto
    August 6, 2020 at 12:22

    “Worst Secretary of State in my lifetime?” Really? Not even Henry Kissinger nor Hillary Clinton can cop that for him? Diplomacy is supposed to be about restraining wars, not creating them. On that level, Sec. Clinton ought to get something of a prize both in and out of the office for a total of something like five… And Henry beezled and bozzled with the N. Vietnamese for at least three year when he might have had us pulling out earlier than 75. Pompeo- he’s petty and miserable, but at least he hasn’t kickstarted any new wars, yet. Yes, it looks as though he might be trying. But can’t we go after the war criminals who have already done the damages, and walked away with accolades and presidential candidacies?

  3. Jeff Harrison
    August 6, 2020 at 01:04

    Interesting, Patrick, but I think there are additional dimensions to be explored. Going to the East, what does NATO offer anyone? It offers the USA a ready depository of military might as long as it can control the narrative. Note that our c0ntr0l failed in the war of aggression we waged against Iraq, leaving obergruppenfurher Rumsfeld to sputter about “old Europe”. What does it do for Europe? The only thing I can think of is Linus from Charlie Brown with his thumb in his mouth and his blanket clutched tightly.

    But there’s two kinds of armaments. Offensive armaments and Defensive armaments. Sometimes the armaments are the same but… Those who propose that nuclear weapons never provided any security are wrong. Nuclear weapons are offensive weapons and the problem was that there was no defensive weapons to counter them. Nuclear weapons acted much like “The Great Equalizer” aka the .45 long Colt pistol, as vicious a pistol as I’ve ever fired. One thought twice about attacking a man armed with a .45 long Colt. One thought twice about attacking a nuclear armed nation as the US has shown.The US is expending a great amount of money and effort to develop a first strike capability. We will fail because we are on the cusp of developing defensive armaments for nuclear weapons. The US’s THAAD system and the Russian’s S series of missiles are examples. Unfortunately, no defensive system is perfect and the consequence of even one getting through the defenses is pretty horrific. When will mankind start to arrest the likes of Pompous, Donnie Murdo, Obama, Shrub, et al for attempted genocide?

  4. JohnMM
    August 5, 2020 at 14:33

    Nice to see some reality about the South China Sea.

  5. Richard Coleman
    August 5, 2020 at 14:32

    “By my reckoning, the last president to speak honestly of things as they are and to say what he meant was Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

    Sure about that? I draw your attention to President Kennedy’s “peace speech”:

    And his famous speech on civil rights, which hasn’t been approached in the 50-plus years since:

  6. Dienne
    August 5, 2020 at 13:04

    Well, to be fair, nothing said about domestic conduct is true either. We are living on Animal Farm.

  7. AnneR
    August 5, 2020 at 09:48

    Ta very much Patrick for the succinct and truly reality sickening overview.

    You mention the similarities (as others have of recent noted) between the US (and I would add the BBC as heard on the World Service broadcast to the USA) MSM and the old Soviet “MSM.” A big difference exists not in the Orwellian structure, composition, of the news/comments/discussions and the repetitions and avoidances that are crucial to purveying particular, corporate-capitalist-imperialist ruling elite desired worldviews, comprehensions, is that the vast majority of the old Soviet Union’s population KNEW it was being fed propaganda.

    That reality – that the MSM are serving us, minute by minute propaganda – would seem to have flown well above the heads and minds of the vast majority of Americans, even the well, highly educated ones (especially those benefiting from the way things are, the socio-economic structure as is), even (especially?) the so-called “woke” (is that modernese for Hip?) “progressive” Blue Face supporters.

    P.S. FDR – Hmmm always honest and above board? Pearl Harbor? Now as far as I’m aware the WH/Mil knew that the Japanese were going to attack the naval base (a military target after all – not civilian) and because FDR wanted to enter the war although the US public did NOT, the attack was not prevented. The excuse then existed. Hardly open, honest and truthful… surely?

    And FDR was more concerned about saving capitalism itself from itself than at fundament really instituting anything approaching socialism (which anyway is reformist of capitalism, not revolutionary, as I’m sure you know).

    • Thorben
      August 5, 2020 at 14:19

      Dear Anne,
      I think the US had a bit more than 200.000 men stationed in germany. The soviet red army had been chasing almost 20.000.000 german soldiers from Russia to Berlin in less than two years. So the numbers did not add up. The US was not capable of challanging the soviet union in a conventional war by itself. That might have been the reason why they thought that they needed the nukes.
      But you are right most people here did not like nuklear weapons back than and still do not today.
      Whether there was a thread that the soviets take over western europe, in 1945, is hard to tell in retrospective. It is even harder to guess what might have been the assumptions of the leaders back then, without them having the knowledge we have today. Fighting a bloody war might have influenced their perspective and their tendency towards risk as well.

    • Martin - Swedish citizen
      August 5, 2020 at 17:35

      Spot on!
      The people of the USSR were well aware of what they should expect from the media – this is the striking difference when compared with today’s situation in the West.
      An effect was the importance of mouth to mouth spread of information or rumours, there may be parallels to that in the West now, too.

    • Zhu
      August 6, 2020 at 06:22

      The claim that FDR allowed Pearl Harbor to be attacked was investigated by Repoblicans numerous times by Republicans in Congtess. Nothing was proven, no matter how much FDR’s enemies wanted it to be true.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      August 8, 2020 at 13:55

      I agree with your contesting the honesty of FDR. The U.S. government did everything it could to provoke the Japanese into attacking. It cut off Japanese access to oil, for one thing. In addition, they were monitoring Japanese spies and knew well in advance what was coming and allowed it to happen. Much like the 9/11 attacks, it was allowed to happen because the U.S. government wanted to get into WWII. The truth about this is just another “conspiracy theory” according to the heavily censored version of history promoted by the U.S. and its corporate media.

  8. Francis Lee
    August 5, 2020 at 06:18

    The United States is, to any outside observer, ruled by a coalition of organized bureaucracies apparently intent on ruling the world by all means possible. This blob is self-contained dominant and excludes any outside influences. Not that the ruling orthodoxy is to be found in a type of textbook summation of ‘the principles of Blob’. What there exists is a diffuse set of beliefs which form ideological miasmas which seep into the consciousness of the US powers that be. The American intellectual Gore Vidal gave a good summary of this when he wrote about the process of ideological assimilation. ‘’There is no conspiracy it’s just that they (The PTB) all think the same.’’

    The United States is an out of control lunatic who has little understanding of anything outside of its own borders and not even necessarily of them. The Blob is characterised by what has understood to be a ‘Group-think’ which can be summed up as follows.

    ‘Groupthink, describes a process where a group with similar backgrounds and largely insulated from outside opinions, which makes its decisions without critically testing and analysing and evaluating ideas. It involves collective rationalisations, convictions about the inherent morality of its views, and illusions about unanimity and vulnerability. The group holds stereotypical views of outsiders and no toleration of dissent.’

    This group of bureaucratic structures are, in a manner similar to all bureaucracies, conforming to the ‘Iron Cage’ theory first identified by the great German social theorist, Max Weber. Bureaucracy in its late stage is a process of goal displacement. It exists, because it exists, and in order to expand. That’s it. Having been set up to achieve a specific set of goals, they become goals which perform a very different function. This is observable in large-scale organizations like NATO, the CIA, the European Union which de facto exist to serve the interests, careers and rewards of the members of the bureaucracy. The putative aims of organization become subordinated to the actual aims.

    Joseph Alois Schumpeter sums the process up very well: He contended in Egypt ‘’a class of professional soldiers recruited to fight the war against the Hyksos, persisted even when the wars were over along with their various interests and instincts. He capped this part of his analysis of this pithy summary of his viewpoint thus: Created by the wars that required it, the machine now created the wars it required.
    Sounds like NATO to me.

  9. peter mcloughlin
    August 5, 2020 at 05:29

    Nations throughout history have deluded themselves they could fight and win the war they would come to lose. The approaching Sino-American conflict shows this delusional phenomenon: that a third world war can be avoided – even won. (

  10. rosemerry
    August 4, 2020 at 17:20

    Thanks Patrick. Your comments are so sensible and the Pompass and NYT as full of lies as usual that we can only wonder what is in the heads of “Americans” who somehow keep pretending their nation is some sort of democracy and model for others.

  11. Drew Hunkins
    August 4, 2020 at 16:52

    ‘In the last few years, we have not only abandoned our role as a democratizing force in Latin America and the world, but we have promoted negative forces,’ said Orlando Pérez, a political scientist at the University of North Texas. ‘Our policy is now: “You’re on your own—America first.” ’

    If this were true it would be one of the greatest blessings ever to befall the Western hemisphere.

    • vinnieoh
      August 5, 2020 at 09:08

      Drew you’re probably aware, and I dislike being repetitive, but I am full of foreboding concerning the fate of C. & S. America as the US inevitably withdraws to this hemisphere. All of the crimes against humanity perpetrated there could pale in comparison to the wrathful vengeance yet to come.

      I greatly admire Patrick Lawrence’s writing, especially lately, but here I wonder if he isn’t mixing delusion with illusion maintained through a strict regimen of propaganda. I also wonder just how many of the general population are truly not under the delusion of US moral and political superiority as defenders of freedom and democracy. That is, how many of our fellow citizens willingly embrace the harsh exercise of US power for selfish ends? That might confers right, and power has no value except in its application.

      I have an in-law that has always claimed as long as I have known him that he is not a racist. Yet with every other word and action he proves that he is, in fact, a racist and a bigot. It is not delusion or illusion, but a disingenuous lie.

  12. August 4, 2020 at 15:21

    excellent. thank you.

  13. Thorben
    August 4, 2020 at 15:06

    The only discussion, when the US reduced its troops after the fall of the Berlin wall, was about jobloss. I cannot remenber anyone ever mention savety issues. The real protection against the soviet union came from the nuclear shield, which still exists, and is the only thing the US does provide that matters to europeans militarily.

    • bevin
      August 4, 2020 at 17:42

      Always bearing in mind of course that there never was a “threat from the Soviet Union”. Certainly not a nuclear threat.

    • AnneR
      August 5, 2020 at 09:33

      Interesting, Thorben, then that certainly in the UK and I’m sure around Europe – including Germany – there were frequent and well attended “Ban the BOMB” marches (unfortunately I could not, as a very low paid worker in the 1960s and 1970s, often join them until the mid 1980s). We did NOT feel safer because of the US’s “nuclear shield” against putative (fairy tale) Soviet aggression. NOT at all. After all – it wasn’t the USSR that had created and then used them – twice – against civilians. Was it?

      All that – and quite bloody rightly – the USSR, Russia especially – wanted to prevent was any more invasions (with their resultant slaughterings of the Russian population) from/via western Europe (Nazi Germany, alone, inflicted more than 20 million deaths on the USSR during its invasion).

    • August 5, 2020 at 14:42

      Nuclear weapons have never provided any security whatsoever. They continue to be the single greatest existential threat we face. CN is now full of articles attesting to that.

Comments are closed.