PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Aimless Empire

Under Biden, the world’s most powerful, most heavily armed, most determinedly righteous nation shows little sign of having any foreign policy at all. 

Seahawk helicopters firing flares. (U.S. Navy, Zachary A. Anderson)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Bitter and frightening realities face us four months into Joe Biden’s presidency. On the domestic side it is a Potemkin village, behind the façades of which lies a slum of unfulfilled promises that are no longer even part of the Washington discourse. That is the bitter part.

The frightening part is this: Biden and the amateurs he has named as statesmen and stateswomen do not have an inconsistent foreign policy, or a miscalculated foreign policy, or a confused foreign policy. Such shortcomings and weaknesses might be repaired. This flummoxed bunch does not have a foreign policy. And the world’s most powerful, most heavily armed, most determinedly righteous nation shows little sign of figuring one out: Readers may perhaps join me in finding this very frightening.

I do not traffic in hyperbole, favored as this is among our poseur  pundits, mostly liberals and “progressives,” who are little Potemkin villages all by themselves. It is simply time to state the obvious but unsayable, to run our palms over the rough skin of the elephant in our living room. The American empire no longer knows what to do in the world. It is lost in the 21stcentury forest, ever more alone.

Something else must be said immediately. Fearful as it is to contemplate a nuclear power wandering the globe without aim, at the horizon the Biden regime’s incoherent non-policies are a positive sign of history’s movement in the right direction. Imperial decline, after all, is to be hoped for.

The music of our new century stopped at just about the time the man from Scranton took office: This administration would have to surrender all further thought of empire — “global leadership” in polite company — if it were to meet the demands of a new, post–American era, or it would have to enter into a state of sclerosis while reënacting the decades of primacy for a dwindling audience as if it is still somewhere around 1955.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, on right, watch inauguration fireworks with their family, Jan. 20. (White House, Adam Schultz)

It has chosen the latter course, maybe inevitably. It would take a president of far greater vision and conviction than the spineless, chronically deceitful Biden to understand our moment as one of historical import requiring a leader with the imagination and courage to guide our republic into new circumstances and more equitable relationships with others. In fairness to Biden, America has not produced a leader of this sort in I do not care to say how long.

It is occasionally said that the military runs U.S. foreign policy. One gets the point, a grim point, but this is not so, either. The Pentagon has no vision of where this nation is heading or why. Its only policy is to find things to do that justify its bloated bureaucracy and budget. That is not policy; it is something closer to theft.

So are we flying blind in the year 2021.

A Poseur

Biden is one of those senators who come along in each cohort to claim foreign policy expertise as a signifier of intellect and worldly sophistication. Two points to be made here. One, this has always been a pose on Biden’s part, given his very poor record in this regard. Two, most of his foreign policy positions, if not all of the major ones, reflect domestic political considerations rather than an understanding of this or that set of on-the-ground circumstances. Error is therefore more or less inevitable.

If Biden has a personnel problem, as I think is the case, the problem begins with him. But those around him must not be overlooked in this connection. Antony Blinken, his leader of the charge in U.S. relations with others, has spent his career as an adviser, for many years aiding Biden when he was still a senator and subsequently during his vice-presidency. Giving an adviser executive responsibilities was incautious, to use the kindest word for it. In the case of Blinken, it is already well on the way to proving disastrous. This is a man patently in over his head.

Blinken and Nod could hardly have opened up worse during their first weeks in office. Two weeks after his inauguration, Biden announced he was ending U.S. support for the Saudi kingdom’s savage war on Yemen and its people. This was a response to domestic pressure and was advertised (to quote the sycophantic Guardian ) “as part of a broad reshaping of American foreign policy.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken delivering a speech on “reaffirming and reimagining America’s alliances” in Brussels, March 24. (State Department, Ron Przysucha)

Nothing of the sort has come of this. There has been no discernible change in American support for the Saudis, and we are not looking at a reshaping of policy: We are looking at an absence of policy. 

This latter point became even clearer in the administration’s first contacts with Russia and China. Within three days last March, Biden had his Putin-is-a-killer moment on ABC News, while Blinken, during his Anchorage encounter with Chinese counterparts, lectured the Chinese side on human rights, democracy, and individual freedoms as if reading from a catechism of rote American pieties.

I have already reviewed in this space  the very serious consequences of these miscalculations. In brief, Moscow and Beijing appear to have concluded after these events that it is not possible to deal with the U.S. on the basis of the parity they have pointedly insisted upon for years. We can now expect an era of alliance-building among non–Western powers, already nascent, to flower.

Biden has just scheduled his first summit, to be held June 16, with Vladimir Putin. In the run-up during these next two weeks, we must ask what the Biden regime’s Russia policy is. Name-calling and expelling Russian diplomats on the basis of no-evidence allegations of Russian cyberattacks is not a policy: These are perfectly legible admissions that the U.S. does not now have a Russia policy.

Maybe Biden will come up with something surprising when the two convene in Geneva, but as things stand one is surprised the Russian president is bothering with the occasion.

Ditto in the China case. Biden and Blinken have gone notably quiet on relations with the People’s Republic since the latter’s mess in Alaska. Blinken’s few remarks, carried on Twitter, have focused on an improbably alleged genocide in Xinjiang Province and Beijing’s assertive handling of Hong Kong’s democracy movement. These do not constitute a policy. The trade question, South China Sea security, the way forward on the Korean Peninsula: These are matters of policy, and we have heard nothing about any of them.

Covering their lack of ideas on the Russia and China questions, Biden and Blinken mark down both as strategic adversaries in accordance with the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy. At the same time, they propose to compete fairly with China on the economic side while cooperating with both on some security matters and questions such as climate change. This is cake-and-eat-it stuff. There is too much blur in this strategy for it to work. 

Pipeline Reversal

Nord Stream head-office building in Zug, Switzerland. (Alexey M, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Last week Biden announced he will drop opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany and remove the threat of secondary sanctions against European companies working on it. This is an excellent move, but one cannot read it as the front end of a renovated policy toward either Russia or Europe. It is simply a retreat in the face of a fait accompli.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Europe’s refusal to bow to Washington on the Nord Stream 2 project. At this point, Europeans appear willing to go along with the U.S. on non-substantive questions such as the (fraudulent) Alexei Navalny case but not when it comes to concrete matters such as European energy supplies. With the NS 2 confrontation, Europeans effectively announced their intention to adopt a more independent policy framework for the first time since pre–World War II days.

Map of the proposed Nord Stream and connecting pipelines. (Samuel Bailey, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The cutting-edge question in trans–Atlantic relations as NS 2 makes plain, is Russia. An impulse toward autonomy in trans–Atlantic ties has been articulated with greater conviction since Emmanuel Macron hosted the G–7 session in Biarritz in summer 2019. The French president’s voice has grown ever more persistent and won gradually increasing support from the Germans.

Macron’s topic was always the U.S. but turned on his Gaullist desire to advance beyond Washington’s Cold War binary. “With Russia, the policy of progressive sanctions on frozen situations is no longer an effective policy,” Macron said last week. “We are at a moment of truth in our relationship with Russia, which should lead us to rethink the terms of the tension that we decide to put in place.”

Do Biden or any of his people have the sophistication and gravitas to respond effectively to these profoundly challenging statements? It seems almost silly to ask. Wanted: A Europe policy that takes account of what time it is on history’s clock. One does not hold one’s breath.

As to the Middle East and West Asia, we have five cases of what appear to be Biden’s abiding preoccupation with smoke-and-mirrors appearances as against reality, and one question on which the administration’s position is all too clear.

We are told that indirect talks with the Iranians in a Vienna hotel are gradually progressing, but this sounds like so much diplo-speak. Biden’s people are asking too much of Tehran, know they are asking too much, and have no true intention of rejoining the 2015 accord governing its nuclear programs.

I have already noted the apparent fraud of Biden’s early announcement concerning Yemen. His subsequent decision to schedule the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 would count as his best policy move to date, except that, as noted previously  in this space, we do not yet know what he means by “withdrawal.” This will almost certainly turn out to be something other than the end of America’s longest war. 

No Syria Retreat

Last week the administration announced that it will not renew the just-expired license granted last year to Delta Crescent Energy, a concern with extensive political and military connections, to pump and refine Syrian oil. It would be nice if this were the start of a similar withdrawal from the Syrian Arab Republic, but this is an administration that bombed Syrian positions within weeks of taking office and has done nothing since to indicate it intends to abandon the third of Syria it illegally occupies. A similar situation obtains in Iraq, where U.S. troops are no longer welcome as a matter of Iraqi law but appear to be going nowhere.

We come to Israel, alas. Here, too, the professedly Zionist Biden has no policy other than to allow Israel to set U.S. policy. That is the policy, and there is, of course, zero likelihood it will change. One can hardly wait to see what comes of Blinken’s declared intention to aid reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after apartheid Israel’s recent aerial attacks.  

Do I describe an incoherent American leader and his lieutenants, who speak gibberish because, having no reply to our moment, the last thing they want is to be understood? I do. Do I write of a powerful nation that has—a different thing—lost its strength and is critically weakened? This, too.

It is frightening, yes, but our leaders decided in the aftermath of the 2001 events that this is how they will go — not imaginatively or creatively, but inanely. 

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. 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.

10 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Aimless Empire

  1. Piotr Berman
    June 3, 2021 at 09:50

    “Aimless Empire” reminds a joke about a pedestrian border crossing. A certain person used it almost every day, on bicycle. Custom folks were sure that he is smuggling, so he was search many times, with no result. Because he was smuggling bicycles.

    Similarly, the aim of Empire is Empire. Empire divides the world into three parts — Zone of Peace, integral parts and vassals, Zone of War, the enemies, and Debatable Zone, with pieces that can be converted by either side, so there is strife for influence.

    “Aimlessness” may be simply being satisfied with the status quo, for now. This is not necessarily detrimental. The question is what methods should be used to keep the loyalty within Zone of Peace, and favorable conversions in other zones. It seems that it is a combination of common faith, currently in Rule Based World Order, Liberty and All Such, and better prosperity inside than outside.

    The prosperity differential can be achieved in two ways: improvements for allies and misery for opponents. As we can see in Latin America, the Empire has a checkered record of improvements for allies, so it focuses on assuring the misery of the opponents, or simply conversions that lack benefits for the population and thus are periodically reversed. I say “in Latin America” because there the record is very clear.

    In such broad outline, the differences between Obama, Trump and Biden are small, although Trump was perhaps inferior in propagating RBWO (LaAS), because he stressed “America First”, with clumsy efforts like those to buy Greenland, collect extra tribute from Germany and Korea etc. that made no reference to RBWO. Thus the initial activity of Biden is to restore full orthodoxy in imperial pronouncements.

    More concrete actions are harder. Inflicting misery on Iran is good — Iran is in the Zone of War — but lacks underpinning in the faith, which is not good. Hence the natural course of interacting with Iran slowly. Recall how slow Obama was, for exactly same reasons.

    Thus I would say that the real issue is not the lack of aims, but the lack of humane aims. Empire exists, first and foremost, for the Empire.

    • Piotr Berman
      June 3, 2021 at 09:58

      OMG, antiwar7 wrote it already but simpler and shorter. But alternatives are hard to find. To improve adherence to the imperial RBWO faith through better life of the adherents requires some knowledge, bear some costs, and modify some tenets of RWBO. Biden has similar problems to Muhammad bin-Salman, priesthood is influential and even such a little thing like allowing women to drive is hard to push through.

  2. Jeff Harrison
    June 2, 2021 at 12:52

    I begin to think that I agree with that utter jerkwad revoltin’ Bolton. Get rid of half the UN, you’ll never miss it. It is the UN that should be getting the US out of Syria and Iraq (and a number of other places) but what does the UN do? Damn all. I think Russia and China would like to see the UN enforcing a rule based order that isn’t a Calvinball set of rules.

      June 2, 2021 at 17:53

      It’s the member states that make the UN what it is and with both the US and UK on one side and China and Russia on the other all possessing vetos at the Security Council it is difficult for either side to push through an agenda.

  3. Antiwar7
    June 2, 2021 at 10:43

    I think there is a policy:

    – Control every government we can, using every evil trick in the book. The purpose of control is to immiserate their workers and increase power and profits for our oligarchs.
    – Regime-change every other government, using false propaganda, NGOs, sanctions, ethnic disputes, or outright war (i.e., mass murder).

    In other words, pure selfish evilness, as much as they can get away with, and as long as they can get away with it.

  4. Jack
    June 1, 2021 at 19:30

    Too, too true. We have become a land of amateurs – and bad ones at that.

  5. jon nelms
    June 1, 2021 at 19:29

    Isn’t being less powerful a good for the world given the incredible amount of harm caused by American hegemony?

  6. robert e williamson jr
    June 1, 2021 at 16:27

    Mr. Lawrence I wish you were wrong but I know you are not.

    Somebody needs clue Biden in, he appears to one in the same as Benny the Blade Netenyahoo. He got himself elected and failed to get enough followers to seal the deal and marshal a functional government. As you describe above it sure seems Joe is sitting on hands while Israel gets it’s ducks in line. Good luck with that Joe.

    When he claims “America is back!” the cry rings hollow, unless he is referring to “square one”.

    What we are experiencing is the result of one ideology ruling both parties. Greed, the clear limitless hunger for wealth and power. (SEE Israel) Both parties clearly favoring justifying themselves sanctimoniously claiming they and only they are fit to govern while being clearly exposed as hypocrites by their conduct. (SEE Israel)

    Completely out of touch with the reality that the remainder of the citizenry live day to day. (SEE Israel)

    Now that the MIC and Security State have dug themselves several holes they can’t get out of they return to the unsettling distraction of news of alien craft being among us.

    Gheesh, seriously? Why is it that our government seemingly desires the masses constantly be anxious , fearful and pissed off. Maybe because those who drive the Deep State , those super wealthy elitists, I speak of (the SWETS) are getting richer by the second.

    Thanks CN

  7. Buffalo_Ken
    June 1, 2021 at 15:13

    As a humble american citizen whose ancestors, at least 5 of them, came over on the Mayflower (just on one grandmas side), and I’m not necessarily proud of the history, but hey they were my ancestors – including one who was in Jamestown earlier on – what was his name…oh yeah – Stephen Hopkins and his daughter Constance not to mention John Howland and John and Joann Tilley. I have their DNA directly in me and so do so many. It is in the history books for all of us – it is amazing if you give it consideration. How much can grow from a little settlement.
    Anyhow, that is just my one grandma, so maybe I have standing and maybe I don’t. Regardless, let me suggest this to the powers that be. How about the conversations gets steered this way….
    1. Mr. Putin, there are some of those here in the country we call America who have a sense of justice. We respect Russia and what all the Russian People have accomplished. Together we pushed the fascist back to where the came from. Ah for the 20th century.
    Together we can accomplish much don’t you agree?
    2. Build the gas line – it is a good idea to supply your neighbors and “goodness gracious me” what were we thinking.
    3. We got a bit full of ourselves, but we still have some humility amongst the citizenry. We can tell the difference.
    4. We may have no standing with all the lies we been telling and all the propaganda and such, but hells-bells this geopolitical stuff is tricky and such, and everybody been doing it haven’t they?
    5. Lets try to work together in a way that things start getting better for your folks and for ours together. Lets sit at the table. Lets do it more than just one time.
    6. Lets let Israel work their shit out on their own, and yes, we will stop supporting their apartheid regime. Some things are obvious and on that at a minimum let us agree.
    7. Hey pal – let me tell you about the gin and tonic I had the other day. I raise a toast to you.

    Kind reader, what do you think are the chances of that? They may be close to zero, but there is a chance if you blink your eyes more than once and ask for forgiveness. There may be a chance if you are a student of history and you care about the future.
    Regardless, a meeting to talk across the table is better than missiles flying across oceans or drones doing the deeds of those who continue to hold onto the 20th century. Let the old ones rest their heads gently.
    Peace is easy,

    • Robert I Bruce
      June 2, 2021 at 22:35

      Ask for forgiveness? What good what that do? Until the masses wake up and take out our debauched elites, nothing will change. Carlin had it right back in 2005 with his bit about the American Dream and you had to be asleep to believe it. Americans on both sides of the political divide are bonkers. You have the majority of conservative inc stuck in the 20th Century, and the “Woke” crowd more worried about problems that have been mostly manufactured by the main stream media, owned by corporate America with Big Tech leading the charge, to justify the creation of a neo feudal totalitarian society all under the guise of social justice. Very few people are going to even understand what they need to apologize about, or worse yet care enough to do what needs to be done to stop it!!!!

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