PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Empire’s Last Stand

The origins of the first Cold War have been hopelessly blurred in the histories. We can watch this time. It is occurring before our eyes.  

 U.S. seaman on a guided-missile destroyer directs a helicopter during operations in the South China Sea in 2020. (U.S. Navy, Andrew Langholf)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

In the early months of 1947, President Harry Truman and Dean Acheson, his secretary of state, made up their minds to prop up Greece’s openly fascist monarchy against a popular revolt they had cast as a Soviet threat. After much hand-wringing, Truman went to Congress on March 12 to ask for $400 million in aid, not quite $5 billion today when adjusted for inflation.

Truman and Acheson knew the Greek intervention would be a hard sell: Congress was in no mood to spend that kind of money, and the war-weary public harbored hope for FDR’s vision of a postwar order built on the principle of peaceful coexistence. As the speech went through its multiple drafts, Arthur Vandenberg, Republican senator from Michigan and a presence in the planning of America’s postwar posture, offered advice that must be counted elegantly forthright, if diabolic in its cynicism.

It comes down to us today, and for good reason. “Mr. President,” Vandenberg said during White House deliberations, “the only way you are ever going to get this is to make a speech and scare hell out of the American people.”

Truman made his since-famous “scare hell” speech. The Greeks got their $400 million (a remarkable proportion of which was embezzled by government ministers), and the American public was kept scared for the next 40–odd years — the Cold War years.

When It Started

Sen. Arthur Vandenberg in 1939. (Library of Congress)

There are various thoughts as to when the Cold War started. Some scholars argue it began as early as the Yalta Conference in early 1945, when Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt told Joseph Stalin there would be no Allied support for the reconstruction of the Soviet Union, which had sacrificed 20 million to 27 million lives to defeat the Germans — a victory that left the Soviet economy in ruins.

My date is March 12, 1947, when Truman delivered his address to a joint session of Congress. And it is remarkable how faithfully the intervention in Greece, the first of Washington’s major Cold War undertakings, has been reproduced during all the decades since. A year later the U.S. (with Britain’s assist) corrupted Italy’s first postwar general elections. Then came the coup in Iran, then the coup in Guatemala, and so on without interruption until our time.

Last Wednesday President Joe Biden announced a new trilateral security agreement with Britain and Australia. Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, respectively the British and Australian prime ministers, joined him electronically from London and Canberra. Biden couldn’t remember Morrison’s name — “that fella down under” is as far as he got — but let us not allow the shocking incompetence of the man driving our bus to distract us from the gravity of the moment.

There are numerous things to say about the new accord, by which the U.S. and Britain are to provide Australia with the sensitive technology needed to build a fleet of eight or more nuclear-powered submarines. But before we get to anything else, get used to Roman numerals: Last Wednesday was a three-sided declaration that Cold War II is now our new, flesh-and-blood, steel-and-bombs, propaganda-and-paranoia reality.

Anticommunist poster in favor of King George II during the Greek referendum : “This is what they fear! Vote for the King!” (Wikimedia Commons)

The Ides of September: Remember the date. Sept. 15, 2021, is our March 12, 1947. Xi Jinping’s People’s Republic is in 2021 what Stalin’s Soviet Union was three-quarters of a century ago. Truman and Acheson changed the world when they drafted the full-of-lies “scare hell” speech — greatly for the worse, of course. Biden, Johnson and Morrison just did the same. It would be hard to overstate the dangers and burdens Cold War II is going to inflict upon us — we Americans, we the rest of the human population.

Remember this, too, and bear witness. It is the U.S. that has assiduously sought to kindle Cold War II, just as it, and not the Soviet Union, was responsible for starting Cold War I. I mention this because the origins of the first Cold War have been hopelessly blurred in the histories. We can watch this time. It is occurring before our eyes.  

There had been talk of a new Cold War at least since the U.S. recklessly, stupidly sponsored the coup in Ukraine in February 2014 and the monstrously paranoid Russophobia our authoritarian liberal friends began cultivating two years later. But we seem to have had our oceans and continents mixed up. Hardly are the policy cliques (and their clerks in the press) going to now encourage Americans to see Russia simply as it is. No chance. But it is China and the Chinese that they are now going to distort to the point whether neither is recognizable.

What does this bode for all of us? What will life be like as Cold War II is waged? I shudder to pose these questions, having lived through all of Cold War I, but for the first few years of it. Take my word for it, those too young to share the memories: This ain’t going to be no kind of fun.

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What happened last week is worth thinking about for those details so far available to us. David Sanger, who is far too intimate with the national security state for our good if not his own, reported in The New York Times Saturday that the Americans, Brits and Aussies had been secretly negotiating their new accord for months while keeping the French in the dark. France had a longstanding contract, worth $60 billion in today’s money, to supply Australia with a dozen diesel-electric submarines.

With that contract now broken, the French are irate — properly, I would say. No tears to shed for France’s Naval Group, which won’t get to build a fleet of vessels with which Australia can indulge its animosities toward the Chinese simply for being Chinese and being a large country on the Pacific’s western rim. But there is the potential for something good to come of French President Emmanuel Macron’s heat-of-the-moment decision to recall his ambassadors in Canberra and Washington.

Contours of Cold War II

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (“the fella down under”) on video with U.S. President Joe Biden during Sept. 15 announcement of the AUKUS pact. (C-Span clip)

There is a lot more to this turn of events, surely, that will remain submerged such that we will never see it. But we nonetheless have in outline the contours of Cold War II and can begin to reckon what it will look like and what those waging it will inflict upon us.

To begin with, the core of the Anglosphere — Canada and New Zealand apparently sidelined for the time being — will be the tip of the West’s spear as Cold War II is waged. This is important to note for a couple of reasons.

If the U.S., Britain and Australia share one thing above all others in their ideology and the common world view that arises from it, it is an unremitting hawkishness toward those nations who dare to resist the conformity neoliberalism demands. Cold War II will be harshly and aggressively fought, we can expect.

In addition, and not to be missed, there is the implied division of labor.

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

The U.S. has been spoiling to escalate tensions with China at least since Mike Pompeo’s tenure as secretary of state. The dim-witted Pompeo — Antony Blinken without the fluent French and the “deep concern” — was out of the closet altogether in urging some kind of Gog and Magog confrontation with our newest “evil empire.”

In March 2020, Congress asked the Pentagon to ask it for a lot of extra money to spend in the Pacific. The generals and admirals did and got a little more than $20 billion as a down payment on a six-year expansion of their operations in East Asia. In July the U.S. got the Federated States of Micronesia — by some combination of coercion and bribery if history is any guide — to let the Navy build a forward base on FSM soil. This is the shape of things to come.

But the imperium grows weaker. The imperium wheezes. We can, therefore, expect Australia and Britain to carry a lot more weight in Cold War II than America’s allies shouldered during the Cold War I decades. This is why all sides thought it was worth it to risk a serious breach with France at this moment. Nuclear-powered submarines have many times the speed and stealth of conventional vessels — handy for patrolling the South China Sea and the coastal waters of the mainland. Handy for escalating tensions, in other words.  

There is an obvious cultural affinity among these three allies. We can read a unified determination and purpose into this.

Cold War I, from its middle decades onward, was colored by the subtle but increasingly detectable reluctance of non–Anglo members of the alliance to stay the course. Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO by degrees from 1963 to 1966. Three years later the Germans were going on about Ostpolitik. A year after that Willy Brandt, the Social Democratic chancellor, a pinko through and through, met with East Germany’s leader, the first such encounter between East and West.

No worries, as the Australians say, about flaky peaceniks given to “convergence” this time. The cheese-eating surrender monkeys can stay at home while we share our Freedom Fries with people who can speak English, for heaven’s sake. This implies something very big about Cold War II.

Blinken and Nod never miss a chance to take a running whack at the Russians, and there is no reason to think they will desist now that their attention is fully turned to China.

There have nonetheless been signs that the Biden administration, whoever may be running it, is losing interest in the Russian menace theme. Biden recently caved on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. He more recently palmed off Volodymyr Zelensky when the Ukrainian leader came asking for the U.S. to back its campaign to join NATO. All for it, Nod replied in so many words. Can’t imagine when, though. Now we love ya but g’won, get outta here.

It is said that Emmanuel Macron, core Europe’s most outspoken advocate for greater autonomy and independence from the U.S., is now going to run many miles with last week’s contractual breach and diplomatic betrayal. This may be so. And I hope it is.  

Go for it, Manny.

The Other Half of the Story

Jean-Yves Le Drian, second from left, and Emmanuel Macron, second from right, in 2015. (Jérémy Barande, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

But that’s only half the story, in my read. It looks to me as if the U.S. may now be willing to cut the Continent loose. Just as there was reluctance during Cold War I to continue on with the East–West binary, the incessant anti­–Sov noise and the frightening brinkmanship, the Europeans now — the French, the Germans, the Italians, each in their way — are ambivalent at the very least to sign on for a long run of the same with China. 

We have, then, the promise — and let us count it a positive prospect — of true progress toward a more independent Europe, which would do Europeans and the rest of us a power of good. At the same time, we have a hard core of hawks who will wage Cold War II with no mitigating, reasonable voice among them. I count this a source of heightened danger. Neither of Washington’s allies in this new tripartite deal displays any givenness to applying the brakes as the American imperium proceeds on its desperate way.

The Australians have been unembarrassed vassals since its governor-general collaborated with the CIA and Buckingham Palace to depose the right-thinking Gough Whitlam as prime minister in 1975. On the China question they lost their minds some while back, shooting themselves in the foot in the name of sheer denial every chance they get.

As to the Brits, PM Johnson seems to entertain some fantasy of “Global Britain,” with its very own pivot to Asia. Like the Aussies, this is simply a dressed-up way of confirming the U.K. will continue holding onto America’s coattails.

No wonder Jean–Yves Le Drian had such wonderfully honest words for perfidious Albion when he explained the other day why Paris hasn’t recalled its ambassador to the Court of St. James. “Britain is a minion not worth our attention,” the French foreign minister said. “Recalling our ambassador to London was not necessary because we already know that the British government is in a logic of permanent opportunism.”

There are times when even those who don’t like the French have to like the French.

The submarines and carrier groups, the extravagantly equipped bases, the bombers and the endless joint exercises associated with Cold War II will come at a heavy cost at home. Our schools will continue to fall apart along with our roads, bridges and transportation networks. There will be no proper health care system. Corporate exploitation will worsen and the liberals among us will insist all will be well tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Propaganda will all but smother us. All this is already evident. But the fight for relief just got tougher.    

Those able to recall Cold War I will understand that there is also a great psychological cost to waging these imperial campaigns. This saddens me as much as anything else. Cold War II, like the first, is likely to warp American minds in the same way. It will render an inability to see the world as it is, it will narrow the intellectual range, everything will be Manichean once again. It will render Americans lonely strangers among others.

These are not lethal consequences in the way a war with China, which just got a lot more real, would be lethal. But Cold War II will kill our spirits, or nearly, until enough people are prepared to shake off the torpor, stand up, and say, “No more.”

In this connection I venture a prediction. When enough people begin to resist the madness and we begin to get somewhere, Cold War II will turn out to be the American empire’s last stand.

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.

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19 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Empire’s Last Stand

  1. Gregory C Herman
    September 22, 2021 at 08:47

    The Cold War I is not hopelessly blurred. Please read THE BROTHERS by Stephen Kinzer. He clarifies the USA role precisely.

  2. James
    September 21, 2021 at 18:23

    Whether it be the US, Britain, France or Australia it need not matter. What matters is that these are countries engaged in promoting warfare around the globe. I detest all of them and others who create havoc and misery on Mother Earth and its people.

  3. Farthington
    September 21, 2021 at 17:45

    Certainly the intervention entrenched the newly-created mould, but I suspect that the Cold War started in the Korean peninsula. The US was supporting the unsupportable tyrant Rhee, linked to the US-supported unsupportable Chiang. The US did not want to leave the Koreans to sort out their own destiny (as with the French in Vietnam).
    Am reading I F Stone’s The Hidden History of the Korean War the moment. Foster Dulles and MacArthur twin forces of evil.
    It’s a difficult book to obtain – deserves reprinting.

  4. Henry Steen
    September 21, 2021 at 14:36

    I think of this as Cold War III. Nixon and Kissinger briefly called off CWI for a few years in the 1970’s with Detente. Reagan started CWII in the 1980’s with a little help from people like the “Committee of the Clear and Present Danger”.

  5. Tony Kevin
    September 21, 2021 at 13:56

    Elegantly written and true, thank you Patrick. You have Australia summed up well , sadly . “Unembarrassed vassals.” . I agree with your prognoses. I hope we will see European rapprochement with China and Russia who mean them no harm . At the moment my country Australia is beyond saving . I hope NZ will stand firm in staying out of this warmongering nonsense . Regards , Tony Kevin

  6. Rob
    September 21, 2021 at 13:00

    It is abundantly clear that the U.S. Empire is in a steady and rapid decline. This is in contrast to Cold War I, when it was the ascendant power in the world–politically, economically and militarily. Today, the U.S. military is incapable of defeating insurgent fighters in impoverished countries, and its weapons development progams have fallen far behind Russia’s. The U.S. domestic economy is deteriorating, though the very rich prosper, and its political leaders are a collection of dunces who have become international laughing stocks. The triumvirate of AUKUS will not frighten China and the Eurasian alliance that it is assembling. And let’s be honest here, the UK and Australia are mere tagalongs in this project (though AU will provide a nuclear submarine base for the U.S. to utilize).

    My only fear is that a failing and flailing empire is capable of rash actions that can have horrific consequences. Hopefully, there will be at least a few calm, rational heads pulling hard on the reins to avert catastrophe.

    • September 22, 2021 at 10:11

      I hope your last statement comes true but history says otherwise.

  7. Guy
    September 21, 2021 at 12:37

    I have to agree with Patrick Lawrence ,because I am old enough to fully remember cold war I .Unless it is all bluster ,the US establishment is literally shooting it’s self in the foot this time . And no there will not be WWIII even if the generals ask for it because
    it would be suicide on a planetary scale .

  8. bobo rebozo
    September 21, 2021 at 11:13

    I thought I had a good grasp on the ramifications of the AUKUS/submarine deal from reading other articles and almost didn’t bother with this one. So very glad I did though. Mr. Lawrence’s far-reaching analysis really broadened my understanding, especially regarding the French. Didn’t know the story about the French ambassador in London — hilariously devastating!

  9. Frank Lambert
    September 21, 2021 at 10:54

    Thank you, Patrick Lawrence, for an excellent, excellent, essay, more than an article, on past and present “activities” by Uncle Sam in initiating the first “Cold War” and now, pressuring other nations to join us in starting “Cold War 11.” I don’t know if the American people will ever understand what has happened, at least since 1945, in our name, and the harm the US has caused on this planet ever since.

    When we have delusional generals and admirals in the Pentagon, along with Republican and Democrats in political office believing we can fight a “limited” nuclear war with Russia and China and win, it’s very scary!

  10. Nathan Mulcahy
    September 21, 2021 at 09:50

    How many people realize that the table is turned in this Cold War 2?

    Back then, one country was ruled by inept septuagenarians and octogenarians, was morally and economically bankrupt, and whose citizens were demoralized and pessimistic about their and their country’s future. It’s international reputation was in tatters. It’s media were controlled and its citizens under an iron grip of propaganda. That was USSR. Today it is USA.

    Back then the other country was at the height of its economic performance, its people full of vigor and optimism. That country was USA. Today it is China.

    Which country won Cold War 1? Which country do you think will win Cold War 2?

  11. rosemerry
    September 21, 2021 at 09:24

    The West, and especially the USA, have the constant fear and/or pretence that they are under attack. Never is the response (eg increasing weapon-building as defence by China and Russia) considered a normal reaction to the aggression which always comes from the USA.
    Surely a population well-fed, protected, with education,housing and healthcare provided for all without excessive stress/debt, would defend a country much better than massive arms buildup and threats to others. The US method is exactly what Vandenburg called it, and too many people, including the MSM, follow it. What a future!

    The SCO has just had its meeting. How many of you have read about it in the Western Press?????
    Check Alexander Mercouris online 19 September 2021 “A Debacle Hatched by amateurs” plus the day after!!!!

  12. Zhu
    September 21, 2021 at 07:07

    What will happen to Chinese Americans? Other Asians? Legal disabilities of various kinds? Internment, as with Japanese Americans in the 1940s?

  13. Zhu
    September 21, 2021 at 07:05

    Who will pay for Cold War II? Not the people with the money, the 1%. The rest don’t have enough money to be taxed enough. Since George II, we’ve funded our wars with borrowing, but will world lenders want to keep giving their money to the declining USA?

  14. susan mullen
    September 21, 2021 at 01:53

    You kindly mentioned Truman in your opening sentence. In 1946 Truman invited Churchill (who was then between jobs) to speak on March 5, 1946 in the US. Churchill fawned over Truman who in 1945 had dropped two nuclear bombs on Japanese civilians. Churchill said it was so great that US and UK shared nuclear secrets instead of other countries, because US and UK were for world peace. Churchill then said the world would be led by its English speaking peoples, suggesting that US and UK were so close that “common citizenship” might one day result: “Eventually there may come-–I feel eventually there will come–the principle of common citizenship, but that we may be content to leave to destiny, whose outstretched arm many of us can already clearly see.” This would be fine with the entire US political class who already view us as slaves to be farmed out. This 3/5/1946 speech of Churchill’s would later be known as his “iron curtain speech.”

  15. Jeff Harrison
    September 21, 2021 at 01:40

    Well, Patrick, you make a persuasive argument however comma I don’t think you are entirely correct. You’re doing fine until you get to the denouement/consequence. The US will lose CWII. We will not lose it in some stupid move of arrogance in either the South China Sea or in Russia’s frigid Arctic Sea (although that’s not impossible by any means). We will lose it in the world’s capital markets. The US currently has a sovereign debt of $28+T and an income on the order of $22T. That’s a debt to income of 127%. The IMF thinks the percentage is 109%. It makes little difference who’s right. Both numbers are unsustainable debt ratios. But wait! There’s more. The US is about to spend Trillions (the only real question is how many Trillions) more on infrastructure and whatnot and the military who obviously needs another $24B now that they no longer have to operate in Afghanistan. Where are we going to get that money? Right now the Fed is buying the US government’s debt. That’s the only way that we keep inflation somewhat under control. At some point we will have to go to the capital markets to borrow to pay the debt. We ain’t gonna get that money at a half point. To make matters worse, we are up against the debt ceiling. I realize this is an own goal sort of thing but The Turtle isn’t concerned. He’s saying the Democrats have everything they need to do it without the Republicans. Mebbe so but if the US defaults (which no one expects. No one expected WWI either) the people of the US will not understand the financial firestorm of suddenly having a currency that isn’t as good as gold. I don’t think that starting CWII was a real bright idea. It could cost us the crown of being the world’s reserve currency as well as the medium of financial transactions.

    • Rob
      September 22, 2021 at 11:24

      One of the main sources of U.S. dominance has been the dollar hegemony that results from the dollar being the reserve currency of the world. Virtually all international transactions are cleared in US dollars. It is hard to overstate how much economic leverage dollar supremacy has given the United States. But those days are coming to an end, as other nations are creating ways to trade amongst themselves in non-dollar currencies. Once the dollar becomes less essential in world trade, its value will fall. Ironically, that will make it cheaper for the U.S. to pay off its foreign debts. And let us not forget that the Treasury can create as many dollars as it pleases. The only risk, of course, is domestic inflation, but dire predictions of inflation in the U.S. have been consistently wrong for more than two decades, despite massive expansion of the money supply. As the saying goes: It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

  16. dave
    September 20, 2021 at 23:09

    I think the US may have bitten off more than it can chew here.

    The first cold war was against a Soviet Union that had been devastated by WWII at a time when the US was at the height of its power.

    Not so with China today. Depending on how you measure it, China’s economy is comparable or even bigger than the US’s, and is growing faster, while the US is in a period of relative economic stagnation or even decline.

    China may not yet have a comparable mililtary, but the US didn’t have much of a military at the beginning of WWII either. Ask Japan how that turned out.

    Add to that the fact nearly every consumer product in the typical American household is made in China. How many days will it take for American society to collapse once the shelves at Wal-Mart are empty?

    (And too bad about the falling out with France. I’ll miss the “FUKUS” acronym!)

    • Piotr Berman
      September 21, 2021 at 12:49

      Several years ago I almost fell off my chair when I read one American journalist quipping “Would you like to use a Russian toaster”? Perhaps there exist American toasters, some custom-made designs for the rich? I know that such designs exist in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, but they are 50-70 years old, a person from 99.9% cannot find them. Now all toasters seem to be exactly identical inside (the design is a bit idiotic*, but no choice there), and made in China. Still, in Walmart, Amazon etc. we have a wealth of products from Vietnam, Bangladesh etc. and even USA (like matches and candles).
      Idiocy of toasters: if you toast something like sliced bagels, frequently a piece would fall onto to bottom, and then it takes a lot of efforts and dexterity to pull it out. When I was a lad, one could open the toaster from underneath to clean it easily. That would add 10 c to the production cost, I presume… Globalization may be bad for quality and consumer choice because of such considerations.

      But the reality is that at this moment, would there be a full trade war with China, toasted bread addicts could be in trouble — and many other people as well. We would return to some earlier, simpler ways of life…

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