PATRICK LAWRENCE: Breaking Bread with Authoritarians

In his way, India’s prime minister is as bad as some of the old Latin American dictators who got plenty of American support but never an evening meal — and certainly no cardamon-flavored strawberry shortcake for dessert.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with U.S. President Joe Biden at the G20 in November 2022 in Bali. (White House/Adam Schultz)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

“For the first time in recent history, the White House is hosting a state dinner that’s entirely plant-based: no meat, no dairy and no eggs,” the reliably supercilious NPR reported as it curtain-raised the Biden White House’s state dinner for Narendra Modi last Thursday.

The Indian prime minister, our corporate-sponsored national radio broadcaster explained, is a strict vegetarian. The headline on this shattering piece of reportage was, “For Modi’s state dinner, the White House is elevating the mushroom.”

This is big, to state the obvious.

“While there are no specifically Indian dishes on the menu, many Indian spices and flavors are incorporated into the courses,” NPR’s Deepa Shivaram wasted our time informing us. “The first course includes a salad made with marinated millet, grilled corn, and compressed watermelon with an avocado sauce. The main course is a stuffed portobello mushroom with a creamy saffron-infused risotto.”

A vegetarian menu at the White House for a brown-skinned man who favors long kurta shirts, white churidaar trousers, and sleeveless Nehru jackets: Is this the ultimate in liberal inclusivity or what?

The New York Times, The Washington Post, the television networks: They were all told to run similarly frivolous stories celebrating this summit of “the world’s two largest democracies,” as the tiresomely empty cliché has it, and run them more or less identically they did.

You can always count on corporate media correspondents to lose themselves in the tinny glitter of these sorts of occasions. It makes them feel passingly part of the ruling elite, different from you and me.

As it happens, inclusivity is precisely the problem — and it is indeed big — with Modi’s four-day visit to Washington. In my estimation Modi is the worst prime minister in independent India’s 76–year history — vicious against his political opponents and the press, a man dedicated to a radical Hindu-chauvinist ideology inspired by Mussolini’s Black Shirts, a man who tacitly licensed the murderers of at least 800 Muslims in a three-day spree of communal violence when he was chief minister of Gujarat 21 years ago.

In his way Modi is as bad as some of the old Latin American dictators, who got plenty of American support but never an evening meal—and certainly no cardamon-flavored strawberry shortcake for dessert. What in hell was this man doing in the White House last week? What was he doing on American soil, indeed, given he was barred from entry for years after the Gujarat riots?

We should spend a little time considering these questions. They are important if we are to understand the hypocrisy and stupidity — separate but related attributes — of those who conduct American foreign policy in this, our late-imperial phase.

‘Diversity, Equity & Inclusion’

U.S. Department of State raises the Progress Flag for Pride Month, June 2021. (State Department/ James Pan)

Antony Blinken was extremely stupid to elevate diversity, equity, and inclusion, DEI as we’re saying now, to a principle of American diplomacy when he was named the Biden regime’s secretary of state.

All kinds of problems have resulted, all of them to do with the resentment prompted by the presumption to tell others how to run their countries and live their lives. Wilsonian universalism may change shape, but it will die, it seems, only when the imperium does.

DEI is but an adjunct of the Biden regime’s larger error. This is the president’s insistence that the world is divided between democrats and authoritarians and defending democracy is “the defining challenge of our time.” This is what you get from a provincial pol who spent his career rolling logs on Capitol Hill and selling snake oil out in the provinces and who should never have got within 100 miles of a position entailing executive responsibilities.

The democracy-vs.-authoritarianism binary had the neatness of the Cold War divide — its principal attraction — but was a bust from the first. Little to nothing fits into it: It does not work in the Middle East, it does not work in Latin America, and it certainly does not work in South Asia.

Joe Biden just had one of the world’s nastiest authoritarians to dinner — and then had the nerve to serve the cardamon-infused strawberry shortcake, which is the part that truly, as it were, sticks in my throat.

Pretzel Logic  

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaking to reporters in August 2021. (White House/ Erin Scott)

It has been wonderful to watch the regime and the press that serves it twist themselves into pretzels as they have sought to explain away this contradiction. Here is Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, writhing on the hook last week with a few reporters, one of whom was Peter Baker of The New York Times:

“From our perspective, it has never been as simple as drawing up jerseys. It has always been about seeing those long-term trends and trying to point those trends in the right direction and then being prepared to have a more sophisticated approach to how we build relationships with a range of different countries.”

I wish the French would make up a word just for this guy: Sullivan is a master bullshitier in our household. It has always been about issuing jerseys, hats and such like, always in black and white.

Pointing trends in the right direction? A more sophisticated approach to building relationships? Never heard of any of it before Biden and his people had to explain Modi’s presence in Washington last week. In an earlier version of Baker’s piece Sullivan spoke indelicately of “bending the arc” of Indian policy — a thought the Times stealth-edited out of versions available now, probably at the White House’s direction.

On the eve of Modi’s arrival, the White House press corps took daringly to predicting that Biden would avoid mention of the democrats-vs.-authoritarians theme while entertaining the besmirched Indian PM. How could he?

What we witnessed last week was the implosion of the entire construct. I have a hard time imagining how Biden and his people can ever again bring it up, although they are full of surprises of the cheekiest kind.

There is no ambiguity as to Modi’s record. You cannot put his performance down to “backsliding on democracy,” as mainstream media put it.

The massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, and Modi’s role in condoning it, were excellently documented in a seven-part takeout published in Tehelka, a professionally distinguished weekly journal, five years after the events and after lengthy investigation.

Since he was elected prime minister in 2014, he has simply gone national with his Islamophobia. To its credit, the Times ran a very fine opinion piece last week in which Maya Jasanoff, the Harvard historian, addressed Modi’s record and related questions.

I once had lunch in Bangalore with Ramachandra Guha, the distinguished historian. We were talking about India’s exceptional diversity, which I have long counted its single most admirable feature. Guha pulled out a 100–rupee note and told me to count the languages on it. There were 17. “We’re going to lose this,” he said ruefully.

Ramachandra Guha in 2010. (Pushkarv, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

This is what I find most unforgivable about Modi and his kind. They are erasing the best India has to give the world in the name of the ideology known as Hindutva, an abominable stew of xenophobic fanaticism born of an insecurity as to Hindu identity that has its roots among ideologues active in the 1920s.

These people — V.D. Savarkar and Dayananda Sarawati are prominent among the godfathers — argued that the Indian nation to come must be a Hindu nation, with Muslims erased from the story.

The organization formed at the time, the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh, learned from the European Fascists how to get things done. The RSS is still active — was, indeed, a key element in the Gujarat killings. The Hindutva Savarkar and Sarawati theorized a century ago is the Hindutva to which Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, subscribe.

Please pass the DEI, Secretary Blinken. My cup is empty.

Cornering Themselves 

Biden and his people painted themselves into a corner with their carrying on about democracy and authoritarians and “values” altogether. You have to be pretty stupid to fashion a foreign policy this useless. From here on out we will watch them try to get out of it.

But there is another kind of stupid at work among the Biden folk. This is the stupid of not understanding Indian history and altogether what makes India India.

“We expect this will be a historic visit,” Jake Sullivan told Baker and the other reporters he met pre–Modi last week. Sullivan promised agreements in “significant number” covering arms sales, high technology, semiconductors and so on. “This, really, from my perspective, will be one of the defining partnerships of our age,” Sullivan told the assembled stenographers.

The core thought behind the Modi invitation was to nurse New Delhi into joining the West in condemning Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and to draw it into the U.S.–led effort to encircle China. In other words, to recruit India into Cold War II.

Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a press conference in Russia in 2019. (Kremlin, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0)

This, really, from my perspective, is foolishness of a kind one rarely comes across in the foreign policy scene. It is either ahistorical or Sullivan and his colleagues are simply indifferent to history’s realities.

Nonalignment in global affairs, from Nehru’s day to ours, is a semi-sacred principle without which India would simply not be India. It is intrinsic to the Indian consciousness. This is never going to change.

All that Sullivan named — chips, arms, whatever else — are as baubles New Delhi will be pleased to accept but which will not in the slightest alter India’s global posture. They will cancel out not one tech contract India has with China, not one arms agreement between New Delhi and Moscow.

During Cold War I Washington couldn’t abide Tito, Sukarno, or any of the other leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement for the simple reason Washington cannot abide the principle of nonalignment.

American officials — Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles and the others — broke their picks trying to turn these people. It is the same now with Modi, although I strongly dislike putting Narendra Modi in the same paragraph as the just-named giants of an earlier era.

Cardamon-infused strawberry shortcake? Flowers of green and saffron yellow —the colors of the Indian flag — at each table? Green and saffron drapes? Green and saffron in the Rose Garden? I have to be honest. This occasion was so vulgarly overdone, so o.t.t., that it seems to me a touch racist: Let’s snow this brown-skinned guy with a lot of showy nonsense, Biden’s protocol people seemed to conclude. It costs nothing and will make him feel important at the very heart of the imperium, and he will therefore be inclined to do as we say.

I’m not waiting for it. I’m not waiting for some kind of “defining partnership” or for much of anything else to come of the Modi visit to Washington.

We have a couple of insights into the futility and misdirection of Biden’s foreign policy, and this is better’n nothing. Chief among these is that the global principles Biden and his policy people espouse are all revealed as fraudulent now, and that these people simply cannot see the world as it is — one gets the impression because they would not know what to do if they did.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, lecturer and author, most recently of  Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His new book Journalists and Their Shadows, is forthcoming from Clarity Press. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site.  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: Breaking Bread with Authoritarians

  1. vinnieoh
    June 28, 2023 at 10:27

    A well-deserved takedown of the supercilious coverage of the Modi dog and pony show.

    Without any pundit’s take on this farce, it was apparent to me that what was occurring was a cartoon whitewash of a purely “transactional” endeavor, and all the window dressing was merely an attempt to put lipstick on that pig.

    The US elite are becoming increasingly desperate, and the Biden crew have now shed all their clothing and are running around nakedly trying to find “friends.”

  2. Hans
    June 28, 2023 at 06:41

    Kamala-speak ““From our perspective, it has never been as simple as drawing up jerseys. It has always been about seeing those long-term trends and trying to point those trends in the right direction and then being prepared to have a more sophisticated approach to how we build relationships with a range of different countries.”

  3. RWood
    June 28, 2023 at 00:34

    Another take on the scene: Arundhati Roy at Alternative Radio: hxxps://

  4. Antiwar7
    June 27, 2023 at 18:09

    Hate to say this, but to their “credit”, Sullivan et al. probably think they can call any state “democratic” if they can get away with it in Ukraine and Israel.

  5. bardamu
    June 27, 2023 at 15:21

    Let us acknowledge the depth of the hypocrisy here and hopefully draw nothing from the acidity of Lawrence’s description. Oh, yes, this is certainly all that bad, and it would be a mistake to not appreciate Lawrence’s articulate and effective work here.

    Still, in all such articles and observations, I must wonder when we get to the point where we criticize Modi for being so horrid as to sup strawberry cake with so vile an authoritarian as Joe Biden, rather than the reverse. I am ready to accept that Modi is “as bad as many South American dictators.” I am not so willing to set aside the implicit comparison with Biden.

    To assume this, we need some accounting–we need a blow-by-blow. How many deaths have already attended our known Biden crimes–done in conjunction with others, surely, but so are the crimes of other authoritarian politicians:

    * The explosion of the Nordstream pipeline?
    * The ’14 Maiden coup?
    * The Ukraine war, even if only from the peace accord that was spoiled forward?
    * The Biden-complicit US invasions from 2000 forward?
    * How authoritarian were the thefts of the Democratic primaries in 15-16 and in 2020?
    * How authoritarian is the Patriot Act that Biden partly authored?

    This is hardly exhaustive. It does not even touch half of Biden’s career, nor investigations of how he got this or that foreign or domestic bribe.

    I do not mean to suggest that Lawrence intends to paint Biden as better than Modi or Tito or Sukarno or Pinochet. But if not, let’s avoid the idea that Biden ennobles Modi or Moloch by meeting with him. The US never snubbed “their sons of bitches” for principle or ethics, always for status. The status is just falling; that’s all. Let Modi tell him “You know, Joe, what your boys are doing in Ukraine up there, that’s not really doing any of us any good.” It’s likelier to happen that way than in the reverse.

  6. Robert Emmett
    June 27, 2023 at 14:42

    With its clique of claque reportage, imagine the go NPR could have had at the Biden team’s ouvre of painting itself into corners. Could have been a multi-media, multi-part series.

  7. June 27, 2023 at 14:39

    Mr. Lawrence consistently gets it right and almost always at a deep level. A very rare set these days. Thank you!

  8. incontinent reader
    June 27, 2023 at 12:06

    Patrick- You hit another home run today.

  9. Nina Felshin
    June 27, 2023 at 11:38

    DeMOCKracy at Work: Biden & Co.

  10. Dienne
    June 27, 2023 at 11:25

    Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are all very good things in and of themselves – we should, in fact, strive for that. The problem is with the Dem’s cynical (and fake) approach thereto which simply involves finding any willing participant with a vagina, dark skin and/or a member of the LGBTQ community to push its agenda which is, in fact, most harmful to people who could most benefit from actual diversity, equity and inclusion.

    • Susan Siens
      June 27, 2023 at 14:27

      Those words — which sound good — are now nothing but filth. They are tricks employed by the ruling class to divert attention from their domination and exploitation of everything. We do not need their version of DIE and we do need to see through their bullshit.

  11. Piotr Berman
    June 27, 2023 at 09:28

    “Nonalignment in global affairs, from Nehru’s day to ours, is a semi-sacred principle without which India would simply not be India. It is intrinsic to the Indian consciousness. This is never going to change.”

    Nonalignment is also good for Indian economy that affects both the elite and the rest: the pie is larger when you can buy, sell and eneter development projects without constraints of “rule based order”, unless you are slammed with sanctions. But sanctioning the largest countries in each region, India the giant in non-sanctioned Asia, Brazil, South Africa, now KSA too, and Egypt, Turkey makes the West an isolated island.

    Now India has a choice of being one of the poles in multi-polar world, or reduce her independence like Japan or South Korea. I do not see any party or a coalition in India that would launch political campaign to opt for the latter.

  12. Boba
    June 27, 2023 at 09:20

    Mr Lawrence, great, great article. So truthful , honest and powerful. And , bearing in mind that I am from former Yugoslavia, I am very pleased and proud that you have mentioned Tito, like a géant of the nonalignment ,because he really was spiritus muvens of that mouvement.

    • June 27, 2023 at 12:18

      Most welcome. That period, the “independence era,” the era of nonalignment, the time of larger-than-life figures such as those I named, has long been a fascination o mine. We know nothing of their kind now, Mandela and Havel among the few exceptions.
      Stay with us.
      And thnks to all others commenting, esp my friend Tom G, to whom I owe a phone call for so long I’m lucky there are no interest charges.

      • Susan Siens
        June 27, 2023 at 14:29

        Yes, many thanks for mentioning the nonaligned movement, something I fear few people today even know about!

    • Frank Lambert
      June 27, 2023 at 17:19

      Boba, I’m glad Patrick mentioned Tito too, as he bring the various ethnic groups of Yugoslavia together as one nation even though the Croatians and Slovenians looked down at the Serbians and the others which “broke away” with American and the flunky nations of NATO’s blessings, and then Slick Willy Clinton, British war-monger and faux “christian” (small “C”) Tony Blair and several NATO countries like Germany bombed the hell out of Serbia and broke up that once unified country.

      Tito, as you know, was a Croat but fought against the Axis powers during the Second World War1 even though Croatia supported the Nazis and had their version of the Waffen SS, the Ustazi, which murdered about 800,000 Serbians, Jews and gypsies, or Roma, as they are called in Europe. At war’s end, he told Stalin there were not going to be any Soviet troops stationed in Yugoslavia and they weren’t.

      I remember reading about attempts by the Yugoslav government trying to extradite Artokuvich, a multi-millionaire contractor in the San Pedro area of Los Angeles County, Ca. as a war criminal but his lawyers kept him safe in the U.S.

      Then, after Tito’s passing, the decadent West began a well-thought out plan of demonizing Milosevich as the “new Hitler” and the ethnic cleaning scam. You know the rest.

      But getting back to P.L.’s narrative about the D. C. visit, I stand pat on what Patrick said about Modi. Yep, he’s a despicable man who was re-elected too! Author Thomas Franks was correct when he said most people vote against their best interests.

  13. June 27, 2023 at 07:24

    Alexander Mercouris quite literally chuckled on The Duran as he pointed out that Washington handed Modi everything he wanted without Modi having to offer anything in return. He played them for the fools they are.

    Patrick certainly nails the entire hypocrisy of autocratic outrage. No rainbow colors at this state dinner. Indian colors only, please!

    • Vincent Berg
      June 27, 2023 at 10:06

      From the standpoint of The Empire, the color will come when they decide to knock him off (figuratively or physically) his democrat pedestal for a more a compliant replacement.

  14. June 27, 2023 at 04:04

    One wonders if, e.g., hitherto under-reported Indian efforts to militarize Agaléga in Mauritius at the expense of local sovereignty, will end up suddenly meriting the same degree of extensive Western media coverage lavished on China’s seemingly comparable activities in the Solomon Islands or disputed archipelagos such as the Spratlys should India fail to make itself sufficiently pliable to the priorities of the Beltway policy community within the coming months or years. Regardless, so long as we are discussing Indo-Pacific imbroglios in the ignominious tradition of Thucydides’s Melian Dialogue, it remains rather unlikely that US/UK military colonization of Diego Garcia to the detriment of its erstwhile Chagossian inhabitants is especially likely to receive any significant increase in mainstream attention.

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