Patrick Lawrence: What Is Said & What Is Done

U.S. Foreign Policy as Spectacle.

U.S. President Joe Biden visiting Israel in 2022 (David Azagury, U.S. Embassy Jerusalem,        CC BY 2.0)

By Patrick Lawrence

Those Israelis: They are too honest sometimes, aren’t they? It is damnably inconvenient when they explain in perfectly plain terms that the Israel Defense Forces’ intent in Gaza is to ethnic-cleanse the territory of Palestinians, or that they think Palestinians — invoking the language of the Reich — are subhuman animals who ought to be slaughtered, or that the IDF’s brutality, referencing the violently forced removals of 1948, is meant to be Nakba 2.

You can’t, after all, go around saying what you mean if you want to work with the Americans, whose leadership cliques long ago took up the practice of obscuring what they mean and what they are doing. If these people are going to run an imperium their own citizens are not supposed to see, the last thing required is clarity.

Senior Israeli officials have made this mistake repeatedly since the Hamas incursion into southern Israel three months ago prompted the barbarity we now witness daily. As has been well reported, they made it again this week, when two of them came out and said the Gaza project is indeed an ethnic cleansing, the objective of which is to scatter the Gaza Strip’s 2 million–plus people to the winds.

Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, national security minister and finance minister respectively, are senior figures in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s freak-show coalition government. Here is some of what they said when addressing their far-far-far right parties on New Year’s Day. Ben-Gvir: 

“The war presents an opportunity to concentrate on encouraging the migration of the residents of Gaza…. [This is] a correct, just, moral, and humane solution. We cannot withdraw from any territory we are in in the Gaza Strip. Not only do I not rule out Jewish settlement there, I believe it is also an important thing ….”

And from Smotrich the same day:

“The correct solution [is] to encourage the voluntary migration of Gaza’s residents to countries that will agree to take in the refugees…. Israel will permanently control the territory of the Gaza Strip, including through the establishment of settlements.”

“Encouraging migration” and “voluntary migration” are preposterous phrases under the circumstances, the sort of language, say, Secretary of State Antony Blinken would favor under different circumstances. In this case these and other such phrases seem to have made matters only worse given the instant outrage.

The two officials were describing an ethnic-cleansing operation comparable, indeed, with al–Nakba — a point not lost on the American secretary of state.  Here is the statement issued by the State Department Jan. 2, the day after Ben-Gvir and Smotrich spoke. It is brief and I will quote it in full:

“The United States rejects recent statements from Israeli Ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir advocating for the resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza. This rhetoric is inflammatory and irresponsible. We have been told repeatedly and consistently by the Government of Israel, including by the Prime Minister, that such statements do not reflect the policy of the Israeli government. They should stop immediately.

We have been clear, consistent, and unequivocal that Gaza is Palestinian land and will remain Palestinian land, with Hamas no longer in control of its future and with no terror groups able to threaten Israel. That is the future we seek, in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, the surrounding region, and the world.”

We do not like inflammatory rhetoric, Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t either, it is Gaza for Palestinians when this slaughter is over: This is the gist of the State Department response.

The second of the above summaries is patently untrue, given Netanyahu has said things in line with the most racist of his ministers on numerous occasions. Israel is, indeed, reportedly negotiating resettlement agreements with several nations. 

[The Egyptian and Jordanian leaders reiterated on Wednesday their firm opposition to the expulsion of Gazans into their countries.]

As to the thought that Gaza “will remain Palestinian land,” it is cruelly nonsensical at this point.

We are left with, “The United States rejects recent statements” and, “They should stop immediately.” The significance here lies in what is not said.

As the Biden regime continues to fund and supply Israel’s criminal conduct in Gaza, as it refuses even to call for a ceasefire (which 79 percent of the U.N. General Assembly recently endorsed), the State Department’s primary concern, we have to conclude, is with presentation.

Keep doing what you are doing but stop talking so plainly about what you are doing: Is there another way to read State’s official response next to actual policy, text and subtext?

Ben-Gvir, at left, and Netanyahu, center, at a ceremony with Border Guard soldiers, March 2023. (Israel Police, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tony “Guardrails” Blinken is now on his fourth journey to the Middle East and its surround since hostilities between Israel and Hamas broke out Oct 7. In Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and, of course, Israel, Blinken will attempt to get the Israelis to improve the aesthetics of its attacks and to keep the war-that-is-not-a-war from igniting a regional conflict.

He will face “tough issues” and “difficult choices,” according to Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesman who signed the Jan. 2 statement. But he, Blinken, will not announce any shift in U.S. policy.

That will remain as it is. “Nothing will fundamentally change,” to borrow Joe Biden’s assurance to Wall Street during his 2020 campaign. America supports the Israelis as they ethnic-cleanse the Gaza Strip, but it wants a better presentation out of the Israelis and it wants others to accept this presentation quiescently.

For all we know — considering Blinken’s itinerary — he could be assisting in resettlement negotiations between Israel and other nations. [Israel says it’s in talks with Congo and other nations about resettling Gazans.]

Smotrich celebrating election victory in March 2021. (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Six months into the Biden regime’s proxy war in Ukraine, by which time things were already going other than brilliantly for the Kyiv regime, those paying attention began to notice the widening discrepancies between the war as it was presented in Washington and in corporate media and the war as it actually was so far as one could make out by way of the reports of independent journalists.

As 2022 drew to a close, I made this observation in a commentary for Consortium News headlined, “War as Presentation:” 

“It is open-and-shut evident at this point that we witness two wars as the Armed Forces of Ukraine face off with the Russian military. There is the presented war, the meta-war, you might say, and there is the waged war, the war taking place on the ground, nothing meta about it.”

True enough, there is a long history of official misrepresentations in times of war. But as the late and missed John Pilger remarked in a speech delivered just after the U.S.–cultivated coup in Kyiv in 2014:

“The information age is actually a media age. We have war by media; censorship by media; demonology by media; retribution by media; diversion by media — a surreal assembly line of obedient clichés and false assumptions.” 

Pilger nailed something important with these observations: Some qualitative difference in the way the world is presented to us, such that we cannot easily discern it, has been increasingly evident over the past decade or so.

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As I have thought about this weird condition at various times since reading Pilger’s speech, delivered at a California symposium, my mind has gone back repeatedly to none other than Guy Debord, whose The Society of the Spectacle, published a year before the 1968 événements in Paris, has proven since an enduring influence on a lot of people. 

[Related:Who Determines What’s ‘Disinformation’?]

Debord’s book was in essence a left-libertarian critique of consumer capitalism and the dreamlike state into which commodity fetishism leads us. He argued that late-stage capitalism had, already by the 1960s, turned people in the West into spectators and events into mere representations of reality — spectacle in his very useful term. Images were all, or nearly all:

“All that was once directly lived has become mere representation…. The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”

Debord’s concerns ran to art, culture, society, theory (and drinking, he was pleased enough to note in Panegyric, a brief book he wrote late in life). He seems to have had no mind for foreign policy or foreign affairs altogether — although he designed and published a war game with his wife, Alice Becker–Ho, in the 1980s.

Taking I hope not too much license, we find now that the theory of representation, of the spectacle, of the social and political centrality of image are very apt to those of us who follow international relations, war and, to get specific about it, late-imperial America.

Blinken, center right, with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv on Jan. 9. (State Department/ Chuck Kennedy)

Foreign policy as spectacle, as representation: I do not know fully the implications of this reality because I can hardly grasp its metaphysical aspect. America has a set of policies, which rest by and large on violence or the threat of it, on coercion, or on one or another form of bribery.

And then we have the presentation of American policy, which rests on its dedication to human rights, the self-determination of all peoples, its commitment to democracy, and so on. Read again the State Department response to the Israeli officials’ truth-telling statements of Israel’s intent in Gaza: This is what you are reading.

It is foreign policy as spectacle. Note the reference to “the international rules-based order”: This is the name Antony Blinken et al. put on their representation of American foreign policy. 

If Pilger announced a new era during which war is waged via information, we will see over time where this will lead us. Again, I am not yet certain about this.

But the space between policy and its representation will grow ever wider, it seems to me, leaving ordinary citizens less and less able to discern what America does in the world, or events altogether, with any kind of clarity.

The structure of the spectacle, as it increasingly obscures reality, will license the policy cliques to conduct America’s relations ever more objectionably. Of a piece with all this are the incessant intrusions into our minds in the name of “cognitive warfare,” which NATO, having coined the term, describes as “the battle for the human brain.”

[See: NATO’s Plans to Hack Your Brain]

A few days ago I edited a colleague’s piece on the famous commencement address President Kennedy delivered at American University on June 10, 1963.

I was shocked as I read again his remarks on world peace not as some angelic ideal but as an achievable reality, by his vigorous argument that a violent, divided, disorderly world is not so inevitable as was commonly thought at the Cold War’s midpoint.

Peruse the speech and see what you think: For me the true shock was the sheer reality of Kennedy’s thinking and his account of his thinking. There was no spectacle, no representation in it as I use this term.  

Kennedy, then with five months to live, said what he meant, and as you read the speech you are dead certain he meant what he said. How far those who purport to lead us have strayed, how pitiful their minds, how formidable the work of recovery when there will be a chance to begin it.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, lecturer and author, most recently of Journalists and Their Shadows, available from Clarity Press or via Amazon.  Other books include Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. 

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This article is from ScheerPost.

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

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15 comments for “Patrick Lawrence: What Is Said & What Is Done

  1. Doug Belknap
    January 12, 2024 at 11:27

    If Trump was a real problem they would get rid of him. He may have not known how the game is played when he took office but he knows now.

  2. Jeff Harrison
    January 11, 2024 at 23:47

    It will only work for so long.

  3. firstpersoninfinite
    January 11, 2024 at 23:36

    I went back and read the speech by JFK that Patrick Lawrence kindly posted. It is a remarkable speech, genuinely felt obviously, and a sincere valediction to the last chance for sanity in the world. But it was not lost upon me that the Soviet view of the US that Kennedy quotes about “seeking hegemony over the entire world,” turned out to be true, although Kennedy dismissed it at the time. Instead of a “collective soviet,” we got a “rules-based order.” Only someone with a PHD in Newspeak could discern the difference between what once was considered simply propaganda and the real truth as we now know it.

  4. Caliman
    January 11, 2024 at 14:50

    Foreign policy as spectacle is of course more of a necessity than ever in the age of public relations married to an invasive self-genuflecting polity. But it is by no means a new thing in the nation that was simultaneously the “land of the free” and the home of millions of enslaved men and women. False narratives in service of distracting the public have been a staple of this land since the beginning.

    Since the later 1800’s when the banking and manufacturing corporations took over the nation, the business of America becoming ever more clearly business, war and foreign policy simply became better and better reflections of that: seeking ever greater profits and power for the connected few. War, as Smedley Butler put it, was already a racket in the early 20th century and foreign policy became the pre-and afterbirth of the racket.

    The problem with Kennedy and the reason he had to be gotten rid of was because he didn’t realize the main job of the US president is to play the vital role of Entertainer-in-Chief, saying all the right things and building the narrative needed to be built while the various and sundry rackets around the world were developed and paid off. JFK actually thought he was president … Trump did too, until he found out different once in office.

  5. firstpersoninfinite
    January 11, 2024 at 14:04

    Excellent as usual, Patrick Lawrence. But let’s face it: the complicity of the US in Israel’s genocidal attack on the Palestinians relates exactly to the US attack on Afghanistan and Iraq (and multiple other nations) after 9/11. The people in charge of our policy know that unless Israel can get away with it, then they can’t get away with it – they meaning us. They would always be liable somewhere down the road. The cover-up is always worse than the original crime. In both cases, a previous foreign policy of dismantling governments, destroying indigenous populations, and taking resources preceded the acts which occurred first as retribution for those previous acts. I’m sure with the shared, neoliberal, materialistic view of the world which we ourselves share with our comrades across the globe, they will see only the right to take advantage of what is in front of them, not to mention supporting an ideological mindset every bit as stupid and obtuse as that explained in “The Fog of War.” Sometimes you have to destroy the world to save the village.

  6. Francis Lee
    January 11, 2024 at 11:31

    Moreover, Newspeak was the ideal instrument to cull the excessive complications of standard English. As Orwell put it: ”Each reduction of Newspeak was a gain since the smaller the area, the smaller the temptation to take thought. Ultimately it was made to look like articulate speech issue issuing from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all.”

    Yep Winston had a submerged tendency to keep his mouth off and keep mum in tricky situations, unlike comrade Syme. But he could not hold out forever.

    Syme, was a party intellectual, and skating on thin ice thought Winston, Syme had understood the intellectual party’s ideology, albeit in a rather crude manner. But he was not altogether correct in the Party’s standard worldview; Orwell had seemingly detected a weakness in Syme’s political armour. Intellectuals such as Syme were always liable to fall foul of party discipline.

    During the lunch period Syme button-hold Winston: ”There is a word in Newspeak, said Syme, I don’t know whether or not you know it is called: ”duckspeak” to quack like a duck. It is one of those interesting words that have two or more contrary meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is an abuse, applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.”

    Unquestionably, Syme will be vaporised, Winston thought again. He thought it with a kind of sadness, although well knowing that Syme would despise him and was fully capable of denouncing him to the thought police if he saw any reason to do so. There was something subtly wrong with Syme: something that he lacked: discretion, aloofness, a sort of saving stupidity … A faint air of disreputability always clung to him. He said things which were better unsaid, he had read too many books – he frequented the Chestnut Tree, the haunt of painters and musicians … ”

    History seems to be repeating itself.

  7. Drew Hunkins
    January 11, 2024 at 10:44

    4% of Gaza’s population is now injured or dead, a reprehensible figure that speaks to the level of depravity the Jewish supremacists in Israel will lower themselves to in order to ethnically cleanse Gaza because of their paranoid delusions, idiotic religious hubris, and land confiscation projects.

    That otherwise knowledgeable and intelligent American scribes, pundits, journalists, intellectuals, academics, and media talking heads remain silent or issue only lazy and weak criticisms against “both sides” is beyond the pale and speaks to a self-serving cowardice that knows no bounds.

    How do these sick monsters sleep at night? Yes, they’re getting paid handsomely to watch Palestinian children in crowded and filthy emergency rooms be operated on without anesthetic as surgeons cut into their young arms, legs, bellies, faces, and genitalia to repair gaping and ghastly wounds the Jew supremacists inflicted with U.S. supplied weapons, but isn’t there a limit to how debased even the most greedy and sociopathic fiend can drop to?

    • robert e williamson jr
      January 12, 2024 at 22:36

      Drew to error is human, unless I commit the error. If I do it is unforgivable, I deeply regret that I attributed the quote from Mr. Lawrence’s article to you.

      Here is hoping I convinced you to check out the Israeli Lobby Archive, my error hopefully will not convince you you need not investigate those archives.

      Thanks CN

  8. Drew Hunkins
    January 11, 2024 at 10:41

    “Peruse Kennedy’s speech and see what you think: For me the true shock was the sheer reality of Kennedy’s thinking and his account of his thinking. There was no spectacle, no representation in it as I use this term.
    Kennedy, then with five months to live, said what he meant, and as you read the speech you are dead certain he meant what he said.”

    Unfortunately if JFK were to deliver a similar speech today it’d raise the ire of the Zionists, the armaments manufacturers, and the militarist corporate media. He’d be smeared and relentlessly attacked. Suddenly all his dalliances with all those beautiful women would be popping up all over the media, he’d be accused of harassment, non-consensual relations, cavorting with the mafia. It’d be a real American sh’t show.

    • robert e williamson jr
      January 12, 2024 at 21:37

      Drew you write, ” Unfortunately if JFK were to deliver a similar speech today it’d raise the ire of the Zionist, the armaments manufacturers and the militarist corporate media. ” and so on.

      This leaves me to ask is there any particular reason for your thinking here, as you seem to imply, that the speech didn’t raise the hackles of members of these these groups including certain members of the various U.S. military organizations. How can you be so certain this speech isn’t what got him killed?

      In that last paragraph you expose some of your ignorance about how JFK has been treated since his death by ne’er-do-wells in their attempts to smear a dead president at every turn. In fact when one is informed by what on finds in the Israel Lobby Archives they come away with a much better understanding of, to quote you again, “sheer reality of Kennedy’s thinking . . . “. I am not so sure I have a good understanding of what you are trying to communicate here.

      I’ll repeat this for emphasis, JFK and RFK were pursuing investigations into AIPAC SEE:

      hXXps:// page down to the entry for October 27, 2008, the one titled “Secret DOJ Battle with AIPACs Parent Organization. About six articles earlier in black and white on the same left hand side of the page is a header from a declassified report by the Comptroller General of the United States . Just below that header in bright blue is a hot link that reads “GAO Finds Investigations of Israeli Weapons Grade Uranium Diversions Inadequate “.

      FYI. Just in case you are not aware of the current all out push to get to the bottom of the JFK murder by various organized groups reviewing all and any valid information about the incident, you might be very surprised by recent developments that are aiding in the search for the truth. Facts that reveal the indisputable truth that CIA and especially one Jesus James Angleton, the Head of CIA Counter Intelligence and his personal staff lied about their knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald.

      Zionists in our government, it is my absolute belief that most if not all of them hated every bone in JFK’s body. J.J. Angleton was said to the biggest Zionist of them all at CIA.

      As I see it currently the Dogdamned most unfortunate thing about this speech is that JFK never got a chance to present the speech again and his brother isn’t here to hear it.

      Now I have to temper my remarks here by telling you that I agree with almost 100% of your following comment on Jan 11, 2024 @ 10:44.

      The part that gives me heart burn is your inquiry about there being a, ” limit to how debased even the most greedy and sociopathic fiend can drop to?”

      Drew I have personal experience with sociopaths, they are a dime a dozen in today’s world, and my experience tells me that about the time you think you have seen it all you get taught another lesson. Most of the time they turn out not to be violet, but not always. One should never say never.

      Psychopaths are what we are talking about in Gaza, just as those from Hamas who attacked innocents, although they were highly motivated by their hatred if Israeli oppressors, so too are the IDF fighters and their rulers.

      In my view you lost your way here. Your last two sentences sort of say it all, “dalliances with all those beautiful women would be popping up all over the media, he’d be accused of harassment, non-consensual relations, cavorting with the mafia. It’d be a real American sh’t show.”

      You mean like right now, you know that shit show that has one Donnie J Trump as front man.

      But WTFE.

      Thanks CN

  9. Dfnslblty
    January 11, 2024 at 09:49

    >> Foreign policy as spectacle, as representation: I do not know fully the implications of this reality because I can hardly grasp its metaphysical aspect.<<

    PL: please stop feigning ignorance [or maybe your fettered by titter/govt threats] of that which you understand and know as evidenced by your excellent alert and admonition to usa's consumer/spectacle-blinded citizens.

    Keep writing!

  10. Lois Gagnon
    January 11, 2024 at 09:33

    Hollywood and the invention of television certainly played a role in the ease with which public consciousness has been skewed by them that makes the rules. It makes sense that the actors, “news” readers and pundits get paid handsome wages for keeping the spectacle going. The empire could not exist without them.

  11. Andrew Nichols
    January 10, 2024 at 23:20

    You can’t, after all, go around saying what you mean if you want to work with the Americans, whose leadership cliques long ago took up the practice of obscuring what they mean and what they are doing. If these people are going to run an imperium their own citizens are not supposed to see, the last thing required is clarity.

    This is at the heart of the difference between Trump and Biden (and almost all former POTUS) Trump was up front with what the US was doing and what he believed(like Kennedy) Trump stripped the phone, greasy good manners from Americas megalomania and this horrified the Establishment who demand illusion to obscure the reality. A continuation of a Trump presidency may be too much for the Empire’s vassals who will no longer have the phoney illusion to justify their subservience and therefore may have to declare independence or get overthrown by the masses.

  12. mehitabel
    January 10, 2024 at 23:06

    The State Department has done opinion polling among foreign audiences regarding the term “rules-based international order”, and they have found that it does not resonate, in fact causes a negative reaction. However, they haven’t come up with a kinder and gentler or more personable substitute. Quelle surprise…

  13. Michael G
    January 10, 2024 at 20:14

    Great article.

    “If I wished,’ O’Brien had said, ‘I could float off this floor like a soap bubble.’ Winston worked it out. ‘If he THINKS he floats off the floor, and if I simultaneously THINK I see him do it, then the thing happens.”

    George Orwell – “1984”

    Russell Dobular quoted that today, filling in for Jimmy Dore.

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