Patrick Lawrence: The End of Global Leadership

This president’s signature project — America will lead democratic nations in a crusade against the world’s authoritarians — is virtually nowhere taken seriously.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at a White House occasion of state on Oct. 25, 2023. (White House, Oliver Contreras)

By Patrick Lawrence

There are many photographs of President Joe Biden floating around these days. Maybe it is because, even allowing for his physical decline and his mental incompetence, his minders can no longer keep him so thoroughly out of sight as this, an election year, begins.

The picture I am thinking of, carried by the BBC, is a video frame shot at Biden’s Valley Forge speech last week. That was his first outing as he seeks reelection next November. 

And there are Joe Biden and First Lady Jill — excuse me, Dr. Jill — standing before the usual prop on such occasions, an immense American flag. Joe smiles out from a mask-like face, blank with what looks like bewilderment. Dr. Jill smiles, too — a frozen smile, but one that suggests she is at least aware of what is going on. Dr. Jill waves, left arm hoisted high. The two are holding hands. 

What is it about this image, among so many others, that causes it to linger in my mind? I conclude it was the utter emptiness of the poses and the gestures. I have seen few photographs of prominent pols, and in this case the spouse, so abjectly devoid of sincerity and authenticity. 

It has something to do with the moment, too. This is a president who has supplied and financed a proxy war in Ukraine that has failed after killing scores of thousands of soldiers and displaced millions of people. This is a president who now sponsors a genocide in Gaza as the world watches in real time — a genocide, do you hear me? 

This president’s signature project — America will lead democratic nations in a crusade against the world’s authoritarians — is virtually nowhere taken seriously.

This is a man who presides with imperial distance over a republic that has tumbled into spiritual and social collapse and extreme economic inequality, all the while displaying more or less complete indifference to this national plight.

This is a president facing articles of impeachment based on plentiful evidence that he participated in the influence-peddling schemes of his son and brother. 

This is a man who is smiling. At the end of the video Dr. Jill has to lead President Joe off the stage. He does not stop smiling as she does so. I suppose the intent is to encourage as many Americans as possible to assume — to assume without thinking too much — all goes swimmingly as 2024 begins, the outlook altogether hunky-dory.

[Ed.: His likely opponent, Donald Trump, with his own less than sincere smile, moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something no previous U.S. president would do.  He was a huge Israel booster as president, but seeing where the political winds blow, as candidate for re-election, has taken a less than clear position on Gaza.]

My read of the Valley Forge image is upside down to this. I find the president and First Lady’s fixed expressions, and their evident determination that they must not betray any of what lies behind the smiles, frightening. 

This is what “victory culture” looks like when it is videoed or photographed, to borrow Tom Engelhardt’s very useful phrase. When Tom published The End of Victory Culture in 1995, he thought he had written the epitaph for the peculiarly American preference for the illusion of never-ending “wins,” success everywhere one looks.

He knows better now, as a revised edition of this fine book makes clear. If I find the image of Joe and Dr. Jill Biden at Valley Forge frightening, I also find it dangerous. And I may as well add, I find it abusive. 

This is a time of many defeats for America and Americans. There is the list noted above. The war in Ukraine is out-and-out lost no matter how long and perversely the U.S. and its clients continue wasting lives and money to avoid this truth. 

The Israelis will prevail on the ground in Gaza, as argued recently in this space, but Israel and America have already lost big, very big, if we think in strategic terms rather than tactically. The Gaza crisis, in turn, has further shredded the social and political fabric at home.

Federal and state legislatures, the courts, the universities, the media, rights of assembly and free speech: How far will America go until it recognizes that U.S. support for an out-of-control Zionist state is damage America inflicts on itself?

I look now to a defeat greater than all of these. Ours is a passage in history that, however difficult it is, we must recognize for its sheer magnitude.

It was a long time coming, but the pathological savagery of the Israelis as they exterminate the Palestinians of Gaza announces the end of any claim America and the West altogether have to global leadership on any kind of moral basis, legal basis, or any assumption that the West possesses superior ideals, principles of government, or what have you.

Israel’s genocide, we had better acknowledge, has many antecedents. In this way the apartheid state, as it exposes its own grotesquerie, also exposes the West’s centuries of sins. 

“How far will America go until it recognizes that U.S. support for an out-of-control Zionist state is damage America inflicts on itself?”

This is epochal, no less. This is the defeat that will mark our time, at least as the better historians will record it. “Something Lost, Never to Be Found Again” is the head on a superbly reflective piece Alastair Crooke published last week in Strategic Culture Foundation. Ours is “a culture that has become debased; its lures that used to trap us into the ‘Myth of the West’ lie withered, as patently false idols,” writes the former British diplomat, who now runs the Conflict Forum in Beirut.

“The dimming fire has squandered any sense of ‘magic’ in the guttering West, or indeed of hope to recoup this something ‘lost.’ It is the wistful realisation that — as it stands — the myth is never likely to offer anything of lasting value again.”

Here is Crooke further on in this unmissable essay:

“Where we stand now is where we’ve always stood — in the quicksands of time. A passing of the guard; one world fading, deep into the slow, declining burnout phase, the natural process of decay and renewal, whilst taking us forward towards some next, still-to-sprout, green shoots. A sense of something lost and never to be found again, which we all endure these days.

The ‘Elect,’ though, have deliberately raised the stakes. They do not want to ‘let go.’ They have determined that, with the western train wrecked on its own cultural ‘wall,’ the ‘End of Time’ story of convergence on a common future is ‘over’ too.

And along with it, the claimed western mandate to dictate the ‘direction forward’ is over also.”

Crooke borrowed liberally from a piece Simplicius, the always interesting blogger, published as “Bones of Tomorrow” on New Year’s Eve. Theirs is the kind of language — encompassing, far-seeing, unshy, grand in its way — our moment requires if we are to understand it. 

Name a Western leader who speaks it, and you can range well beyond the cartoon characters who think grotesque grins will get them and us through. They cannot speak it because they are too busy “flipping every narrative,” as Crooke puts it, into “another Western ‘win.’”

This is what I mean when I suggest that Joe and Dr. Jill’s smiles are dangerous. Either they cannot see or they cannot handle what they see — and so they cannot lead and, indeed, are not meant to lead.

There is much to be said for defeat, I have long argued. Loss gives the vanquished the opportunity to retreat, rethink the errors and the worldview altogether, and rejoin the human community with different aspirations and a different purpose.

The addiction to a variant of victory culture evident among those who purport to lead us deprives us of this salutary benefit. Apart from those whose eyes are open to the frauds of “the Elect,” it keeps us, too, from understanding our world in any kind of sound way, such that we are able to act wisely upon it.

It leaves us in a paralyzing state of uncertainty and confusion. This is what I mean by abusive. We are consigned to darkness, tormented in the bargain with monstrous Jack Nicholson smiles.

“Loss gives the vanquished the opportunity to retreat, rethink the errors and the worldview altogether, and rejoin the human community with different aspirations and a different purpose.” 

I do not imagine I am the only one disappointed by the non–West’s tepid-to-quiescent response to apartheid Israel’s barbarities in Gaza. Early in the conflict a number of non–Western nations recalled their ambassadors to Tel Aviv and, in the case of Bolivia, severed relations altogether.

I was not alone then, either, as I applauded. But little has happened since. I would have wanted to see militantly imposed sanctions, the expulsion of all Israeli officials, the breaking of ties at various functional levels.

China proposed playing a role in a settlement of the Israel–Palestine question but has done nothing about this since. Only the Houthis, citing the legally mandated obligations of others to intervene against the perpetrators of genocidal actions, have responded to the Gaza crisis as they think just under international law.     

The past year or two has been notable for the extent to which non–Western nations have coalesced in various formations, along with an elaboration of bilateral ties of all sorts. I have applauded this, too, as the makings of a new world order, as the Chinese think of it.

Gaza, it seems to me, was the first major challenge to this drift toward a common cause among non–Western powers. It came too soon, as I read it. They are not ready for it.

The BRICS–Plus, as the original bloc has expanded from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, along with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, are the two big groups that have drawn attention these past years. But we must now understand what they are and are not.

I will use a comparison to make this point. In the first postwar decades Asians lived with what was called a spokes-and-hub arrangement in their foreign relations. All of them — all the non–Communist nations, this is to say — had ties to the U.S., but their ties to one another were  weak.

It took considerable thought and effort to get past this unfortunate circumstance, the remnants of which linger in cases such as Japan.

It seems to me the non–West as a whole is attempting something of the same as it seeks to declare itself decisively beyond postcolonial patterns. But this is a long process, as East Asians found it to be.

Non–Western formations such as the BRICS–Plus and the SCO are so far loose associations of nations with individual priorities and interests, most of them economic as against diplomatic or political. Neither has a secretariat. Neither has a defined common cause as, say, NATO does.

We cannot expect too much of them at this early moment, then. There may come a day when BRICS–Plus will have the capacity to act influentially in a crisis such as Gaza, to assume one or another kind of a leadership role, but this day lies in the future.

South Africans, who know all about apartheid and the wages of its sins, have brought a case against Israel that the International Court of Justice heard Thursday and Friday. The outcome of this action will be clear in several weeks and as of now is an open question given how thoroughly the U.S. has corrupted international public space over many decades.

The court heard South Africa’ charges Thursday that America’s No. 1 ally in the Middle East (and maybe worldwide) is in breach of the Genocide Convention of 1948; on Friday Israel presented its defense that it is not in breach.

For the sake of expedience, South Africa requested a temporary restraining order rather than, at this time, a final judgment. We cannot assume the court’s judgment is an open-and-shut finding in South Africa’s favor, Israel’s barbarities notwithstanding. 

“They make a plausible case,” Norman Finkelstein, the noted scholar, remarked in a video interview the other day. “But these things are not decided by law. They are decided by politics.” 

I find the politics discouraging. They look like this. The five members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia — are all represented on the ICJ’s 15–member bench. Finkelstein, interestingly, is skeptical that the latter two will support the South African case: Russia faces a pending ICJ case having to do with its conduct in Ukraine; China is accused of genocide in the case of Uighurs.

“Do they want to open up the Pandora’s box?” Finkelstein asks. “I would say very unlikely.” The South Africans need eight of the 15 judges to vote with them. Massaging the arithmetic, Finkelstein reckons they will come up short one vote — too many others either siding with Israel or compromised in one or another way as Russia and China appear to be.

The South African case at The Hague is important on its own merits: The Palestinians of Gaza deserve justice, and certainly an immediate restraining order. It is also a reminder we are well to heed.

The old order has collapsed before our eyes. History being very short of perfect symmetries, what will replace it by whatever name is in formation but has not yet come to be.

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.

17 comments for “Patrick Lawrence: The End of Global Leadership

  1. LeoSun
    January 21, 2024 at 12:41

    1.21.24. “Once, again,” Patrick Lawrence is 100%, “on the monies!” …w/the million dollar question, “What is it about this image,” POTUS & FLOTUS @ Valley Forge, “among so many others, that cause it to linger in my mind?”

    Imo, it’s the Universe’s subconscious message, a subliminal stimuli, to the People of planet Earth: “Don’t drink the water. There’s blood, in the water.”

    Imo, this Nation’s WH’s foundation is built on $and. The “killers in high places,” are, have been, remain on the wrong f/track, going the wrong f/way, on the wrong day!!!

    Imo, it’s the feeling “we” have been “royally” f*^*>* aka bamboozled, again!!! …i.e., Outta the gate, 1) the reminders, ad nauseam, Biden-Harris is the selected POTUS; 2) POTUS’ #1 Handler, put a LID on POTUS,’ day. Unlike, Punxsutawney Phil, from Young Township, P.A., it’s date certain, February 2, when we’ll see him again. It’s au contraire, when tawkin’ about “Uncle Joe, from Scranton;” 3) POTUS $pent more time in Rehaboth, POTUS’/FLOTUS’ Compound, by the beach, bicycling, get’n his tan on; and, evening shuffles w/ his “doctor,” FLOTUS. …awh, it sounds picture perfect if your a Retiree living on a million plus buck$, a year, to live in the fashion one’s accustomed to living. The great disconnect, “You know the thing!?!” “Houston, we got troubles!”

    Imo, the “image” of a political corpse, posing as POTUS, masquerading as human, is the WH’s colossal, beyond extreme, challenge. The “fix,” was in!!! From the studio, to AF1, on the World stage, to his footwear, w/ his “doctor,” FLOTUS guiding him; and, a slim to none, nada, nothing, time spent in public, “They got this!” ..i.e., Absolutely, No Pressers or TV time; unless pre-approved.

    Every move POTUS makes is choreographed. Every word scripted. POTUS ain’t into free-wheeling. Everything “off the cuff,” is a f/disaster. Hence, the “fix,” a POTUS’ upgrade, custom built, from LIDs to footwear to vacay sites, “from Donors’ Mansions to Camp David” masking POTUS’ extreme physical & mental decline. The WH wants US to believe, “Smokin Joe’s in his element! W/pants on fire! Coming in Hot!!!” NOT! …i.e., “is virtually nowhere taken seriously.” P. Lawrence. See above, for the full context. TY

    What disturbs me, LeoSun, are the “images” we don’t see, POTUS’ audience. His 81 Million , BA$E! We’ve his Corpratists. HIs “public” is missing, too. Even in “Images” @ the Search Engine of your choice, “images of B-H’s ba$e” are rare. Imo, “we, the people, have been had! “Done & Dusted.”

    The exception to the fakery, the People/“Voters,” of the Universe, yell’n “Go Home, Joe!” Agreed! That’s the right call. Indeed, Shut the front door on Biden-Harris 2024!

    In closing, TY, Patrick Lawrence, your brilliance, advice, analysis, reporting, your “mind” rocks!!! “Keep It Lit.” Ciao

  2. K.J.Noh
    January 20, 2024 at 16:08

    This is very a good article, except for the throwaway allegation that the Chinese are afraid of genocide charges.

    The Chinese are not worried about fabricated genocide charges against them, because there is no such thing happening.  Not a single shred of credible evidence exists.  The US allegations refer to the only “genocide” in history that has 1) no deaths–not a single body 2) no refugees–despite porous borders with 5 Muslim majority countries 3) preferential treatment of the targeted group (e.g. Uighurs were exempt from the one child policy, receive preferential treatment in school admissions and employment) 4) a continuously increasing population, life expectancy, and satisfaction 5) continually improving economic conditions and conditions of life and 6) no visible hate speech, no tolerance of hate speech, and no messages/rhetoric targeting the group whatsoever.  In fact, the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), representing the rights of 2 Billion Muslims across 56 countries, commended China for its exemplary treatment of its Muslim minorities. 

    The US, using a cut-out, took the accusation to the ICC, along with their best lawyers and their best “evidence”–and the ICC threw out the case–would not even proceed to a preliminary investigation.  This despite the court potentially having jurisdiction on “Jus Cogens” and “Continuing Crimes”.   The prosecutor (Mme Fatou Bensouda) who reviewed the “evidence” and rejected the submission, was the originator of the theory of “continuing crimes” (the legal theory that you don’t have to be a signatory to be subject to prosecution). This is not surprising: according to Foreign Policy magazine, even the State Department’s own lawyers said the allegation could not be upheld.     

    Anyone can visit Xinjiang tomorrow and see for themselves. In, fact over 150M people did last year, traveling freely.  They can see that everything is fine: people speak their own language, practice their own culture and religion, and enjoy rich, flourishing lives, which are constantly improving.  On the other hand, try getting into Gaza, where real genocide is happening.  Contrast the sheer, unspeakable barbarity and atrocity of Gaza, with the conscientious efforts to improve lives and preserve culture in Xinjiang.

    The Xinjiang genocide fraud is as a much a signal of the dying empire as the real genocide in Palestine. It is a foundationally delegitmating and violent mendacity–in fact, it is the other side of the same coin: enabling and covering up a real genocide, while fraudulently concocting a non-existent one. 

  3. Bjorn jensen
    January 20, 2024 at 00:10

    What are they giving him ? Not strong coffee obv.

  4. Ed Rickert
    January 19, 2024 at 08:10

    Dear Patrick.
    You have captured the essence of the crisis: a new world struggling to be born with uncertain outcome and the old without plan or understanding, intent on retaining its hegemony whatever the cost. Let us hope that the Mad Hatter aka Uncle Sam in his demented delusions doesn’t lead all of us to the grave.

  5. Francis Lee
    January 19, 2024 at 05:01

    ”The whole sorry episode – pace Thucydides – seems remarkable familiar: deadly examples of overestimating your own strength and underestimating the strength of the opposition. This policy (or lack of) has turned out to be a a leitimotif in the US wars of choice against small but determined adversaries. The results of playing the same playbook operationalised by the same incorrigibles Neanderthals in the deep state with the same predictable results. This present ongoing American attempt to construct a world empire through political and economic and military means seems to be gearing up and preparing to launch is own Sicilian expedition* and this process has already started. A classic example of imperial overreach. Nevertheless, the policy must go on; and it soon be over. One is reminded of Einstein’s famous dictum applicable to the powers-that-be who oversee this US policy. But do the Americans actually believe that they can carry this off? Or is the whole thing nothing more than a brilliant bluff. Time will tell. But time is not on our side.”

  6. Anon
    January 19, 2024 at 00:52

    I’m gonna vote for the Other Dr. Jill…!
    (Lucky to be a Californio… & Enjoy the Luxury of “Voting my Conscience”!)
    Truly feel sorry for y’all “toss-up State” voters who must factor in the “Eleanor Roosevelt effect” while making your selection!

  7. Fritz
    January 18, 2024 at 20:07

    The USA is a Pathocracy
    Pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders.

    Empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracized or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.

    Citizens of the United States of Atrocities (USA) have the best politicians the USA parasite class’ money can buy.
    During the 2020 POTUS “election” about 154 million of its citizens dutifully voted against their self interests for either psychopath A or psychopath B.

    Those insouciant USA voters of 2020 voted for either Tweedledee or Tweedledum to take them swirling at their expense down the toilet. They will do it again in November 2024. ?

  8. Frank Lambert
    January 18, 2024 at 17:41

    Poignant article, Patrick, and right on target again. So glad you mentioned Alastair Crooke and some of his quotes. He’ss a wise and erudite man with much compassion in his heart. And for your readers, if you can find Strategic Culture Foundation on the internet, please read some of their top-notch articles. Contrary to Western Imperialist propaganda, it is not a pro-Russian propaganda outlet either, nor was RTAmerica which the U.S. and vassal, subservient nations in Europe took off the TV stations after the Russians finally intervened in the Ukraine to save the Donbass Region Ukrainians from being slaughtered and bombed from the UKO Nazi Zionist regime of the pathetic clown, Zelensky.

    But on Gaza, the world is witnessing a new Holocaust, the Palestinian one, and has not done anything to stop it. Shame on the non-aligned world for doing nothing to stop the mass murder, by the Neo-Nazi regime in Israel.

  9. Jeff Harrison
    January 18, 2024 at 17:12

    Couple of thoughts, Patrick.
    1. Have you noticed that Genocide Joe’s eyes are no longer visible? They’re always slits now.

    2. I doubt that either Russia or China are worried about the BS claims against them for evacuating children from an active combat zone or the rabidly anti-communist ravings of Adrien Zenz.

    3. I think you’re being limited by your own preconceptions. Why does an organization have to have a secretariat, that is, a centrally controlled and defined structure? Why does it have to have a common cause? Or, the common cause could simply be to discuss and attempt to solve problems that one or more of their members are having. NATOs cause was to keep Germany down, Russia out, and the US in. Now, of course, it’s morphed into the USs foreign legion. I suspect that a lot of countries having experienced colonialism don’t want to have anything to do with that.

  10. A Concerned Westerner
    January 18, 2024 at 16:58

    A scathing and indisputable analysis of the state of Western (USA) political “leadership” but also a testament to the lack of credible leadership in the West outside the USA. However the threat of financial blackmail has shut down almost all well meaning Western politicians from saying what they really think. We, the West, have lost our moral compass and with it the implied moral leadership of nations. We are liars, hypocrites, losers, and we will continue along a long slow downward spiral of Disintegration and Disillusionment. I’m 60 and I don’t think I will be a true change for the better in my lifetime.

  11. Joy
    January 18, 2024 at 16:08

    From the article, “what will replace it by whatever name is in formation but has not yet come to be.”

    Brings to mind the last line of WB Yeats’ famous poem “The Second Coming.” Not it the forward looking way the article put ii, but in the prophetic reckoning of where we are,
    “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

  12. Curious
    January 18, 2024 at 15:53

    Thank you for a very well written article regarding the current mess we in the USA are experiencing and the horror which is Gaza today.
    I’m glad you brought up the disingenuous smiles from Biden too. Obama had said, in the height of Russiaphobia, when comparing himself to Putin, ‘at least we smile more’. That comment always made me cringe as I always thought sharks have great smiles too.

  13. John Puma
    January 18, 2024 at 15:42

    Are we talking about US “Global Leadership”?
    That, unfortunately, is more accurately considered to be
    deadly Global Torment!

  14. Lois Gagnon
    January 18, 2024 at 15:21

    I would say the ball is in the court of the global masses whose lives are being destroyed by the old order. Including the people residing in the countries of the old order. We can speed the process of change along if we give up our apathy and challenge power on every level. That is after all, how real and lasting change comes about.

    • hetro
      January 19, 2024 at 10:41

      Yes, Lois, well-stated as usual. Patrick puts it: “The old order has collapsed before our eyes.” We have been watching this process for years now, with development of the new silk road at its base, and an accordant frenzy for war in the plutocracy. The balance is shifting. Look at Africa, the BRICS . . .Plus we have an abundance of the fighting journalists who are giving us new terms, defining and clarifying: “the submissive void,” “the official narrative,” “the old order.” Yes, let us keep on.

  15. Valerie
    January 18, 2024 at 14:29

    They are evil zombies.

    • LeoSun
      January 21, 2024 at 13:29

      Good call! “They are evil zombies.”

      AND, “They Live” is a 1988 American science fiction action thriller horror film written and directed by John Carpenter, based on the 1963 short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson., the film follows an unnamed drifter who discovers through special sunglasses that the ruling class are aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to consume, breed, and conform to the status quo via subliminal messages in mass media.” If ya haven’t seen it, watch out! It’s freak show.

      Source: @ the “duck,” search, “They Live.”

      Onward & Upwards! Ciao

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