PATRICK LAWRENCE: Lost & Fearful in The Middle East

The Biden regime wanders in a funhouse of its own making.    

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arriving in Cairo on Feb. 6. (State Department, Chuck Kennedy)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News 

Of all the amateurish moments to arise as the Biden regime conducts its foreign policy, the White House’s official statement as B1–B bombers let loose over Iraq and Syria last Friday may be the taker of the cake. 

As the ordnance fell on 85 targets in seven locations, many of them outposts of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, our addled president felt compelled to insist, “The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world.”

How many times have we heard this since these latest operations in Iraq, Syria and Yemen began? Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, has said the same thing in the same words. Lloyd Austin, the defense secretary, has, too. So has Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser. So has John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman. 

Once we are finished counting, we can consider the astounding stupidity that has led the Biden regime into this impossible contradiction. Reflecting the president’s compulsive support for Israel over the whole of his political life, the U.S. has incautiously stayed with the Zionist state as it seeks to widen the war all the way to Iran by way of Lebanon and Syria. 

Now, as the war runs straight up to the Islamic Republic’s borders, Biden and his people take to insisting they do not want that wider war the Israelis are bent on provoking.

I honestly cannot think of other occasions in the history of American foreign policy that match this one for its sheer… what? … the sheer botch of it. There must be some, or many given America’s conduct these past seven decades, but they do not come readily to mind.

Escalation, to take the most obvious problem, is not the right way to deescalate. You cannot begin bombing other nations — illegally, let’s not forget — while killing noncombatants in the process (as the Iraqis and Syrians have charged), and tell them in simultaneous statements that you do not wish to provoke conflict.

Well, you can, but you cannot expect to be taken seriously.  

‘Illusory Truth Effect’  

B-1B bombers taking off from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas on Feb. 2 with targets in Iraq in Syria. (video still, Wikimedia Commons)

I start to think the Biden administration now resorts to one of the propagandist’s cardinal rules: Say something nonsensical often enough and people, even intelligent people, will begin to believe it. Psychologists have called this the illusory truth effect since researchers at Villanova and Temple universities discovered this common vulnerability among us in the late–1970s. 

The reiteration effect has long worked on Americans, diabolically enough. But one of Joe Biden’s most fundamental failings is his assumption that he can sell abroad the sort of nonsense he has sold Americans for 50–odd years. I do not exaggerate when I suggest this misapprehension is one of the core defects of the Man from Scranton’s foreign policies.

A second, related problem merits brief consideration. To insist that the U.S. does not seek a region-wide war while bombing other nations amounts to asking others not to retaliate. It is to say, in effect, “We want to restore our failed deterrence policy. Please let us deter you.” Alastair Crooke, in a well-reasoned piece published last Friday, calls this “a form of militarized psychotherapy.”

This amounts to a gamble only a nation on its back foot would take. The Biden regime is likely to win it with the Iranians, who continue to abide by a longstanding policy of “strategic patience,” as Muhammad Sahimi, a prominent commentator on Iranian affairs, argued in a piece published Saturday in The Floutist

But the Yemeni Houthis attacking ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden have already signaled they have no intention of changing course. Other groups active in Iraq and Syria are likely to follow the Houthis’ lead: It will persist, not desist, in my read.

I take the administration at its word when it insists it does not want another war on its hands, even if it seems to have no idea how to avoid the risk of starting one. It is simply too overexposed across the Middle East — too many bases, too burdened with a hardware-heavy war machine, musclebound, and altogether too vulnerable. 

All the recent attacks on U.S. ships, ground facilities and personnel have unexpectedly exposed this weakness. And this brings us to what most fundamentally motivates Biden and the instant peaceniks who faithfully repeat what he says. (Or does he faithfully repeat what they tell him to say?) 

What we have heard this past week is an implicit confession of fear at the top of America’s foreign policy cliques. If these people have bungled policy to an extent that may be unprecedented in the postwar decades, as suggested above, they find themselves, in consequence, utterly lost and afraid in the funhouse of their making. 

History’s clock just chimed again, if I am right about this. 

Israel’s Control Over Washington

 Austin with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Dec. 18, 2023. (DoD, Chad J. McNeeley)

Biden is a schlemiel on the foreign policy side, as his record makes amply clear. But as argued previously in this space, it is not clear anyone else occupying the White House could have done much better these past months.

America is in its late-imperial phase, as we must always remember, and Israel controls almost every elected official in Washington to one or another degree. There is no way to conduct sound policy so long as the cliques in Washington insist on working within this circumstance instead of advancing beyond it.

The please-don’t-fight-back attacks the U.S. now conducts daily are but the front end of a strategy the administration wants to advance in the Middle East, we now read. As advertised in a pair of recent pieces in The New York Times, this is to be “New! Improved” just like the old laundry detergents. 

In this case (as in so many others) we can read the Times as entirely in its role as messenger passing down the word from Washington’s upper reaches to the populace below. These pieces “what you need to know,” as the Times puts it in all those obnoxious headlines.   

Patrick Kingsley, Jerusalem bureau chief, and Edward Wong, a diplomatic correspondent, previewed the new theme 10 days ago in a piece headlined, “How Leaders and Diplomats Are Trying to End the Gaza War.” As envisioned, this process has three tracks: negotiating a ceasefire in Gaza, “reshaping the Palestinian Authority” to assume power in post–Hamas Gaza and getting Israel to accept a Palestinian state in exchange for formal relations with Saudi Arabia.

Four days later Tom Friedman published “A Biden Doctrine for the Middle East Is Forming. And It’s Big.” It looks to me as if Kingsley and Wong gazumped everyone’s favorite Times columnist. Undeterred, Friedman cites his own reporting while repeating the substance of Kingsley and Wong’s.

Friedman also posits a three-track strategy. The first is “a strong and resolute stand on Iran, including a robust military retaliation against Iran’s proxies.” This we now witness, although “strong and resolute” seems a stretch. 

Then comes “an unprecedented U.S. diplomatic initiative to promote a Palestinian state” and, finally, “a vastly expanded U.S. security alliance with Saudi Arabia, which would also involve Saudi normalization of relations with Israel.”

There are more “ifs” and qualifiers in these two pieces than you’ve had hot dinners. “If the administration can pull this together — a huge if,” Friedman writes.  There are so many “significant obstacles,” “divisive issues” and “long shots” that you have to wonder why these pieces were written and published. 

‘Biden Doctrine’

 Biden with pilots of Marine One on Jan. 21. (White House, Adam Schultz)

Straight off the top, anyone who still traffics in a two-state solution featuring an independent Palestine is at this point unable to face reality and discouraging others from doing so.

No such entity is any longer possible — nor was one, in my view, ever desirable. The Israelis, in any event, will never agree to an independent Palestine: The Netanyahu regime makes this clear every chance it gets.

What is this “reshaping the Palestinian Authority” all about? What does such a project even mean? Who will do the reshaping? Into what? And out of what? The PA at this point droops under its own sclerosis and corruption. Who is going to put it in charge of Gaza — by what mechanism? How is a “demilitarized Palestinian state” — Friedman’s phrase — to bear responsibility for its national security?

As to the Saudis, there seems to me nothing in these three tracks that has any chance of drawing them into formal relations with Israel. There has been too much desecration and murder these past four months for Washington — “the power trying to stitch it all together” — to come anywhere near reaching the end of this “track.”

Tom Friedman’s name for the “strategic thinking” pencil-sketched here is “a Biden Doctrine.” Let us suppress our splutters and leave our Tom to the grandiosity he prefers. There are several realities to consider as we assess these proposals.

One, at issue in these various tracks are geopolitical power and empire management, nothing more. What is the intent of the policy supposedly now in formation? Tell me it is anything other than the creation of a puppet regime comprised of malleable compradors in a hopelessly fragmented “Palestine.” Tell me execution of the policy the Times outlines will not entail a festival of bribery and coercion across the region.    

Two, and related to the first point, there is no more place in this “strategic thinking” for any kind of Palestinian democracy or freedom than there is in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Read the Times’ copy, listen to the quoted sources: Where in any of it do Palestinians breathe or walk around or have anything to say? Shame on these two reporters, their columnist colleague, their editors and every source they cite: They participate in the same dehumanization that has defined American policy on the Palestine question for decades. 

Do you think Palestinians and those who support their cause do not see these things? Do you think they do not read these policies in outline as essentially unserious? 

I am convinced the Times’ reports accurately reflect an effort in Washington to find a way forward out of the utter mess Biden and his people have made for themselves. But to call what is apparently afoot a Biden Doctrine is to put lipstick on a pig.

These people seem to have no clue how to devise a genuinely useful policy. Fear, after all, inhibits all thought of innovation.    

The Gaza crisis is a text in which we can read that genuine diplomacy, based on knowledge of the perspectives of others, will come to define our century more than mere power. It tells us, too, that Washington, as of now, has neither the intention nor ability to live and act well in this new time.

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

18 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: Lost & Fearful in The Middle East

  1. James White
    February 8, 2024 at 11:53

    Lately it seems that there are only two professional journalists left in the world who care to write anything about the truth of what is happening in the news. Patrick Lawrence is at the very top of that list as is Caitlin Johnstone. That makes Consortium News one of the only places to turn to avoid the paid propagandists and the government-fed narrative that passes for ‘news’ nearly everywhere else. Tucker Carlson is more of an entertainer, but he is about to blow the lid off of the past 2+ years of lies and theater that has surrounded the NATO proxy war in Ukraine. The widespread fear and sheer panic of our unholy government-media alliance conspirators is palpable. Likewise credit U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson for spelling out in plain terms how the Biden Regime has created the open border crisis and now wants to extort funds from Congress so that Biden can keep the war going while pretending to fix the border crisis he created all by himself.

  2. Paul Citro
    February 8, 2024 at 06:09

    I no longer trust The New York Times.

  3. bardamu
    February 8, 2024 at 01:13

    This mess has so many layers and falsehood has sifted through so many accounts that any adequate description would take some sort of magnum opus. That said, a couple patterns seem distinguishable and worth retaining.

    1) What Israel, the US, or NATO say publicly is very often not just a lie, but very close to 180 degrees from the truth. Humans lie profoundly and profusely, but it costs us: it is hard to lie extensively about a complex matter and not lose track of the truth. So someone in administration knows that extermination of the Palestinians is morally about on par with the Holocaust. But many do not or do not altogether. Execution depends on that, and it depends on many people more or less sharing a narrative that contradicts all available evidence. Exact 180-degree opposition makes it easier to keep the stories straight.

    In short, if Joe Biden or the next Oaf of State says, “We seek no wider war,” the first place to look for truth will look something like “We seek wider war.” If he or she says, “The Houthis attacked us,” it is probably useful until more is discovered to assume that we are attacking the Houthis–though to just say “Yemenis” would probably be more accurate.

    This doesn’t explain everything nor obviate the need for research, but it should shorten the search better than nine times of ten.

    2) The bombing doesn’t “work.”

    Yeah, it does destroy things. And this does change behavior, sure enough. And it does deter certain activities, causing people to seek other methods. And promotion and profit for one or another corporation or individual can rise from the backwash of a billion tragedies. But the whole point in deterrence arises because when the opponent is “deterred” and behaves as desired, you stop the punishment.

    The Cuban communists learned that American investments came with agents and agents provocateurs and Yanqui controls. Deterrence forced them to drive out American companies and their domestic allies. Was that the goal of the people who planned the Bay of Pigs invasion? Coming around to the last few decades, ask yourself who in the entire dry land belt of Africa and Asia imagines as of 2024 that the United States is not going to bomb.

    The US has been bombing Yemen for years. We did not even bomb them *through* the Saudis, exclusively. If you supply the research hardware and the ammo and the navigation and then the pilots, at some point saying that you are not bombing is just a lie. Did Hamas imagine that Israel was not going to react violently to the attack on October 7? No, they were deterred from peaceful means by the history of Israeli violence and racism.

    A hundred military bases abroad brings a hundred thousand cases of blowback, or better. Maybe Biden sleeps tranquil, stoned to the mid-heavens: how would I know? The rest of us will not. Why? I am reminded of Coleridge:

    “‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!
    From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
    Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow
    I shot the albatross.”

  4. Jeff Harrison
    February 8, 2024 at 00:34

    My immediate reaction was “The secretary of state flew in on a C17?”

  5. TDillon
    February 7, 2024 at 20:10

    Evidence is abundant that US foreign policy is controlled by Zionists for Zionists. And abundant that the US corporate media is also controlled by Zionists for Zionists. The Zionist “establishment” will continue stomping on Americans, looting the US treasury, sending thousands of Americans to die, and slaughtering millions of innocents around the world as long as they can get away with it.

    They will pretend to be interested in peace in Palestine just as they pretended with the Minsk agreements in Ukraine. There is no bottom to the depths of their dishonesty and cruelty. And all for sociopathic Zionist delusions of grandeur.

    It’s time for an American Revolution 2.0.

    • Zwingli
      February 8, 2024 at 22:28


  6. TP Graf
    February 7, 2024 at 18:56

    We can talk about a Palestinian solution without the Palestinians just as we can have peace conferences regarding the war in Ukraine without the Russians. Writers like Friedman can’t even conjure an original thought. They regurgitate the worst of empire’s delusions or as Alexander Mercouris so rightly states, “Mediocrity who think themselves geniuses.”

    • Caliman
      February 8, 2024 at 16:04

      Here in the late empire stage, there is no lack of fame or money for the person who tells the “intelligent and well-educated” (and thus, well-indoctrinated, as Chomsky and Herman showed in Manufacturing Consent) readers of the Times and the like what they want to hear. Friedman has taken this maxim to the bank for decades now.

      The contrarian truth-teller? Penury, abuse, and perhaps jail in our land of the free and home of the slave.

  7. Stephen Verchinski
    February 7, 2024 at 18:52

    What the hell is Biden and the Democrat Party doing bombing other nations without any War, Declared?

    There is no POC AUMF that can cover this aggression.


  8. James White
    February 7, 2024 at 17:53

    ‘The Biden regime wanders in a funhouse of its own making.’
    The observation of the year.
    And of the past three years.
    ‘Biden Doctrine’ or not,
    the Biden Regime’s own Victoria Nuland has managed to obliterate the long held belief that
    ‘you can’t put lipstick on a pig.’

  9. Jack Lomax
    February 7, 2024 at 17:08

    If one neglects to remember that the US was long ago secretly captured by the rich Zionists it has nurtured , and puts to the back of one’s mind that the present POTUS is a self declared White Zionist it is then possible to ramble on about the US having a coherent and sensible policy in regard to Israel. If not-not.

  10. Paula
    February 7, 2024 at 16:51

    Also take into account Islamic religion says the worst sin against Allah/God and humankind is usury. Five of our US presidents and one single solitary congressman were assassinated for engaging in monetary reform. Hitler was obliterated because he improved his GDP by NOT being part of the Rothschild’s financial empire. Made him a target for destruction as it has many other countries if you look at the world and the wars it’s been plagued by, are mostly wars on nations who did not bend to that empire. Can we not see Libya in those terms?

    • Joseph Tracy
      February 8, 2024 at 01:04

      Pretty sure there were some other reasons contributing to Hitler’s obliteration, like attacking nations in all 4 directions. I don’t think the Russian army was controlled by the Rothshilds.

  11. February 7, 2024 at 16:42

    Patrick Lawrence concludes “ The Gaza crisis is a text in which we can read that genuine diplomacy, based on knowledge of the perspectives of others, will come to define our century more than mere power.”

    Reading these words one understands how Diogenes must have felt in his quest for one honest man. In the case of this hour in our history we walk the streets of Washington with our lantern, searching for one statesman. Just one.

  12. Oregoncharles
    February 7, 2024 at 16:29

    “The Gaza crisis is a text in which we can read that genuine diplomacy, based on knowledge of the perspectives of others, will come to define our century more than mere power. It tells us, too, that Washington, as of now, has neither the intention nor ability to live and act well in this new time.”

    Where on this Earth does he get that? Some other planet, perhaps? He makes no case for it. As far as I can see, it shows the exact opposite: that if you have nukes and great-power support, you can behave as barbarically as you want. And Biden getting away with bombing so-called “Iranian proxies”, just as Trump got away with murdering Soleimani, appears to demonstrate the same thing. I guess I don’t understand where Lawrence gets this – certainly not from the rest of his piece.

    Granted, Biden’s (or someone’s) foreign policy is incoherent if not delusional; but so far, he’s getting away with it. That may change in November, but the policy won’t. Trump is even more a Zionist than Biden.

  13. Rob
    February 7, 2024 at 16:29

    Firstly, Thomas Friedman is the most overrated pundit in America, perhaps in the whole world, perhaps in all of modern history.

    Secondly, it was my understanding that Iraq and possibly Iran were given fair warning of the US’s retaliatory strikes, so as to give them time to move their troops out of harm’s way. If true, then the risk of genuine escalation was small.

  14. Charles E. Carroll
    February 7, 2024 at 16:22

    This is nothing but and has been a war on Islam. Pure and simple. Israel is towing us down to war and ruin. A million Muslims killed by shock and awe. You think there aren’t brothers, sisters, cousins with memories what the US has done? Now the “enemy” is flowing freely among us. I fear any day there will be shock and awe in one of our undefended university buildings, senior citizen homes. No B52’s coming our way, just a few pissed off Muslim cousins, uncles. Remembering their families. Nowhere can an American walk the streets and hold their head up high and be safe. Thanks Joe. Thanks israel.
    Free Palestine!

  15. Drew Hunkins
    February 7, 2024 at 14:46

    With the arrogant sadistic creepy and ultra-violent artificial state of Israel carrying out an ethnic cleansing in front of the eyes of the entire world, it’s crucial that the supremacist tenets of Jewish ideology be challenged and confronted, it’s certainly not anti-Semitic to carry out this worthy endeavor. Many righteous Jews have fought against Jewish supremacy for much of their lives.

    The most important book on the planet right now, and it’s a relatively short read, is Israel Shahak’s “Jewish History, Jewish Religion.” He was a prominent academic Jew himself.

    One simply cannot understand Zionist conduct or Tel Aviv’s current monstrosities in Gaza if one has failed to read this book. Cold calculating imperial interest is NOT necessarily the driving force behind hegemonic Israel’s massacres across the region. What is the driving force more often than not, is Jewish ideology, its supremacist and arrogant doctrines.

    We must remember, plastered on the side of every Israeli fighter jet (thank you hardworking U.S. taxpayer) is one of the ultimate Jewish religious symbols, the Star of David.

    What happened is that Jews were rescued from religious superstition too late. It happened in the mid to late 1800s. Well into the late 1800s many, many Jews in Europe were involved in all sorts of irrational and crazy religious dogma and insanity (to this day their odious and despicable circumcision practice on infant boys is beyond the pale!).

    The hatred of gentiles, which is an unfortunate component within the Talmud, is showing through today in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Many Israeli Jews view us as dogs and livestock in order to extort as much interest from us as possible.

    So don’t fool yourselves, these Jewish supremacist Zionists would bomb your hospital too if it furthered the cause of Zionism and its illegal land-grabbing.

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