Foreign Policy Robert Scheer SI Podcast

Patrick Lawrence: Will Biden Provoke War with China?

Host Robert Scheer speaks with veteran foreign correspondent Patrick Lawrence on his criticisms of provocative US and NATO policies — and his subsequent ban by Twitter.

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Patrick Lawrence.

“We are the provocateurs” — offered as a condemnation of current US foreign policy — might seem the sort of untutored comment attributed by establishment pundits to the “fake news” environment of the internet. Indeed, recent columns written by veteran foreign correspondent Patrick Lawrence condemning the expansion of NATO and President Biden’s promise of military support for Taiwan against China – a radical shift in U.S. policy — has resulted in his being ejected from Twitter, a verdict increasingly visited upon those who dare to dissent from the conventional wisdom.

But Lawrence is a seasoned foreign correspondent who covered world politics for the legendary International Herald Tribune and other major news outlets for more than three decades. The author of two much-honored books “Someone Else’s Century-East and West in a Post Western World,” and “Time No Longer: America After the American Century,” a finalist for an LA Times Book Award, predicted the decline of American hegemony and the challenge of a sharp rise in the power of China. It is a shift in power, Lawrence tells Scheer, that America is determined to resist with aggressive policies that endanger the peace of the world through the hubris of our unbridled national chauvinism.

As Lawrence puts it in the Scheer Intelligence podcast, “One of the main things I came back from my 29 years in Asia, one of the main truths that I had in my suitcase when I arrived back in the United States” (is) “we need to see societies as they understand themselves. It is not necessary for us to approve. I don’t think they would even care if we did or not, but it is necessary for us to understand them on their own terms.”

Finally, Lawrence finds it alarming that the US currently seeks to wall in the rising power of other nations rather than opening the door to different centers of influence, which was promised with the creation of the UN at the end of WW II: “Historically the stated American intent in 1945 was to bring along the world into a grand era of prosperity, material well being, raise up the underdeveloped nations.” But now, Lawrence argues, America is threatened by ”the rise of China, the rise of India, Pakistan, Brazil, the South Africans…aren’t we supposed to be applauding this as exactly what we wanted to see and what we set out to engender seven decades and some ago? Think about that. The reality is we can’t handle it. We just can’t imagine a world that rests on anything even remotely resembling parity.”

Credits

Host: Robert Scheer

Producer: Joshua Scheer

Transcript

Robert Scheer:
All right. Let’s get started here. Okay. Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where, as with the Central Intelligence Agency, we try to learn, or at least I do anyway, I can’t speak for them, but the intelligence comes from my guests. And in this case, it’s someone who was a journalist for 30 years, International Herald Tribune and other publications, Patrick Lawrence. He was born Patrick Lawrence Smith. I mentioned that only because he wrote two very important books that I know about, but I didn’t know he wrote them because they’re under the label Patrick Smith, if you should want to go check them out. One was written in 2010 called Somebody Else’s Century: East and west in a Post-West World. And then I think it was two years later, he wrote a book about America having to adjust to a world in which the East is now going to be the dominant force.

Robert Scheer:
And I think this is the important takeaway from the whole Ukraine-Russian invasion story that is the focus of so much news now. Because on the eve of this, and Patrick has written for a number of journals, including the Consortium News and others. I post them on my own website Scheer Post. But one of the points he’s made in his columns, and here’s a guy who for 30 years covered much of the world and knows a lot about India, China, Japan, the three subjects of his East Takes Over book.

But he reminds us in his columns that Russia made a deal with China and India about a multipolar world before their most recent invasion of Ukraine. And that really the big change here… I’ll let you take it over now. But the big shift really might be that this is no longer a cold war one between Russia and the US, a basically white man’s game, but now we’re in the other. And we’re in a multipolar world whether we like it or not. And China and India alone, which represent well over two billion people, close to pushing three billion at some point, that much of the world is not even honoring the sanctions that have been posed by the European Union. So why don’t you just give us your overview and from your 30 years out there covering this world.


Patrick Lawrence:
Well, Bob, thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to join you after so many years following your stuff. I’m glad you mentioned very generously mentioned those two books. The second of them is called Time No Longer and Yale brought it out. I note that one because in it, I made the argument that America had a very considerable choice in front of it. And that was how to manage its own _ relative decline against the emergence of other powers of notably China, the Russian Federation, India, and so on, right? The rise of the Non-West. I consider parity between the West and Non-West an absolutely unstoppable imperative of the 21st century, whether we like it or approve of it or not. And my thought in that book was we can do this gracefully. We can do it with imagination, a certain courage, wisdom, cleverness greeting a new global landscape with anticipation, enthusiasm indeed. Or we can do it jealously, messily, defensively, and the world will be in for another, unfortunately, long interim of disorder. And in that book, I said, “You know, I think we have 25 years starting from the September 11th tragedies in 2001,” just sticking my neck out a little. I said, “I think we have about 25 years to make this decision.” And we’re now 21 years into that period and we have emphatically made that decision. We are not going to do this gracefully. We are going to do it with the utmost resistance. And our foreign policies are, are not going to have anything to do with constructive sentiments or intent.

Patrick Lawrence:
A dear friend, no longer with us used to say, “Our foreign policy is based on being the spoiler. We’re going to be the spoiler. We’re going to spoil things like a settlement in the Korean peninsula, et cetera right now.” Now I think we’re down to being the provocateur. We are going to provoke tension, potential conflict, danger in those areas where we think we stand to we, our leadership. In those areas where our leadership judges, it can prolong American primacy a little bit longer. And that’s what I think we’re watching in Ukraine. And it’s a two front cold war this time. So regrettable, even the phrase, cold war two. It’s a two front cold war. And we’re talking this morning about the out the Eastern front, let’s call it, with China, Taiwan being the center of gravity this time.

Robert Scheer:
Well, the conceit of American culture. And that is the best way to describe it, I think, is that we own this thing called freedom, self-determination, democracy. And once again, we always seem to be looking for the good war. When will World War II come back? We forget, of course, we resisted entering the good war until Russia had basically, the old Soviet union had basically broken Hitler’s power.

But leaving that aside, we’ve been looking. And Vietnam was going to be the good war. We were against Communist serenity, that didn’t work out. Iraq was going to be the good war. We were against terrorism, that didn’t work out. And we now think in the Ukraine, you can almost get a giddiness about it, we got a good war. We’re fighting on the side of these Ukrainians for their freedom against, we don’t call it the Soviet Union, it’s not a communist country anymore.

But I think the real target is we’d like to take on China. And we’d like to take on China, not because it’s a military threat, but because we can’t stand the idea, in fact, these people who are still written by a communist party, actually turned out to be more effective capitalists in the modern period than any other country. But that’s probably not the way you look at, I read your book, I reread it last night. By the way, I was at the LA Times Book Festival when they gave you a more recent book, you were a finalist for the best nonfiction, as I recall. I didn’t know it was you, because again, you had this name, Smith, so people want out for it.

Patrick Lawrence:
How delightful you remember that, Bob.


Robert Scheer:
You bet. I was there. But I should say shout out, credit to my wife. Narda Zacchino, who used to be the associate editor, she founded the book festival. So I’ve gone to every one of them. But anyway, your thesis, it seems to me, is unmistakably clear. Kipling pointed it out, you’ve got to come to grips with the East. And you’ve written the book on India and China and japan is wonderful because it’s complex. It understands that these are three very different countries. Asia is a very complex place. And what you are against is this idiotic thinking that we own the franchise for freedom, self-determination and so forth. And you’ve taken in that book, three very different countries, Japan, India and China, three countries that have been at war with each other, quite viciously, and you show complexity as the name of the game. And it’s basically an argument for accepting a multipolar world.


Robert Scheer:
And what I found really ominous recently, aside from all of the putting arms and everything, the great arms race over Ukraine will be like Vietnam. I think you said in one of your columns, “We’ll fight until the last Ukrainian.” But also there’s this arrogance that Biden could go to Asia and say, “We are now going to build a new wall against China.” And then you wrote a column that he actually broke with American policy and said, “We will militarily prevent you from reclaiming Taiwan.”


Robert Scheer:
So we’re at an incredibly dangerous moment. We’re talking about not just Russia being nuclear armed, China of course is, and has more of an ability to fight back. So why don’t you kind of give us where we are? We’re at a very dangerous moment that, as far as I can see, the headline is really US is the provocateur. That’s going to be hard for many liberal folks to accept. They think virtue is with Biden now. And it reminded me of Martin Luther King, at one point, he lost the New York Times. They attacked him editorially a year before he died at Riverside Church when Martin Luther King said, “I can’t talk about nonviolence in the ghetto or in the world when my own government is the major purveyor of violence in the world today.” And if we look at the arms industry and where we’re shipping arms, that’s the US government now, but you used the word provocateur. So why don’t we deal with that?


Patrick Lawrence:
Okay. You prompt me to remember an absolutely delightful tweet somebody sent out. I’m now censored from Twitter, but while I was still able to read it, somebody said.


Robert Scheer:
You mean that as a joke, you don’t mean you were actually censored?


Patrick Lawrence :
Yeah. My account’s been banished.


Robert Scheer:
It has?


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah. It was called, My Name Was The Flautist. I had a nice number of followers, but-


Robert Scheer:
Wait a minute. You were like Donald Trump, you’re banned from Twitter?


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.


Robert Scheer:
Oh, my goodness.


Patrick Lawrence:
Just disgraceful. Anyway.


Robert Scheer:
Well, wait a minute. You’re not a new news person. You worked for the International Herald Tribune and other highly respected organizations for 30 years. You reported for war zones. You weren’t in China during the cultural revolution, but you went there, I think in 1980. You’ve been in India. You’ve interviewed a lot of these important leaders and so forth. And you are banned from Twitter?


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah.


Robert Scheer:
You’re banned from Twitter. And we don’t know that’s an assault on individual freedom?


Patrick Lawrence:
The people doing this censoring, they have no sense of history. They have no regard for experience, what modest wisdom one may have accumulated along the way. No. The cutting edge question, they’ve been at this for a long time. They came after me and numerous others or some others anyway. The Ukraine war has proved the cutting edge question. They judged the democratic party in concert with Silicon Valley. Everybody has to stay right on side as we wage this proxy war. YouTube has erased something like 9,000 videos containing questioning the Orthodox version of the war and why it started and all that. So it’s sort of full tilt, full tilt campaign now and I got hit. Anyway…


Robert Scheer:
Well, let me just say, since I get almost no traffic from Twitter, you’re welcome to write for ScheerPost. And maybe I should specialize in publishing people who have been banned on Twitter, maybe …


Patrick Lawrence:
Refugees.


Robert Scheer:
Well, that’s the new literary badge of honor.


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah.


Robert Scheer:
Well go on.


Patrick Lawrence:
You need a motto, Bob, like, give me your tired, your beleaguered, your censored …


Robert Scheer:
I’m making a joke of it, but it’s pretty frightening. The fact that, well, okay, it’s not officially the government doing it, but my goodness, when you have a monopoly, a cartel, would do we feel better if Putin got a cartel in Russia to ban you? That’s the only thing he is missing, then we couldn’t call the tyranny, right?


Patrick Lawrence:
The government is not doing it de jure but it is doing it de facto because it’s pressuring Silicon Valley to act. It’s this very, quite legible phenomenon.


Robert Scheer:
As long as we define you now, or Twitter has, as this dangerous radical, I still would like to get your vision.


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah. Let’s go back to the question.


Robert Scheer:
Where we are now in the world.


Patrick Lawrence:
Right.


Robert Scheer:
Because like it or not, there are these billions of people who live in countries that are not honoring our sanctions and do not… India and China, two systems that by the way, India used to be the great bastion of democracy in the hopes of the US for Asia. And then we had Communist China that we wouldn’t allow to be in the UN and wouldn’t recognize. But now you’ve got these two countries that have actually had waged or shot at each other and yet we are uniting them and we are uniting them with Russia, something communism wasn’t able to do. There was no Soviet dispute. The Chinese Communist and the Russia’s Communist shooting at each other, that started even before the communist revolution. But now we are managing to unite India, China, Russia and India and China are buying the oil that we are preventing Russia from selling in Europe. So the world has actually confirmed your prediction in your book, in your excellent book.


Robert Scheer:
I keep bringing it up because I only finished rereading it about three hours ago. It’s an easy read. It’s 200 pages. And I do want to recommend that, even more than your book about the United States. So if somebody wants more information, it’s called Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World. So let’s get to that point.


Patrick Lawrence:
All right. I go back to that delightful tweet I was going to tell you about it. It was during those weeks when Secretary Blinken and others in the administration were trying to recruit China to join the sanctions against Russia. And at the very least not aid Russia as it seeks to transcend them one way or the other. And somebody sent out this tweet saying, “Dear China, please help us subvert Russia. So then we can concentrate on you.”


Robert Scheer:
Yeah. And that is a story. Because if you look at the project for new American century, the NeoCons, who now seem to have occupied the Biden state department quite effectively, China was really their target.


Patrick Lawrence:
Yes.


Robert Scheer:
We never accepted the idea that we would have a world or peace or a multipolar world. They were after China. And the fact that Chinese are very good capitalists made them even more of a threat.


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah. Now look, Russia, post-Soviet Union Russia, it has its work to do by way of development, urban, rural divides, so on. Manufacturing sector is not what one would want it to be. But China’s another sort of story. And think they’re plainly extremely gifted by way of technological innovation and applications and so forth, common East Asian story. And the very size of the place, it’s very plain that China already a regional power is rapidly emerging as a global power. And I think in Washington some while ago, I think they identified China as the main “threat” or the main country we are going to insist is a threat. I put it that way because China is in no way a threat of this kind, or we consistently misread its intentions. It’s very unfortunate.


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah. The main issue in Washington policy cleaks is not the Russian Federation, it’s China. That’s our long term, or again, our perceived long term threat. And I urge your listeners at this point to watch very carefully because we are reliving a moment that last came to us 70 odd years ago. All right. And I’m talking about the origins of the Cold War. This is very blurred in history in most of the books. But I think if you study what happened carefully and with a proper degree of disinterest and discernment, you will understand that the standard story that the Soviet Union started the Cold War is just wrong. We provoked the Cold War. I’m happy to say that on your program. So there’s the question of causality.

Patrick Lawrence :
There’s the question of causality, responsibility, agency, chronology. Those are important words in our context today, and I urge all of us to sort of bear witness here and recognize with history in mind, the history I just mentioned in mind. These questions of causality, responsibility and the chronology of events, we are provoking this friction with China for our own purposes. And the standard American understanding of China now has been bent way, way out of shape. China’s intentions are nothing like what our policy people and media assigned to them. They are not looking for an open conflict. They are not looking to push America back to the coast of California. They simply want to play a role in their region that is commensurate with their emergence as a power.


Robert Scheer:
Let me stop you with that sentence because I know what you just said. And also I read, and I generally have people on this show who I want people to read their books or watch their documentary, I’ll be honest about that. But you really wrote a very, very important book, and I’m not putting down your more recent book, but that Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World, that includes India’s century, Japan’s century and you can throw Brazil century and a lot of other countries out there. And what I loved about your book is I know something about China. I was a fellow in the Center for Chinese Studies back in 1963. I actually was in China during the cultural revolution, one of the few observers there, and I saw China swing all the way over to anarchy and irrationality and really quite a bit of violence.


Robert Scheer:
And what I loved about your writing and that book, and it applies to India and Japan and anywhere else you might write, you have a kind of Graham Greene wisdom of recognizing that life is not the way we like to order it, it has its own rhythms. And he’s sort of the poet for my money of anti-imperialism and spirit, Graham Greene. He was about Mexico. He was about Vietnam, his books and so forth. And your book has that texture.


Robert Scheer:
You don’t give China or India or Japan a pass. You talk about their struggles with tradition, identity, how complex it is, how there are no easy answers. You just made a couple of statements on this program that might suggest to listeners that you have a simplistic view, but that would be wrong. You actually have a very complex view of China, India, Japan, and the rest of the world. And you earned this complex view by 30, 40 years of being a reporter out there. I have to remind people, this is not some armchair intellectual spouting. You paid your dues. You were out there schlepping around interviewing people, where you were in war zones and so forth. So why don’t you tell us about what you learned in the field and why you’ve come to this conclusion?


Patrick Lawrence:
Well, thanks, Bob. You’re very generous about that book and I have to be grateful for that. I’m reaching a copy across the way here. Because in all honesty I continue to think it’s the best thing I ever wrote, but I’ve never really been willing to rely on that judgment entirely because I was the happiest I’ve ever been when I wrote it and maybe that colors my judgment.


Robert Scheer:
Look, I have made a commitment to listeners of this show that I will not discuss a book without reading it from beginning to end, even if that means staying up the night before I do the interview, which happened last night. And in this case it was a reread, but I think people have to take ideas seriously. They have to take books seriously. They can’t just skim them. They can’t just look for the bloodlines or what have you. And what you are writing, your journalism, is really all about is nothing more dangerous or radical in terms of being banned from their Twitter account, nothing more dangerous than acknowledgement of complexity. Complexity. And people always go to war first by denying complexity. There’s no hope of negotiation. There’s no hope of compromise. And that’s where we are now.


Robert Scheer:
Even Biden had to walk it back and say, “Oh no, no, we’re not for regime change in Russia.” After his Secretary of Defense had said we want to destroy their ability to protect themselves. Yeah, lots of luck with that. They happen to have these nuclear weapons, which we gifted the world with. And so, but I’m trying to get a little energy into this because I feel you’re being a little too blase about it.
We’re talking about the possible end of all human life. That’s what these nuclear weapons represent. And it’s not just Russia. It’s Pakistan, it’s India, it’s China, it’s Israel. There are a lot of weapons out there and it doesn’t take more than a what? Couple a dozen of them to destroy most of what we think is life on the planet. And they’re there and they have the delivery systems. And we want to put a guy like Putin… First, we say he’s crazy or psychological or has a death wish or whatever. And then we want to put his back up against the wall. And we’ve talked about all of his generals and advisors as being war criminals. And then we expect them to be rational and meet us at the negotiating table. It don’t work that way.


Patrick Lawrence:
Bob, if you think about this historically, the stated American intent in 1945 was to bring along the world into a grand era of prosperity, material wellbeing, raise up the underdeveloped nations, the impoverished and all that. I don’t need to go on. And if you think about what’s going on now with that little thought of this historical thought, you have to say, “Wait a minute, the rise of China,” which has brought hundreds and hundreds of millions of people out of poverty just in the last few decades, “the rise of China, the rise of India, Pakistan, Brazil, the South Africans, and so on and so on, aren’t we supposed to be applauding this as exactly what we wanted to see and what we set out to engender seven decades and some ago?”


Patrick Lawrence:
Think about that. The reality is we can’t handle it. We just can’t imagine a world that rests on anything even remotely resembling the parity. One of the things you just mentioned, it quite struck me is Putin must be insane. I love some of this stuff. It’s so bitterly amusing. Putin must be insane. His generals aren’t telling him what’s going on, et cetera, et cetera, it goes on. The Russian people don’t like him, they’re against the war. Parenthesis, he’s got an 80% plus approval rate at this point. And Xi, Xi is power man. He’s a tyrant, et cetera, et cetera.

The point is we cannot allow these leaders any attribute of rational thinking. We cannot permit, we cannot our let our minds in on the idea that these people are acting in a rational way in the interests of their countries. That’s what I think we’re watching and reading about every day with these caricatures of Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and other such leaders. I’ll make a qualification here. I do not approve of Narendra Modi and what he is doing to India. This Hindu nationalist stuff, I wrote about it in the book we’re mentioning called Hindutva-

Robert Scheer:
But your approval is not the critical thing.


Patrick Lawrence :
No, it doesn’t mean anything.


Robert Scheer :

The critical understanding I got of India, and I share your biases, I favor secular democracy. I’m a narrow man. I thought India would lead us to enlightenment, and I believed in all the non-alignment and so forth. But the fact is what’s threatening about India now, China now, and ultimately any country in the world is not their failure to their own people. We love them when they’re totalitarian and oppressive.

In fact, our big issue with China is that we’d like them to keep the wage rates down. Apple doesn’t want unions in the United States. They certainly don’t want real unions in China. We like Chinese totalitarianism when it gives us phony unions, when workers can’t organize. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether it’s India or China or any other place in the world, if they decide that they get to also make world history, that they get to decorate the world and find places where work for them and things that work for them and including grand concepts of freedom and so forth and bring their own sensitivity about religion or after all we claim the right to define democracy but we were the biggest slave owners.

And we didn’t let women even vote until 1920 for God’s sake. We’re talking about women’s rights in the world and we didn’t have them in our great flowering of democracy, let alone racial equality. And we endorse-


Patrick Lawrence:
You know, Bob-


Robert Scheer:
My goodness. There’s an arrogance to this and I’m not here to defend the Indian government now. What I am here is to defend plurality and the easy condemnation of any choices any of these governments make.


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah. You caught me out a little there, Bob. I do not approve of Hindutva, I think it’s a terrible blight on one of the most wonderful countries in the world for all its diversity and so forth. But you make a very sound point. I fell into a trap I often urge others to avoid. It doesn’t really matter what I think of Modi. That’s the business of the Indian electorate and it’s more importantly, this must apply to the discourse concerning Russia and China. I don’t quite know what I think of Vladimir Putin on the domestic side. But that’s none of my business.

That’s the business of the Russian people. Ditto China. This goes back to, I love your reference to Nehru, I’m right with you on that generation of larger than life leaders after the war Nehru, my four N’s: Naru, Nasser, [inaudible 00:34:54]. And then all the others are Bens and Mosaddegh and Lumumba, et cetera. What a visionary generation. And Joe on lies five principles. If you listen to what the Chinese are saying now, they’re actually quoting those principles. The internal affairs of other countries are not to be intervened upon.
And I mentioned this point now, I’ll finish up my remark. When we are judging Russia and the war in Ukraine and so on and so forth, it is simply no good referencing whatever goes on in Russia by way of the press or civil rights or NGOs or any of that. It is simply not pertinent. Parentheses, the late Stephen Cohen used to remind me, the press in Russia is far more diverse in its opinions than ours.


Robert Scheer:
Or it was until this war. That’s the whole problem with war. Whether it’s the United States or Russia or anywhere else, as the Orwell pointed out, whether it’s an invented war or real war, you’re going to lose freedom. And that’s true of imperialism as well. This was the whole warning of our founders. They contradicted it right away by being an imperialist regard to Native Americans and people of color and so forth, but the fact of matter is you can’t be an imperial power and be enlightened and democratic. War makes idiots of us all. War makes barbarians of us all. That’s the lesson of human history.


Patrick Lawrence:
Now look, back in 1898 with the Spanish American war, that was the moment when America declared itself and an empire. And you had people like Twain, the Anti-Imperialist League and all that. The truth of that time was very, very stark and it is no less pertinent today. You can either have an empire abroad or you can have democracy at home, but you cannot have both. That’s it. And we are living the truth of that. Look at us domestically. It’s a very sad story, isn’t it? I don’t wish to be any grimmer than the reality around us, but that’s the truth of it, right?


Robert Scheer:
It’s also the lesson of the Western experience. You go back to Aristotle. When Aristotle advised Alexander to be a ruthless emperor to the rest of the world, treat them as brutes and beasts and vegetables, and yet be kind to all the Greeks. That was the prescription. And that’s the problem we’re having with China now. We refused to accept that the one point… When I was in the Center for Chinese Studies, there were between four and 500 million Chinese, probably closer to 500 million. This was 1963.


Robert Scheer:
The conventional wisdom in our circles, the experts, was that China could never develop, had no petroleum, the land was exhausted and over population would doom them. China has stood this on its head and they now have almost a billion more people and they’ve done incredibly well by those people. So the real issue is, are those people brutes, vegetables as Aristotle would’ve talked about them, beasts? Or are they deserving of the same rights as Athenians or people living in New York or California, or Alabama or Texas? And that is the real issue. And whether it’s coming out of Trump or out of Biden, we basically have a view of the people living in China, India, and elsewhere as an undifferentiated mass, not really worthy of respect for their intellect, their experience. And as you point out in your book, by the way, I have found from our thousands of Chinese students we have here at USC where I teach, they actually have a better and clearer and smarter understanding of the United States than the average American student has of China.


Patrick Lawrence:
Oh, without any doubt. Americans don’t need to understand other people, other people need to understand us. But that’s because of the power balance.


Robert Scheer:
Tell us about that. That’s the real message of your book. I am so irritated. I’m so upset that a man of your knowledge could be banned from Twitter. I just don’t get it. Why does that not enrage? Where are our press organizations? Where is P? Are you a member of PEN that’s supposed to protect writers.


Patrick Lawrence:
Are you kidding me? Not on your life given what PEN’s made of itself.


Robert Scheer:
I was honored by PEN one year. So was Chris Hedges. What’s going on? Where are the human rights organization? You’re a press person, a long distinguished establishment career and you can be banned from Twitter and we talk about freedom?


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah. Listen, PEN’s gone the way of the ACLU and all these other institutions. It’s just not what it was. LBJ once said in his colorful way, since your program is fun for the whole family, I’ll put it politely. “You’re either outside the tent urinating in or inside the tent urinating out.” And in my judgment, people in our profession have been given a choice. I think this choice was coming at us for many, many, many years, but I think it’s become, since 2001, I don’t think there’s any place to hide anymore. You’ve got to be either inside the tent putting out the orthodoxy, or you’ve got to be outside the tent taking care of the ethics and standards that used to govern our profession and no longer do.


Robert Scheer:
I’ve been very flattering up to this point, but bite your tongue because that’s not even good career advice to a young journalist now.


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah, actually.


Robert Scheer:
Because the fact is the center will not hold. It is in disarray. We didn’t create Donald Trump with our honest reporting. A failed system created Donald Trump. The failure of liberal democracy created Donald Trump. The failure to solve problems of immigration, of income inequality, of racism, of gender inequality. That’s what created a boom like Donald Trump. And then they want to blame critical reporters on the left side of things. That’s garbage. And so your advice is wrong because the tent will not stand up. And the fact is we are in disarray now.


Patrick Lawrence:
It’s a good point.


Robert Scheer:
Yeah.


Patrick Lawrence :
It’s a good point. Good take.


Robert Scheer:
So go pitch your own tent, invent your own journalism. I don’t know, we could end it on that, but we have not… I want to go a little longer because people still will not understand that you have done your homework. That’s what I wanted to come out of this. That’s why I chased you down to do this podcast.


Patrick Lawrence:
Well, let me return to-


Robert Scheer:
Yeah, go give us the homework.


Patrick Lawrence:
Let me return to the point-


Robert Scheer:
You’ve talked to these leaders. You were there. Tell us what you learned on the streets.


Patrick Lawrence:
I want to return to a point we slightly lost a minute ago, and that is the nature of these non-Western societies we’re talking about. Okay? You’re quite right about America. We have the monopoly on democracy and liberties and so on and so forth. Yes, that’s our credo, our creed, but it causes us to… It prevents us from seeing other people clearly. And as I said in I think the column that brought us together, if there’s one thing people in the 21st century demands of our diplomats and statesmen, stateswomen, and the rest of us too, journalists, certainly, it is learning to see and understand the perspectives of others, how the world looks from their point of view.
We just have no gift for this, we Americans, primarily because… There’s geography and so on, but primarily because we haven’t had to. Now, let me go to another point here. A wonderful Bengali scholar named Partha Chatterjee, he teaches in Calcutta some of the year, at least last I followed him, spent a semester, a year at Columbia, published a book in the nineties, a book of essays called The Politics of the Governed. And he made a very provocative point. I certainly saw this as I walked around India, China, to an extent it applies to Japan, indeed. And it’s this, legitimacy in our time does not necessarily any longer derive from participatory democratic processes and institutions. It derives from the provision of various services and social values, security, safety, education, clean water, and so on and so forth. Right? When I first read that, it was first published in Delhi by a very small press, and I that’s where I read it, I said, “I have a somewhat Western sensibility, this idea, I find it quite disturbing.”
What’s going to happen to our notions of democracy? But I looked around and I said, “Do I have a right to hold the Indian population to that standard? Look at this country, look at the deprivation and the underdevelopment. They’re coming along nicely, but look at what a long way they have to go.” The same applies in China. So what are we talking about here? We are talking about different a sort of civilizational standards, different idea of what a just society looks like and how it functions.
And I think that’s one of the main things I came back from my 29 years in Asia, that’s one of the main truths I had in my suitcase when I arrived back in the States. We need to see societies as they understand themselves. It is not necessary for us to approve. I don’t think they would even care if we did or not, but it is necessary for us to understand them on their own terms. I would add one thing. I also returned understanding that being a Westerner or a non-Westerner is not a matter of the color of one’s skin or the shape of one’s eyes or how often one eats rice. It’s a question of one’s sensibility, one’s consciousness, one’s understanding of who one is in relation to the society where one lives.
Robert Scheer :
You faded out there for a minute, but go ahead… You said it was a question of the society where… It was actually a very poetic statement. Maybe it got recorded. Let me just throw one thing in here, though. We don’t want… We’re not innocent about this. Just as I was thinking, one of my first trips to Asia was when I got Paul Krassner who was editing The Realist magazine and he made a lot of money off posters that said, well, I guess we are NPR, so F communism, and they sold like hot cakes. They were red, white, and blue banners. And you put them up in your dorm and your dorm advisor couldn’t say, “Take that down,” because you could accuse him of being a communist. It was absolutely brilliant, the F-U-C-K communism posters.
He had some money, so he bought me a ticket to Vietnam, and that’s how I went there in 1964. And anyway, I bribed my way into an area where there was some combat with the Vietcong and the Delta. And then my driver abandoned me there as a journalist, you will appreciate that happens. And suddenly it was nightfall, and all the people who were talking to me faded away. And suddenly there was a firefight and I was alone. And believe it or not, I actually found refuge in one of these… Graham Green described something that it was left over from the French Indochina war. There were wooden towers that maintained security, so I climbed up into this one that was there. And there were a couple of other guys, Vietnamese people, taking refuge in there. They were annoyed as hell that I joined them, but they didn’t kick me out.
And I had a night of absolute fear to contemplate what the hell was I doing there, what was my government doing there, what do we really know about these people? And in reading your book, what I found so powerful was your description of Western mischief. You go back to the Portuguese adventurers, you go back to the Spanish, you go back to the Opium War, you go back the intrusion by the West on the East. We’re not innocent bystanders. We helped create the mess of China and India, we Westerners, with our wisdom, and we messed up their history terribly. I was in Cambodia when it was a pleasant, wonderful place, wonderful king and so forth. And then what happened? Millions are killed and we extend the war and all of the nightmare, the terrible things we’ve done.
And in your book, one is introduced to this East, not as a place of innocence, the Beatles going there to find virtue in India, but as a wasteland, as a plundered land, as a deliberately divided area. And a lot of what plays out now that we’re getting from India, we get it from Japan, we get it from China, is their reaction to grievances that in large measure have to do with Western behavior.


Patrick Lawrence:
Oh yeah.


Robert Scheer:
And right now, think about the arrogance of Joe Biden, who when he is informed and alert, has endorsed these American adventures going there to lecture how to put a new… What, he wants to put a wall. Now, let me end on that because your book denounces walls in a very poetic way, and what we are about now is building walls. We want a wall against Russia. We want a wall against China. And you remind us in your book, it was Ronald Reagan who said, tear down that wall. It was Gorbachev who responded. And we now want to build walls. That’s what NATO is about.


Patrick Lawrence:
Absolutely.


Robert Scheer:
So let’s end on that. Tell us where you think we’re headed.


Patrick Lawrence:
Yeah. Mr. Biden, don’t build that wall, right? He’s building it as quickly as we can. Look, my take on this is the rest of the world… The West is becoming progressively more isolated. He who would isolate is becoming more isolated. The countries that have signed on for these sanctions number, I think, 25. The countries that have declined to sign on to them number 160. And I think what the rest of the world is telling us, if I may, the non-West, the global South, what have you, is that they don’t want a world where these walls exist. They paid rather dearly. We tend to miss this. The non-Western world paid very dearly for Cold War I, in terms of stunted development. The aspirations expressed by that wonderful group of leaders we were mentioning earlier, Nauru and so on, were nearly extinguished. Societies did not rise the way they aspired to. They paid materially, in spirit, et cetera. And what happened after the wall came down was these very same aspirations arose once again.
We don’t want to be aligned with America or the Soviet Union. We just want to be Nigerians or Tanzanians or Venezuelans, or what have you. And that’s what the world wants again. I mentioned earlier America’s assumption, post Cold War assumption of a role as spoiler and now provocateur. It’s really very sad, not to say tragic, Bob, that this is exactly the world we are… Once again, just as we did in the late forties, this is the world our leaders are attempting to prevent from coming into being.


Robert Scheer:
And I want to close with a pitch here, because I don’t think you are simplistic in any way. I don’t think you’re indifferent to the disaster of war. I think you’ve witnessed it, and you know the price we paid. So I just want to make that clear. I’m not here to bait you, and I do urge people, I think if you want to pick up one book to try to understand the East, pick up Somebody Else’s Century. It was written 12 years ago, but it’s very fresh right now. It’s a very well written. Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World. And I think one way or another, we are going to be certainly in a multipolar world, in which just as a matter of energy and intellect and population, it’s going to be Eastern-centered. So I want to say check out Patrick Lawrence. The author is Patrick Lawrence Smith. That’s another story we’ll visit in another discussion, but I want to say, it reeks of complexity in the best sense. It’s thoughtful. It’s great work. And I just want to end on that note.
I want to thank Christopher Ho and Laura Kondourajian, the producers of the show at KCRW, for doing a great job. Joshua Scheer is the executive producer, puts it all together and holds it together. And I want to thank the J … I always get this wrong. The JKW Foundation, which is in the memory of Jean Stein, a terrific journalist, for providing us with some funding. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.

13 comments

  1. I reckon I’ll have to read one of Patrick Lawrence Smith’s books because with all the boasting and talking over of Robert Scheer I think I was cheated out of the information I should have gotten from this interview. It was a more of a reminiscence than news.

    They should have discussed US provocations and their consequence more.
    They totally disregarded resource exhaustion and climate collapse.
    They failed to account for how the western mischief toward, and sabotage of
    “brutes, beasts and vegetables ” comes home to roost and exacts domestic pain and chaos.
    Finally, Though I like the hands-off approach toward other nations’ internal affairs I take issue with the idea that there can be a dichotomy between services provided and participatory democracy. (the Partha Chatterjee thesis, that is used to legitimize travesties like Hindutva.) Patrick said: “…Legitimacy in our time does not necessarily any longer derive from participatory democratic processes and institutions. It derives from the provision of various services and social values, security, safety, education, clean water, and so on and so forth. Right?” and Bob assented. That may be good diplomacy and neighborliness, but it is definitely not a proper aspiration here at home. True, our domestic services are currently neglected, but that is a consequence of the trashing of participatory democracy by serving Empire. (The guy isn’t so innovative or smart, so I renege on reading his books.)

  2. Bob, I love your podcast but can you let your guest speak a little more? Not trying to be rude but I know most of your opinions and positions in general already as I have followed you or some time. I also like and support what you have to contribute. Look forward to more publications and podcast from you and ScheerPost.

  3. Thanks to both; an excellent and sobering discussion. About Patrick’s books – I just checked Amazon (UK, as that’s where I am) and found ”Somebody Else’s Century” under Patrick Smith – a few used ones; ‘Not currently available’ otherwise. I found no other books under Patrick Lawrence Smith; Patrick Lawrence; or other variations.

  4. Simply put, it’s very upsetting to see just ignorant I’ve been, Americans are, on wars started by our own government. What I keep asking is, why hasn’t this been delivered directly to the public at large by main stream media? Yes, I know. Our political Party leaders are in cahoots with MSM CEO’s. There can be no doubt of that. Still, you’ve got to get this important perspective out to the masses. Thank you for all that you’re doing. God help us.

    1. I have no way of finding out who anyone posting here really is or their affiliations, Debra. I can only go by a comparative analysis of what they say. But by corroborating insights and information from other posters I often learn more than from the published interviews and articles. It’s often worth following the links and suggestions offered. Baba Yaga’s material today is a good example.

      That’s not to say that this interview is not useful and informative or that the Scheer outlets are not unique and valuable. With several decades of discussion and debate on sites like Bill Moyers Journal and Truthdig (both censored out now) I do think I can tell when personality gets in the way of a better presentation.

      Now that you know how extensively you’ve been lied to, Debra , I expect you’ll also critique even the best of alternative/dissident writing. It’s difficult enough to criticize your native country and its military, and it’s economic system and to realize you may have supported some really stupid things in the past. I keep crossing forbidden lines (often involuntarily) as I gain more insight and it is scary. It’s a shabby little tragedy that when many people first wake up to the mess that they become fixated on some easy explanations and formulas. Be careful to keep learning and refining/ adapting your own opinions.

      There’s a good example of correction like that in this interview when Patrick Lawrence admits he’s been “caught out” by his own emotional reaction to Hindutva (institutionalized religious bigotry) in India , after having emphasized how we are taught by authorities that Putin is insane or that Xi is a despot. Then comes Baba Yaga to fill in lots of context (on China) so that tolerant foreign relations make sense. (The global wage gap and comparing unions are also fruitful topics.) And I’d never heard of Patrick Lawrence Smith before, so I’ll be looking out for his work. His suitcase is actually filled with valuable experience. Now if Bob had only desisted from personal history and selling books to let him share more.

      Anyway Debra, welcome to the precarity and struggle of becoming a cultural analyst and questioner of Empire and Capitalism. I hope you find some satisfaction in it. I look forward to your submissions.

      1. With each link, the search for buried treasure widens. I didn’t have FOMO with social media like I have with the news.

  5. From the above: “In fact, our big issue with China is that we’d like them to keep the wage rates down. Apple doesn’t want unions in the United States. They certainly don’t want real unions in China. We like Chinese totalitarianism when it gives us phony unions, when workers can’t organize. ”

    This is stupid, blithering nonsense.

    China took advantage of wage inequalities and the greed of capitalists to build up their nation, under Communist leadership.

    The capitalists made enormous fortunes.

    They kept the money, some of it was poured into ratholes of foreign wars.

    What did China do?

    Here, from Bloomberg, not People’s Daily

    The sheer scale of China’s overall achievements when it comes to poverty alleviation is remarkable. More than 850 million people have been lifted out of extreme penury in under four decades. Almost 90% of the population was below the international poverty threshold in 1981, according to the World Bank; by the 2019, that was under 1%. It’s true the world as a whole has seen a dramatic improvement in poverty rates, but more than three-quarters of that is due to China. And the amelioration to individuals’ lives under the latest campaign — which involved tracking down remote villages and the very poorest families, one by one — are real and visible.

    . . . Bloomberg Opinion

    For those who want to get into the weeds, here’s how they did it

    https://thetricontinental.org/studies-1-socialist-construction/#part1_introduction

    How about education?

    https://fortune.com/2019/12/03/china-students-prisa-oecd-education-survey-smartest/

    “Chinese students far out-stripped peers in every other country in a survey of reading, math and science ability, underscoring a reserve of future economic strength and the struggle of advanced economies to keep up.

    The OECD’s triennial study of 15 year-old students across the world found that the four Chinese provinces tested — Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang — outperformed in science and mathematics, even if household income is well below members’ average. In reading, the 10% most disadvantaged Chinese students tested had better skills than the OECD average.”

    Got that? Their POOREST students scored ABOVE the world average.

    People who use the word “totalitarian” or “authoritarian” are doltish dilettantes.

    Peace, the end of racism and dramatically shrinking down inequality will not arrive via he con job of “democracy.”

    They will be the result of the use and maintenance of force, some of it deadly.

    The technical term is dictatorship of the proletariat.

    The article misses an essential point about China’s use of capitalism. That is, the Communist Party runs the country and the economy, not an incoherent free-for all among billionaire capitalists and corporations , as we have here in the US. Which is not a “democracy” but an oligarchy — badly managed and regressive, at that.

    A splendid example:

    In Halting Ant’s I.P.O., China Sends a Warning to Business
    Investors in what would have been the world’s largest share sale are getting refunds, as Beijing shows entrepreneurs the importance of listening to the Communist Party.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/06/technology/china-ant-group-ipo.html

    . . . by firing a last-minute torpedo at Ant and Jack Ma, the company’s controlling shareholder and celebrity founder of the e-commerce titan Alibaba, the authorities made clear that international bragging rights mattered less than ensuring private companies know where they stand next to the state.

    Imagine Biden doing that to Bezos.

    No Koch brothers there, no Business Council, no K Street.

    Capitalism in China runs in a containment vessel, like a nuclear reactor. The party has a set of national plans: business leaders are consulted but they do not decide. their conflicting interests are managed.

    Historical perspective: what China is doing is re-discovering Lenin’s New economic Policy, (NEP) installed soon after the Revolution, to boost the Soviet economy. Stalin mistakenly ended it.

    This encapsulates the clear difference between a socialist oder and a capitalist political con game.

    “Our” political process is ” distinguished” by politicians who will say whatever they think will get them elected, blatantly mislead voters, lie and make outrageous statements they know to be false or exaggerated beyond reason.

    What does this mean?

    They see us a morons who will gobble whatever slop they dump on the ground.

    This is not the sole property of the GOP: let’s remember Kennedy’s fake “missile gap” nonsense.

    When President Xi of China speaks, he says what he means and means what he says. So does the Chinese Communist Party. They suppress disruptive nonsense like Falun Gong, there are no Alex Jones types allowed in China to spread nonsense and confuse the people.

    Dishonesty, vapid anti-intellectualism and absurd nonsense are baked onto “our” politics, along with religious superstition and mental laziness encouraged by press clowns like Chuck Todd and Wolf Blitzer.

    Let’s be clear: a “democratic” system that spews misinformation and keeps people deluded, ignorant and confused is a blatant fraud.

    Most Americans view politics as two camps bickering endlessly and fruitlessly over unimportant issues.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/20/opinion/polarization-politics-americans.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

    They oligarchs who own the place are delighted with our Boobis Americanus population. Be good consumers and pleasure yourselves on your couches. Buy stuff.

    1. Babyaga, you have many excellent points but it sounds too much as CPC verbal barrage.
      I agree absolutely with you, however sometimes too much is not effective.
      Most people get lost and dis- interested after 4 paragraphs.
      Just like gun controls, facts, evidence, or truths has no impact.

  6. Baba Yaga:
    Though we don’t agree on some things, thank you for the work you do to educate us. I thought it might encourage you if I reported having read your link on the eradication of extreme poverty in China in its entirety. It was informative and I enjoyed it. I was curious if you subscribe to Fortune or the NYT. My free articles are used up and I’m not going to subscribe. But I appreciate what you discovered in the Times about the political divide in America being (somewhat) between political junkies and others who are just trying to survive, at least that’s my take.

  7. Thank you so much for this interview with Patrick Lawrence, I’ve just ordered the book to learn more.

    Thanks again.

  8. The gravest threat to America is the ‘Browning of America’, now adays it is labeled as white replacement conspiracy which is why Trump was elected.

    Similarly, on the global scale, ‘ America is threatened by the risk of – – Yellow /Brown – countries…. The reality is We can’t it’. So, of course we have imaginative ways of taking back our P O W E R thru war, of course, in the form of financial weapons and media bias mostly because our military wars have not been resounding successes . With Power, we can shape rules, regulations, and taxes to our favour and keep others poor as usual, especially non western nations.
    With Power, we gain more $$$ and you all know money buys more Power ( and sex).
    Our gun industry and weapons manufacturers have many millions to fund our politi-tudes.
    War is great for business, is there any other recession proof business?
    War with China is already overwhelmingly approved by our media, it will be no surprise if shootings begins. Then when China is sanctioned the same as Russia, then there is no reason to withhold aid to the Ukraine war. So, war will easily expand, spread and encompass the world.

  9. a direct war w china is unlikely—militarily too formidable…the US is relegated to disinformation about uighers and failed economic policies, mainly self-defeating and expensive but impotent arms proliferation in Taiwan

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