‘The Hinge of History’


Patrick Lawrence | ScheerPost - TRANSCEND Media Service

Medics transport injured Palestinian children into Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City following an Israeli airstrike on October 11, 2023.
Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

14 Nov 2023Palestine and the New World Order

Bombing hospitals was, just a few days ago, an undeclared red line the Israel Defense Forces dared not cross without provoking international disgust and condemnation. At this writing, the IDF is bombing hospitals and, I read, its soldiers are shooting patients, invalids among them, as they attempt to evacuate buildings soon to be demolished.

There is disgust and condemnation now, and they find expression not only on the streets of many cities but also in governing circles. Axios reported Monday that an internal State Department memo, signed by 100 officials at State and its aid agency, USAID, accuses President Biden of lying about Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and of complicity in war crimes. On Tuesday, The New York Times put the signatories of another letter to Biden at 400 representing 40 government departments and agencies, including the National Security Council — this in addition to an open letter to Secretary of State Blinken signed by more than 1,000 Agency for International Development employees. So far as I know, this measure of dissent in policy and governing circles is more or less unprecedented.

Beyond our purple mountains and fruited plains, the Irish Dáil will vote this week on expelling the Israeli ambassador, throwing Israel out of a European Union trade accord for breaching its human-rights clauses, and—a Sinn Féin motion—referring Israel to the International Criminal Court. Emmanuel Macron came out last weekend calling for a ceasefire, the first Western leader to do so. Given Biden’s defiant refusal even to consider asking Israel to accept a ceasefire, the French president has implicitly issued a rejection of Israeli violence and the U.S. policy supporting it.

We cannot make too much of events such as these, but we must not make too little of them, either. These are signs on the surface of much deeper movements a few meters down in our civilization’s soil. Things are gradually coming apart in consequence of Israel’s savagery and America’s abetment of it, at home in the U.S., in the Atlantic world altogether and certainly between the West and the world beyond it. Now it is time to look forward to see what we can see of the world to come.

Christopher Lydon, who produces Radio Open Source for WBUR in Boston, suggested over the weekend we have reached “a hinge in history—outcomes wildly uncertain.” He made this remark at the start of a long interview with Chas Freeman, the retired ambassador for whom I share with Lydon great admiration. Freeman agreed with the hinge-of-history thought. So do I. All is changing, changing utterly, if you will let me borrow and bend Yeats’s famous line.

Here is Chas on our moment:

This is clearly what Chancellor Scholz of Germany calls a Zeitenwende—that is, an epic-changing moment, a time of major change in a new direction in history. We’ve talked before about the fact that 500 years of global dominance by the Euro–American culture, the Atlantic culture, has come to an end.

What we are seeing at the moment in Palestine is the end of settler colonialism. Settler colonialism is a phenomenon of the last two centuries or so, and it is always accompanied by genocide. The only exception I can think of is New Zealand, where Māori power countered the British sufficiently to preserve their culture as a separate one….

It may seem unlikely that the Palestinians will do as well resisting the hegemonic West as the Māori in the 19th century, although outcomes, as Chris Lydon says, are wildly uncertain. In any case, one does not want to see a separate, even segregated Palestinian entity emerge from the Israel–Palestine catastrophe so much as a single, secular nation in which cultures of all sorts are integrated and, more than tolerant, wholly accepting of one another. So I argued recently in this space.

I read here and there in many disparate places the remark that the U.S. “has gone too far this time.” That is how Ajamu Baraka, who runs the Black Alliance for Peace, put it the other day. Every commentator making this argument is pithily to the point. The U.S. has gone too far countless times since assuming its imperial pretensions, of course, from the Spanish–American War onward. But we are watching genocidal savagery on television once again, as we watched hamlets burn and rice paddies run red during the Vietnam war. If the U.S. never fully recovered from its merciless violence in Indochina, the damage will be permanent this time. The obscenity it sponsors at the hands of a crazed apartheid regime is simply too full-frontal. Real-time inhumanity will prove America’s undoing, to say nothing of apartheid Israel’s.

America’s so-called moral authority has been a fiction for decades, I would say since the 1945 victories, but it is now in something close to free-fall collapse.  Even the Israelis, in a weird, upside-down paradox, now question America’s right to criticize the indecencies and inhumanities of others. Back off with your “humanitarian pauses,” they say. You killed more Iraqis than we are killing Palestinians. Two morally bankrupt regimes bickering: What’ll they think of next?

The pretense of America’s moral authority has served as the baseline argument—weak, wobbly, ridiculed, resented the world over—for the “rules-based order,” a phrase I find so contemptible I pause before typing it. What can such an order mean, how in hell is anyone, from Malians to Chileans to Chinese, supposed to take the thought seriously when the rules-based order comes to approving of and militarily supplying a televised genocide we must not call—one of the rules—a genocide?

The devastation of America’s status in the community of nations—and I do not think we witness anything less—is altogether the consequence of a complacency long evident among America’s policy cliques. As Chas Freeman points out in his exchange with Chris Lydon, Israel is now breaking U.S. laws circumscribing the use of American-made armaments; it is in breach of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. And nobody in the U.S. says anything about it, Freeman says with obvious ire. It is the rest of the world that is beginning to speak up. I put it this way: We watch as the Age of Hegemonic Hypocrisy, as I propose we call it, draws to a close.

“The world’s patience with us and our arrogance and presumption is coming to an end,” Chas notes. “We are going to have no choice but to recognize that we are one great power among other great powers. We are one civilization among multiple civilizations.”

I could not help noting how plainly this reality is reflected in the summit Biden will have with Xi Jinping in San Francisco this week. The people who actually run policy as Biden wanders blank-faced through the White House corridors have been falling all over themselves to emphasize that our faltering president will not get anywhere with the Chinese leader and will get nothing of consequence done. Biden’s ideologues, as I have noted severally in this space, fried the Sino–U.S. relationship the first chance they got after Joe took office. Arrogance and ignorance, as a French deputy noted at the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003, are the worst of all possible combinations.

Remember when Moscow and Beijing began to draw closer together a decade or so ago? Washington was recklessly pressing NATO as close as possible to Russia’s western frontier while getting going with its neo-containment of China. The two nations said more or less in unison, Enough of this. There is no working with these people. The Russia–China relationship now stops just short of a formal alliance and is the linchpin, or one of them, of what the Chinese, especially, now regularly refer to as “the new world order.” This is the multipolar order of which Freeman speaks.

The U.S. proves in this way a brilliant if perverse catalyst in the welcome ruination of its century and some of superiority. And its unqualified support for Israel’s daily spree of murder, starvation and dehydration in Gaza is of a piece with this. We now have the Chinese preparing, by all appearances, to play a diplomatic role in the search for a settlement. We have Iran and Saudi Arabia summiting to determine a common course of action in response to the Gaza crisis. We have Turkey militantly denouncing Israel and talking to Iran after long, long years of animosity. We have a goodly number of America’s friends pulling the plug on their relations with Tel Aviv.

It was evident years ago, when America’s preeminence began to come apart, that the U.S. could find its way into a new era creatively, imaginatively, wisely, courageously—or stupidly and violently, a vicious defender of its own lost cause. This was the choice I explored in Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post–Western World, published in 2010. Gaza is what the wrong choice looks like.

When I watch the gruesome video footage from Gaza, I think of the people I see as actors in history. They suffer, in effect, for the sins of those who purport to lead us. Their suffering is turning history’s wheel. We will owe them much for this as the order they, too, stand for comes into being.


Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans after the American Century. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. His website: Patrick Lawrence


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