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"As the Clever Hopes Expire": A Look Back at the Ending Decade

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From Consortium News

Houses destroyed by earthquake in Haiti, Jan. 21, 2010.
Houses destroyed by earthquake in Haiti, Jan. 21, 2010.
(Image by (EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid/Flickr))
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    I sit in one of the dives

    On Fifty-Second Street

    Uncertain and afraid

    As the clever hopes expire

    Of a low dishonest decade.

These are W.H. Auden's lines, written as the 1930s drew to a close and six years of global conflagration commenced. Eighty years later, they are pitifully, painfully apt as the second decade of our new century gives way to the third.

With 2019 staggering to its end, what do we see when we look back over the 2010s? What when we look forward to the 2020s? These are our questions, each to be answered without flinching, dissembling or deflecting.

It requires a wide-eyed Boy Scout's optimism to consider the decade now behind us and see anything other than a steady descent into global disorder, violence and abuse of international law. If this seems unduly pessimistic, it is merely because the 2010s were also a decade of probably unprecedented mis and disinformation, both deployed to mask responsibility for 10 years' worth of calamities that, with no obvious exceptions, could have been averted.

In this same line, you would have to be Hillary Clinton or Mickey Rooney, fresh from a rendition of "Yankee Doodle Dandy," to miss the rampantly pernicious character of American foreign policy this past decade. The evident trajectory resembles what we find on the climate-change question: Amid copious signs of crisis, the U.S. spent the last 10 years hurtling in the wrong direction. By any measure, it is now very arguably the primary source of global disorder in this century.

U.S. as Major Planetary Threat

The world comes to understand this, even if many Americans prefer to bury themselves in illusions and self-deceptions.

A Pew Research Center study published earlier this year indicated that nearly half the planet now considers the U.S. "a major threat" to their nations. This is almost double the rate of negative views Pew found in 2013, when it began this series of surveys.

Two years ago, the Council on Foreign Relations convened a workshop of Europeans to consider "Managing Global Disorder," as the event was titled. "To some," CFR reported afterward, "the principal source of instability has been the overzealous actions of the United States particularly in the wake of 9/11 in promoting democracy, human rights, and regime change around the world in contravention of established principles of state sovereignty."

The good people at Pew seem intent on sanitizing the 2010s by dropping the blame for this rise in anti-American sentiment on Donald Trump's doorstep. The president certainly bears responsibility for souring the global mood, notably in pulling out of the Paris climate pact in 2017, the Iran nuclear accord a year later, and various arms-limitations agreements with Russia. But let us disabuse ourselves on one important point. The world's wariness and weariness of America's conduct beyond its shores was well in train before Mr. Trump went to Washington.

Bearer of Many Clever Hopes

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Patrick Lawrence is a columnist, author, editor, and educator. He has published five books and currently writes foreign affairs commentary for Consortium News and other publications. He served as a correspondent abroad for many years and is (more...)

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