Saturday, March 24, 2012

L'esprit des lois

The killing of Trayvon Martin by a vigilante leaves the United States yet again in shock. Why?
Lately, in Europe and in the United States, we have overdosed on war casualities, random killings, hate crimes, and bullying, but this particular case strikes a cord, unlike any other almost. I wouldn't dare to comment on circumstance or motive, which remain obscure. Any premature judgement would be inappropriate.
This tragedy is special because of multiple reasons. The victim looks "straight at you" and stares at the camera as if it were the sunrise. The killing is certainly in part the result of the saturation which is fed by a real gun culture in many parts of the United States. Besides it lays bare the fact that opposite camps with regard to the interpretation of the Second Amendment of the American constitution remain as infexible as never before. How the right, Tea Party, evangelicals, etc. reconcile a culture of agression with a supposedly Christian agenda remains a mystery to me. The National Rifle Association is a state within the State. Last but not least, the ugly face of racism cannot be ignored. Certain comments were dispicable, independently of what will come out of the inquest.
There is the letter of the law of the land and there is the spirit. We witness yet again the fight between those who adhere to the notion of interpretation (ruling from the bench) and those who adhere to the letter of the constitution.
A Fox News contributor, Geraldo Rivera, insinuated that Trayvon's dresscode (a hoodie) helped to cause his own death. Does he imply that the majority of youngsters in the United States risk their lives if they wear sportsclothes and happen to stand in the way of the likes of Mr. George Zimmerman, a community watch volunteer, whose "credentials" need to be certified?
I realize that many recent events here and elsewhere have had a lethal effect on the beliefs of the majority of law-obiding citizens here and elsewhere. This tragedy cannot yet be directly linked to any verifiable motive: homophobia, political agenda, terrorism and so on. It makes this killing all the more out of the ordinary.
One should be cautious when emotions are raw. One should also consider the sad procession of lonely victims who just happen to be in the wrong place: Tyler Clementi, Matthew Shepard, the honor (how ironic) murders in Islamic countries. President Obama used the right words but behind the rhetoric there has to be a will to suit the action to the word. I still believe in the pertinence of the workings of the American institutions. It would be unwise to rush to judgement, especially in a case which lays bare a fundamental divide in this country over the right to bare arms.
Trayvon Martin will become the face of a cause. Let us not add insult, by prejudging, to grief. As in his too-short life he deserves respect now that he is gone. How does one miss so much total strangers? They take our emotion with them in their shroud.
Good night,sweet Prince !

Friday, March 23, 2012


Upon my arrival in Brussels I was looking forward to detecting some tangible indicators which might show that the worse of the monetary and political crisis was over. Returning to the United States I became, unfortunately, more pessimistic. I fully realize that the present political climate in America is also mediocre. The narrative has been hijacked by the Tea Party and the news from the Afghan/Pakistan/Iran/Middle East Hydra is bad. The disconnect rules at all levels. I do not want to dwell here on the mediocre aspects which result from this socio/moral wreckage but I need to point out that the American downturn is a matter of conjuncture, while the European malaise remains for the unforeseeable time structural if a new set of proper amendments is not made and monitored along the way.

The American economy will recover in time and the political discourse will return to normal. Thinkers abound who will tell you what to do with regard to the missteps which occurred during the last decennium. The ill-chosen strategic priorities can still be reversed. A sophisticated smart power strategy (see Joseph S. Nye Jr’s “The future of Power”) can correct the gross miscalculations that were made under the cover of a half-baked preventive war/coercive democratization doctrine.

The EU has nothing in common anymore with the ambitions of the Treaty of Rome. Cohesion has been displaced by bureaucracies and the pursuit of divergent agendas. The foundation of what was supposed to be more than a single market or currency, a real harmonious concert of nations with transparent institutions and a streamlined foreign and defense policy, is gone. The Greek debacle is more than the sum of its aberrations, it set the clock backwards and became a dangerous wake-up call for feelings, prejudices, dysfunctions which continue to proliferate under the mantle of endless repetitive summits and meetings between partners who were often more unreliable than not. The EU is faceless. Neither Jose Barroso, President of the Commission, Herman Van Rompuy, a decent and intelligent statesman, president of the Council, or Catherine Ashton, the hapless EU high representative have clout. The Franco-German (opportunist) axis rules under the stewardship of the German chancellor and her anti-inflation/austerity mantra. One can question this more dogmatic attitude of Mrs. Merkel. There seems almost no room left for growth for Germany’s partners if they strictly adhere to Berlin’s Diktat. Sometimes a zest of controlled inflation and Keynesian measures can help. This stalemate results in resentment and in unpleasant reminiscences. The EU is becoming an albatross with three flaps (North, South and East) resulting in a loss of balance. After the euro almost expired, we can imagine the next obituary for the Schengen Treaty. The EU External Action Service meanwhile is in hiding, while defense and foreign policy remain the threat of a few rather than the responsibility of all. The United Kingdom must not regret having kept its distance versus all those macro ambitions which looked desirable on paper but became a nightmare when reckoning knocked at the door, bringing with it all the perverse consequences of unregulated immigration and fiscal policies, and one can go on.

The new Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti gives an irrefutable example of how things can sometimes be better managed, sur mesure. Turkey is a different case but Prime Minister Erdogan, who is one of the most astute statesmen of the moment, will certainly choose for the Britsh way, a la carte, in case he were still interested in joining the chorus of Beethoven’s Ninth. The reality is that what was supposed to be, will not be, and that this EU hybrid is becoming rudderless when left in the hands of its present claimers. The “intergovernmental” method has proven its might, to the chagrin of the European Parliament which is nothing but a roving voice in the wilderness. One might regret that former ambitions remain unfulfilled, but the world since the early days of the Common Market has changed. Today Germany is courted, instead of the Commission we knew under Jacques Delors. America, the remaining superpower, has no equal whatever its flaws might be, and it realizes that success will require partners from now on. Richard Haass mentions new networks that involve emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil.

The Iran “unknown” might be a test, but it better not be because the combination of military might and Islamo-fanaticism can make the nuclear cloud even more ominous. The EU will do what it does best, talk and come up with sanctions with more bark than bite. Let us hope that a confrontation can be avoided but let us not be naïve. Behead the snake before it bites, but make equally sure that you are not alone while you attempt to kill it. Obama might have to make a difficult choice at a time of overall war fatigue in the United States. They will leave Afghanistan which will return to where it stood 100 years ago. The public opinion in the US is aware of this costly, useless war, coming on top of the Iraq disaster. There will be few takers for another military operation in a terrain which becomes exponentially more hostile by the day. I am afraid that, unfortunately, in the absence of accountable transparency, there might be no other alternative than a strike against Iranian nuclear installations , with the consequences thereof. Individual European nations might act in conjunction, but the EU risks preferring a coffee break instead.

The EU has mainly soft power and is unable to reverse course on short notice. On top of this disequilibrium The Greek melo drachma might reappear. The random racist killings in Europe are a further indication that there is something rotten in our societies, which requires urgent therapy. It would be yet another poisonous gift if all those tragedies were to lead to populist, right-wing reactions, which start to appear, not only in European (and to a lesser extent, American) public opinion but also in governments and political parties. The last thing we need is a historical repeat.

May be the EU could find a raison d’etre in a more moral repositioning as a consensus builder, rather than as a supra-national imaginated power intra pares, a role in which it failed. The world has lost its moral compass. It is in need of “the great architect”. The part needs to be filled fast, since existing formulae such as the quartet, special envoy have failed; otherwise the winter of our discontent might last much longer than a mere couple of months and the so-called Arab Spring might become a geographical brushfire. Syria is not a show, it is another tragedy. What might follow might as well be apocalyptic if not contained or surgically removed. The EU can read the signs on the wall. Its relative weakness can be its strength because its suggestions do not carry arms. The peacemaker ex machina needs to be found. That is the question ! It reminds me of Churchill’s wicked comment that “one stands for a place – the other sits on it”.

Friday, March 2, 2012


The Syrian tragedy is confronting us again with a philosophical dilemma. Let us not dwell on the atrocities which leave us silent while we watch one horror story after another. Sometimes I hear the question of how it can be possible that Bashar al-Assad, who has been exposed to Western influence while living in London, could resort to such crimes against humanity. The list goes on. The knowledge of the elementary rules of Habeas corpus does not equal the application thereof. The non-Western world is ruled by some “upstairs/ downstairs” syndrome which allows the leaders to invite Beyoncé upstairs while playing for the gallery downstairs. Nero, too, looked on while Rome was in flames and left the city to its own devices.

By the way, it is not always that easy to claim a monopoly over the rule of law, as the West does, while a decade ago Christian Serbs considered Sarajevo a shooting gallery. I do not want to go back to the most horrendous mass-murder of all times, which was again the achievement of a shifted Christian regime. The denials of Ayatollah Ali Khameenei and of President Ahmadinejad make them only de facto part of the gang which stood trial at Nurenberg. On the other side of the spectrum there is a country like Ruanda which is clawing itself out of the genocidal nightmare of 1994. President Paul Kagame is lifting his country out of a repeat of the Cambodian killing fields.

The world might be more and more globalised--is that necessarily good?--and the social media have already trivialized borders and political talk, which belong more to the Congress of Vienna than to contemporary reality. Our Western “aristo” approach to the rest of the world is biased and self-defeating. There is a need to reach out so that unavoidable outcomes are shared by most rather than bungled by a few. If Iran were to be so politically colorblind and go nuclear it is imperative that the retaliation is fine-tuned and, if possible, agreed upon by most, the neighboring countries particularly. The coalition was in Afghanistan for specific reasons, which are no longer valid. The Taliban is not a pleasant lot, but it is at the end of the day their turf and we should have gotten out after the Tora Bora debacle. Countries have sometimes to exorcise the devils in their midst. We can be seen as humanitarian, rather than as crusaders.

It is time to let clichés run their cycle rather than to feed them, as we do too often, by our own mistakes. Samuel Huntington was right to come up with the concept of “clash of civilizations” but it is wrong to consider opposing (?) ideologies as separated by some Curzon line redux. We live in a galaxy of good and evil and the malignant tumors have to be isolated. This can be done better by more sophisticated means, since most of the contentious areas are not homogeneous. There is no such thing as an Arab world and there is less and less a Western world. The EU financial crisis has opened a Pandora box wherein rather perverse memories and prejudices lay dormant.

The Syrian dictator in Western clothes is no different than his already forgotten Libyan counterpart. A Sandhurst education might lead to a gentleman’s behavior a la carte but the devil does not mind striped suits or English uniforms, quite the contrary. In this contemporary world privilege rules unmatched. Democracies have become messy while the Chinese & Co. play their own version of some political Downton Abbey. I am sure that Bashar dines well, so did Milosevic. Only Hitler was vegetarian. War criminals come in all forms!