Thursday, October 24, 2013


The US spying on its allies is highly embarrassing.  It is also being handled in a clumsy way. The Obama second term administration looks almost pathologically disconnected on most fronts. The list of blunders is awesome.  At the finishing point, the White House may appear as if it deliberately ignored its enemies while alienating its partners.

The latest revelations regarding the "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" listening-in on the personal conversations of major Western leaders received the usual meek denial from the White House, which has lost all credibility. The sophistic gymnastics of the President are utterly unconvincing. 
The consequences will be hard to manage because "trust" is a non-quantitative "given." Obviously it would be naive to suppose that spying is the sole realm of the United States.  It is an admitted hazard of international politics. However, the personal angle and the scope have created an undeniable malaise. There is also a real danger of overreacting against this over-the-top intrusive, brutal policy. 

There is more to come from the Wikileaks/Snowden camp which will open a can of worms that
should have been avoided. Now that the natural allies of the United States demand reparation, the "leakers" will feel free to open the gates even further. Washington finds itself in the most uncomfortable position while Obama looks to be in "free fall."  The Messiah from the Berlin speech days may as well end up talking in London's Speaker's Corner.  Nobody should rejoice in this.   America's inexcusable ways give the Russians and the Chinese a free pass to fill the gaps which a mistaken strategy has multiplied globally.  The "soft power" machine looks more like an "insensitive" power aberration.

The EU Summit in Brussels today will probably forego the niceties and focus on the credibility gap which might for an unforeseeable time weigh on the transatlantic relationship. It would be highly damaging if uncertainties were to be allowed to derail a possible Free Trade Agreement between the United States and the EU.  The transgressions will, fatally, be seen as an indication of decline rather than as a show of force. 

Combined with the Washington gridlock, the picture is increasingly gloomy.  It is ironic to step into the past where President George W. Bush walked hand-in-hand with the Saudi king at his ranch in Crawford.  Obama must feel lonely sometimes.  The problem is that the "real" Obama likes is that way, and that we were all mesmerized by a "persona" which proved to be more fabricated than real.   There was more closing inward than openness.

Friday, October 18, 2013


David Plante's book/diary is a challenge for the mind and for the senses.  This labyrinthtine walk through a half century of writers, artists and events is a delight.  The "homosexual" love story is touching and reveals all that which the "gay wave" has taken away from former times: sardonic wit and au underground, which infiltrated the "official" world with grey power rather than with Guy Fawkes' gunpowder.  Gay today stands for a lot of good but it has also become more an Abercrombie & Fitch commodity rather than the former whispered coded word and allusive double-life play.

Plante's book often comes across as a fetish of Henry James, as an ashtray forgotten by Virginia Woolf or a May 68 revisited. It also shows the silent infiltration of calcification which comes with age.  Likewise it uncovers Picasso or the "Viaggio in Italia" as only a psycho-analyst could do.
The permanent warfare of Plante against almost all things American (the expat syndrome) is less aggressive than hilarious.  After all, the "Ugly American" still rules.  Last week's political scenario in Washington would have been catnip for Gore Vidal.

The book is insinuating.  Melancholy is always present under the sheets or under the social high- class veneer.  All those mini strokes end up debilitating the body.  The process is insidious, divesting words of memory, one by one. Love, too, is overtaken by routines and repetition, which are the tributes one ends up paying  if there is a will for commitment to last. Transgressions are reduced to some therapeutic passe-temps, without staying power.

All those people, famous and obscure, are involved in a Pirandello scenario. In Proust they would choke on what they say because they must work on how to express it (after all, they are French). Here the talk stays insular, betraying a reticence to let unwelcome intruders invade the conversation. The book is an island "as dreams are made of."  Hence, there are walls of silence and babble, endless dinners or high teas with the sole purpose of recognizing that one belongs to a species which needs to be protected from the world's stage.

The book is a long cantata to most things English, with here and there a sparse allusion to the outside world, generally reduced to a space confined "more in sorrow than in anger."  Current events appear accidentally (the Greek coup, the riots in Paris, travel) and have little impact since they are not allowed to derail the core of the diary which consequently can sometimes feel claustrophobic.  History (primarily Greece, Byzantium and Turkey) is often reduced into a von Gloeden daguerreotype.

The reader leaves this enchanted but perverse stroll with a thousand name cards and as many bruises. He might loose illusions and innocence on the way but will gain in harvesting both empathy and a closeness which can look old fashioned in today's continuous traffic jam.
Potency only worked when it remained unfocused, indeed. Today's Twitter killed yesterday's eagle.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


In another show of "force," the sculpture of a naked man at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva was covered up, so as not to offend the Iranians who are supposed to enter into serious nuclear talks.  Meanwhile, thousands of advanced centrifuges spin and the production of plutonium continues unabated.  One should talk nevertheless, but one should also beware of hollow, unverifiable proposals and not let the parade become a charade.

President Rouhani's campaign of smiles without subtitles has done wonders seducing the often gullible Western public, which is now being brainwashed by advertising techniques which the Iranians stole in plain daylight. The West follows in Hitler's steps, hiding "decadent" art out of respect for the sensitivity of the prudes who show zero respect in return.  We hide art which might 
hurt the feelings of the "believers" with no other quid pro quo than their hiding weapons of mass-destruction under the bedrock.  The scenario is always the same:  veil or bust! 

In "enlightened" Malaysia, the name of Allah is now protected by "international property rights" and off-limits for use by Western and other infidels.  Meanwhile, the slaughter spreads like wildfire from the Philippines to North Africa, in a climate of indifference and incestuous fatalism.
The West appears to be suffering from an overdose of masochism.  It accumulates Nobel Prizes but looks unable to come to terms with a Jihad's cancer which remains immune to therapy. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were tragic insofar as they made too many victims to no avail. Elsewhere obscurantism rules and many of the refugees who make it to the European shores will be the terrorists of tomorrow.

As usual nothing is done to come to terms with this toxic wave. The West gives in and the intruder takes over.  Our rule of law, traditions, free speech, and freedoms are under assault while we act like accomplices of our own demise. We give in while being kicked out of our own internal socio-cultural boundaries.  As if this were not enough, lately we specialize in the dysfunctional, with a leadership and a foreign policy which prefer to placate rather than to solve. The current ''Russian roulette" games in Washington are unworthy of a great nation and are leaving America's prestige and leadership in a ditch.  For how long? Congress is a replay of the Marquis de Sade's Charenton.

Lots of commentators speak of the end of the West. For my part, I do not exclude the alternative: the end of the rest.  True, as a whole, we do not look good.  Some actions are morally and politically bankrupting our credibility, betraying our founding principles. On the other side, we are confronted with the long-term consequences of the fast-breeding Muslim fertility score, which will change existing equilibrium's. The glitter of the Emirates are monuments to self-aggrandisement which should not intimidate us.  They can hardly be mistaken for interventions aimed at correcting, educating, or enlightening activities which are mostly off-limits and de-localized, contrary to what happens in China.  The joint initiatives with the Louvre or American museums will never replace the power of the prayer mat. The playing field is not level, as is more and more the case between China and the West.

I wonder what the smart Iranians will come up with to anesthetize yet again the Western cuckolds. Better fasten your seat-belts and, as soon as the Iranians depart, be ready to lift the curtain which is hiding, for now, the ''Satanic'' sculpture in Geneva.  Let us hope that Netanyahu will answer the phone when needed, as Beijing and Moscow will be the usual abonnes absents.

Turns for the better may still happen, but the proof will be found in the Iranian pudding. I am afraid that antinomies have staying power .

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Plotseling voelen velen in Belgie zich wat eenzamer.
Wilfried Martens vertegenwoordigde een bescheidenheid met klasse, een poltieke sluwheid met terughoudendheid en hij ondersteunde een Belgisch imago dat evolueerde, zonder het af te breken.
In zijn openbaar en prive leven was hij ergens ongrijpbaar.Het is normaal dat de vertrouwensband die bestond tussen wijlen koning Boudewijn en zijn eerste minister zo duurzaam was.
Het heengaan van Martens stemt tot melancholie. Niettegenstaande zijn soms verassende "bochten", behoorde hij tot de uitstervende club van "gentlemen".
 Politiek was voor hem nooit een lopende zaak en bleef tot het einde een staatszaak, in Belgie en in Europa.
De flamingant van vroeger slaagde er in de Europese tekens aan de want te ontcijferen en de minder aangename klippen van een eng provincialisme te omzeilen.
Belgie heeft genoeg intelligente politici vandaag maar de ietswat strenge, discrete man naar wie we opkeken heeft geen opvolger mogen krijgen. 
Opportunisme maait staatsmanschap.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


The current political "impasse" in the United States reminds me of the Queen's croquet-ground of Lewis Carroll.  The difference being that the novel has now been hijacked by airport literature.
It is painful to see how a world power is slowly accelerating the potential for sliding into the abyss.

It is to be expected that powers encounter bumps in the road here and there.  The EU is a demonstration of recurring malfunction.  Still, all those meetings and endless nights in spooky Brussels end up keeping the situation from getting out of hand.  Egos are bruised but the E.R. always remains open and the slow, frustrating, half-baked healing goes ahead.

In Washington the tone is different. Besides the real intricacies of budgetary and debt problems, the situation is rendered more toxic by a never-seen animosity between branches of government. All seem to be on the wrong page.  The President is undermining his stature at home and abroad by making rowing errors that unseat him.  The Democrats look like props of a "Cocoon" film remake.  The Republicans are lost in a biblical fratricide (what else?) Cain and Able episode.
Meanwhile, the world continues an accelerated jump into what becomes the "toxic globalization" (Adieu Fukuyama).

There is for the moment an accepted suicide pact in the United States wherein the Wagnerian has overtaken the Mozartian.  It would be senseless to attempt to separate the guilty from the innocent, since foolishness is an all-encompassing category.  If the debate were confined around the size and role of government, a philosophical resolution might emerge.  Unfortunately, the discussion looks closed to intellectual argument and has been reduced to mostly heinous personal attacks. 

Obamacare, debt ceiling, government shutdown are ingredients for a dangerous polarization but the real fight is elsewhere. It is a battle about prioritizing the parochial over the general. In the political landscape, common sense is slowly giving ground to what is becoming the dysfunctional. The world watches awestruck.  There are no actors in this play. The President seems to make all the wrong moves. The Democrats stand firm about what few understand (health care reform). The Republicans are divided between Jacobins  and Montagnards, erroneously giving their own civil war the importance it lacks.  This bad script needs a Frank Capra.

It becomes hard to fathom that those pathetic, mostly younger provincial players are unaware of the harm they might inflict on their country.  When Senator John McCain took Sarah Palin as his running-mate, he certainly did not think he had opened the door for mediocre intent or a disjointed worldview.  This American remake of a "trailer park Joan of Arc" paved the path for far more dangerous and formidable followers:  see Rand Paul, Eric Cantor or Ted Cruz.  Some might lack polished worldliness but in today's America the district overtakes the world.  The continuation of the American saga might lose speed while populism and isolationism take over the appeal of what was the "indispensable power." It is not too late yet, but when provincial attitudes start to prevail, empires tend to be bypassed and are no longer invited to the head table. They might also be "ignored" as happened in Asia yesterday when the absent "Pivoter" appeared reduced to "wallflower" status. 

Monday, October 7, 2013


This year we are supposed to come to terms with a variety of emotions, celebrations, mourning, remembrance.  We have Verdi and Wagner dueling it out; the words of Dr. King continue to resonate and to save God from total oblivion; November will mark the assassination of President Kennedy, at the fatal hour which stays engraved in the minds of all people who felt for the first time maybe that a single bullet, miles away, could lead to cardiac arrest worldwide. Commemorations can be treacherous and misleading. The pathos runs over the emotion, the pageantry stands in the way of the meaning. The gestures look premeditated, the tears opportunistic.  Verdi and Wagner will be appropriately celebrated. The "I had a dream" exhortation of Dr. King remains, unfortunately, as pertinent today as it was then.  Has so little fundamentally changed?

President Kennedy belongs to a totally different narrative. His stature grows contrary to his country which appears too often as running out of steam.  His personal shortcomings have become almost trivial in a contemporary world which has fallen victim to a cerebral vascular standstill.
Memory is selective. The more we find ourselves under the spell, the more we avoid mentioning the less attractive. True, the gossip also tends to lose its impact when the highlights shine so much brighter today in a country which finds itself in a depressed mood.  Kennedy went for the moon, while lately presidents shot in their foot. Cuba, Berlin, the Peace Corps, the Alliance for Progress, Civil rights (enacted by Johnson) still feed pride and creative interpretation. The Bay of Pigs fiasco or the disastrous Vienna Summit are seldom mentioned.

Nevertheless, this glamorous-looking Kennedy couple remain in many ways a cypher. There is a "Macbeth" angle there which remains unspoken.  They flirted with snobism and came close to being aliens in the American man-in-the-street psyche.  The Kennedy aura was not unlike a Shakespeare performance. The theatergoer does not get the sum of the spoken word but goes away with an expression, a monologue, an enchantment.  President Kennedy is, likewise, less remembered for his sophisticated political speeches than for his wit and flirtatiousness. Together with the First Lady he followed the contrary path of Henry James, who had to go "overseas" to find himself. The Kennedy's brought the "overseas" to the United States, upgrading the American "fabric" they found upon entering the White House.  Kennedy's aristocratic contacts with the UK (unlike his despised appeaser diplomat father), and his wife's Chatsworth-envy created a Camelot which is hard to emulate but starts to look depasse as time goes by.   Still, we miss a man who could even make seduction look easy.