Saturday, December 14, 2013


We were promised a grand American finale, the "end of history," but Fukuyama's projection fell victim to numerous mini-strokes which have left the world body weakened to the core.  In Europe the EU is considering a half-baked banking union, which is better than none but may fail yet again to convince the Euro-skeptics. Besides, the Russian bear has awakened for good. The Ukraine crisis is even more dangerous than it looks.  If President Yanukovych can snub the EU for Putin's stake he will return Europe to the days of the Soviet stone age. Russia is already busy in the "stans" to consolidate its Eurasian might.  Now that it looks westwards the alarms are on!

Asia is becoming hostage to a Sartrian Huis Clos wherein China, Japan and South Korea could end up playing Russian roulette. The tensions regarding the Senkakus/Diaoyu islands might very well escalate and impail freedom of navigation.  In the North, the Kim Jong Un "receipe" to get rid of uncle Jang SongTaek has been described as Shakespearean.  I think this is an insult to The Bard.  It is Hitlerian and reminds one of the night of the long knives. The collateral damage to follow will alienate mostly Chinese sensitivities.  President Xi Jinping is replacing the former collegial power structure by a one-man show and a NSC which may curtail the influence of the PLA.  Prime minister Li Keqiang meanwhile is conducting an overhaul from export to domestic consumption and interest-rate liberalization.
In Asia's south, in India the possible end of the Gandhi rule  and the surge of a Hindu nationalistic alternative might destabilize a pluralistic democracy.

The Middle East is more messy than ever while secretive negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis continue in a climate of indifference.  Israel made a deal with Jordan and nobody seems to take notice. 

South Saharan Africa, Mali included, is a total mess.  Religious and tribal fault lines are overtaking porous borders and "institutions."  Obama's African speech last week fell on dead ears. Mugabe an Co. probably wore earplugs.

South America doesn't figure among any power's priorities, maybe with the exception of China which takes the raw materials and it does in Africa.

All these flash points seem to have their own life-cycles and burn like unattended brush fires. The usual American world leadership is lacking.  Ambassador John Bolton often mentions the US passivity or indifference. He is more known for "hard" talk than for diplomatic "niceties" but he has a point here. We used to know where America's choices - good or bad- stood.  Nowadays we are lost in a kind of remake of a US dervish dance worldwide without any credible compass or hierarchy.  Washington is trapped by Putin and ignored by the Chinese.  The "pivot" to Asia or the Syrian and Iranian volte faces convinced none while alienating most.

It might seem unfair to be that critical of a super-power while the EU lately is more noticed for what it cannot do than for what it does.  The point is that one is entitled to expect more from the United States.  When the leader fails, the flock tends to abandon ship. The mood among America's allies all over is not rosy and the apprehension looms larger than the former confidence. Washington should consider urgent, concrete confidence-building measures through free-trade, global partnerships with its Asian allies and the formulation of a "doctrine" fit for the dysfunctional world of today. The metaphor of the blind leading the blind needs a timely burial, otherwise prophecies will haunt us for considerable time.

The United States sees itself as "exceptional."  So be it.  This is also the result of a surprising sense of alienation one encounters here. Americans in general do not compare, do not speak foreign languages, are living in a cocoon which serves them strategically but disserves them socio-culturally. The great American movie saga no longer observes the quality canon.  It has become a good made-for-export product, tuned to the sensibilities of masses that have no interest in the European "angst" product.  One is entitled to be surprised by the vast "provincialism" in Congress or in the public at large.  This is not unique but it can be life-threatening in a country which is supposed to "feel home abroad and at home."  In many ways, this country has the best in education, science, R and D, the arts and medicine.  It also has much of the worst compared to other modest Western countries.  The distribution of wealth perpetuates inequalities and the lack of proper infrastructure from the Eisenhower/Franklin Roosevelt days is appalling.  The debacle of Obamacare is further undermining what is left of trust in government at a time when positive, creative, lean government action might be welcome. 

I disagree with the many pessimists who argue that America's days are over. The pluses are plenty but they need to be awakened or rejuvenated. The political parties are rotten to the core and, if unattended, they will  make further room for populist Tea Party extravaganzas.  The United States still remains a magnet for talent and manages immigration much better than its counterparts who are stuck with the likes of Snowden or Jihadists.  Silicon Valley has no counterpart (Israel comes close). The skyscrapers from the Emirats to Shanghai speak more of bluff, arrogance than necessity. The US will remain the "necessary" if not the "indispensable" power for an unforeseeable future.  Building for "shine" can easily lead to bankruptcy. Hold on to your dollars!

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