Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Het KVHV heeft gemeend te moeten reageren op de verklaring van de Antwepse Bisschop Johan Bonny ,waarin hij pleit voor een kerkelijke erkenning van holebirelaties.

Het zal niet lang meer duren tot  het KVHV pleit voor een nieuwe sluiting van de Schelde en de oprichting van een katholiek ISIS "reservaat" voor man/woman ONLY seksueel "verkeer".
Het is onvoorstelbaar dat een  "studenten"organisatie (  waarvan de representativiteit weliswaar  betwistbaar is ) zo grof afhaakt met pluralisme en tolerantie.
Het KVHV staat waarschijnlijk voor " Katholieken Voor Homofobie Verspreiding  ". Ja, de slimste mens is daar niet te vinden ! GET REAL !

Saturday, December 27, 2014

PAUVRE B (bis)

Dans des blogs anterieurs je me suis permis de critiquer l'indifference et l'hostilite des autorites "competentes" envers les quelques grands poles culturels qui existent encore en Belgique.
J'ai meme avance le concept de "laughing stock" international.
Je me suis trompe. L'international ne rit plus, il regrette et ne comprend plus...
Le New York Times du 27 decembre 2014 , page necrologie, en parle longuement, avec persuasion (" Dance Leaders deplore cuts in Belgium")
Bonne lecture pour les moineaux  qui se prennent pour des aigles ( non ceux de Marcel Broodthaerts, qui'ils ne connaissent probablement pas).

Friday, December 26, 2014


La mort de l'ancien premier ministre Belge est comme un adieu a une culture politique desormais depassee.
Cet homme dicret et integre, qui jouissait d'une popularite et d'une estime meritees, etait un solitaire.
Il etait l'otage de plusieurs contradictions qui ont fini par le marginaliser. Il souhaitait le meilleur pour le pays mais a ete oblige de reconnaitre que meme le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.

Sa loyaute l'obligeait a defendre un arrangement constitutionnel qu'il savait "bancal".
Ses opinions relatives a l'Europe ne correspondaient plus a une realite qui ,deja, avait abandonne toute ambition philosophique au vestiaire.
Il avait de l'ambition mais son temperament et le temps se sont averes incompatibles avec sa vision qui etait plus historique et ambitieuse que contemporaine et opportuniste.
Il est passe a l'oubli avant terme. 
Ce grand monsieur avait ses raisons pour se faire "rare".
Melancolique !

Thursday, December 25, 2014


...en verdiend.
Hoelang nog moet Belgie, Noord en Zuid, het gebrek aan enige culturele ambitie blijven aanvaarden ?
De overheid heeft geen smaak. De Belgen wel... t'huis. Zij komen niet buiten voor wat er trouwens niet is.
Rondom ons komen nieuwe musea en is de stadsvernieuwing (Rotterdam,Rijsel, Berlijn) adembenemend. In Belgie is de "frietkot" neurose nu bijna geofficialiseerd. De laatste besnoeiingen in de  culturele sector zijn een nieuw teken aan de wand voor de teleurgang van prestige en oorspronkelijkheid. 
De tragi komedie rond de verzameling "moderne kunst" in Brussel, is een aanwijzing voor de heersende politieke  mentaliteit en is ondertussen wereldwijd  de jongste "Belgian joke"geworden.
Brussel, Europa's hoofdstad ? What a laughingstock ! Noord en Zuid stations = Welcome to Belgium.


Professors Matthias Matthijs and R. Daniel Kelemen have written a piece regarding the EU's Commission recent "facelift." They sound as if they were inspired by "deranged" ghostwriters. Contradictions abound. Gossip is lifted to the rank of affirmation and a banal epilogue is the tombstone for a flippant, superficial "contribution."

They disparage the former president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, sounding like Nigel Farage, who specializes in inappropriate vocabulary. They praise Donald Tusk. I hope they will be proven right in having done so prematurely, ante bellum. EU leaders have to be judged by the way they behave and are able to overcome the perils of hidden agendas and constant fault-lines. It has to be hoped that Tusk will be as good as his predecessor. Here the authors have indirectly rescued the old cow from drowning and got us back to the "Old" versus "New" Europe neo-con mantra.  At the same time they are, rightly so, critical of Hungary's "Orban regime," which stands paradoxically at the heart of the "beloved" "New" Europe.

Juncker and the new Commission receive five Michelin stars. The political acumen of Juncker is certain, but no longer in tune with what are, unfortunately, non-Kantian imperatives. Besides, it is ironic that the Luxembourg "tax evasion enhancer-in-chief" is supposed to be Europe's "moral "steward!  The new Commission is considered by the authors to be more forceful, given that so many ex-ministers occupy the various posts. This looks like a page out of the French Fourth Republic history book, a recycling of "have-beens" rather than a risk-taking, creative grab for imagination and Delors-like initiatives. 

I personally think that the EU needs above all to reconnect with the citizen and to become again a clearing-house for ideas. This can only be achieved by a Commission and president who can be seen as game changers rather than bureaucrats, surviving on bad coffee and smoking cigarettes in the toilets.  After all, I worked in Brussels and saw the corridors (albeit in better times...)


Recent incidents in the United States have led to the shooting of black individuals, in circumstances which are unclear. Often police shootings create a backlash which is normal but undesirable whenever looting or added violence overtake grief.  All attention goes to a photo-op, while black-on-black crime continues unattended, as if the "selfie" now is more relevant than the continued spiral into the inferno elsewhere.

The reaction of many Americans, black and white alike, remains understandably emotional.
It is certain that while many black Americans occupy nowadays first-pole positions in all fields of society, many more feel disenfranchised. The same goes for white Americans who read daily about economic growth, lower unemployment and the energy boom, while being unable to measure the good news in terms of higher salaries, better education or improved infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the black population finds itself in a quandary. The ones that have "made it" remain often aloof, leaving a gap which is too often filled by demagoguery.  The main culprit in this negative, self-defeating strategy is the Reverend Al Sharpton.  Every incident is exploited shamelessly, parochially, dishonestly. Yesterday's dream is today's nightmare. He chooses to harangue over coffins pending on their color and foregoes the many which might distract from his unilateral, non-inspiring rhetoric.  He plays on frustrations and never comes forward with a therapy. The inner-cities are ghettos, the black lower-class family structure is broken, but he locks his flock up in the misery of prejudice and fatalism. The black elites are equally to blame for ignoring Sharpton's duplicity.  Likewise, his White House pass should expire.

The President needs to be congratulated for trying to elevate the debate and to reverse the curse of acrimony. The progress made by many should become a rallying point. Instead, there is a constant, deliberate narrative going on which locks hearts and minds up in a moral cul de sac. This is even more unacceptable when the preachers of doom and despair enjoy the better things of life without an once of embarrassment.


Who could ever have believed that the United States would become energy independent?
Remember the President Carters's"sweater" addresses, and the lanes at the pump? Thanks to fracking and renewable energies, America has become a net exporter of oil.

Oil prices have plummeted with dire consequences, mostly for Russia, Venezuela and Iran.
The unhappy OPEC family looks more and more like a dystopian grouping from the past.
To the chagrin of other members, the Saudis let it be known that OPEC will not cut output, even at $20 a barrel. The Saudis are not going to give up their market-share for the sake of solidarity with the "losers."

As in other fields, the proof was given that innovative free-enterprise works!  All this happens while the Keystone pipeline is awaiting a presidential decision.  The project has lost urgency, given the fact that the United States has become energy independent.  Nevertheless, a decision to go ahead would be welcome news, but I doubt that the President will give it a go. The pressure from the progressives and "greens" is not to be disregarded, and certain uncertainties remain, but one can also argue that a pipeline is more environmentally friendly than transport by rail or water.

The global world imbalances are too unpredictable to forgo an insurance policy. An alternative or safety complement to the existing "bonanza" should be considered, since the possible coming turmoil might be more of an apocalyptic nature than a predictable one.  America has won the energy "battle" but the "war" continues!

Friday, December 19, 2014


Sony was obliged to arrive at the conclusion that its latest movie could not be seen as planned.The viewing will be spread in smaller movie theaters. The larger  movie circuit feared the North Korean (?) threats and decided not to air the film. Hollywood blinked and Sony stood alone in spite of having been "cyber raided." The film in question "The Interview" is a non starter anyhow.  Both the scenario and the actors did not bode well for quality entertainment and the critics and viewers are turned off, . Obama, who apparently has received some testosterone shots lately, rightly condemned cencorship, wihout talking about the merits of the film. Self-censorship imposed by elsewhere creates a dangerous precedent. Fox is also rumored to have given up on a Steve Carell movie lampooning North Korea.

What happens when a company in a free trade, democratic society has to give in to creepy menaces ?
If the nuclear Kim dynasty were to be taken seriously we are in trouble. However, one should not reserve for a robotic regime, which is a bad copy of de Sade's Charenton (without the sex...but who knows?) ,the rank it doesn't have. By the way, it is also indicative for Putin's dire situation that he decided to invite Kim III to Russia. The dangerous leading the outrageous! The lonely meet the isolated!

The Sony "saga" has opened the door for an unforeseeable range of consequences: roll back of the first Amendment?  Intellectual property rights endangered?  President Obama aired his displeasure and let it be known that North Korea will be sanctioned "accordingly."  There is indeed more at stake than the lifetime of a mediocre movie. The cyber attack against Sony is an invasion of privacy. It is a direct hostile targeted move, such as even the NCSC would refrain from.  If proven, this would actually the first "official" rogue state parting shot in a luring long World War III, wherein cyber, terrorism, non-state and failed state rogue elements and the systematic disregard for conventions and civilization (look at the recent slaughter in Pakistan) will rule supreme. The gloves are off.  China let the genie out of the bottle in acting as North Korea's mentor in cyber technology.  Still the proof is in the Kim pudding... and cause remains unproven , yet.

Meanwhile copies of "The Interview" are probably already for sale in China's usual blind spots. Humor can be found in the most unusual places.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


The ruble is in free-fall.  The sanctions against Russia bite.  Some observers foresee a repeat of the events which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  They are wrong.

The end of a system is a different reality all together than the implosion of a "psyche."
George Kennan's containment and later events laid bare the negative fundamentals of a political formula which was behind the times of globalization.  Likewise, the French Revolution put an end to an anachronism but it did not stop France being France!  Whatever President Putin laments over historical wrongdoings, the reality is that Russia has lost a lot of "fat" in Central Europe and Asia, but at the same time has become more Russian, nationalistic, reactionary and expansionist wherever its "near abroad" exists or is under threat.

Putin's home is in St. Petersburg, window on the West, but his heart is in Muscovy.  He is more the heir of Tsar Alexander III than Lenin. He was able to co-opt the primal forces which still infuse the Russian character. Ideology is a thing of the past. Pride and reparations for perceived snubs play into the mindset of most Russians. The xenophobia and the support of the Orthodox church have created a "firewall" which plays into an "us versus the West" continuous barrage.  Putin stands because he has chosen to return to the Russians the imperial mantle which was lost for too long.

He can be dangerous insofar as he could mobilize the latent frustrations as well as call NATO's bluff since he knows very well that this tiger, contrary to his Siberian counterpart, has no teeth. He is also nefarious in creating a monosyllabic, anti-change, anti-gay undercurrent. The Russians no longer suffer a political system based on a faulty Utopia. The danger lies more in some overreach, above their heads, which might lead to miscalculation.  Putin, as Potemkin before him, continues to entertain with a Sotchi spectacle wherein War and Peace's Natasha and Prince Andrey rule over the hearts and minds. The irony is that in Tolstoy's novel some of the Russian nobles hardly knew a word of Russian, preferring to converse in French.

The days of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn are bygones. Russian oligarchs make the world a more vulgar place, Russia a more schizophrenic one, and the world a less-safe one. Putin can do as he wishes, as long as his sleeping draught continues working.


Cuba has haunted the United States in modern times since Theodore Roosevelt's days.  It is superfluous to try resuming the many aberrations and dramas which have occurred since Fidel Castro overthrew the corrupt Batista gang in 1959.  Unfortunately, Castro's impulsive magnetism got hold of the better persona in him and might well have pushed the world into a global conflict.  Now President Obama has taken the decision to "normalize" the bilateral relations. Cuba is to the United States what the United Kingdom is to continental Europe, an air carrier on its maritime borders.

Obama is right to put a halt to a prehistoric situation which no longer delivered any credible dividend to Washington.  On the contrary, Cuba became a reference for countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, and a convenient occasional partner for Russia and China.  By taking this action the United States has deprived Cuba of its historical exceptionalism, removing the sting from its raison d'etre. Cuba, by taking the bait, swaps ipso facto a legend for a story.
The American right and the elderly Cubans in Miami will scream. The younger generation of Cubans in the United States will applaud.

Cuba is not going to change overnight. Neither should the Americans try to get involved in murky plots, out of Godfather II. The Cubans will be happy to feel that change comes with benefits and investment, freedom and more tolerance. Those added values take time to be realized but, contrary to the opportunistic Chinese or Russian injections, they last and do change lives.

Monday, December 15, 2014


I have just watched a TV bio of Susan Sontag.  She was the last of a kind.  Being a United States resident now,  I am struck by the many paradoxes I encounter.  The bizarre "non place" which "intellectuals" occupy in America nowadays comes to mind.  The country is packed with the better universities, intellectuals or luminaries in all fields: science, politics, arts, and the list is endless, while on the other hand, the "conversation" is deadlocked in some hermetic negativism, only having time for debating negative's : race, torture, inequality, the steady Gotterdamerung of the American Dream.

The demagogues and amateurs of the Right and the Left rule, in the quasi-total absence of a creative input of intellectuals, who have chosen to abandon the Capitol for the Aventine. 
The likes of Sontag, Vidal, Hitchens are no longer. The space for intellectual debate has been hijacked. The same goes for Europe, by the way, with the exception of France and Germany, The former still feels the need to come to some Kantian "closure" since World War II. The latter revers intellectuals as it revers labels. The Sartrian writer in the cafe is depasseThe "poseur" has stolen the chair from under the thinker.  Bernard-Henri-Levi belongs more to a Moliere farce than to a serious symposium.

It is strange that the "official" United States has marginalized intellectual conversation. Excellent reviews, sophisticated TV debates and Academia no longer occupy the front-lines as was the case years ago. The overall political alienation has created a negative vortex. Unfortunately, President Obama has unwillingly played a part in this. His initial message was enlightening until people realized that they were led into Plato's cave, looking at a Utopia. President Kennedy may have been too cynical but also too clairvoyant to get lost in lofty speeches, but he ended up getting Pablo Casals and the moon, the Nobel Prize winners in and the Soviet missiles out.  It is less important to know if he believed in his show than it was for others to feel they were part of it.  Since then, the "Georgetown set" and the Eastern elites of the 60's appear to belong to the silent movie times. The ghost of McCarthy seems to be back under a different cloth.

Susan Sontag was one of the last "intellectuals" who confronted the American psyche and who reached a kind of supra-national status as did Henry James, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Berenson, Gore Vidal and many others.  She opened all closets--in Paris and New York--and was truly a commentator of the world avatars.  I met her in Sarajevo, which she inhabited like an existentially offended citizen, different from visiting voyeurs (the photo-op in the burned library was a must) and diplomats (myself included). 

Now we prefer to pass the baton in the creepy relay race of successive catastrophes, from Sudan to Bangladesh, to movie stars and other past political celebs who can cash in on what is left of their 25 minutes of Warholian celebrity.  True, there are Medecins sans Frontieres and others, who still have staying-power.  Sontag wrote the ultimate analyses about illness and camp. She was a great homosexual transformative personality, before being gay became as current as a sitcom character.  Gresham said it all:  Bad money drives out good.


Les greves se multiplient en Belgique.
Nul ne conteste le droit de greve.
Personne ne met en doute le role historique que les syndicats ont joue.
A contrario, il faut  aujourd'hui se rendre a l'evidence que le bilan positif passe a cede la place a un nihilisme pervers.
Les syndicats n'adherent a aucune doctrine socio-economique et defendent un statu quo qui ne reussit plus a integrer les nouvelles donnees.
Dans ces conditions ils sont reduits a prendre leurs adherents comme otages. Ces derniers deviennent les participants,  magre eux, a un autodafe ou l'emploi, l'investissement et le progres sont frappes de plein fouet.
Resultat : La Belgique risque de se retrouver comme la Grece, un terrain vague laisse a l'abandon, faute d'innovation R et D et de productivite.
Il est imperatif qu'un dialogue puisse redemarrer. Encore faut-il qu'il se developpe sur les defis de deman plutot que sur les slogans ringards d'avant-hier. L'economie a besoin d'un accelerateur deregule et non d'un corbillard.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


The US Senate Intelligence Committee report regarding CIA interrogation "techniques" makes for unpleasant reading.  This J'accuse raises many questions while providing few unqualified answers, as the "enhanced interrogation techniques" hardly fit into the Western human rights code as we know it.

The circumstances which led to the RID (Rendition, Detention and Interrogation) program were disproportionate to existing available counter-measures.  After 9/11, the United States and all branches of government--not to mention the population at large--suffered from PTSD (post- traumatic stress disorder).  Emergency trumped any other consideration and President George W. Bush signed into law a far-reaching set of guidelines previously authorized by Congress. One could hardly find one once of sympathy for the Twin Towers executioners or for the masterminds of the operation.  The unimaginable cold-blooded fury of the perpetrators could not remain unheeded.  The hunt for the beast was (and remains) unrelenting.  In an "eye for eye" mindset, the logic overtook the moral component. John Brennan, current CIA chief, admits today that some CIA agents were not psychologically ready for the situations they were to encounter and for which there was no precedent or readiness.  Hence abuses occurred given that the trauma inflicted ran deep.  However, the benefits of what amounted in some cases to torture remain sketchy.

Now that the information has appeared, many questions remain:

--Would it not have been advisable to limit the range of "publicity"of the report (a Democratic party exercise) and examine the follow-up in a bi-partisan fashion?

--The incriminated program, which was supported by all branches of the Bush administration, is presented as some widely supported or executed rogue "coup," which is false.

 --Abuses are certain. The reasons given for the psychological unraveling of a persona are plausible. A minimum respect for human integrity should likewise remain inbred in the psyche. 

--Sins need to be left on the doorstep of the sinner and not be plagiarized.

--The issue is trivialized when it becomes a political tool.  I don't think that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein ever meant her disapproval to become a tool for inter- party warfare. Together with Senator McCain she represents a view which favors American dignity over political expediency.

--The Republicans are acting in an awkward fashion.  It would be wrong to see in this report a personal attack against President Bush. The right-wing makes the usual absurd noise, crusading for the Constitution when convenient and forgetting all about it when embarrassing. Moderate Republicans should be able to take note of abuse, remain low-key and claim the high ground for having rallied America after 9/11.

--In the end, the lifespan of evil is more precarious than the staying-power of values worth living for which, therefore, should not be endangered by overreaction.

After all, the better part of valor is discretion (Henry IV).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


La saga de l'art contemporain continue en Belgique.  Bruxelles reste la capitale du replatrage.
Apres avoir exile la quasi totalite de la modeste collection d'art contemporain (releguee dans l'etage "mortuaire") il a ete decide de la reintegrer une nouvelle fois dans le Musee , quitte a exiler l'art "fin de siecle" ( qui venait a peine de s'y installer ) ailleurs....ou ?
Ce n'est pas du Kafka, c'est du Belge.
Le Musse d'art ancien est deja l'antichambre du chagrin... Faute de moyens et de vision, il est l'oppose de TOUT ce qu'un musee ambitionne aujourd'hui.

L'art pretendu contemporain s'y trouvait deja mal a l'aise. Il le sera encore davantage. Le " a peine passable " y cohabitera avec l'inacceptable.
Le projet Citroen presentait la valeur ajoutee du site ( sous condition d'une intevention type Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry...), d'une transparence et d'une destination. Il ne faut pas esperer que les ediles de la capitale aillent regarder ce qui se cree a Helsinki, Amsterdam, Bilbao, Milan, ...et j'en passe. Ne parlons pas de Paris, Londres ou Berlin....Ils ne connaissent pas. La pretendue capitale de l'UE reste le "desert des Tartares ", terrain de chasse de speculateurs immobiliers et notaires, dont on connait l'aversion envers la creativite.

Le gouvernement federal a d'autres priorites (?). Au demeurant cette decision de la secretaire d'Etat Elke Sleurs ( N-VA) est un nouvel avertissement pour ceux qui ne voient pas la strategie de demantelement quasi permanente visant a  effacer toute reference au "national".
Il est vrai que l'opinion publique reste generalement indifferente devant cette reedition du "petit pays, petites gens". 
Les collectionneurs prives Belges, portant tres connectes, ont raison de regarder ailleurs, des lors que les officilels regardent nulle part. 
Bref, le "fin de siecle" a peine installe demenage (ou ?) et laisse la place a une "fin de parcours"...ou "fin de regime" (?).

Friday, December 5, 2014


Le deces de la reine des Belges, veuve du roi Baudoin I, ferme la derniere page d'une "Histoire" de Belgique non sujette a repetition.  Certaines personnalites habitent un temps et un espace qu'elles emportent avec elles quand le rideau de l'Histoire se referme.

La reine Fabiola partageait avec le roi Baudouin I une ethique et un sens du devoir exceptionnels.  Cette attitude les rendait a la fois proches et distants, comme s'ils appartenaient deja a une mouvance en eclipse, hors de portee.  Son regne lui ressemblait. Avec le roi, elle preferait la discretion aux facilites, la classe a la publicite, l'engagement a l'opportunisme.

Je ne partageais pas ses convictions mais je respectais sa logique. La aussi, le roi et la reine se retrouvaient en communion. Sans doute n'appreciaient-ils pas toujours combien la Belgique, traditionnellement catholique, etait devenue laique.

La reine Fabiola ne faisait jamais allusion a ses chagrins personnels. Elle preferait ne pas laisser sa qualite d'ecoute envahie par son discours interieur.  Certains disent qu'elle etait la "derniere reine des Belges."  Cela est a la fois vrai et faux. Il faut se rendre a l'evidence que, quoi qu'en dise Marcel Proust, le temps n'est jamais "retrouve."  Cela est au demeurant positif car un certain type de temperament n'eclot que dans un environnement qui, de toute evidence, n'est plus. Les reines venues apres elle sont l'une et l'autre executrices des changements intervenus.

La reine Mathilde est l' heritiere legitime et parfaite pour veiller a ce que les "Contes merveilleux" de Fabiola de Mora y Aragon ne s'oublient pas... 

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Two black men lost their lives in the American street.  Twice the police have been accused of brutality, and twice a Grand Jury decided there was no case for sanction.  In the first case the circumstances looked unclear. In the second Staten Island case the video leaves little room for doubt and it is difficult to deny what one sees.  Public opinion in the latter "incident" is almost unanimous in condemning what looks like the inexcusable taking of a person's life.

America has made extraordinary advances towards racial equality for many African-Americans who find themselves in a positive vortex. Their presence in the arts, entertainment, academia and liberal professions has grown exponentially.  Unfortunately, the ones who see their income stagnating or shrinking are stuck in a crime and drug infested hell. The "poor whites" are equally marginalized but seem to be able to maintain a more solid family structure and are less alienated from official or private assistance channels.

A lot is being said regarding race in America.  Some observations are to the point, but some "presentation" is immoral and unhelpful. Most of us, of all color, walking at night would prefer to avoid meeting a group of young blacks or whites coming in the opposite direction. Likewise in Europe the same happens when threatening whites or North Africans loom in the distance. It is unfortunately so that any grouping of well-dressed individuals of any race will seldom activate alarm bells. This might be regrettable but nevertheless it is sociologically normal. Racism and the chemistry of danger are different things.

It is equally undeniable that pockets of racism remain in the United States and elsewhere (I lived in China) and that a lot still needs to be done to heal bigotry and prejudice. American blacks find it often difficult to climb the social ladder in a society where inequality is growing and better education becomes unaffordable. The so-called Obama-effect has had no lasting power and the President is more often seen by black Americans as one of "the privileged", vacationing in the Vineyard, rather than one of them. The former have few role models to look up to and are too often manipulated by demagogues. 

The moral/intellectual voices are few.  Since the "difficult" message from Daniel Patrick Moynihan regarding situation statutes or social divide in the North, little has been said which could uplift the conversation. It is indeed time to consider one's own facts again rather than spin one's own opinion.

The President still has a unique opportunity to leave the trenches of the usual arguments and come forward with measures which go further than the former Great Society ambitions of President Johnson. They should open the path for individuals so that they can feel as being more on the participating end than on the receiving end. Those marginalized individuals need to feel wanted, besides being (hardly) fed. They should be convinced that trust, education and respect are achievable. Hence, new avenues must be provided with enough ramps for people to climb the distance. The black elite has a responsibility too. Instead of glamorizing a video game culture of short-term satisfaction, they could choose to make some room for dignity which  too seldom figures in considerations that are often exclusively mercenary.

Exploitation as we have seen in Ferguson (not yet in Staten Island, as of today) should not be repeated.  One victim stole cigars, the other sold cigarettes.  Smoking is not only bad for your life, it might lead to one's death, as soon as the brain of the policeman/woman starts its chemical race to the darker impulse.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Sweden has recognized the "Palestinian state." Belgium might be next in line.  Others in the EU will follow.

What do they recognize?  The West Bank? Where is Gaza in all this? What about Jerusalem, settlements, returnees, water?  What Government controls which "territory"?  I fail to understand how states can recognize unconditionally a hybrid with no borders, with no control and with a "sketchy" past and current record.  That a future outcome might be a two-state solution would be the best formula if proper agreements could be achieved regarding the well known sticking points. This is mostly a decision for both parties to be taken (with the assistance of a "midwife").  Besides, the Palestinians must finally revise a system (textbooks, education, rule of law) which remains basically nihilistic.  Obviously Israel will also have to consider difficult decisions, the more so that a quid pro quo looks uncertain.

Overall one can witness a general debilitation of formerly accepted conduct of international affairs. Western amateurism only accelerates the erosion of a mindset.

--One hears that a declaration of war (sic) should be considered against ISIL.  However, doing so would give a rogue organisation a "state" imprimatur ; such an action would set in motion a set of war rules and conventions which would be totally inappropriate, given the nature of the jihadists.

--President Putin is ignoring all the accepted rules of international relations by ignoring inter alia the Helsinki Agreement and the Budapest memorandum. Soon we might see a return of the Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty.

--Legitimate states, from Africa to Asia, are unable to come to terms with the growing ungovernability in their midst. They become the "landlords" of their own nemesis. Their corruption and murky dealings only destabilize even further the imbalances between the virtual projections and the power on the ground.

--The West still has not been able to correct the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles.  Since the often brutal end of the British Empire and the defeat of the French expeditionary corps in Dien Bien Phu, one might have expected that the US would have gotten the message.  On the contrary, Vietnam was just the very sad prelude to the mistakes still made today. Swamps are more lethal than any form of COIN.

--Democracies are losing their grip on the "narrative." While they remain the hope of last resort for the many who risk their lives to reach the coastline of the non-believers, they get stuck in a masochistic tale wherein the occasional mistake overtakes the usual good. The recent events in Ferguson are a perfect example of an American apparatus (from the President to the media) in free-fall.

Dystopia rules and we seem to be drowning, as the less-desirable clutch at the Good Samaritan until both go under.  Sometimes distance may appear to be a sign of aloofness.  It can also become a form of "isolation" (in limited time and space), which can last until the danger of contagion has been dealt-with by appropriate means.  Epidemics however can only be fought out of a position of strength.  The former requires knowledge and understanding.  Therefore "isolationism" as such is a recipe for failure.  We had better know our enemies well, which is different than sharing a berth with them!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Turkey's president has an ego as large as his new Ceausescu-like palace.  Since Hitler, a certain style prevails among megalomaniacs (remember Saddam?) and "believers."

After throwing Ataturk's legacy under the Muslim bus he issued some type of edict stating that women are not equal to men.  His reasoning is too pathetic to repeat.  His usual outlet, attacking the US, has run out of steam. I hope that NATO and, in the first place, the EU will take notice. Federica Mogherini might as well show him out of the membership waiting-room.

The merry women in the White House might also consider stepping in, where they are expected (for once), rather than messing up where they are unwelcome.  His statement is insulting. Human rights are not to be taken a la carte.  Tayyip Erdogan should be disinvited .

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


America is (in)famous for Black Friday, following Thanksgiving.  The Administration will now be remembered for its own 'Black Week.'

The secretary of defense was dismissed. The traditional ceremonial announcement was embarrassing to watch and painful for all the actors concerned:  humiliating for Chuck Hagel and hypocritical for the President.  Hagel probably lacked the macho, to the point, zingers that are expected for a man/woman in his position.  Mostly he fell victim to Obama's inner-circle seraglio, led by the even more gauche Susan Rice.

The secretary of state, who is starting to get a reputation for 'talk 4 talk', came back from Vienna with an Iranian assurance that the oral games will be continued until no more synonyms for centrifuge are available. This is almost a repeat of the Middle East talks, which led to 'nowhere minus', since the situation is deteriorating by the day.

Kiev is supposed to consider a rapprochement with NATO. Corpses attract.  It is to be hoped that Ms. Nuland will discourage this insane proposal.

Meanwhile, the President tries to sell his immigration plan, which makes sense but is also misguided insofar as yet again it totally snubs the legitimate susceptibilities of the Republicans. Electoral wins have consequences in democracy.

Racial tensions are flaring up everywhere after the Grand Jury verdict in Ferguson. The a la carte ubiquitous attorney general prefers a low profile, until now. The President procrastinates. The looting and destruction send us back to times which we prefer to forget. The Administration suffers from opportunistic memory-loss, mobilizing "have-beens", playing "dummy ", hoping this too will pass.

We find ourselves in the week of 'the long knives', in an almost surreal situation wherein the White House plays into the business-as-usual sophism when the reality on the ground is one of bruised egos and a burned inner-city.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


The President has acted on immigration, but he resorted to executive action in doing so without Congress.  It is paradoxical that Obama, who is often criticized for America's perceived low- profile, opted for this head-on approach.  The Republicans are mobilizing the Founding Fathers, and are plotting revenge.

It is not for me to say if the President has overstepped constitutional boundaries but the measures he intends to implement do look rather reasonable, at first glance. Besides,  America is doing well in the macro-sphere and attracts. The country is creative, becoming energy independent, while Wall Street is reaching to the skies and the dollar rules.  In comparison, the rest of the world looks like a poorhouse fair.

Nevertheless, the mood in the United States remains impervious to the numbers.  The man in the street is not cognizant of what works and is more concerned with what is perceived as a country in retreat internationally.  The health-care fiasco, the Piketty narrative and the political nausea have alienated Main Street.  Obama's style has not helped in healing the morale or in reasoning with Congress, which feels despised on all sides.

The observer can only be further destabilized seeing how a world, for an unforeseeable term divided, has become stuck in a Darwin-like predicament. In Ukraine (when are they going to study Finland's Kekkonen strategic savoir faire ?), Iran, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and Africa, the pendulum swings towards the law of the stronger rather than to the rule of law.
It is unfair to relate all that goes wrong to an American lack of involvement. The United States is everywhere, but lately it has become too arduous to intervene since the everywhere is taken over by the nowhere. 

States collapse, hybrids appear, frontiers no longer apply, covenants are disregarded. When a superpower finds fewer partners than before, it will retreat. It is ironical that, for the time being, the United States has only China, which can act as (almost) equal nemesis, competitor and partner.  Maybe that is why President Obama chose to act on immigration the way he did, after returning from a successful trip to Beijing.  His copycat decision has a Chinese footprint.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


President Obama has returned home to the "usual" after completing an "unusual" journey in Asia.  Nothing mind-boggling was achieved but some "markers" were politely confirmed.
Contrary to what happens with the US/Russia rift, the opposites attracted, while no one had spare room for illusions.  The added value of the Sino/US relationship is that it is rooted in an uplifting, self-conscious moment, wherein China reclaims its past.  On the contrary, Russia meanwhile is burdened by its recent past and resentment is overtaking any other consideration.

The agreements between Beijing and Washington do not eradicate the lingering tensions regarding America's posture as an Asian power, which collides with China on the seas, on land, in finance, intellectual property, human rights and in cyberspace. Over time the United States has been able to contain China behind an iron wall of "friendly" allies and a sea power without equal. The Chinese are pushing hard to transform the South China Sea into a Mare nostrum. This shadow battle is not without risks and miscalculation and accidents can occur. The two rivals seem to be conscious of the danger and act accordingly.

Washington gives the impression to understand Xi Jinping's more historical "references." The
shadow of the Middle Kingdom looms larger than Mao's achievements.  Like his predecessors, Xi follows also an equally cautious path.  He is not going to invade ASEAN countries or force Taiwan into submission. The troubles in Xinjiang or Gansu, the unavoidable post-Dalai Lama times, unresolved border disputes (mostly with India) will require a space for maneuver which shouldn't be overcharged with other contentions.  Xi already has respect, while Putin has lost most of his credit.  Xi is no threat for his neighbors, Putin is. Xi can compete with the United States on all fronts, Putin is reduced to desperado or blackmail tactics.

The November 15th Economist issue gives in its special report on the Pacific Rim a brilliant apercu of the Chinese order. The writing is compelling, the story is breathtaking.
Having served in China 10 years ago I can only add that the diplomats in their right mind saw it coming. The Chinese diplomatic service was already a laboratory of ideas and sophisticated analysis. Intellectual life was monitored but nevertheless awesome.

The pollution continues to rule almost unabated and one must hope that China will join the Trans Pacific Partnership instead of being shunned. Membership to the TPP can lead to a burden-sharing of the considerable cost of pollution which plagues China but also originates in other Asian countries. Climate change, water distribution (the Mekong delta which might end up being hijacked by China), and trade require a cooperation which is in the interest of all and directed against none.

The Chinese leaders are realists. When they feel "resistance," they adjust. They have no other choice since they are themselves bound by a pact with their citizens who accept mortgaging their political ambition for a tangible exponential increase of wealth. This Faustian arrangement is a shaky one in the long run, however. When basic needs are satisfied one climbs the ladder to reach for more democratic reforms. 

China does not suffer from a cultural coma as most Arab states do, paralyzed by a religion gone amok. In the clash of civilizations, the West and China (and a contrite Russia) are on the same page.  Xi Jinping looks more and more like a partner, but I am confident that he carries Sun Tzu in his pocket.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Recent international gatherings have proven that the hidden agenda can easily marginalize the official one.  Ukraine is fast becoming the phantom of the international opera.  It is one thing to react to Russia's overreach in Eastern Ukraine or Crimea; it is another to refuse to engage in or to ignore particular aspects.

President Putin has broken the rule of international law and passed agreements.  As in Georgia he refers to specific cultural and historical precedents. Indeed, the consequences of the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667 (which led to the construction Muscovy + Ukraine = Russia) whereby Poland had to relinquish Ukraine to Moscow are lasting.  This "acquisition" is a structural footprint in "Russian" DNA which cannot be ignored ( "Europe" by Norman Davies).
But to acknowledge those "particularities" is not the same as to condone them. Russia could have chosen the path of consultation rather than the road to confrontation. Diplomacy can be creative when challenged and acted upon with expertise. Russia's heavy hand was met with Western amateurism.

The sanctions are deserved but perhaps the conflict could have been handled better in more abstract terms, because the over-personalization can easily backfire.  Putin is here to stay and the West in particular needs his cooperation badly, be it in the Middle East in general, in the 5+1 nuclear negotiation with Iran, in the fight against Jihadism or global governance. Sanctions must focus more on the deed than on the man.  Besides, Ukraine is not just an indifferent country in the Russian narrative. One should recognize this "special relationship." In doing so we deprive Russia of a repeat in other countries on its Western border, which do not share in this "exceptionalism."

The West must take sides in the respect for obligations and treaties, but it should abstain from setting a quid pro quo precedent of interference in Kiev's affairs. Ukraine should be granted unconditional self-determination.  Likewise, Moscow should stop acting through a proxy of thugs.  Putin is no pariah, neither should he be isolated. When snubbed he might bite more. If engaged on proper rules and protocol he might enter into a more normative dialogue. The Kievan history is a most complex one.  The free Ukraine and free Russia which emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union are still too sensitive not to be handled with care. Positive containment of the crisis is in everybody's interest. The West should not hand Putin an undesirable scenario.  He might call its bluff.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Post-1958 Europe thought it had seen it all.  Since the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which gave rise to the EEC (European Economic Community), the ups and the downs have multiplied.  After Britain's membership and the Luxembourg compromise in 1966, Europe gave the impression to have finally found a democratic legitimacy with its constituents and it was able to decide upon a common economic policy, a European Central Bank and the euro.  Under Jacques Delors, father of the SEA (Sinle European Act , abolishing trade and mobility barriers) the Commission became the think-tank for the future thanks to the Belgian memorandum  (1990) settinout subsidiarity, democracy, efficiency and coherence.

The "unbounded" fast-track enlargement which followed could not hide the fault-lines between the original Europe of six, the Vysehrad Triangle, the United Kingdom and former EFTA (European Free Trade Area) parties. Besides, the waiting-room for adhesion got packed. Lately, the biggest elephant in the room is probably Turkey, which embarrasses most without enthusing any. The cherry on the EU pie is currently Hungary which acts as if it were homesick for the former opposite extreme Bela Kun/Horthy days, meanwhile the EU is still supposed to be standing for a set of values.

Now we have a new Commission which was criticized from all sides before it could even get to work. The President Claude Juncker is a paradoxical choice again, having been prime minister of a country more (in)famous for being a tax-haven than for its rule of law. The commissioners look like a sullen group of individuals which member states preferred to get rid of.

Ms. Federica Mogherini, in charge of foreign affairs (after Baroness Ashton, who improved), was expected to be low-key while learning how to navigate the labyrinth. Europe is besieged by many problems, starting with its eastern borders, the British snub, unchecked immigration, a foreign and defense policy on the dole and an overall credibility gap in Asia, the Russian Federation and the United States (which is equally in troubled waters). Ms. Mogherini has now proclaimed that she strives for the recognition of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital.  Nowadays crazy ideas are plenty. When they are premature or irresponsible they also become intolerable.  Is the EU going its own irrelevant wrong-way in a situation where it hardly counts? Is the EU going to jeopardize the two-state outcome? Is the EU going to alienate Israel for the foreseeable future? I am sure that the "spin" will follow but the harm is done. To start one's tenure dealing with a problem that has plagued the world for decennia is surreal.

The European project remained for years, both politically and existentially, a worthy challenge. The embrace between de Gaulle and Adenhauer remains a highlight in world history. The mistake was to hurry into attempting to mix asymmetric histories into one. This sum of contradictions can only accelerate an eclipse. The Commission might waste more time in dealing with Serbia than with the United States, at a time when the Atlantic Partnership needs to be revamped, more than just in trade terms. It sounds old-fashioned maybe to refer to the Jean Monnet, Paul Henry Spaak, Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schumann founding fathers but I might argue that the Americans have no problem referring to their own as the ultimate reference. Europe is giving up its raison d'etre for short-term opportunity.

Both the United States and the EU find themselves in a sort of depressive historical moment. They had better realize that individuals count more than anything and that the best rules of engagement become paralyzed if they are not served by the brightest individuals. Lately, persons tend too often to disappear in the fog of institutions. The machine and bureaucracy have a free hand in today's democracies. They tend to fill in the openings with commodities rather than with the best. Elite has become a dirty word. Exceptions still exist, fortunately so.

Democracy is the best of all systems as long as it leaves room for talent and integrity, two qualities that seem to have bypassed the EU corridors lately.  Montesquieu and Tocqueville should return and write Les Lettres Europeennes or Observations in Brussels.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


The debacle of the Democrats is staggering.
The American mid-term elections gave the Republicans the Senate majority and an overall victory.  Even off-limit states like New York or California suddenly look more porous.  The Democrats paid a heavy price for President Obama's toxic cloud which obscured legitimate grievances and ambitions alike. 

The vote has its own ambiguities.  Normally, local issues prevail but this time around the growing malaise regarding America's "cloud" in the world spooked the voters.  The Republican gains leave the internal  power struggle between the establishment and the Tea Party unchanged. The Republican civil war is coming.  The Democratic brand Reid/ Pelosi has lost credibility but the party has still enough self-deception to turn to the Elizabeth Warren/Paul Krugman mantra to further auto-destruct.  As a consequence, Hillary Clinton will have to juggle with too many balls.

Obviously, the President is the big loser.  The man of "hope and change" has become the man of doubt and procrastination. His character was on trial because what voters detected was different from the earlier projection. His inner circle of advisers only inspires a sinking feeling.
It is difficult to foresee what the Administration's final act will be.  Can foreign policy be rebooted? Can some form of consensus prevail internally?  Republicans will have a 2016 presidential ambition. The Democrats will be torn between a populist alternative and bruised egos.  The President has lost his political capital and appears unable to regain his dented credibility both inside and out in the world.

This "vacuum" is all the more dangerous since other players will go ahead with ambitions which are now out of the American reach. China will start with the gigantic Silk Road project which is mind boggling.  Russia might condescend to help (in the Iran nuclear dossier) but will assert itself in its near abroad, with in the knowledge that the American president is colorblind when red lines appear.

There are also more paradoxical aspects in all this. American stocks do very well, the dollar rules, unemployment in the US in under 6%, job creation is up, energy becomes abundant...but the average American remains in his heart enraptured by his flag and the myth of exceptionalism. When he looks around or abroad he does not recognize himself in the wider mirror, which is cracked.  This creates an opening for extremes, and a dangerous cliff which the United States better stay clear of. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Everywhere, World War I is being commemorated.  The possible consequences of the Sarajevo assassination could have been contained but the European powers chose not to.  This led to a horrendous manslaughter while the chief actors looked on, as under the spell of their own incompetence.  The Americans joined later in a conflict which left the Triple Entente and Triple Alliance shell-shocked.  The Versailles Treaty was a dystopian affair which would in due time haunt its underwriters and become seen as the unavoidable overture to World War II.
The "balance of power" policies which worked in the past failed and disappeared into the vault of history, since the unipolar American post-1945 world rendered them obsolete.

Today the world seems to be backtracking again. For the time being, and on America's clock, the former Pax Americana order no longer applies. The American leadership is contested not for reason of irrelevance but because of a lackluster performance, verging on abdication.  In this vacuum other powers become assertive and one might as well look over his or her shoulder and see the remake of a pre-1914 situation.  Yet again a plural of countries strive for regional hegemony. And yet again a sleeping Europe suffers from a potential Serbian rotten apple in its midst. Russia, China, Japan and South Korea are enmeshed in mutual distrust and maritime brinkmanship, as was the case between Germany and Britain before 1914. Ukraine might well be the new Berlin, opposing the United States and Russia. The Middle East born in Sevres is no longer, while Africa is too often looted by others and left to its own devices.

The overall situation is all the more complex and ominous in that it opens the door for accidents to happen, as was the case with Sarajevo.  America's retreat is therefore dangerous. The new actors enjoy testing very dangerous waters and borders and in the absence of a common understanding and political culture they play into the Jeux interdits.  Nobody looks willing or able to impose a structure on this new "free for all."  The United States is disinclined to intervene or impose a more consensual order. The EU is deflationary in its ambitions. The UN has become the predictable shooting-range wherein frustration and inferiority complexes determine the agenda.  All this leaves newcomers by themselves, on a roller coaster which they do not control. 

Miscalculation, incompetence, nuclear wizardly besiege the rational path and accidents are prone to happen.  It is naive or cynical  to pretend wanting to reverse course while at the same time being part of this gross miscalculation. Unfortunately managerial distance will only increase disenfranchisement while there is in reality no other alternative than to return to balance-of-power-type policies, in the absence of a sole accepted, be it reluctantly, federating leadership. As in old times we might have to return to reciprocal zones of interest or condominium models. Ukraine or the South and East China Seas might be tests.  President Obama cannot reverse the negative perception he helped to create and his successor awaits a formidable task to regain the lost influence.

History repeats itself, so the saying goes. The post-Berlin Wall euphoria is reduced to a piece of rubble in some museum. The Holocaust risks becoming a footnote in the larger history. Empires come and go and Gibbon might add a new chapter to his epic.  Let us not forget that Dr. Kissinger's methods are still valid. They might offer the only way to get the patient out of history's emergency room. His classical formula could spare us from the ruling amateurism. Diplomacy is more than a commodity after all.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


La Belgique est defiguree par des avatars culturels, genre Albertine ou Musee d'art moderne (?) qui renvoient le visiteur a un style lugubre, du genre feu Berlin Est.
Toutes ses institutions ont ceci en commun qu'elles semblent immobilisees suite a un coma artificiel, faute de moyens, de gardiens, de visiteurs et de renouveau. Autour de la Belgique la scene culturelle au sens large explose. Il suffit de voir le nouveau Rijksmuseum a Amsterdam...je n'ose meme pas mentionner Berlin ou Paris.
Le nouveau gouvernement a decide de penaliser encore davantage le secteur culturel. Se pretendant de "droite" il n'a pas pour autant considere une campagne visant a mobiliser le secteur prive pour compenser un deficit qui risque de devenir structurel.
La capitale de l'Europe recoit le visiteur dans des gares coupe-gorge, dans des musees ringards et dans un site urbain  transforme en garage permanent (genre Sablon). Restent la Grand Place, Oberbayern permanent, le palais de justice en decomposition permanente ( ou est l'inspiration du musee d'Orsay ?) et la Rue de la Regence et palais royal , facades non ravalees et rebarbatives dans la capitale du facadisme. Une reaction plus musclee des utilisateurs ou createurs reste timide. Cette espece de reddition permanente devient ecoeuerante, pour qui veut bien voir la multiplication des meandres regionaux, comparee aux quelques sous-entendus reserves aux institutions "nationales".
Il faut esperer que des initiatives viennent au depart du secteur et des donateurs prives, comme cela est le cas dans plusieurs pays. Encore faut-il que le politique prenne des mesures d'encouragement et qu'il promouvoie des interventions novatrices plutot qu'un clientelisme en retard de la creativite actuelle.
Il serait dommage qu'un gouvernement qui pretend reactiver debute par marginaliser une nouvelle fois le secteur culturel, tout comme ses predecesseurs. Bientot la Monnaie risque de se retrouver "muette", comme l'heroine de 1830. 

Friday, October 24, 2014


In less than a couple of hours America lost two of her iconic sons, Oscar de la Renta and Ben Bradlee.  The first was the ultimate taste-maker, who by himself was the first to lift American fashion to European levels. He was the designer for socialites and was what the New York Times called "the red-carpet king."  Nevertheless, he maintained in both his public and private lives the demeanor of a man "to the manor born", while coming from humble beginnings. 
Ben Bradlee, who presided over the Washington Post's Watergate reporting was the ultimate Orson Welles-like alpha editor.  With the support of his extraordinary editor Katharine Graham, he published the Pentagon Papers (after the NYT discontinued publication). Later he enjoined Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to delve deep into the Watergate break-in. Henceforth Richard Nixon was doomed.  His professional and private lives, his health, his Kennedy connection, were endlessly scrutinized, but his "persona" stood tall until the end.

Both de la Renta and Bradlee stood for what continues to make America great. For sure they were also blessed with living mostly in different acts of the continuing King's tragedies. Probably they behaved as they did because power rested in the hands of a different class (in moral terms). Not that the "patricians" have disappeared, they have just chosen to retreat to the Aventine rather than soiling their hands in the Capitol.  America looks amateurish not because the reservoir of talent and class has run empty, but because the offerings are becoming too debased for most to stoop to retrieve them.

This bouderie leads to a most unfortunate situation, which is starting to prevail in most Western democracies. The West is losing the narrative battle, less by absence of will than by the revulsion of the actors who despise the "script."  So the media are full of "sound and fury" from all the wrong sides.  Instead of Bradlee we are left with Snowden and Assange, who prefer to hide rather than to stand.  Instead of pressing our values we indulge almost masochistically in reporting the deeds of Jihadists and the radicals in our midst. It is high time that we re-appropriate our narrative, and stop giving evil a free ride.  Otherwise our moral and intellectual Codex might end up like the Dead Sea Scrolls, in a museum now run by ISIL.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


An ersatz Agatha Christie has come to be.  Sophie Hannah is the author of this "avatar": "The Monogram Murders."

Christie was a sloppy writer but she was the master of "spin."  She was predictable but ended up serving the expected "red herring."  We are all familiar with her cliches:  nylon stockings fetish, anti-Arab utterances, wicked plots, anti-"queer" slurs, sexless loves, and one can go on.

"The Monogram Murders" however, is devoid of grace and wit, almost Conan Doyle-like at his worst.  Seldom has anything been so fabricated and artificial. Gone are the idiosyncracies and the perverse, macabre misanthropy. Even Hannah's choice of names betrays her total lack of creative imagination. We want Hastings back!



While travelling abroad, it can be revealing to observe how third parties see situations which are familiar but can be hard to judge for a party entrapped in them.  When living in the United States now one has the impression to be part of some colossal, all-encompassing downfall. The encroachment of the negative becomes repetitive and unbearable.  The outside world looks on with awe, disbelief or distaste.  The administration is seen as a hapless group of amateurs, guided by a coterie of the blind.

It would be unfair to put all the blame on one side, since the opposition is anything but loyal or creative. Parochial attitudes prevail and the slightest piecemeal agreement is off-limits.  If both chambers in Congress become Republican majorities, the lame-duck presidency will be a "death announced."

President Obama was unable to cozy up to Congress. He has been equally failing to forge more personal contacts with leaders abroad, foes and friends alike. Allies doubt both his word and his resolve. They also have themselves to blame, since they resent American involvement while reversing course when it is no longer there.

One should not indulge in the blame game.  On the other hand, one becomes rightly worried when the former "indispensable country" looks absent for lack of clear leadership. Everywhere problems multiply, creating a perverse backlash. While the Russian machismo or the Chinese rise are met with mixed feelings, the likes of Putin and Xi Jinping are, perversely, "in fashion."
President Obama now appears almost "fraudulent."  The Nobel Prize winner from the early days has now become seen as yet another provincial Chicago politician who has lost his "mojo" together with his former persona, which now appears now to have been ''fabricated.''  Still, he can occasionally wake up to the moment, as during his recent address to the UN General Assembly. But then the high point is immediately overtaken by unfortunate events, not always of his own making but seen as another transgression of professional leadership.  As a result, one ends up dreading what the post-American world might have in store.

The answer can only come from the Americans themselves.  Dynasty fatigue, a lack of indispensable successors, dysfunction all over, are making the last Obama years even more ominous. The EU's  irrelevance only creates more opportunities for others (BRICS) to accelerate the coming apart of the former American order.   In the end, President Obama risks being seen as having set into motion the involuntary (temporary) eclipse of the American might. Nobody contests his intellect but all start to question his investment in "leadership."  It is an unfair allegation maybe, but lately the White House looks adrift.

When a grand power loses the knack to negotiate in Nixon/Kissinger style, it might as well become irrelevant. What are the achievements after six years of the Obama administration? The Affordable Care Act, which doesn't dare to say its name? Another albatross, alas!


The outgoing president of the EU Council will be missed!  

Herman Van Rompuy has been an outstanding personality at the helm of the EU flotilla for two terms.  He was able to jump-start the Lisbon Treaty without a hitch.  He was able to achieve the almost impossible, gaining the trust of all and the enmity of none.  The EU waters were stormy but he could navigate cliffs and rifts with intelligence, flair and modesty.  The insults of Nigel Farage left him unmoved, the cat fights between the usual EU suspects were never allowed to get out of hand and the expected tensions with the Head of the Commission were never realized. This discreet intellectual and writer of Haiku poems used his Belgian political savoir faire for debunking false arguments and extirpating compromise.  If the EU could avoid a crash it is thanks to the joint efforts with Jose Manuel Barosso, the Commission's president, who had an almost impossible task.  

This consensual figurehead will be a difficult act to follow at a time when economic priorities in several member states are on a collusion course.  Besides, one needs a sophisticated hand to reign in the populist grab for attention.  Herman Van Rompuy had that skill and authority. These qualities are hard to transmit. They might also be even harder to find!

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Patrick Modiano is a good choice.  In a world "full of sound and fury" most novels tend to reflect this dark vortex.  Modiano is atypical.  He did not have to force or bang doors, he enters.
Contrary to what is becoming more and more a French malaise today, his oeuvre reminds us more of the paintings of Watteau and Chardin or the music of Satie.  One has to open one's ears for the droplets and forget about the splash elsewhere.

My first encounter with Modiano was "Villa Triste , a gem of a novel wherein the situations appear to have been left untouched, merely creased.  The writer is not unlike his oeuvre, a man who remains discreet and who has, paradoxically, little connection with expression other than the written word.  There is an ambivalence in the man and in his novels which reminds us of Proust and Mallarme.  His words are still lifes. They mesmerize most, they are supposed to have a taste of ennui for others. After having met his "Reine des Belges," I was enthralled.

Friday, October 10, 2014


La Belgique a un nouveau gouvernement.
La formule, dite "Suedoise" confirme le temperament surrealiste du Belge.
Voila qu'une equipe est au pouvoir dans laquelle les pretendus "deconstructivistes (Flamands N-VA) " se retrouvent avec leurs collegues sous la houlette d'un Premier Ministre francophone. Bart De Wever a prefere "sagement" la distance a la "casse".
Il faut rendre a Caesar ce qui est a Caesar et l'ingeniosite de Charles Michel est indeniable. Il a bouleverse le paysage politique, avalise le deficit francophone, exile la mouvance socialiste et parie sur la "correction" du N-VA.
Il a herite de son pere un "savoir manipuler" evident. Reste a esperer qu'il ne souffre pas des intemperances paternelles.
Les priorites economiques sont bien ciblees. Encore faut-il que le climat economique global permette les ajustements envisages.
Les syndicats et l'opposition socialiste ne faciliteront pas la tache d'un gouvernement considere des a present comme "hostile".
Les choix et designations ministeriels  peuvent etonner mais il n'est jamais sage de vouloir se prononcer en amont.
En tout cas la Belgique a une nouvelle fois prouve qu'elle restait en mesure de reinventer le paysage politique. L'eternel "patient" finit toujours par contredire tous les diagnostics. Pour combien de temps ? Le sphinx d'Anvers devient le grand arbitre. Il assume d'ailleurs certains risques en mouillant les siens dans les eaux dangereuses de la paricipation a la gestion de l'etat plutot qu'a son affaiblissement.
Il y a plus d'un Macchiavel dans cette nouvelle donnee et il sera interessant de voir si l'orientation  promise pourra etre tenue.
Nous vivons des jours interessants.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Deborah Mitford

The last of the famous Mitford siblings, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, has passed away.
The six Mitford daughters and one brother were probably more witty together than considered individually.  Nevertheless, two writers, Jessica and Nancy, and two extremes, Diana (married to Oswald Mosley) and Unity (to national socialism), made for a most unusual "clan."
Behind the veneer the dysfunctions had a free hand.

Today all of them look strangely distant.  If some of their attitudes had not been so extreme, they might well have remained obscure or marginally eccentric.  They fit more in Noel Coward or Cecil Beaton's worlds than in any more pertinent narrative.  We are only still occasionally mildly interested because the sum of those lives became a plot, at the same time tenuous and bizarre. Their often nonchalant choices were consumed like a gin and tonic, almost at random.

The Duchess, chatelaine of the legendary Chatsworth, was as close to royalty and the grandees of the world as she was to her chickens.  It is hard to tell whom she preferred.  She joins now the ranks of Evangeline Bruce and Diana Cooper.  Her children and great-grandchildren will surely feel the absence of the last torch carrier.  Her strength lay in her cunning, disguised under the mantle of an adopted fragility.

Maybe we are reminiscent because the rather drab today looks so devoid of irrelevant non sequiturs.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


My barber in Cairo was a lot of fun.  But the tide often turned suddenly, as soon as some flash points/words or a slip of the tongue changed the salon into a war zone.  The same "disconnect" is becoming mainstream Islam.  Either you conform or you are sent to the gallows.

The Quran should not be allowed becoming the new "Mein Kampf."  Horrors are spreading in the name of what appears to mutate into, unfortunatey so, a similar if not identical evil-twin , set in stone.  The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, then Hitler's crony, is no different from some of his "ideological heirs" today.

We came to a point of making coalitions with yesterday's (?) financiers / followers of the growing Caliphate/Anschluss monster.  I would not be surprised if we arrived equally at a nuclear " folly" with Iran this year. Civil use of nuclear power doesn't need 1000 and 1 centrifuges.

I know that old civilizations , including the West, can still convey relevant teachings. Plato or Sophocles continue to mesmerize. Whahabi Islam to the contrary is a curse both for the believers and for the world.  We fought the fascist rape of lives and souls, at the cost of having to make heartbreaking existential choices in Dresden or Hiroshima, inter alia. Nowadays we have become timid or "correct".  Spengler might have been right after all. 

In Belgium, Islam is subsidized (no comment) and all too loosely monitored (correctness oblige)
My Cairo barber is still a nice guy, until...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


The "Occupy Central" movement and the "Umbrella Revolution" in Hong Kong look a lot like the start of the Tienanmen movement (15 April--4 June 1989).  Having served both in Hong Kong and Beijing, the current events do concern me in more ways than one.

Hong Kong was China's oxygen tank when China was still weak, striving to follow-up on Deng Xiaoping's call for reforms in 1992.  Today China is assertive, and given the growth of its Eastern corridor, Hong Kong has now become "one among others."

The Basic Law gave expression to the principle "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong".  The system inherited from the British rule is supposed to remain unchanged until July 2074.  The selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage was enshrined as the ultimate aim. The "one country/two systems" policy was also meant to be a blueprint for future situations (Taiwan).  The formula worked rather well to a point. The Chinese obeyed more the letter than the spirit, but overall the follow-up was satisfactory.

Beijing's choice of the current Chief Executive, Leung Chung-ying, raised alarm bells from the start.  He appeared to be more a Beijing surrogate than his own man. The Chinese misunderstood too that the passing of time, since the handover in 1997, did not erase the aspirations of a generation born after the handover to China. The last British Governor Christopher Patten was able to push the conversation about democracy forward, both against Chinese disbelief and the obstruction by Office mandarins in London. His legacy fills Hong Kong's streets today.

The situation ahead of October 1st (China's national day) is potentially tense. It is to be expected that President Xi Jinping will do the utmost to avoid having to intervene in a harsh way.  The financial/economic Pearl River Delta is too important to fail.  On the other hand, he must avoid contagion in southern China which is politically more porous than the north. He also understands that the manifestations are less directed against China than against its governance. Everybody who lived in China knows how the bonds with the "motherland" are sentimental and socio/culturally deeply-rooted in the hearts and minds.  The street in Hong Kong is against the Mainland's heavy hand, nothing more.

Hong Kong continues to be relevant as China's modernization laboratory.  Any misstep could have enormous consequences internally and internationally. The protesters should beware of miscalculations or provocations. Beijing had better listen and show restraint, likewise for the stake it has in the perception of neighbors and Taiwan. 

After having been briefly arrested, it looks as if Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old student activist, was set free. The pro-China camp better beware of making martyrs. Any too blatant reference to Tienanmen in either camp might ignite what is still manageable into a full-blown crisis. The Chinese mind is well suited to come up with face saving measures. A half-measure might suffice to calm down the provocateurs on one side and the hardliners on the other.  The West had better remain low-key, for now.

Hong Kong is like a tiny scorpion at China's far end.  Despite its insignificant size, its sting can nevertheless be fatal.  In choosing to harm, however, it might simultaneously sign its own death warrant.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Yet again, America finds itself in the eye of the storm.  It is fruitless to look for cause and effect when the house is on fire. Academic debate only slows when speed is needed.  Unfortunately, on top of more objective arguments pro and contra, the out of hand polarization of American politics brings out the worse outcome in both parties. The right looks and sounds like a deranged species, while the left is torn between demagoguery and utopia.  As if this mess was not enough, there is a president who has lost so much credibility that he lacks the political capital to convince.

As is often the case, China and the Russian federation play their usual voyeur role and should not be counted on to support a world order which, in their eyes, has been hijacked for too long by the United States.  A lot is said and written about America's supposed "free fall."  Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" has been rewritten as "America Degenerated:  Victim of Internal Vetocracy".   Obviously he has a point. The political discourse in Congress is nothing but shameful on all sides and Obama has lost his "touch" and appears to be reluctant or unable to reconnect, both in the US and abroad.

All these negatives do not diminish the "indispensability" of America's role in world affairs. It has just become more arduous, given the topsy-turvy turns in various situations and alliances, and considering that the branches of the political system in Washington act more as opposite camps than as the depositories of a checks-and-balance philosophical model.

Unfortunately, America has no choice but to get involved, since nobody else dares (as yet) or just cannot. The enumeration of situations which require urgent attention span an arc which goes from Asia to Europe. The sum of problems is further mortgaged by asymmetric components which lead to weaken the purpose of ad hoc alliances. They simultaneously strive more often than not for divergent ends. 

The Iranian clock is also ticking.  If a transparent agreement were to be considered wherein the loopholes look larger than the benefits, Washington might as well "pack" for a while, rather than alienating the Sunni states who are already suspicious of any accommodation with Iran or, for that matter, of the US president's vacillations.

The pessimists who comment about America's supposed downturn exaggerate. The model still attracts. More people want to emulate it, rather than follow Russia's dead end or China's Orwellian paranoia. This being said, it has equally to be recognized that the United States must recreate an all encompassing concept of society and strategy for the long haul. Presently there is too much short term coping, which just fills the gaps rather than creating an opportunity to participate in a larger ideological ambition.

One can double-guess Putin's long-term goal (the transgressions of the Helsinki agreement or the Budapest memorandum speak louder than words).  We can guess how China will try to satellize its reach (Hong Kong is an interesting "flash point"), be it through economic or military (sea power) means.  One doesn't know any longer what America wants. The rhetoric is flat and the ideas, if they appear, are unconvincing.  It becomes more difficult of course when the US has to fill a black hole without much hard- or soft-power support. The vacuum should allow the United States to project a coherent ambitious project for a new world architecture, as was done before (with uneven results). America has to stop looking "reluctant" and not stay shy of projecting ambition.

Instead of looking forward, the White House and Intelligence are stuck in a turf war over who underestimated ISIL! 
The very able Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed the US in almost condescending terms.  They better get their act together rather than being patronized, by Russia of all undesirable others...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


The latest opus of Henry Kissinger is almost overwhelming. In tracing a path from past and recent order to the current dysfunctions, he confronts the reader with a mesmerizing panorama of cultures and worldview.

He can be analytical (Europe), fascinating (China), brilliant (India), perceptive (Russia), visionary (America) or...Delphic (the future).  All emotions and rationality are interwoven in a Bayeux tapestry of personalities larger than life:  presidents rescued from purgatory, bitter but unavoidable endings, and almost unmentionable conflicts. There are also omissions (true, while this is not a memoir, those events had "consequences") such as the overthrow of President Allende in Chile, the secret bombings during the Vietnam War (alluded to). To the contrary he remains equally discreet and humble regarding how his China coup came to fruition or how he literally "shuttled" Israel and Egypt into agreeing! 

It would be absurd to dare to comment about what comes close to an epic tale mixing friend and foe. Almost all the protagonists mentioned by name had or have at least a vision, which even when not shared, deserves some form of awe.  The villains remain largely marginal or unmentioned, since their "heritage" is more remembered for its vile vulgarity than for its passing or lasting pertinence.

The portraits in Dr. Kissinger's Westphalian pantheon are familiar but he approaches them as Velasquez might have done while painting them.  Richelieu, Bismarck, Metternich, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Nixon appear complex, at the same time flawed and reckless, self-centered but obsessed with achieving an almost cosmic-like system of checks and balances which led to equilibrium then, be it at a cost.

China and Islam followed different concepts. The Emperor ruled as if there was no one else at his level of all encompassing perfection.  Islam believed in one empire ruled by one faith. Plurality did not figure in their vocabulary.

The so-called Westphalian concept which prevailed until the Cold War is now under attack, mostly from hybrid actors or degenerates into a tool for self-agrandisement for others. States such as Russia reclaim their past Czarist realm in the name of the previous order. Dr. Kissinger appears to show some degree of understanding for such sensitivities which require more therapy than humiliation.

He is a realist and admits that his demands for equilibrium are not always rooted in the imperative of purity.  Rightly so, he highlights the role of the United States in Theodore Roosevelt's ambitions, in Woodrow Wilson's Utopia or in Nixon's Realpolitik, which were anything but unselfish. He recognizes that nowadays the United States is no longer the ultimate balancer and that past strategies need to adapt to, inter alia, the newcomers, the interlopers and the digital era. The former times of George Kennan's "Long Telegram" are past.  So are the days when America spread values that others wanted to replicate.

I was struck by Dr. Kissinger's unequivocal appreciation of President George W. Bush who is indeed seen in a better light today than was the case six years ago. The EU is mentioned in half-baked ways, as could be expected, with the exception of the high marks given to the holy trio of Adenauer/de Gasperi/Schumann.   Rightly, he notes that the question remains how Europe will steer its transition to a regional unit.  Bureaucracy does not lead to unification--if that is the purpose--indeed.

While "World Order" feels often like a river overflowing its bed, it is reduced to more modest proportions when it meets the delta of the future.  Dr. Kissinger argues that the universal must be paired with the reality of historical diversity.  He argues in favor of "order within the various regions in the world so that they end up relating to one another."  At present this looks difficult to achieve insofar as the world is divided and its components fall, more often than not, into pieces.  China claims the mantle of the Son of Heaven.  Russia becomes Czarist by everything but by name. Europe is ready to become an arts and crafts outlet. The Arab world is a sum of divisions split in syllogisms, split in denial, all under cover of the Quran.

Dr. Kissinger seems to think that divergent cultures can still be translated into a common system.  He often refers to the European Westphalian system, which overcame all divisions. Indeed, but there were no Chinese, Muslims or "others" involved and the balance of powers achieved was certainly formidable then but looks now like a Rotary dispute over club rules. The fratricide wars then were horrible but were also partially ruled. Kings took their "cousins" prisoner but the choreography remained largely untouched until Sedan.  By now the conventions and protocol look like dying species. The Christian world has not much to brag about given past atrocities but it eventually atoned for them. Today Jihadism sees the violence no longer as a means but as an end.  The China of the Mings closed the door to conversion but left the windows open for some form of respect. Today the Arab world is victim (self-inflicted) of pan- regional sectarianism while Western Medecins sans Frontieres risk being beheaded rather than welcomed. The Arab states are on life-support and after we were fooled by the Arab Spring we learned that the pays reel is as infrequentable as the pays legal.  Is there a choice? Dr. Kissinger dares to hope and he does so in pleading for a "superior order above the particular ideals of any one region or nation, a "modernization of the Westphalian system informed by contemporary realities."   He suggests that "components, while maintaining their own values, need to acquire a second culture that is global, structural and juridical..."  May he be proven right, as he often was.  Still I might object that the remedy looks too Cartesian or high brown for today's consumer.

Monday, September 15, 2014


The vote regarding the future of the United Kingdom as we know it will have far reaching consequences.  A Yes or a No vote does not carry a moral weight per se, but if the No vote wins, it would nevertheless be seen and felt as a victory over more provincial interests and as a recognition of the value of larger considerations. The United Kingdom can still find ways to adapt, to meet the needs of devolution, while an independent Scotland would almost certainly lead to a flawed analysis of what might lie ahead. The more inward looking, almost "tribal" component of the Scottish psyche might accordingly stand in the way of its ambition and credibility internationally. England would receive a blow for sure, but the English (and Welsh) have proven to be able to turn hardships around.

I am of the opinion that, when confronted with memory, the Scots will end up staying in the Union. Sentiment might end up playing a larger role than taxes, oil revenues, currency and other more irrational issues. Still it has to be recognized that the the party of Yes and Mr. Salmond were better than the dour, often desperate sounding uttering coming out of London.
The Queen's mild admonition might have a larger effect than the London Chorus.

A lot has been said about the possible "multiplicator" effect from a Scottish Yes vote on similar situations in Catalonia and Flanders in particular. The interrogations are legitimate but can also be reversed in case of a victory of the No's. Besides, the comparison with other particular cases does not fly since the history, the narrative and the interwoven interests are different.
As a European I would regret the "reduction" of the United Kingdom to a mariage a deux + Northern Ireland.  Europe is besieged by demons of its own making--immigration, bureaucracy, political alienation, home-grown Jihadism--and it does not need an other hybrid problem in the minus column.

Whatever the result of the vote, the United Kingdom will be different, be it in its quantitative might, or in its qualitative recalibration of the Union, in case the No's prevail.  Reforms would become unavoidable and as a result, the Union is destined to become looser in any case, having to placate constitutional opposing camps. The United Kingdom might end up looking to the despised Belgian model for inspiration.  Mrs. Thatcher would turn in her grave.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


The President spoke.  He looked rehearsed, unconvincing and unconvinced.  His Magnum Opus  left his audience in the cold.  He played the part of Jimmy Stewart attempting to be Churchill. The inspiration was gone, like the bust in the oval office before.  I leave it to others, better informed, to pass judgement.

As an outsider I noticed hints of contradiction, mistakes and strategic "spin":

--To layout beforehand what you might do and how far you might go is a major blunder.
--To call the moderate Syrian opposition a cluster of white collar jobs at first, and mobilize them now is beyond rational understanding.
--To mix party politics with a supposedly existential threat leads to denigrating the latter and to banalize the former.
--The President remains unable to connect convincingly either with Congress or with the public opinion at large which is running for the EXIT doors.
--One felt that the words used received the seal of approval from the usual close sycophants rather than from the politico/military think-tanks at large.
--The partial de-localization effort, to the "grand coalition" (?), to friendly (?) Arab states and, last but not least, to the "Iraq nouveau" is an other toss of the dice. 
--Air strikes on Syrian territory will certainly provoke Assad, not to mention Putin.

Obviously this was a treacherous bridge to cross for the President.  He is entitled to his misgivings and to feel uncomfortable in the current circumstances.  As commander-in-chief he 
has nevertheless the obligation to stand for the principles that are inherent to his call to duty. He tries to convey the impression that he is conscious of the hard choices to be made. His posture still  betrays his reluctance.Likewise, his perceived "detachment" and "defensiveness" are looming in the background. If not checked, they could allow the "ultras" to occupy his territory, so that at the end  the center might not hold!

All this being said, the president deserves respect for trying to do so much...against his own nature.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Je n'aime pas les Sinologues. Cela est une des particularites que je partage avec les Chinois.
J'ai passe 9 ans en Chine et je considere les Sinologues comme des parasites, au demeurant depasses aujourd'hui et faux monnayeurs par definition.
Pierre Ryckmans etait le contraire du Sinologue.
Plus intuitif que numerique, il approchait la Chine sur son propre terrain.
Son nom de plume (Simon Leys), emprunte au Belge fictif cree par Victor Segalen (Rene Leys), renvoyait a une Cite Interdite, premonitoire du Chateau de Kafka.
Ryckmans a ete un clairvoyant hors pair qui voyait tout alors que d'autres ne regardaient que l'empereur.
Il traquait l'injustice et la terreur quand d'autres intellectuels preferaient collaborer ou de s' auto-censurer.
Il aimait et comprenait la Chine, mais ce pugiliste ne craignait pas d'assommer des coups ni de les recevoir.
Mao avait trouve un adversaire a sa taille.
La Chine a perdu un ami qui ne sacrifia jamais la verite a la passion.


I was in Europe, I survived.  Brussels was on its bureaucratic best.  The new Commission looks dead before formation.  Its president, Jean-Claude Juncker, is to the EU what the 4th Republic was to France. Not that he is not up to the obscure task, he is just irrelevant. The appointment of Frederica Mogherini as the foreign-policy representative says it all.  She was Italy's foreign minister for six months.  Nobody noticed.  She makes Catherine Ashton almost look desirable...il faut le faire.

In Ukraine or the Middle East the Europeans look like a bewildered flock without a shepherd.
The economy in the EU has stalled and the latest initiatives of the ECB (cut in interest rates and stimulus) might not be enough to highlight growth rather than austerity. The fear of deflation rules. 
Europe always acted upon the call of the United States. Lately the line was cut and notwithstanding the "unanimous" chorus in Wales the troops remain divided and the American President continues to inspire more perplexity than awe.  Besides, individual EU members have to cope with the Freudian (France, Hungary) or with the abyss (United Kingdom, Spain).  The "hoopla" regarding the bi-millenial anniversary of the death of Emperor Augustus is the best indicator of the Weimarish Zeitgeist which prevails in Europe now: seeking refuge in past "harmony." The pax romana has become a footnote in history books and recently, the pax americana appears to be on sick leave.

The world nosedives into a diplomatic/strategic Bermuda triangle:

--Ukraine is an exercise in cynicism since everybody knows that whatever Putin does will become a fait accompli. The Europeans have no empathy with the Slavic world and Kiev rightfully does not put its trust into NATO's crocodile tears.  Ukraine will be what Putin allows it to be.  Any agreement with Putin will be written by Moscow with a pen filled with evanescent ink (starch, water and iodine).  Mariupol will be an interesting place/case to monitor.  Leave your "Illusions" for the Cahiers du Cinema.

--Many Europeans have joined Isis. The EU had better consider the perverse consequences of a homecoming of the home-grown Jihadists, which might be costly.  ISIS is a global threat and must be fought accordingly.  There again, an American-lead coalition--Arab states included--is indispensable.  For once I agree with Ambassador John Bolton that the "Islamic State" must be destroyed.   It will be easier if the West can contribute to the creation of an alternative model which could be seen by the Arabs as more desirable than the hell in their midst.

--The almost non-existence of the EU in world affairs is one thing, the contradictory signals given by Washington on many fronts are another.  The "pivot" to Asia seems lost and China pushes its advantage towards the first island chain in the East and South China Seas. The neighbors worry but they start to see that the benefits which derive from the China engine might be more rewarding than the security provided by America's strategic umbrella. Likewise, Beijing has co-opted Africa, where it invests and depletes, unconditionally.

The Middle East is in chaos and the United States has failed to project a coherent policy yet. The Jihadist threat was considered "manageable" by President Obama, who has corrected, belatedly, this rather embarrassing lapsus.  How does one manage Ebola?  The President fails, insofar as he is still reluctant to state that the solution can only come out of the realization that an alternative model in the region is more desirable than the death cult of the Jihadists. Often he tiptoes around issues, afraid to come over as anti-Muslim, while facts speak louder than words.  The situation requires that the Arabs--and Syria and Iran--finally speak out in favor of reforms and plurality and that they openly reject the message of hate and obscurantism which ia starting to infect Islam as a whole.  A major problem is that the majority of Arab states are de facto "failed states" in the grips of bygone, wrong, almost theocratic structural aberrations.
There are times when being overcautious risks becoming a slap in the face of principle. Certain critics of President Obama have gone into overdrive but the President himself--and his "entourage"--are responsible for a growing trust deficit which is undermining the credibility of US guarantees. Some quote Oscar Wilde's aphorism while seeing the American president on the links in moments of high drama:  "Give me the luxuries and I can dispense with the necessities."  Playing golf gives the wrong signal, coming after a beheading.

Obama's approval rating is sinking more by the day.  The President plays nonchalant, but in doing so he looks as if he lives in a virtual reality.  Sometimes he appears to return to his mood in the first presidential debate with Romney:  detached.  I remember Romney saying "You can keep your plane..."  He certainly uses it a lot lately.  I would not exclude a Nixon moment in the future and see Romney running again (against Mrs. Clinton?), if Jeb Bush doesn't.  The "Yes We Can" sounds so out of touch now, and might well embarrass all those who came close to believing in the mantra.  It might not be too late to salvage a sinking presidency but the lifeboats had better be ready, in case. The news out of Wales and Kiev is somewhat better but the question remains if it will have staying power.  NATO has received a shot in the arm, but it remains to be seen if it is a remedy (which costs) or a placebo (which fools nobody, in the first instance Putin).

Armed conflicts should be avoided, if possible. Certain situations (Ukraine) are hard to swallow but reason must correct instinct.   On the other hand, the barbarians at the gate (Europe's, in the first place) must be eliminated by all means for the sake of dignity and self-preservation. The Middle East must see that there is another road than fatality.  The West must also, and for ever, turn the page of Orientalist illusion. The so-called Western Arab allies in the region are a rather unsavory lot.  They have even more to fear what might be coming.  Hence, they had better repent and reform before it is too late. The crisis is still primarily a regional one and the regional powers must act accordingly, instead of solely taking refuge in the usual "God willing." The better might be the enemy of the good, but the Arab leaders better start improving before they become irrelevant in the eyes of their own kin. It looks as if they are getting the message, but...

President Obama is supposed to outline the US ISIS strategy next Wednesday. Let us hope it will be more than a tale of strategy lost and found. His swaying often ends up getting the ball in a bunker.