Tuesday, February 18, 2014


The United States is making diplomatic inroads but seem to be unable to make it to the finish. So the moves fade away, leaving a space where the better intentions are hijacked by opportunistic raiders who have their day. Enough has been said about President Putin's agility in seizing every opportunity to advance the Russian Federation's global strategic interests. Compared to this rather slick modus operrandi, the American foreign policy looks like sitting in the dry dock. It suffers from the identical ailments which are slowing down the domestic agenda. Accumulation is sold as plan and the follow up becomes sloppy. The rather impressive State of the Union speech has already fallen victim to gerrymandering in the White House and dysfunctions in both parties. The same goes for foreign policy which looks like some "hot pursuit" of too many tracks which end up in the dustbin of improvised promises.

In the Iranian nuclear mess, the Israeli-Arab conundrum, Egypt (Field Marshal el-Sisi went to Moscow, snubbing the Americans), the free trade agreements with the EU and Asia (Don't promise if you are not sure you can deliver), the Ukrainian test case, Afghanistan, the United States is making more enemies while at the same time alienating friends who distrust the staying-power of Washington's initiatives. The overloaded agenda as proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry might be equally over ambitious. Therefore the execution looks at times desultory. Too often it also risks ending up being an a la carte exercise which fails to address ''all'' parties involved who, when ignored, continue to be manipulated by actors who can impose their own agenda with impunity. One should find inspiration in the Dayton accord, where a deal was achieved thanks to the participation of all parties, Milosevic included. Ostracism seldom works if one needs to fix a problem. 

Looking at the West Bank without taking into consideration Gaza is a non-starter. Talking with the Mullahs without due consideration of the Sunnis risks becoming a no-win gamble. Talking free trade without a guarantee that Congress will allow a fast-track approach will certainly dent the credibility of the American stand-fastness. Ignoring President Karzai's "blackmail" is an insult to the American soldiers who died and to self-respect. Denying Russia's special bond with Ukraine is an anti-historical mistake which will backfire.  The upheaval in Kiev should not let us forget that Eastern Ukraine is still pro-Russian.  Meddling in Syria like a blindman leading the blind and ignoring Assad (as part of a future solution) further reduces the ''indispensable'' nature of US involvement. 

The EU, Latin American and Asian ''theatres'' present more tears than glamour. The ''pivot" to Asia, by the way, looks as if the phone line was cut off.  China, South Korea, and Japan are playing more ''solo'' than ''with''.  The North Korean gulag meanwhile is unattended, sheltered under the dubious Chinese umbrella.

In former days, the Soviet Union was not a model of democracy but one negotiated, reluctantly maybe, but the results and deals made were nevertheless tangible. The historic China move by President Nixon did not overlook Mao's absurd Marxist experiments but measured advantage versus moral sterile a priori.

The antipathy one rightly feels towards Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban and Co. should not lead to denial. Those groupings are here to stay and if one feels so deeply and rightfully offended by them one had better tell them so, face to face, rather than ignoring what might as well become more legitimized in the future. It is wise not to get lost in the Syrian labyrinth--humanitarian priorities must be safeguarded--but ignoring the main mover only leads to prolongation of the slaughter. Assad at the table is more exposed than he is now, ignored by the US but safe. After all, secret talks with the Taliban are not for the weak at heart either and nevertheless they wobble on. Abbas will not be able to deliver if Hamas is ignored. The Iranian talks should come to a halt at the first sign of procrastination. Prolongations have to be out of the question.

The United States is in need of a more universal set of principles. It is hard to come by in a world wherein states no longer have a monopoly, given the new reality wherein non-states, terrorism addicts and even individuals can tip the balance.  On the other hand, Washington needs a more coherent strategy than the mere "F... the EU" coming from Ms. Victoria Nuland, American Assistant Secretary of State. The EU lately looks sometimes as becoming more Hapsburg that Bismarck ( I remain a EU believer ), but there are fewer takers in comparison with the "great expectations" the world still harbors regarding the United States.

If you want others to believe that you are indispensable/exceptional you had better come up with a sound foreign policy mantra. The days of Acheson, Kennan or Kissinger are over and their methodology is no longer applicable to changed circumstances. This does not mean that one should be reduced to sole pragmatic management without some form of cohesion. The United States can use distance insofar as it doesn't lead to isolationism but there is still more ad hoc than ad rem. The Obama administration is too often seen as unreliable and even cynical. The Putin phobia does not work as a substitute for foreign policy. It is to be hoped that edification and some cohesive thinking will replenish the current US conceptual weakness. The administration had better get its act together because, to paraphrase Richard III, "the world is not in the giving vein today".

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