Sunday, April 27, 2014


Siegfried Bracke heeft, na andere Vlaamse opiniemakers, de mening verdedigt dat taal niets te maken heeft met identiteit.
Ik ben het daarmee volledig eens en heb dit ook, tot vervelens toe, herhaalt..
Een vraag : wanneer Dai Sijie of Julien Green bijvoorbeeld in het frans schrijven, worden zij dan door de Vlaamse "censuur" beschowd als afvallend Chinees en Amerikaan  ? Give me a break!
Het is hoog tijd dat deze "Servische", wereldvreemde virus, die de Vlaamse identiteit blijft ondergraven, eindelijk in een open politiek/cultureel debat wordt aangesproken en begraven.

Gelukkig bestaat er in Vlaanderen een groeiende weerstandsbeweging tegen het overheersend Heimat provincialisme dat zich ook uitdrukt in bijna wereldvreemde, absurde uilatingen.
Gerard Mortier en Jan Hoet hebben deze mentale verloedering frontaal aangevallen.
Een anachronistische doorlichting van de wereldpolitiek, de kunst, de ekonomie, leidt  tot het overheersend intellectueel droogdok, waarin "officieel" Vlaanderen is verzeild . De deuren en ramen gaan dicht, terwijl bij de buren het dividend van een multi conceptuele visie kan  worden geincasseerd.

De staatshervorming heeft geleid to een soort monsterverbond "bis", dat noch efficient, noch creatief is en alleen de "verlichting"marginaliseert. Het herverven van verkeerborden wordt voorgesteld  als een verovering van identiteit !

Vlaanderen kan zich beter waar maken door af te zien van een structurele neurose die verwijst naar weinig aantrekkelijke gedragspatronen en ons terugbrengen naar de situatie waarin de Oostenrijkse Nederlanden de ook morele tol moesten betalen als gevolg van de  afsluiting van de Schelde. De negatie van een meer positieve, ongecomplexeerde visie kan alleen een verdere deficitaire consequentie meebrengen.

De zogenaamde "correcte" Vlamingen zouden moeten worden aangespoord de 577 pagina's van de intellectuele Rock Star Thomas Piketty te verwerken, makro te denken en de" onbewogenheid " in te wisselen voor "vrijmoedigheid". Zij hebben alle troeven maar blijven spelregelsvreemd.


The "pivot" narrative is starting to sound like a "Waiting for Godot" remake.  There is a lot of talk, but nobody has been able to propose a quantitative or qualitative content (what are exactly the reciprocal benefits?) yet.  In the absence of a more concrete "input," the concept is being hijacked and risks becoming what it was not supposed to be.

The rather gloomy Asian trip of President Obama came also at an unfortunate time.  Malaysia has lost face, bungling the lost airplane saga.  South Korea is in mourning after the ferry tragedy. Seoul and Tokyo remain mutually hostile. Only the Philippines are willing to turn the clock back to pre-Subic Bay base times.  The US President pushed, rightly, for accelerating the finalization of a trade deal with the Asian partners. Unfortunately, the agreement remains hostage to competing lobbies in Tokyo and Washington.  Obama has had little luck in his many diplomatic endeavors. This is a little unfair because caution should prevail over impulse, but when the waiting lasts too long the interest starts to wane. 

It is important to reclaim ownership of the "pivot."  It has become a potentially dangerous ersatz for "containment" of China.  If there is no correction in the reading of the initiative, this may lead ultimately to its demise.  The "pivot" should be seen as a step towards a Pacific partnership (Trans Pacific Partnership) which must also "consider" Chinese interests and which
should cover trade, territorial and maritime open-sea freedoms. The disputes over the Spratlys, Paracels or Diaoyutais/Senkakus should be dealt with in non-emotional/non-nationalistic terms. The Quemoy/Matsu era is over and it is doubtful that the Seventh Fleet would move into the Taiwan Straits today, as was the case in the Fifties. A Pacific partnership "with", not "against" China at a later stage is suited to calm antagonisms and lead to more cooperation and unhindered freedom of navigation, without unilateral, arbitrary de-limitations.  Asia might otherwise become the future mother of all wars.  Regional tensions, if not checked at an early stage, could easily lead to miscalculation or provocation. 

American military presence should equally be reviewed with Asian allies and not become out of touch or irrelevant, considering the fast-moving strategic imperatives.  The CENTO (Central Treaty Organization) and SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) are bygones and their surviving "military projection" is obsolete.  The Obama administration has set the right priorities and it would be bad if the "pivot" ended up joining the "reset" with Russia, in the minus column. When great ambitions remain lofty for too long they risk deflating expectations.

The President's rhetorical support for Japan over the Senkakus might haunt him in the future. He does not need more "red lines."  His policies are, admittedly, often well-meant, if too cerebral. He likes to use the "toolbox" metaphor but the world is in need of emergency therapy, not casual repair.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Remember the Berlin Crisis (1958/1963)?  Khrushchev was looking for a weak spot to make clear that the balance of power in Europe could be tilted in his favor.  President Kennedy increased the US defense budget, called up reserves and dispatched troops on the Autobahn through the Soviet zone.  Consequently, the Soviets got cold feet (as they were to do again in Cuba) ... but then was "then."

Ukraine is an altogether different case:  it sets moral conviction against strategic analysis, quoting Dr. Henry Kissinger.  Admittedly, Ukraine did not figure as a priority on the diplomatic agenda. The American President had boxed himself into the healthcare narrative, and the EU became a pawnshop for who was out and a migration nightmare for who was in. Putin was patiently looking for a spot of lesser resistance to start the restoration process of the former Soviet empire.  He thought that his moment had come following the Maidan protest in Kiev and after having made the assessment that President Obama and NATO would procrastinate.  Now this comes at a most unfortunate juncture, as the US administration is hostage to electoral priorities inside and seemingly unable to reassure allies worldwide, who doubt American leadership.

To be fair, despite remaining a major historical factor in Russia's DNA, elswhere Ukraine was considered as little more than folklore tourism (the Hutsul village of Yaremche) and a rather "bizarre" set of  P.Ms.  The folklore forgotten, a reality check is urgently needed. With the exception of the Russian Federation (which feels "at home" there) the EU and the United States are totally unprepared to face this sudden vortex.  Putin makes them run while he sets the pace. For him, Ukraine is a cornerstone for an almost neo-Tsarist territorial Wanderlust.

The Geneva "agreement" will probably be dead on arrival and frankly there is very little the West can do, since military intervention is a non-starter.  Besides, public opinion does not care that much about international rule of law which Putin has disposed of without bothering to excuse or explain. All this reminds us of painful historical precedents, but then like now the tide of indifference covers principle.

The cause, if there was such a thing, is lost.  Better to face the reality.   The West should concentrate on the Baltic states, Poland, and Moldova where NATO could show it is more than an alliance of countries which do not pay their dues.   Sea and air power have to be increased, Patriot missiles might have to be considered, joint military maneuvers have to be planned, sanctions shouls be broadened. This is important for NATO members and front line states, but it is equally urgent that observers worldwide notice that the timid have not taken over the Western psyche.  President Obama will have a lot of explaining to do to convince the Asians that the "pivot" is more than a "ToysRus" lolly pop. Meanwhile, we can kiss Ukraine goodbye!  The OSCE can be relevant for once, delivering the pallbearers for a funeral "announced".

Sunday, April 13, 2014


We are getting dangerously "retro."  The former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski have suggested that the "Finlandization" of Ukraine might be a way out of the current crisis. We remember that Finland under President Kekkonen's term (1956/ 1982) underwent a process by which the powerful Soviet neighbor was able to strongly exercise its influence on Helsinki's decision making.  The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe was supposed to bring some normality to such asymmetric situations. The first "basket" guaranteed, inter alia, the territorial integrity of states and was enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. The Bucharest Declaration further confirmed the status quo of European borders and was intended to promote cooperation in the fields of science, technology and culture.

All this being said, the fine letters are more important than the draft. The Geneva meeting was surreal. The free-lancers, Malta, Romania, Switzerland, Finland and France, made life impossible for all. Under the baton of Ambassador Dubinin, the Soviet "bloc" tried to avoid false notes while the West veered as usual between anti-American spite and resignation. The more personal stories were as interesting as the Grand Drama (see my essay TRACES).  My fellow countryman, the Prince de Ligne said about the Vienna Congress that "it does not walk, but it dances."  Mutatis mutandis, in a dour mode, the same aphorism could apply to the interminable Geneva talks.
Nevertheless, the Final Act was approved and welcomed as the beginning of a new era.
It even worked for awhile and made the Perestroika possible. In its shadow, the lobby of the still occupied Baltic States woke up to a new dawn and most observers saw in the Helsinki act the post mortem of a despotic hypertrophy state.

All this looks like some Panglossian projection today. It is absurd to attribute to Putin the high marks he does not deserve while it is equally advisable to notice his extraordinary cunning. It is also disturbing to notice how some of the best and brightest political minds in the West seem to suffer from memory loss.  Suddenly they unfreeze "Finlandization" as a viable alternative for Ukraine, while the West did all it could to get rid of this fatal bacteria. This creates a dangerous precedent.   Borders are no longer "off limits," self-determination gets manipulated, and thugs get a free ride. The Maidan is also betrayed by the same individuals who found nothing better than to give cookies instead of ideas. Some strains of thought are perverse since they fail to put pressure on Russia, which knows too well the value of silence.  In the diplomatic void so created, the echo coming from a premature commentary can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It should not be excluded that the endgame will not be different from the analysis of the two US diplomatic "oracles", but to wish for it per se might signal a lack of acumen, which will not go unnoticed and  could be a haunting precedent for the future.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Remarque is mostly remembered for his novel "All Quiet on the Western Front."  If he were writing today about the Eastern Front, this quintessential lucid writer might switch adjectives and go for "tentatively nefarious".

Actually the whole European situation might look almost surreal if it were not for the rollback of the post-Berlin Wall legacy.  After the euphoria in the West, complacency sat in and in its aftermath the leaders lost their mettle. They failed to grasp the reality of a Russian Federation which clings to memory rather than being content to play second fiddle. The United States presented the Russians with kid toys and played cozy (the Clinton/Yeltsin duo) or paternalistic (the "reset button").  The Europeans went along with the enlargement of NATO and put paper tigers at the "friendly" borders. Their appetite for energy made them oblivious to what was happening in front of their eyes.  The numerous snubs only awakened a Russian empire which was hidden from view after a century of occasional estrangement. One forgets too easily that the Russian front-- and no other--was the main actor in Nazi Germany's demise.

While the West slept, Russia under Putin regrouped. There are many reasons for this almost pathological redefinition of identity:

--Everybody knows that a void created will eventually be refilled. The West encouraged former Soviet republics to join the EU or NATO but followed up with half-baked military or other support, leaving an Eastern border porous and economically fragile.

--Western Europe did not pay due attention to its lethal dependency on Russian energy. Some of its political elite benefited from this Russian embrace which looks more like a death wish than a kiss of affection.

--The Bush and Obama administrations did not make enough time for Europe which is considered more like a page out of Vanity Fair rather than a chapter out of Clausewitz.  As a result, the Europeans tended to be more isolationist than the Americans ever were.  Contrary to Mitterrand, Mrs. Thatcher or Kohl they often chose leaders who deflected rather than reflected.  Mrs. Merkel might be an exception but ambiguities remain.

--Putin was able to build a coalition of the "silent".  A majority worldwide certainly disapproves of his "rape of Europe" but the silence remains deafening while the Americans have lost the goodwill which was abundant yesterday. Brazil, South Africa, India, Argentina, China, Israel (!), Middle Eastern clients (?) i.a. are keeping their distance.

--Russia can do a lot because there is little that the West can do.  President Obama never cared to fulfill the promise of candidate Obama's Berlin speech.  In the presidential debates he foresaw a personal network of amicable leaders but he has ended up in some empty room with an occasional generally disgruntled leader passing by.

--The tragic-comic fight between Republicans and Democrats is wasteful and leads to grotesque aberrations. The presidentials have started already and an overdose of mediocre, parochial medicine is available online. Remember how somebody as deservedly respected as Senator McCain chose Sarah Palin as running mate? That is what elections in the United States can lead to.  True, she could see Russia from Alaska. This could come in handy today.

--The United States is in need of a statesman who can present a society model wherein less State creates more space for innovation, "enlightened" immigration, refocused foreign policy and military strategic parameters.  Non-invasive corrections of a system which led to overspending and underestimations internally and externally are urgently required (read Burke).

--The EU and the US had better accelerate negotiations on the Trans-Atlantic Partnership and Trade and Investment Partnership (the same goes for the Asia Pact (TPP).

-The West lacks a "doctrine," a reference which is both a beacon for the participants and a deterrent for the "outlaws".

Ukraine should not become what it is not supposed to be, some casus belli or the first act of a long confrontation with Russia.  Let us not be hypocritical.  Europe was willing to come to an agreement with Yanucovych prior to his volte face.  It should not play holier than what it is. Putin is not going away.  Probably he is the one with the most staying power.  He might even be "more sinned than sinner". 

Thursday, April 3, 2014


It is becoming impossible to make sense of the leaves in the global political pot of tea.
Unfortunately, if one tries to see through the overall world ambivalence, one risks ending up sounding like some cranky old person.

The American President looks more comfortable in the now (in)famous fern decor or chit-chatting with the Pope while his Chinese counterpart charms Europe, not to mention the world .

Putin has been compared with mostly unsavory figures. Some of his moves reek of deja vu but he is more Bismarck than any other shrewd historical figure who might come to mind. Contrary to him the Western counterpart appears having no clothes. This does not diminish recognized superiority in hard and soft power but it does highlight that the West was lured into a situation for which it remains largely unprepared, looking leaderless and rudderless. The few who still believe in NATO's "symmetric" deterrent regarding current "Mittel European" events are misguided and better get ready for Alka Seltzer +, just in case. Nobody will lift a military finger if Putin decides to melt the sugar lumps at his border. He is not impressed by sanctions which will hurt but will end up being cushioned in the nationalistic frenzy which is a brush fire that engulfs the Russian soul.

Indeed, the West has nothing in terms of an uplifting counter-measure. Ukraine is just a mouse for the Russian tomcat.  The other side of the coin is that the West - primary the United States-  has to run- while Russia waits for the dominoes to fall in its net. 
Meanwhile  Iran has decided to send a more-than-dubious representative to the UN, a slap in the face of Washington (so much for "appeasement"). Congress, unfortunately so, is still blocking major trade deals with Asia and the EU despite the President's rhetorical performance in Brussels. As if this were not enough, the American automobile sector, infrastructure and internal congruence appear to be on life-support.

What would Kissinger do? Given that his worldview is no longer, his former therapy equally no longer applies. I could imagine that he nevertheless would find a way to impose leadership rather than having to wait for the "other" to move. In today's world this can only be done by coalition building. Putin's moves look ominous to most onlookers and bystanders. They are waiting in vain for the American Primus inter pares to assemble a force which combines moral force with political astuteness. Issues such as the avatars of the Arab Spring, Iran, and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians should be put on ice for a while. There is too much that resembles "action" while it is really just "movement". If the United States continue trying to solve too much (with an unpredictable Russian "partner") they might run out ideas. 

 The preferred path now should be a gathering of world leaders, including Russia, who could reaffirm the rule of law, pressuring Putin for "clarity" and outline a new Bretton Woods, taking into account countries which need to be heard before they are willing to acquiesce. States can also be Western tributaries rather than having to be allies. The president of the Russian Federation has to be made openly what he is in real terms, a lonely man in the world community.

Willingly or not, most countries were used to American leadership. Today the United States look often more like a blotter than a marker. This is the result of an "academic" presidency, coming after "imperial" presidencies.  Humility is preferable to hubris as long as the body in repose can flex its muscle. Under the last Bush presidency there was too much testosterone. Now the Pax Americana feels like a bygone old black-and-white Hollywood production and we are stuck with mega brain dead productions like Noah & Co.  One ends up having some sympathy for the French exception culturelle.  This should not be.  Let's remember  there was a "Play it again, Sam".

American idealism, which was the foundation of political thought, worked as long as the leadership (albeit often rightly criticized) was rooted in beliefs, conceptual creativity, and technological and military might. The recent cut in US defense expenditure is yet again an another faux pas which might encourage  others to rush to judgement...and miscalculation.