Saturday, June 28, 2014


Jean-Claude Juncker was the Spitsenkandidat of the EU Parliament and the EU leaders swallowed the pill.  The UK was outvoted and no longer able to veto Juncker, as it did in the recent past when John Major stood alone against the selection of the Belgian P.M. Jean-Luc Dehaene, who had the support of all the other member states.

Juncker is not without merits. He was Luxembourg's P.M. and an able president of the Euro group (the Euro zone Finance Ministers).  He is known to be an insider of  "all things Brussels."
London considers him a prototype of the "old federalist EU", which is becoming anathema in the UK, where Euro skepticism abounds.  The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian have already reduced Juncker's story line to his supposedly smoking and drinking habits. 

It must be admitted that this "resigned" choice finds few convinced takers. The EU mood is in need of a boost. It got a "remake" instead.  It is becoming harder and harder to find personalities who could revive some form of respect or enthusiasm for the EU. The machinery has overtaken the idea.  The last EU parliament elections were a further demonstration of the European deficit which exists in the public opinion of the member states.

Other top posts have to be filled:  successors for the disastrous Catherine Ashton, foreign policy chief, and the excellent Herman Van Rompuy, European Council President.  The Commission is in need of  leadership and a vision but Europe preferred to go for a plumber. The tragedy is that few creative, original minds are willing to get shackled in this Brussels Swiftian saga.  Nowadays they prefer the corridors of the IMF or Oxford, rather than getting lost in the EU labyrinth.

Europe is not on life-support, far from it, but the alienation among the member states is growing in the absence of a "project", like the one which existed under Jacques Delors.  Mutatis mutandis, the same is happening in the United States.  President Obama is down in the polls, not because he is necessarily wrong but because the grand communicator from six years ago has lost his voice (for now).   It is to be hoped that the EU member states will wake up and compensate for their "indifferent" choice by sending representatives to the Commission who could fill the important posts with some creativity and innovative skills.  If they continue sending mostly "have beens" (there are exceptions), Brussels will begin to look like a ward in need of Florence Nightingale's return.  Her name has become a byword for trouble, but the EU might need some trouble:   Wake up and smell the coffee!

Let's hope that Jean-Claude Juncker will not follow in the steps of the main Luxembourg event, the hopping Echternach procession:  "three steps forward, three steps backward."

Monday, June 23, 2014


The death of Fouad Ajami will hardly be noticed in the Arab world.  His despair regarding the path which the autocratic Arab leaders have chosen became the hallmark of his impressive intellectual legacy.  The current turmoil in the Middle East acts like an echo chamber for his ideas.  He shared with an other Arab scholar, the late Edward Said, a deep melancholy rooted in almost contradictory but not exclusive readings of a sad tale.

I read Ajami's "The Dream Palace of the Arabs" in Cairo.  The capital of Egypt and of the Arab world was the ideal place to come to terms with his bitter remembrances. Like Cairo, his memory overwhelms but cannot repair all that which is broken.  As soon as hope appears it gets lost.  His political comments were like himself, all nuanced but unforgiving at the core.

The world will miss this unique Arab voice that enchanted like a Sufi chant.  The Arabs have lost a man in exile who spoke, paradoxically perhaps, a language which still tried to reach for the heights while the Arab landscape heads for what is becoming in Fouad Ajami's words:  a journey into "the tribal, the atavistic and the clannish."

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Sometimes difficult times and choices allow individuals to live up to the circumstances.
Often they also open a window which allows former sinners to make a come back.
It is too early to have a definitive opinion about the handling of the Iraq crisis by the Obama administration.
It is the moment to be intellectually, morally revolted by the comments of the Neo Cons, whose opinions should have remained mothballed for ever.

I fail to understand the factual presentation by the president. We are all too familiar by the way this highly intelligent man often gets lost in his "thinking aloud". The saying goes that all ills stem from the Iraqi Prime Minister. I would argue that the situation is less about Iraq than about the United States, the West, and the so called Sunni allies. ISIS should not be allowed a safe trans border heaven in Syria and Iraq. This cancer must be fought fast before it metastasizes. This has to be seen independently of what happens in the political Baghdad sewer. What comes after is for the Iraqis to decide. The longer one waits to intervene the more uphill the battle will become. It has been said that the English never draw a line without blurring it. The Americans should not repeat the axiom and kill the beast instead, not allowing for an increase of Iranian or "good"(?) Sunni intervention. Rightly so, many voices support the idea that a US intervention should be lethal but calibrated, in Iraq and in what is not longer Syria, but part of a regional, sectarian Caliphate.

As if the situation were not bad enough the ones who had it all wrong are making a come back. Dick Cheney and daughter), the vain "Mountbatten alike Vice Roy" of the occupational US authority, Paul Bremer, Paul Wolfowitz (in attack mode, before the World Bank, and during ) and Co. are in demand in the predictable media, with the usual blond " Valkiries" in awe ( sounds familiar). Their original invasion sin is forgiven by the "usual suspects", their bungling the occupation erased, and their amnesic voices  reduced ,to be heard  in a remake of "The night of the living dead" by the FOX machine ( I rather enjoy Bill O' Reilly though ).
In Winston Churchill's words they accuse Obama for being "a sheep in sheep's clothing".

What is at stake is more serious (a given) and urgent (question mark). The region is of economical and geo political importance and what has been perceived as Washington"s tepid interest has created a void. The region is not an appealing one and pretending that the "clash of civilisations" is not happening over there is preposterous at least. I fail to see a positive outcome for the foreseeable time. Islam looks more often than not as a religion frozen in time, hostile to change other than for pragmatic self aggandizement (the Emirates). The Wahabite, Salafist and Shiite strains are equally adverse to self scrutiny or a concept of pluralism and Renaissance.
We call allies the same countries which favor Sharia law, female mutilation. the demise of Israel (be it often in Delphic terms), or diversity. For the need for oil we sacrifice the need for clarity.

The Middle East always seems to bring the worst out of actors and possible scenarios alike. We have to live with a dysfunctional theocratic hybrid at the door. This is an arduous, unpleasant "denial" exercise. Let us not further complicate it by allowing a non state to annihilate a  whole post WWI construction which was arbitrary and sloppy but which served its purpose well for a century. The West cannot allow itself to become the funeral house of its ambitions. ISIS has to be stopped and hit hard now before it hits us. What happens with Iraq's sectarian Juggernaut is for the Iraqis to decide. At the end oil is a commodity in need of buyers, even the Jihadists understand that. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


I have written before about the duplicity of maps.  Most result from fabrication, cunning and unlawful appropriation. Mercator must turn in his grave after all the Napoleonic or post-World War I fabrications and totally arbitrary boundaries.  Now the Sykes Picot borders look to be on life-support. The end of the Ottoman Empire lent indifferent victors a free hand in carving out territories for indifferent rulers. At least some form of hybrid stability resulted, glossing over sectarian trans-border tensions.  The post-Ottoman construction was arbitrary, but expedient. Now we start to recognize that yesterday's flaws were preferable to today's nightmares. The current events in Iraq, coming after the Syrian tragedy, could very well change the map, brand the souls and multiply the "hybrid".

The situation is becoming so perverse that it might well blur all genres.  The alliances look surreal when one considers that Qatar, of all places, has the largest US base in the region while playing the wild card everywhere; that the Americans who relied on the Sunnis in Iraq to quell the
former insurgency might find themselves in contradictory unison with Iran, supporting Al Maliki and the Shiites, whom they despise...and one can go on.  Speaking of dysfunctional partners!  All those contradictions and paradoxes pile up. They certainly complicate any clear cut decision- making.  The past is made responsible for all evils today and the dire situation now is equally linked to faulty policies and choices yesterday. 

In Washington this blame game goes on and on.  President Bush was misguided intervening for non-existing reasons. President Obama prefers for the time being not to be an overexposed part of the "conversation," creating, in so doing, a vacuum plagued by potholes in the road, which are becoming larger with every hour that passes. Both presidents stumbled. Obviously there are no easy solutions and, indeed, a mix of political and military options should be considered. The clock is ticking!  Nnevertheless, diplomacy is also the by-product of perception. Yet again the United States appears faltering, allowing the undesirable, ISIS  (Islamic State for Iraq and Syria/the Levant..."they" are already expanding!) and Iran to steal the headlines.

The making of some Jihadist rogue launching pad in Iraq could as well become an ominous reply of Afghanistan, closer to home, and in a region where yesterday's friends are tomorrow's foes.  The situation becomes even more perverse in the absence of any leadership and given the duplicity of the Iraqi regime. We might end up with four entities rather than with the de facto three (Shiite South/Sunni Middle and Kurdistan North).  A fourth spoiler entity might be in the making if not timely aborted. All these morsels will vie for patrons and money, leaving the American lender of last resort and arbiter of former days hors jeu. The more correct leftovers in the region of past days, Jordan and Turkey (NATO member) must look on in disbelief. Egypt is too self-centered for the time being to want to get over involved.  Lebanon is a hostage. Syria is a killing field.  As usual Israel remains the only rational actor and must feel lonely in the region and in the world. 

Sometimes I am reminded of Delacroix's "Sardanapalus" in the Louvre, of a distant ruler in denial of the horrors which surround him.  The difference is that, contrary to the ruler in the painting, the Administration does not order itself to death, but to abstraction.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Going into the second Iraq war was a mistake and a geo-political blunder.  One unsavory dictator was routed while his fellow colleagues in other places continue their "Joseph Conrad" type of horrors, undisturbed.  Why pick Saddam who was, by the way, a most useful buffer?  WMD were a fabrication.  Gross human rights violations continue to be sanctioned a la carte, becoming a political football (sorry World Cup!).

Now we are served the leftovers of this banquet of lies. One can ask the question as to what the CIA, drones, or NSC are for if they failed to detect this advancing "oil slick" and are still wondering what to do. The Shiite and Sunni puppet-masters in the region might also end up making an already impossible ominous looking situation irreversible and carve Iraq into pieces.  President Obama is supposedly considering all options. He had better go fast since facts on the ground could stand in the way of  intervention, if it comes too late. If air strikes are considered, they should not be delayed. The terrorists will hide in urban areas or use human shields, with the negative consequences for their feasibility. The White House had better start reading Sun Tzu!  A US intervention is NOT about the fate of the corrupt government in Iraq, it is about denying a safe- haven-turned into a rogue state- to Jihadists.  Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki & Co. are just as unpalatable as the ones who preceded him and the ones who might come after.  He is a person of "no interest".

The situation is becoming alarming, since Iraq is on life support.  America is seen yet again as dragging its feet. Meanwhile, the Shiite call to arms in Iraq further inflames the sectarian/religious component. Turkey, the Saudis, the Gulf might not stand idle. Most choices Washington could consider are potentially bad ones, being considered not enough for some (the Iraqi government),  or over-reacting in the eyes of others (the Sunni states).

Americans feel uneasy. They fail to understand the workings of a White House which is felt as misunderstanding their demands and worries. They are more concerned by internal priorities but they sense, intuitively, that the role and status of the nation is under scrutiny worldwide. Washington's by now half-baked alliances look frail and the number of foes increases. The multiplying diaspora of non-actors roams now a de facto Caliphate (so much for the Sykes-Picot agreement) in the Middle East. This could easily become a launching pad for attacks against the United States. The ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) march to Baghdad looks unstoppable if urgent action is not taken by the US. Nouri al-Maliki was never credible, lacking any hint of political skill. Now he looks even worse, surrounded by more deserters than troops, his oil exports endangered and himself becoming more dependent upon an Iranian lifeline. Let us just imagine Iran and the US perceived by their Gulf and other allies (?) in the Middle East, acting in tune?

Actually America and its Western allies have themselves to blame. While a terrorist group might be able to have its own territory/country, the White House stoically proclaims that all options are on the table. The latter starts to look overcrowded after so many unwashed dishes piling up. Too many words have been said, becoming orphaned as soon as they were uttered, because of a lack of follow-up.  I bet Susan Rice is rehearsing some speaking notes for future Sunday talk shows, where she is regularly fed to the wolves. There is dignity in resigning by the way.

Tomorrow is an other day! The Vice-President is on deck in the Situation Room!  Whatever the outcome of the White House deliberations might be, it will be messy.  Pass it on to the Veep.
By the way, has anyone heard of Boko Haram lately?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Madam Secretary has started her Blitz book tour.  Yet again, the Clinton machine drills its way into the most thick walls but this time it might not get through the ever-expanding more skeptical minds.  Americans are growing weary of the Clinton saga. They are too familiar with the wit and the tricks, fatigue sets in and the "again?" might as well be the prelude to an "enough is enough".

Mrs. Clinton is sometimes alarmingly good at avoiding clarity but the public is getting tired of discombobulation.  Her intelligence is not in dispute, but her knack to blur looks sometimes larger than her ambition to explain.  One gets blase always hearing the "sum" of things rather than the "interplay" thereof.  President Obama's main weakness lies equally in his inability to suggest the road ahead. His many stops and U-turns have obscured the direction, and the goalpost is out of sight.  People have overdosed on the impressionistic approach. Expressionism is making a come back.

Mrs. Clinton argues that her travels, meetings and mixing of hard and soft power were at the core of restoring America's credibility worldwide.  This whirlwind might well have created a sandstorm wherein the million particles ended up clouding the horizon and erasing more cautious steps which are needed in a dangerous diplomatic shifting terrain.  Everybody speaks about her book while few will have read it because it is in everybody's face, the "Piketty Syndrome": C=Cx2 (one Clinton gets you two).

In this "much ado about nothing" there is a "there, there" nevertheless.  Her ambition is genuine, her passion for public service is beyond doubt.  Still, her many actions look more erratic than coherent.  President Obama is a most intelligent individual but comes across more and more as a man who now has chosen a metastasized modus operandi which starts to look dangerously narcissistic. Mrs. Clinton does not suffer from this "neurosis" but she (as well as others) have yet to suggest a global more panoramic view or guide book for the ills that besiege the United States, internally and externally. The appeal of the Tea Party lies in its preference for restoring rather than engaging. I disagree with this option but can understand its appeal, given the dysfunctions which appear in the American fabric.

A new voice should be heard, reclaiming America's leadership, in conjunction with others. The Atlantic partnership is weakened. China is currently busy taking the measure of America's commitments. Putin rules over a grotesque empire, but has shown that the lack of sophistication can also be turned into force. The former "Third World" countries divested themselves of their Bandung heritage and follow with the money.  Terrorism is spreading and filling any available space left for grabs.  A retrograde Caliphate is rising from Iraq to Syria and I prefer not to imagine what Afghanistan's and Pakistan's ugly twin's future will look like.  At least President Obama spares the United States of costly invasions.  Unfortunately, he is not good at cleaning up the mess he inherited.  He must also realize by now that drones don't talk, don't suggest, propose, coalesce.  Somewhere they are the action of last resort and reflect more often a lack of vision than long-term strategy.

Countries prefer to know where their partners stand, for better or for worse.  The President's West Point speech tried to answer some of the questions which appear daily in the press and in Republican and Democratic parties alike.  Secretary Clinton's enunciation of her "record" is spotty, failing to cover the many loopholes which continue to prevail in the US policy machine, which often looks amateurish.   She is sometimes too glib and smart for her own good, risking to end up looking like a cynical "dilettante".  The world needs to know where America stands, and so do Americans by the way. If no convincing answer is given, the United States risks following the EU precedent, wherein what is felt as looming decay has to measure up against a discontented populist wave.

The hurricane season is starting after all.  Run for cover!  The EU is looking for a president of the Commission (he/she had better get used to wearing a bullet-proof vest in the EU Parliament).  The Republicans in the US had their Brutus/Caesar moment after House Republican majority leader Eric Cantor's inglorious defeat at the hands of the Tea Party. Hillary knows all too well that if she chooses to run she will be obliged to leave Renoir's "impressions" for Otto Dix' "expressions". This lady is not for turning but she too will need nerves of "iron".

Saturday, June 7, 2014


Making a movie about Gore Vidal must have been an uphill battle.  Trying to catch this American man of letters/Machiavelli/rogue in a few images, bites and clips was probably doomed to solely entertain rather than educate.

In the current barren cultural landscape it would have been appropriate to elevate this truly unique man rather than to reduce him to a cranky senior.  Vidal was not the best author in American letters, far from it.  He was more an unforgiving chronicler and debunker of the American illusion comique.  There was something personal in his almost frantic pursuit of what he considered to be the vast American lie.  And often, his pursuit of a vendetta obscured more noble, creative motives.

This man was at home in all things cultural and was familiar with all overpasses ironical. The movie could not capture the complexities of a commentator who was generally the first in America to legitimize homosexuality (as it was called then) or to correct the historical narrative from the Founding Fathers on.  He never let his upper-class origins and network stand in the way of causes or persons he believed in.
No camera could ever catch the elegance and the vitriol of a pen which would have fit perfectly on Voltaire's or Oscar Wilde's desk.  

It is unfair to ask for a film montage to adhere to such a sophisticated journey. I wish there would have been less death and foreboding at the end though. Gore Vidal made the continuous reinvention of his life and talents his trademark.  The movie was a "still", unable to keep pace with this "comet".


Albert II a 80 ans...qui l'eut cru...
Philippe I semble bien maitriser son role, aide en cela par un Chef du Protocole (deja en charge sous son pere) et un Chef de Cabinet, hors pair. La reine Mathilde apporte un "glamour" discret et une presence rassurante.
L'opinion publique est dans sa grande majorite reconnaissante au pere pour avoir su maitriser les tempetes politiques et au fils pour avoir compris que le role de la monarchie meritait d'etre reedite.
Les frictions entre entourages passe et present etaient attendues mais ne doivent pas etre exagerees. 
Le ton du nouveau regne devient perceptible et semble vouloir s'accomoder des imperatifs intervenus plutot que de vouloir les corriger. Cela procede de la sagesse, meme si l'on est en droit de s'interroger sur certains aspects des reformes intervenues, dont certaines semblent pour le moins structurelement inopportunes.
La clase politique donne l'impression de vouloir jouer le jeu dans l'apres- elections.
Cette accalmie politique est en premier lieu redevable a Albert II. Ce Roi intimiste a reussi a renforcer les liens de confiance entre la classe politique et le Roi. Son fils semble vouloir suivre le meme parcours. Cela ne peut que beneficier a une juste ordonnance interne et a une plus grande credibilite exterieure.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


The American administration has freed five senior Taliban leaders for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.  The priority "to leave no soldier behind" was, by doing so, "honored."  The release was negotiated without the knowledge of Congress or the Afghans but few tears will be shed over the bruised egos in Washington or Kabul, who were left in the dark.  More issues are at stake.

The circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl's capture are murky as are the contradictory motives which are attributed to his leaving his post in eastern Afghanistan.  His debriefing should help bring more evidence into this, for the time being, mostly negative scenario.  For now it looks more as if somebody of little interest was exchanged for five major members of the Taliban "brain trust."
This risks being seen as a slap in the face of the military, NATO allies and Afghans who must all feel cheated.  The sergeant will have to face up to the consequences of his actions five years ago, which are in dispute. The administration will be accountable for an initiative which might be construed as giving the 5 Major League Taliban a one-year holiday voucher for a stay in some Qatari Lego land  (nice neighbors for the major US base in the Gulf!) , while regrouping.

President Obama's embrace of the sergeant's parents looked premature more "American Gothic", than "closure".  His European trip is overshadowed by this contrived spectacle which may come back to haunt him.  Indirectly he gave Putin, yet again, a Snowden-type moment which will distract and make the US administration look reckless. He has promised, rightly so, to close Guantanamo. He appears to have resorted now to a "drip by drip" alternative instead, letting inmates go when there is an opportunity, without due process, cela va sans dire. 

Now the Taliban evil doers have their day, while the sergeant will come home to more cold shoulders than applause.  It is hard to understand what the added-value of this absolutely uneven deal might be.  While it fulfills a duty to remain responsible for all soldiers in harm's way, it has the potential of becoming politically bankrupt, given its grotesque unbalanced components.  The President in Europe might feel uncomfortable this week, remembering the American heroes of Normandy and having nothing to show for them other than what might become an existential and morally costly mistake.

Monday, June 2, 2014


President Xi Jinping likes to refer to the "Chinese Dream".  This is paradoxical since he speaks for an amnesic country,  deprived of dreams since the fateful 4th of June 1989.  In crushing the Tiananmen democracy movement, Deng Xiaoping committed murder by proxy.  At the same time he initiated a memory loss and he has achieved his goal beyond expectation. The young Chinese are oblivious of the tragedy and those who do remember have been able to enter into a transaction wherein memory or guilt (if there ever was such a thing) are exchanged for a narrative which favors omission over repentance. The syndrome has spread and yesterday's universal reading of good governance, human rights, international "correctness"is in retreat all over the world.

Meanwhile Deng is, rightly so, mostly remembered for his economical foresight and is seen, in and out of China, not as the executor of democracy but as the great blameless visionary who "opened" China.  Here again choice overtakes facts.  That Deng was also a bold visionary is a fact. That he set in motion a bloody repression is equally beyond doubt. The moral choice between the former or the latter is self evident.  Hence, China is becoming an unloved, increasingly aggressive success story, which most envy while at the same time rejecting its robotic Orwellian consequences. North Korea might be the Hermit Kingdom but Beijing remains a lonely capital as well, with more suitors who visit out of self-interest than out of spontaneous affection.  This Albert Speer urban mass always impresses, never seduces. 

The economic sanctions which followed the bloodshed did not withstand the pressure to come to business terms with the Middle Kingdom. Only certain military outdated symbolic sanctions remain in place.  After Tiananmen, the West was soon back in its best denial mode and all was soon almost forgotten.  The global amnesia set in like some Lars von Trier scenario.  The United States and the Europeans excel in cherry-picking with regard to human rights. They whitewash for convenience, as when they divide the good Sharia addicts from the undesirable ones. They gloss over military coups which fit their interests, while being indignant over unwelcome ones. They indulge in photo-ops and short-lived aid  in "photogenic" Africa campaigns which generally benefit movie stars en manque of a cause rather than the victims en manque of the essential to survive.
Political correctness forbids bringing up unpleasant realities. The sexual predators of the Catholic church can be mentioned but the structural horror of radical Islam (not of the believers) remains mostly off limits.  Venezuela or Bolivia are easier targets but the gloves are on if the Saudis, Egypt or the Gulf States risk being indisposed.

Obviously China has no time to gloss-over such sophisms. The economical progress and the military projection are awesome.  So is the culture of self- and state-censorship. What the future will hold in Xinjang, Gansu, Tibet, not to mention  for the ominous imbalance between the coastal and rural areas, remains uncertain at least. Most of the countirs around China have an ambiguous attitude, wanting the benefits but rejecting the arrogance. Modern China follows a path which is not that different from the one chosen by President Putin. Both are pursuing a new policy rooted in old memory, choosing to relate to better, albeit undemocratic, times:  the autocrat Tsar Alexander III or the more glorious Chinese dynasties are more en vogue than the reformers Alexander II or Sun Yat-sen.  Mao still dominates Tiananmen and the ghost of Stalin still roams the walls of the Kremlin. It is hard to get rid of history's relics, especially when they suit the Zeitgeist.

Some argue that we find ourselves in an Asian vortex which will marginalize the post-World War II order.  Undoubtedly universal decision-making structures have to be made more representative. It also has to be said that the Chinese or the Russians are reformist or indignant a la carte.  Go and tell the permanent members of the Security Council that they have to make equal room for others and you will see how far reformist generosity goes!  Demagogy rules "supreme" and it feeds on revanchist neurosis, self-interest and Realpolitik.  Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt might have been cynical with maps but there was also an idealist element in their intellectual fabric. Today all is Neue Sachligkeit  (New Objectivity) as I suggested in an earlier blog.  One could also go back to the Bard's "measure for measure", but Shakespeare's genius feels out of place in this new world where the pragmatic has dislodged the ideal.