Wednesday, July 30, 2014


De Vlaams Minister President (!) Geert Bourgeois ( NON gentilhomme) relativeert de toegevoegde waarde van  prinselijke ekonomische missies.
Dit is opnieuw een bewijs dat deze randgemeente / gordel Freudiaanse excellentie totaal wereldvreemd is.
Als ambassadeur in Egypte, Mexico, China, heb ik genoeg kunnen meemaken dat de aanwezigheid van de prins ( nu koning) een enorm verschil uitmaakte ( contacten/ niveau/ interesse ) en ik weet dat Prinses Astrid een identieke meerwaarde voorstelt, die gewaardeerd wordt door business. De gecomplexeerde Vlaams Minister President en"soortgelijken" , meer vertrouwd  met een loket in een  randgemeente dan met Davos, denken (?) daar anders over. 
Dat een Vlaams regeringsploeg moet worden geleid door een politicus van zo een "eng" niveau is onvoorstelbaar. Vlaamse bedrijven verdienen beter dan  de "FIT cultuur " ( Cfr. New York onder andere) . Het zelfde geldt trouwens voor AWEX . "Speaking of  good governance...."!!!

Monday, July 28, 2014


Semantics can be misleading.  The current situation regarding Israel and Hamas is often labelled as though this were a conflict between "equal" entities.  Israel is a state.  Hamas is a terrorist organization which wants to wipe Israel from the map.

The political servitude being what it is, the unequal parties to the current conflict need nevertheless to find a modus vivendi.  Israel has to be recognized as a force for improvement of conditions in the region while the people in Gaza should make Hamas accountable for the hardship which continues as a result of a "set in stone" anti-Israel mindset.

Every civilized onlooker wants peace and begs for the destruction to stop. The images out of Gaza are an indictment of war and of the folly of fanaticism.  The rockets fired over Israel are primitive but could soon be replaced by more sophisticated ones still in the hands of Hezbollah. The more Israel goes after the tunnels and variable launching sites, the more rockets risk  being  installed under the guise of civilian buildings, with increasing "collateral" tragic consequences which can be expected, unfortunately. 

Palestinians face a double-barreled conundrum. They are oppressed by their own narrative and at the same time they are virtually off-limits in the region, so that normality becomes unreachable. Israel will sooner or later have to make difficult choices and should therein be supported by its natural partners in the West, the region and the world at large. I am surprised by certain comments which mostly dwell on the "disproportionate" retaliation of Israel regarding Gaza.  How does one calibrate a counter-offensive against W.M.D. which do not discriminate between targets?
Sooner or later Hamas will have to be "included" in an overall settlement, on condition that it departs from its perverse charter. Until then it has no other choice than to be counted among the swelling ranks of rogue organizations which pursue nihilistic agendas .

Of course a cease-fire is needed, although this will probably again be an ad hoc arrangement between a legitimate state on one side and a non-entity on the other.  The so-called Palestinian unity government with Fatah looks unconvincing, at the least.

The EU, as usual, cannot be found.  The US tries but seems prone to talking to the Egyptians on even days, and to rely on Qatar and Turkey on uneven days, although the latter have indulged lately in mostly ambiguous agendas.

Public opinion in the West is, rightly, alarmed by the loss of life, but too often reporters let emotions overtake analysis of cause and effect.  Bad taste hit another alarming level when the "HOLOcaust--GAZAcaust" commentary entered the media.

Israel does not have a free pass but it is entitled to self-defense. The people in Gaza need a breathing space and in the end they deserve the right to be free from occupation by Hamas inside and from containment outside. Only familiarity with others can broaden the range of hearts and minds.

The Jihadists pursue a wide strategy of a spotted leopard skin... creating everywhere, from Nigeria to the Philippines, "safe havens" which can destabilize the "host country," as the Iraq and Afghanistan debilitating infirmities show so clearly.  Patients need to be monitored rather than ignored, as is too often the case.

The American secretary of state can only do so much.  The President should speak out.  He might consider taking his cue from President Nixon who, in equally difficult circumstances, was not shy about engaging his Soviet counter-part while at the same time depriving him of his zone of influence. He finalized a nuclear deal with the Soviet Union while simultaneously expanding the offensive against Moscow's beneficiaries.  He applied cynical means to end the US involvement in S.E. Asia, but achieved his goal!   Diplomacy is not a missionary job after all.  Let us imagine for a moment what President Nixon would have done regarding Ukraine.  Probably he would already have been to Moscow.  Remember his visit to Cairo when his fate was in the balance at home? 
The Nixon/Kissinger formula worked, be it with a cynical twist, but then diplomacy is not for the weak.  Compared to the aftermath of other recent American reckless and unpredictable moves, past "coups" look unattainable nowadays.

The United States appears stranded in some dubious mindset on most issues, which leaves its partners bemused and its foes emboldened. 

The new spat between Ankara and Cairo is another nightmare awaiting John Kerry who has to try untangling the Gordian knots which are multiplying all over the globe. This happens when the captain of the ship is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as being too often AWOL.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


During the night of July 22, the American flags on the Brooklyn Bridge were replaced by bleached American flags.  This might have been a prank, a Dadaist statement of sorts (Jeff Koons is in town) but it might also have been something more sinister.  Since 9/11 all important landmarks in New York City are under constant surveillance.  Nevertheless the Freedom Tower has already fallen prey twice to intruders.  Replacing the flags over the bridge certainly required skills, climbing and construction experience. The NYPD is left with a black eye. Let's hope that the white flags are just what they are, devoid of ulterior meaning or foreboding. 

Everything in the current torn American political landscape feeds the beast of discord. The degeneration of political discourse is accelerating.  The President's way of letting decision making mature in his private greenhouse enervates and weakens his standing.  He is often right but the outrage or reaching out are lackluster.  Meanwhile the nostalgia of "mission accomplished" feeds the media with Munich and even more unpleasant mementos.  John Bolton, former Vice-President Dick Cheney, the intelligent Pythian Fox star Charles Krauthammer, Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz (remember?), William Kristol are on the anti-Obama warpath.

It has to be said that the accumulation of plagues that assault the Administration looks like an attack from all sides.  Some have taken the White House (and others) by surprise, some could have been averted, some are of the White House's own doing.  Never have personal attacks been so ad hominem rather than ad rem. There is plenty to criticize, but the political discourse is becoming devoid of any class or honorable dissent. The leadership of both parties in Congress would be laughable if it were not so destructive.  The advisors to the President often act more like "interns" who mistake "gaffe" for "act". One wishes for a major clean-up or "massacre redux" in the President's entourage.

At a time when some European "shopkeepers" run like sheep without a shepherd, choosing self-interest above moral attitude, Putin gets a soft slap on the wrist and the victims of Flight MH17 have already become "collaterals" to a horror story in "civilized" Europe.  It is to be hoped that Obama will find his voice.  In Thomas Mann's words:  "Best not too soon make too plain how much mortal time must pass over his head while he sits spun round in his spell."

The ostracizing of yet another evil aberration--European-made this time--(coming after ISIS, Boko Haram and Co.), rather than looking solely after the interests of French, German and other Anglo-Dutch book-keepers and ship builders, will send a message to Moscow.  Sometimes indignation speaks louder than the the pathological sound and fury which is better left at the doorsteps of Senators McCain and Graham, who can do better. The dignity in the Netherlands was the face of civilized grief , more eloquent than the repetitive comments of the usual pundits.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Saying that the world does not look great is an understatement.  From the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Ukraine tragedy there is actually a common denominator, which has less to do with the facts on the ground than with the twist given by the various actors.

President Obama has suggested a strange narrative to both events.  He actually implied that Israel's incursion into Gaza should be limited in scope (tunnels, etc.), and regarding the downing of the plane, he preferred for now to triangulate rather than to unambiguously defend principles of international law.  His generalities did not amount to much.  Israel will pay scarce attention to the Great Appeaser, and with regard to Ukraine, the Europeans might blink again in the absence (as yet) of a stronger American condemnation. What has happened amounts to an act of war and the EU should consider "existing," not "eluding," as usual.  It should also break with its addiction to Russian gas and deprive Putin of a major source of income.

Obviously caution is needed and one should refrain from overreacting.  On the other hand, Obama's by-now-recognized abhorrence to mano a mano confrontation risks feeding yet again the myth of a retrenching America. Let's wait and see how incremental his reaction will be.  For now there seems to be no other option than to encourage Chancellor Merkel to take the initiative.  She might be the only leader who is able to connect somewhat with Putin. It is doubtful that he was the initiator of the action that led to the tragedy but his does not diminish indirect responsibility, by proxy.

The civilian Malaysian civil aircraft was shot at (mistakenly taken for a military aircraft?) . This is a crime. The circumstances and perpetrators (and handlers) have to be identified.  If this act of folly were proven to have emanated from territory in the hands of some East Ukrainian thugs, there would be an added violation of sovereignty.  The site of the catastrophe is a crime scene which risks being sanitized further of any indication of how this occurred. What will happen to the "black boxes" remains also to be seen.  Obviously the inquest should not be allowed to be hijacked and existing rules, with the support of all parties, need to be followed. The rule of law is not to be taken a la carte.  Time is in short supply given that the crash site is a "free for all," with the scandalous consequences of looting, foraging and eradicating. 

Israel (again) gives an example of how to react against a disproportional aggression.  Missiles are not meant to go after X, Y or Z.  They are WMD.  The Israelis try as much as possible to calibrate their response but, as happens too often, with uneven results. Lives are lost and they have no substitute. The beach shelling by Israeli forces is a tragedy and deaths of innocents are piling up in Gaza. Hamas should stop hiding behind the backs of the people it is supposed to protect. Israel is smart enough to realize that a military solution is unrealistic and that the reciprocal damage needs to be limited.

Equally, the criminals who shot down the plane should not fare better than the Jihadists and their culture of death. The West cannot let this go by as some other bump in the road to nowhere. President Obama and the Europeans should size the opportunity to show the world--from the Netherlands to Malaysia--that, yet again, those who choose to run will never find a place to hide. The EU should not be shy to embrace Ukraine "for want" rather than opening up for candidates "in need."  Let's not replay another "waiting game" (Iran suffices). 

Meanwhile, these latest hot spots are creating plenty of opportunity for other aberrations to continue their descent into hell.  The formerly captivated viewer is distracted by the media who, cynically, care more about polls and end up prioritizing horrors.  The bodies of the victims who are scattered in this wretched corner of Ukraine are not "props," after all.  Isn't it sadly ironic that the body of the 9/11 mastermind was buried at sea with more dignity than the mutilated innocent passengers who after an atrocious death had to fall  prey to human vultures? 

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Germany is upset (again).  The Lady is not for joking, the Rhine maidens are unleashed and Valhalla might well break loose. 

So the Americans played "Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy" on poor Germany, in high demand with Putin's Russia and other oil-rich Middle East rulers.  Contrary to former listening in on the Chancellor (who was not amused), this time a "routine" US mole operation was discovered (the "stuff" military, scientific and other generally inept attaches are supposed to be doing full-time, in daylight.)  Now Germany plays hurt while the Unites States acts again, as could be expected, the part of the spineless villain.

Of course everybody spies.  It is the ultimate guilty "free for all" pleasure, like some Philip Roth masturbation allegory before menopause or prostate problems deprive the poor lot of its last fun "on the house."  If one believes that the "gentlemen's agreements" between the US, the UK, Australia and others are waterproof, one might as well invest in the "Immaculate conception" stock.

Germany is too important to debase itself by indulging in over-reactive pique.  The American administration is used to making bad events worse lately, and one shouldn't be surprised by another amateurish gauche disclaimer.  Spying had some panache in the past.  Nowadays it looks petit bourgeois, the stuff that only the wretched drone/cyber/technology-deprived have to be content with.  Sooner rather than later the former donkey/courier culture of the 
Jihadists will be overtaken by a new savvy modus operandi, Baghdadi-style. The latter, by the way, was held, then "unconditionally" released by the Americans in Iraq in 2004!  Do the Benghazi-obsessed and a la carte loquacious Vice-President Cheney or Fox News have a comment? 

Better look closer at ISIS' doings, they might soon run faster than Langley!  Here Mrs. Merkel has a point:  let's not allow family feuds to get in the way of fighting terrorism.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Positive leaders fall often into two categories: redefining or transformational.  One could add other categories:  rhetorical or autocratic inter alia.  Today we are witnessing a surge of "self-deceptive leadership", anchored in untested beliefs and too stubborn to consider changing course.
Unfortunately, the West overdoses on the latter. The phantom of the EU plays in Brussels for a spare audience, while the American president sees his audience equally melt like ice.

Neither Brussels nor Washington is, for that reason, devoid of analytical talent.  It feels however as if the "virtual" has overtaken the "real":  one can lend itself to self-delusion or spin, while the other requires bold choices. Western leaders today tend to be more of the Sir Anthony Eden-type, a British P.M. who had it all going for him but who fell victim to the folly of having made the wrong choice to prove he was the right man.

As a consequence, the political literature is overtaken with more gravediggers than rational observers: "America is on its deathbed, in the emergency room, dispensable or absent." Actually there is some truth in the "absentee story."  This does not diminish at all the strides that the United States continue to make in technology, patents, energy, science, military supremacy or financial engineering.  Piketty's "r>g" is not an absolute after all.

The American dilemma looks more and more like a personalised one.  Candidate Obama often made the right assessment regarding the American overreach.  President Obama cannot ignore the expectations or consequences of a habit, call it an addiction.  The world has gotten used, for the better and for the worse, to American leadership.  Recognizing that this went too far maybe, and that other players have to be involved, is wise as long as a withdrawal reaction does not harm the patient. Now the disarray and lack of confidence in American mettle have overtaken a more sober analysis or correction.  The President appears unable to form an alliance of the like-minded and is losing the trust of the "given," allies (Germany) and partners (the Sunni states) alike.
US Congress meawhile which can hide its blatant irrelevance behind the unprofessional gauche machinery of a White House coterie which is becoming out of touch, while most think by now that it never came close to having a ounce of it. The President is isolated by a layer of asbestos. It is about time that insult stops being added to injury (Snowden/spy scandals, IRS, VA, immigration chaos, Benghazi, the rise of ISIS, and the list goes on ) and for the President to speak out rather than looking disengaged or in the wrong place (as in Texas yesterday).

This leads to self-deception and erroneous moves. The President looks all too often like a gifted actor in search of a role. The problem is that for an American president there is no other role than to fill the part for better or for worse.  JFK, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan or G.W. Bush made mistakes, often tragic, but they never missed a line and would never have ventured in a un-presidential Chekhov soliloquy. The world might not like the conductor but without him the music will fall apart. There are no takers and the reputed competitors prefer to disturb rather than engage.  As a result the world isn't doing too well. The spreading brush fire brings with it the paradoxical message that, in the end, America remains indispensable and that the post-American world is not for today.  I hope that no 9/11 repeat will be necessary in order to shake the branches of the American system and put an end to the unappealing dysfunction that undermines all that the Founding Fathers created.  Mr. President, Hamlet is in Denmark!

Thursday, July 3, 2014


A lot has been said lately about the Sykes/Picot secret agreement of 1916 regarding the post-WW1 "new Middle East."  This macro-regional gerrymandering between France and the United Kingdom received the consent of Tsarist Russia.  Fewer words have been heard about the 1917 Balfour declaration stating that the Allies were committed to Zionism.  From the early start, conflicting promises hallowed stated engagements.  Still, the agreement worked, be it with perverse consequences. It has been said that in Versailles or Sevres reputed diplomats made disreputable mistakes in regions they knew little or nothing about.

With the second invasion of Iraq the game of cards and maps fell apart.  The Bush-Cheney administration favored hubris over temperance, creating the diplomatic blunder of the early 21st Century. They set in motion a lethal spiral of events which led us into today's diplomatic Gotterdammerung.  President Bush has the class instinct to remain silent. Vice-President Cheney continues to defend a lost cause, of his own stubborn myopic doing.

I observe, among other happenings, how little Israel gets externally involved, contrary to the United States, who run from tarmac to tarmac with more jet-lag than ideas.  I prefer not to mention the EU (abonnes absents), China (Cheshire cat), or Russia (actively pursuing its geo-political 
comeback, on its toes, in the Bolshoi tradition).  Of all these parties I guess that, in the end, Israel is the most astute, the better informed and acting for the wiser.

Contrary to the common wisdom three years ago, it would have made sense to convene all parties not in some Annapolis "remake," but discreetly, as soon as the Syrian crisis got out of hand. Instead of giving a rapid deterioration a free-pass, one should have conveyed a gathering en mineur of all regional stockholders, making them co-responsible for reciprocal restraint rather than letting them become the voyeurs of their common demise. The United States followed a boy- scout policy instead, and once the sectarian genius was out of the bottle, hell broke loose. The recently (still?) born Caliphate is already a multiplicative and accelerator which might appeal to the wretched who fail to see the benefit of suffering the corruption of authoritarian regimes. A preemptive initiative was needed instead of a pathetic 911 call.  A meeting for all could have emptied the closets where taboos have been stored for too long:  the sectarian rift, possible land swaps, the Palestinian quagmire, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, the fight against Jihadists and the correction/rectification of past brainwashing (textbooks, historical misinterpretation, reparation), the Saudi plan--supported by ALL Arab states--for recognition of Israel.  As time passes, the situation risks getting totally out of hand and creating flash points (terrorism, Iraq, Kurds, refugees, a possible new Intifada, murky arrangements between Sunnis, Shiites and their respective "patrons", the terrorist sub-Saharan "oil spill", Libya, Maghreb). In the absence of any direction, one is confronted with absurd asymmetries such as the one we are witnessing now:  Iran, Russia, Syria, and the US helping de facto al-Maliki against a Sunni strain, while the same Sunnis are supposedly the bedrock of the US presence in the region.  So was Saddam Hussein, by the way, when it was "convenient."

On most aspects pertaining to security or policy, the West would be wise to follow Israel's indicative savoir faire.  It is naive to imagine that the Jewish state would have no channels open when deemed necessary, or that it is not better informed of pretense and intention.   By pandering to too many opposing priorities, the Obama administration risks yet again another diplomatic hangover.  Better convene all parties fast at a time when "time" might be running out.   Just as the Soviet Union fell apart, so might the Middle East.  The former was closely "monitored" by the Bush senior administration, the latter might implode by neglect.  Running is not the equal of doing. Dr. Kissinger shuttled, he never ran.