Sunday, September 7, 2014


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 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.

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