Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Like other states, Indiana has now passed a so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
This can be interpreted as a discriminatory measure to deny "access" to gay individuals, for reason of religious beliefs.  The op-ed in the Wall Street Journal dated March 31, 2015 ("The New Intolerance") is particularly regrettable, coming from such a sophisticated (conservative) source.  In this battle of wills which is so "dated", the argument in favor of the measure (which is ambiguous, by the way, and hence debatable) belies a hidden premise which suggests that being gay is a "choice" and not a "given".  It is time for this antiquated assertion to go away. 

Already the dispute figures high in this early pre-electoral mood. Every American presidential election is supposed to bring the best and the brightest to the forefront.  Some less enlightened seem nevertheless always to be able to elbow their way into the ranks and wave the flag of ridicule. The Indiana bigoted governor is already a political red flag. He could be comical, if he were not that nefarious. He is now looking into ways to amend the non-amendable. Good luck!

Monday, March 23, 2015


Singapore has lost its creator.  Asia has lost a giant.  Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore into a success story, creating the "Asian Values" model: a benign authoritarian model, different from the individualism of the West.  He propelled the "Asian Tigers" mantra and found followers, mostly in Taiwan, the SAR Hong Kong and China.   But I remember President Mubarak saying that Singapore was the example to follow...if only!

The Sage of Singapore had a voice which resonated worldwide and was even heeded in the corridors of Beijing.  He was able to navigate the contradictory choices of Asian Confucian values and a pro-Western strategic option.  Before the pivot made Asia "fashionable," he was the first to see it coming.  Compared to the unbalances everywhere else, Asia looks like a more desirable, manageable alternative for the future, despite some political roadblocks.
Unfortunately, there is no comparable heir-in-waiting.

China will continue to be the charmless Behemoth, while little Singapore will continue to be the place where one wants to live. Quite an achievement!

Sunday, March 22, 2015


The acrimony between the US Administration and Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu is unpleasant.  Not since Suez has the bilateral relationship felt so bad, almost in free-fall.
The main actors look like hostages to pique.  And the underlings--the House Speaker and the Israeli Ambassador to Washington--are not helpful. 

It is almost absurd to witness the growing deterioration while at the same time being "water boarded" by the White House until the Iran deal is a fait accompli.  The "niceties" in Swiss five-star hotels look out of place while simultaneously the "Death to America" rallies fill the streets in Iran.  Nevertheless, Tehran continues to enjoy a free ride, while Netanyahu might end up under the bus like Mubarak before him...the President chooses to remain in "stony mode."

It is time to stop this folie a deux.  Everybody should pause. The Iranian deal is not a slam-dunk yet and the proof will be in the "fine print."  There are reasons which might speak in favor of a comprehensive, verifiable deal; there are causes for pessimism as well. President Obama chose to put himself under pressure with no acceptable excuse, other than the claim that this is the only way to deter Iran from going nuclear and to avoid a nuclear rush in the region.  I think that some American "allies" in the Middle East might start to question the guarantees of President Obama after seeing how he handles America's foremost ally in the region. Obviously mistakes were made on the Israeli side. The timing of the by now (in)famous speech before Congress was 'gauche."  Likewise, the Israeli "ambassador" in Washington should not depart from a more diplomatic "profile." Let bygones be bygones and let the parties reset their watches.

Any deal has also to take into account the political sensibility of the Sunni states if Washington wants to avoid losing the support of the trustworthy and gaining too little in return. Iran, like Islam, is in the grips of a nihilistic textual narrative. Negotiations without contextualization are risky. Israel is still the prime target of the official Iranian onslaught and is entitled to demand that the deal (?) include a long overdue overhaul of unacceptable Iranian imperatives.  The 5+1 formula might create some form of a buffer which could be welcomed by Israel, but the Chinese or Russian moves are more dictated by self-interest than by moral principle. Besides, any Diktat might be considered as a "nuclear Sykes-Picot" by all countries in the region.

Jerusalem and Washington must stop the aggravation and return to normal.  Obama might have been displeased (rightly so) but he should realize that a bad mood can lead to bad policy. Netanyahu must likewise understand America's geo-political gamble, but he should be consulted as the Saudis, Jordanians or Gulf States are.

A family quarrel is easier to ignite than to extinct.  Few disputes need as urgently to be ironed out as this one, the more so as it is so badly managed on both sides.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


The three main American TV networks are a study of repetitive yawning.  Since Walter Chronkite who is famous for having been there when JFK died, and Tom Brokaw who is as American as apple pie, anchors have become an indifferent, interchangeable lot.  Brian Williams is already buried and nobody noticed he was gone.  Only HBO and some series are able to wake the spectator out of stupor. 

The pre-presidentials are already in full swing and we zap from gravitas (Jeb Bush) to gravy-tas (Mike Huckabee).  Mrs. Clinton has got entangled in another bad-hair day. Only a remake of Dynasty with Hillary and Sarah Palin fighting over Blake Carrington might waken the troupes.
The liberal media scream. Fox News has a smart strategy with Bill O'Reilly, Cavuto and Hannity playing their roles from semi-no spin to semi-mean. This conservative court has also its jesters: Judge Napolitano, Geraldo Rivera, Lou Dobbs, a token Democrat, and the rescsapees from George W. Bush's Berezina/Tigris debacle. 

Then there are the blondes.  Fox has rallied a platoon of often attractive, smart, young women anchors and commentators who are generally as sharp as their nails. They "are" the show and make one swallow the bitter pill as if it were a jellybean! 

If I were American I would nevertheless be more Democrat-leaning, but in doing so today, one needs heroic creativity, even given that "both" camps look now as exciting as a week-end in an igloo. 


Netanyahu is a great poker player.  He won the elections by a landslide, almost.  To achieve this result he did not hesitate to play on a range of emotions and frustrations.  This does not diminish the impact of his victory in Israeli politics nor in international affairs.  This must likewise be seen in the context of, first and foremost, the solidity of the Israeli/American relationship. This couple might squabble but in the end they share the same bed.

Nevertheless, the possible Iran deal and Netanyahu's sudden rejection of a Palestinian state might have problematic short-term regional consequences. It is certain that Israel will have even fewer unconditional friends if the two-state solution were to be "buried." Another Gaza war could be the last straw in this poisoned situation.

There is, above all, an urgent need for statesmanship on all fronts. Netanyahu should not antagonize Jordan or Egypt. He should leave the Palestinian situation where he left it, without further aggravation. Washington must accept the ways democracy works ( Arab Israelis gained  even 13 seats )! The result of the vote might well become a Rubik cube, despite the obvious winner.  Only the Americans can still reconstruct a broken region and they better be on "possible" terms with all concerned. A lasting marriage does not need love. It needs work.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


The President and the First Lady graced Los Angeles with a visit.  The endemic road rage reached a new climax after some main tstreets were closed for the presidential "beast" and retinue.  The President appeared on a talk show.  The First Lady performed some televised dance routines with Ellen De Generes.  Likewise, it has been said that Mrs. Clinton's TV appearance was awkward.  Rightly so, but at least it was dignified, if unconvincing.

One could make a list of all the short circuits that plague the power grid of this Administration and come to the conclusion that we are reaching a zero sum game.  Instead of appearing as creative--as it can be--and coming forward with a strategy, the White House appears too often like a repair shop, like some aggrandized garage inflating flat tires.  Accordingly, allies become insecure, contradictions remain unattended and the worse overtakes the better.  NATO, the anti-ISIS coalition (of the mutually incompatible), free-trade agreements, climate change, are often taken hostage to a multiplied unfair narrative. The White House has only itself to blame.
The Republican vocabulary is reduced to a couple of words: "Benghazi" or "Hillary/Email". The Administration has plenty of ammunition to counter-attack but is seen as playing the waiting game.

The possible Iran deal will be an other milestone. The agreement will probably be the best outcome in the current circumstances. Its weakness resides in the lack of contextualization. The Iranians should have been obliged to halt their unacceptable rants against Israel or the United States. Prime Minister Netanyahu has a point there. The deal is too "laboratory-like" to convince "informed" opponents.  The Republican "nay sayers" can be ignored as being the "usual suspects" rummaging into the political garbage bins.  Other Democratic and Republican critics should be answered and Congress has to be "part" of the deal in one way or another.
These times are too difficult to be overshadowed by "entertainment."  A little gravitas might go a long way to convince the sceptics, but this requires a more presidential open-door policy for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Finally, and more important, is the fact that for once the still manageable world (5+1) came together to stop an irritant/interloper from becoming unstoppable. This strategy( many versus one) needs life support and is in the end more desirable than the less appealing parts of a deal. This does not happen that often nowadays and the news out of the Kremlin is such that Putin had be better part of it rather than ignored.

Friday, March 6, 2015


Mails, tapes, and dispatches have often been unkind to their originators.  From the infamous Ems telegram, to President Nixon's tapes, the history is one of illusion and deception.  Even George Kennan's famous Long Telegram did not fare well at an early stage and had to sit in the waiting room before being recognized as a game-changer.

Now it appears that Hillary Clinton used her personal e-mail address while at the State Department for communicating with "who knows who" and "about what?"  After being "outed" by the New York Times she said that all e-mails would or have been forwarded to State for publication.  This raises lots of qualitative and quantitative questions. Furthermore, the "Clinton brand" is damaged yet again.  Too often the Clintons appear to be intoxicated by their own narcissism.  One step too far might well be fatal.

I am curious to see what they (the Clintons:  when you get one, you get three) have in common with the Windsors (they are a Firm) and how they will triangulate themselves out of this self inflicted trap.  They have given the Republicans "catnip."  The Ides of March might spell some unwelcome turbulence in what was supposed to be a smooth flight for Hillary.  We know that the Republicans suffer for carrying the weight of an obscurantist, tone-deaf right wing.  And we know that the Democrats have to bear outbursts from the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Elisabeth Warren.  We now discover that the presumed Democratic presidential candidate is not the chastened, bright personality we expected. Mrs. Clinton is a formidable politician but her hubris might have taken a toll, hard to overcome.

It remains for the Republican candidate "in waiting" to show better credentials. In the American political arena, where money talks louder than ideas, this battle royal will be merciless.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Prime Minister Netanyahu's address to the US Congress on March 3 was impressive.  It is better to forget the circumstances which led to this speech (and were deplorable) and to consider the tone and the message. Wisely, he chose the high ground and abstained from letting his words be bogged into details.  Nevertheless, he did not mince words or opinion. He did not shy away from Israel's right to determine its own future, even at the cost for going for it alone.

It is sometimes surreal to see the US Secretary of State and the Iranian Foreign Minister "all handshakes" while the nihilistic offensive noise out of Tehran continues, unabated. The same smiling Javad Zarif did not hesitate to accuse the US of making illogical, outrageous demands.
Diplomacy obliges its practitioners to engage with unsavoury interlocutors but the pretense to enjoy the other's company can look out of place.

In his message to Congress the P.M. rightly opinionated that it was strange to see a negotiation over such a lapse of time, dealing with such crucial issues, foregoing any precondition. In the Iranian regime's words, Israel should be wiped out off the map while the US remains the usual Satan. That those unacceptable assertions continue to have a free-ride is hard to swallow.

Netanyahu was right to expose a force for evil in the region.  Likewise he alluded to the fact that there is no convincing reason for putting oneself under pressure to arrive at an agreement which fits Iran's ambiguous path but might upset even further the whole Middle East.

One aspect did get lost.  The presentation of a possible US/Iranian deal (or not) is an oversimplification, since the negotiation format is the P5+1  (US/Russia/China/France/UK+ Germany -Iran). Washington needs to take into account the input of its partners in this endeavour, a "given" which further complicates the matter. The American side needs to alienate neither its partners in the talks, nor Israel, its first strategic and also "moral" partner in the region.

It is too early to know how the White House will react. Despite Netanyahu's appreciative words regarding President Obama, I doubt that the Administration will acquiesce. Susan Rice and Samantha Power will have another bad hair day.