Saturday, April 18, 2015


The present World Trio plays disharmony.  In the near future this will become a quatuor (some BRIC?), and so on.

Putin gave his usual annual "bravura" performance on Russian TV last week and one has to admit that he has a cynical logic in his favor. The pathetic efforts of the West to ignore or isolate him can only backfire. To let him continue to go "solo" will  reinforce his more "nefarious" ambitions.

Xi Jinping prefers to create a "mare nostrum" in the South China Sea and eventually around the Diaoyutais/Sensaku . This alienates Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, each of them claiming all or part of the areas. China underpins its ambition by rolling out cement and fait accompli.  The construction rage does not stop any longer at its shoreline or accepted territorial waters. 

Obama is seen as running from one half-baked arrangement to another unfinished deal, alienating many, convincing few and leaving allies in disarray. At least he unconditionally (for once) came out in favor of a trade deal with Asia. Otherwise he looks on, passive, while the keys of financial and economic engineering--a US monopoly since Bretton Woods--are stolen in plain daylight. Besides, he backtracks already before the contentious Iran deal is finalised. Alarm bells are ringing to no avail.

China and Russia sense that they can pursue their ambitions without fear of retaliation. Both have, for now, their public opinion backing Russia's regained "grandeur" or China's return to "Asian values".  The United States is perceived as a polarized dysfunctional power which, for the time being, is unable to return to its former normal. Foes ignore them and allies distrust them. The administration looks on while yesterday's certitudes are being dismantled, one after one. They have lost their "diplomatic know-how" and are trying to tackle the implosion in the Middle East and large chunks of Africa by successive therapies which end up spreading the infection and not curing it.  The original Iran deal was not per se bad but it lacks any form of regard for context and consequence. Besides, the President looks as if he just wants to get it over with, at any cost. The fight against ISIS/ISIL is yet again more a gesture than a move, which leaves the enemy largely unscathed but rattles traditional allies, who doubt now if there is such a thing as a US strategy.

Both Putin and Xi Jinping observe how the former indispensable power appears to act without a compass.  Given the lack of credibility regarding American intentions, the axis of world affairs is accelerating its relocation to Asia. While Putin is obsessed with reconstructing the past, China is inventing the future, re-branding itself as a model (not unlike Singapore) and laboratory of ideas. It acts already like a superpower and is deploying influence and might. Unlike Putin it disregards "bad manners".   Instead it goes for respect, steady progress and strategic control, taking advantage of the gaps and gaffes of the US.  In Beijing, concern for human rights, intellectual property or cyber good behavior is minimal given the absence of any comprehensive counter-measures.

Living in the United States nowadays is a strange experience. The country looks like it is returning to reignite the important battle over the role of the State, be it in economy, social agenda, fiscal and security matters or international affairs (distance versus engagement). This dialectic would be better served if the reasoning behind was the province of more enlightened individuals than what is the case now. The dialogue de sourds paralyzes the enormous creativity which exists. This unpleasant occurrence has plenty of opportunities to create trouble, the more so since the President looks and acts lost in a structural disconnect. The world leaders he meets are left with a riddle which is merchandised for an answer. Enough has been said about his N.S.C. advisor, so it is not useful to add here unbelief to outrage.  Benghazi, the Bergdahl fiasco, are cases wherein sanction should have been considered. Instead the culprits got a free pass. Congress is a mess in part also due to the fact that the President, upon receiving an R.S.V.P., chooses to send apologies (?) rather than show up.

America is not necessarily a power in retreat, on condition that it gets its act together fast. It needs to go back to the blackboard and try to find out how to connect the dots. The present "hot pursuit" policy only feeds into the mindset of enemies and competitors alike who can aggravate the faux pas without fear of retribution. China and even Russia might be more willing to be cooperative or to check their ambitions if they perceived an American will to organize chaos rather than a pattern to submit to reality, erroneously perceived as fatality. The Obama Administration has showed it can still push an agenda such as climate change or trade. There is no reason for spreading insecurity or delusion elsewhere. 

The World Atlas has become obsolete. Yesterday's borders are today's nightmares. Two of the big three have border disputes galore. Russia is a largely underdeveloped giant. China needs to push growth so that the "Mandate of Heaven" can stand. America has its own problems--income inequality, trade, infrastructure, cyber security, entitlements--but those are minor given its geography, wealth, R and D. Its main weakness is a "failed governance model" for now. Utopian ambitions seldom save one from drowning. Washington needs to reformulate a "deal" internally before trying to come to terms with the challenges externally. Unlike energy, time is in short supply.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Senator Marco Rubio has entered the US presidential like in "Dancing with the Stars". Suddenly everybody looks old by comparison.  His presentation was smooth and the stress which showed here and there made him look genuine.  It is far too early to judge him on his program. His ideas will benefit from some Jenny Craig slimdown, because the unrealistic and over-conservative raw angle might be hard to swallow.  Still, his "Disney looks" made observers notice the "age factor".

Mrs. Clinton or Jeb Bush almost appear like "have beens", while other equally younger candidates are too shrill or just insufferable.  Senator Rubio will have to answer to scrutiny and unforgiving questions. Once the early charm is pierced, the reality-check will sit in.

President Obama leaves his successor with a poisoned chalice and a country in need of therapy. His better intentions suffered from being followed up by sycophants who were not up to the task. Besides he is not that convincing in persuasion.  Rubio is not even a cypher; for now he is only "Mr. Nice", with the photo album family and the Cuban background (which might be a plus as well as being a minus under the current circumstances).  He shares the Cuba factor with Senator Ted Cruz, who looks to be too much on the right for his own good.

Most candidates risk getting lost in the international "swamp".  The ominous turn of events in Europe or the Middle East might push the voters into considering larger issues than the ones close to home. This would benefit both the Clinton and Bush candidacies. They fit better in an international congress than in a diner.  Let us not forget that, early on, President Clinton was not exactly the sophisticated, manipulative president we came to know.  So much for that! There is such a thing as a learning curve after all...

Monday, April 13, 2015


As expected, Mrs. Clinton is attempting for a second time to claim the presidential mantel.  In doing so she reconfirms her claim to larger-than-life ambition.  Nevertheless, she should not underestimate the barrage of bunker buster bombs which will be directed at her.  She is too politically savvy to ignore the political napalm which is readied by the Republicans. After all, she carries the torches of disputed achievements and recognized mistakes.  This will be an ugly merciless campaign .

Mrs. Clinton is human, after all.  Despite her "firewall" composure and being (for now) the sole Democratic candidate,"uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." The Republican lot, which is united by mutual despise, will be in unanimous attack mode against the Obama/Clinton record. As much as Mrs. Clinton will try to distance herself from President Obama, the Republicans will make sure that they are seen as identical twins.  There remain gaps which require explanation: the Benghazi and e-mail server riddles, questions about what she stands for in terms of a concrete agenda, inter alia.  There is unfortunately also royal battles going on in the country as a whole which do polarize: devolution of power, health care, defense, education and the civil war about issues such as abortion, civil rights or the judicial (wherein the bench and the letter of the Constitution are stuck in an almost theological battle).

The fight will be waged over the heart and soul of mostly the South and the Middle, which lean conservative. This evangelical/Tea Party mix will have to be fought by bringing together a coalition of younger voters and an ethnic front. Mrs. Clinton is not a natural schmoozer and her vocabulary is often too "lay" sounding for a structurally conservative mindset. It will also not go unnoticed that while the Democratic candidate tries to highlight her "grandmother" credentials, her daughter is on the cover of ELLE, hardly reading material for the Bible addicts!

While the Republicans look like a death squad out of a Goya painting, their reciprocal animosities might provide the Democratic camp with some needed ammunition. Already the "gaffes" are piling up, but authenticity will not solely be measured by sophistication or by the number of handshakes with world leaders which are Mrs. Clinton's hallmark. In candidate Huckabee's words:  "the gravy counts more than the sauce."

For now the far away presidentials look more like a fatality which has to be undergone rather than as an event to be enjoyed. What a difference eight years make! More than anything, polarization has left the country tired.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Lately, American foreign policy has come under increasing critical scrutiny. The Henry Kissinger/George P. Shultz editorial page article in the Wall Street Journal regarding the "Iran Deal" was almost merciless.  The Cuban "overture" cannot hide the fact that the Southern Hemisphere prefers distance to accommodation in its dealings with Washington.  The Bretton Woods architecture under American stewardship is being overtaken by Xi Jinping's New Development Bank. This could have been avoided if the IMF and World Bank had taken into account the growing weight of countries which no longer suffer from being "snubbed".  Now the US Administration had better try to convince Congress about a fast-track trade deal with both the EU and Asia.  With allies like the Democrats, the President will have to do some cajoling and arm twisting, two things he is not good at.

China is "colonizing" the South and East China Seas.  The Middle East becomes every day more inextricable and Washington looks often as if it were acting more cautiously with its foes than with its supposed allies.  Meanwhile, Putin looks on, like an actor out of some Eisenstein movie.  The sum looks more horrid than the reality which is fluid, as always. Nevertheless, the absence of any strategic or coherent geo-political concept is a reality. The successive prioritized attention arcs stand in the way of the larger picture. The fire brigade tries to save a house but the city is in flames.

It has to be recognized that it is becoming difficult to forge alliances or "time-proof initiatives" in a world which looks, in parts, like being in free-fall. To leave the disease unattended should nevertheless be no option. To slice a problem into a manageable (?) part while ignoring the rest of it, is dangerous. One should be wary not to add to the number of multiplying fractures by indulging in "faction fallacies".  Only when ALL are included at the offset can the undesirables be seen in daylight and, if possible, penalized by consensus. Washington should lead a coalition rather than continue to steer a diplomatic ambulance from one theatre to the other.

The known Republican presidential candidates look provincial and totally unprepared...true, there is a learning curve. Mrs. Clinton is better at acknowledging people she knows than at suggesting solutions for problems she chose to bypass...until now.

Meanwhile, Obama continues to rule in what appears sometimes to be a virtual reality. There is not much there there.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Le BOURGEOIS getilhomme in Vlaanderen.

Belgie is nu een admistraief Babel van mikro belangengroepen.
Vlaanderen heeft de Minister President die past bij een enge, parochiale politiek. De Belgische Staatshervorming droeg er toe bij de minder gesofistikeerde DNA van de deelstaten centraal te stellen.

Met een "Premier" zoals Geert Bourgeois, valt Vlaanderen terug in een Oostenrijkse Nederlanen situatie. Jammer,want er is talent, R/D, cultuur, die beter verdienen dan een "enge" dorpsnotaris. In Silicon Valley ( voor zover daar nog enige blijk van interesse overblijft voor Vlaanderen's paranoia) moet men opkijken naar deze teleurgang...Gaston Geens had tenminste nog ambitie !

Nu wil deze" Excellentie - koster" afhaken met de deelname van Belgie aan de francofonie. Ondertussen blijft hij wel folklore en persoonlijke misplaatste "hubris" financieren.

Enfin, de "Excelletie " heeft waarschijnlijk een dienstwagen ( de vlag volgt nog )...."good for him". Zijn Vlaamse deelstaat heeft het ondertussen ook nog druk met het ontwepen van "Vlaamse" eretekens.

OMG (in Vlaanderen) !


Nowadays there exists a euphemism for everything (Islam being the exception.)  So, we had to put the cat "to sleep".  This is the third time a companion (I hate the term "domestic animal") has left us.  The last moments were peaceful and the veterinarian came home to "notarize" what was final.  (Ever noticed that vets are often more "feeling" than doctors?)

There is no need to dwell on the emotions.  We were totally mesmerized by the cat's dealings with her "end".  She approached the finish line with dignity as if she had decided to silence one by one the various links which attached her to being alive.  She appeared to have become an "abstraction" and tiptoed to her final destination without a hint of hesitation. After having been an enlightenment she chose to become a sunset.

In today's world of Macbeth's "full of sound and fury", this passing away may appear to be trivial.  It is not. It holds a mirror for us to see how life can still unfold to its end rather than to look into the eyes of "the green-eyed monster" we are faced with every moment.

"Parting is such sweet sorrow "...or at least it should be.

Friday, April 3, 2015


The 5+1/Iran negotiations have arrived at a possible blueprint for an agreement.  Iran maintained its nuclear status and accepted a number of "servitudes".  Since the Americans took the initiative,  the outcome can be considered as a diplomatic "coup", witnessed by the major powers who could act as witnesses for the prosecution, in case...

It is too early to judge pluses and minuses. Ambiguities, in terms if verification:  how/where/ when existing enriched uranium will be dealt with, spin of centrifuges, missiles use abound, and will have to be finessed by June.

As could be expected the Republicans are on "automatic negative pilot".  Israel remains opposed to any deal which leaves a nuclear widow open to an Iran's possible volte face. President Obama has conveyed the Sunni Arab states to a "pow pow" in Camp David. It will be an uphill battle to appease the sceptics and placate Congress.

Nevertheless, since the United States started betting on an acceptable outcome this can be considered a success. It is my opinion that the bilateral USA/Iran should neverthelees also have covered connected issues.  After all, Munich was less a failure about what it pretended to achieve than about what it chose to ignore. It can appear surreal to agree with a partner who continues to threaten Israel or the great American Satan (inter alia) or oppose all that what Washington's allies in the region stand for. It is hard to phantom that the American Secretary of State could have ignored all that time "the elephant in the room".  Only the future will tell.

This Lausanne saga is also an illustration of the stubborn management style of the White House.  President Obama is an obsessive mono-guided president who will not waver from the path he chooses, or take into account existing differentials. Herein lie both his strength and his weakness. His narcissism makes it difficult for him to heed the advice of dissenters or to bond with anyone. The adulatory few around him create a screen and outsiders only can see shadows. Such isolation can become toxic and corrupt a result which might have been more convincing if the time would have been set free to engage Congress or a public who feel too often ignored. The Obama presidency represents the denial of its humble beginnings; it has become aloof and tone deaf. 

Montesqieu's "Persian Letters" might be an appropriate reading suggestion!