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.

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