Monday, June 29, 2015


Seldom have the performers of this Greek tragedy been as bad. Euripides must turn in his grave!  The problem is solvable. Archimedes knew the laws and the rules but here and now they are overrun by ulterior motives, short-sighted pride and animosity.  Actually, the sum of problems is even more serious than its major component:  the financial debacle.

If it continues on its downward spiral, Greece could easily return to its historical "resume", which is not that reassuring. The country is of strategic importance and its anti-American DNA only lies dormant. The times of the Truman Doctrine are over and the danger of letting another black hole be created in the Mediterranean is real. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party represent a leftist nihilistic strain which could become nefarious.  The referendum's outcome might bring him the poisoned victory chalice, but it might as well hand him Socrates' equally lethal potion.  A 'No' vote will make him a victor without international clout. A 'Yes' vote would become a loss of face, cutting short his political life. In between social unrest, the role of the army, social implosion might be the ingredients of a witches brew!

The Brussels negotiations were a recipe for disaster. The EU Commission's president looked absurd amidst kisses, cajoling, reprimanding, and without a clear message. Austerity was presented as a capital punishment while it should have been formulated as a provisory therapy erga omnes and not directed at an accused party. No need to dwell on Greece's many structural problems, which Tsipras inherited by the way. His Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis waged an antiquated class warfare which only upset further those who were willing to be patient. Intelligence without flair is like driving well with a flat tire. The accumulated personalized conflicts finished off what remained of good will.

Will a possible exit from the euro zone be followed by an exit from the EU?  I doubt it, since Putin might prefer to be a spoiler rather than invest in a bottomless basket-case. The Balkans and Turkey are not exactly pro-Hellenic and Greece, reduced to itself and its drachma, risks becoming more unhelpful (Cyprus, Macedonia, NATO...) and menacing since there are some more irrational "temptations" lurking in the background which might become destabilizing. Besides contagion might weaken the EU's defense mechanisms.
It is almost absurd to imagine that the situation might run out of control.  It says something about the workings of the EU, the ECB and the IMF (which was nevertheless the more principled of the three). If Greece handled the situation poorly, the EU looked equally impervious to creativity and savoir faire. Only the euro zone president deserves praise.

There is still time before Sunday.  The United States might be wise to choose urgency (Greece) over expediency (Iran).   I can well imagine that Chancellor Merkel will consider the expiration of the bailout tomorrow as the end of this saga, for now.   Imagine a conflict of Yesterday in the 21st Century?! 

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Last week was high drama in the United States. The President was able to get the necessary "fast track" green-light for the negotiation of trade deals with both Asia and Europe.  The Supreme Court vetted the Affordable Care Act as the "law of the land".  In Charleston, the church shooting lead to a response which was both impressive and dignified.  The same Court made gay marriage available and legal in all states of the Union.  The ruling was met with emotion for most but some blatant rejection in the ultra conservative right.

Facts run faster than their appreciation.

The Democrats remain opposed to trade deals, considered an open door for unemployment, delocalization, environmental transgressions and distortion of labor protection. They fail to appreciate the opening of markets and the strategic added value of creating free trade conditions in Asia or Europe before China or Russia can move their pawns. By the way, they have already started making moves which split America's Western allies.

The same sex marriage issue is a tricky one. While the majority of public opinion in the United States backs the long overdue move, the extreme right will attempt everything to sabotage on the state level this federal intrusion.  One should not underestimate the Huckabee/Cruz/Santorum and like-minded cronies. They appeal to a segment of American society which feels snubbed and alienated from the liberal mainstream, considered as being elitist.
More unudual is how the battle among the judges in the Supreme Court was waged. Generally, a tone of mutual courtesy prevails between the majority and the dissenters. Opposite opinions do not stand in the way of personal chemistry or an overall collegiality. For the first time maybe, minority opinions were worded in almost scathing personal attacks. Judge Scalia wrote a Cicero versus Catalina  homophobe indictment which will tarnish his reputation as a man of both conviction and wit.  Bigotted politicians like to run "amok" but one expects more "gravitas" from the first bench of the land. 

The battle was won, the war will continue. Fortunately, the opposing arguments are promised a certain death in the near future because they are rooted in some anti-Darwinian, anti-pluralistic loser's mindset. The gay community and their many supporters must beware of acting smug, since all opponents are not braindead and many can be won over by patience rather than being ostracised as hopelessly out of touch.

Quoting Cicero:  "The wise are instructed by reason; ordinary minds by experience; the stupid by necessity; and brutes by instinct."

Friday, June 26, 2015


History buffs and diplomats try to project an analytical, comprehensive view regarding successive stages in world events. Each of those, positive or nefarious, follow a trajectory which meets a preordained conclusion or "plateau".  The world scene today does not fit into any category and is overtaken by denial, double-talk and distortion of antecedent on all sides. One points the finger at the EU, the US, Russia, China, but tends to forget the rule of delusion or historical amnesia. The causes of the accumulative turmoils are hardly recognized, while the therapies considered collapse under the weight of their built-in contradictions.

The EU struggles with the Greek melodrama and the far more serious immigration crisis. A hybrid institutional architecture aggravates the latter, while (understandably) self-interest stands in the way of solving the former.

The US is negotiating a deal hidden in a sophism with Iran, while at the same time accusing Tehran of every nefarious intention under the sun.  Not to be outdone, the Ayatollah, the Iranian president and foreign minister play an Islamic version of political farce which leaves the 5+1 at a loss for words.

Israel is stuck in the middle of a killing-field which arranges it for the time being, while hybrid conflicts wipe out borders and states, feeding beliefs and hatreds spiraling out of control. The Palestinians? Only the Vatican pays attention...

Putin is more Stalin-like by the day.  Suffice to look at his attitude regarding the Baltic States or Ukraine. He continues to play poker.  He is too rational to risk a fatal mistake but he has no control over underlings who might make a Sarajevo repeat possible. Playing silly pique, excluding him from the G7 or snubbing him otherwise is puerile and can only backlash. It is one thing is to condemn transgression, another to leave him unhindered in the absence of his peers and judges.

China continues its island grab (?) in the South China Sea. Beijing has the upper-hand over the other claimants, but it would be better to encourage some form of multilateral arrangement rather than pointing the finger at the P.R. China alone.  Important is that the Chinese must be reminded of their role in freedom of navigation and trade routes. Ever since FDR gave China a stellar position during the Cairo meeting with Churchill and Chang Kai-shek (a rank denied then to France), the Chinese do not hesitate to claim the letter and the spirit of their status.  It is time to revamp the mothballed financial Breton Woods architecture and to adapt rules and rights to the new financial conditions. The continuity of the dollar as reserve currency is not set in stone! Trade is far too important to be loaded into a used car. Competitive trade organizations are not the solution either.

It is a given that the new strand of problems and the speed of their epidemic spread have surprised many. It is equally sad to notice how those paranormal issues are overtaking structural defences where there is still room for common ground.  Non-proliferation, terrorism, immigration, minority problems, climate change, cyber security inter alia, are not the problem of one but the curse for most. The qualitative mass is such that it requires continuous talking to all concerned, while a qualitative strategy rooted in legitimacy should be considered.

One talks about globalization but one continues to act in miniaturization. American universities and think-tanks are packed with talent but the message gets stuck in a political alienated parochial climate. The same goes for other global players by the way. The EU is in need of an antacid. Russia must get over its narcissistic frustration blues. China had better consider the fragility of the bubble it has created.

We have long ago turned Francis Fukuyama's original page. This is no reason to fall back on Samuel P. Huntington's projection, if we do not want to become hostage to a prophecy foretold. The barbarians are at the gate.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


Parts of the Middle East and the Levant look to be in free fall.  The additional 450 US soldiers who will be sent to Iraq will not make a difference.  Libya is imploding, the Luxor incident in Egypt is ominous, and ISIS makes further inroads into territory and minds.

The response of the West and of the White House Equivocator-in-Chief misses the point. The Sunni states and Iran cannot be part of a situation wherein their hate for a common enemy is undermined by their mutual suspicion. The so-called moderates in Syria, as trumpeted by the White House, are still hard to find. Turkey has become a riddle after having been a headache ...and one can go on.

The last rational decision was taken by President George H. W. Bush, who wisely decided that in Realpolitiker terms it was better to reduce Saddam than to crush him. One does not destroy the Hoover Dam against Iran.  After Saddam--a most despicable persona--the conflict got out of hand. The Shia--Sunni conflict is like a case of  herpes.  You can never get rid of it.  The new player is ISIS, a trans-border wave which sent the Sykes-Picot Middle East blueprint back to the leftovers of history.

It has to be recognized that it is difficult to intervene alongside Baghdad when the Iraqi army is more busy running than standing its ground. Besides, southern Iraq is a de facto Iranian protectorate. In reality there is no Iraq, except in the White House press room.  If ISIS were merely a regional dispute over territory, one might wait for the myriad camps involved in shifting alliances to be overcome by exhaustion.  ISIS is something else. It is an ideology, a "romantic" rallying point for the adventurous and the frustrated, for the thugs and the hard- core Sharia addicts.  In the past, mistakes were also made during the decolonisation period, when insurgency was not seen as a liberation movement and where escalation only reinforced the will and efficiency of an ill-equiped enemy.  Here we witness the start of a war for hearts and minds to the finish. ISIS is winning on the propaganda front. This "added value" is more threatening than territorial gains which can be reversed. ISIS is now among us and it is unavoidable that we will see its resilience and tactical disigenuity in our midst. ISIS is impervious to Marxist or Enlightenment ideas. Besides the Koran and a genocidal killer vade mecum there is no other reference but a nihilistic Caliphate. We have entered the first non- Cartesian of the 21st Century and we find ourselves without direction.

As much as one can share the reluctance to have troops on the ground it has to be recognized that here, yet again, we are running out of time. We allowed a measurable problem to become an ideological oil slick which is overtaking countries and borders and is actively manipulating fifth columns via cyber-warfare. The ISIS propaganda is slick, the control of media and social websites is impressive. The Voice of America-sounding counter-narrative looks and sounds outdated and boring.

Unfortunately, we are at a point where we end up needing boots on the ground! The US had better consider a repeat of the first Gulf War (taking into account the changes which have occured since and which require an updated strategy). The Sunni states will eventually join, so might some EU members (France,UK, Italy) who have gotten more than their share of wake-up calls in the recent past.  Iran must be confined to southern Iraq and should not be part of an integrated military intervention. Given the ideological primary component of the enemy, any operation should involve Russia, China, India, inter alia. The military intervention has to be focused on a rat pack off disenfranchised "desperados", who more often than not rule by category rather than by rally. This "franchise" gives them, by the way, a "sex appeal" which draws younger individuals from all over. This war has become an expedition, a "Sierra Madre" for the frustrated!  The destruction of anything preceding Islam, the war against "the other" are proof of an institutionalised dementia, as we have seen before (Nazism, cultural revolution), but the absence of containment (borders) makes for a spreading contagion

Vietnam was a laboratory case of mistaken atrocities, indiscriminate napalm use and disregard for others. Books have been written about the specificity of liberation movements versus classical warfare. Today clocks need to be reset about the confrontation with an ideology of neologisms which can no longer be confined to a "there" since it has found shelter "here". The more one waits to take "robust" action, the more the Jihady spiderweb will expand. Only a use of maximum force will also rally the countries of the region which are sceptical now, given Obama's denials. Criticism of the US president comes often all too easy, but he should avoid to resort yet again to a murky Delphic sophism. He said that he would not start "dumb" wars, rightly so.  Here though, he has to claim leadership in confronting a new strand of present, almost irrational danger for civilisation as we know it. If he fails to do so he will have endangered the basic principles of pluralism in the region. In the future, this passivity risks depriving one third of the world's population of freedom of choice.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted the G7 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  In this grandiose landscape she played a re-run of the Trapp saga, acting the Julie Andrews-part for her guests.
The locals and extras gave the whole affair a look which reminded some of Visconti's "The Damned" or of a Bunuel-like Bierfest.  The American president, refusing to be outdone (when it is safe), made the appropriate gestures with reference to Lederhosen and pretending to enjoy his beer stein.  The other guests behaved although their body language remained bizarre. The Japanese looked bewildered, the French was most reluctant in getting comfortable...and so on. Only the Merkels (yes, he was there, too) acted the part without a hitch.

The long-term was dealt with deftly. Climate change is after all a serious matter.  The G7 rallied behind a long-term goal to de-carbonize the global economy. This reduction by as much as 70% by 2050, together with the goal to hold the global average temperature below two degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels are important steps.

Unfortunately, the short-term flash points remain.

--The Middle East is with us to stay and to get worse. Obama's meeting with Iraqi P.M. Haider al-Abadi was alwords, while ISIS continues to dismantle maps, borders and states in the region.  The US president said that he has no finalised strategy as yet.  This "admission" will haunt him, together with his Syrian "red lines" capitulation. 

--Some welcome the result of Turkey's elections but one had better prepare for the "unknown".

--Putin-bashing is no alternative for policy. I would personally have chosen to invite him and to engage him in court martial-mode. Russia and, it has to be recognized also Ukraine, share a perverse DNA, which can make them unwelcome as foe or as friend. Therapy needs proximity. Bad behaviour strives in isolation. Putin's transgressions of signed international covenants need to be sanctioned "properly."  It is to be expected that Jeb Bush European tour will convey a staunch anti-Putin message. Rightly so, the Russian leader saw it coming. Still, rhetoric alone or more assertive sanctions might not do the job. This Russian bunker is almost immune to cluster bombs. Putin might be more cautious if he risks censure by his "peers" worldwide. The former will only be inclined to join a G7 warning if they do not feel pressured into going for the jugular. Talk about "taking down Putin' will only backlash. After all, the Russians have their "say", and their voice needs to be heard in and out of the Kremlin.  Eastern European states need to be reassured by more sophisticated means. Russia can only be deterred by a massive show of force and commitment in Reagan style. The paper tigers who are letting loose now do not impress or reassure.

--Free trade agreements did not receive the attention they deserve, while China is meanwhile in overdrive, trying to check US influence in all matters.

The G7 is a useful tool, the more so given that the American president is not a spontaneously "gregarious" type, home or abroad. The American leadership has become a question mark, less because of possible inroads made by others than by a total lack of pro-active interplay with natural allies. The White House's "splendid isolation above the fray" is ruled by individuals who are out of reach by checks and balances. From Sergeant Bergdahl to Iran, and all there is in between, all major topics remain equally off-limits. This administration appears mostly preoccupied with keeping all the elephants in the room quiet. This is not exactly a roaring achievement. From now into the presidential elections, a lot can happen, most of it quite alarming.

Friday, June 5, 2015


Bruce Jenner has become Caitlyn Jenner, which could have been a transformational event for the transgender community.  If she had come out and chosen for a "persona" with whom transgenders could identify, this would indeed have been a positive step and a reference.
Instead, she has opted for some 1960s glamour-star model, which looks great in glossy magazines but has little relevance for transgenders who have to face contemporary real conditions.  The "hoopla" does not come as a total surprise, given her close ties to the exhibitionist, tiresome Kardashians.  In choosing their camp, she lost her potential allies.  Yet again money trumps all.
Too bad !

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Vice-President Joe Biden is no stranger to family tragedy.  Yet again he is confronted with loss, after the death of his son.  I have always liked Biden, both for his often bewildering spontaneity and for his political flair.  He and President Obama make for a strange duo, impulse versus uncommunicative.

The Vice-President was often right before others dared to see the light.  He kept his own council while remaining loyal to the President and has continued to be appreciated by Democrats and Republicans alike.  No doubt he will have their sympathy at a time when shared feelings have become the exception.

He would make a good president after all.


In the obituary of John Nash, The Economist (May 30-June 5) refers to his saying that "a line drawn on a multi-dimensional idealised piece of paper remains the same length no matter how tightly it is crumpled".  I find this, and other utterances attributed to this mathematical wizard, fascinating.

This proposition is equally applicable in global affairs.  As much as one tries to resort to sophism or half-baked formulae to deal with problems at hand or created, the former will not go away and, on the contrary, might as well haunt us with a vengeance.  Flash points are too many to enumerate. Existing resolutions are too unconvincing to be seriously considered. The problems will stand, unaltered, given that the remedy might kill the patient altogether.