Monday, July 27, 2015


Yesterday's world looked manageable, albeit it with many demurrals.  There were two poles, the USA and the Soviet Union.  In between, the 77 under the umbrella of Zhou Enlai, Nehru, Tito, Sukarno, Nyerere and Nasser "navigated."  Both poles made some singular incursions into this de facto orbis.  The West made confusing colonial catastrophic moves regarding Indochina,Vietnam and the Suez Canal. The Soviets controlled their turf by way of proxies, invasion or intimidation. The 77 were left to their own devices, even when they were deadly, mainly for their own nationals.  Nevertheless, the Unites States remained in this Duumvirate the undisputed architect of world order.

Today's world has become unmanageable.  Even after the Soviet Union became nuclear, the reciprocal blackmail created a deterrent which none of the Duumvirs dared to test to the limits. The  proliferation wave later on (Pakistan, China, India, North Korea, Israel) shook this negative equilibrium.  The inexcusable second Iraq war killed the ailing patient. Since this irreversible calamity the world has unraveled, the dam broke. Out of the flood rose a generation of aberrations which has left the more responsible powers in disarray, internally and externally.

The consequences, from Dagestan to 9/11, from ISIL to Boko Haram, from false perceptions to unattended situations, lead to a form of "hot pursuit" behavior on the part of the more reliable powers who resorted to half-baked measures in the absence of agreed goals. There were no well thought operations of the Overlord type, there is no new Bretton Woods in the making, there is no Yalta formula in view.  The Huns rule, the arsonists are in our midst and Rome has only water buckets to stop the fire from reaching even further. 

The Iran deal has laid bare some unpleasant facts. The discussion is not about the merits of this unpleasant arrangement. The merits are undeniable, the unknowns (access, cheating window) are still awaiting an answer. The reality is that the 5+1 accepted to deal with what remains in reality an amoral entity, giving it by stealth the status of normality while it pursues the annihilation of a third state, finances terrorism and sacrifices human rights for the sake of a mandatory Orwellian religion.  The Iran deal may work out in the end, but by ignoring the collateral it remains a hypocritical affair. 

While Russia and China stay mostly in their layers or near abroad, the West appears to be on the defense. When one mentions the West, one means mostly the United States of course, since Europe is nailed on the cross of the EU and since the common foreign and defense policies are the stuff fairy tales are made of.

The US remain the ultimate world architect for the unforeseeable future. They will need time and a mix of will and creative power to extricate themselves (and others with them) from of a foretold catastrophic miscalculation. The Americans made a Barbarossa or Napoleonic type of mistake in Iraq and are paying a colossal price without any chance of positive reversal in the middle long-term.  Hence they have their power questioned, their influence diminished, their indispensability in doubt. The famous American Arabists from former times seem to have abandoned the State Department while the White House appears unable to come up with leadership.  Russia and China are equally to blame, but I see few illegals trying to cross their borders in search of a better future!

Since there is not yet an alternative for America's role, what can be done?

--The MIDDLE EAST is in free-fall and the contagion reaches a large part of Africa.  The kinship between the US and Israel needs to be restored. The relationships with Sunni states must be reviewed with appropriate attention given to education, human rights and core values.
Syria can only be dealt with in a multilateral forum which must include all, with Assad, who should be given time and opportunity to relinquish power. There is no time left to play difficult and it is advisable to choose the shortcut before Iran is able to prop up its proxies. The choice must be made clear for the Syrian president:  either accept an exit with dignity or to face the harsh reality of a renewed Sunni/US alliance or the consequences of the "civil war" between ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra.

The Shia oil spill must be contained before it can overrun more than what it can swallow!  It is doubtful that the US/Iran bi-laterals in Lausanne or Vienna led to some form of confidential entente on peripheral strategic matters. Slogans speak louder than words and the sound of them remains ominous. The whole Middle East needs a bottom-up overview under some form of 5+1 umbrella, reinvigorated by the input of the ones directly involved and by the assistance of mostly the US, which for the better and lately for the less advisable, are the Primus inter pares in the region.  Turkey's recent larger profile in the fight against ISIL is considered to be a positive. One should not forget, however, that Turkey is a NATO member. Accidents can happen and consequences could be unforeseeable. This is one supplementary reason to rush to the negotiating table rather than to persevere in an unconvincing strategy. After all, ISIL, unlike Al Qaeda, is the embryo of a nihilistic entity.  Most Arabs want to be known for more than just oil and suicide bombers!

--The future belongs to ASIA.  The Obama Administration proclaimed  a "pivot" to Asia.
The move is a good one, if implemented.  Everybody is convinced by now that Asia will be a major player in the areas of finance and economy. As a continent, it is still a power-in-waiting. North Korea is a pathological case and can only be seen as a dangerous aberration. India is still obsessing over Pakistan (and vice-versa), while China tries to project a sea power that could break through the American firewall which encircles it from Guam to South Korea. The South China Sea is the major inroad of China's power by way of the Paracels and Spratlys, which are also disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan. The 1992 ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea calls for a peaceful settlement. Vietnam welcomed it, China "noted" it. Today, Beijing has created the fait accompli in what it considers its larger territorial abroad. Only unhindered freedom of navigation and trade can partially compensate for this "creeping enlargement." The Sensaku dispute in the East China Sea creates an ominous tension with Japan, with even a greater risk factor, given the strong alliance between the US and Japan.

Washington reacts on many fronts, be it through bi-lateral upgrading (India, Vietnam), by consolidating (Japan, South Korea) and through a multi-lateral trade deal (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) in which China plays no part. It looks to Australia as its first defense.

President Xi Jinping's trip to Washington later this year is crucial for bi-lateral relations which could tilt in every direction. The cyber-war has to be addressed, otherwise any good will will sound hollow. The current authoritarian culture war waged against intellectuals and civil society in the P.R.C. is a bad omen. The economic/financial uncertainties might likewise weigh on the strives that China has made towards a more consumer-oriented economy and a decrease of state interventionism. Still,the per capita G.D.P. in 2013 in China was the equal of Ecuador's. Together with the latest uncertainties, those facts should have a sobering effect on the usual "hyperbole."
China feels duped, mostly by the United States, insofar as it has not been given the "weight" it deserves in the major international (mostly financial/economic) organizations.  Hence, it duplicates or resorts to other groupings which are more to its liking (Shanghai cooperation/ BRICS/the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership).

In the end, there are more countries which want America in, rather than out. Washington is still the arbiter in Asian affairs but it had better act in accordance with facts than with wishful thinking. China is never going to give up what it considers to be "its", neither is it in a forgiving mood regarding past grievances, be them directed at the West or at Japan. The modus vivendi between Moscow and Beijing is a tactical one. The cautious entente between Washington and South East Asia rests on more solid fundamentals, strategic and economic. The Americans have every reason to act in responsible ways since their alliances with Taiwan, Seoul, Tokyo and Manila can easily backfire if China chooses to test them. The Chinese do not build aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and stealth jets for nothing!

The US has every good reason to elaborate a less paranoid partnership with ASEAN+, so that China feels it can cooperate without looking as if it were giving in. It were better for the future if the TPP and the RCEP could melt in a FTAAP (Free trade area of the East Pacific, including both America ans China). China must be encouraged to become a participatory power and no longer be treated as an interloper.  Soon the renminbi will become a global reserve currency, and China's state-owned development bank has already surpassed the World Bank in international lending.

The rush to all things Asian is unstoppable.  Paradoxically, American soft-power is more in demand over there than anywhere else.  Besides, Asian investment in the United States is growing exponentially and creating a creative added-value, mostly in R/D, media and manufacturing. The Financial Times has now gone Japanese, what could be more symbolic?

--EUROPE often looks like a mass of inertia.  The Greek crisis showed the EU at its worse behaviour.  Still, the house stands and the hurricane has subsided, for the time-being.  The sophisticated institutional web which the EU created might be its downfall. The layers of decision-making at so many levels risk sinking a ship which was not built to carry such a heavy load.  Besides, the proximity between power and citizen has gotten totally lost. The military/political ambitions look almost vain when compared to their original aspirations. Since the Delors years, the EU has lost its soul. Indifference and disenchantment rule.  The euro is no longer a flagship, it is the currency for a beggar's opera.

All this stands in sharp contrast to a continent which is at the same time creative and sophisticated, be it mostly in the arts or in innovation. Unfortunately, one gets used to what functions (or doesn't) while concentrating solely on the many dysfunctions which do not result from the original Rome Treaty, by the way, but from the bad cholesterol which is imbedded in the Nice and Maastricht aberrations. There is too much heterogeneity in the EU workings, which try to accommodate opposite priorities.  Immigration is another wildfire which spreads with total disregard to borders or shared common principles.

The Atlantic, former Churchillian component is almost totally gone. The Americans look at Europe in disbelief, while the Europeans pretend to snub American pop culture, which they buy online as if it were some forbidden fruit to be enjoyed out of sight.

The existential problem which Europe faces is Islamic terrorism. Because of geography and sloppiness, the sleeper cells multiply and find a fertile ground in a continent which is over- regulated where it should not be and under-regulated where it should. The EU, which is supposed to embrace most things super-national remains shy when it might have to give up sovereignty in matters of security (and finance!)   There should already have been a European FBI at a time when the shores of Italy and Greece can no longer cope with the influx of refugees and when the trains and trucks in Calais or Belgium become the favorite targets of refugees trying to make their way into the UK.   Obviously, most of them flee poverty and marginalization, but some tend to join the fifth columns which want to destabilize existing order and codes. Lately all the focus is on Iran but are we forgetting that all terrorists known until now are non-Iranian. ? Are we aware that the core of believers in this unholy crowd is mostly Wahhabi? The EU must urgently focus on this creeping danger which is already homegrown. The awakening after Charlie Hebdo risks becoming a flash in the pan. 

There is not much to look forward to.  A free-trade agreement with the US is long overdue.
Better to consider a European NATO pillar than none. European machinery is in need of weight loss if it does not want to become even more alienated from the (scarce) voters who still show some interest in the workings of the EU Parliament.

--AFRICA and LATIN AMERICA.  Both continents hold promises, and both look equally vulnerable.  They have become, first of all, prey to China's insatiable hunger for energy and raw materials. The Chinese buy and/or build whatever the "client" wants while at the same time hiding behind the veil of non-interference, choosing not having to deal with the environment, human rights or social change. It is a win-win situation for provider and client.

--SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA is divided between mostly unsavory regimes (Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, R.D. Congo, Zimbabwe) and fiefdoms of terrorist Islamic outlaws in existing states (Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Mali) or in the Horn of Africa (Al Shabab).  At least President Obama tries (in vain) to spread an inclusive message, while the Chinese continue raiding, and do not confuse being welcomed with being liked.  After Mandela, South Africa is probably the greatest disappointment. The complex message followed a complex man into the grave and Africa is torn between dynastic corruption and a Faustian bargain with China. The take-off was promising but today the hard-landing is a sad awakening.  The wealth of too few does not generate the conditions wherein more could advance. The cellphone has become the lolly-pop to compensate for hard work, bad conditions, corruption, health problems and unfair governance. Rene Dumont's book L'Afrique noire est mal partie has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yesterday it made a scandal, today it is the subtitle for an even larger tragedy.  Former colonial powers should at least take a more concrete interest in supporting African countries and not hide behind moral reprobation of disagreeable leaders to find alibis for doing too little. The Rwandan tragedy, not unlike the Khmer Rouges, is a stain which still overflows the capacity for grief.

--SOUTH AMERICA.  The Cuba move by President Obama was smart.  He re-dimensioned the importance of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador & Co. 
Nevertheless, the relationships with Latin America need a qualitative and quantitative input. Here too, the Chinese are asserting their financial clout and secure access to natural resources. Facts show that the Monroe Doctrine is not only forgotten, it is buried. President Kennedy was the last American president who engaged structurally with the Southern Hemisphere, not only for reason of the Cuban crisis, but out of a rationale made out of a mix of diplomatic concern and self-interest.  Now that Brazil and Argentina find themselves in murky waters and since the BRICS experiment lacks staying-power, there exists a political/economic widow of opportunity for a positive, participatory American re-engagement. The Cuban lock is no longer and the leftist regimes now find themselves deprived of argument and obliged to face their own internal socio-economic turmoil and corruption.

Mexico is a case sui generis.  It is northern by choice (NAFTA) and southern by culture. It was for awhile engaged in a royal battle for leadership but it lost to Brazil.  While it made progress on many fronts, in the first place energy, it is unable to come to terms with the corruption at all levels and with the narco state within the state.

There is a systemic empathy for Europe in all Latin American countries. Unlike elsewhere, there is an extraordinary cultural open-minded discours about the colonial times and atrocities. This has given rise to a literature, creativity and research which helped the people to regain some form of self-esteem and identity. Europe, unlike the United States, is seen in a more favorable light, despite a history of cruelty and exploitation. The EU should concentrate more on highlighting a privileged relationship with a subcontinent where it is probably more welcome than anywhere.  Marquez, Neruda, Paz, Fuentes, Borges have become almost writers shared ! 

IN THE END the world is in need of an organizing principle. Given the many changes, the clock cannot be turned back to former universal principles. Dr. Kissinger's Westphalian concept is not sustainable in a situation wherein too many hybrids collide with classical entities.
The embryonic Caliphate, the new religious war, the radical perverse forms of aggression (cyber, suicide bombers, terrorism, drones) have totally marginalized the spirit of the Geneva Conventions.  It is important that the five permanent Security Council members have remained  "five" and that no alternative naive formula replaced them. The five disagree about a lot but they all share similar problems. Russia has the Caucasus, China has its Autonomous regions (Tibet included). The US, France, and the UK have equally to count with the enemies within and elsewhere.   The 5+1 formula (created by Dr. Rice) for Iran (including the EU and Germany) should be maintained for other warnings or situations.  It remains important to talk to all, meaning that yesterday's aberrations will fatally be part of tomorrow's new normal. Better to divide than accumulate, better open channels to Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban than driving them into the arms of worse. The current fight against ISIL is a fight between civilizations (plural) and nihilism (singular). We have chosen the enemy, let's now bring conditionally together a possible alternative. This supposes a difficult choice and a reliance on Jeffersonian principles which admittedly are still alien to the values of additional possible interlocutors. Universal principles are an endangered species, given that the tribal is programmed agaist the encompassing global.  Conversions might still happen. It will be an uphill battle given that recent fractures are rooted in past frustrations and not in future openings.

Universal principles no longer figure on the agenda, unfortunately.  Globalization has lost most of its appeal.  What about "communality"?  It is less about imposition than about a pro-active approach with regard to adhering to an arrangement, less glamorous, but balancing both self-interest and a set of rules, tolerated more for the sake of self-preservation than out of adhesion.
The Wilsonian, European, almost metaphysical ambitions, have become a waste of time...the future will be a mix of thrill and dread.

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