Tuesday, August 25, 2015


All of a sudden, the particles which sat idle in the dysfunctional, out-of-order, diplomatic cyclotron, start to move, out of control.  Diplomacy was meant to foresee, correct, amend, reverse. We have not seen much of that of late.  Sometimes fire had to be fought with fire-- often on amoral terms (i.e. Dr. Kissinger-type of manipulative intervention)--but it led to a resolution, at a price. None of that happens nowadays. Hypocrisy and fatalism have taken over from Machiavellian disputable interventions.

Ukraine, the Korean peninsula, the Chinese and Russian "disturbances", the global financial turmoil, the Middle Eastern drama, the moving uncontrolled immigration spill in Europe enter into a downward abyss.  Major world players wait for their hour to strike, while the American president plays golf with his Narcissus shadow. Besides, the "offerings" of the American pre-presidentials are frankly pathetic. The Democratic front runner is in a sinking mode. The Republican short-term man in the news reminds me of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi. The EU appears to be clueless, but this is a repetitive pattern. That Russia and China seek to keep their distance is to be expected since they prefer ready commodities to disregarded rags. The usual pundits who are mothballed when their concepts do not fit the reality come back out of the grave pontigicating about China's collapse (Gordon Chang) or Putin's demise. They are wrong, of course. The economic turmoil and falling oil prices have hit hard but the boomerang effect in the West should be a warning shot. Globalization is here to stay, for the better (yesterday) and the worse (today). Both in economic and political matters there is a need to talk instead of resorting to economic sanctions, or letting situations rot even further because some favour personal antipathy over agreed therapy.

This is a very ominous moment indeed.  It is becoming difficult to predict if even worse can be avoided. The superfluous Iran deal coming after the infamous "red line" in Syria continues to convince few and rattles all. Europe might sink further under the weight of a wild immigration.
The wretched knock at the door, but populism and xenophobia have dislodged common policies. Yet again nothing gets settled and the same pattern of delaying tactics is set in motion. All is noise and none is action. Where is the EU's common foreign and defense and foreign policy?

Danger and threats alike remain not classified by the US administration.  ISIL gets a ride without having to present identification papers. Political correctness is no substitute for diagnosis. Palmyra is destroyed, thousands are killed and dislodged, but the narrative is about climate change!  President Putin will continue to nibble at his cake, until the moment comes when he can eat it. President Xi Jinping will be received with full honors in the White House and might offer the US president a revised map of territorial China.  Europe will sink further under the weight of immigrants who are psychologically damaged and unfit to enter a democratic pluralistic model, which offers them survival without hope. The EU is the blind one led by the blind in Brussels, where Bruegel feels home!

No action is taken where it should be and the Stars and Stripes only returns where it is overdue. One might opt for a passive policy but then it had better be called so, openly.  On the contrary one could opt for a pro-active role, which would be welcomed by most.  Moscow and Beijing are the Cheshire cats in Alice in Wonderland. Washington has become the master of the Grande Illusion.  The Islamo-fascists in the arc of horror, from the Philippines to sub-Saharan Africa, have stolen the beheading method of Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts. 

The West looks to be waiting for what is left of the rest to implode. The cyber war is in full swing. The propaganda war is lost.  The short-term danger is the implosion of the more Western universal  intellectual discourse.  If the American political system resembles (it does not, fortunately) the current presidential race, it is doomed to end up being plain vulgar.  If, in the UK, Labour chooses for Jeremy Corbyn, it will have proven that it did not heed the lesson of history.  If the EU decides to remain in a Schengen suicide pact, so be it. The Russians look eager to take over the diplomatic inroads in the Middle East, which were America's monopoly. Asia is starting to question whether the famous American pivot is a toy rather than a move. President Obama might wake up as he does infrequently but everybody is already resigned to see Ukraine losing Mariupol, or Iran becoming some replay of Georges de la Tour's famous "cheater" paintings.  The fall of 2015 will be a season in hell for the White House. The fire at home will yet again distract from the flames elsewhere. The US president is right in thinking that the past WWII order has become obsolete, but instead of suggesting an alternative he lets BRICS or Shanghai co-operation and their offspring mushroom.

The US secretary of state, already considered "Skerry" by some, might have to take second role given that his Russian counterpart prefers to get his hands dirty where there is a gain.

The waiting game may become an unpleasant experience, the more so, in that all this might have been avoided. After all, the attendees of the Congress of Vienna could teach some lessons. Concept overshadowed rancor. To emulate Piketty: Addition > Substraction. 

Monday, August 17, 2015


Every country is cursed by some event or fair which seems to attract the obese and the conservative minded. A mix of bad food and creepy amusements brings together the same type of crowds everywhere.  

In America, Iowa is the summer capital of this form of collegial bad taste.  It is also the first shot for presidential candidates who, for the most part, dread this gastronomical Gotterdammerung.  A few fit in (Huckabee and sorts), most make it short (Clinton, Bush),  while one makes the most of it (Trump...who else?)

This fair is not "innocent."  It looks like democracy at its worse but it might well be democracy at its best.  It is anti-elitist and non-sophisticated but it gives a voice to the discontented who claim ownership of their votes and who would be snubbed in normal circumstances.  Many candidates will have to undergo again next winter the "caucus water-boarding" and try to connect with an America of hard work and values, most of which are elsewhere disposed of in the graveyards of forgotten causes (religion/same sex outrage/pro-life). 

Until now, the various candidates muster more curiosity, ennui, and deja vu, than commitment. Only Bernie Sanders has been able to mobilize a left-wing fringe which is genuine. Others are predictable or just mildly palpable. Trump is an American remake of  Silvio Berlusconi. Bush looks and sounds as if he were the victim of some Oedipal curse. Hillary Clinton acts like some Chinese grave-sweeper, trying to clear her name or bury her sophisms.  Carly Fiorina is working on some form of Republican Joan of Arc redux.  Dr. Carson would actually be more interesting if he left God to the other chosen ones:  Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and similar religious zealots. Marco Rubio tries very hard to be the new young face for Republicanism and is a persuasive campaigner.  Nevertheless, he pushes the age factor to such an extreme that he might soon be relegated to some youth camp.

The campaign is actually stalled like the infamous Governor Christie's bridge, where too many try to get ahead while only end up being in each other's way. Nobody shines, nothing interesting is said, suggested or debated.  In these Putin times, with Chinese uncertainties, Middle Eastern alarm bells, Jules Verne-type cyber and drone scenarios, the political discourse remains largely parochial. When it is not, as in Trump's case, it reaches the climax of the absurd.  The offerings are so mediocre that more names keep popping up:  Vice-President Biden, Al Gore (the one of the climate !), Governor Romney (the better but improbable outcome).

Obama has retreated into his inertia mode before the autumn slaughter fest. Meanwhile the unraveling of deals (Iran, trade, the Paris climate conference, monetary transparency) might accelerate after the melting Iowa butter cow leaves the ground even more slippery than before!

Sunday, August 9, 2015


The more one gets familiar with the Iran deal, the less appealing it looks.  Right, the Iran side does almost everything imaginable to undermine the smiles in Vienna.  Not later than last week Iran's Quds Force leader, General Quassem Soleimani, had a happy-hour with President Putin in Moscow, having travelled in defiance of the UN travel ban. The American president continues to try to salvage the deal, despite the misgivings inside and the transgression from the Iranians. Lately he has mobilised US scientists to come to the rescue.  The deal is probably as good as one could get.  Despite ambiguities and loopholes it is still a comprehensive instrument, albeit limited in time and scope, and an open door to cheating.
The questions are of another nature:

--This is not a diplomatic quid pro quo. The Vienna compromise belongs more to the Putin mindset, wherein gains can be halted but wherein ulterior ambitions remain. Some of the wires in the house were dealt with but the overall situation remains shaky. This is not a type of SALT classical solemn diplomatic agreement, with reciprocal comparable wins and losses.  This is a "geek's" backroom deal, without guarantee for longevity and negotiated with a partner known for bad faith.

--The "this or war" alternative is not serious.  Iran suffered ad nauseam under sanctions (centrifuges do not come cheap ) , some of which could have been further reinforced by the US alone. Further sanctions and alternative diplomatic avenues (with the Gulf States), might have worked better than this "trick", which will put neither an end to the war of words nor the war by proxy. Some commentators mention a "Munich bis" but they forget that Chamberlain came home as the lauded man of peace (wrongly), while Kerry returned as the man who was duped (rightly?).

--Now that the US has gotten the 5+1 to swallow the pill (some with relish: Russia, China), some with second thoughts (the rest), this coalition will not stand if the US were to renege on the signed agreement. The Europeans see a market, while the Iranians will be too happy to oblige all and will seek ways to compensate for falling oil prices. They might still free the Americans they have in custody, but "Death to America" will remain the Leitmotiv.

--Israel is overplaying its deck in Washington and could end up further alienating its stoutest ally. The Israeli P.M. could soon be even more persona non grata than he was was before, under Secretary of State James Baker. Obama should likewise get over his visceral antipathy toward the Israeli P.M. The boisterous Israeli Rambo ambassador in Washington, for his part, should learn his job rather than emulate some unfortunate precedents in world history.

--The Administration will certainly blackmail Congress but it is unlikely that this will work out. The presidential veto is hard to overrule. This fall will be marked by bitter fights between Obama and the Republicans but this might, in the end, convince hesitating Democrats to rally around the President.

--It looks probable that the unpopular Vienna Beggars Opera will stand. This move was not called for without a collateral. It creates uneasy feelings among America's allies in the Middle East, it becomes a wedge between Israel and the US and it is a treasure chest for Iran's cheating and evading skills.  This trophy had better stay in the attic of history, together with other major blunders.

Maybe the Nobel Prize will go to the Iranian and American negotiators. I am tempted to advance that both believe in their "achievement". One rightly so, the other painfully so. Some still think that Obama's "grand bargain" will work out in the end.  President Bush, too, believed that invasion was not too high a price to create a democracy which would expand in the region.  One historical blunder is enough to risk a second one.

Friday, August 7, 2015


The first debate among Republican presidential contenders was a "sleeper".  The "junior league" was handily won by Carly Fiorina, fired up by her proxy catfight with Mrs. Clinton, while the first tier showed a group of  tired looking men dressed for a funeral and arguing ... for what?  Trump was predictable, loud but short on substance, while the others looked as if they would have done almost anything not to be there.  The audience reminded me of Panem et circenses.

The winners were actually the Democrats.  Like them or not, but candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton tower over their Republican rivals. Sanders has an ideologically solid persona.  Hillary has the agility of an Indian contortionist. Conviction and arrogance speak louder than the touting of shady resumes and reciprocal animosity.  We are only at the beginning and the hot pursuit for all things Hillary has not even begun.  Be ready for an overdose of Benghazi, server, Iran...  Everything remains possible and it is likely that a deteriorating political climate after the summer recess will further poison the well. This might create an opportunity for Trump, who has made perfectly clear how much he despises the classical political class.  He does not belong to the many frustrated members of various committees in Congress which will chase Mrs.Clinton in Nuremberg-fashion. He will keep his distance both regarding his Republican rivals and his moves. If he were to consider becoming a Third party candidate, the Republicans might as well throw in the towel.  Mrs. Clinton had better take control of her story, otherwise she might have a humiliating awakening. There are too many curves in her road!

Campaigns come and go, the fatigued candidates look already like salesmen at the end of a long day. The stump speeches are banal, the proposals are anti-intellectual. Most contenders are alarmed by the goings on in the world and promise to make America great again. How they intend to tackle this challenge remains a mystery.  Republicans gather around the old banners of religion, pro-life, aversion to climate change, and traditional values. Democrats veer to the left, to some remix of Obama and chili sauce. A conversation about a comprehensive world view or restructuring of what does not work in America is hardly possible.

The last months of the Obama presidency might be lonely.  Accordingly, the President may choose to be more aloof and rule over the head of Congress.  Obama is a most intelligent man, he is also the worst deal maker with whom he disagrees.  If the Iran deal fails,  the consequences might be serious. The question is no longer if there was an imperative to get to this deal now. The deal is here and the aftermath is equally blurred.   Either the President sticks with it, alienating a majority of critics on both sides of the aisle, or he tries to review it, risking to lose the 5+1 support at a time where he needs more than ever Putin's lukewarm cooperation in Syria. Obama's assessment that war is the only alternative to the agreement is flawed and shows disregard for diplomatic savoir faire .

At the end of this first Republican obstacle course, only banality crossed the finish line.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


The killing of Cecil in Zimbabwe sent an emotional shock wave which reached all possible shores.  The circumstances of this lion's brutal end were barbaric and not the logical, almost surgical result of hunting.  The protests have to be seen in a more moral context. One must not err into the hysteria which too often surrounds gun control or the Second Amendment in the US Constitution.

Cecil fell victim to something perverse. The mix of corruption, poaching, gratuitous violence and the inexcusable behavior of the individual responsible for this terrible deed is on trial.
Day after day we find ourselves consuming images of the most unimaginable cruelty and we hardly notice. Suddenly the demise of the Lion King wakes us up.  The point is that the steps made towards a more civilised, informed "discourse" in those parts of the world, which can afford it, have collateral consequences (climate, environment, animal rights).

In reality the far-away Cecil obliges us to face facts close by, wherein random violence and killings occur by the minute.  The lion was majestic in life, he is mythological after. The perpetrator is too uninteresting to retain our attention and we are not into lynching.  The great beast has become the messenger who reminds us that we live in an apocalypse .