Wednesday, December 30, 2015

EXIT 2015

This horrible year of slaughter is tragically illustrated by the picture of the body of Aylan Kurdy, the Syrian child drowned in the indifferent waters of the Mediterranean. The weight of all that went wrong in the world, from Paris to Syria, was too much for this fragile frame to carry on living. It is heartbreaking.


Attempting to arrive at a coherent worldview today is an uphill battle.  Fluctuation rules.
Surrounded by tectonic collisions, one is, naturally, tempted to become alarmed. One should accept from the start to differentiate the map from the territory.

The EU looks bad. The institutional framework has become largely unconvincing.  Still, the Union resists despite the negatives which pile u : the Euro, Ukraine, the refugees, terrorism, the ambiguity of the UK, the populist surge.  Nevertheless there is also a rebound on almost all fronts and, paradoxically maybe, an awakening with respect to the financial, security, military and political challenges is undeniable. The situation remains risky but in the end one might come to the conclusion that the German way saved the day.  If the French were able to appeal to muscular pride, Germany injected dispassionate reason into what appeared to be getting out of control.

The US is in the electoral hell of their own making. The candidates want to appropriate the mantel of American exceptionalism, which was present at the creation but since has fallen victim to the current culture wars. The foreign policy is less incoherent than what many observers pretend but it has become almost over-doctored, academic, lacking the seal of popular approval.  President Obama is a loner here and abroad, surrounded by an echo chamber which deflects more than it connects. Difficult choices regarding the Middle East, the nuclear deal with Iran, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Russian Federation, China, need a more convincing narrative than the Byzantine "take it or leave it" which only antagonizes already bruised egos.  The "pivot" to Asia is still the right bet on the future but it was derailed by other events. Those bumps in the road need more co-operating with some, rather than ignoring most.  Former "colonial" left-over borders and maps do not cover the "territory" any longer. The better option is to face it, "together" with others,rather than  maintaining a fiction "alone".  Syria is a "mirage" and the spoils should be dealt with, with ALL interested parties.

Latin America is on the move.  The pendulum to the left got a black eye in Argentina and Venezuela. Brazil might be the next in line. Washington's opening to Cuba deprived the usual anti-American chorus line of its major argument. Now that a new normal is in the making it would be inexcusable if, yet again, the United States would lose interest at a time when the overall political equilibrium has been reset in their favor. 

China is showing signs of metal fatigue. The economy, the environmental malaise, the anti- corruption campaign and the hardening of the political climate are indicators that not all is well.  Xi Jinping tries to dislodge the Americans out of Asia but Washington can still counter Beijing's ambitions through Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, the Philippines, Kampuchea and Singapore...among others. The Taiwan/China summit was more an au revoir than an a bientot for nowThe South China Sea dispute is a serious one and is not without parallel with the Ukraine grab. Both test the resistance of the West and need to be monitored with force, coated in savoir faire.  Wars start more often by reason of false premises than by rational choice.
China is shrewd enough to be cautious (as is Putin).  It had better start to behave in matters of trade, currency, counterfeit, and undermining emerging economies by way of intellectual property distortion. 

 Lots of loose opportunistic groupings, like the Shanghai cooperation or the BRICS, are photo- ops for yesterday's illusions.

Africa is a sand-glass, wherein the problems of the northern bulb slowly fills the southern one. Terrorism has reached the sub-Saharan region and becomes a problem in addition to the many structural deficiencies which exist already. The post-Mandela South Africa is making an ominous U-turn.  Zimbabwe is the new heart of darkness and the Chinese are there to deplete, not to heal.  The EU has a role to play and a responsibility to assume, together with the US. The continent risks running empty if not more is done to halt the looming human catastrophe. The flotillas coming to Europe will only multiply if the problems remain unattended.

Most existing state defense and research mechanisms are poorly managed. Unlike the private sector, they miss both opportunity and danger.  Space is already taken away from its former guardians, cyber-security and technology are sub-contracted. Terrorism rules in absentia of a more sophisticated co-ordination between competing surveillance forces.  Climate change has become a political football in the United States, opposing mostly Democrats and Republicans, locked in some biblical/fossil-fuel aberration.

Utopia would demand a government of wise men and women.  Reality teaches us that the future might be more of the same. With some degree of intellectual humility, the most arduous problems can still be solved if they can be lured into therapy.  This requires some form of ad hoc consent. The more civilized world needs an ideological cease-fire to concentrate on the essential battle against ISIL.  It finds itself in a cramped lifeboat, a situation which makes for unexpected partners and does not suffer fools.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Another year almost gone, another hangover staying.  Pessimists argue that this past year was one of the worse.  Optimists are hard to find nowadays.  Realists might argue that there is a need for "perspective"...good luck!  Indeed, there have been other years in history that were so much worse and any comparison risks looking almost indecent.  It is just that 2015 was so unbearably mediocre, if it had not been for the tragedies which extracted indignation out of the epidemic stupor.

The EU continued to look like a ship of fools. The US holds onto its reputation of being the worse poker player in town.  Russia is getting more and more enmeshed in its global Ponzi scheme. China is in full Qing replay mode.  The BRICS (remember?) are like a collapsing hedge fund.  The semi-states deflate.  The non-states roam.  Worse is that the "normal" states are also besieged by the "new normal":  unconvincing recovery, structural income inequality (Thomas Piketty's r > g big-bang), home-grown terrorism, cyber imbalance.

Are we doomed?  I don't think so. The private sector has never been as inventive. Technologies, upstarts, pharmaceuticals, ideas in architecture, climate, health care have seldom been as bold. States, for their part, look tired, bankrupt and unable to keep up with the myriad advances which shattered the old Keynesian mindset.  The former L'Etat c'est moi fell victim to the new innovators, financiers and entrepreneurs. The old behaviourist reflex has been dealt a fatal blow by the likes of Jobs, Bezos, Ma, Branson, etc.  The lab is ahead of the bureaucrats.
Amazon might actually be ISIL's most performing enemy!

This agonizing miserable year comes not alone to its inglorious end. The nation states, the post- WWII architecture, the accepted military strategies are in free fall.  So will the rag pack of zealots and killers who operate on borrowed time and largess.

While losers fight in the name of the absurd, the unknowns--space, social media, medicine, high-tech--become the fiefdom of the willing.  Other yet undiscovered incursions into the unimaginable will follow.  No longer will outsiders be the state's clients, the state will become the entrepreneurs' servant. Already the Neue saglichkeit in world affairs has dislodged ideology and weakened alliances. The already shaky old-fashioned power structures will have no other choice than to adapt. In a shipwreck one does not choose his or her lifeboat, the nearest will do.

The leaders in the multiple-G meetings, or the ones we have seen lately in Paris, look like a congress of losers, blind to evidence, late for urgency and timid in the face of innovation. Yesterday's "social contract" was a great achievement. The progress made should not be forgotten, neither should it be rolled back, where and if it works. A new contract is needed so that regulation no longer stands for strangulation. The future today happens outside of the political realm. There is no need to plead in favour of some Utopia however. One must readjust unfitting structures and enter new poles of excellence. When confronted with a new generation of life and death challenges, out-manoeuvered Fourth Republic modes, EU's sullen corridors, or delusional uni-polar terms, are out of place. 

Change is hard to come by.  The new "explorers" are waiting in the wings for their hour. A reversal of fortune becomes urgent when the Barbarians are no longer at the gates but among us.  Should we need another Lusitania or Pearl Harbor to wake up or shall we go for another Munich? Progress should receive a pole position rather than just the occasional accolade in Davos.   That yearly "magic mountain" retreat is no more than a temporary respite, after all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


December is supposed to be a month of rejoicing and family togetherness.  This was especially true in America which was used to retrograde in a collective stupor, fed with resuscitated Christmas carols and syrupy "ambiance".  In 2015, the strident is louder than the melodious.

Despite John Updike's saying that "America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy", the remedy doesn't work here and now.  In this vast echo chamber frustration and dysfunction have overtaken the chromatic scale, while unwelcome omens prevail.  The great men who founded the republic were extraordinary in their common ambition and in their intellectual creativity. Seldom have so few created a Res publica which may still be the most ambitious project ever conceived.  But today it is hard to believe that the likes of Jefferson and Hamilton existed elsewhere but on a Broadway stage.

The US presidentials do not project a flattering image, on either side. The Democrats sleepwalk for the time being, since the stage for Mrs. Clinton's coronation has been set.  The Republicans forgot that they were indeed the Grand Old Party and have become a chorus line of grey angry men and one woman, equally vinegary. 

Only Donald Trump emerges out of this uninspiring lot.  He is a ruthless,  an "entertaining" manipulator, devoid of vision and gifted with a visceral ability to play on the most unappealing instincts of the frustrated, the uninformed and the bullies. Trump is actually a dangerous man. His words are like checks which bounce. His egocentric paranoia is free on bail and his bluster on international affairs would lead him to be DOA upon election night.

For now he rallies masses like no one else and his bombast reduces his opponents to the status of sleeper cells. His inroads indicate that his "utterances" resound. The Republican establishment now lives on Pepto Bismol.  If he were the "chosen one", Mrs. Clinton would certainly tower over Trump's undignified insults.  He should, nevertheless, not be 
underestimated.  He goes for the plexus and it might be difficult for anyone to keep cool when the elephant breaks loose.  It was to be expected that he relates to Putin, although he doesn't share the Russian president's mastery of history and strategy...inter alia.

Trump's interacting with the crowds shows clearly the authoritarian and paternalism-like technique of this uncommon practitioner.  His act is his message.  Both are equally unappealing. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015


It appears now that the Belgian police missed Salah Abdeslam by some minutes when Brussels was on "lock out". Police raids could nevertheless not be initiated, in consideration of a legal time-ban  (9 pm / 5 am).

This is surreal. That the Brussels police apparatus is already sliced up like some souffle rate is hard to understand, but that a search operation was disabled during the night "slot", is absurd.
Belgium, being an arrangement rather than a state, lacks both hard- and soft-power (unlike the Netherlands or Luxembourg).  The government is made up by parties which want to salvage what is left and by others who want to bury the leftovers of the State. They form an opportunistic alliance which, for the time being, seeks to prioritize the economy--rightly so. This does not imply that the separatist North has given up on its dismantling agenda. Already, the responsibilities of the Federal authority are shrinking by the day. The regions discuss climate as if different weather conditions prevail over some square miles (true, it is all about money).

The tragedy is that the many institutions which were obliged to choose Brussels, caught the Belgian disease. The EU has not become more European but, as it turned out, more Belgian. NATO rots near the Brussels airport and SHAPE sulks near Mons.  Belgium will never achieve the trans-substiantiating stage. Many individuals there are remarkable, but the system is not! Suffice  to see the mayor of Molenbeek...Quod demonstrandum est.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


There is so little to celebrate, that to snub the climate deal would be totally inappropriate. The 2-degrees Celsius warming goal is the objective.  Meanwhile, the warming will in reality be limited to 3-degrees Celsius. The five-year revision clause regarding greenhouse gas emissions is a positive added value. 

It would be naive to argue that all is solved. The targets are not legally binding and developing countries are still set against measures which might slow growth. China chose to join the "developing camp", which is ironic.  The island nations did not get their 1.5% goal.  Financial commitments remain hazardous.  Still the world came together!

Of course the debate will continue, especially in the United States, where the Republicans are hostage to coal, guns and Evangelicals. President Obama would like his administration to be considered as the climate change much for Al Gore.  The French scored a real diplomatic coup and their foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, deserves praise for his negotiating skills.

One wishes that consensus could be found on other issues, among countries with different, often contradictory interests.  Such a breakthrough looks unrealistic. The clash of civilizations is on a collision course.  It will get even worse if ISIL is not deprived of the land which feeds it or the media which multiply it. The silent majority of Muslims will remain out of sight as long as the nihilistic narrative gets a free-rein. It looks as if, in the short run, no reversal is to be expected. The bold beholders of martyrdom will continue to strike and the West, prisoner of absurd rules of engagement of its own making, will remain a target rather than the game-changer. Its "heroic" leaders will not forgo their vacation nevertheless.  San Bernardino might even get a stop-over on the way to Hawaii.  Who knows?

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Not a day goes by without a piece of the President's policies being dislodged or weakened.  As the saying goes:  defeat has many "claimers". The Republicans are waging their own Jihad against anything the President does, for their own reasons, primary to have some smoke-screen handy, in order to hide their more fratricidal doings. The White House acts like Houdini, unable to disentangle himself after gone a trick too far.

One by one the goals of the President backfire or get stuck in the mix of Democratic amateurism and Republican obstructionism. Obama has lost his ability to communicate and he lost the common sense to evaluate the public mood. He touts climate change at a time when the Americans are Christmas shopping for guns rather than being glued to the Weather Channel.

The mood in the US is one of disbelief.  Americans are smart enough to realize that for now they have become "almost dispensable" in world affairs. The current Trump poll numbers are more the result of "pique" than of "hype".  When diminished or uneasy, countries tend to become insular and go for noise. Trump is, by the way, a formidable competitor playing with bombast on frustration and a new inferiority complex in the land.  If elected (no chance) he would be a pariah in the world, making Putin "thoughtful" in comparison.

The President should take some cues from de Gaulle.   Rather than sticking to what doesn't work, he should change course...and personnel.   He obviously wanted to reboot America first and re-dimension its involvement in world affairs. What he got is a nervous breakdown at home and a devastating reality-check abroad.  As a result the United States is in a real confidence/socio-cultural impasse. The intelligentsia chooses for the Aventine, while the demagogues encircle the Capitol.  Obama looks totally out of touch. The knowledgeable scholar of yesterday became a president, ignored almost. The Pax Americana is crumbling around the world, while the homeland is besieged by the most unwelcome but understandable challenges.
"New Reality" among allies is no substitute for former sharing of moral principles.

These times call for a study of character to unlock where the President stands. Given his intellect, the result should be interesting.  Seldom has such potential been wasted in the minds and hearts of so many. The world is orphaned without American leadership.  Babble is no substitute for speech.   Obama's legacy might be a sad one, indeed.

Monday, December 7, 2015


Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate, said that he wanted to ban Muslims from entering the United States.  In doing so, he offended all the USA stands for and he cornered himself into some "neo-fascist" niche.

It is one thing to condemn radical Jihadists, it is another all together to resort to a vocabulary which has no legitimacy in the American psyche. Few countries have been as good and generous in accepting plurality in their midst...contrary to Europe.  Muslims are in their vast majority Americans first. To confuse all of them with a "bad lot" is a fraudulent assessment. In doing so, Trump was able to insult all Muslims, to provide ISIL with counter-argument and get Mrs. Clinton and Dick Cheney to agree.   Who could ever have imagined that to happen?

The anti-Trump uproar, coming after the San Bernardino massacre, shows that America can still relate to its Jeffersonian heritage.


It is difficult for an atheist to write about what appears to be, in part, the paroxysm of a religious anachronistic aberration.  On the other hand, denial of  "fact" is not a sustainable attitude for a free spirit. Lately Paris and San Bernardino speak louder than words...and prayers.

The violence waged by Islamic Jihadists has no boundaries.  It becomes more difficult by the hour to differentiate between good--if there is room for such a thing in a demented storyline--and bad Islam.  First, it is becoming absurd to try to dislodge the better parts of the Koran from the bad ones. Secondly, too many Imans talk more often as the heirs of the heinous than as the interpreters of what might still be worth rescuing. Muslim worshippers can be brainwashed rather than enlightened. Third, the silence or absence of indisputable condemnation of unspeakable mayhem is "scandalous".  Muslims are too often shy to recognize the evil in their midst.  As a result, the good ones (the majority) are taken hostage by the radical ones.

The West finds itself in a Gordian situation. It would prefer to avoid any sort of profiling. Intelligence is called upon but it does not always work and the sleeper cells multiply in a society which rests on pluralism and diversity. The courtship of the enemy with death is alien to a Western mindset which is bewildered by the rising nihilism.

The "caliphate" gave ISIL an added raison d'etre.   Contrary to Al Quaeda, ISIL has recreated the myth of a global caliphate and was also able to consolidate a land grab in Syria and Iraq. The two should not be confused.  Territory belongs to the praxis/logistics while the caliphate appeals to history/logos.   One is a concrete basis for commerce (?), regrouping, training, services, marriage bureau (yes); the other is a claim to the former Muslim commonwealth, which spanned an area from Spain to India and came as close as Vienna.

ISIL is not going to hide in the mountains of Afghanistan. It chooses the "plains". It is well organised, with a mastery of social media. It does not play defense, it chooses offence. It does not suggest past grievances, it claims future appropriation.

The West bombs what is no longer bomb-able and this strategy looks almost pathetic, given the dichotomy which exists between an organized coalition and a mutant adversary. History does not repeat itself in the same ways.  While there are similarities between past situations, when an "advanced" power falls victim to an enemy wrongly perceived as inferior, the comparison stops there. Former wars of liberation rested mostly on rational principles such as Marxism, anti-colonialism.  Here the main factor is a religious fanatical strand which is able to sell death for an aftermath of virgins and pleasure. How sick can a creed be?

Instead of fighting the abstract, one has to consider going for the "jugular".  Such a move cannot be done ex abrupto. A US diplomatic offensive is needed, mostly with the Sunni states and with the permanent members of the Security Council.  Iran, Israel, Turkey must be part of the equation.   So must Assad, the Palestinians and the non-states (by way of a third party). ISIL must be hit where it hurts most, in its territorial claim. The territory it covers needs to be taken away by all means.  Its de facto capital must be pulled out from under its control, as Berlin was taken from Hitler.  ISIL must be rolled back to the bunker of history, by all conceivable means.  If informed and consulted, too many Arab states will rejoice and the disenfranchised left in our midst will choke on their own anger. I fully realize the complexity and also the backlash, but at times one needs action. Leave the soliloquy for the matinee audience. 

This not about regime change or about a search for what is "not", as was the case in Iraq or to a lesser extent in Libya. This is about giving the fatal blow. This needs fast consultation with the Arab League, the OAU,  NATO, revised rules of engagement, and has to end in the destruction of Raqqah (in Syria) as a first step.  Symbols legitimate, their destruction hastens the end. 

The discussion in the United States lacks direction. The "left" injects gun control, while the right--in the first place the Evangelicals--tries to import other issues such as abortion, climate change, the overall right to bare arms, immigration, into the debate. The current times require clarity of purpose, not some anti-intellectual confusion. The timid hesitations at the top create an opening for grievances and innuendos which only debilitate the argument.

The President was supposed to make a transformational entree in the conversation. His address to the nation on December 6 left everybody confused. He spent more time talking about the "good" Muslims (most are) than about the heart of the matter. The strategy of the Administration remains unchanged, while proven ineffective. The broad-brush therapy, wherein gun control (a separate priority) is smuggled into a larger issue, is counter-productive. At the end of the day, the Oval Office speech fell flat. The strategy (?) remains the same, the worries unattended, the priorities "on sick leave".  The Americans were served the old professorial abstract Obama remedy, analytical to a point, ineffectual as can be the case. They hoped for a "reboot". What they got was the same old dish, warmed-up for the occasion. The President convinced few and disappointed most.   ISIL had a good night!

Thursday, December 3, 2015


The photos which were published on the occasion of the President's youngest daughter's 14th birthday show Obama as a proud father, self-secure, happy. Obviously he is a great family man.

His comments regarding the San Bernardino shootings show another Obama, a man who appears to be unable to leave behind some form of "holding pattern".  At this early stage of the FBI inquiry caution is required, of course. Nevertheless, the linguistic contortions of the President, who remains unwilling to call things by their name or to keep issues separate, are becoming a liability.  He leaves both the Americans "word shocked" and foreign leaders at a loss. In Heidegger's words he is more sollen than sein. His perceived aloofness has created a credibility gap. Foes and friends alike find themselves in a remake of "Delphy sur Potomac".

The Administration makes links where they are not warranted, creates expectations that stay empty, and takes half-measures which are unconvincing. From climate change to Syria, from terrorism to Iran, policies look shaky, in part because the President chooses to remain stubbornly hostage to his former commitments. Today's problems will not be solved by yesterday's policies. The man of "change" risks being seen as the ultimate immobiliser. 

America looks stuck in an approximated mood.  The Fed, the Pentagon, State, are perceived as being frozen in some form of "airplane mode".  Everything in the world seems to happen despite the United States, rather than because of them. This gives rise to a frustration, especially among Republicans. Unfortunately, they react in the worst possible fashion, making a further right-turn which pushes them into a religious/populist/reactionary frenzy. The Democrats resort to their spending/regulatory habits, with disregard (for now) for some form of financial discipline.

When America does not lead, understudies step in. This seldom benefits the quality of the play.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Le roi et la reine des Belges etaient en France quand Bruxelles etait sous haute surveillance.
Et alors ?
Neanmoins les questions sont legitimes, bien que les intentions soient au dessus de tout soupcon.
On est en droit de s'interroger sur la qualite de "l'entourage", qui est suppose conseiller le roi. Le capitaine du navire est suppose rester a bord en temps d'incertitude. 
Les temps du "twitter" accordent au moindre geste ou pas, qui pourraient apparaitre inopportuns, une importance qu'ils ne meritent pas. Autant eviter les pieges !