Tuesday, August 23, 2016


The  current mood on both sides of the Atlantic is morose.  In the US,  Europe is seen as a failed experiment.  The Nobel Laureate Joseph E Stiglitz has written a highly critical essay about the euro as the mother of most ills.   Added to this, Brexit, terrorism, and debt crises complete a dark picture.  In the US the Republican nominee is a loose canon candidate, unfit to govern, unable to discipline himself, dangerous to come near the nuclear code.  His campaign is now in the hands of an apocalyptic team steered by Ultras Stephen K. Bannon (Breitbart News' Attila) and Roger Ailes (formerly Fox News molester-in-chief ) and the Neanderthal-thinking John Bolton (Dr. Strangelove).  Nothing is off limits in the attack on Secretary Clinton: personal health, the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, emails. The Democratic nominee has problems coming forward with straight answers, which creates a negative frenzy in the ranks of the ultra-Praetorian squad around Trump.

Both Atlantic partners are undermining their credibility for reasons of populist discontent, which benefits both the irresponsible and the uninformed. America has become a tale of two cities on the east and west coast, with very little in between. The Evangelicals and the unemployed in this center should not feel snubbed by the "elites", nor should they be taken for granted and lied-to by the Right.  The Brexit has left Europe divided. Without the United Kingdom, the EU loses a more emancipated worldview. The German, French and Italian cluster does not compensate for London's unrivalled role and familiarity in and with the larger worldview. It will be interesting to see how the Netherlands will act in the future. This largest of the smaller members has a historic and cultural empathy with the Anglo world and starts to be impatient to consider switching solidarity for management.

Is the Atlantic world a broken one?  In the unlikely hypothesis of a Trump presidency, the Europeans risk becoming distant, afraid of this nuclear warlord without credentials.  On the other hand, the European project is on hold.  It is not a failure (yet). Quoting Voltaire on the Holy Roman Empire:  "It is neither holy, nor Roman nor an empire". The same might apply to the EU.  It needs to rebuild a capital of trust. It needs to show that it is not the monolithic superstate decried by some American media. After all, the member states still need to translate Brussels directives into national law! At the end of the day a Europe of nation-states might be more coherent than a bureaucratic behemoth. The EU could still reinvent itself by actively considering new policies which are too complex to be solely taken over by member states: global warming, terrorism, mass migration, digital revolution, a credible common defense and foreign policy.  Putin seems to like (?) Trump because he might get a freer hand in his near abroad. I doubt that Trump would ever be invited to make a speech in Berlin. Secretary Clinton is obviously the only knowledgeable, prepared candidate, who would be welcomed by Europeans as well as by the more trustworthy world leaders.

Both sides of the Atlantic will need nerves of steel and shouldn't get lost in self-fulfilling wrong prophecies.  A Trump victory is unlikely, but he will be in the daily news for his outlandish, gratuitous one-liners, which have a killing impact. Secretary Clinton needs to consult Descartes and ban her triangulation mode.  The EU cannot let the disparity between northern and southern Europe deepen. The weaker the southern member states become, the more congested and strategically endangered the north and central members become. Putin cannot be allowed to pick what he might be ready to grasp.

America and Europe have yet again to realize their relative interdependence. Churchill and Roosevelt were the best of allies, but they did not refrain from bad-mouthing each other and setting traps, as FDR did in Yalta.  Love is not a pronged honeymoon, it is a long uphill battle.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Some might still remember the image of Aylan Kurdi's small body washed ashore on some anonymous beach. He came to symbolize the "end" of a migrant's personal story.  Now we have the image of little Omran Daqmeesh,  shell-chocked in Aleppo.  He stands for the "beginning" of another personal story.  It seems that world attention needs the shock of a sudden image to entangle itself from the daily horror routine which looms too large and repetitive  to awaken indignation.

Syria is a Sartrian hell wherein everybody has become everybody's enemy. The better ones are dying. The bad ones are talking...or bombing.  Assad & Co. got a free pass, after a red-line was ignored, and the usual handlers of Assad--Russians, Iranians and their acolytes--have had their day since. The West continues talking about talks.  At least a no-fly zone might have helped...a little bit.

For now, the image of little Omran will have its short life span, just as Omran maybe, alas !

Monday, August 15, 2016


Enough of the minutiae of the American current electoral abyss...for now!  Let me just say that a Trump loser might even be even more aggressive than the crazy Trump of now. The Americans think they have seen and heard it all. Well they haven't.

The White House appears on lock-out. After Labor Day this will change for sure and the President will be an active participant in a presidential election unlike any other.  This does not stop problems from piling up both at home and abroad.  In the US, a healthy economy still does not deliver the goods. Abroad, Syria and Ukraine could ignite greater upheaval any time.
Ukraine would be Trump's turf since his campaign manager is at home in Kiev (Ancien Regime).  Syria is more serious.  It is to the Obama legacy what Iraq is to George W. Bush. Both presidents made mistakes of an historical, irreversible importance. The second Iraq war dragged the shaky Arab Sykes-Piquot construction into the abyss.  For syria, a formula should have been negotiated which presented a temporary face-saver for Assad and a path toward a more lasting encompassing governing formula. But now the situation has changed and Assad is no longer under immediate pressure.  Ambassador Holbrooke, who was able to get all the parties in the Bosnian conflict talking, would not have hesitated. After all, Milosevic likewise had his days in Dayton and Rambouillet... before ending up in the Hague !

After the American volte faceRussia saw its chance and seized the opportunity. Assad received a renewal of his life-support and Putin was able to slowly regain influence in the region as a whole. Today, America plays a second role.  Unfortunately, this Russian push continues, far and deep. True, this comes at heavy price for a country in dire financial straits, but Putin's system plays on xenophobia and nationalism.

President Obama's Middle East policy--the same goes for Ukraine--is stuck in a restraining jacket which curtails creative diplomatic or strategic initiative. He has become the unwilling Siamese twin of the Kremlin thugs, a hapless Castor to a cynical Pollux. The Russians have made him an unwilling de facto accomplice of what they do, without any return benefit. Imagining what a President Trump might come up with makes one run for safety.  Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and further on Afghanistan, are all in the eye of the storm, not to mention America's Sunni allies.

One cannot exclude an October surprise and it looks as if Putin has all the cards:  Mrs. Clinton's repetitive hacked emails, another Ukrainian incursion, some Baltic teasing, Turkish delights, fun with the Shia, and one can go on. Fortunately President Obama, who might regret his strategic blunder, is nevertheless a man of "reason", which is the only thing we can still hope for in times wherein truth is one's latest mood (Thanks Oscar Wilde).

Monday, August 8, 2016


What is America today?  President Reagan spoke about the shining city on the hill. But then he was to the political discourse what Disney represents for movies. Do not misunderstand me, Disney was a game changer and movies are important.  President George W. Bush saw America as the blueprint for democracies worldwide. We know what became of that.  President Obama looks at America as the "cool power", averse to over-reacting and -reaching.  There is still Tocqueville, remember?

Now we have two presidential candidates with very different worldviews.  Mrs. Clinton represents continuity with a hint of more edgy engagement.  Trump sees America as needing to be protected by a circle of wagons, pursuing purely narrowly-defined goals.  The world, and to a large extent the United States, prefer Mrs. Clinton's experience to Mr. Trump's unpredictable vicious inroads into the insult.

Both campaigns are shrill and mostly negative. Mrs. Clinton has no alternative but to retaliate and Trump follows his killer instinct, which generally boomerangs.  Replace Hitler's statements about "Jews" by "Mexicans" or "illegal aliens" and one finds exactly the same narrative in Trump's more outrageous outbursts. 

Is the American spirit in jeopardy? No, it is on hold. President Obama chose distance over proximity and this mindset leads a large part of intellectuals and commentators--Democrats and Republicans--to snub what has become indeed an unwatchable spectacle. The moral compass has been sidelined and as a consequence America can no longer claim enlightened leadership, for the moment. The Obama years were, paradoxically so, often felt as years of aloofness. Trump is able to play on this yearning for direction, while Mrs. Clinton has to fight against nature--her "indirect" temperament--and against a candidate who often acts like a psychopath who cannot be trusted with the nuclear codes.

One shouldn't over dramatize though. There are enough voices speaking out against bigoted provincial, political and economical half-baked proposals. America has no choice but to remain engaged in the world, in strategic priorities, in trade and in leadership. The country cannot afford to become a small-minded Rotary Club gathering of the socially inept and the intellectually shunned. 

Mrs. Clinton's win will be about both continuity and change. The Obama moral construction will stay, but the more unpleasant avatars of those last years will be taken up, rather than being relocated in an intellectual purgatory. Soft-power no longer suffices in this theatre of rogue actors and hard-core threats.  Hard-power will have a come back, and so will hard talk, so that polite self-restraint can no longer be confused with nonchalace. America, and the Western world in general, pass through a crisis of shaken self-respect. The saboteurs of the former creative Western concept were able to infiltrate the core ideas of the former Atlantic charter. We need more Churchill, not less. 

Trump is supposed to be a "transactional" type of character.  If everything becomes a deal, everything risks becoming equal.  The world cannot become a level playing field. It is a battle for the soul. The trenches are a thing of the past. There are, as President Obama rightly argues, "dumb wars" indeed. But there are also battles that need to be won. There are necessary, moral challenges.  ISIL, the Assange's of today, cyber-aggression, monetary manipulation, among others, need to be fought by specific, tailor-made means, which exclude no option while forecasting none either.

Candidate Sanders should not be forgotten. He highlighted the shortcomings of globalization and of an American economy which is seen as being unable to correct the concentration of income in the hands of a small financial elite.  Actually, the US macro-economic data are good. Russia, the other BRICS  (India excepted), the EU, MERCOSUR are stuck in structural recession, aggravated by falling oil prices. The US problem is one of distribution and of a stubborn income stagnation for the middle class. Mrs. Clinton will have to engineer an economic model which goes further than the usual infrastructure and tax incentives. Small enterprises, start-ups need encouragement. Executive pay, concentration of too much for too few, cannot remain off-limits.  She will also have to resist the excesses of the anti-globalization, anti-free trade camps. The TPP is of vital importance not only for trade with Asia (minus China)  but also for making the "pivot" to Asia real.  On climate change she is on the right track.

The danger of a populist revolt is real.  Most revolutions are started by few before being taken away or stolen away by many. If the starting point is creative, the tumult can still make room for correction, where needed. If the premise is demagogic, the consequences might be nefarious. In the case of Trump there is the story of an individual who followed a business pattern so aptly described in Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Christo. The pattern is one of short-term opportunism and profit taking, rather than one of long-term vision.  Paradoxically, the man in the Fifth Avenue gilded cage has followers among the frustrated white working class who see salvation in a businessman who played financial "hit and run" and who has never shown any empathy with any of them. His catastrophic, pessimistic message resonates nevertheless in households stuck in an empty narrative which becomes an echo chamber for political frustration.

The next presidential election is existential because it is less about competing programs than about a clear choice:  a claim to destiny versus accommodation with narrow mindedness. The candidates are no visionaries.  Still, one suggests writing a new chapter, while the other talks about closing the books.

Friday, August 5, 2016


The Trump campaign keeps piling up lies, creating a nauseating brew which is the ultimate affront to good taste and manners.  If this were not enough, the sons of Trump emulate their father, alienating now Greens and animal lovers after the publication of their photos on safari in, of all places, Mugabe's Zimbabwe.  Some decency is still warranted to spare Mrs. Trump from other indignities.

Frenzy takes over from better intentions. On all issues, Trump is entangling himself in spoiled rotten kid tales, which fatally come home to roost. 
Just like the Nazis talked about building an Eastern Wall against the "dangerous human reservoir" in Asia, he continues to serve one or more bombshells a day.  He has become perfect material for another Ian Kershaw best-seller.
Most establishment Republicans are running for the exit.  Others sweat it out. They must be tone deaf.

On the Republican side, the current presidential election is no longer about ideas.  Instead, it has become hostage to a pathological candidate, who knows nothing and brags about it. 

Poor GOP !

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Trump's totally unacceptable comments regarding the short appearance of the Khans--who lost their son during combat in Iraq--in the Democratic convention, went one step too far...or can he go even further? The Republican nominee disguises his ignorance in insult. Since the space for faux pas grows with every Tweet he sends out, more lies and mayhem will likely follow.  It is time for the Khans to return to their privacy, otherwise they risk being manipulated by others. Their genuine grief and indignation created a shock-wave larger than the more personal outrage and emotion they so convincingly conveyed.  The Republicans are trapped by the doings of their candidate, who starts to act like a wounded animal, biting in all directions. The contortions of the party are painful to watch.

Instead of talking about the economy, the first concern of the celebrated white male blue-collar voter, Trump continues to indulge in personal attacks, showing how immature he is to genuine thought.  The Democrats are having, for the time being, a go forod time and ride. The Benghazi/email sagas will nevertheless pop up again, with the hidden support of Wikileaks and others (who not shall be named). Unproven assertions stick, whatever Mrs. Clinton's answers or defense might be. The nativist, dark right-wing in the GOP will never stop waging war against the Democratic contender, who is in their eyes a hybrid of Lady Macbeth and the devil.

Mrs. Clinton should not waste too much time trying to convince the "brown shirts".  She had better appeal to the Sanders/Warren camp, the Independents, and the "thinking' Republicans. The Khans' words will have staying power but the short-term issues regarding an economy which is good in macro terms, and unconvincing on the micro level are the Republicans only attack line left. Trump, who never showed any sympathy for the working class, suddenly tries to be their ultimate savior and defender.  He will link Mrs. Clinton to the Obama policies. She better be over prepared with facts and numbers, since her opponent will present some US Gotterdammerung.  She will need Obama and the likes of Warren Buffet to show Trump the exit door.

Thanks to the Khans, the Constitution, Arlington Cemetery, and respect for pluralism have been injected into a conversation which otherwise might well have been hijacked by profanity. It is time to definitively come to terms with the psyche of a man, prisoner of inner voices and of an inferiority complex, disguised in the mantle of an inflated, faulty ego. America is not Il Duce territory.