Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed a framework for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian "impasse".  His principled, structured positions were known but were never "outed" in such an urgent way.  His presentation sounded like a rescue mission for a two-state solution, at a moment when the increase of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem risks making the possibility for a contiguous, governable Palestinian state impossible.  Furthermore, that there is no love lost between the Israeli PM and President Obama is a fact. The latter does not hide his antipathy for the outgoing American president. The former can hardly control his despise. 

If Netanyahu's calculus is to bet on the incoming Trump administration, so be it. It is clear that the time for ambitious ideological brainstorms is over.  The world order, which looked for awhile like having arrived at a globalized, desirable consensual point, is no longer.  History did not come to an end. It has been ripped apart. I suggested last year that the motto for international relations in the foreseeable future might be one of Neue Sachlichkeit.  We seem to be entering a totally amoral narrative, wherein only a deal is a gauge for success. The former inimical situations were, to a large extent, a battle between perceived good and evil.   Nowadays, this cold war imperative has been marginalized in favor of ad hoc placebos. The end of the pax Americana might be the beginning of the backroom deals a trois, between the Trump US, Russia and China. Unfortunately, the incoming American administration is devoid of the most elementary intellectual, cultural or philosophical particle. The two other "partners in crime" are not!

Kerry's sophisticated address sounded like the ending of an ambition to govern by creativity rather than arrangement. One can have a different point of view, but the staying-power of any counterpoint lies both in its proven historicity and in its daring to project for the future whatever the existential cost might be in the short-term.  I doubt that we will hear again the bold challenges of President Obama's many memorable speeches in Berlin, Cairo or Sandy Hook, or of Secretary Kerry's passionate plea for an Israeli/Palestinian peace. 

The future does not look bright and the signals received from the Trump administration in the making are frankly shocking.  History or diplomatic precedent are not obligatory erga omnes, but ignorance or contempt thereof could be lethal, given that both Russia and China have long memories and historical/ cultural self-esteem.  Many Trump voters already suffer from a hangover, finding out that they were duped. The wake-up call might arrive earlier than expected, but better later than never.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


What a year...another exceptional personality gone. Carrie Fisher's life looked sometimes like an obstacle course. She overcame all possible traps that might have gotten the better of anybody but her. 

Send us a postcard from wherever you are!

Monday, December 26, 2016


The Security Council voted a resolution condemning Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The United States abstained.

P.M. Netanyahu condemned the US vote in unequivocal terms. The relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv is a strange one. As much as the US military support for Israel remains solid, the chemistry between President Obama and the Israeli P.M. is absent. Under a Trump administration, improvement (in Israeli eyes) is expected.

A lot can be said about past and current dysfunctions. The deal between the US and Iran regarding nuclear weapons is working out, for now.  Still, it would have been better if a collateral existential issue, the recognition of Israel by Iran, could have been included. The diplomatic toolbox provides for enough alternatives to find a solution for this delicate issue. The unacceptable narrative on the Palestinian side continues to create a climate of increasing alienation and bad faith.  On the other hand, the same goes for all Arab states but this does not stand in the way of a cynical modus vivendi between Israel and many of the same Arab states.

President Obama followed in the steps of President Eisenhower who sent a resolution to the General Assembly of the UN, condemning Israel, France and the U.K. after their combined Suez attack in 1956.

P.M. Netanyahu, for his part, transgressed protocol when he addressed the US Congress over the head of the Obama Administration. Thin skin on both sides overruled wiser considerations.

It would be wise to deescalate. Obviously Trump's choice of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel might look like a blank check given to the Israeli P.M. However, personalities considered as too extreme in one direction or another can "surprise". This goes for the whole of the incoming US administration. The core of a fundamentally important partnership between Israel and the US remains unchallenged. The only democratic partner in the region deserves the respect of and support by both the United States and the EU. 

A two-state solution is the only possible outcome for a problem which drains Israel as much as the many willing to help. It is often impossible (Gaza) or hard (West Bank, Jerusalem) to find common ground with the Palestinians and the arteries, needed to keep a negotiation flowing, are hardening. The demographic clock is ticking. The outlines for a possible two-state architecture are known. Jerusalem remains a major stumbling block for now and any arrangement will require the input of more than two. Israel 's claims are just ones, as long as they also provide room for a form of "co-steering".

Security for all can't wait.


This often flamboyant-looking but by nature discreet man reminds us of the happier Princess Diana times...careless whisper.

His life ended "not with a bang but with a whimper".  He is missed already!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


The American president-elect likes to return to the "big stick" when he talks about China, accused of all evils under the sun.  Strangely enough, he prefers to give human rights a pass. Gordon Chang, who figures with Judge Napolitano and other usual suspects in the Fox/Madame Tussuad Wax Museum, is now again allowed to refer to his non-prophetic book (The Coming Collapse of China). Since its publication in 2001, no day passes since China, under "communist" rule, is advancing at a speed which should leave Mr. Chang mute. However, he continues lying because his, and other narratives, fit into the" false news" wave, dear to the Right.

Indeed China is cementing the South China Sea; It doesn't come close to finding an agreement with Japan over the disputed Diaoyutais ;it will not weaver from the 1972 Shanghai Communique between the US and China (One China policy). The president-elect's phone conversation with the P.M. of Taiwan is seen by Beijing as immature and uninformed. Everybody with some experience of China knows how faux pas can be frowned upon. One might like them or not, but the Chinese have their rules and their ways.  Besides, they know too well that they are America's lender of last resort. They will increase even further their influence in Asia after the probable TPP collapse.  This century will be Asian and its leading powerhouse will be China. It becomes abundantly clear that one is confronted daily with a stratum of strength which creates a widening gap with the prevarication of others. 

Paradoxically maybe, the Chinese are very good followers of Dr. Kissinger's strategic projections. They have become more adept, while the United States fell betwixt and between.  Obama's pivot to Asia is being hollowed by lobbies and the blatant ignorance of American lawmakers, to the chagrin of ASEAN countries which start to distrust Washington's quandaries. Just as what is happening in Europe with the Baltic States, the ASEAN countries doubt American resolve. President Obama's caution, and now Trump's unpredictability, have shaken the core of former trust. Ambivalence rules and the economic interdependence between the US and China tilts for now in favor of the former.

One should beware of generalization.  China has always impressed (Voltaire, Lord MacCartney, Napoleon) and South East Asia has always mesmerized and seduced.  Both entities distrust one another but both feel--in wicked or real terms --superior to the West, which retained from the encounter with the East a story line for operas, literature, the arts, without consideration for the sensibilities. These were good enough to feed fantasy but not taken seriously enough to be considered of equal, if not superior value.

Trump's first strange moves should not be magnified. Unfortunately, since Europe is a mostly irrelevant partner, only China and Russia have the upper hand.   The United States play "defense".  They consider themselves a Pacific power but to continue to be seen as such they have to retool their policy.Besides China, there is no place on earth where shrewd perspective, historical resentment and blatant cynical appropriation play such a major role. Before entering the game, one had better be familiar with the rules thereof.  Russia is not that great but comes in handy.   Kissinger's America could play on the Chinese need for face. But now the roles are almost reversed. America needs to save face not by bluster and bluff but by a multi-layered set of interests, consideration and the right mix of hard- and soft-power.  The South China Sea quarrel is a bad one. There are too many historical and recent pros and contras which actually play into China's hands. The Nationalist troops occupied some of the Paracels after WWII.  Other claimants such as Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei (!), Malaysia fall behind the geo-political Chinese fait accompli. The security of vital shipping lanes must be guaranteed now and a multilateral agreement between all parties might still alleviate tensions (which are more about gas, oil and other resources than about legitimacy).

The new US administration sounds eager to switch gears on a lot of standing issues.  There is nothing wrong with that as long as professionalism prevails.  So far, one only sees a group of people who play the role of a Greek chorus in some obscure play wherein the main protagonist receives applause for his daily or hourly swirls, whatever their value--proven or not--might be.  In this world, words do count and the future looks bumpy as a result.

Monday, December 19, 2016


This year has been a descent into hell.  It ended with the nihilistic outcome of the Aleppo siege under the cover of indifference dressed as Realpolitik. There is no Shakespeare to be found to wash the stain left on the Obama Administration after the "red line" reversal. Despite the disproportionate short-term (falsely) banal-looking impact of Brexit when compared to the Syrian tragedy, it could have lasting irreversible consequences for the future.

Just as 1848 was a watershed (for uneven progress) for Europe, 2016 might well have serious (negative) aftershocks. Then and now the brush fire spreads, torching everything standing in its way.  The British 'No' vote set in motion a chain reaction and a primal scream, heard in all European corners and during the recent ugly American political royal battle.  A movement has been unleashed which looks impossible to contain for the time-being. The danger lies in the amorphous brand of a discontent which is adverse to therapy, since it is a hybrid by nature. It is less geared to a specific set of claims than to an ill-defined overall frustration.   Sociologists and economists have come up with many reasons for this self-destructive malaise:  globalization, the 1% focus (income inequality), growing automation, immigration, terrorism (Xmas is no longer a safe heaven) etc. Taken separately or as a sum, none of those causes can explain the magnitude of the effect.

Western democracies find themselves in some existential struggle for legitimacy. The enemy is no longer a "there", it is a "here". The overall goal of reshaping a Commonwealth of countries united in the pursuit of agreed excellence is no longer considered as desirable. The model of a strong, self-centered leadership has become more attractive than the trans-border ideal of free movement of persons, goods and ideas. Trump's America and the Brexit avatars in Europe are no longer seduced by ambitious architecture. They choose to go topical, local, risk- free and parochial. 

The risks are multiple. If existing alliances or arrangements should never be immune to change, neither should they revert to references which can ignite fires that are hard to extinct. The last American and British upheavals are risky insofar as they are highly combustible and irrational. The vote precedes reflection, the gut takes over reason. Once the deed is done, reverting becomes impossible for an unforeseeable time.  When the more sobering appraisals reappear it will be very hard to correct the damage done.

A lot is being said regarding President Putin's supposed role in all this.  I believe that his "active" participation in current events is less relevant than the choice made by leaders in the US and Europe to procrastinate or to suggest lofty philosophical answers at times when the added value of "soft power" ( a Western monopoly, until now) is being overshadowed by raw "hard power" or by a new mix of ingredients (Chinese style).  Trump in America or the right wave in the EU are no aberrations. Both echo a new Zeitgeist of "shared insecurities". The Hegelian model is questioned and a synthesis between contraries looks out of reach, for now.

To return to Aleppo, the focus of the media and what is overall perceived as another abdication of the West have created a lasting narrative which is marginalizing "competing" stories in i.a. South Sudan, Yemen or Myanmar.   Do media still care about Mosul, since they are so concerned by this geographical small window into hell?

Maybe the West will benefit from a future wake-up call and find a way to reconnect again with the citizen. Washington, D.C. is being taken over by narrow interests. The EU is in Mayday-mode.  As a dispirited NATO moves into its new quarters, Moscow and Beijing sit safe in their existing abodes.  The world is adrift, and the danger is that it might look for safety in whatever harbor provides the best welcome.   Ideas have become an endangered species.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Since the election of Trump (by a minority of votes), WikiLeaks has suddenly gone AWOL.  At the same time, the prior hacking by Russia of the Democrats' emails has become irrefutable. 

The president-elect acts more like a Russian underling than an American statesman. When cornered, Trump has the irrepressible need to tweet and counter-act, not by correcting but by reaffirming.  His choices for high positions are open to legitimate scrutiny. The "chosen ones" are not all necessarily irrelevant, and that is what makes them potentially nefarious.

In the short term, the WikiLeaks silence is the best indicator of a former orchestrated cabal waged against Secretary Clinton. One can be critical of her chosen campaign mode but one is equally entitled to question the origin of the trickle-down leaks directed against her. The sole purpose was clearly to get a preferred candidate (without the strategic agenda of Secretary Clinton, disliked by the new czar) in the White House. Trump is not a willing accomplice of Putin. There is no need to cry wolf, yet, but the stakes are high. The Trump entourage looks more like a board meeting than a Kissinger/Scowcroft-type of laboratory, involved in world affairs. The 21st century priorities (i.a. climate change, governance, human rights, non-proliferation, terrorism, cyber) are disregarded in favor of a mindset wherein protectionism, climate change denial, trade wars, reversal of social achievements (womens' and LGBT rights, voting rights, Affordable Care...) rule.

Secretary Clinton is already being considered as the better opportunity "missed". It is hard to predict how long Republicans (Try Gowdy, Jason Chaffetz, Speaker Paul Ryan & Co.) will accept to play minor roles in this farce disguised as the Godfather IV sequel.  Self-respect is in short supply in certain circles.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


The President-elect is showing his true colors...peacock-like.  Day after day one has to face the reality of a man who becomes more of an American version of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and less the savior of the coal miners and the Rust Belt. How long will it take before the "deplorables" who voted for him will feel cheated?
His cabinet is filled with mostly plutocrats (who might be smart). His presumed choice for Secretary of State, the CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, is known more for his connection with Putin than diplomatic savoir faire.  Presidents have the right to correct former political and diplomatic priorities, and Trump is entitled to follow a worldview which is different from the one of his predecessor.  It has to be acknowledged that President Obama often followed a path of ambiguity, wherein skepticism often interfered with clarity.  Under Trump, the deck of cards is the opposite. He lacks any form of moral, historical references or doubt and appears to see power as a test of give-and-take, with no room for equivocation.  In his mindset, the anno 2017 Western Europe partner does no longer count as an equal, since he sees it almost devoid of "hard power".  He prefers the company of "partners in crime", both in his inner circle and in the world. His considerations are purely practical, cynical and devoid of any form of empathy. The formation of his cabinet gives a clear indication of his "instinct and bluff".  He parades, flatters, ridicules, and manipulates without any form of courtesy or warmth. The victims are fools but so are the winners since everything becomes just a deal for convenience. His Vice-President plays the part of the anti-LGBT Sancho Panza henchman, which leaves Trump off the hook (sounds 1930s familiar).
We are watching a "coup" in modern Western terms. America is being taken over by the overhaul of what it was supposed to stand for:  pax americana, a force for the better (if not for the good), a moral compass, a laboratory open for the "other".  The post-electoral message is one of retreat, anti free trade (TPP), selfish purpose and moral  indifference.  We might enter a form of dictatorship of the "unproven".  The choice of (yet another) general, Michael Flynn, as National Security Adviser speaks louder than words.  He--and his son--share with others (Trump included) fantasies which have a more direct link with advanced paranoia than with certified truth.
Obviously, all this does not happen in a void. Obama's philosophical presidency left many loopholes and paradoxical situations. He refused to get involved in Syria but went out of his way to arrive at a deal with Iran.  He under-reacted regarding moves from both China and Russia, but took a bold move with Cuba and climate change. He achieved the Affordable Care Act but failed to find an overall modus operandi with Congress (which did not play ball). The President looked and acted at times too polished, too cool, more attuned to Shakespeare than to the vulgarities of power politics. Obviously, his successor has no need for books or references other than himself.  Hence, we can expect entertainment of a man with short attention span thin skin and little patience.
All this would be less serious in any other country than the United States. Under President Trump, the Western alliance might be ailing.  He has already trespassed all decorum when getting mixed up with Brexit, NATO, proliferation, Russia, China, alienating allies and pleasing the "post WWII borders denier".  His crass indifference to truth and experience is his bliss, recognizable in his choices for his cabinet. Imagine his ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, confronting her formidable Russian counterpart....speaking of catnip!
What is at stake is the major contribution of America to world affairs. From the day of their independence on, the new United States stood for enlightened governance, often with mixed results. Indeed, the war between the states, the slavery stain, the often crude and erratic foreign policy stood too often against the principles enshrined in Jefferson's ideal and in the Federalist Papers.  Still, there was always a push to improve what went wrong. Now that the power has been outsourced to mostly captains of finance and industry, the decision-making will be made in some form or other of boardroom deal and expediency. The lofty goals set up around the League of Nations, the Dumbarton Oaks order, the Peace Corps, the Alliance for Progress, the Great Society look suddenly almost obsolete. Obama tried, with uneven success, to consolidate this formidable heritage, but ended up being both a perpetuator of history and its final undertaker. Trump will divest his administration of most forms of truth, social justice and continuity. He anesthetizes the Republicans and will "Tweet" his mood swings over the heads of all branches of power. The executive and legislative powers are already echo chambers and the Supreme Court will be packed with narrow-minded constitutionalists. The Russian hag (?) is a sword of Damocles which will test the Republicans ulimate bona fide.
Europe is the big loser.  Sitting between an aggressive Russia and an indifferent Trump administration, stung by Brexit ( which will create major after shocks in the future), hit by structural dysfunctions, it is adrift and risks becoming irrelevant. True, the President-elect has so many loopholes in his curriculum (past and present) that he is a prey for impeachment. However, the Republicans are already neutered and the Trump machine will be a formidable force. Wall Street is partying on the coffin of Dodd-Frank. The oligarchs and "strong" leaders in all parts of the world will have their day!
Nevertheless, this American Cromwell had better be cognizant that the Restoration could have a come-back, with a vengeance. 

Monday, December 5, 2016


The Italian P.M. Matteo Renzi lost the constitutional referendum by a large margin.  He made the same miscalculation as David Cameron, presenting the vote as a judgment about himself rather than about the issues at stake. The "hubris" in those situations often backfires.  The result is bad for Italy and for the EU. It comes at a time when France, Germany, the Netherlands are faced with equally difficult choices in the near-futures. The euro and the institutional challenges risk being challenged by the same dark forces which gave us Brexit and Trump.

It is normal that democracies are exposed to some form of Hegelian dialectic. Unfortunately, in Italy and elsewhere opposition reposed mostly on an anti-intellectual, anti-historic mantra. The so-called working class has become an agent for regression. Rather than fighting for competitive modern jobs, they fight on behalf of arguments rooted in fear and denial. Instead of welcoming opportunities for change and technologically advanced alternatives, they defend a social order biased against free-trade, globalization and high-quality employment.  In the US, the Trump doctrine is already making the wrong moves which might end up only giving the Rust Belt a new lease and not a healthy awakening.

Returning to Italy, one might fear that most of Southern Europe's ills--in Greece, Italy, Spain--
could spread and further undermine the cohesion of the EU.  There is no other way but for the member states to remain on the same page.  By the way, the populist factions are the unwilling (?) handlers of Putin's ambitions. As in America, certain conservative forces in Europe have become disenchanted with the acceleration of a secular cultural tempest, considered elitist in the pursuit of a model of society disregarding a labor force stuck in irrelevant jobs. The added value of this technological age is looked upon with suspicion and disdain.  Proposals made under the umbrella of clean energy, climate change, better education, and equal pay fall on deaf ears. Candiate Clinton's message here was equally "returned to sender" by those who would have benefited the most.  P.M. Renzi fell victim to the same agents of "non-change".  The EU has to address this visceral paranoia which exists in one form or another in all member states. Nigel Farage is a buffoon but this aberration finds a large audience. The Italian five-star movement with Beppe Grillo (Trump admirer) who led the fight for a "No" does not look or act like a serious player in this allegro ma (non) troppo, but there as here, never say "never"...  Grillo wants to leave the Euro zone!

Italy will find itself in a political quagmire. One can expect to see a bruised euro and a crisis which might affect too many in and out of Italy while serving the short-sighted impropriety of too few.  Pessimists foresee a possible U-turn from Italy regarding the EU. The Treaty of Rome without Italy is a non-starter. The aftershocks of this referendum will be unpleasant. They will not be fatal. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Quelqu'un m'a suggere une proposition arguant que Trump et Houellebecq avaient en realite une forme de nihilisme en partage. La verite chez le premier n'etant qu'une succession d'affirmations contradictoires et non verifiables. Chez l'ecrivain elle serait costituee d' un assemblage arbitraire d'evenements subis.
Cet argument me semble une juxtaposition inconsideree de deux incompatibles.

Houelebecq transmet une inquietude horizontale tranchante. Trump est fondamentalement a-philosophe, non ideologogue et en fin de parcours "banal". Bien sur, chez l'un comme chez l'autre l'Occident est envoye aux urgences. L'ecrivain fait un diagnostic et ne suggere pas de remede. Le politique / medecin en chef est un charlatan vantant une therapie bidon.

Au demerant, l'emotion que l'un et l'autre peuvent engendrer repond a des ordres tout a fait opposes. Si l'ecrivain sait assumer le "suicide occidenntal", le president americain elu n'en est que l'accelerateur involontaire. Peu importe le deficit existentiel. Pour le pyromane, seule compte lincendie.

Un peu partout en Europe et aux Etats Unis s'installe une sorte de resignation lethargique et d'homogeneisation perverse.

Houellebecq est souvent considere comme etant trop pessimiste. Au regard de sa lucidite desabusee, les etats d'ame de l'Ubu Roi Americain peuvent preter a  rire et c'est en cela aussi qu'ils sont dangereux.

Entre Socrate et l'homme du batiment, faites vos jeux.