Sunday, December 24, 2017

L'AMERIQUE DEPRESSIVE.

En 1992 Francis Fukuyama etait considere comme l'analyste politique clairvoyant, voir meme prophetique, decrivant l'incontournable avenement d'un modele occidental victorieux, au milieu des ruines carbonisees d'alternatives epuisees, marxiste ou tiers- mondiste. Les Etats Unis devinrent la reference incontestee pour un monde embrassant la pensee unique. Cette situation acccelera l'arrogance des uns et le desarroi des autres. L'Amerique allait regner, incontestee, l'espace d'une decennie.

Comme il peut  arriver, l'empire US, comme la grenouille de La Fontaine, a manque de mesure et s'est surestime. L'arrogance a suivi le parcours connu des graphiques economiques, du decollage a l'atterissage en catastrophe. G.W. Bush a ete le pilote malchenceux de cette acceleration negative. Obama a reussi a redemarrer l'engin mais la precarite heritee a pese lourd sur la rentabilite immediate. Aujourd'hui, les lubies de l'apprenti sorcier Trump creent un chaos dans lequel tous les extremes ont desormais carte blanche.

L'Amerique a ete longtemps consideree, a juste titre, comme une societe positive,  reconnue comme terre d'accueil et d'innovation. L'avenement de Trump a immediatement altere cette "donnee". Le pays est fondamentalement (structurellement ?) divise, bien qu'en realite ces deux camps opposes partagent une morosite, voir meme, un pessimisme en aval, similaires. Les Americains se sentent aujourd'hui mal aimes . N'ayant pas l'habitude d'etre ostracises, ils boudent, aussi a domicile. Le president qui accumule en sa personne toutes les pathologies demolit les normes, les vocabulaires et les imperatifs admis. S'il n'y a pas de mal a remettre en cause les certitudes anterieures, cette revision doit encore etre legitime. Or ce qui se passe ressemble plus a un reglement de compte qu'a une alternative reflechie. Si la diplomatie peut ressembler a un exercise Hegelien, elle ne peut degenerer en une roulette russe. Or l'Amerique choisit maintenant  de vider precipitamment les lieux du multitalisme sans payer le loyer. L'immeuble de l'ordre mondial est abandonne aux squatters...

"Squatters" est au demeurant un mot qui ne convient pas. Les nouveaux pretendants de l'ordre sont redoutables. La vertigineuse percee de la Chine et le retour de la Russie consituent des ajustements majeurs . Il s'agit d' avancees existentielles et non de pages feilletonesques du "Le lys dans la vallee" (pardon Balzac) . Trump n'est qu' un Silene ivre d'adulation, joue par d'autres, plus sophistiques. Il a cree autour se sa personne une figuration opportuniste ou mediatique (Fox / Breitbart) qui sert continuellement la dose de realite alternative dont il a besoin . Cet homme autoritaire mais incertain  s'entoure de  flateurs.  Il faut esperer que la psychose de "mal a l'aise" ne devienne terminale. Tout est mis en place - dans les secteurs de lajustice,  de l'environnement,de l' intelligence,du climat, de l' economie, de la presse, entre autres- pour accelerer un demembrement systhematique du tissus democratique et du premier amendement.

Le label de "defenseur du monde libre" accorde a l'Amerique a toujours eu un cote exagere. Certes, militairement les Europeens etaient les sous-traitants des Etats-Unis. D'autres l'etaient moins ou ont prefere degager. Autant il y avait un courant qui passait entre Europeens et Americains ( malgre le  court - circuit iraquien) , ce mariage que se disputaient le coeur et la raison restait solide. Maintenant il est en crise. Le monde se regroupe autour de plusieurs poles, en premier lieu la Chine e la Russie (l'Eurasie) . L'une et l'autre avancent. Elles le font avec d'autant plus de determination que le reve americain est devenu cauchemar. L'alternative europenne peut devenir un contre poids a condition  que l'UE evite les pieges-maison et qu'elle reusisse a dompter  ses demons interieurs. La France semble en tout cas savoir ou aller. Encore faudrait-il que d'autres la suivent. L'Europe a sans doute un grand pouvoir seductif ,"soft power". Plusieurs zones de conflit sont desormais plus disposees a ecouter la voix de la raison sans quid pro quo, plutot que de se soumettre a un gymkhana impose avec des conditions leonines . Le president Macron a suggere un nombre de reformes qui devraient rendre a l'UE son ambition. Encore faut-il que l'Allemagne co-pilote ce projet.

Il ne s'agit surtout pas de devenir anti-Americain. Il ne faut pas confondre l'avatar, l'accident de parcours avec un divorce. Le couple Atlantique a besoin de respirer, c'est tout. Il vaut mieux choisir la distance  occasionnelle que de risquer le naufrage d'une ambition trans-Atlantique. Si la moitie Americaine est malade, l'autre moitie doit intervenir, jusqu'a ce que la raison reprenne le dessus. Cela risque de prendre du temps, helas.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

WE HAVE SEEN BETTER DAYS ('As You Like It', II.7.121)

Many in the United States have been walking into Trump's trap. His round-the- clock strategy is one of media occupation, connection and creating an alternative truth. Observers of  the political scene are out of breath commenting, feeling hurt, being repulsed--but by verbalizing frustration one only ends up adding another layer to the "all about Trump" narrative. The president doesn't fear crosswinds, he enjoys them.  He loathes to be "ignored". 

It is going to be difficult to measure one's animus given that the looming "tax break", the Mueller investigation and many major bumps in the road will ignite tensions that will be difficult to ignore. Self-discipline is a craft which does not come easy but the media should not become the unwilling accessories to their own compulsion and to a nefarious strategy, waged against constitutional rights, freedoms and democracy as a whole.

It is nevertheless certain that major events will create one or more political storms of an unforeseeable magnitude. The Republicans got their "contradictory" tax cut and will cling to that like the shipwrecked cling to their lifebelt. Contrary to what happened during Watergate, one should not expect a resurgent principled revolt from that side. The Democrats have to address an unavoidable future existential crisis in terms of constitutional righteous claims which transcend the usual narrow political interests.

It is becoming clear that Trump is getting closer to the authoritarian mindset of some and that he rejects what he perceives as the inglorious workings of the EU. He sees glammor in hard-power and, being non-cultured himself, prefers to ignore the added value in soft-power. The US is already losing its edge in what was its former strength. China is remapping the lanes of information and is rebooting its own "dream machine". That Trump is seen as playing in some right-wing Yalta with Putin, Erdogan and Co. tells a lot about this administration's Zeitgeist. To make a parallel between what is happening now in America and former events in Europe in the late '30s is no longer taboo.  President Obama warned lately that the democratic rollback in the US could well lead to the rise of a form of Nazism. The former is already present in the "alt right" and in the words of the pseudo-Bannon intellectuals. Fortunately the vast majority of Americans are not buying into the autocratic models which are scaring off most (as could be seen in the Alabama senatorial race).

At the end of the day, the choice is between a breakdown of shared priorities, intelligence, democracy and an ugly level playing field wherein opportunism goes hand-in-hand with any convenient alternative reality wrapped in a tweet.

The noise will continue unabated. Earplugs are recommended!  Commentary will not be discontinued, albeit in a more user-friendly tempo.


 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

THE ALABAMA VEDICT

Contrary to most expectations the Democrats won the Senate seat in Alabama. Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore, and in doing so he gave the Republicans--in the first place the president and Steve Bannon--a slap in the face. Trump was humiliated and the GOP returned to its own unappealing bickering and moral abdication. In true fashion, Moore did not yet concede and it can be expected that everything will be considered to try discredit this win for Democrats. The arguments about a "rigged" system will flourish anew.  If Moore had won, the same system would have been commended as fair, of course.

However, the Trump machine will not be stopped, neither will his base be demobilized or chastened. The monster of creepy isolationism has been awakened and has to be fed. The White House will continue to serve it the red meat it  craves. The permanent unreal news cycle created by spin, allegation and weaponised contempt could even grow larger, under the baton of the Huns in Fox News, now the de facto war machine of this administration. 

Trump is dismantling the state under the name of deregulation.  Likewise, he is averse to support America's soft-power abroad, preferring military posture and creating a diplomatic vacuum wherein China and Russia are too happy to intrude. Foreign policy is mostly conducted for the sake of a bigoted electoral base which is, by the way, totally ignorant of the world as it is. The ruling home based priorities are rooted in a narrow agenda. The lies benefit the chosen conservatives while penalizing the more enlightened majority others, who veer between despair and revolt.

Democrats should reconsider their strategy--starting by reviewing their leadership--and pay more attention to the urgency of a contemporary agenda rather than to the survival of bygone models.  They can leave the "coal" to the Republicans and go for R/D, climate, health care, renewable energy, new technologies, inclusion.  It has become clear that, in the short term, all efforts to convince the Evangelicals & Co. are doomed. Better to skip the missionary work and come together around a blueprint for the future.

Trump will nevertheless continue to get a blank check from the GOP and to set a bad example of how to abuse and misrule. Republican senators might actually be relieved at not having the toxic Alabama Moses in their midst.  Politics in Trump's America "smell to heaven".


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

TRUMP AND JERUSALEM ; MUCH ADO ABOUT THE BASE

Trump has announced that the US now recognizes Jerusalem as capital of Israel. At the same time he confirmed the support for a two-state solution and left open the question of Jerusalem's future contour.  In so doing he gave in, yet again, to his base of Evangelicals.  He made Israeli P.M. Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson happy, made Mahmoud Abbas' life even more miserable and finally upset the Arabs, the Europeans and everybody else.

Otherwise his address was short on substance. One is entitled to wonder what Jared Kushner's and Jason Greenblatt's "efforts" regarding the peace process amount to. It is too early to predict if the Arab streets might react but it is clear that the Arab leaders are unanimous in expressing their concerns for the possible consequences of an unnecessary decision made for "home consumption".

The president has a most predictable psyche. He bites when he feels cornered, as is now the case with his lawyers creating a stampede among themselves to find a rebuke to the accumulating alarm bells coming out of the Russian probe. The tactic from the White House is to deflect, "over lie", and occupy the news cycle with more junk than can be found in the "space graveyard" which circles the earth.

The secretary of state was absent during this "major" address.  Tillerson had the non-enviable task to meet with blatant hostility in Brussels, of the kind that ruled the European waves before the second Iraq war. The esteem for things American in Europe is at its lowest point. 

From Lebanon to Turkey, from Syria to Yemen, Washington is seen as the unwelcome, clueless guest and spoiler-in-chief. France tries to bring some coherence to the situation but it is an uphill battle since MBS, the Saudi "Wonder Prince", is as unpredictable as his forays in foreign affairs (Yemen, Qatar) betray. It will be interesting to see how he will now react to Trump's own "fatwa".

In America, international policy has become "local." The most "far out" actions or statements have from now on to be seen not as game-changers abroad but as  gestures to placate Trump's base of "deplorables."  Other than that there is no there there.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

TRUMP AND PONZI

The US Senate has voted (Republicans versus Democrats) a tax bill few had an opportunity to read. The GOP has a Pavlovian reflex whenever the word tax cut comes up. They do not even take the time to debate or analyze, they follow their Pied Piper of Hamelin and prefer not to smell the rat!

Trump's former disgraced National Security Advisor finally admitted lying to the FBI. This new (not unexpected) twist comes at a most inauspicious moment for an administration which looks besieged and incoherent. The White House of booby- trapped cards circles the wagons, in vain.

The Secretary of State is openly ridiculed, waiting for his exile. He is losing clout and face by the day.  Few will notice the difference if he were to leave, since diplomacy is done now by Twitter.  In one week, Trump was able to offend the UK and the Netherlands. He had to swallow how Egypt rolled out the red carpet  for Russia and was looking at a loss for finding a rebuke to "Little Rocket Man". He is supposed to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel next week.  Any move should be part of a comprehensive, final agreement. In deciding a move now he might well jeopardize America's standing with i.a. Jordan and Morocco.

America, under this uninformed and intellectually lazy president, appears to be in the curse of  Steve Bannon, an unaccountable pseudo-intellectual and Leninist poseur (interesting analysis by Thomas Chatterton Williams in the Dec. 4 New Yorker about the French origins of the white-nationalist rallying cry). His populist, nativist message stands contrary to the "real" country which remains a melting pot of immigrants, diversity and talent. True, all those qualities are under siege but one feels that the impatience with the present permanent chaos is reaching a point of reckoning. Contrary winds are starting to get the better of the brush fires that have been lit and that are dangerously close to consuming liberal values, openness and diversity. The mood in the country is sour, but people are getting tired of this permanent warfare against all which most stand for.

Trump pays for playing up to his base by losing support from his allies and from the "other" America.  He risks ending up being seen as Putin's minor avatar, without the cunning brio of the Russian model.  By letting the last scandal pay for the previous one, and on and on, he is just another John Law or Bernie Madoff:  the maker of a Ponzi scheme. The Republicans will pay a high price for having contributed to the election of a president who came with so much overweight baggage!


Thursday, November 30, 2017

POPE FRANCIS

Since Pius XII, the world has got used to the Vatican's ambiguities. Now Pope Francis has chosen not to mention the persecuted Rohingya during his visit to Myanmar, creating another "riddle" in the Catholic church's struggles with truth telling. He might still bring the issue up while in Bangladesh, but the correction will be felt as having more to do with a diplomatic move than with concern for the humanitarian disaster unfolding.

The world looks as if it has lost its moral compass. Pope Francis is respected by all, believers or non-believers, but he lost an opportunity to help lessen the weight of the vacuum we find ourselves in.



Wednesday, November 29, 2017

L'AMERIQUE DEVENUE INDESIRABLE

L' Amerique de Trump est devenue largement infrequentable. Desormais il reste peu de place pour une relation de confiance avec les pays allies traditionnels. Le president ayant decide que lui seul compte ("L'etat c'est moi") fait table rase des politesses . Les rouages normaux du pouvoir sont sabotes et le pays n'a qu'a se debrouiller avec les lettres de cachet et les Tweets de la Maison Blanche. Tout cela se passe sans la moindre coordination (de toute facon l'administration est "purgee"). Les improvisations souvent malencontreuses font loi.

Une avalanche de realites alternatives couvre le pays reel. Le nouveau pays legal qui apparait est inquietant en ce qu'il privilegie l'interet de quelques uns et qu'il sape les gardes fou qui sont supposes proteger les droits de tous . Il ne se passe plus de jour sans qu'un reglement de comptes, sans qu'une autre fausse nouvelle, ne viennent perturber l'ordonnance politique. Trump a decide d'etre l'homme de l'ubiquite. 24 heures sur 24 ill creve les ecrans et les timpans. S'il n'a rien de substantiel a communiquer, il annonce, accuse, insinue n'importe quoi pour autant que cela mobilise ou occupe l'attention. Objectivement les media, pourtant critiques, collaborent. Accuses en permanence ils restent neanmoins des courroies de transmission.

Ces jours-ci, l'harcelement sexuel est a l'ordre du jour. Cela cree des contradictions qui seraient etonnantes sans plus si elles n'avaient pas de consequences aussi serieuses. Ainsi Trump, au parcours personnel pourtant douteux , appuie-t-il la candidature a un siege au senat d'un personnage accuse de faits sur mineures. Il entend eviter qu'un democrate ne soit elu, quitte a preferer le vice a la vertu. Une partie du pays le suit, ayant vendu son  ame a un populisme qui allie une religion pervertie a une vision primaire de la societe. Cette administration (pas vraiment majoritaire) s'appuie sur ce socle xenophobe .

Il en resulte que les milieux plus eclaires ou liberaux et l'intelligentia quittent le Capitole en masse et prennent le chemin de l'Aventin. Ceci a des consequences serieuses. En se faisant ils abandonnent le terrain. Le Departement d'Etat est vide. Les Ambassadeurs ne sont plus designes. Plusieurs secteurs importants sont desormais les fiefs de personnages sans experience, dont le seul objecitf est le demantelement des secteurs (climat, sante, environnement, education etc) qu'ils sont supposes gerer. Faute d'experience, cette administration joue encore a l'apprenti sorcier partout dans le monde tandis que la Chine et la Russie  avancent leurs interets .

Entretemps les enquetes sur une possible collusion entre Trump et  la Russie continuent. Deja il y a une multiplication de  contactcts avoues, decouverts, soupconnes. On est en droit de se demander ce qu'il faut de plus pour conclure que l'interference Russe est indeniable, qu'elle continue et que la machine Trump est activement impliquee. Le president, menteur en chef, persevere dans son bluff. Les Republicains ont trop peur de se le mettre a dos, sachant que la vengeance de Trump frappe fort. Son psychisme est construit autour d'une susceptibilite maladive, a fleur de peau, et d'un  narcissisme  qui supportent mal que ses lacunes et son ignorance  apparaissent en plein jour. Il est un president non historique en ce sens qu'il decide sans egards pour les retroactes ou pour la legitimite. Il ne devient malleable que lorsqu'il est flatte. Comme les enfants il adore les parades, le faste, les honneurs, choses dangereuses en ce qu'elles atrophient ce qui lui reste de jugement.

Aujourd'hui l'Amerique se sent mal dans sa peau, mal gouvernee, mal aimee. Ce pays qui etait considere comme positif est oblige d' encaisser la "critique categorique" des allies et l'approbation suspecte de ses complices. Obama qui etait parfois trop Hamlet avait reussi a sortir le pays de son spleen post Irakien, post 9/11. Son successeur pietine culture, esthetique, morale et vision. A defaut d'idees propres, Trump apparait avoir donne carte blanche a la mouvance de Steve Bannon qui semble etre devenu le Svengali de ce triste regime. Son nationalime et sa xenophobie pesent deja sur tout ce qui faisait de l'Amerique un laboratoire de creativite, de libre commerce, et d'internationalisme .

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT IN THE USA

Anglo-Saxon countries, the United  Kingdom and the United States, still show a peculiar puritanical DNA.  Biased laws survived in the British Isles until the Fifties and in the USA parts of the Bible Belt are still stuck in the aberrations of cults, religion and backwardness.

Today, in America the sexual harassment cases pile up. The culprits are sanctioned, rightly so. Non-consensual or forced intimacy are wrong. However, in the current polarized cultural war this mass hysteria can appear to become a war waged against the "liberal" elites or the establishment. The Trump administration is waging an overall attack against the media, news outlets, Hollywood and academia. This is the more paradoxical since the president has a curriculum worthy of that of a predator-in-chief,  but for Republicans "De minimis non curat praetor". The infamous Access Hollywood tape is downgraded to "locker room banter".

This guided strategy, in the shadow of an attorney general who looks the part of a villain in "To Kill a Mockingbird", can be yet another effort to deflect from the Roy Moore issue in Alabama.  It can also send Steve Bannon's (himself guilty of domestic violence) priorities into the fast-lane.

The correction of the "wrongs" cannot be achieved on the back of the "rights". This administration always uses deforming mirrors to hide its moral deficit and its denial of facts and truths. Not a day passes without revelations of lies and corruption. "Preoccupation" with misconduct is right as long as it doesn't become an "occupation" of the news cycle, meant to hide the fact that this king and administration are naked.

Europeans, among others, look on in sarcastic disbelief. Soon American intellectuals might again choose Europe's nonchalance over the local brand of narrow righteousness.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

TRUMP THE VIRTUOUS.

The bed in Delacroix's painting "The Death of Sardanapalus" is rather crowded. So is the one of the GOP which has to fit the president's body-mass and history. With Alabama's candidate for US Senate, Roy Moore, the God-fearing groper who could play Trump's Sancho Panza, this scene gets even more grotesque. 

The indignation of the evangelical Republicans is "sick".  It only shows that this puritanical wave goes hand in hand with the ruling absolute hypocrisy.  Republicans come up with their usual home-brew, pointing the finger at former president Clinton and Senator Franken (who apologized). Both cases are totally different in nature. Consensually sex- be it totally inappropriate- or some in  poor taste "play/ posturing " are  categories which are different  from gross loitering and pedophilia. Trump's unusual silence regarding Moore's "gun and genital antics" speaks for itself :  double standard, deflection (as usual) and running for cover, given his own past pedigree.

This episode shows yet again the nefarious consequences of America's puritanical awakening, since the Trump machine came to power. Western Europeans are often  accused of laxism in matters of sex. Nevertheless they are not sickly obsessed as some Americans are  and are adverse to the lethal mix of religion, guns and sexual paranoia. 

The Access Hollywood tape should be mandatory viewing. It is the right comment on the current Zeitgeist in parts of the American heartland which chooses party over morality and prefers to whitewash facts when "inconvenient". Trump fits this mood.



Monday, November 13, 2017

TRUMP'S ASIA TOUR

The American president's Asia tour was embarrassing. There are no other words. He reinforced the US overhaul of the former pivot to Asia policy. He recognized China's de facto leadership, giving President Xi Jinping an opportunity to steer the larger themes of globalization, trade or climate change. He tried to cozy-up with Japan, North Korea and Vietnam. He was serenaded by the Philippines' "Mr. Nice", President Duterte, of all people. All the leaders he met remained polite.

He brought his usual wardrobe, went off script and left some bewildered, bruised or not believing their eyes and ears. He acts like Pythia, the high priestess of  the temple of Apollo in Delphi, uttering surreal one-liners ranging from North Korea to the Indo-Pacific surge, without going into detail. Against all rules of protocol he attacked the American intelligence agencies in the presence of other leaders and  reiterated his "penchant" for President Putin both in words and by embarrassing body language.

The US administration, under this pathological president, is actually waging a war against truth in all possible domains, inside and outside America. Facts are the enemy, spite is the driving force since Day One. All accepted rules have to be reversed, while the institutionally accepted bedrock of international relations and alliances must be dismantled. The Trump/Bannon Republicans are the ultimate demolisseurs d'empire", in contrast to Boris Vian's "Les batisseurs d'empire". Hence, cabinet secretaries are practicing euthanasia on their own departments while abroad an empty State Department is no longer willing or able to monitor all the various theaters which are now barely outsourced to amateurs who are accountable to no one but the president. As a result the unknowns pop up, from Niger to Lebanon. 

The alleged "chaos theory" does not spare the former bi-partisan ideological consensus within the United states. The civil war by proxy between the conservative/evangelical camp and the Democrats/establishment Republicans is becoming ugly. The Poland/Brexit situations in the EU have a lot in common with the "survival of the whitest" here (while the more religious-leaning factors are more prominent in the US).  Steve Bannon is supposed to be the brain behind the war against the "deep state" and favoring the priority given to a mix of nationalism and nativism. Presently America is a vast conservative no-man's-land flanked by liberal western and eastern corridors.  The Trump base occupies this fly-over middle. Many observers see in the results of the partial elections last week a hopeful sign for the elections in 2018 (for a number of seats in the House and Senate). One can hope, but the Trump machine is changing the rules of the game by way of judicial appointees, electoral hocus-pocus, tax breaks, gun lobby and blatant corruption. In Trump's words, the Russia investigation is a "hit job". It is certain that the majority of his followers stick with him, whatever the news or outcome might be. It is likewise probable that he will come up with some form of a stunt in the Middle East or North Korea, whatever the cost, as long as the Barnum added-value is assured. Truth again will be the first to climb the scaffold. In Hilary Mantel's words: "Bring up the bodies"!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

BARON FRANS VAN DAELE MINISTRE D'ETAT

Tous ceux qui ont connu Frans Van Daele retiennent de lui l'image d'un diplomate intelligent alliee a un temperament d'homme politique redoutable.

Son savoir faire est reconnu par ses pairs, Belges ou Europeens. J'appartiens aussi  aux collegues qui lui accordent un talent et une intelligence au dessus du commun, mais qui restent reserves sur les aspects plus controverses d'un caractere suppose plus "Escurial" que convivial.

Son influence a ete determinante pour garantir une succession "controlee" entre Albert II et Philippe I. Au demeurant il a reussi a consolider un reseau de contacts hors sentiers battus en Belgique et en Europe. En tant que Ministre d'Etat il pourra, si besoin en etait, sortir le Conseil de la Couronne de l'oubli.

Il est bon que ce diplamate hors pair se voie recompenser par un geste innovateur.


 

Friday, November 3, 2017

THE UGLY AMERICAN IN ASIA

President Trump has left for his grand Asia tour. He leaves behind a trail of lies, gaffes and overall underachievement. He walks into a terrain which is booby- trapped from start to finish. Too intellectually and culturally lazy to familiarize himself with the sophisticated Asian ways, he will be the elephant in the porcelain room. After having killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership for no other reason than spite, he gave China what it wants and deprived Southeast Asia of what it needed. His zero-sum resume fits in his usual trademark outbursts. As he said, "I am the only one who counts"...it shows.

Speaking thereof, this administration is "spooked" by the inquiry into possible Russia collusion and its denials sound more and more hollow. Only Fox News continues to spread alternative scenarios and a narrative that would make Goebbels envious. Trump acts angry while the crime syndicate which surrounds and protects him is decimated day after day. The ship of fools is running empty. He might listen to his master's voice when summoned by Putin. After all, there is the "dossier" hanging over his head. 

The Asia trip is important. North Korea is a challenge that requires quite a bit of savoir faire. The Chinese might try to teach the president a lesson in the form of containment. Nevertheless they will present a Qianlong-like show. It is to be hoped that Trump will not have to return empty-handed like Lord McCartney. The allies, Japan and North Korea, will certainly beg for less noise and more subtle diplomatic and strategic support. Vietnam is as communist as they go but these United States seem to have chosen the good communists over the bad ones (Cuba). The meeting with Duterte is already bread and butter for Saturday Night Live. Most of those countries have, one way or another, disputes with China. The teleprompter will be the only lifeline to separate Trump from major  embarrassment. 

It is said that China is the rising power and that America is a power in decline. Today is appears so, indeed. The China "high" and the US "low" should nevertheless be considered in a more sophisticated spectrum. Both powers have to deal with almost identical problems: an "abroad" that is problematic and an inequality internally which is almost structural. Of course, the fact that China has almost become a legitimate equal of the US, says a lot about its progress. The absence of Europe in this global reshuffle is the result of both the lack of hard- power and the growing irrelevance of its soft-power. By the way, President Xi Jinping is slowly but steadily marginalizing the American dream which, contrary to its demise in Europe, is still alive in Asia, but for how long? Movies, media, revisionist history, policy, all join efforts and imagination to boost the Chinese dream and the return to the Middle Kingdom's might in the "world".

Trump is the worst emissary the West might have in China, or in Lee Kuan Yew's Asia (the ultimate statesman of Singapore's influence is second to none). He appears crude and gross, oblivious of others' sensitivities and impervious to cultural differentials. He will be flattered by the pomp but will remain tone-deaf to the message. Quid novi ?


Monday, October 30, 2017

LA CATALOGNE : EVITER LE MAUVAIS CHOIX

La Catalogne pose plusieurs problemes. Il est difficile de se faire une opinion sur la credibilite quantitative et qualitative du camps independantiste. La personnalite de Carles Puigdemont est ambigue. Enfin, le soutien populaire reste sujet a caution. La Catalogne est divisee.

Le probleme est plus vaste. La regionalisation est desormais un fait acquis en Europe. Au demeurant elle reflete des realites socio-economiques qui sont souvent transfrontalieres. Le Nord Pas de Calais et la Flandre Orientale sont un exemple type de realites que les frontieres n'arrivent pas a arreter. L'Union Europeenne a par ailleurs encourage ce genre de cooperation spontanee qui defie desormais les reflexes nationalistes ou protectionistes. Les etats ont pris acte et ont accorde une large marge de manoevre aux regions, type Ecosse, Flandre, Italie du Nord, Catalogne etc. Cette modulation doit etre bien geree pour qu'elle ne remette pas en question des equilibres parfois difficilement acquis. 

Relativiser l'existence des etats est perilleux. Il ne faut pas repeter des scenarios pervers du type Ukraine ou Georgie. Les accords d'Helsinki ont dailleurs propose des gardes-fou qu'il est bon de maintenir. Dans la regionalisation il ya assez de place pour permettre a des modeles federaux ou confederaux de trouver des ajustements innovateurs qui ne remettent pas en question des realites qui constituent la base de l'Union Europenne. Le divorce a l'amiable intervenu en Tchecoslovaquie est difficilement transferable a des situations hybrides. En plus une "independance" de la Catalogne ne conduirait pas a ouvrir l'UE a un nouvel etat, comme si de rien n'etait !

La sagesse demande que les membres de l'UE e se montrent circonspects et qu'ils ne posent pas des gestes inconsideres. L'Espagne est encore maitresse chez elle, quitte a trouver des solutions et arrangements pour sortir de la crise. Il ne faut pas que l'ambiguite qui prevaut en Catalogne se mette en travers d'une solution de la crise qui deviendrait difficile a gerer si l'independance voulue par plusieurs venait a compromettre la solution attendue par tous. 

On ne refait pas les cartes et frontieres avec un pourcentage. Carles Puigdemont joue avec le feu.




Wednesday, October 25, 2017

EUROPE/ USA : DISTANCE IS THE NEW NORMAL

Since the early days of the Trump presidency, it was clear that something was getting dark in the Atlantic partnership. The reluctance of the new American president to endorse NATO's Article 5 was an early warning of worse to come. Indeed, if misgivings on military burden-sharing were to be expected, the growing gap on more existential issues and free-trade is becoming a fault line which is grows larger by the day.

The behavior of this president is intolerable inside the US and outside. The insults, the lies, the pathological behavior pile up, while the democratic clout of the West is getting fragmented at an alarming pace. The UK is becoming an is land again. The Eastern flank of the EU is following a populist model. The original EU Six have no other alternative, after the German elections, but to follow the French intellectual leadership. In all those cases and scenarios, including the Eastern European ones, the United States has become the outsider, And it is becoming marginal in other parts of the world which it is increasingly alienating. There is a difference between making noise and making policy.

It is also sad to see the liberal ideas, which Europe and America shared, under siege because the follies of one. The former proximity in the arts, literature, the value system is gone. A reciprocal disaffection is actually unfair since in the US the opposition against this president is larger than his boisterous support. Unfortunately, the brutality of this permanent coup is creating some sort of stage fright which leaves the more civilized alternative on the defensive. In the original European Six there is so much repulsion versus Trump that the good is thrown out with the bad.

At times one has to take a difficult stand.  Now that a civilized inter-Atlantic discourse is becoming impossible, it is better to opt out and to go for distance. Some lonely political voices and most respected commentators in the US are speaking out against this worsening of this almost Brechtian scenario. Europe, however, had better awaken and take stock from all that separates it now from its former grand ally. The French proposals for a more existential EU are on target, a change from the old bureaucratic pattern. The clumsy politics in Washington have to be fought with better, inclusive, democratic ideas in Europe. When things got bad on the old continent, Europeans found refuge and support in America. Now, yet again in a new reversal, Americans have to find solace in Europe, which should not disappoint them!

The current American "fall" is not a Camus repeat. It is not existential. It is just plain sordid. The elections were not won, they were stolen. The virus needs to be isolated.  Experience teaches that it can be dangerous to board a ship which looks ominous and that to risk otherwise can have unpleasant consequences. Hybrids seldom respond well to appeasement. On the contrary, they become even more untrustworthy and reckless. Trump is no Minotaur: no head of a bull on a man's body.   He is just plain bullish.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

WHEN CHINA AWAKES...

Napoleon's and others' prophecies look almost pathetic when confronted with China's strides in the recent years. Past projections were daring in view of the times in which they were made but even the wildest outcomes imagined could never have foreseen what is happening today. Only the Kuomintang left-overs, Gordon Chang and Fox News, continue to feed the denial of facts (again). In recent years China was able to synchronize political, strategic, economic and military progress. President Xi Jinping has followed a binary path, making the Communist Party fashionable again and returning to the majesty of the Middle Kingdom. Chairman Mao himself followed many imperial precedents despite the terrible mistakes made in the name of some Hegelian dialectic. 

The Chinese economy is slowly finding an equilibrium, mostly in the eastern part. Xinjiang, Gansu and Qinghai continue to lag behind. Besides, the minorities who live in those regions remain largely impervious to what they perceive as a Han Chinese "heavy hand". Beijing has not been able to rally Uigurs, Mongols and Tibetans.  Elsewhere, the proximity of Guangxi, the poorest province, with Guangdong, the richest, is yet another example of regional inequalities which are becoming structural. The Chinese leadership is monitoring these situations and an ambitious policy to boost internal consumption, investment and infrastructure is under way. Some problems however are socio-cultural.  Beijing hides, too often, an iron fist in its velvet glove.

Trump gave China an unexpected gift in ending the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiated by President Obama. In doing so, he gave China carte blanche and sent negative signals to the US traditional allies in Asia who are arriving at the logical conclusion that it might be wiser to appease the neighbor next door than to please the unreliable partner far away. China can now pursue an unhindered policy of benign hegemony in Southeast Asia.  Tokyo and Seoul continue to play the American card for reason of self-protection rather than for love. Some argue that India will be a counterweight to China but such an outcome appears to be far- fetched, despite Secretary of State Tillerson's "enthusiasm".  President Xi has  also transformed the PLA into a formidable military force, and its sea power into a blue water navy able to patrol at large, as Admiral Zheng He did during the Ming dynasty.  Yet again, President Xi refers to history for matching purpose with fact.

After Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, many observers became pessimistic about the future. So were many residents. Beijing was too smart to walk into the trap of gross interference in the affairs of the new SAR (Special Administrative Region). The Chinese respected the letter of the basic law while being "creative" with the spirit thereof. China has become more like Hong Kong, while the latter is becoming more like China. They form one country with a few manageable  tensions since both are fairing well after the warm-up of the mariage de raison. The Han Chinese of the diaspora in Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia created an economic success model that became an inspiration for the mainland reform-minded Communists. Besides, they poured know-how and money into China directly or via Hong Kong.

President Xi belongs to the party's "nomenclature". He is also a man who knows his history and is all too familiar with the humiliations, occupations, and treaty ports of the past. The Middle Kingdom must receive again what it considers to be its rank and its due. The Communist Party is considered to be perfect link between a prestigious past and a promising future. In the past, President Nixon's acquiescence of the Shanghai Communique was considered a win for China. Today this would be considered insufficient.  Besides, an American president might feel snubbed, as was the case with President Obama. After all, America is in retreat. China is tomorrow's superpower. Too bad that the range of an ambition, which is impressive, is still stained by the induced Tienanmen amnesia which remains unforgivable. The Chinese dream needs to come clean !

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

LE CAUCHEMAR AMERICAIN

Les Etats Unis ont represente longtemps un reve. Non que y tout y etait parfait, loin de la, mais parce que tout apparaissait perfectible. Le prix considerable a payer pour cette vision positive etait justifiable eu egard au resultat probable. Obama etait  le symbole par excellence d'un elan qui semblait pouvoir mettre un terme, une fois pour toutes , a la traversee du desert des erreurs du passe. Ce "reve interrompu" est vevenu cauchemar.

Aujourd'hui la nouvelle admimistration americaine semble avant tout preoccupee de revenir sur les avances ulterieures. Le president a un comportement qui ressort a la pathologie, et  ses proches ont des mines de "bourgeois de Calais".

Dans les reations internationales le "Rien ne va plus" occulte tout le reste. En politique interieure Trump entend defaire les accoplissements d'Obama dans des domaines aussi divers que la sante,  l'environnement,  la justice et l'education. Elu par une base electorale ou l'extreme droite domine, il entend maintenir ce fonds de caisse, fut-ce sur le dos du progres. Tout se passe sur fond de chaos.

Aucun jour ne passe sans que Trump n'intervienne. Il poursuit ainsi une strategie d'occupation des medias qu'il accuse neanmoins d'etre porteuses de fausses nouvelles. Cette confrontation permanente, en direct, conduit a une guerre globale contre l'alternative liberale et au demantelement de la globalisation, consideree comme elitiste. Celle-ci doit ceder la place a un nationalime hybride  qui prone le protectionisme et un repli sur soi dans les domaines de la culture, de la sociologie et du commerce.

Le discours economique est domine par les idees de l'economiste Arthur Laffer., d'apres lequel la reduction par paliers de l'impot fint par accroitre le revenu de l'etat. Cette theorie fort contestee est defendue par les Republicains mais ne convainc guerre d'autres economistes qui accusent cette proposition de ne beneficier qu'aux grosses fortunes. Les tentatives anterieures de recourir a cette theorie ont toutes echoue.

D'aucuns ont pense qu'Obama avait reussi a tourner la page du racisme . Il n'en est rien. Le resultat des elections demontre que l'Amerique cotiere et urbaine a vote democrate tandis que le Sud redevient un bastion republicain. Les quelques etats du milieu ou Trump l'a emporte ne sont pas indicatifs d'un chagement structurel. Cette division couvre tous les aspects de la vie des citoyens, en ce qu'elle les divise sur base de convictions religieuses et morales. Le Sud fait marche arriere, l'autre moitie continue sur une trajectoire liberale et laique. 

Autant Obama a essaye de promouvoir un dialogue existentiel ou dominaient histoire et culture, Trump est le premier president a-culture, a- histoire.  Il ne cherche pas a convaincre, il impose. Steve Bannon son maitre a penser (?) represente une pensee franchement raciste  dans laquelle l'element fasciste predomine.  Il a repris sa liberte apres un court temps comme conseiller et stratege de Trump.  il est devenu le porte drapeau de l'Alt Right qui reunit marginaux, Nazis, intellectuels, abonnes aux "gun shows" et... personnes de bonne foi, qui, a tort ou a raison se sentent brimes et snobbes par NY et par la Californie, par les gays et les universites Ivy League, bref par L'Establishment. Ils accusent l'ordre international cree apres la seconde guerre mondiale d'etre une machine infernale opposee a leurs valeurs.

Ce provincialisme se retrouve partout, en priorite dans la montee de cette extreme droite conservatrice et xenophobe. Il a trouve en Trump le porte parole qui remet l'Amerique a l'heure de Dieu, de la famille et des idees "recues". Il s'en suit un etat de guerre civile qui ranime les frontieres et les ideologies de la guerre civile. Le nord et le Sud, la ville et la campagne, la religion et la laicite s'opposent. Le recent scandale Hollywoodien est manipule et conduit a un exorcisme generalise.

En conclusion la manoeuvre est double. Apres avoir demonte les engagements exterieurs passes - Climat, UNESCO, TPP, Nafta, accord Iranien, Cuba, entre autres- Trump essaye de saper les avances acquises a l'interieur - soins de sante pour tous, environnement, neutralite dans les domaines de la religion ou de la morale, egalite des droits pour tous, non discrinination-. Certains avancent qu'il risque d'etre confronte a une levee de boucliers. A court terme cela est peu probable. Ses troupes d'assault constituent un noyaux dur, resistant.L' opposition pourtant plus nombreuse souffre d'un scepticisme inne et d'une division permanente. Le president qui a la maitrise du savoir faire mediathique n'a pas d'adversaire a sa taille.

Les rammifications de cet etat de choses sont nombreuses. La solidarite Atlantique sort affaiblie. Brexit est un avatar de Trump et le scenario a repetition dans l'ancien groupe de Visigrad fait des emules (Autriche, difficultes de Merkel).Dans le monde la Chine sera bientot la premiere puissance. L'epee de Damocle Nord Coreenne inquiete d'autant plus que Trump est un protagoniste mal programme. Le retrait Americain partout  cree un espace que d'autres vont occuper.

L'Amerique est desormais la mal aimee en raison de son choix de president. En elisant Trump (Non majoritaire) elle a envoye l'incendiaire au feu.En realite les Etats Unis ont ete confrontes avec une contradiction fondamentale des leur creation. Les Fondateurs qui se reclamaient des idees de "lumiere" gardaient leur esclaves et cette situation ne disparut qu'avec Lincoln et attend toujours d'etre effacee dans les faits . Jefferson proclamait l'egalite sans l'appliquer en demeure. Cette contradiction est un mutant que l'on passe de generation a generation. Il arrive que le temoin passe ...il arrive, comme aujourd'hui , que le temoin casse.


   

Friday, October 13, 2017

AMERICA IN THE DRY-DOCK.

Trump has been called very unflattering names lately, often by persons who are supposed to be friendly. The many leaks show that loyalty is not set in stone. Lately he has multiplied measures often suggested to him by sycophants who consider him to be a messenger for their own agenda. The man is too limited to be able to digest or understand strategy or historical relevance, so everything has to be presented to him under the guise of yet another step in dismantling the Obama legacy.  His Pavlovian hatred for his predecessor grows by the day since the nostalgia for "Paradise Lost" endures (read Ta-Nehisi Coates). Republicans were supposed to be in favor of a largely benign, slimmed state. Americans are getting a status of subordination instead, a Hobbesian Leviathan-type of model based on permanent deception.

After having thrown his infamous rolls of paper towels to Puerto Ricans, who have learned that "We the People" does not apply to "brown" Americans, he has now vented his anger at the Iran deal. Here again he is the paper tiger par excellence, dressing up his antipathy in the clothes of  political argument which convinces nobody and isolates the US again from its European allies. This deal was far from perfect but if a similar agreement could be considered with North Korea, it would be seen as a major coup. The situations are not the same but the goal of non-proliferation is an equalizer. The president who is close to illiterate has no time for culture, history, self-esteem (other than his own) and only ends up awakening the formerly mothballed "Ugly American" narrative.

Trump is going to Asia, another continent which he might "entertain" like Pinkerton, the arch American villain in Madame Butterfly. At least he might find in the Philippine president a soul mate. The serious countries on the agenda will look upon this intruder with disbelief.  It will be interesting to watch his body language (generously said) in case he goes to the DMZ between North and South Korea. The emperor of Japan will have taken a Valium for sure.

In the wave of unflattering rumors and leaks the President attacks the Affordable Care Act, environmental friendly regulations, reproductive rights, transsexuals,  "thinking" Republicans, UNESCO, NAFTA, and one can go on. His base of fools (30%) is loving it, until the sober awakening arrives. Some day they will realize that they were tricked into the coal illusion and let pass the clean jobs that might have been created by the "New Economy". Robots will rule elsewhere while many Americans will choke and be deprived of elementary healthcare. This cabinet of high fliers (no irony intended) follows the follies of the frog which wanted to be as big as the ox (La Fontaine). 

Unfortunately, America is the victim of this permanent deconstruction. Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America has been dislodged in favor of the NRA's guns in America. The existential presidency of Obama was replaced by a nefarious syndicate. It is often argued that Steve Bannon is the architect of this permanent chaos, but one can argue that the nexus of incompetence and arrogance does not need a house pseudo-intellectual. The mutual, reciprocal greed and hatred have already created a brew which is making most Americans sick and depressed.  Jeff Sessions is a Mickey Mouse with rabies. Rex Tillerson weighs more pounds than talent.  Steve Mnuchin and Stephen Miller look as if they walked out of Cabaret...and one can go on.

The optimists think that this will pass and that the Russian probe might finally arrive at some form of reversal of fortunes. Others remain skeptical, also given the Republicans penchant for denial. The Democrats act too often like lemmings walking off the cliff. Trump is an efficient actor who is able to galvanize his hard- core followers with his attacks on the press, the swamp, Obama. The alternative world of fake news, outrageous lies and generalizations creates an eclipse with staying-power. Contempt, under this current populist rule, is a weapon for the elites.  It doesn't win elections!

Friday, October 6, 2017

CALM BEFORE THE STORM

The American president was yet again on his "matinee performer" best. In front of the journalists who covered an event in the White House honoring the military creme de la creme, he uttered the now famous, disjointed "calm before the storm" words.  Journalists and pundits are now busy trying to find a meaning in those words. Trump achieved his usual objective:  deflecting.  By doing so he covered up the war waged against the pro-choice camp, his vulgar performance in Puerto Rico, the gun overdose in the USA, the "dossier" in the Russian probe, the cold (?) war with his secretary of State, King Salman's visit to Moscow--considered as a snub-- or the upcoming, in sophism's disguise ,"major" moves regarding Iran, and maybe North Korea.

After eight months, Trump is still able to cheat, lie (a record), and get away with farcical moves that are made to unsettle and derange. This president is not about a learning curve, he is all about deceit disguised as "mad man theory". The wrong and the very wrong are being played in equal numbers but meanwhile, behind the smokescreen, the progress made in the last eight years is being starved to death. As in Rome, this circus is not an innocent passe temps. The various secretaries who are supposed to deal with justice, health, environment, education, energy, housing have only one objective: dismantling the achievements of the Obama administration. Racial tensions have returned with a vengeance and the culture war opposes red against blue, believer against secular, South against North, rural against urban, conservative against liberal. The president/arsonist-in-chief drops a torch wherever he goes.

The prejudice against culture, history, and diplomacy is casting a shadow over America's former added-value.  65% of Americans (latest poll) disagree with Trump over this well-organized, extended Kristallnacht, which goes on and on. The available time is being taken hostage by alternative facts that keep the media busy and distracted at random and ad nauseam. This strategy has found in Rupert Murdoch its Beaverbrook, and in Fox News and the usual ultra-right radio spinners, the spokespersons for an alternative world.  Sad...as Trump likes to tweet.   He could add:  Le bluff c'est moi.

Monday, October 2, 2017

AMERICA :THE CULTURE WAR

Since the publication of Secretary Clinton's book about the last presidential election, the comments multiply. Her analysis is pertinent, lucid and not defensive, while she lays the blame mostly in the former FBI director's court.  As usual, she is informed, somewhat didactic and impressive. Paradoxically those same qualities might help understanding how she lost. She ran on a number of priorities which were rationally presented and explained and for which she suggested a given therapy. Her approach was one of a designer of several road maps. She (and others) forgot that those Michelin maps are boring (unless they figure in Houellebecq's La carte et le territoire ). Trump & Co. understood that America had entered the culture war, that the North/South divide was still raw, that the Obama years had enraged white frustration in the rust and religious belts and that the urban/liberal tide could be stopped.

In reality, the United States is now giving proof that the divisions run deep and that the eight Obama years have been undergone rather than enjoyed by conservatives who felt that power and culture had been stolen from under their feet. Trump switched on a backlash, which was not grounded in legitimate demands but in a Leitmotiv of reclaiming, taking back, turning back and reversal of principle rather than correction of achievement.

It is impossible now to value any argument or event per se. Everything is dragged through the murky mass of nativism and populism. The Puerto Rico disaster or the Las Vegas shooting end up playing a secondary role versus the label they are given by persistent, perverse stealth. The victims are now moved like pawns on the chessboard of the culture wars. Cries for help have become seditious. Spilled blood has to make room for the Second Amendment hysteria. In the world at large, the image of post-Obama America is one of denial, tariffs and incompetence. The clumsiness and parody in foreign affairs would be a matter of ridicule if it were not that serious.

In recent months books, plays, commentary, creativity have proven that real moral and intellectual opposition do exist and that on the Right, too, outrage and disgust are alive. Unfortunately the culture war is driven by the 35% who have no inclination for introspection or for a comparative mindset. This "born under Saturn" (Shakespeare) gun and Bible tribe has found in a con man (in mayor Bloomberg's words) its prophet. The usual Rhine maidens (Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Laura Ingraham) and Peter Lorre-like (the two Steves--Bannon and Miller--and syndicate of corrupts) who surround their inflated hero might end up choking him under the pillowcase of their fake news.

It looks sometimes as if the time for being polite is running out. It certainly feels as if those current Hamlet Democrats must finally choose to "be", clean house, send "thank you notes" (deserved) and come out with more dare than caution, more aggression than sheepishness, more leading than following.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

GERMANY, FRANCE and TRUMP

The parliamentary elections in Germany gave Chancellor Angela Merkel a victory, as was expected, but not a mandate, as was hoped for. The ultra-right cashed in an impressive check for its anti-immigration stand. The "leader of the free world" (in the eyes of most Europeans) will have to enter into negotiations with the Greens and the Free Democrats (liberals). Her overall leadership in the EU will be tested. The French president will not question the Berlin/Paris co- steering of European affairs, but the formula risks being reversed into a Paris/Berlin model.  President Macron did suggest a grand European overall blueprint for remodeling and advancing EU priorities. The president of the commission also came forward with an unusual and ambitious structural reform plan for the European institutions and for an enlargement of the EU.

The revisiting of the existing modus operandi of the EU comes at a time of improved economic and financial prospects. The aftershocks of "over-immigration" also look more manageable. There remains a political/strategic question mark.  Brexit will have long lasting consequences. It is also important not to let disappointments override the Atlantic partnership. Despite the European distaste for all things Trump, America is an indispensable ally, while Russia is a certified danger. 

It is time to remedy both Trump's parochial, shifted worldview and Europe's antipathy versus the nouveau regime in Washington. There are many problems which require that both sides of the Atlantic consult and cooperate: Turkey, Ukraine, the Baltics, Russia, Greece, China (Silk Road policy), the UK, populist outsiders in Central Europe, and last but not least, trade.  In matters where the distance appears to grow by the day (the Iran deal, climate, future challenges  -Antarctica, cyber security, health), both sides must find common ground based on the existing, yet improved international order.  Europe looks like it might finally have found its self-esteem back.  On the contrary, America appears to have entered into a darker chapter. This dangerous divergence needs to be corrected. Given the template of this American president (and his entourage), an uphill battle, waged on unfamiliar, anti-intellectual terrain, is in the make. President Macron might be the best choice to confront and cajole this most unusual ally from hell.

Germany remains the first power in Europe. Chancellor Merkel could play a symmetrical role with Russia, as Macron does with the US.  Putin tries to break the West, by way of melting a sugar lump in a hot samovar. He is adept in weakening, destabilizing or undermining Western institutions and countries.  Trump, who is anything but a creative or visionary statesman, acts as if he were Putin's debtor.  He has no Kissinger, Cyrus Vance, Brzezinski or Hillary Clinton, to counter Moscow's "games".  The Franco-German team had better come up with a strategy to simultaneously engage and counter Putin. Trump must be persuaded that there is a world beyond the zone of comfort offered by his base. An uphill battle!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

AGGRAVATION VERSUS CONTAINMENT

The tension regarding the North Korean situation is becoming critical. The North Korean leader is untested. The American "accidental" president is unpredictable. It is difficult to read the tea leaves when the ruler of the Hermit Kingdom is a cypher while Trump is difficult to coral.

Both sides are guilty of overreach but the undisciplined vocabulary of President Trump--besides his lazy unfamiliarity with historical or diplomatic know-how--is dangerous because it does not go well with a form of presidential hauteur that is expected from a head of state.   It also collides with an Asian obsession with  "face". 

The only way to avoid a form of Armageddon is to deescalate. All possible avenues of diplomacy have to be considered to get out of this impasse. Washington has the means, the ways and, more important, a reserve of untapped actors who could help roll back the tension. Until now, Trump only multiplies the flash points, which is all the more dangerous in the absence (?) of a credible line of communication, other than the North Korean representation to the United Nations.

While one has a hard time to phantom what goes on in Pyongyang, one should be  equally nervous about what might trigger the psyche of the American president. He appears unable to be selective, navigating simultaneously the existential, the mundane and the sordid.  He tweets about North Korea, health care, sports, about whatever crosses his ego. His sloppy vocabulary and undisciplined urgency never change. His secretary of defense, national security team and joint chiefs of staff are reputed to be cautious and informed, but at the end of the day Trump generally listens only to the thin skinned, amateurish Trump.

The outcome of this crisis is uncertain. A major armed conflict can be avoided. If Trump is hapless, others are not. China in the first place will not remain passive if hell might break loose on its northern borders. Others would also intervene before South Korea could be transformed in a crematorium. A joint diplomatic action can still be considered so that some form of respite brings the world back from the abyss. 

This crisis is totally atypical. North Korea chose to be a loner. The United States  never was.  In the past the US could count on some form of automatic solidarity from allies and friendly states. With Trump everything has changed. Since he trivialized NATO, goes the nationalistic way, he ends up having few friends. His growing Mussolini-like bombast turns allies off. After his disastrous UN performance, he has better beware of the boomerang(s) effect. Over the heads in the UN he spoke to his base alone. After Trump's disastrous rejection of the TPP  and his reversals about climate change and the nuclear deal with Iran, the post-World War II world order and pax Americana are on life support! 



 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

LE MONDE SELON TRUMP

Dans son allocution devant l'assemblee generale des Nations Unies, ce 19 Septembre 2017, le president Trump a renoue avec les themes "noirs" de son discours d'investiture. Il a brosse un tableau pessimiste du monde, sans suggerer comment y remedier. Son constat prefere la distance a l'interdependance. Il defend un Colbertisme batard dans le commerce et se refere a un syteme protectioniste , type Friedrich List. Comme le president George W. Bush  il suggere l'existence d' un nouveau cartel du mal, Syrie, Iran, Coree du Nord. Le Venezuela est mis au banc des accuses. L'union Europeenne est ignoree.

Trump menace concretement la Coree du nord. Il sous-entend par ailleurs qu'il  pourrait envisager de revenir sur l'accord nucleaire passe avec Teheran.Enfin, il reste hostile a l'accord de Paris sur le changement climatique. Ces trois priorites risquent d'aliener la Chine, de heurter de front les autres partenaires a l'accord nucleaire avec l'Iran et , enfin, d'isoler les Etats Unis sur une question qui definit desormais l'avenir du monde dans tous les aspects imaginables. Il est revelateur qu'il considere les Nations unies comme une addition d'etats "souverains" et non comme une communaute dans laquelle quelques valeurs normatives partagees subsistent, difficilement il est vrai !

Pour autant qu'elle veuille bien suivre Trump dans ses folies, la base electorale du president est gatee. Une fois de plus, la partie creative des Etats Unis est ignoree. La guerre contre les "elites" continue. L'administration republicaine risque de voir sa marge de manoeuvre en politique etrangere mise en cause par les propos sans nuance et par l'arrogance non informee de l'architecte du repli Americain.

"America first" est le Leitmotiv prefere de cet Ubu Roi  qui est allergique, a l'histoire, a la diplomatie et au savoir faire. Ce discours aura reussi a tout aggraver et a ne rien calmer. Les dilemnes Coreen et Iranien arrivent a un palier de haute tension. Ils sont politiquement lies et strategiquement dangereux. Si Trump trouve en la personne du P.M. Israelien un allie, il risque de se mettre a dos d'autres, plus forts et plus nombreux. Le president Francais a donne le juste ton. Ce chef de l'opposition a une main de fer  dans un gant de velours.

On voit mal qui dans cette administration americaine peut encore corriger une trajectoire dangereuse. Ceux qui en seraient capables ont pris le chemin de l'Aventin. Le Capitole est largement investi par des occupants serviles.  Seuls le secretaire a la defense et le National security Advisor semblent par intermittence  a meme de freiner le temperament populiste du president. Il est inquietant qu'ils aient laisse passer un projet de discours inopportun dans le contenu et dans la forme . Malheureusement les voix du parterre, majoritaires dans cette Maison Blanche, etouffent le rationnel.  Il ne faut pas oublier que le Departement d'etat est abandonne aux squatters, que les postes diplomatiques restent inoccupes.  Le champs est ouvert aux porteurs des "realites alternatives". Stephen Miller, emule de Steve Bannon, tient la plume du president ! On attend la reaction de Kim Jong Un. Trump devrait savoir que le bluff est une monnaie de singe.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

MUNICH FOR DEMOCRATS ?

Lately the Democrats have found their way back into the White House mousetrap.  The new Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers duo was working the parquet floors and sofas in the president's lair.  They play the victory card now : Chuck Schumer is the infatuated Beau en direct,while the House minority leader has a hard time controlling her glee. Both sides can be understood. Trump is disloyal by nature and he might find the Chuck and Nancy duo certainly more entertaining than the Mitchell/Ryan undertakers. The Democrats are delighted to be back on the stage after a long freeze.

Everybody plays a part in this comedy of errors. The Democrats will be, rightly so, relieved if the "Dreamers" can be shielded from deportation thanks to them.  Most Republicans will actually be delighted, by stealth, if this thorny issue no longer casts a shadow over their agenda. The reality is that Democrats came to the rescue of a president who remains opposed to any form of civil coexistence or values across the board. Trump is a structurally unrepentant liar who cannot be trusted.  Imagine Obama bragging about his sexual transgressions on Access Hollywood ? Imagine the birther or wiretap accusations against any other but Obama?  And one can go on...  Trump gets a free pass on every daily lie or tweet as if the new normal is becoming indeed an "alternative fact", in the words of Kellyanne Conway.  Should the Democrats enter this "asylum"?

The Democrats had better beware of the risks of entering into a Munich mindset , dealing with this president. They had better not alienate the voters who are still in some form of post-election depression. Secretary Clinton has been reviving the electoral nightmare lately. As usual she is in command, as usual she "fatigues".  She would be wise to cut her appearances short because one forgets how hard it is for competence to match histrionics. Trump is more Caligula than Seneca but many Americans are getting used to this panem et circenses. The Democrats should keep their distance because they have to deal with more than a political sort of arrangement. America must see the real danger in this concerted effort to dismantle decency, moral class and tolerance. The thugs might be invited to be more low key, but they are not gone. The law of the land, the voting rights, the right for all to come forward are under siege by the likes of cabinet members who fit more in the dark ages than under the spotlight of an open democratic society. The likes of De Vos, Sessions, Mnuchin, Perry, Zinke, Price, Carson and Pruitt are infrequentable. Others, like Tillerson, are appaling.

At the end of the day, the Democrats better watch their steps. They could fall over the new Trump upholstery and miss their step. This president does not change. He remains a lazy, thin-skinned, short attention span, unreliable persona, but he is also a permanent unpredictable, vicious damaged good which can explode like a terrorist device.



Monday, September 11, 2017

THE ASYMETRIC CLINTON "SOLLEN " AND TRUMP "SEIN".

In an interview for 60 Minutes with Charlie Rose, Steve Bannon showed his true colors.  Some, admirers and foes, saw him as the intellectual-in-residence in this White House. For them he was the Polonius in this very un-Shakespearean administration. It will be hard to stay with this flattering juxtaposition after having heard the bilious smear and witnessed the menacing body language. He fits more in Les Miserables than in a philosophical debate.

His empathy with Trump sounded genuine, his contempt for the political class is not faked, his personal grudges are real. His defense of the populist, nationalistic, nativist agenda can sound menacing. His identification with all things Trump says as much about his "coup" proclivities as it does clarify the gut instinct of a president who is too often camouflaged in bombastic or fake assessment.

The ruling retro Zeitgeist in the US is basically anti-intellectual and stands against the fabric of the American psyche.  Recent serious errors should not hide that intentions are often good albeit na├»ve, that generosity is alive but uneven, that intelligent discourse is the rule but now under attack.  For every agonizing cycle of mistakes there is recovery, for one President Jackson there stand Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, JFK or Obama--to cite a few. Bannon's message is similar to his skin, all markings which do not coalesce.

Secretary Clinton's book will be out this week. She is almost the perfect nemesis or antinomy for the White House sorcerer. She is composed, alert, prepared. She would have been the perfect president and world champion. The many book interviews she will have to endure will give her a platform to correct misinterpretations and to set the record straight. They will also be traps, and her enemies are many.  She had better beware of the temptation to settle scores and be content to remain Trump's opposite:  real, human, informed.  She need only to hold the mirror up to the Americans who must be made aware of what might have been, if...  The real winner was after all the candidate who lost by way of the workings of a system geared to advantage the southern states. Mrs. Clinton (and the majority of commentators) did not appreciate enough the raz-le-bol of a group of Americans who felt snubbed and disenfranchised. The Trump camp which can be considered as elitist "lite" stole the gutter talk about globalization, gays, climate, environment, women's rights and made hate and conspiracy fashionable.  The votes followed a downward path of manners, which still fell only three million short of a numerical win.

The hurricanes continue to punish Trump's climate deniers.  Like in most things, the noise made will be louder than the sense suggested. The administration has not enough fig leaves to cover the lies which come out day after day, regarding the Russian inquests. Every day has to be a mad tea-party to distract from the coming of the pool of tears!

Friday, September 8, 2017

"MEGALOMANIA IS THE ONLY FORM OF SANITY " (Winston Churchill)

North Korea is the other Rubik's Cube (with the Middle East). The United States has no "point man" who might try to disentangle the threads. The EU is powerless as usual. The countries more directly concerned, South Korea, China and Japan, do share a same concern but differ on the means to address the problem. Russia has the luxury to make apocalyptic statements.

Washington has plenty of possible envoys or diplomats. First among many, Ambassador Christopher Hill, who could clear the ground from miscalculation ante, but this administration is always unwilling to call upon prior experience or  continuity which precedes it. The president's usual utterances have become the new diplomatic vernacular. His stated modus operandi, not to announce what is on his mind, doesn't fool anyone, nor does it deter.  Here, as elsewhere, there is no coherent policy or intellectual effort to try regulating the various modes of worries which separate the 'high' anxiety (South Korea) from the 'medium.' 

It appears more and more likely that a nuclear, megalomaniac North Korea is here to stay for the foreseeable future and that for now only what might still be attainable should be pursued : Pyongyang cannot be allowed to proliferate. Besides, North Korea will only enter talks if the Trump administration sticks with the Iran deal. If that deal were to collapse, North Korea will again call America's bluff and consider Trump untrustworthy. It will have some form of a win/win deck of cards, since the other parties to the Iran deal would feel betrayed.  Only if the deal is left standing, might talks be considered...maybe.

In the longer term there is no alternative than to sit around a table and negotiate. Before considering a US/North Korea bilateral, it would be wise to explore a formula and an agenda which take into account the various degrees of direct interest of all participants. After all, the positions of all are well known but the difficulty lies in the versatility of accommodation. The Americans want a denuclearized Korean peninsula now. The Chinese and the Russians see this as part of a larger normalization, with moves from both  North (a freeze?) and South (suspension of military maneuvers with the US).  Besides, the Chinese want stability at any price.  South Korea will be tempted to resume the "sunshine policy".  Japan is the closest to the American view but this is more linked to the personality of P.M. Abe than to a consensus.

Time is a non-friendly medium. The North Koreans are achieving their qualitative and quantitative goals (nuclear and ICBM). Cyber sabotage might cause delays but it will fail to arrest what has become the raison d'etre of a regime. Trump cannot be relied upon. His immature mood swings should be feared. A big mouth is not a big stick.  The  conditions for a start-up for new talks are far from ideal, but there is no alternative, even in the knowledge that Pyongyang is not considering any form of roll-back now. Another problem is that this American administration still has not chosen the personnel and diplomatic expertise which are needed. Trump being Trump, he might well ask another member of his "close circle" to step in, or ask Dennis Rodman to "straighten things out".  After all, the retired basketball player calls Kim Jong Un just a "regular guy" and he should know!


Monday, August 28, 2017

THE WORLD VERSUS TRUMP'S ALTERNATIVES.

The growing Trump chaos is creating bewilderment, sarcasm (world wide) and adulation (from his base).   Most Americans are resigned to sweat it out but as of lately, patience is in short supply. The undisciplined pace of this president and his addiction to lies and personal attacks is becoming worrisome. The multiple personae he inhabits have only one goal in common, to deflect the attention from the various Russia probes which might well arrive at a moment of truth. It is impossible to predict the outcome but the rumors and the range of the inquests are visibly probing the nerves of the president. His pardon of the infamous sheriff Arpaio is actually a warning shot in the direction of the Russian connection inquiries. His future Pardons will likewise neither follow precedent, neither will they be the outcome of prior consultation with the DOJ : Le Pardon,c'est moi.

The Republicans are feeling the heat from their constituents. Their support for this White House might become more conditional. The coming month will be difficult, the more so given that Trump wants Congress to fund his (in)famous wall, while Republicans want to prioritize tax reform instead. The exhibitionist antics of the president add to a general malaise, aggravated by the kleptocratic DNA of his close Entourage and cabinet. 

Only his "base" continues to give him unconditional support. He orchestrates feelings of frustration and social marginalization, while he commutes between his resorts and the White House, which remain off limits for a base he pretends to care for. He redirects them to the coalmines where they will reconnect with bad health and no future.

Europeans are starting to regroup. The American conceptual wilderness and the amateurism of Washington's inroads in diplomacy by non-diplomats are disturbing.  They endanger the solidity of the Transatlantic bonds. France mostly, considers that the void so created needs to be addressed urgently, before an aggressive Russia and a patient China make a move. Paris is trying to claim a leadership role in Europe through a revamped French-German relationship, which President Macron wants to steer in the direction of priorities more in line with French thinking.  Given the growing frustration with all things Trump, he might see an opening for a wider role for the EU, be it with a French accent.

Trump will do anything to be re-elected and to avoid impeachment. He is ruthless and does not make room for niceties, other than some more faked behavior when meeting foreign leaders. Europeans experience the "winter of their discontent" and should concentrate on priorities of their choice:  free-trade, enlightened globalization, free flow of ideas. They were able to stem the rise of populism and should now negotiate the terms of Brexit with a constructive approach, even when London looks as if it prefers to sulk rather than correct the consequences of a historical mistake. The savoir faire can be claimed by the EU. There are enough challenges in the world--political, strategic or financial--wherein professional input can dislodge, for the time being, Trump's aberrations (trade, nationalism, immigration, climate). Europeans might consider revisiting the Helsinki Agreements which appear to be all but forgotten by Putin (and never heard of by Trump). The result of the German elections will change nothing since both candidates are pro-EU and share an almost visceral antipathy versus Trump. Chancellor Merkel should be the winner.  In the French-German duo she should be the negotiating force both with Russia and the US, while Macron could become the EU's new "grand architect".  The UK is in trouble since it will be the absentee in the EU and since the special relationship with the USA, under Trump, has become less desirable.

It is impossible to predict how the contradictory tides will affect world affairs. One way or another, Trump is a liability.  It is up to the Republicans to decide if they are willing to sever their mariage de raison with the president, or to suffer in silence a growing embarrassment. Theirs is not an easy choice because if they alienate Trump's base they might sign their execution in 2018. 

In the end, special counsel Robert Mueller is probably the only person on Trump's mind. This helps to explain the erratic moves of the president. If cornered, he might resort to desperate moves which could plunge America into a constitutional crisis with no respite in sight. The president is playing defense for the time being, but everybody waits for the "tweet" he holds in reserve. Observers watch this drole de guerre and wonder if the countdown has started or not.

 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

BAD NEWS, THIS MUST BE FRIDAY.

Hurricane Harvey creates havoc, mostly in Texas. Trump "follows up" the situation from Camp David!

This freakish storm comes at the right time for him, giving "cover" for his creepy moves.  Friday he pardoned ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio, the face of anti-immigration, convicted of contempt of court. Few individuals have been as closely identified with the evils of bias and racism in the USA. Trump's base will applaud this new nod to their core believes. 

At the same time, Sebastian Gorka, one of the many pariahs in this White House quit.  Did he resign over the Afghanistan "policy" (as if there was anything ground-breaking) ?   Was he walked out by the new chief of staff General Kelly? Few will regret him and most will not notice!  He might find employment with Steve Bannon, his former mentor!

This hurricane reminds the Americans of hurricane Katrina.  People took refuge on the roofs of their houses waiting for rescue.  Lately it seems like many Republicans are starting to look for shelter too.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

THE AFGHAN GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES

Yesterday President Trump unveiled his new South Asian strategy. His performance was lackluster as he was reigned in by the teleprompter. Besides, he was obliged--yet again--to go counter to the former statements of then-candidate Trump.  Of course the address was almost as much about himself than about Afghanistan.

He went for a qualitative approach, avoiding a numeric calculus both on timing and numbers. New is that he gave his generals more autonomy in making decisions without having to pass through all the cumbersome channels of command. President Obama was criticized for micro-managing the war effort and for curtailing the acceptable rules of engagement. Trump spoke against any form of nation-building and in favor of an "Afghan for Afghans" outcome. Sooner or later the Talibans have to come to the negotiating table and be part of a government.

New also is his direct criticism of Pakistan which is in marked contrast with how he sees India's role in South Asia. This will be consequential for these two nuclear powers, put on positive and negative "warning", and for China and Russia who will not be content to be mere onlookers. These geo-political tremors might very well further complicate and enlarge a problem which looks unwinnable for all but this uninformed president. That his more mature entourage of mostly military went into such a mares nest is questionable.

Trump returned to his favorite burden-sharing Leitmotiv and indulged in some appeal for tolerance (after his outrageous post-Charlottesville performance) which convinced nobody.

He was supposed to be an anti-interventionist--if he could be credited with being anything--but had to swallow this pill.  Since conviction is not his trademark, he will get over it.  Still, those words have consequences and might come back to the White House to roost. 

He is heading for Phoenix and his adoring base might give him an opening for another gaffe he might not resist.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

ALL ABOUT STEVE BANNON

The naked president had one fig leaf, Steve Bannon. He is out, but far from gone, and the administration lost its only supposedly intellectual guru. The reputation of Bannon is largely artificial, in the land of the blind...

His neo-isolationism gave some credence to Trump's primary instincts--America first, trade wars, immigration policy--but his rejection of interventionism and all aspects of globalization collided with long-standing American interests. Besides, his character flaws made him a shady personality given his earlier endeavors in Wall Street, movies, Breitbart and as campaign CEO.  Some considered him a nouveau philosophe, American style.  I will give him the American part but will withhold the philosophical portion.  Nevertheless, he was able to connect with this president and become the mirror of a sick egomaniac. He remains a major influence since most political science commentators keep their distance from the current train-wreck. His muscled message is simple enough not to deter the base and to solidify the opposition. His return to Breitbart's ultra right trenches is a real homecoming . 

There remain some hardcore nationalist leftovers in the White House (Stephen Miller, smart;  Sebastian Gorka, pathetic) but for now the traditionalists have scored a point. Their victory is ambiguous since the war against the elites, conspiracies, the press, the "deep state" is to be continued. Trump is easily bored so he needs to be "entertained", never by culture, always by creating a twister around and about himself. This will be continued until the TV screens get soiled, the smart phones and tablets become congested and the Americans finally log off.

Steve Bannon might end up the way he started, navigating between accusations of domestic violence and video game consoles. He is smart but like his former patron he chooses to wear a suit unfit for his girth.




Friday, August 18, 2017

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE : A WASHINGTON STORY.

One after one, the individuals who made up this president's unsavory court disappear like in some Agatha Christie novel. Steve Bannon, Trump's Rasputin, is the latest causality. The principal force behind the deconstruction of the "deep state" elbowed his ego into the turf of too many. He was considered to be the first "guru", but this president is too insecure to tolerate being overshadowed, even by an ally. 

Bannon's agenda has traction and will live on (in Breitbart ?). Trump's base of "disgruntled blue- collar white men" was taken hostage by a fringe of right wing nihilists who came out of the shadows, sensing that Trump's outrage validated their sense of frustration.  Bannon's often questionable past remains murky. His current dark agenda is actually more formidable and ambitious. His concept is an overall rollback from America's foray in military, institutional, free-trade affairs abroad, coupled with a drastic reduction of state interference internally. His instincts have the allure of a weight-watchers program in all directions. Actually he is more of an intellectual anti globalization, nationalist Utopian, while the president is just an arsonist. The former was the formidable manipulator of a gullible later. It is pathetic to hear Trump talking about Kulturkampf while he is himself a cultural ignorant, getting lost in some unhinged diatribe about Western civilization, monuments related to the Civil War or the alt-right versus the "alt- left". He is never good at making neologisms.

The result of all this chaos is hard to foresee. In this White House there was less a battle of ideas than a fight for personal relevance. To a large extent Bannon's exile might even benefit him, if he decides to become the spokesman for the "alternative." The left-overs in the West Wing will continue to vie for their turf without too much regard for a president who is more often than not considered unfit, even in Republican ranks. For the moment, the "coup" of ideas was stopped. The danger is that the free-loaders will cherry pick and hijack the message, under the protection of Trump's umbrella.  At the end of the day, Bannon might be the prophet, the alt-right might become a disruptor and the president will remain clueless. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE

The alt-right mayhem last Saturday in, of all places, Thomas Jefferson's backyard, will have consequences. This neo-Nazi/ KKK/racist gathering is still provoking a backlash from Democrats and Republicans alike. Only Trump, who never goes for "nuance", preferred for once to procrastinate, to be equivocal, out of fear to alienate the sycophantic thugs and Neanderthals who "adorn" the populist meetings in friendly territory he favors. His megaphone lies pile up but moral outrage is directed solely at the liberal media and the usual victims (President Obama, Secretary Clinton). Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and the usual Fox bimbos and clowns (with the exception of Shepard Smith) continue to praise the only political avatar at hand, who gives them a veneer of authority (?) Hannity-style.

 Trump might have miscalculated, waking up some Republicans and a part of his base which think that playing to the lynch mob is a step too far. His followers have stayed with him because they expect to be less miserable together than apart. They start finally to see that "fake" relates less to the media than to the president.


The White House will try to reclaim the news cycle which it lost in the Sieg Heil Charlottesville brown shirts debacle. This becomes harder since no permanent adjustment will pass the court of public opinion, which starts to be aware of the ugly reality which coils in all corners of this administration.

The brutal images which have overtaken the usual non-stop cable news manipulation and doctored White House briefings are roadblocks now that can no longer be ignored. The permanent eulogy of the lie is not a recipe for policy. The alt- right think (?) tank looks like a sect of some deranged ideologues, set to destroy the "deep state", out of spite because their applications for membership thereof were previously rejected. 

Trump's last comments are a disgrace. At least he showed his true colors, which fit the man, "ugly".


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

TRUMPS FIRE AND FURY

North Korea knows that it is largely unascertained but to itself. Therein, in its many "unknowns", lies part of its strength. 

Since it is supposed to have miniaturized a nuclear warhead, it is considered to have increased incrementally its nefarious potential. President Trump, misreading as usual the unanimous Security Council resolution condemning the DPRK, as an American win, went immediately into a form of hyperventilating outburst. In this he emulated the usual grotesque performance of some North Korean TV anchor running amok. After his "fire and fury" menace, he lowered the tone by way of one of his usual twitter "sermons" to the faithful.

This flare-up requires a more informed, cool moment of Zen.  All the more so that , contrary to Bismarck's goal for Germany then, the United States does not have "better relations with all powers than any of them have with each other". Besides, Pyongyang remains a cipher for all. I remember how Chinese diplomats admitted being perplexed when having to come to terms with the vagaries of the Kim dynasty. They were unable to find a rational for the Pavlovian mindset on their northern borders. They feared most of all an upheaval which could lead to a major refugee crisis and a geopolitical earthquake, with unforeseeable consequences for China, South Korea and Japan.

Trump's America is not Asia's favorite partner but for some it remains an indispensable ally, albeit subject to scrutiny. The megaphone of the US president does not agree with the Asian ways. Obviously diplomacy remains the only choice. Since diplomats tend by nature to be open to dialogue, Kim Jong-Un should not be deprived of an opportunity to engage. The American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has made the right moves in this regard. All interested parties will agree on such an approach. Obviously, the right format for any direct talks will be a negotiation before the negotiation. The word "freeze" coming too soon would sink the ship before it leaves the harbor!

Military action is unwelcome, mostly because it might have apocalyptic consequences. In case of a high probability threat, an American preemptive or punitive measure could come under the guise of cyber sabotage which would derail North Korea's strategic "grid".  Further sanctions, measures, intercepting or destroying a non-nuclear ICBM over international waters, would have to take into account the views of mostly Seoul and Tokyo. An American over-reaction would unsettle (to say it mildly) the US alliance with South Korea. A nuclear ICBM launched by North Korea against a US target would be met with a devastating superior retaliation. What would the American choice of action be if Pyongyang were to attack the South with conventional weapons?

There are many informed US diplomats and military strategists who can reign in Trump's dangerous alpha male reactive personaAt a time like this it is important to remain able to deescalate and to revive the "grand bargain".  It is likewise necessary to be aware of historical precedents. Vietnam taught us that "nationalism" and a sense of "self" are able to overcome quantitative and qualitative disadvantage. The parades who march in Pyongyang are by themselves misleading, insofar as robots can become freedom fighters when a totalitarian regime is able to pull the strings of pride and nationalism. 

It is time to think out of the old box and examine how to restart talks. Unfortunately, there is no Kissinger, no Le Duc Tho, to disentangle this Gordian knot.  Maybe out of this current danger zone there could be born an opportunity for a pan-Asian normalization and a revisiting of nuclear non-proliferation. Seoul's wish to give the sunshine policy a new lease should be encouraged.  But, it remains that President Trump is the most unqualified, uninformed American president to engage in an empirical long-term mind game.


Monday, August 7, 2017

TRUMP (AGAIN) : DANCING WITH THE BLUFF.

After six months of Trump presidency, America has already fallen prey to a hybrid of civil/cultural warfare. This president is not an ideologue, since he is not interested in political theory or in a given value system. He does not try to reshape society or priorities following an intelligent model. He only needs to keep his support system content by stoking frustration against what is perceived as biased, un-American and "foreign". Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon are supposed to dress up this populist "feel" for the larger media consumption. Jeff Sessions has the task to translate this rather primitive mindset into legal terms.

The Trump base resents the scope of the First Amendment and any infringement on the Second Amendment. It is pro-coal, pro-life against climate change, anti- secular, anti-inclusive, anti-immigration, anti-free trade, and one can go on. This vocal minority is rock solid and is the key to winning the electoral college. Hence Trump is not as much looking to enlarge his electoral slate as he is committed to holding on to the base which helped him to overcome a defeat in numbers (3m) through the loophole of the electoral college.

The US is now led by a minority which got the White House through some form of a coup. Now one can see the logical consequences of this dubious path to power. The press is under attack, past progressive advances are rolled back, the opposition is being lambasted as out of touch with the common man and the normal separation and independence of branches of government is blurred. America was the country on the move, be it for work and ideas. It is being set back on a political and economical dead end. True, Wall Street is booming (because of deregulation mostly) but Main Street is closing and the mine workers are invited to be the canaries in the mine again, rather than being encouraged to meet the skills and opportunities of tomorrow. Worldwide, America is in retreat where it is needed (climate, trade, Asia, Europe, Africa) and overbearing where it shouldn't (Iran, North Korea, Middle East).

This presidency is snubbed by most abroad and by rational commentators at home. The nationalistic background music coming out of this White House is in reality totally un-American, giving that this remains a country of immigrants and that the United States have always been able to push back against isolationism (which is different from nationalism). The downgrading or deconstruction of the State Department and the hostage-taking of Justice, Education, Energy, Environment (use of Federal lands) are objective indicators of a power grab which has only one goal:  the hijacking of a second presidential term over the ruins of the former American saga.

This might sound over pessimistic but the facts are clear. The concerted efforts of the Trump administration to change the political vocabulary are working (see the "fake news" impact, the new "Trump" news oulet, the multiplicative effect of preventive lies that contradict one another in succession...the president's lies can fill an encyclopedia). This guerrilla appears often misguided but there is a coherence in this madness. The antics in the administration are part vulgar, part entertaining, part deliberate. Trump will not allow to be dislodged or erased, be it for a day. His base loves it. The majority of Americans loathe it, but guess who is coming for dinner?

The Democrats had better consider a review both of message and messenger if they want to take political advantage from what will be a colossal Trump hangover after two or four years. This great deceiver was, after all, a tabloid and cable entertainer. He has many tricks up his sleeve and continues to defy Republicans who are spineless for the most part and Democrats who remain clueless . For now Trump can only fall prey to Trump, be it miscalculating (N. Korea) or going for one bankruptcy (the Russia probe) too far.