Sunday, January 29, 2017


President Trump's first week in office looks like a page out of Marat/Sade.  He gives the impression of being someone who needs to be permanently dominating the news cycle, whatever the cost or the means. He lacks any form of continuity or self-control. This "hyper-everything and -anything" approach begins to look more like a chronic panic-attack reaction than the application of a reasonable strategy. His first immigration rules are already creating the unpleasant counter-measures which have taken his inner-circle by surprise.  Sometimes "alternative facts" do not stand the lying test.

That a US president doesn't read is a warning. That he listens mostly to a coterie of angry, obscurantist voices is frightening. Together with Kellyanne Conway, retired General Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and the attorney general nominee out of To Kill a Mockingbird, he is reshaping the United States' former noble, if often misguided, ambition into a paranoid descent into the deification of "make America great again".  Last week's Blitzkrieg is shredding the fabric of the former classy saga into pieces. The heterodoxy of his approach in foreign affairs is not the result of a choice but the indication of a structural unwillingness to learn or listen:

--Reneging on the TPP is wrong. Not only does it alienate countries which were considering switching "orbit" (Vietnam, i.a.), it gives China another opportunity to double-down on Davos.

--Engaging Russia is right. Acting as if the Budapest Memorandum or the letter and the spirit of the Helsinki Declaration were "peanuts" is irresponsible.  Besides, the hot phone line with Putin only further alienates Germany, France and even Mrs. May's UK (who only got the "aloof"  shoulder.)

--Being a strong ally of Israel is normal under any circumstance. Making gestures which could jeopardize a two- states solution is totally wrong. Both the settlements and a move for the US embassy to Jerusalem should be off the table for an unforeseeable time. Former Special envoy George Mitchell's book "A path to peace" should be mandatory reading.

--Cherry-picking who can immigrate into the US is not only wrong, it is vicious.  Besides, it will curtail any diplomatic leverage with countries one has to deal with. It shows a dark pessimism and at the end of the day only reveals insecurities which are there for all to see. The partial (Muslim) ban will only reboot ISIL's low moral and upset i.a. Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Maghreb.

--Trade wars are a thing of the past, defended by governments who fear innovation, competition and a free movement of persons, goods and capital.

--Building a wall (with Mexico) will be perceived as an ostracism directed against a friendly neighbor who is essential in the fight against terrorism and drugs and who is a major purveyor of labor in sectors which are essential for the US economy.  NAFTA is a mariage-a-trois and the views of Trudeau, the essential northern partner, had better be considered.

--It is correct to expect that NATO members should assume their full part in "burden sharing".  It would be unfair to fail to consider that NATO was America's first defense line and that its creation was less an act of benevolence than a strategic investment.

--Snubbing the EU or the UN will boomerang. The Trump administration prefers the bilateral approach over the multilateral. One does not exclude the other, but the latter should not be pursued on the back of the former.

--President Obama's opening to Cuba freed the US of paying off a historical mortgage and returned them to a persona grata status in the Western Hemisphere. Hence, the Chavista model is in retreat. Reversing the normalization with Havana would again alienate South and Latin America and give China, already omni-present south of the border, a winning hand.

--Trump's wars with the media and facts are a stigma on the probity of his administration. The non-stop, vengeful Tweet acid rain is starting to embarrass friends and foes. This un-presidential president is already fodder for caricature.

For now, the massive image-building operation of Team Trump is seen as damaged goods by most. The expected return:  image reception, is absent. The majority of Americans will not tolerate for long that their values be ignored, nor will allies abroad be enmeshed in an almost fascist feel scenario, all too familiar for Europeans who remember the Thirties.

President Trump chose to be the voice of some dark irrational movement which lacks structure and a defined ideology. The xenophobic undertone disguises an emptiness which might be filled tomorrow by Breitbart-made diffuse populist, reactionary signals. The house is on fire and the arsonist-in-chief is in denial. The Rust Belt blue-collar workers, who expected good news from the canary in their coal mine, will have a long wait!

Saturday, January 21, 2017


These first days of the Trump presidency are ominous. Not only was his inaugural address inappropriate, it was mostly insulting erga omnes. The Republicans of yesterday have become this grotesque court's lackeys. The Trump claque applauded its own betrayal.  Fortunately the streets in Washington and America, packed by the opposition on January 21, signaled to a White House under siege that this Potemkin-like inauguration was as fraudulent as the elections had been.

The new golden drapes in the Oval Office are a fitting decorum for a man with a deep rooted psychological deficit.  The problem is that insecurity disguised into bombast has consequences in the choices made for cabinet posts or political priorities. Never has an American president been so unfit, out of place and as indifferent to antecedent or symbols. The Las Vegas decor imported from Trump Tower will be the reference for this Liberace revival style.

More serious are the disbelief in most European and other capitals and the Schadenfreude in Moscow and Beijing.  Yet Trump can probably count on some resigned approval of the British P.M. who is hostage to Brexit as the Lorelei was to her rock on the Rhine. The EU is in shock.  Moderate Arab Sunni leaders fear what a Trump presidency might mean for Jerusalem and the Middle East in general. The Chinese prefer to stick to a friendly takeover in Davos. The Russian glee over NATO being thrown under the bus is hard to ignore.

One might expect that a new president might prefer to test the waters before taking a swim.  Not Trump...he went straight for a fascist playbook of insult, recrimination and finger-pointing.  In his words hell is not for the future it is an import from the Obama years in today.  He plays on the Angst of a base wherein the fooled will salute, for now. It comes natural to despise the Republican establishment, which plays a Vichy-type of role. It is harder to condemn the brain(?)-washed base which was made to believe that a government of bikers and rednecks was going to save it it from their often homemade Gotterdamerung. Trump gave them the narrative for their frustration with the reviled Goldman Sachs as bonus.

The ripost was given today by the hundreds of thousands of attendees in the women protests who smashed the inauguration back to where it belongs:  a page which will be remembered in American history for the wrong reasons, the wrong message and the wrong pageantry.

The president still found the time to start euthanizing the Affordable Care Act. Speaking of irony !

Friday, January 20, 2017


Trump has become the 45th American president. The transfer of power followed the usual path, a remarkable milestone in these unremarkable times.  President Obama remained stoic.

The inaugural address was short on substance and style. The new president's body language matches his mindset, brutal and high on ego. He walked his audience through an almost masochistic enumeration of ills, dysfunction and frustration. His American landscape is one of derelict and ruin. He did not suggest any form of answer to the bleak situation he describes in almost apocalyptic terms ("ending the American carnage"). Both for the perceived ills at home and abroad he seems to be hostage to a parochial mindset dominated by political and economic retreat. His speech sounded like an anti-Davos, claustrophobic diatribe. A more forward looking, creative visionary alternative was absent.

The contradictions between the doings of the businessman and the "ways" of the president are abundant. The former played opportunities worldwide, often for dubious gain and personal aggrandizement while the latter suggests a path of protectionist misanthropy. Yesterday's "Yes, we can"  has morphed into a "No, we won't". The choice of the members of his cabinet is also a clear indication of a predilection for disruptive short-term intervention in lieu of of long-term strategies. Nothing substantial was said about the world, which is relegated to a "nuisance" and open to denial and contradiction.

America is stuck in some ersatz Faustian riddle. The Middle got the redeemer it voted for. The majority (Secretary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of 2.8 million votes) was betrayed by way of the rules of the Electoral college. The Trump "entourage" is made up by the same Wall Street elites who were accused by the then Republican candidate of not being in touch with the common man "forgotten in decaying inner cities or in the Rustbelt".

This impulsive, unpredictable persona risks creating havoc at home and abroad. The cracks which are apparent in the global structures will become structural. Trump will validate a world vision wherein many compete on equal terms and wherein former alliances and friends will play secondary roles. The "America first" in Trump slang,  is a demotion. At a time where there is a need for confidence and predictability, there is looming chaos.  Fukuyama's "End of history" mantra looks totally obsolete on this January 20th, 2017, a day which will be remembered as the first day of the American withdrawal, reversible in four years.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Europe finds itself in a non enviable situation. Russia is too close for coziness while Trump's America is too freakish for comfort.  Sometimes it appears is if one might need to change the orientation of the world map and see Europe as a smallish outgrowth of the Asian continent rather than as the second pillar of yesterday's Atlantic Commonwealth.

The Eastern borders of the EU are "nervous". The former NATO alliance feels weakened.  The credibility of its deterrence among members is in urgent need of confidence-building measures. It is far too early to foresee a Trump doctrine but the short attention span and range of the president-elect are giving rise to jitters in all corners. Western Europe feels like a lover spurned in favor of an alternative in waiting. Washington is abuzz with all rumors and happenings "Russian".  Putin is the talk of the incoming Trump administration and with the support of Michael Flynn & Co. he has a VIP entrance without having to had pay a fee. Western Europe, the first ally of yesterday, is openly snubbed as mere a Trojan horse for free trade, globalization and post-WWII world order.  After January 20th, Brexit and populism will claim their seal of approval. The snub of the EU has already secondary effects in parts of Asia too, who relied on Washington's commitment and are becoming equally troubled.

Contrary to other parts of the world, the EU has not only to confront the external pressures but also has its own structural problems. The commission is unloved and absent from the consideration of EU citizens. Yet again Brussels got a Commission president from Luxembourg, unfit for this time of fast changing expectations.  After Gaston Thorn and Charles Santer, the Commission is headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, another grey bureaucrat, former P.M. of Luxembourg, without charisma. Europe needs to return to the Jacques Delors-mood. The unloved institutions, the repetitive summits, the bland personalities, the Brexit hangover have created a stagnating feel. In the past, Europe could count on some form of American wake-up call, but now the trail has gone cold, almost.

To be fair, President Obama was not besotted by things European and his "pivot" to Asia left no ambiguity for where his priorities stood.  Both Europe and the Middle East were downgraded on the American radar.  As much as Europe never appealed to the Trump real estate "coups" which are politically color blind, his overreach in the direction of Israel might have devastating consequences for the few American allies left in the region...and for Israel's future.

Obviously, the incoherent Trump administration looks like a pack of competing wolves for now.  This president-elect is famous for contradiction and interruption--a poor omen for things to come. He might as well bypass his own cabinet by a tweet or by other competing channels. The man is basically unfit for a responsibility which requires some background, decorum and historically justifiable argument. President Nixon went so far as to consult Andre Malraux about China. Imagine president Trump doing so?  (Besides he doesn't know who Malraux is.) 

The current times are dangerous because they could fall prey to undisciplined intervention. Only the German chancellor can speak for now to President Putin and receive an attentive hearing in Moscow.  Still, elections in Germany, France and the Netherlands will lead to caution rather than to boldness. It remains to be seen if she finds a prepared interlocutor in President Trump.  It is important that this ending world order (for now) does not become a Hamlet repeat wherein everybody ends up dead !


Thursday, January 12, 2017


Since Trump's press conference--his first as president-elect--a lot has been said about style and substance. His verbal fireworks, his lack of coherence, his "divide and rule" tactics have given rise to many historical innuendos. This was to be expected given his "calculated" histrionics, but it is also grossly overstated given that he is by temperament an a-historic, non-referential "heteroclite".  He is an insular personality, self-centered and oblivious of any form of justifiable argument. He might bring to mind past characters but he is unlike any of them, since he is devoid of all continuity, be it in short-term thought or in long-term vision.  He remains a dealer for whom "tomorrow is another day".

This proposition is not an anticipation for the outcome. It might be hard to find for now reasons to give the president-elect a "can do" voucher, but he is shrewd and has a knack for playing Nero while Rome is burning.  His first choices for his administration are far from insignificant. The man should not be underestimated. Even while his shortcomings are clear, his resilience stands out, be it at a cost.

The president-elect acts as if he wants to be cushioned by a very close circle while reserving for himself the right to be the ultimate referee among a cabinet of rivals. One must hope he will not start to think of himself as another President Lincoln.  He is so enamored with himself that the absurd might become the new normal.

Now the rumors, the Page Six innuendos rule. Given an  appetite for "crass", largely encouraged by the Trump vogue, this was to be expected. His Russia fixation will haunt him with a vengeance. Leaders who see themselves as strong men are often attracted to one another.  As in a relationship one is always more in need than the other.  It would be ironic if the stronger partner--the US--would fall prey to the failed one--the Russian Federation--but then, infatuation is blind.

President Obama's last days in office are becoming a kind of guilt trip for a country which looks shell-shocked in the realization that the next man in power might not be the right person after all.  A president might be a-typical, democracy is not. 


Wednesday, January 11, 2017


President Obama has given his final speech in Chicago, where it all began eight years ago.  His words were cautionary but he sounded confident that history was on his side..  The emotion and the clairvoyance loomed large over the rhetoric. The awareness of the incoming gap with the style (?) to come after January 20th was painful for all to experience.

Obama remains at the same time an oracle and an enigma.  Like no other, he has the talent to create an epic tableau of the great American saga. The arc between the early Constitution times and today's hazards was treated in visionary terms. His warnings regarding the pitfalls which could threaten the American democratic fabric in the near future were all too clear.  At the same time the man remained his distant self, as if the words and ideas he generates are given a life of their own. He appears as though wanting to give them a chance without imposing ownership.

This gifted man often looks to be checking his emotions as much as he can and almost obsessed with form and composure. Hence his presidency was one of class, while at the same time feeling the need to build bridges with today's culture, technology and social media. This private, often aloof looking president was probably the ultimate equalizer and social explorer.

His overall record remains nevertheless ambiguous, mostly in foreign affairs. He seldom achieved a real partnership with his peers. It becomes tiresome to return to the usual question marks. He was not willing to take over the leadership when he felt that it might involve a "clean up" operation which he found messy and beyond the accepted rule of correct international behavior.  Hence to the opposite, he was hyper-active in larger "open space issues" like the battle against Ebola, climate change, or in nuclear non-proliferation.  His distaste for murky situations allowed others, mainly Russia and China, to appropriate the more creepy, unappealing gaps. 

His contrat social  with America is already under attack from the Trump Republicans. Their torched-earth strategy might backfire when Americans experience that they are left with a piece of land wherein nothing grows.

Washington, D.C. is not Salem, yet.  The unfocused president-elect is dangerous, less because of his intellect--of which there is little--than because of his immature uncontrollable narcissism, of which there is too much.  After the years of "cool" we enter the years of "tweet".

President Obama will be missed.  He was a man of manners in a world which has lost its good breeding.  He was an enlightened family man who together, on equal footing with the First Lady, was able to project the liberal agenda convictions of a formidable married team. 

January 20th will be a cold, surreal day . There will be a winner by votes (Mrs. Clinton), a winner by aberration (President-elect Trump) and a winner by points (President Obama).  Bundle up and fasten the seat-belts.

Monday, January 2, 2017


In Coming Apart, Charles Murray describes America as an almost-failed experiment, since the top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures. The gap between the type of cars, food, travel destinations, and philosophical beliefs strikes at the heart of the former pursuit of happiness. President Obama's therapies were unable to reverse the trend. President-elect Trump is the result of this rapidly growing divergence. He is the embodiment of a white America turned upside down. Secretary Clinton described the Trump loyalists as "deplorables". Her analysis might have lacked charity but was not devoid of clarity.

Trump has to deal with two major shifts. The former world order is no longer and the American dream machine is running out of gas. At the end of the day, Trump, who was the "avatar" of this electoral descent into hell,  is seen by many nowadays as the healer-in-chief. Notwithstanding, Mrs.Clinton won the popular vote by an impressive margin and could claim the support from a much larger spectrum of the electorate. She lost mostly the white blue-collar voters who were taken hostage by empty demagoguery. If Trump starts to reverse some of Obama's executive orders regarding conservation, energy, or the Affordable Care Act, they may wake up to a harsh reality. The Republican "permanent coup" will spare nothing, starting with the Supreme Court, reproductive rights, minorities, climate change, communication i.a..  World affairs are already becoming a poker game. The moves and the bluff will be the more dangerous, since Trump has a total disregard for antecedent, history and style. 

America is unraveling and after January 20th, it will get a president who fits the script. Civic culture will make room for "tweeted opportunism". A right wing Zeitgeist will, for awhile, play in the hands of the equally inclined. The elections in France and Germany might lead to a further metastasizing of the Brexit malignity.  As happens often, unfortunately, the political virus has come from overseas. The American mass has lost part of its immune system after the breakdown which Obama could no longer control.  9/11 was the opening salvo for the sad symphony of mistakes which followed and which continues to shake mostly the Western world and alliance.

Americans treasured their "exceptionalism".  The world was envious. Not that grand gestures, from Normandy to Bretton Woods were altruistic, far from it. The benefits and shared values overcame ulterior motives and the appropriation of the new world governance. Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt were an unfaithful couple until they agreed that separation was too high a price to pay. There is nothing wrong with self-interest "a deux" since the re-evaluation of an alliance leaves it stronger than before.  Ennui is the enemy.

One should hope that a Trump administration might have some success. Unfortunately, the early signals are frightening. The entourage of the president-elect appears to be indifferent to legitimacy. The priorities send one back to Sykes/Picot times when personalities just created countries and borders out of nowhere, with total, arrogant disdain for history.  Another nefarious change becomes clearer with every passing of the days, a form of paternalistic disdain for the truth and for the media in general. Deflection marginalizes discourse, soundbites replace answers. Lack of familiarity with existing narratives is leading to a shrug of the shoulders. The deal chases the ratio.

Not since the Pact of Steel have we seen leaders of two major powers coming close to such an "understanding". I never imagine that Putin and Trump think alike (this would be an affront for Putin) but I can very well believe that neither loses sleep over some ideological difference. Both want to make their realms great again: Putin through retrenchment, Trump through reduction. The former makes room for the latter...a match made in heaven! Meanwhile, President Xi follows Peter the Great's example, imitating the Dutch engineering skills in "filling up" the seas.

The ambitious FDR and LBJ legacies are endangered by a coalition of radical conservatives and evangelicals. This fight opposes, for now, the winning who know too little against the losers who know too much. The battles will be more existential (even if the term does not figure in the lexicon of most) than just political. America might end up accommodating the enemy abroad while alienating half of the population inside.  Alliances will be weakened and the American project will be put at risk.

"Now is the winter of our discontent (Richard III,V,4.13).