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!

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