Friday, February 24, 2017


Oswald Spengler, originator of The Decline of the West  also suggested that optimism is cowardice. His bleak premises sound pertinent today. In the Western hemisphere the negatives are abundant and confidence is on leave. There are enough reasons to feel like having been hit in the face by contrary winds, which are uprooting sets of beliefs. After having cleared religion from the table, the West no longer knows what to do with the rest: economic and political governance are on shaky grounds. The speed of the technological new age is also reshuffling the former existing, familiar deck of cards.

Paradoxically, the West has a harder time adjusting to change than non-Western countries and continents which catch up at a faster pace. Europe is burdened by a set of behaviorist patterns which weigh on its speed to adjust, recover or partake. Former rituals and memories stand against fast appropriation of innovation. It is no accident that it is mostly the West Coast in the United States which is in the vanguard of reshaping ways of thought and performance in all fields. After all, California is a state within the States. It is a marriage of minds between Asia and the West. Contrary to Europe, Asia (with a far longer history) is less challenged by precedent or by political and moral correctness. It banks on a fortune cookie model. While Europeans whine and create their repetitive Tetralogy, the Asians sweat it out, place their bets and don't look back.

The West is stuck in some jail of its own making. The negative rollback needs to be reversed, otherwise the self-fulfilling prophecy might force a door, which is already ajar. The biggest problem lies in the Western fear of revision (the Euro drama is a perfect-storm sample). Instead of always returning to the pessimistic outlook, the West must change this narrative of decay and address its addiction to rescue plans. The proliferation of start-ups elsewhere is a positive sign. They do not need the umbrella from higher up. They favor a new contrat social wherein labor becomes an equal partner and stakeholder.  Former coal miners have to be freed from their shackles so they become familiar with mobility and technological innovation. By locking up individuals in yesterday's economy, one aggravates the ills of the "pessimistic economy". The West is rightly proud of its social welfare construction. As long as it is not an alibi for "not doing", "not searching", it is worth defending. Unfortunately, it becomes too often a waiting room for missed chances rather than an incentive to reinvent oneself.

Most of the negatives which override the news cycle in the West are self-created. Governments and individuals alike do not question enough the ways in which the changing society operates. They become agents for stagnation and complacency. Western pessimism is a home-made product and if protectionism and trade barriers were to become the chosen therapy, the consequences will be dire. Too often stranded under the clouds of today's political discourse, opportunities for a reset might well choose a milder climate, in the Pacific. Optimism is not cowardice, it is "the stuff as dreams are made on ".

Monday, February 20, 2017


As usual European and US leaders gathered in Munich for an informal brainstorming regarding current events. Munich is the Davos for the many who did not get a chance to elbow their way onto the "magic mountain."  Since January 20th the Trump aftershocks continue to rattle Europe, and all the attention focused naturally on the US/Europe matrimonial crisis. The American vice-president was there. If the expectation was that he would somehow be able to reassure nervous Europeans, the hope was trashed upon his arrival. He uttered the usual unimaginative platitudes, avoiding to refer to the European Union.  His meeting with the German chancellor had the warmth of a North Korean embrace. The rumors regarding continuous talks from Trump surrogates with the Russian side did nothing to restore any sort of trust.

Both NATO and Europe received polite acknowledgment but the words and praise are undermined by the above-mentioned parallel and contradictory channels of communication which have no State Department approval. The new secretary of State looks like his unhappy predecessor under President Nixon, William Rogers, who was overshadowed by Dr. Kissinger's NSC before being sent packing. The vacancies in State since the inauguration continue to undermine its policy-making. Trump does not like the Foggy Bottom establishment. Hence Sarah Palin might get an Ambassadorship to Canada...REAL !

The EU finds itself in an almost "no-win" situation.  Brexit might have followers elsewhere. The upcoming elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany are "existential". Whatever the outcome, the known praxis will be shaken to the core.  If worse were to happen, Germany will have to assume a leadership which it is most reluctant to claim.  Once again Moscow and Berlin could find themselves at the center of European affairs, with London on sick leave, Washington in free-fall and France in Victor Hugo-mood.  Since the Visegrad countries are following a different path, Germany would be exposed on all sides:  east, west and south.

If an accelerated falling apart of the EU were to occur, one had better run for the lifeboats. Populism is a very anti-intellectual force. It appeals often to demagogues (Farange comes to mind) who have no stake in a project that shunned them and which they came to hate out of spite. The more responsible European leaders who defend an improved NATO or EU use an arsenal of arguments which is far too sophisticated to be able to enter mindsets set against the "elites".  Imagine a victory of the "Leave" camp in the Netherlands or France (Germany looks still unlikely to follow this perverse path). The EU would be reduced to a single power, since other claimants, Spain and Italy, cannot present the critical mass needed to be believable. All this might also put in motion former models which were active in the Messina, Treaty of Rome negotiations or during the Soviet threat, mostly Finland and Belgium. If Belgium is able to control its internal demons it could again return to its former innovative diplomacy (Paul-Henri Spaak,  Viscount Etienne Davignon, Pierre Harmel,  Andre de Staercke) both in the EU and NATO. This would need the support of Germany, obviously. Finland knows, as no other, how to deal with the Kremlin.

The Brexit negotiation is worth some Sisyphus comparison. Besides the technical nightmarish disentangling, there will be a need for psychological therapy. The former very intelligent Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt will have to control his outspoken Federalist credo and modulate his often extreme views. Europe and the EU need each other, after all!  I think that in this Mrs. Merkel follows the right path:  adverse to melodrama, adept at Realpolik over ideology.

It is important to reign in the American president's ego before it goes into free-fall mode, and his subsequent compulsion to give Putin the importance he craves, over the heads of the Europeans. The Russian is all too eager to hold up the mirror to this bloated, loud Narcissus-in- need-of-applause in his Sunset Boulevard fantasy.  He had better be cognizant of the tragic end of this prophetic movie and be wise not to be fooled by the adulation (for now) of his 1936-type rallies!  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Trump's National Security Adviser Ret. Llt. Gen. Michael Flynn was finally shown the door, like his son (the fake anti-Hillary basher-in-chief) before him. That it took so long to dispose of a man with a spotty reputation, in breach of trust and protocol, is mind boggling. So much is loose in this White House in chaos. Most major functions remain unattended. The internal strife and denials go on under the elective scrutiny of a president who appears to be just a junky for cable news, awkward handshakes and applause from the faithful.

The leftovers from the early days, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, are too busy stumbling over their lies to be able to gouge the gaping hole they stumbled into. For now, Sean Spicer, who has a long-standing contract with Saturday Night Live, is safe until he walks in a other White House-made trap. In three weeks this administration was already able to alienate most allies and to signal to most foes that America has turned the page of rational behavior. True, Netanyahu is in Washington. For once there were two elephants in the Oval Office, both real estate and settlement developers and Middle East peace undertakers. The Two State solution might become the broken porcelain as a result (for now). This choreographed love fest (with wives included) differs from the Mar-a-Lago dinner scene in honour of the Japanese P.M., where the North Korean missile launch, arrived uninvited (what are US spy satellites good for?). In full view of other attendees, the presidential dinner table became something out of a Tupperware party, trashed into a dumping ground for crockery, cell phones and glassware. Melania was once more relegated to her prop mode and ignored.  She must be getting used to it to by now.

The Republicans in Congress, under Ryan and McConnell (Laurel and Hardy redux), try every fakir stunt in the vocabulary to pretend "measured" indignation, dipped in hypocrisy, to avoid having to face Trump's ire before the 2018 and 2020 elections. The GOP is acting like a tribe of lemmings which will take the lead from Jeff Sessions, attorney general and Pied Piper from hell. By the way, is it noticed that the indignation around Benghazi or about Secretary Clinton's email server has subsided? That the Podesta email drip suddenly stopped? That WikiLeaks has fallen silent and that the anti-Democratic Party avalanche of fake news, fed i.a. by Flynn junior and the usual Breitbart suspects, is no longer after Trump got "elected"? Certain coincidences are worth noticing.

This "Trump Coup" is in need of chroniclers of the Gore Vidal/Voltaire caliber. The comedians now have a moving pre-impeachment scenario ahead of them. Unfortunately, this country is in too deep an abyss to afford laughing for too long. Americans are in a most unfortunate dilemma. Inside, the less desirable gut reactions--pro and contra--are the loudest for now. Outside, the more reactionary elements proliferate both in their home turf and through the manipulation of populist movements or trough "criminal" nefarious actions  (manipulated by Russia). It is ominous that an American real estate parvenu is allowed to trash vision, democracy, culture...and beauty. Too many who have invested their hopes in all that was exemplary in America, end up empty handed for now! Despite misgivings, the Obama years already look like a fairy tale! There might still be an opportunity for this "so-called president" to get rid of the inverted commas and finally face the reality of a concerted effort by Moscow to destabilize the West and to undermine its democratic fabric. Cain is winning this round but the battle is still undecided, if...

Friday, February 10, 2017


The Trump "Page Six" travails continue. One wishes that the permanently vexed occupant of the White House would get tired and leave America alone. No, this voracious reader of clippings and magazines found in doctors' waiting rooms, cannot refrain from invading, interrupting or deluding himself. The cabinet under the baton of this sorcerer apprentice (sorry for Paul Dukas) looks like a group of characters in search of an author (sorry Pirandello). Maybe Steve Bannon (the Dan Brown of the "regime") will come up with some new ominous scenarios.

With the exception of the reigning mood in the already waning cult-like, hard-core Trump camp, the analysis in general is bleak. Pessimism is prevalent and historical associations come to mind, naturally so. Actually, this might even be paying a compliment to what might be the most anti-intellectual board of yes men in US history. Trump is unable for now, by temperament and choice, to make the leap from "so-called president" to becoming one. This exhausting campaign mood will be hard to sustain and could be a lethal handicap in times of international crisis, when coherence must prevail over reactive, compulsory behavior.

In the short term Europe might become a difficult challenge when the aftershocks of Brexit (a cherished Trump Leitmotiv) come home to roost!  Russians and Chinese meanwhile can afford to stay put while harvesting the bonus of the US president's undisciplined moves:  killing the TPP, snubbing NATO, turning a blind eye to Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

Paradoxically, one should still try not over dramatize. Smart, informed personalities, familiar with Dr. Kissinger's Westphalian thinking, have made major blunders. Sophisticated scholars touted the end of history. Ignorance is seldom entertaining, but it can morph into opportunity. There are many problems waiting on the carousel of history like abandoned pieces of luggage.  One porter might pick one up and change the course of events.

The quandary is that one must be aware of history before choosing to start anew. A Trump presidency might come up with the accidental solution, on condition that it accepts to swap prevarication for a creative remapping of issues. The temptation to deconstruct should be avoided. It is admitted now that the post-World War II orderliness under American stewardship is in need of a major overhaul. Existing deadlocks would benefit from a different approach. Still, the lure of shock therapy, which seems to prevail, has to be avoided if the purpose is to cure the patient.

The current pessimism is understandable. The Trump method lacks both dignity and persuasion. The meetings with foreign leaders might be an education for a man more used to brand a name than to understand what it might cover, other than financial gain. Still he should use his earpiece if he wants to get what his interlocutors are saying. His entourage needs more scrutiny, up-scaling and self-control. Otherwise this administration will meet its premature "foregone conclusion" as in Othello. It has to be wished that false hopes and silly fears might still make room for an innovative soft-power approach ex machina which could amaze, and not baffle as is the case now.

Monday, February 6, 2017


Last SNL was great. Alec Baldwin and mostly Melissa McCarthy lampooned the president and his press secretary Sean Spicer mercilessly.

Since the president chooses to be some nightly twitting phantom of the White House, the comedians have a swell time casting the inner-circle in an unflattering light with proven historical, if unsavory, antecedent. Trump has been compared to Berlusconi or Mussolini. Besides a chronic nepotism streak, Trump is only Trump:  loud, undisciplined, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde's words "Trump can only be Trump, since everybody else is taken." His Putin fixation is beyond therapy. He has elevated Jarred Kushner (like il Duce did with his son-in-law, making him minister of foreign affairs) and one must pray that he will not end up like Galeazzo Ciano! Otherwise the cast for a remake of  Visconti's The Damned " is complete: Kellyanne Conway can play Leni Riefenstahl, Reince Priebus would be perfect as Martin Bormann, Steve Bannon is made for the Goebbels part...and one can go on.

The chaos is becoming embarrassing. The allies scratch their heads and the foes watch in disbelief. The country is split between the fools and the desperate.  Meanwhile the war against the media and reporting ("false news") continues unabated. The Supreme Court "battle royal" is no longer about qualifications but about rage (justified) regarding the unspeakable way President Obama's choice was trashed by the Republican zealots.

The house is on fire before the movers arrived!  The panic is such that it is rumored that Elliott Abrams (Neo Con) might step in as number two in the State Department, where Rex Tillerson's lack of experience (among other "chosen") is creating unease. This administration already looks like a ship of fools. Notice how Putin and Xi Jinping are watching. Only the Europeans are running like hamsters on a carousel, with no end in sight. 

Trump's "bathrobe"is making the news meanwhile. Indeed Le ridicule ne tue pas.There goes an other "fake news".

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


President Trump has picked Judge Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee. The choice is a good one. Finally a nominee who looks in theory "fit for the job", although one might have preferred a more openminded personality, closer to the bench than to the letter of the Constitution. Nevertheless the intellectual credentials of this nominee look impressive. True, he is a conservative but, after all, a bona fide conservative should not be rejected as long as his or her views have roots in coherent legal and moral beliefs. One should hope that the hearings will be of the more cerebral class which should be expected when two schools of constitutional jurisprudence and precedent are under scrutiny.

The Democrats should be well advised to abstain from repeating the indefensible antics of the Republicans who refused to give President Obama's equally gifted and ideally prepared nominee even the shadow of a courtesy. Past sins have long shadows but sometimes one's legitimate scorn has to make place for enlightened consideration.

The Trump style does not lead to some form of accepted give- and-take, unfortunately. His attacks on individuals and the media continue. The abrasive style en vogue in his Praetorian inner circle is frankly alarming. The Bannon/Flynn arsonists also responsible for the misguided temporary selective Muslim ban and the Iran warning, dominate.

The voices heard in EU circles are, understandably, shrill. Disbelief rules but one should beware of unattended consequences. The new president has no particular liking for things European. The gulf which has been created between former partners better be monitored and addressed, before it becomes too wide. The barrage of words out of Brussels is not helpful. Bruised sensibilities on both sides need to be cured before they get out of hand.

The new US administration is already being tested by Iran and Russia. It can be expected that North Korea and China will follow suit. Since the former nexus of alliances and of semi- orderly world management are questioned, the negotiating table is already in danger of being too small to accommodate all the new players who are elbowing their way in since America is perceived to be in retreat. President Trump remains basically a non- sentimental persona, hooked on short-cut deals. He might very well consider a Yalta type of arrangement with Putin over the heads of Western Europeans. Likewise he could cast the dice in Asia and the Middle East without having read or consulted the relevant players or antecedents. Restraint will be difficult to achieve but the growing anti-Trump gut reaction cannot be allowed to morph into anti-American rhetoric.

Europe could be the big loser in all this.  Brexit on the west and the Baltics and Ukraine in the east weigh on the EU's ability to navigate its map for the future.  Its former liberal-realist soft- power added value starts to look less convincing or desirable. The known American federalist savoir faire  has fallen victim to Europe's self-esteem deficit and to the populist oil spill at home. Only Germany is regaining (for now) an historic claim to being Russia's only equal interlocutor in Europe, albeit unwillingly almost, given bad memories. The decline of the Western model is growing. China is slowly taking over the contemporary narrative which was a US monopoly. It is following a binary course--hard- and growing soft-power--while others look on: Europe forgettable, Russia hardly bearable and America clinging to its West Coast like to a life belt.