Friday, March 31, 2017


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was not able to emulate Julius Caesar's veni, vidi, vici. Despite the polite applause during luncheon, it was a non vici. The NATO members were once again mostly patronized, the press ignored and, more seriously, any strategic thought was, as usual, on sick leave. In Brussels as in Ankara, a genuine meeting of minds did not occur. He just looks and acts as if he does not like his job.  That is all there is to him, despite his "tango metaphor" about Lavrov and the usual lamentations regarding member states contributions.

Another frightening aspect of this Trump administration's inroads in foreign policy is the blatant absence of a coherent agenda. The secretary of State looks as clueless and detached from a transformational, issues-oriented strategy as the president appears to be. Malta, which exercises the presidency of the EU, shows more creative input than this US foreign policy apparatus in lock out.  

Friendly partners of the US are in shock after their meetings with the president or in the State Department, but remain discreet with their "appreciation". Leaders who might have a less benevolent view of the current American wasteland might arrive at less charitable and more nefarious conclusions. The upcoming meetings of Trump with the Egyptian and the Chinese presidents are already anticipated with the "fasten seat belts" sign on. Future moves regarding i.a. trade and climate change remain unpredictable and might well be decided by a 6 am tweet.

President Trump is expected in Europe in May (NATO, G7 in Taormina). If his performance follows the obtuse style, hallmark of this administration, he would do better abstaining. Dismantling the United States is bad enough, throwing the world's better behavior under the bus is a risk to be avoided at all cost.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Today the president became the undertaker-in-chief of the environment. He also legitimated the coal industry and its collateral damage.  His lament for the American coal miner was a campaign Leitmotiv and now he has returned to his promise in symphonic glory. After having failed to deprive them of Obamacare, he has now reopened the doors to unsafe, unhealthy jobs, not after having gotten rid of all the canaries in the deregulated mine.

So America has reset the clock to the good old desperate Dickens and Zola times, turning its back to the better jobs in clean and renewable energy and pushing workers away from an American dream wherein mobility and reinvention of self prevailed. This colonial deconstruct decided by a group of older men (an urologist's dream team ) who mistake "dancing with the stars" for reality is worthy of an apocalyptic novel. 

We know that we are living under the Russian black cloud. There was no need to further endanger health in a country such as this one is becoming, a playground for the insane, killing us for their sport!  When will we see Trump investing in an Appalachian golf club or a West Virginia Trump hotel?

Monday, March 27, 2017


One month before the French presidential elections start, Marine Le Pen was received chez Putin. The links between the French Front National and Russia are well known. As was the case in the US, the Russian president is all too happy to lend his support to parties within the EU that stand against the EU, NATO and pluralism.

Her main opponent is the de facto independent Emmanuel Macron (formerly minister of economy, finance and industry, under President Hollande), 39 years young.  Despite his last lapsus, mistaking French Guiana for an island and arguing that there is not such a thing as French culture, the polls give him the advantage over Le Pen. This is surprising considering his indifference to traditional more Gaullist concepts and his unconditional commitment to the EU and Europe. He does not hide his respect for Mrs. Merkel and his fluency in English, still a daring step for any French politician.

Since the Dutch vote, the Brexit allure appears to have lost some of its mobilizing strength on the continent.  This is mostly due to three factors: the lack of a sophisticated alternative in the EU, the grotesque beginning of the Trump administration and, last but not least, the heavy, clumsy medeling of Moscow in Western Europe (and the US).  Since this is also the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome this is a perfect moment to regroup, reform and slim down the Brussels machinery. The news cycle in Europe and the United States is all too negative (for a reason) and the Torquemada's rule the waves. In France the choice is clear between retrenchment and enlightenment.  In Germany the elections between Chancellor Merkel and the Socialist candidate, Martin Schulz, are more about "nuance" than about "alternative". The victory of one or the other will not bring fundamental change in Berlin's choices. 

Accordingly, the outcome of the French presidentials is of a primary importance for Europe but also for the trans-Atlantic partnership. While the Americans chose to take a ride on the mad Republican roller coaster, the Europeans should stick to the Berlin/Paris arbitrage for the future. There is no alternative after the United Kingdom's exit and given that Italy and Spain for financial/economic reasons and Poland and Hungary for their ideological leanings have no place in the middle.  Emmanuel Macron might be Europe's best hope. He is devoid of old- fashioned socialist nostalgia and is a reformist who is willing to correct globalization's and free- trade's less desirable consequences as long as the core beliefs of the existing Davos order remain intact.

The battle is far from won but the Front National looks and sounds like yesterday! Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin brought to mind previous ad limina courtesy calls of underlings to the Master and the French, after all, have their often exaggerated national pride, for the worse...but more often for the good.

Friday, March 24, 2017


The ignominious death of Trump care shows, inter alia :

--That this president only cares about "scores" and that he is willing to consider just anything for the sake of wining.

--That the accumulation of lies ends up gutting the floor under him.

--That without some sort of Electoral College parachute he is the minority president for all to see.

--That this was the first Republican albatross to go down, others will follow.

--That Boehner might smoke a carton, Melania might run for cover, Kellyanne is in the E.R., and Trump might water board Ryan. 


Western Europe today rests on two pillars, like the Hellespont. The Elysee Treaty 919630 signed between de Gaulle and Adenhauer established the "special relationship" between France and Germany.  The Treaty of Rome (25 March 1957) extended the first steps of BENELUX, France, Germany and Italy to extend the ECSC and Euratom into all sectors of their commercial and economic life.

Further incremental achievements followed. The qualitative and quantitative reach of the Common Market made it possible to arrive at the present European Union of 28 member states, an endeavor which remains exceptional in history.  Certainly the ride remains bumpy but the added value is undisputed. Immigration and BREXIT challenge former assumptions, while the workings of the Commission and the EU Parliament are in need of an overhaul. Nevertheless, the efforts by populist forces, Russian undercover meddling, and Trump's snubs to marginalize the EU are also proof that Europe is a force to reckon with. 

The repetitive, sheer endless meetings in Brussels do little to stem the blase indifference of Europeans regarding their supranational institutions. They seem to forget the peace, social, economic, and technological benefits which they enjoy. The multiplicity of crises on all fronts-- monetary, nuclear, ethnic, migratory, environmental, social--could never have been managed by a single country. The rotating presidencies also provide for an equalizing learning curve between member states. Obviously not all is rosy, far from it. Brussels is too often seen by ruling governments as an exit plank to get rid of political opponents. As is the case in Washington, the lobbyists distract from the visionaries. The grey men and women in the leading positions too often lose the proximity advantage with the citizens.

The EU occupies a precarious space between the Russian Federation's agenda and the United States' disengagement under President Trump. The positive aspects of globalization and of a multi-lateral mindset are under siege. Until now, multi-lateral trade arrangements have provided for collateral checks on climate, environment, labor protection, human rights which benefited transparency and the rule of law. This added-value is coming under attack now. Alternative facts and order will play a major role in the French elections which will, for the first time, confront the electorate with a stark choice. It is no accident that Marine Le Pen met President Putin, who lately acts like the world's Kingmaker, thanks to the besotted American president.

The Junker Commission lacks any form of radiance. Normally personalities count but, unfortunately, there is no there there! This void comes at a difficult moment where many wish for a repeat of last week's Dutch reflex but are more worried about the fickle French. A win for an improved professional commitment of parties which stand up against populism will be a shot in the arm for the EU. A loss will have unforeseen consequences in Europe but also in NATO, IMF, World Bank, etc.  BREXIT will  be unpleasant but manageable. A French surprise might be a wild card which leaves the players without a Plan B. The French might still think twice before becoming Europe's arsonists. The playground under the "command" of philosophers led by Michel Onfray might still be  a bridge to far for the far right to cross.

The Treaty of Rome is 60, the new 30 (?) . It is time to return to basics. This visionary instrument is less in need of a face lift than it is in need to reconnect with its base. The Democrats in the US lost mostly because they failed to put the right message in front of the right audience. The EU should likewise be aware that there are too many empty seats in the audience. This anniversary needs neither a rebuke, nor to be in Francoise Sagan's words just "un accident qui dure."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


The then-candidate Trump argued that President Obama was too predictable. The president now certainly lives by his former mantra, making the unpredictable the new normal. Not a day passes without tweets and lies being launched at random from a psyche which appears to be in permanent meltdown or denial. Many explanations have been given:  the historical perspective (a Jacksonian outlook) or the attribution to a chaos theory emanating from Trump's "Svengali", Steven Bannon.  Obviously the president only hunkers in some self- created parallel reality, nurtured by his family and a couple of sycophants. His reality checks are non-existing and his refuge otherwise is nurtured by Fox News and by the populist rallies wherein the fools applaud the maker of their coming demise.

Observers try to find some rationale in the incoherence. Extravagant theories (Rousseau versus Voltaire) are the more incongruous since the current tenant of the White House doesn't know either. This is just a primitive culture war waged against the State in favor of the Commonwealth. It is nothing more than some Cromwell coup redux, with a Republican Congress paying the part of the Rump Parliament. In the short-term this is looking bleak, but now as then the Restoration is waiting. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court might be taken hostage (for how long?) to this hostile take-over.

America is losing its advantage in this scenario. The US was always able to find redemption, even after blunders and lies. They were able to find forgiveness by way of a soft-power which was envied and desired, until now. They were seen as the desirable alternative, open to being challenged, open to attracting the best world-wide, open to the immigration of minds and hearts. Prof. Joseph S. Nye's "The future of power" should be mandatory reading today !

Now, coastal "open" America  has become a "no-go zone" for the current administration, engulfed in paranoia. The Putin fixation is the more bizarre , since Russia was never able to compensate for its mistakes and aggressive behavior. Unlike the US, it could never muster an inch of soft-power to compensate for its transgressions. China is too Sino-centric to become an alternative.  For now, America has lost this attenuating, measured added value of being "for the good". The new budget is all about hard-power, military spending. The arts, the environment, LGBT and freedom of choice issues, former battles won against AIDS and Ebola now seem threatened. 

Suddenly the EU looks better again. It never lost the added-value of history, culture and creativity but is political achievements, so promising earlier, stalled. Trump's negative image might bring some hope to the many who saw Brexit as a requiem for a project.  Disney's Beauty and the Beast was released, while the beast sits tweeting in the White House.  For how long? The Russian "connection" is not going away and many in the administration might regret today having slept with the enemy yesterday.

Friday, March 17, 2017


Mrs. Merkel, the REAL, ONLY EU leader, has met President Trump.  Their body language matched their words, they are worlds and cultures apart.  The tone and the vocabulary of of the president were as usual, on the Neanderthal side. The German chancellor could hardly hide her contempt. By acting so ungraciously, Trump handed Mrs. Merkel her re-election and might have given Martine Le Pen the kiss of death. His presidential (bad) clothes do not hide an emperor, they dress a liar.

Post-Brexit Europe stands on its own.  It should comply to its NATO obligations and otherwise should pursue its trade and more civilized policies following its agreed guidelines. True, even in the EU Trump has some attraction, mostly in Poland and Hungary, but this "alt-right" brotherhood might have received a fatal blow in the Dutch elections.

It is sad to see America being taken hostage by a syndicate. The US budget is a declaration of war against a tradition of creativity, compassion, art, sharing and optimism. This minority president already fits into the narrative of other past and current rulers who chose intent over content. In this case the intent is clear, a sabotage of a moral/intellectual space in favor of cramped uninviting alternatives.  I hope that Mrs. Merkel could have enlightened the real estate president about the negative aspects of wall building. She knows. She might also have reminded this cheap president that after 9/11 all NATO members supported America without asking for the price tag.  But then, it was about common values not about goods found in some airport tax-free shop.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


The Dutch have given the world at large a lesson in political civility. They did not turn their back on centuries of tolerance and thinking outside the box. The victory of P.M. Rutte is a victory for a liberal Europe, unafraid to fight bullies head on (Turkey) and justly confident in the added value of an open society.

The French and German pro-European parties and candidates will take heart in the outcome of this first post-Brexit test. The undisciplined, uninformed goings on in the Trump administration are offending European sensibilities. Far right parties in the EU will pay a price for their short-sighted praise for a president unworthy of the American presidential lineage. Their dubious references will haunt them in the future.

This has been a great day for the Netherlands.  This election is also a light in the EU's too long winter. It might create a chain reaction in favor of a renewed enlightenment in its workings and institutions.

Monday, March 13, 2017


Lately Turkey has been able to alienate most of European democracies. It has almost jeopardized its relevance in the EU and NATO. Some start to be of the opinion that it might be better to push Turkey back into its maniacal president's lap before it further undercuts the consensus in alliances which might be better off without it. Of course Ankara is a gifted strategic blackmailer who can move many regional assets on the chessboard. This only derives from a "still-life" perspective, which is the more misleading in that everything in the larger Middle East is in flux. Ankara's bluff needs to be countered!

President Erdogan's "hubris" can still be matched by more imaginative alternatives. The EU adhesion charade can easily be stopped, the more so in that it has never left the tarmac. Germany still tries to manage this wild card but Berlin's patience is running out of steam. That Erdogan dares to throw Nazi dirt at the Netherlands and Germany is out of order and demands "reparation". NATO does not need an unreliable, deceptive partner in its midst. True, the strategic importance of Turkey is a fact.  Its loss would be a major event but, given Ankara's rapprochement with Putin, its volte face could hardly come as a surprise. Maybe one could reconsider parts of the former CENTO (the 1958 former Baghdad pact) with a different membership.  Other regional powers, such as the Gulf states, Jordan, the Saudis, and why not Iraq, might not be impervious. Baghdad comes over as a power which is torn between two competing magnets: Iran and a shy tilt in direction of the Sunnis. Iraq might, after all, be a better bet in such a revision since it still carries past memories of King Faisal II Hashemite times. It could also be relieved to create some space between Baghdad and Tehran, whose embrace is too close for comfort.  Iran is a regime without an overwhelming mass following. The Iranians comprise an often educated, conscious critical mass which is cautious while at the same time remaining informed.  President Obama's deal was far from perfect but it was intelligent insofar that it left open a window for reversals inside Iran. The art of the conduct of foreign affairs lies also in the recognition of redemption. 

After the coming elections in Western Europe, revisiting existing flash points should receive priority.  One should not be afraid to consider exploratory moves in an unstable environment of shifting alliances. Under the surface Israel and the Sunni states are already co-operating. Iran has an under-covered face, a more open mindset than it allows the world to see. Hamas and Hezbollah are not the monolithic forces of yesterday. The Kurds, who do well, have to be sheltered from Turkey which lives in a permanent state of coups and paranoia. Syria is a permanent drama, with too many actors and too few rescuers. In the short-term the main problems for the West are an American diplomatic apparatus on leave of absence and a US president who shows little interest for imaginative statesmanship.  He might well get rid of President Obama's achievements, just out of spite. The Europeans are stuck in a Brexit headache and electoral quagmires of their own making. Those negatives will be hard to overcome.

Under Dr. Kissinger or de Gaulle, major political bets were made. They often came at a price, in the case of the American secretary of State: an immoral covert action (Chile, Cambodia, Vietnam). The French president played the more overtly cynical card (NATO, Algeria, EU, China). I am afraid that Rex Tillerson, America's new secretary of State by stealth, will not be a man of challenging initiatives, as Dean Acheson or Dr. Kissinger were. Neither will he be the patient pursuer of a glimmer of hope (Middle East) or of a historical move (the Paris agreement, Cuba) as John Kerry was.

Diplomacy has to be more than just a janitor or a concierge. It is an exercise in smart risk and at the end of the day it is basically a denial of pessimism. In Lazarus Takiwara's words: "Diplomacy in leadership is winning the war on behalf of both sides".

Saturday, March 11, 2017


President Kennedy was born 100 years ago. His tragic demise in that miserable Dallas thoroughfare remains a wound on the collective memory of generations. While his legacy is ambiguous, his "persona"continues to rule the imagination. This sphinx-like man retains his enigma despite the number of books and findings about him. The public and private personae still do not add or match, but in the end the president prevails over the often flawed individual.

JFK came to the White House as if he was entitled to it... to the manor born. This most Eurocentric of US presidents was the ultimate Anglophile but was also able to get along with deGaulle, of all difficult personalities. His Churchill cult made it probably easier for him to assume the Bay of Pigs fiasco, as the former British P.M. had also to swallow the Galipolli humiliation. Both met their destiny in crucial circumstances, in World War II or during the Cuban missile crisis. Both owned the outcome.

President Kennedy surrounded himself with the best (Sorensen, Schlesinger) and by what have been called the last American "aristocrats":  David Bruce, Charles Bohlen, Llewellyn Thompson. A minus point is that he underestimated his vice- president Lyndon Johnson, who after him became a visionary reformer, driven out like a King Lear because of the Vietnam tragedy. Krushchev underestimated him and paid the humiliating price later.

Sure, JFK was a superb performer, with the support of Mrs. Kennedy who knew how to match style with historical legitimacy. They almost made a "royal couple." Since then, only the Reagans, with flair, and the Obamas, with commitment, have been able to emulate and modernize this JFK template.

Like Obama in his pre-presidential Berlin, Nobel prize and Cairo addresses i.a., President Kennedy was able to galvanize and to launch ambition into action. True, the bi-polar world then helped to create a "us versus them" narrative. The multi-polar, messy world now has changed all that. Hence President Obama often sounded over-existential, while the current president sounds and looks like a deranged first grader who doesn't do his homework.

We must beware of nostalgia. This Rubik world no longer obeys to former club rules. Even transgression then became a perverse way for recognizing their intrinsic value. The former bridge game has become a vulgar poker-face bluff. For this type of "amusement" we got the leaders we deserve, in all corners. They are no longer the custodians of an order. They prefer to disrupt what they never took pains to understand. In Churchill's words: "A nation that forgets its past has no future".

JFK was a "Berliner". After him, the trail went cold.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


While sitting in the accelerator of daily horrors we become tone-deaf. Occasionally there is an event out of the "ordinary" (if such a category can be referred to while covering the multiplication of slaughter) which is sadly therapeutic.

In the Domaine de Thoiry zoo, near Paris, a white rhino was shot. One horn was chain-sawed off, while the second horn was partially cut.  The rhino, called Vince, is already becoming the symbol for all that is wrong in our societies. The zoo, which is supposed to protect, became another trap. The poachers of rhinos are no longer content to wage their animal genocidal war in mostly South Africa, they "cover" new grounds.

Surveillance cameras (there was also staff on site as well) might help to find the "killers".  Sadly, Vince has joined Cecil the Lion in the pantheon of the absurd. The violence in many parts of the world rules the waves but anesthetizes the hearts. The death of a poor displaced rhino might be a wake-up call ...with a short lifespan.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


In six weeks President Trump has set many records. He alienated allies, he shell- shocked a large majority of Americans, he alienated the media, he reversed civility and legitimated alternative facts. Besides, he is surrounded of a cabinet of mostly angry men who openly profess wanting to euthanize all they are supposed to manage:  environment, climate, schools, equal opportunity, health care, justice, housing, non-discrimination, essential ingredients of foreign policy. Not a day goes by without an embarrassing tweet, leak or odd body language. This so-called president is a gift for analysts of behavior misdemeanors. 

The United States is now the realization of a Joan Didion prophecy, a country divided, heading into a "not lite" cultural war between red and blue states. Trump chooses to be his own Potemkin, addressing adoring fans in between stops in friendly territory on his weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago.  He acts as Steve Bannon's mouthpiece, considering a holy war against Islam and taking the East or West coast "elites" for de facto agents in undermining real American values. 

While North Korea tests his mettle, Russia and China play cat to this dumb Mickey Mouse, the Europeans look for shelter and the world watches with disbelief at the roof collapsing. The new immigration rules are as unnecessary and insulting as the former ones, but etiquette or respect do not figure in this White House vocabulary. 

One can now be tempted to write America off from the world order. Logic and rules do not apply any longer. The American secretary of State is a non-entity both in person and in words while the president's worldview or historical references do not reach further than the branding of a name in some indifferent, paying country. This president and his administration are already pariahs in the eyes of former US unconditionals. I bet that the British P.M. must regret the invitation she too hastily extended to this troublemaker-in-chief. 

Unfortunately, four years is a long time. I am not even sure if Trump's base will find out it has been cheated. Coal waste gets a free ride, health care becomes a political organizational nightmare, Dodd/Frank sits in a funeral urn, LGBTQ rights are left in the waiting room, pro-life's dictatorship rules.  The war against the media is in full swing under the baton of i.a. Boris Epshteyn and Kellyanne Conway, who continue to "entertain " the faithful. No wonder there is no time left for consideration of what to do seriously about trade, the Middle East, Asia, the EU, NATO, Latin America, the Paris climate change agreement, the Iran dossier, the Korean peninsula, the NPT, the various strategic agreements with Russia, Ukraine, the South and East China Seas...and one can go on! The State Department has become a funeral parlor! Putin the Hacker, got upgraded to super stardom without having to lift a finger (well...) or to invade, thanks to the Trump machine.  The cover page of the New Yorker tells it all.

La nature a horreur du vide. One should beware of overdosing on sarcasm when the American roof is leaking. The West needs US co-leadership. The US needs the "other" from abroad if they do not want to return to a provincial, bigoted provincialism. American culture is a glass half-full.  If spilled, there is no longer an inspiration for excellence. The great American culture saga has been threatened before and, as was the case elsewhere, it returned with a vengeance. The difference is that it is now under fire from a kind of Bannon-organized conter-reformation assault which seeks to replace "messy" creativity with flat American Gothic. The president has no clue but doesn't really care as long as he keeps his toys and his cult remains fooled/happy. Similar forces are active in parts of Western and Eastern Europe. Since the American mirror no longer reflects but deflects, the overall picture becomes dangerously blurred. The West grinds on for now, but for how long?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Last Tuesday we saw and hear Trump Lite. Many pundits fell in the trap and started to question the parameters of the president's range. His new found measured tone suddenly changed the trajectory, as if a "Trump nouveau" appeared on the wine list.

The media which received praise for their inquisitive scrutiny suddenly fell under the spell of this performer who is able to switch "repertoire" without having to confess, explain or repent. His cosmetic U turns will multiply without any form or need for accountability. The "enemy of the people" press will remain diligent but is not adverse to seduction. It is hard to see anything alluring in a man who stands basically for a tabula rasa. Kellyanne Conway's sofa antics in the Oval office set the standard for the present times.

In reality nothing changed. This administration wages a battle with the soft power as represented by climate change, health, equality, Arts, environment, education and global governance. The hard power, military spending, a sense of supremacy, America first (since when was it not ?) receive front row seats. Large ideas about the fight against ISIS, replacing the affordable care act, trade, nuclear deterrent, continue to be floated without an anchor in view. The new immigration measures might  spare Iraq and be more subtle than the former but will still be indicative of an inward looking priority.

The Bannon, Sessions, Miller brand remains solid and Trump's moderation remains as suspicious as it was in past occurrences, when he chose to stick to the TelePrompter. This sheepskin cannot hide the wolf underneath, who might be the more dangerous since he lacks any sense of political scent, other than what he is fed or what he gathers from his rallies. There is nothing indeed between the sycophants and the more nefarious, intelligent "strategist" hostage taker in the White House. Trump is basically a lonely man. One can understand that he likes Citizen Kane. He should read Robert Louis Stevenson instead.