Monday, August 28, 2017


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.