Thursday, September 28, 2017

GERMANY, FRANCE and TRUMP

The parliamentary elections in Germany gave Chancellor Angela Merkel a victory, as was expected, but not a mandate, as was hoped for. The ultra-right cashed in an impressive check for its anti-immigration stand. The "leader of the free world" (in the eyes of most Europeans) will have to enter into negotiations with the Greens and the Free Democrats (liberals). Her overall leadership in the EU will be tested. The French president will not question the Berlin/Paris co- steering of European affairs, but the formula risks being reversed into a Paris/Berlin model.  President Macron did suggest a grand European overall blueprint for remodeling and advancing EU priorities. The president of the commission also came forward with an unusual and ambitious structural reform plan for the European institutions and for an enlargement of the EU.

The revisiting of the existing modus operandi of the EU comes at a time of improved economic and financial prospects. The aftershocks of "over-immigration" also look more manageable. There remains a political/strategic question mark.  Brexit will have long lasting consequences. It is also important not to let disappointments override the Atlantic partnership. Despite the European distaste for all things Trump, America is an indispensable ally, while Russia is a certified danger. 

It is time to remedy both Trump's parochial, shifted worldview and Europe's antipathy versus the nouveau regime in Washington. There are many problems which require that both sides of the Atlantic consult and cooperate: Turkey, Ukraine, the Baltics, Russia, Greece, China (Silk Road policy), the UK, populist outsiders in Central Europe, and last but not least, trade.  In matters where the distance appears to grow by the day (the Iran deal, climate, future challenges  -Antarctica, cyber security, health), both sides must find common ground based on the existing, yet improved international order.  Europe looks like it might finally have found its self-esteem back.  On the contrary, America appears to have entered into a darker chapter. This dangerous divergence needs to be corrected. Given the template of this American president (and his entourage), an uphill battle, waged on unfamiliar, anti-intellectual terrain, is in the make. President Macron might be the best choice to confront and cajole this most unusual ally from hell.

Germany remains the first power in Europe. Chancellor Merkel could play a symmetrical role with Russia, as Macron does with the US.  Putin tries to break the West, by way of melting a sugar lump in a hot samovar. He is adept in weakening, destabilizing or undermining Western institutions and countries.  Trump, who is anything but a creative or visionary statesman, acts as if he were Putin's debtor.  He has no Kissinger, Cyrus Vance, Brzezinski or Hillary Clinton, to counter Moscow's "games".  The Franco-German team had better come up with a strategy to simultaneously engage and counter Putin. Trump must be persuaded that there is a world beyond the zone of comfort offered by his base. An uphill battle!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

AGGRAVATION VERSUS CONTAINMENT

The tension regarding the North Korean situation is becoming critical. The North Korean leader is untested. The American "accidental" president is unpredictable. It is difficult to read the tea leaves when the ruler of the Hermit Kingdom is a cypher while Trump is difficult to coral.

Both sides are guilty of overreach but the undisciplined vocabulary of President Trump--besides his lazy unfamiliarity with historical or diplomatic know-how--is dangerous because it does not go well with a form of presidential hauteur that is expected from a head of state.   It also collides with an Asian obsession with  "face". 

The only way to avoid a form of Armageddon is to deescalate. All possible avenues of diplomacy have to be considered to get out of this impasse. Washington has the means, the ways and, more important, a reserve of untapped actors who could help roll back the tension. Until now, Trump only multiplies the flash points, which is all the more dangerous in the absence (?) of a credible line of communication, other than the North Korean representation to the United Nations.

While one has a hard time to phantom what goes on in Pyongyang, one should be  equally nervous about what might trigger the psyche of the American president. He appears unable to be selective, navigating simultaneously the existential, the mundane and the sordid.  He tweets about North Korea, health care, sports, about whatever crosses his ego. His sloppy vocabulary and undisciplined urgency never change. His secretary of defense, national security team and joint chiefs of staff are reputed to be cautious and informed, but at the end of the day Trump generally listens only to the thin skinned, amateurish Trump.

The outcome of this crisis is uncertain. A major armed conflict can be avoided. If Trump is hapless, others are not. China in the first place will not remain passive if hell might break loose on its northern borders. Others would also intervene before South Korea could be transformed in a crematorium. A joint diplomatic action can still be considered so that some form of respite brings the world back from the abyss. 

This crisis is totally atypical. North Korea chose to be a loner. The United States  never was.  In the past the US could count on some form of automatic solidarity from allies and friendly states. With Trump everything has changed. Since he trivialized NATO, goes the nationalistic way, he ends up having few friends. His growing Mussolini-like bombast turns allies off. After his disastrous UN performance, he has better beware of the boomerang(s) effect. Over the heads in the UN he spoke to his base alone. After Trump's disastrous rejection of the TPP  and his reversals about climate change and the nuclear deal with Iran, the post-World War II world order and pax Americana are on life support! 



 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

LE MONDE SELON TRUMP

Dans son allocution devant l'assemblee generale des Nations Unies, ce 19 Septembre 2017, le president Trump a renoue avec les themes "noirs" de son discours d'investiture. Il a brosse un tableau pessimiste du monde, sans suggerer comment y remedier. Son constat prefere la distance a l'interdependance. Il defend un Colbertisme batard dans le commerce et se refere a un syteme protectioniste , type Friedrich List. Comme le president George W. Bush  il suggere l'existence d' un nouveau cartel du mal, Syrie, Iran, Coree du Nord. Le Venezuela est mis au banc des accuses. L'union Europeenne est ignoree.

Trump menace concretement la Coree du nord. Il sous-entend par ailleurs qu'il  pourrait envisager de revenir sur l'accord nucleaire passe avec Teheran.Enfin, il reste hostile a l'accord de Paris sur le changement climatique. Ces trois priorites risquent d'aliener la Chine, de heurter de front les autres partenaires a l'accord nucleaire avec l'Iran et , enfin, d'isoler les Etats Unis sur une question qui definit desormais l'avenir du monde dans tous les aspects imaginables. Il est revelateur qu'il considere les Nations unies comme une addition d'etats "souverains" et non comme une communaute dans laquelle quelques valeurs normatives partagees subsistent, difficilement il est vrai !

Pour autant qu'elle veuille bien suivre Trump dans ses folies, la base electorale du president est gatee. Une fois de plus, la partie creative des Etats Unis est ignoree. La guerre contre les "elites" continue. L'administration republicaine risque de voir sa marge de manoeuvre en politique etrangere mise en cause par les propos sans nuance et par l'arrogance non informee de l'architecte du repli Americain.

"America first" est le Leitmotiv prefere de cet Ubu Roi  qui est allergique, a l'histoire, a la diplomatie et au savoir faire. Ce discours aura reussi a tout aggraver et a ne rien calmer. Les dilemnes Coreen et Iranien arrivent a un palier de haute tension. Ils sont politiquement lies et strategiquement dangereux. Si Trump trouve en la personne du P.M. Israelien un allie, il risque de se mettre a dos d'autres, plus forts et plus nombreux. Le president Francais a donne le juste ton. Ce chef de l'opposition a une main de fer  dans un gant de velours.

On voit mal qui dans cette administration americaine peut encore corriger une trajectoire dangereuse. Ceux qui en seraient capables ont pris le chemin de l'Aventin. Le Capitole est largement investi par des occupants serviles.  Seuls le secretaire a la defense et le National security Advisor semblent par intermittence  a meme de freiner le temperament populiste du president. Il est inquietant qu'ils aient laisse passer un projet de discours inopportun dans le contenu et dans la forme . Malheureusement les voix du parterre, majoritaires dans cette Maison Blanche, etouffent le rationnel.  Il ne faut pas oublier que le Departement d'etat est abandonne aux squatters, que les postes diplomatiques restent inoccupes.  Le champs est ouvert aux porteurs des "realites alternatives". Stephen Miller, emule de Steve Bannon, tient la plume du president ! On attend la reaction de Kim Jong Un. Trump devrait savoir que le bluff est une monnaie de singe.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

MUNICH FOR DEMOCRATS ?

Lately the Democrats have found their way back into the White House mousetrap.  The new Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers duo was working the parquet floors and sofas in the president's lair.  They play the victory card now : Chuck Schumer is the infatuated Beau en direct,while the House minority leader has a hard time controlling her glee. Both sides can be understood. Trump is disloyal by nature and he might find the Chuck and Nancy duo certainly more entertaining than the Mitchell/Ryan undertakers. The Democrats are delighted to be back on the stage after a long freeze.

Everybody plays a part in this comedy of errors. The Democrats will be, rightly so, relieved if the "Dreamers" can be shielded from deportation thanks to them.  Most Republicans will actually be delighted, by stealth, if this thorny issue no longer casts a shadow over their agenda. The reality is that Democrats came to the rescue of a president who remains opposed to any form of civil coexistence or values across the board. Trump is a structurally unrepentant liar who cannot be trusted.  Imagine Obama bragging about his sexual transgressions on Access Hollywood ? Imagine the birther or wiretap accusations against any other but Obama?  And one can go on...  Trump gets a free pass on every daily lie or tweet as if the new normal is becoming indeed an "alternative fact", in the words of Kellyanne Conway.  Should the Democrats enter this "asylum"?

The Democrats had better beware of the risks of entering into a Munich mindset , dealing with this president. They had better not alienate the voters who are still in some form of post-election depression. Secretary Clinton has been reviving the electoral nightmare lately. As usual she is in command, as usual she "fatigues".  She would be wise to cut her appearances short because one forgets how hard it is for competence to match histrionics. Trump is more Caligula than Seneca but many Americans are getting used to this panem et circenses. The Democrats should keep their distance because they have to deal with more than a political sort of arrangement. America must see the real danger in this concerted effort to dismantle decency, moral class and tolerance. The thugs might be invited to be more low key, but they are not gone. The law of the land, the voting rights, the right for all to come forward are under siege by the likes of cabinet members who fit more in the dark ages than under the spotlight of an open democratic society. The likes of De Vos, Sessions, Mnuchin, Perry, Zinke, Price, Carson and Pruitt are infrequentable. Others, like Tillerson, are appaling.

At the end of the day, the Democrats better watch their steps. They could fall over the new Trump upholstery and miss their step. This president does not change. He remains a lazy, thin-skinned, short attention span, unreliable persona, but he is also a permanent unpredictable, vicious damaged good which can explode like a terrorist device.



Monday, September 11, 2017

THE ASYMETRIC CLINTON "SOLLEN " AND TRUMP "SEIN".

In an interview for 60 Minutes with Charlie Rose, Steve Bannon showed his true colors.  Some, admirers and foes, saw him as the intellectual-in-residence in this White House. For them he was the Polonius in this very un-Shakespearean administration. It will be hard to stay with this flattering juxtaposition after having heard the bilious smear and witnessed the menacing body language. He fits more in Les Miserables than in a philosophical debate.

His empathy with Trump sounded genuine, his contempt for the political class is not faked, his personal grudges are real. His defense of the populist, nationalistic, nativist agenda can sound menacing. His identification with all things Trump says as much about his "coup" proclivities as it does clarify the gut instinct of a president who is too often camouflaged in bombastic or fake assessment.

The ruling retro Zeitgeist in the US is basically anti-intellectual and stands against the fabric of the American psyche.  Recent serious errors should not hide that intentions are often good albeit na├»ve, that generosity is alive but uneven, that intelligent discourse is the rule but now under attack.  For every agonizing cycle of mistakes there is recovery, for one President Jackson there stand Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, JFK or Obama--to cite a few. Bannon's message is similar to his skin, all markings which do not coalesce.

Secretary Clinton's book will be out this week. She is almost the perfect nemesis or antinomy for the White House sorcerer. She is composed, alert, prepared. She would have been the perfect president and world champion. The many book interviews she will have to endure will give her a platform to correct misinterpretations and to set the record straight. They will also be traps, and her enemies are many.  She had better beware of the temptation to settle scores and be content to remain Trump's opposite:  real, human, informed.  She need only to hold the mirror up to the Americans who must be made aware of what might have been, if...  The real winner was after all the candidate who lost by way of the workings of a system geared to advantage the southern states. Mrs. Clinton (and the majority of commentators) did not appreciate enough the raz-le-bol of a group of Americans who felt snubbed and disenfranchised. The Trump camp which can be considered as elitist "lite" stole the gutter talk about globalization, gays, climate, environment, women's rights and made hate and conspiracy fashionable.  The votes followed a downward path of manners, which still fell only three million short of a numerical win.

The hurricanes continue to punish Trump's climate deniers.  Like in most things, the noise made will be louder than the sense suggested. The administration has not enough fig leaves to cover the lies which come out day after day, regarding the Russian inquests. Every day has to be a mad tea-party to distract from the coming of the pool of tears!

Friday, September 8, 2017

"MEGALOMANIA IS THE ONLY FORM OF SANITY " (Winston Churchill)

North Korea is the other Rubik's Cube (with the Middle East). The United States has no "point man" who might try to disentangle the threads. The EU is powerless as usual. The countries more directly concerned, South Korea, China and Japan, do share a same concern but differ on the means to address the problem. Russia has the luxury to make apocalyptic statements.

Washington has plenty of possible envoys or diplomats. First among many, Ambassador Christopher Hill, who could clear the ground from miscalculation ante, but this administration is always unwilling to call upon prior experience or  continuity which precedes it. The president's usual utterances have become the new diplomatic vernacular. His stated modus operandi, not to announce what is on his mind, doesn't fool anyone, nor does it deter.  Here, as elsewhere, there is no coherent policy or intellectual effort to try regulating the various modes of worries which separate the 'high' anxiety (South Korea) from the 'medium.' 

It appears more and more likely that a nuclear, megalomaniac North Korea is here to stay for the foreseeable future and that for now only what might still be attainable should be pursued : Pyongyang cannot be allowed to proliferate. Besides, North Korea will only enter talks if the Trump administration sticks with the Iran deal. If that deal were to collapse, North Korea will again call America's bluff and consider Trump untrustworthy. It will have some form of a win/win deck of cards, since the other parties to the Iran deal would feel betrayed.  Only if the deal is left standing, might talks be considered...maybe.

In the longer term there is no alternative than to sit around a table and negotiate. Before considering a US/North Korea bilateral, it would be wise to explore a formula and an agenda which take into account the various degrees of direct interest of all participants. After all, the positions of all are well known but the difficulty lies in the versatility of accommodation. The Americans want a denuclearized Korean peninsula now. The Chinese and the Russians see this as part of a larger normalization, with moves from both  North (a freeze?) and South (suspension of military maneuvers with the US).  Besides, the Chinese want stability at any price.  South Korea will be tempted to resume the "sunshine policy".  Japan is the closest to the American view but this is more linked to the personality of P.M. Abe than to a consensus.

Time is a non-friendly medium. The North Koreans are achieving their qualitative and quantitative goals (nuclear and ICBM). Cyber sabotage might cause delays but it will fail to arrest what has become the raison d'etre of a regime. Trump cannot be relied upon. His immature mood swings should be feared. A big mouth is not a big stick.  The  conditions for a start-up for new talks are far from ideal, but there is no alternative, even in the knowledge that Pyongyang is not considering any form of roll-back now. Another problem is that this American administration still has not chosen the personnel and diplomatic expertise which are needed. Trump being Trump, he might well ask another member of his "close circle" to step in, or ask Dennis Rodman to "straighten things out".  After all, the retired basketball player calls Kim Jong Un just a "regular guy" and he should know!