Friday, March 30, 2018


Kim Jong-Un and Xi Jinping met in Beijing. The Chinese gave him a four-star welcome with the pomp and the savoir faire that are hard to match anywhere. A summit between the two Koreas is also planned. Trump doesn't need to prepare...yet.  As he often likes to say, only he is indispensable. Until now the American side looks intellectually depleted, professionally clueless and antagonizing allies galore. The president went on his North Korea "high" without warning, consulting or knowing what he got himself into.  Japan was informed post facto, China was ignored, while Trump perhaps still does not realize that there is no peace treaty between the US and North Korea. 

It would have been normal to inform or consult the other former partners in the Beijing Six party talks (China, Japan, Russia) or to start talking to former or current (?) Korea specialists as to come up with a coherent strategy. The Nixon/ China model is a perfectly convincing precedent. But no, this pathological vain individual loves to surprise without early warning and with his usual clueless aplomb. He might be tempted to do the same with Syria, by the way, foregoing to thank allies who fought ISIS and let Putin (yet gain) cash another tribute.

For now Kim Jong-Un is the one calling the shots and preparing an agenda. He shows a diplomatic acumen which needs to be met by more than the bluster of the American Lothario.  Some think that the addition of John Bolton might make the American side stronger. It is doubtful that a man who is famous for his miscalculations and infamous for his behavior will be anything but a bull in the Asian porcelain shop. It is hard to fathom how this White House will prepare an agenda, positions, a draft for possible communique, etc. while there are no US ambassadors and the State Department runs on a semi-empty tank. Dennis Rodman is posting pictures of the supreme leader with a MAGA hat...this might give him a pass to be part of the US team. The White House for its part is just a subcontractor from Fox fake news, and that says it all.  What about the jailed Americans in North Korea by the way? Are those talks really unconditional ? Under Obama, the Republicans were louder than a Greek chorus in their strident indignation. Now, in this as in everything else, this dumb party and base are corralled in the pastures of shared denial.

Everything is possible. Denuclearizing North Korea is an ambitious goal. All earlier attempts failed. All should wish that Trump and Kim Jong-Un find some common ground. The chances for such an outcome would benefit from some outreach from the US to its natural or resigned allies in the region and in NATO. Actually, the fate of the Iran nuclear deal is very much linked to this formidable Korea gamble...and vice-versa. The stakes are too important to be left solely in unpredictable hands.  A consultation among all US partners is not a waste of time!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Alan Ball made a name with "Six Feet Under", a brilliant series which aired on HBO some 15 years ago.

Now HBO is offering his "Here and Now", the saga of a liberal household in Oregon, the state of ferns, weed, and arts and crafts. The story about a family with three adopted children (from Somalia, Vietnam and Colombia) and one of their own feels totally artificial. Everybody is a cliche, activated by various forms of neurosis which makes them almost unbearable to watch. The well-meaning Muslims, the gay couple on testosterone, the racial hurt, the "performing" Asian, the parents terribles, make for a brew that is heavier than a Belgian beer.

The worse part is the well-meaning embrace of this "family" locked-up in nonstop cartoonish statements. Everything is game:  Trump's Gotterdamerung, the labor of love, black resentment, white defensive postures, and the unreliability of sex.  It could be French if it were more cynical. It is not, unfortunately.  There are more better intentions and political correctness than there are vitamins in any CVS.  Some Eugene O'Neil -like attempts at statements about the larger world sound ridiculous because they are out of place in what is just a boring soap.  Drama seldom rides a bicycle...but in Italy.

This hybrid is catnip for Republicans and the right in general. They must relish seeing these boring liberals lost in pretentious soliloquies, angst and uxorious boredom. Their liberal, well-meaning tolerance becomes a luke unappealing dish as if Alan Ball ran out of inspiration and was afraid to admit it.

Hell is paved with good intentions. Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter (insufferable) had better skip the next Emmys.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


John Bolton is "in"; Trump's lawyers run for the exit; Putin is congratulated upon his "landslide" ; Mohammed bin Salman is the new Aladdin; swords of Damocles are readied; Mueller is on life-support; the winds of (trade) wars are blowing. Fortunately, the youths in the streets say loud that the future does not come out of a gun. Trump chooses to rage in Mar-a-Lago.

It is sad to see the agony of the former shared-western outlook.  Actually, Europe  had better come to terms with this pause in the death-on-arrival Atlantic "affair".  It is time to come up with a "bite" rather than with another Delphic Brussels-made communique. The EU should deal with its own Putin/Trump sycophants who are undermining its added-value, while the the US, for its part, is being booby-trapped by Trump's yo-yo politics and behavior.

Even some more enlightened American conservatives (a dying bread) ring the alarm bell. Fox News has become the equal of Pravda in old Soviet times. John Bolton might isolate America even further from its remaining historic allies. Disdain for democracy, human rights and global strategies are reshaping America's outlook. It would be interesting to analyze the occurrence of  certain key words in the communication of this US administration. The press briefings show a lack of sophistication or nuance that is bewildering. Trump's vocabulary is a mix of lies and insults, wherein instant gratification overtakes any form of subtlety or geo-political acumen.

Europe must indeed distance itself from its former indispensable partner, turned "rogue". The real danger is that this Washington coup d'etat might outlive the lifespan of this current season in hell. The president and his "syndicate" are putting landmines in the various corridors of power.  This shift in both manners and truth-telling is unique in American history. Even if the growing outrage were to lead the president's demise, the damage done might survive him.

The Trump/Pompeo/Bolton axis will stand in stark opposition to Europe on many issues (Iran, Middle East, climate, trade, the Korean "gamble").  Obama's soft-power heritage lies in tatters.  Since Charlottesville, Trump plays on "white anxiety" to jam issues and to set Americans against Americans. Not a day goes by without a photo opportunity for hard hats or fools who are shamelessly used as props for a dark agenda. 

The reality of Trump's moral colorblind Weltanschauung is for all to see. His  misconduct in private life, business practice or the roots of his Russia obsessions get a free pass from the most unexpected corner, wherein Evangelicals and the "forgotten" white working-class coalesce. He has free-reign in choosing an entourage close to his primary obsessions, but Bolton might still be the albatross around his neck.  Remember Iraq? 

There is worse to come. It will be difficult to shield this Frankenstein Republican- made avatar from exposure. The upcoming James Comey book might shed yet again a cruel light on this cheater-in-chief.  Last but not least, poker-face Putin might have the ultimate trump card on which the survival of this Manchurian, self-inflicted disaster president hangs.

Monday, March 19, 2018


It feels more and more like an uphill battle to try to live under this administration's chaos ,while it is becoming clear that under the guise of the absurd there lurks something very nefarious. Now that Trump's Rasputin, Brad Parscale, digital guru with a cause, is in the spotlight, the apparent incoherence appears to  be a tactic to deflect scrutiny. This unhinged feeling  power shift is actually driven by a dark agenda. One had better return to Trump's inaugural "scream" to understand what might be going on.

The Cambridge Analytica role or Facebook manipulation in the Presidentials are by now undisputed facts. The fundamental DNA of Trump -anti free trade, narrow nationalistic, mostly world indifferent, corrupt- is no longer disguised, and worse is to come.

The situation is becoming so alarming, internationally, that the Chinese recalled Wang Qishan from retirement to deal with the US administration 's scorched - earth policies. Maybe the French president might try a similar inroad but the EU is in a most difficult situation, having to deal with Trump copycat leaders in its midst (mostly Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech republic...and others in waiting). 2018 will be a difficult year. Trump is indifferent to world opinion. As long as he hears the applause of a few he ignores the disbelief of the rest. In the US he prefers to rule over the heads of the many in favor of the adulation of the base. It has become irrelevant to look for professionalism or real talent in this administration which is build on a morally indifferent "occupation" force rather than on a principled "preoccupation" with shared priorities and needs. What links those people is just a matter of opportunity...and greed.

The reckoning will happen but it is far from certain that wisdom will prevail. The Mueller investigation, the strategic shrinking of American interests in the world, the mostly ambiguous Trump/Putin farce , the US / European Srindberg's " Dance of death"- like relationship in free fall, point to an absurd "denouement".

America is losing its soft power. The world which was looking for the American dream got stuck with the nightmare of a country mostly ruled by the NRA. The Pennsylvania recount pressure is the public face of this increasing polarization, encouraged by the Manchurian president. In the short run indeed we are all dead. Comey's upcoming memoir might be a timely epitaph.

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Mike Pompeo is the new Secretary of State. Career diplomats hope he might rescue them from the exile they found themselves in during Rex Tillerson's tenure. Everybody agrees that the former has been a poor manager but one should also bare in mind that the president did not mind the marginalization of the foreign affairs establishment. It remains to be seen if Pompeo will reverse course. He is obviously more in tune with Trump's worldview (if such a thing exists). One might doubt that a return to the classic codes of diplomacy is in the making because, in the end, he could even be closer to his boss and disinclined to get in the way of this White House.

On the other hand this intelligent and pushy newcomer might be able to benefit from some form of respect and awe from a president who is otherwise totally unpredictable, prone to over-simplification and to a Flintstone-like modus operandi. Trump likes macho postures and Pompeo is the type of alpha-male in favor with this "regime".  It will be interesting to see whose heads will roll next. If Bolton were to enter in this flock, the danger of more global disruption will become a threat for existing or agreed policies, in the first place among allies. Nobody will dispute Ambassador Bolton's intelligence, but his lack of tact and his disregard for any form of balanced closure are worrisome. The Asian allies feel the jolts of Trump's Korean impulse. Now the Europeans fear that this administration might renege on the Iran nuclear deal. This could lead to a de facto major split in the Western alliance which might find itself stranded. France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the EU could end up joining Russia and China in opposition to the US.  Trump may indeed want to revisit the "sunset clause", therefore reopening the agreed deal, with the unforeseeable consequences thereof.  Pompeo and Bolton are, like Trump, no fans of the agreement, and no fans of NATO either.

The current chaos in Washington could invite allies to cut loose from America's leadership. Japan, South Korea and the European allies can no longer bear the policies of  unilateral fait accompli coming out of this unreliable administration. It is to be hoped that wisdom and sobriety might prevail, but the forecast goes the other way. 

For Trump, the contradictions pile-up. London is now forcing Washington's hand after the latest Russian nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom. The  administration finally announced new sanctions against Moscow for its meddling in the 2016 US elections. Probably the president will delocalize the announcement and let his underlings do the talking. He will continue the walking.  The "no collusion" myth is on life-support but count on Trump for applying aggressive therapy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Trump's "nights of the long knivestend to multiply. The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was not informed of his demise and was dismissed like some parlor maid in a Victorian novel. His successor, Mike Pompeo (Secretary Clinton's nemesis), takes over.  Probably he has the macho profile which the president seems to like. 

Other heads will roll, other changes are being considered. If at all possible the administration is taking an even more indisputable turn to the right. Multi-lateralism is taboo and the unilateral projection becomes the new normal. President Macron's efforts to enlighten Trump on i.a. climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, Russia, are dead on arrival. The North Korean gambit is a perfect illustration for the mindset of an administration which is solely concerned with the moment and which has no time for history or diplomacy.

This president will continue to ignore the mines and enjoy the walk. Anyone who tries to mark out his path will receive a death warrant. This pathology will only increase in time, nurtured by the acclaim of a base which continues to steer an agenda of conservative priorities which could guarantee the Republican hold of the electoral college. The American democracy is under attack from abroad (Russia) and from the inside (the ultra-conservative NRA and Freedom Caucus wing).  Fortunately the Democrats are recovering the terrain lost to Trump but they miss clarity in their message and leadership. A party cannot just be a loose commonwealth of factions, it must be weaponized around a set of agreed principles.

One must hope that the Korean trump card works out for the better. If dramatic mistakes are avoided, it remains to be seen if, afterward, the president would be able to rein in his tendency to lie, revisit and spin. The North Koreans are professionals who can dial whatever is convenient and who might flatter this Manchurian candidate until he bends. If Trump were to smell success he would rush home and appear in some rally in a coalmine decor to taut his performance without the shadow of discretion. If things turn out badly he has "fake news" to blame. That man should have been an acrobat.

Tillerson looked most often lost in a job that was certainly not meant for him. He was a William Rogers-redux, who was knifed in the back by Henry Kissinger. Both fell victim to the whims of cynical, ungrateful presidents. They were chosen for ulterior motives and were discarded when their usefulness, in short supply from the beginning, ran out of steam.  Sic transit...

Friday, March 9, 2018


Trump let the visiting South Koreans declare that he was willing to meet Kim Jong Un. Both the chosen formula and wording for the announcement betrayed yet again the character of this president, more noise than thought.

After 24 hours there is already a pathetic attempt to provide for a safety net, just in case. The embrace of a grand design is being reshaped into something altogether more cautious. 

The policies and the turnover in this White House do not follow the path of deliberation. They are just like windows that are smashed for the fun of discovering what might lie inside. Previous foreign policy moves were generally the outcome of long deliberations with State, the NSC, and various professionals who had a recognized professional insight or network. Here, as is the case with trade, gut overtakes argument. The exploit is more important than the merit.

The Korean issue is tricky. The Americans have no peace treaty with the 'Hermit Kingdom' and there is absolutely no other supporting input than the one which existed up to and through the Obama administration, and which will be ignored, as usual. Trump might try to drag out Dr. Kissinger again, for cover, but at the end of the day this president only listens to Trump. Rumors regarding another upcoming Kristallnacht in the White House cirque du chaos are in large supply. Everybody has long since neutralized the surprise button.  The same does not apply for North Korea, whose moves look strategic. With the US vice-president's snub of the North Koreans during the Winter Olympics and the Secretary of State erroneous statements (again) on all matters Korean, the Republican administration looks like an asylum. Beijing, Moscow, Tokyo brace for more entertainment than statecraft.  Seoul must pray for the genie to stay in the bottle.

The many negative headwinds--the Mueller probe, the Stormy Daniels sex farce, the trade imbroglio--that assault Trump's hairdo, credibility and psyche might  well push him to make even more inauspicious undertakings.  He needs to deflect, distract and disguise. This pathological patient has already banned truth from his lexicon. When cornered, the wrongly-programmed Minotaur becomes even more unpredictable.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


The Trump administration looks more and more like a group of lemmings looking for the exit. Now that Hope Hicks, the president's preferred link to the outside world, decided to leave, he is stuck with left-overs he does not particularly like. Some can hardly hide their contempt for this
unruly patient they are supposed to restrain.

The president is now on yet another warpath,  considering imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum, hurting American car buyers first and risking another venture in unknown circumstances.  It becomes unlikely that Gary Cohn, top economic adviser, will "sweat out" his term under the cloud of a costly trade war. 

The saga regarding the score of the upcoming musical chairs (Kushner, Tillerson, McMaster) is stuck in some writer's-block parenthesis.  No doubt the denouement is forthcoming.  The short- lived court jester for one week, Anthony Scaramucci, came out, lambasting the "culture of fear" in this White House. The US Ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, preferred to quit rather than to become the undertaker of NAFTA. To top all this, Trump cannot refrain from scolding persons in his own administration and handing alternatives a life-line: Pompeo for State, Senator Cotton for CIA ...who knows ?

To add to this gang of losers, HUD Secretary Ben Carlson followed in the steps of his colleagues in crime and was obliged to review his expenses for personal luxury. Pruitt,  administrator of environmental protection (sic), was outed as an intellectual Neanderthal, and one can go on.

Never had so few cheated that much. This mafia rules under the umbrella of a triad:  anti- globalization, anti-immigration, pro-guns. The AR-15 is this year's best-seller.

It might be time to call a spade a spade. The benefits of distance versus a most suspicious agenda outweigh, for now, the shrinking benefits of proximity. Today being anti-the-Trump- agenda has become a measure of self-respect. A couple of months ago America ruled the waves.  Now the tides have changed for the worse, engulfing the core values of democracy. It is better to watch for the chaos to implode than to be part of it. 

After the Oscars, the president said that America has no stars anymore...but him.  Indeed there is no hope.