Sunday, April 29, 2018


The Washington correspondents dinner is a yearly event, celebrating the press and the First Amendment. Journalists from all sides come together. The president traditionally attends. Presidents Clinton, Obama and G.W. Bush excelled in poking fun at others, and themselves.

This last correspondents' dinner was special. President Trump did not attend (for the second time), which came as no surprise.  He chose instead to go to one of his meetings of "deplorables", who get high on his lies, personal attacks and distortions.  Since there might be some progress on the Korean front, his base switched from the usual "Lock Her Up!" to "Nobel!", a battle cry which Trump relishes, as could be expected.  Surreal!

The correspondents' dinner always invites a comedian to poke some fun at the president (in absentia). This year, Michelle Wolf was the chosen prosecutor. Given that the Trump administration is considered as some return of a Krakatao-type of destructive volcano eruption, it was expected that her jabs might have more bite than usual. The audience was not disappointed. Her frontal attacks on the lies and the corruption in Trump's world were merciless...they were also unfailing. Michelle Wolf was less a comedian than a prosecutor, calling out perpetrators by name. She may have created some discomfort but none of her attacks are open to counter-argument.  Given the gravity of the transgressions which were criticized, the distancing by some journalists feels cowardly.

At the end of the day, Trump's base will continue to swallow anything which is provided for, but the other America does not have to measure or control its contempt for the permanent carpet-bombing of values, truth and the pursuit of happiness.

In a ruined landscape you can only hear a scream. Whimpers will not do. Michelle Wolf was the right person for these very ominous times.

Saturday, April 28, 2018


While Macron got a Madeleine, the German chancellor was treated with a "Bombe glacee " (Trump's compliments).


The meeting between Kim Jong-un and his southern counterpart Moon Jae-in was remarkable of course.  President Moon can be credited with the outcome. The North Korean leader got the opportunity to normalize his body language: yesterday's robot became today's normal.  Everything went smoothly, but the proof will be in the nuclear pudding. The linkage between complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula with the signing of a peace treaty looks advantageous on paper but still hazardous in real terms.

The two leaders were able to agree on some form of modus vivendi, short on details, timetable and concrete steps forward. This could be expected, given the complexity of the situation and the collateral interests of Japan, China and the United States. The various Asian interested parties will have to sort out historical grievances and worries about regional stability. The US will need solid confidence-building measures since North Korea has a record of cheating and negating on the given word.

The immediate cloud which hangs over this fragile first step is none other than the Trump/Kim Jong-un meeting. The American president is better at outrage than at chemistry.  Besides, he is too intellectually lazy to bring the gravitas and the historical and cultural know-how needed to approach problems which have long shadows. President Moon is the lone architect of this diplomatic "spring", which required a dose of symbols, protocol and patience, all things alien to Trump. The former might as well bring Kanye West (the new court jester) as a substitute for Dennis Rodman. 

The problems are plentiful:

--There is a need for overall trust, given past blunders and transgressions from the North.

--The Rubik cube of verification, sanctions, Pyongyang's future, the survival of the Kim dynasty and a possible opening to the outside world. China will be mostly concerned with maintaining the status quo which avoids a massive influx of North Koreans.

--Japan must fear Washington's impetuosity and Trump's total disdain for diplomatic stagecraft.

Many interested parties feel sidelined.  As long as President Moon was the sole architect of this major conceptual correction, confidence remained high. The American "invasion" in this most fragile, almost ceremonial coming together, is considered with some anxiety, given Trump's penchant for solo performance. The diplomats are absent at a time when they are most needed. True, some argue that Trump might arrive at some form of agreement where others, although more versed in international politics, failed. One should hope for a favorable outcome but, in the end, the fine print that counts will still be the realm of the diplomats, of which there are none on the American side. The trio Trump/Pompeo/Bolton reminds one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Observers will also be watching the American decision regarding the Iran deal. It took months to negotiate. The painstaking labor involved is probably the first reason for Trump's antipathy for both process and outcome. He hates reading, after all.  Here or tomorrow he prefers to decide without a grammar.  Dangerous!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


La visite officielle du president Macron aux Etats Unis est tout a fait remarquable. En realite on a vu deux Macron.

Macron, genre Fred Astaire, tournait autour de Trump comme un papillon autour d'une lampe. Le president americain semble avoir succombe a cette operation de charme. On a vu Trump se risquant dans un pas de deux etonnant dans lequel l'essentiel et l'accessoire etaient teleguides par Macron. Entre deux flatteries le president francais reussit a faire passer son message (Syrie, Iran, Commerce...). Le president americain, seduit, a fait le gos dos.

Macron, homme d'etat, a tenu devant le Congres un discours de haute volee. Son plaidoyer tres bien articule a aborde tous les aspects des enjeux et des differends . Il a defendu le multilateralisme, considere comme un rempart contre la montee des nationalismes. Sur le climat, l'accord sur l'Iran, la Syrie ou le commerce il n'a pas hesite a se distancier des Etats-Unis. Il s'est manifestement presente comme le grand reformateur europeen. En cela il a implicitement revendique la place qu'occupait le chancelier allemand ( en disgrace chez Trump). Il a aussi pris la releve depuis que la "special relationship" avec le Royaume Uni a pris un coup de vieux.

L'Europe (traditionnelle)  a retrouve une voix, qui est entendue et ecoutee a Washington. Par son melange de seduction et d'agilite conceptuelle, le president francais a redistribue les cartes en sa faveur. Par ailleurs il s'est rendu incontournable sur les grand problemes auxquels le monde est confronte. 

Les points forts sont nombreux. Il a reaffirme la pertinence de l'accord de Paris sur le chagement climatique . Il a suggere une reconstruction de l'accord nucleaire avec Teheran. Il a envisage une approche plus globale du probleme Syrien, considere dans l'ensemble du Moyen Orient. Il s'est prononce pour un ordre mondial articule autour des principes herites apres la seconde guerre mondiale. Partout l'accent etait mis sur la science et la nouvelle culture informatique.

Bien qu'il ait defendu les principes d'ouverture et de multilateralisme, peu en vogue dans cette administration americaine, les applaudissements etaient nombreux...a se demander si les republicains avaient bien saisi le sens d'un message qui etait a l'oppose du nouveau credo republicain.

Bref, apres avoir ete seduisant cote Trump, Macron a ete impressionant cote Congres. L'Union europeenne peut s'en feliciter. Encore faut-il qu'elle ait la volonte politique de faire sienne le trace suggere par le president francais. 

Enfin, il n'arrive pas souvent qu'un chef d'etat se refere a James Baldwin ou Simone de faut s'en feliciter !

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


President Macron is the first head of state to make an "official visit" to the United States "under" Trump. The two leaders bragged a lot about their mutual understanding which started for real when they met in Paris last Bastille Day. The American president fell for the French panache and promised himself to be a match in due time (the same happened to Hitler after he had received an over-the-top ceremony and parade by Mussolini).

Indeed, the body language in this Franco-American lembrace was almost embarrassingly spectacular. Kisses, embraces, a flirt allegro con brio, were for all to see.  The French president took the initiative--noblesse oblige--but he found in Trump an obliging, if not skilled, partner. 

It is hard to guess what the results of this Sumo love-fest might be, given Trump's penchant to agree with the last person he talks to. Nevertheless, one could argue that Emmanuel Macron is the winner.  After all, he managed to transfer to France the role which was traditionally played by the United Kingdom. Theresa May (like Angela Merkel, expected in Washington on Friday) suffers from a debilitating, diminished relevance. France is becoming America's chosen ally.

The score on particular issues looks more ambiguous but Macron was able to dislodge certain issues from Trump's purgatory. He did not achieve a reversal but he created some diplomatic flux, mostly regarding Syria and Iran. Where Trump  tried to distance himself from the geo-political quagmires by denouncing (Iran deal) or quitting (Syria), Macron suggested  more long-term engaged measures in a multilateral form.

The French ideas regarding the Iran deal tend to complement it by various measures which would address both the strategic shortcomings of the existing agreement (which has to be prolonged) and the collateral nefarious actions of Tehran in the region. Hence the need to take up the Syrian problem and maintain a military presence until a political solution might be found, so that Syria becomes a buffer against Iran's push to the Mediterranean. Macron looks into an alternative for past initiatives regarding Syria which amounted to nothing. Wisely, he alluded to the involvement of regional powers together with the US, Russia and Turkey.

It is unclear if the hawks around Trump will be complacent. Besides that, Trump remains a joker in this diplomatic give and take. In the press conference he veered again between hostility (the press), denial (previous administrations) and blunder (Kim Jong-Un = "honorable").  He looked as if he had studied Berlusconi's body-language as to appear more European (in his mind), but both the model and the result are more awkward than convincing. The official dinner is already becoming the talk of "this town" (Mark Leibovich's satire). Trump's predecessors will be lambasted again, but their tableware will be used. The uninvited America's pays reel--arts, press, Establishment--will take the high ground and President Macron will have to do with the left-overs and the unloved. In the end he got what he came for--Donald Trump--but, for how long?

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Trump, losing ground home, tried to regain some stature by way of Syria. The French and British stood by him. Everything started when alleged chemical weapons were used by the Assad forces against civilians. The images were terrible indeed, but no less heartbreaking than the non-stop accounts of the thousands of Syrians who have lost their lives during six years of hell.  Frankly, one can wonder what this outburst of outrage means in a sea of indifference.

After this "measured" strike nothing changed.  The slaughter will go on. Syrian TV showed Assad entering his "office", carrying his attache case, like a Jacques Tati comic malgre lui. Nikky Haley ("locked and loaded"), Trump's Joan of Arc, read as usual her little prepared brief in the Security Counsel. It is too early to comment on the predictable declarations of Prime Minister May and President Macron who had no choice, by the way, other than to play the minions to the fool.

At the end of the day, Assad does not have to worry. Years ago he could have been part of the solution. Now he is co-owner of the problem, together with Russia. The main difference being that Putin has a strategy, while the West has Staffan de Mistura. Putin got his warm sea port facility in the Mediterranean and can rely on a barrel bomb freak who does the dirty work for him. The Syrian rebellion is splintered, the country lies in ruins and ISIS remains a moving target. This nucleus of wars--hybrid, proxy, genocidal--is an affront to the core of Western beliefs but is a godsend for the "new sorcerers" in the anti-globalization wave.

Trump's performance was all about pecs and not about ideas.  It is doubtful that his base, which is world indifferent, will pay too much attention. His problems pile up, notwithstanding.  If only there were room for some long-term thinking after the noise.  Dream on...

Monday, April 9, 2018


Viktor Orban's victory in Hungary is bad news for the EU. The radiant blue in the EU's flag gets darker. Poland and Hungary have become the malignant growths in the body of Europe's democratic acquired added-value. It is doubtful that Brussels will rejoice. It is imperative that the EU not look in the other direction and that proper measures are considered to stop and sanction the "Erdoganization" of Mitteleuropa.

Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are sending congratulations. Trump and Putin might follow.  The EU grave diggers have their day. This is exactly why it is important to speak out loud now and not to let another alt-right reversal of democratic values go unpunished. The European deficits are piling up. Italy is almost out of the game for the unforeseeable future. The UK got what it voted for. Hungary and Poland must pay a price for their existential transgression. One is entitled to be critical of the United States now, but one must also assume the reality of the meltdown next door!

It is easy in today's fake news cycles and ersatz coups by way of social media and alternative facts to become tone deaf or blase.  There is an intelligent strategy in play which arrives at some form of induced narcotic stupor through incoherent, multiple self-contradicting messages or permanent occupation of the media. The Trump administration is the perfect example of "rule by general anesthesia."

The EU Council and Commission need to isolate, sanction, and blame partners who are in direct violation of the founding principles. They cannot yet again put sophism ahead of fulfillment. After all, this current event has to be stopped before it becomes a health hazard for all. It was embarrassing enough to see the stability pact questioned. It is unthinkable to let this happen in matters that are far more politically essential.   If the EU were to adhere to a "business as usual" follow-up, it would be better to return to a Rotary  club formula and to keep Beethoven's Ninth for concert halls.

Often the EU has needed a wake-up call to find its mojo back.  I am confident it will again.   The problem is that this time there is no room for divorce (albeit difficult) as is the case with the UK.  Here the patient, the EU, will have to undergo some form of invasive intervention which is risky. The operation requires sophistication because Europe does not want to alienate the Eastern part it took so long to extract from the former Soviet Union. It paid a price for accommodating the homecoming from the former Soviet satellites.  Hungary and Poland must now honor the commitments they made when entering the EU. 

The energies worldwide are in turmoil. America is losing most of its benevolent, desirable persuasion since January 2016. Russia plays on this disenchantment and tries to dissolve so many clumps of EU,  NATO, yesterday's alliances in a hot brew of its own making. Who could have thought two years ago that Putin might be a reasonable alternative to some ?

Thursday, April 5, 2018


The 50th anniversary of the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was widely commemorated in the United States.

Trump, who tweets about almost anything, did not find the time or the inspiration to share some "spontaneous" thoughts on this solemn occasion. Just a prepared text, by others, of course

Black lives matter, collective black memory retains!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


Chaos is permeating all aspects of Trump's inroads in foreign and domestic policies. The broken pieces pile up.  The Republican establishment starts to show some signs of anxiety, and the Democrats are only united in revulsion but divided on priorities.

The "loyal opposition" does not wait. Women and the young have shown the way. Now separate causes slowly become trans-border and they unite in the defense of democracy, which is under assault. In the past, Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter, the Me,too start, the LGBT cause, the gun control and climate change movements often followed separate paths and agendas. Now that there is a deeper sense of alarm and urgency, the "owners" of the various pieces of the puzzle are coming together.  Separate causes start to have the same ownership.  Black Lives Matter now transcends racial and other boundaries; women's causes are becoming pan-gender issues, and so on.

Out of the current American downward spiral a united front of civilization, democracy and pluralism--experienced as a shared plus--is growing. This blog argued time ago that the so-called "base"--this president's storm troops--was part of a coup, intended to overhaul the constitutional framework of the United States. Every day that passes shows that Trump is closer to Erdowan, Netantayahu and Putin than to the Founding Fathers. A self-serving Republican hardcore coterie continues to support him.  However, self interest only lasts as long as the benefits keep coming. When  damage control needs to come into play, the added value of the chosen path is on shaky grounds. This president is despised by a majority, tolerated by his party for now, and supported by a base of 35% evangelicals & Co., max.  His warfare against core American values and interests starts to boomerang in the more morally porous segment of the population.

In the end America might come back to normal. The current and future damage will take a generation to clean up. Most large sectors of civil society are depleted or on life support. The reckless dismantling of values will need a "Marshall Plan" to recover.   America's stock in the more civilized parts of the world is in free fall.  Fortunately, a future change of direction will receive massive support from the majority of Americans who are ignored or sabotaged now. It will be easy to reclaim style, manners or historical relevance. It will nevertheless be hard to get rid of the landmines and booby-traps that this administration is hiding in the corridors of power.

The existential opposition to Trump needs to find ways to transform an inductive movement into a more defined strategy, which might be able to send a wake-up call to a deaf Republican Congress. Only when the grassroots reclaim their active, mobilizing relevance will members of the House and Senate start to act. Punishment will get them, appeasement will be ignored. Hence the importance of the mid-term elections.

There is no need for this enlightened coalition to find a "leader". Leadership in America today, as in Europe yesterday, is proven to be a hazardous investment. The aggregated message of many is probably more convincing than the "skills" of one. The freaky leadership in the White House is the ultimate all uniting target.

One was entitled to hope that the infamous McCarthy ways belonged to the past. But one should remember that Roy Cohn, the evil whisperer then, was Trump's mentor.   Indeed the apple does not fall far from the tree.