Tuesday, March 7, 2017

War Clouds
Colin Powell's old plan to fight two regional wars at once may need to be dusted and taken off the shelf if the daily rumours are true. Fortunately, the two adversaries it was long presumed to feature -- North Korea and Iran -- are again the most likely candidates. Which raises an obvious question: what have the Americans and their allies been doing for the past twenty years?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Freedom Party

Talleyrand generally avoids interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries, but he cannot resist passing the following comment about the United States.

After having squandered much of the goodwill it had earned around the world during the 20th century, it probably makes sense now for the US to become lean and mean. There are plenty of vultures salivating over the behemoth. A majority (at least an electoral majority) of the American people know this. And many toes will hurt.

It is remarkable, then, that the defeated Democratic Party has not already begun to reinvent itself along an obvious track. That is not in the direction of an American labour party.

Instead, it should look to Woodrow Wilson, who, a century ago, stole the progressive thunder from the Republicans with something called ‘the New Freedom’. Today’s Republicans have asserted ownership over the ‘f’ word for some time, which is only fair, perhaps, given the origins of their own party in the Free Soil movement and party of the middle 19th century.

That movement’s slogan was ‘Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, Free Men’. Today’s Democrats would do well to borrow and update it, in keeping with today’s economy, by replacing ‘soil’ with ‘minds’ and with today’s society, by replacing ‘men’ with ‘people’.

A new freedom party, standing for the freedom to live, work, travel, think, spend, and speak one’s mind, without prejudice or penalty, is the obvious antidote to what Democrats have described as an authoritarian, fearmongering, nasty party in power.

How long will it take for them to realise it?


Thursday, December 1, 2016


The new president-elect of the United States is busy choosing his cabinet. Most of the appointments are quite conventional, and appear to be in accord with the wishes of his Party, which makes sense if the nominees are to be confirmed. It is also notable that Mr Trump so far is adhering to a rather rigid professional categorical imperative: his appointee to head the Commerce Department is a businessman; the man to head the Treasury Department, a banker; the woman to head the Transportation Department, a former administrator in the Transportation Department (among other things); and the rumoured heads of the Health Department and the Defence Department, a doctor and a soldier, respectively. So, Talleyrand is bound to ask: why are the four finalists for Secretary of State clearly amateurs: a former mayor and high-priced consultant; a disgraced former soldier and spook; a former governor and defeated presidential candidate; and a Senator and former builder of shopping malls?

Why not nominate a diplomat?

A professional diplomat to run the State Department would be a rarity, no doubt. There has been only one in recent memory: Lawrence Eagleburger... and he got there only by chance. But Mr Trump was elected, so it is said, to shake things up. Better to shake in this instance than to stir.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Stop Whingeing"

Barack Obama has told Donald Trump to stop complaining about a rigged election. One cannot help sense the president's satisfaction that the object of his taunts is the gift that keeps on giving. But Obama forgets a cardinal rule of politics: in victory, magnanimity.

The American president's competitiveness, seen by many of his supporters as the source of his strength and success, is also his Achilles heel. He can't resist the petty jibe, the bit of relish. His obsession with winning also makes him shy away from risks--real risks--even when taking them is certainly the right and just thing to do. He may be the most popular late-second term president in a long time; but, for the above reason, that probably won't last.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has denounced the "point-scoring" of the Russians about Syria.

Fair point. But tell it to those dying at this very moment in Aleppo and elsewhere.

Her boss, Barack Obama, makes another point. He asks, what could he have done differently in Syria? He says the question "haunts" him -- as though it's the first time anyone has asked it. 

Talleyrand remembers different. There was more at stake than a speculation about how many people might have been killed in Benghazi; more than whether Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron were owed a favour or two in agreeing to this gratuitous intervention; more than whether it was worth humiliating the Russians (again) at the UN for supporting a Western initiative; more, even, than whether it was worth risking Hillary Clinton's resignation as Secretary of State, which she threatened so as to give herself just one "foreign policy achievement," which she later summarised (cheerfully) as, "we came, we saw, he died."

No, what was at stake--which was hardly mysterious back in 2011--was whether the Arab Spring would continue largely peacefully, or whether it would be militarised, and whether the world's major powers could muster the will to come together in order to nip a much larger, and far more menacing, conflict in the bud in Syria.

The Libya adventure settled it in the negative; the subsequent breakdown of diplomacy among the Western powers (and between them and Russia), the dismal performance of NATO during and after the adventure, the blindingly superficial and amateurish quality of diplomacy at the UN, (starting with Ms Power and her predecessor, Ms Rice) and the emergence of a predictable and predicted multinational proxy war, should give the American president some things to think about. Or he could just as well go back and read the advice that was given to him, advice he rejected so that he could score on "the right side of history."


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