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Friday, March 23, 2018

Taiwan Crisis
 
The passage of the Taiwan Travel Act by the US Congress and its signature into law by the American president have happened without much notice outside Taiwan and the PRC. Don't be surprised if that changes. Korea won't stay in the headlines forever. A new and dangerous Taiwan Strait Crisis may well take its place.
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Monday, December 11, 2017

Kicking the Afghan Syndrome

Vladimir Putin’s triumphant arrival to Syria today reminds one of the moment in 1991 when the US President George H. W. Bush declared that he and his country, because of its quick victory in the Gulf War, had kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all. In retrospect the diagnosis is rather debatable, after what his son and others managed to do in the same part of the world.

One wonders also whether the Russians will experience the same feeling now. In contrast to their humiliation in Afghanistan some thirty years ago, and to a lesser extent in Chechnia, their work in Syria – with roughly the same goal as the US had in Vietnam, that is, propping up an ally in the midst of an insurgency to the point that it could declare ‘victory’ in being able, at least ostensibly, to defend itself – has been achieved.

But also like Indochina and Afghanistan (and Chechnia, for that matter), Syria is a hard, messy place, and not much celebrated for gratitude or absolution.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Too Much Zeal
 
The stirring moves in Saudi in the past several days suggest haste and poor planning. It is hard to believe they will succeed in their aim. What if they do not? A reversal, most likely, perhaps in the form of a coup. How much and how far the violence would spread should worry many people now.
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Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Long-Jumper

In anticipation of Theresa May's upcoming speech in Florence, Talleyrand would recall another speech there about Europe that became rather famous -- by Roy Jenkins, nearly forty years ago: https://www.cvce.eu/content/publication/2010/11/15/98bef841-9d8a-4f84-b3a8-719abb63fd62/publishable_en.pdf

'I believe that a new, more compelling and rewarding but still arduous approach is necessary. We must also change the metaphor. Let us think of a long-jumper. He starts with a rapid succession of steps, lengthens his stride, increases his momentum, and then makes his leap'

Bonne chance, Madame May.

 

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Korea

North Korea's regime now claims to have tested a hydrogen weapon. It has recently tested more missiles than it has in a long time. Yet, the consensus among the world's experts is still, after  some two decades, that the North Koreans are extortionists who can be alternately browbeaten or bought off, and the status quo ante will resume.

Talleyrand knows very little about these odd people. But he has asked a number of times -- eg here and here -- for evidence of the inner thoughts of the North Koreans. What if they are not extortionists but have some other aim besides 'regime survival'? Or, what if their definition of extortion is not the same as others'?

Governments that do not wish to fear the worst from North Korea need to determine a collective aim and then determine what each is prepared to do to achieve it. Even then, it may too late to impose a unified front against this menace of a regime, and succeed. But if there is to be any aim achieved that is not exclusively North Korea's, then certainly it will follow from a policy that is not based upon wishful thinking or upon any other speculation over what Kim Jong Un wants and will do, but upon what his adversaries want and need in this region.

The foregoing is not rocket science [sic]. It is, going by recent comments of senior American, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and South Korean officials, not unfamilar. The question now is not whether or not it is being acted upon. One way or another, there will probably not be an undramatic denouement to this crisis. The question is whether its nature, scale, and scope will be decided by North Korea or by its adversaries -- in unison, or not.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Perfidious Albion
 
Well, perhaps not perfidious, but certainly odd. After three rounds of negotiations and more than a year since their bizarre vote to leave the European Union, the UK is still pretending to whistle in the wind about 'Brexit'. Somebody, soon, needs to re-educate the British on the basics of diplomacy, starting with the definition of 'demandeur'. The British people have a good deal at stake, however much their government has been unserious, or worse.
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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?
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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?

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Professionals

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.

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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.

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