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."


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ruling Women
Talleyrand is delighted by the prospect of three of the world's biggest powers--Germany, the UK, and the US--being led simultaneously by women. One probably has to go back to the second half of the eighteenth century to find another so splendid an age. Long may they live.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Barack Obama: “History Will Absolve Me”

The legacy machine is now running strong on the last days of Barack Obama’s “transformational” presidency. Talleyrand is fortunate, not only to have perfect historical hindsight but also to have a hidden crystal ball. He sets it to 2020 and it tells him the following:

For all that a few wags touted Obama as the American Gorbachev—pushing his country in a direction of necessary “reform” before it was ready for it, and, rather than persuading people that it was right, insisted that they comply because his judgment was better than theirs—Obama has proven them wrong. For one thing, the United States—that great modern imperial experiment—has not dissolved. No territory has seceded. There is no Commonwealth of American States. And, apart from the occasional Shays-style rebellion out West, no Chechen wars. Peace, harmony and union remain intact and in force.

Obama’s signature domestic achievement—imposing a requirement upon all Americans to purchase expensive health insurance—remains the law of the land. Many Americans are a bit healthier, if only more than a bit poorer.

His other domestic priorities—harmonious relations among the races; a more civilized and civil level of political discourse; an end to “gun culture” and a steep decline in the murder rate; a fair immigration policy; an even fairer justice system; greater economic opportunities for everyone; and a serious commitment to reversing the damage from climate change—have all come about. America in 2020 now ranks one notch below Norway and two notches about Sweden, Japan and Germany in all these areas.

His priorities in foreign policy also show remarkable prescience, patience and success.

--China has got the message of his “pivot to Asia” and has decided at long last to be a good neighbour to everyone, even the Vietnamese and Filipinos, has dismantled North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal, and has even signed a collective security treaty with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Russia. The American mantra of “win-win” now tops the charts of fashionable mottoes in Beijing.

--The European Union—minus the UK, Greece and Spain, and the Euro, alas, but now with an independent Scotland and Catalonia—survives and promises the world to thrive under renewed German leadership.

--Vladimir Putin and his clique have been hounded from power by an emboldened democratic movement, which has speedily restored the Crimea to Ukraine and disavowed any further “revisionist” moves by Soviet nostalgics. The reformed Russian Federation has begun membership talks with the EU following a joint initiative with Germany.

--The Middle East has reached the limit of its bloodthirst, as Iran, Saudi Arabia and their respective proxies have called off their rivalry after faced with a unified NATO-Russia ultimatum in Syria, Yemen and everywhere else. The region’s two leading powers are now cooperating with Egypt, the Gulf States and every other presumptive regional power for a peaceful, stable and even democratic future. This new trend has even persuaded the Israelis to make nice to the Palestinians, and to offer them in good faith the viable state they have so long coveted.

And so, at long last, the United States and its friends and allies around the world can look forward to a future cultivating their own gardens first, without having to worry or wring hands about interventions hither and yon. For the rest of the world is cultivating the same, as it should be doing, in the ideal, just and sensible realm of our imagination, as it has learnt to do, under the deistic hand of the Americans. It just took a bit of patience, luck and faith in the “fierce urgency of now” to get us there.

Hope, it is said, is the last thing to die.


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