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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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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Legacies

The American president, who counts himself an author, delivered an eloquent speech the other day. It is said to be his final "state of the union" address so he most likely meant it for the ages--for every author wants his words to last, even more than he wants them to sell.

Yet barring any major intervening events, Mr Obama has one more opportunity to make his mark in this way. This is his Farewell Address. The first and most famous of these was George Washington's, in which he asked his countrymen, among other things, to adhere to a strict policy of neutrality in their dealings with other nations.

Mr Obama would do well to have a look at the classic little book by Felix Gilbert, To the Farewell Address. He might then consider a similar address: less preaching to his fellow citizens about how they should think and act than asking them to imagine a different world, one in which independence and neutrality may still be possible, but without distance or duplicity. That is, as in one of Mr Obama's more notorious exchanges, how to be both exceptional and unexceptional at the same time in relation to the wider world.

We know this is what he and they need to do. The question is how. He has a year or so to figure it out.

 
 
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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Excess

The Democratic Party in the USA has just held its first debate for presidential candidates in Las Vegas, the gambling capital. It is notable that the frontrunner for the Republican Party is a casino magnate, and the Party's biggest donor, a Mr Adelson, another casino magnate, has just thrown his support to a different candidate, the son of a bartender in Las Vegas casinos.

Talleyrand doesn't shy away from the odd game of whist... but doesn't this casino business seem a bit excessive?

Being a gambling man, however, he is rooting for Jim Webb: the only apparently honest candidate in either Party.

 

 

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Proxy War

The American president has gone out of his way to insist that his country and Russia are not about to have a proxy war over Syria. This is nice to hear. But it demonstrates a poor grasp of language. There has been a proxy war underway in Syria since 2012. It may not always be clear to outsiders or even insiders who is fighting for whom, but it is certain that the majority of the warring parties are not fighting exclusively for, or by, themselves.

What Mr Obama meant to say was that neither his country nor Russia has an interest in seeing this particularly nasty proxy war worsen into an international civil war. Even if it were confined somehow to its own region, as Afghanistan's war was for the most part, it would not be in anyone's--or at least any major power's--interest for it to escalate in this way.

Unfortunately, the sloppy language suggests a lazy, perhaps even careless, attitude toward what is  a very dangerous conflict--precisely the kind of civil war that becomes something much worse when loose rhetoric guides strategy and not the other way round.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Brilliance

A remarkable admission buried in the usual self-righteous rantings of Dr Anne-Marie Slaughter.

At the end of paragraph eleven, she states baldly: “By toppling a government in Libya without any idea of what might come next.”

This was obvious at the time and even more obvious as time went on.

Who pray tell, was the director of policy planning in the American State Department at the time of planning said toppling? Who did more to urge Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, to advocate the overthrow of Gaddafi? Who encouraged Clinton to threaten resignation if the Libya adventure, promoted as a humanitarian action, did not proceed? Obama was correct in saying this was the biggest regret of his presidency. It was a rare moment when his courage flagged. He should have let Clinton go. Only idiots resign on principle.

As for Dr Slaughter, besides naked hypocrisy, she is guilty, at the very least, of utter incompetence in her appointed job.

Talleyrand will say so at the risk of repeating himself: This woman is a menace to her country. She should be silent.

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