“Overall, 2021 has been a difficult year for the Biden team” – Admiral James Stavridis

Admiral James Stavridis USN (Ret.) (source: US Naval Institute)

Before the Holidays, Admiral James Stavridis USN (Ret.), one of my favorite authors, granted me an end of year interview about issues related to his amazing novel 2034 about a war between China and the United States. These geopolitical issues are unlikely to disappear from the radar in the coming months and years. The Admiral’s insights are therefore not only very informative, but also crucial to grasp the state of the world.

Admiral Stavridis, I’ve read and reviewed 2034: A Novel of the Next World War (Penguin Random House) with tremendous interest. Before we head into more serious stuff, a question burns my tongue. Since there are lots of mention of the delicious M&Ms throughout the novel, I was wondering if you are a fan of that candy yourself and if that’s the reason why it is mentioned in the book?

While I am not personally a fan of M&M candies, I have known many sea-going naval officers who are. I liked the idea of Lin Bao [one of the main characters of 2034] enjoying an American candy, essentially a nod to the duality of his upbringing.

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The General who Prevented a Fascist Takeover of America

Few journalists and observers are more versed in US presidential history than Bob Woodward. In his latest book, Peril, written with fellow Washington Post reporter Robert Costa, they write that “Most [presidential] candidates struggle with the message. In his case [Joe Biden], he was the message.” The former Vice-President was the best positioned to carry the day in front of President Donald Trump, a man who didn’t and probably couldn’t grasp the magnitude of Covid-19 (“I wanted to always play it down”, he said to Bob Woodward in March 2020), or the basic tenets of politics. About the latter aspect, “[Corey Lewandowski, who was Trump’s campaign manager in 2016] was surprised that Trump, of all people, did not seem to get that Republican leaders were self-interested.”

In a nutshell, Trump – who did not have a story to tell – couldn’t possibly compete with a man whose own life was and is the story – Joe Biden. “There is no news I can walk in and give him in the morning that is worse than the news he’s been given many other times in his life”, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told the authors about President Biden in what is probably the best book published about US politics this year.

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President Bush gave Afghans a taste of freedom

After the publication of my review of his enthralling and inspiring book Special Forces Interpreter, I had the privilege of being in touch Eddie Idrees. He agreed to answer a few questions and I am extremely grateful and happy to publish the content of this exchange today, as we commemorate Remembrance Day. I am sure you will appreciate this content as much as I liked conducting the interview.

President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was a betrayal.

Mr. Idrees, how did you feel about the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan last summer?

In short, it was a betrayal. President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, was not only a betrayal to me and millions of other Afghans, but to the Americans, the families who lost loved ones, to the Canadians who lost their lives in Kandahar or the Brits in Helmand. It was a betrayal of the cause. I felt like Biden allowed a terrorist network to win and gave psychological victory to the rest of the terrorist networks in the West and the Middle East. I have so much to say, but this was a historic betrayal of American values.

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“Good strategy might just be staying out of trouble” – Exclusive interview with Sir Lawrence Freedman

Sir Lawrence Freedman (credit: Boston Consulting Group)

Sir Lawrence Freedman is not only an internationally acclaimed author, but he is also the dean of British strategic studies and Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London. I have a boundless admiration for this institution and I hope to enlist in the near future to the online Master’s Degree in War Studies it offers.

Sir Lawrence generously accepted to answer a few questions for this blog and I am extremely grateful for that. Here is the content of our exchange.

Russia is a constant challenge because it feels itself at threat from the West and has taken a tough stance that creates an edginess.

My point was then that the withdrawal from Afghanistan, chaotic though it was, was unfortunately expected and the lesson (not to put substantial ground forces into a civil war) had been learned a decade earlier. Russia is a constant challenge because it feels itself at threat from the West and has taken a tough stance that creates an edginess, especially as it plays a disruptive role in European affairs. It poses a challenge that is serious but should be manageable as its underlying position if weak. China has been getting stronger for the past three decades year on year, although that growth may be stuttering now. It has turned itself into a great power, militarily as well as economically, and under Xi has taken a much more assertive stance on a whole range of issues. I believe this stance will turn out to be counter-productive, but it creates a risky and dynamic situation which could spark a wider confrontation (see answer to next question).

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Les Occidentaux ont poussé la Russie dans les bras de la Chine – Entrevue exclusive avec Vladimir Fédorovski, ancien conseiller de Mikhaïl Gorbatchev

Vladimir Fédorovski (source: Le Temps)

Je suis un grand amateur des livres de Vladimir Fédorovski. Par sa plume agréable et inspirée, cet auteur prolifique et ancien conseiller de Mikhaïl Gorbatchev fait pénétrer ses lectrices et ses lecteurs dans l’âme de l’histoire politique de la Russie. C’est d’ailleurs avec énormément de plaisir que j’ai lu et recensé l’éclairante biographie qu’il a récemment consacrée au dernier président de l’URSS – Le Roman vrai de Gorbatchev, publié chez Flammarion il y a quelques mois. Je m’attaquerai bientôt à sa biographie de Staline. Pour l’heure, voici le contenu de l’entretien téléphonique qu’il m’a accordé le 28 septembre dernier.

Monsieur Fédorovski, bonjour et merci infiniment de m’accorder un entretien. Je vous remercie pour votre œuvre et c’est toujours un très agréable plaisir de vous lire. Sans plus tarder, quelle est votre lecture des relations actuelles entre l’Occident et la Russie?

Il y a une affinité extraordinaire entre l’Occident et la Russie. Je n’accepte pas cette bêtise qu’est la diabolisation. Nous vivons dans un climat pire que celui de la Guerre froide. Sous la dictature du politiquement correct, les médias mentent et croient en leurs mensonges. Parce que nous avons besoin d’un adversaire. C’est inculte. Comme l’affirmait l’ancien ministre français des affaires étrangères, Hubert Védrine, c’est une fatigue intellectuelle. Par rapport à Vladimir Poutine, mon approche est gaullienne. Les chefs d’État comme Vladimir Poutine et Justin Trudeau passeront. Les intérêts nationaux et la paix, de leur côté, demeureront.

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General Milley stood up to Trump

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley. (source Los Angeles Times)

Here are excerpts of Peril, the new book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward and his colleague Robert Costa. I’m not yet done with reading it, but I can already observe that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, wasn’t afraid to stand up to President Donald Trump on several issues.

Reading this book is an excellent antidote to the perception that General Milley is a weak figure.

Two examples.

About Confederate flags:

Trump asked Milley, what do you think?

“I’ve already told you twice, Mr. President. Are you sure you want to hear it again?”

Yeah, go ahead, Trump said.

“Mr. President”, Milley said, “I think you should ban the flags, change the names of bases, and take down the statues.”

He continued, “I’m from Boston, these guys were traitors.”

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« Je suis un mauvais tsar; un bon tsar, c’est celui qui tue » – Mikhaïl Gorbatchev

19 août 1991. Il y a trente ans aujourd’hui. Je me souviens de cette journée comme si c’était hier. Fan de Mikhaïl Gorbatchev, malgré mon jeune âge et les admonestations de mon père qui ne voulait pas me voir devenir communiste, j’apprends au bulletin de nouvelles qu’un putsch est ourdi en URSS. Les chars d’assaut ont fait déambuler leurs chenilles dans Moscou et tout peut arriver. Mon héros (avec Reagan et Thatcher) est assigné à résidence dans sa demeure estivale en Crimée. Rien ne va plus dans mon univers. Je resterai rivé aux bulletins de nouvelles, téléphonant – à peu près à toutes les heures – à la salle de rédaction de mon quotidien local pour m’enquérir de l’évolution de la situation.

Gorbatchev m’a toujours fasciné. Et en ces jours où des corollaires sont inévitablement établis entre le retrait américain d’Afghanistan ordonné par le président Joe Biden et celui effectué par l’Armée rouge entre mai 1988 et février 1989 sous la gouverne de « Gorby », le dernier livre de Vladimir Fédorovski permet de mieux comprendre ce personnage adulé en Occident, mais clivant (c’est le moins que l’on puisse dire) chez lui.

Pour tout dire, Le Roman vrai de Gorbatchev (Flammarion) brosse un portrait tout en nuance d’un politicien d’exception. Avant d’endosser les habits du réformateur, le futur chef d’État devait grimper au mât de cocagne de la politique soviétique, ce qu’il sut faire avec brio en annotant avec flatterie les projets de discours de Brejnev ou en dégustant poisson et gâteau au fromage sous la véranda avec le chef du KGB – et futur numéro un soviétique – le redoutable Iouri Andropov.

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“Henry Kissinger is still listened to in China” – Exclusive interview with Prof. Kerry Brown

Dr. Kerry Brown, Director of the Lau China Institute and Professor of Chinese Studies (source: China Daily).

After the publication of my recent review of his insightful book about the history of China (Polity Books), Professor Kerry Brown kindly accepted to answer my questions about the relationship between the United States and China – an extremely timely subject. Without further introduction, here is the content of our exchange.

Chinese still admire some aspects of the western world, but not, anymore, its political figures.

On page 71 of your compelling book, you write that President Nixon was impressed “[…] witnessing Zhou Enlai redo the front page of the People’s Daily.” I often ask myself if any figure has a comparable influence in Xi Jinping’s entourage?

I imagine the figures from the outside world that most impress Chinese leaders today are more our business or technology leaders than our political ones. The excitement of new acquaintance from the Nixon era has long gone. Now, figures like Warren Buffett probably arouse more interest in China, or Bill Gates. I guess this is simply a sign that Chinese still admire some aspects of the western world, but not, anymore, its political figures.

I think we deceive ourselves if we do think individuals can magically find a way around the issue of the relationship between China and the US.

In the case where there would be no such influential figure, do you think it would help, notably in the relations with the US, and why?

Henry Kissinger is still listened to in China, and indeed, till recently, went there. I don’t know however whether intermediary figures are of much help now. This is not an issue of individual people being able to sort this out – the disagreements between China and the US are structurally too deep. There are maybe groups of people who might, over time, help – academics, perhaps, in trying to at least maintain some middle space. But I think we deceive ourselves if we do think individuals can magically find a way around this issue.

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“The CIA Director is ultimately the person we depend on to prevent another 9/11 or lethal pandemic.” – Exclusive interview with Chris Whipple

Chris Wh

In the aftermath of my review of The Spymasters, author Chris Whipple was very generous in accepting to respond to a few questions. If you have not read the book already, I trust this interview will provide you with an additional incentive to do so.

The content of our exchange follows.

Mr. Whipple, in light of the nomination of Ambassador William J. Burns as Director of the CIA (pending his confirmation), could you tell us in what direction the relationship between the President and the Director will lead things?

Given his breadth of knowledge in the national security field, and his hands-on experience with CIA operations when he was ambassador to Jordan, William Burns will have a short learning curve as CIA director. As an outsider, Ambassador Burns is very much in the Leon Panetta mold. And like Panetta, he is grounded and confident—essential qualities for a great CIA director. His congenial relationship with President Joe Biden is also a tremendous advantage.    

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Joe Biden sera aussi ferme que Trump par rapport à la Chine

Le journaliste et sinologue François Bougon (source: Asialyst).

Je recensais, en décembre dernier, le très pertinent livre du journaliste et sinologue François Bougon, Hong Kong, l’insoumise (Tallandier). Dans la foulée de cette publication, l’auteur a accepté de répondre à quelques questions sur ce sujet chaud de l’actualité internationale, notamment suite à l’arrivée du président Joe Biden aux commandes et au niveau des développements entourant les relations entre la nouvelle équipe en place à Washington et le gouvernement de Pékin.

Dans le dossier de la rétrocession de Hong Kong à la Chine, l’empressement britannique a poussé Deng Xiaoping a adopter une position dure.

M. Bougon, sous votre plume, la première ministre britannique Margaret Thatcher apparaît comme étant chancelante, mal à l’aise. On semble être à des lustres de la « Dame de fer ». Selon vous, quelle est le bilan global de sa gestion du dossier de la rétrocession de Hong Kong? Aurait-elle pu agir autrement?

Les Britanniques ont été pris à leur propre piège en mettant sur la table la question de l’avenir de Hong Kong à la sortie du maoïsme, alors que les Chinois ne la considéraient pas comme prioritaire.

Il existait différentes opinions à cette époque au sein des élites du Royaume-Uni. Certains étaient partisans de tenter le tout pour le tout afin de maintenir la présence dans l’une des dernières colonies britanniques. D’autres étaient plutôt partisans de se retirer pour se consacrer pleinement aux affaires européennes et aussi pour satisfaire les revendications de Pékin. Margaret Thatcher a dû trancher entre ces différents avis, consultant même des personnalités chinoises de Hong Kong proches à la fois du parti conservateur et des autorités communistes. Lors de sa première visite à Pékin, elle pensait pouvoir adopter une ligne de fermeté, mais elle a dû faire face à un « homme de fer » sur la question de la souveraineté chinoise, Deng Xiaoping.

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