Archive for March, 2012

Into the Abyss: Washington’s Fecklessness, Syria’s Fate—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #20 (March 30)

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Latest News Reports and Opinion

Reuters reports from Beirut,

(Reuters) – Syrian artillery hit parts of Homs city and at least 37 people were killed in clashes around Syria on Friday, opposition activists said, as peace envoy Kofi Annan told President Bashar al-Assad his forces must be first to cease fire and withdraw.
–Erika Solomon and Douglas Hamilton (Beirut), “Syrian army must pull back first under Annan plan, Reuters, March 30, 2012 (2:15pm EDT).

The Syria conflict and the United States’ failure to develop and execute an effective policy to deal with the atrocities in Syria is likely to spill over into international efforts to halt the development of a nuclear weapons capability in Iran, as suggested by Turkish Prime Minister’s reported statements to Khamanei in Tehran.

See Elad Benari. “Khamenei: Syria’s Anti-Israel, So We’ll Defend It; Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tells Turkish PM Erdogan: Iran will defend the Syrian regime due to its anti-Israeli stance, Arutz Sheva (7), March 30, 2012 (www.israelinationalnews.com).

The Telegraph provides an overview of the situation at the end of the day in London:

Ruth Sherlock (Beirut), “Syria activists lose hope that they will unseat Bashar al-Assad; Syrian activists were losing hope of unseating President Bashar al-Assad from power as regime troops continued to attack dwindling rebel strongholds, ignoring international demands for a ceasefire,” The Telegraph, March 30, 2012 (7:39PM BST).

Der Spiegel, which has consistently provided up-to-date and comprehensive reporting on events on the ground in Syria, describes the impact of “Annan’s deadly peace plan” including its fatal flaws and its effects on the ground:

See Ulrike Putz (Beirut), “Annans tödlicher Friedensplan; Syriens Rebellen toben, Experten sind entsetzt: Der Uno-Friedensplan von Kofi Annan bringt dem Assad-Regime vor allem jede Menge Zeit, um im Land weiter zu morden und zu foltern. Am Ende könnte der Diktator sogar im Amt bleiben – die Opposition will das mit Gewalt verhindern, ” 30 März 2012.

Regarding Obama’s posture toward Russia as revealed in Seoul, see Charles Krauthammer, “The ‘flexibility’ doctrine,” The Washington Post, March 29, 2012. Krauthammer quotes the audio picked up at the open microphone incident, as follows:

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it’s important for him [Vladimir Putin] to give me space. . . . This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
— Barack Obama to Dmitry Medvedev, open mike, March 26

Analysis

What can be added to what has been written before? See the Articles on Syria page.

Obama is determined not to get involved in Syria in an election year, “regardless of the consequences”.

He is not moved, not moved to action, by seeing thousands of Syrians killed by al-Assad’s forces, with dozens and sometimes hundreds of new victims added to the list each day.

He supported the Kofi Annan plan, which in effect prevented potential pressures on the ground against al-Assad, while providing a smokescreen behind which the United States could hide its feckless failure to act to halt the killing. Worse than that, the Annan plan thwarted the efforts of others–Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, in particular–from providing arms to Syrian citizens with which they could defend themselves against the onslaught of a modern army and state security apparatus, and from establishing a safety zone inside Syria to which they could retreat to escape the killing.

The response of the U.S. and others to events in Syria is worse than Srebrenice, because the events have unfolded in slow motion and the United States has had plenty of time to think, to react, and to act to stop the killing.

Now the world can draw its own conclusions about the current leadership of the United States, which as we have pointed out has a foreign policy without a moral core.

The saddest thing is that we can now also draw our conclusions about Barack Obama, and the kind of foreign policy “leader” he really is.

He has bungled our exit from Iraq, and further embroiled us in a hopeless war to uphold a corrupt dictator and political elite in Afghanistan, a narco-state.

He has also thrown international law to the wind as he pursues the defense of the United States by enhancing and using the capabilities of drones and special operations forces to simply kill our perceived enemies, throughout many countries in the world.

In doing so, with no vision of peace and no credibility in appealing for the support of the populations of allied countries to undertake joint endeavors based on shared moral values and principles, including those embodied in international law, he has given the world a prospect of endless war–without the moderating force of law.

He is who he is.

And we are who we are. In the United States, we have a vote in the upcoming presidential elections. For some of us, who find the domestic programs of the Democrats far more sensible than those put forward by Republican candidates in the presidential primaries, and who are gravely concerned about the future composition of the Supreme Court, the presidential elections in November, 2012 are shaping up to present a wrenching choice.

In the meantime, we–and the Syrians demonstrating and fighting for a democratic government which guarantees the protection of their fundamental human rights–must look elsewhere for leadership to halt the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other grave violations of human rights in Syria.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer on this topic, and others, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here.

“The emperor has no clothes”: Foreign policy without a moral core—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #19 (March 29)

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Latest News and Opinion on Syria

Dominic Evans (Beirut), “Assad says foreign aid to rebels must stop under peace plan,” Reuters, March 29, 2012 (8:54 pm BST).

Adrian Blomfeld, “Syria: Bashar al-Assad raises questions over commitment to peace deal; President Bashar al-Assad has raised questions over his commitment to a UN-backed initiative he agreed to just days ago by demanding that Syria’s rebels disarm before a peace deal can be reached, The Telegraph, March 29, 2012 (8:01 pm BST).

Der Spiegel reports that 29 people were killed on Thursday, mostly in Homs, Idlib and in the suburbs of Damaskus.

–Christoph Sydow, “Assad ignoriert Annans Friedensplan; Mit sechs Punkten zum Frieden: Uno und Arabische Liga setzen auf Kofi Annans Lösungsplan, der den Machtkampf in Syrien befrieden soll. Doch das Regime in Damaskus setzt bislang keine der Forderungen um. Assad spielt auf Zeit – und hofft weiter auf die fehlende Entschlossenheit des Westens,” Der Spiegel, den 31. März 2012. This article also contains a summary of the six-point U.N. peace plan of Kofi Annan, in German.

Tony Badran, “Passivity and incoherence on Syria,” NOW Lebanon (blog), March 29, 2012.

Tony Badran, “US tells Turkey to back off Syria,” NOW Lebanon (blog), March 22, 2012.

Opinion: Marc Ginsberg

Marc Ginsberg, former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco has condemned recent U.S. policy on Syria, highlighting similarities with the Clinton White House’s handling of atrocities in the Balkans up until the massacre of 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenice in July, 1995.

Flash forward 17 years later, and in this second year of Syria’s so-called Arab Spring bloodbath it’s déjà vu all over again at 1600 Penn. While Syria is not Srebrenica, there are eerie similarities in how this Obama team is hopelessly caught up in a Bosnian-style policy vacuum circa 1995, characterized by an excessively domineering election campaign apparatus that inexorably trumps national security considerations. That is a dangerous recipe when coupled with the absence of any long-term strategy in Syria.

Why is the White House on such a slippery slope that it claims it is determined to avoid?

Tracing the policy of the White House over the last year, Ginsburg notes that Obama and his team reacted to Syrian atrocities like “kryptonite”, stressed unsubstantiated fears about what would come after Assad as a reason for inaction, and coupled repeated calls for Assad to go with a failure to impose consequences on al-Assad. Consistently, the White House political operation’s desire to keep Syria out of the election trumped national security considerations.

Shockingly, Ginsberg relates how the U.S. enlisted Turkish support for certain options, and then cut the ground out from under the Turks by telling them that Obama “preferred going through the Russians” to secure peace by supporting the U.N. peace initiative led by Kofi Annan.

(A)s more reports of atrocities trickled out of Syria last summer, the U.S. began subcontracting U.S. policy to Turkey in the expectation that greater coordination with Ankara would create more multilateral support against the regime. At the time, this made eminent sense. Ankara, faced with a growing humanitarian refugee crisis on its Syrian border, and furious with its failed investment in the Assad regime, picked up the mantle. There were bilateral talks of buffer zones and humanitarian corridors and, perhaps non-lethal support to the nascent Free Syrian Army.

But as my able colleague Tony Badran reported in his blog in www.nowlebanon.com (confirming what I picked up during my recent visit to Turkey a few days ago), Secretary Clinton caught her Turkish counterpart off guard during their meeting in Washington last month. Clinton reportedly told Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the Obama Administration “preferred going through the Russians” in an attempt to achieve a political solution being shopped by the UN/Arab League’s Special Syrian Envoy Kofi Annan.

By unexpectedly dismissing Turkish/Arab League plans to create a buffer zone/or humanitarian corridor as well as organizing and providing non-lethal support to the Free Syrian Army, everything that Turkey thought was on the table with Washington appeared to fall off of it. It seemed to matter to no one in the White House that it had just pushed our Turkish colleagues over the cliff after we had jumped on their bandwagon.

(I)f the U.S. refuses to accede to new ideas from its “Syrian Friends” then, to coin its own phrase with respect to Assad, “it should get out of the way.”

–Amb. Marc Ginsberg, “Syria Is Obama’s Srebrenica,” Huffington Post (The Blog), March 28, 2012 .

Tony Badran’s March 22 article, listed above and cited by Ginsberg, provides further details on the change in U.S. position on Syria with regard to options under consideration by Turkey and the Gulf countries. Badran also explains Obama’s aversion to getting invoved, as follows:

The Obama administration’s reasoning is simple. It calculates, rather correctly, that such regional efforts will likely end up drawing the US in down the road, one way or another. President Obama wishes to nip in the bud any possibility of this happening in an election year. And so, such regional moves were opposed in order for the president not to be forced to take action he’s adamantly intent on avoiding, regardless of the consequences.

As a result, the administration has found itself in the surreal position of siding closer with Assad’s Russian ally and at cross-purposes with its own regional allies – and, most significantly, in contradiction with its own stated policy of regime change in Syria.
–Tony Badran, “US tells Turkey to back off Syria,” NOW Lebanon, March 22, 2012.

So, Obama seems to have pulled the rug out from under our allies, and decided to pursue peace in Syria instead by working with the Russians and supporting Kofi Annan’s ill-starred six-point peace program.

A Foreign Policy without a Moral Core

Obama’s actions toward Turkey and the Gulf countries in relation to Syria suggest that there is no moral core at the heart of Obama’s foreign policy.

It should also be noted that a close if unofficial advisor to Hillary Clinton–her husband, Bill Clinton–was himself the author of the U.S. policy that led to Srebrenice.

On Syria, the pattern of U.S. actions toward Iran in 2009, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya has been repeated. Absent Security Council authorization, Obama has been unwilling to act or to lead. Obama avoids confrontation like the plague.

Events drive policy, not the reverse.

The Obama administration has shown no moral outrage at Russia’s and China’s support of al-Assad and their working to provide him with more time to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian population to solidify his hold on power. Rather, it’s business as ususal.

With Russia actively supporting al-Assad through the provision of weapons, amunition and training by Russian advisors on the ground in Syria, President Obama had the callous temerity to sit down with Russian President Medvedev at the Seoul nuclear conference last week, in a most cordial manner, and to beseech him to understand that he, Obama, would be able to be more flexible on nuclear arms control negotiations after the November elections.

What was most revealing about the “open microphone” episode in Seoul was that Obama was pleading with the Russians to be understanding and to give him some space on the arms control issue. In short, he was proceeding from a psychological position of weakness, when he should have been insisting publicly that Russia stop its morally indefensible support of al-Assad’s commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

Obama seems to be laboring under the illusion that his “reset” of relations with Russia, particularly thorugh his personal relationship with Mededev, has been successful when, quite obviously, the contrary has been the case.

These developments can be understood only by recognizing that Obama when dealing with foreign policy issues thinks primarily in terms of electoral politics and his re-election in November. He delegates foreign policy to others. In fact, he appears much more animated and engaged emotionally on domestic issues. This is consistent with his lack of international interests prior to entering the White House.

For whatever reasons, in the foreign policy area there appear to be no moral values for which he will fight.

When you step back from the daily news and take a broad look at what Obama has done by supporting Kofi Annan’s U.N. peace initiative, and “preferring going through the Russians”, you can see the utter cynicism and lack of morality of the administration’s policy and actions.

What Obama has done, in a word, is to sell the Syrian opposition down the river. He has abandoned them. The highly probable result of pursuing the Annan plan is that great delay will follow before the fighting stops, if it does, and then probably only after thousands of additional lives have been lost.

The U.N. plan is nothing more than a shameless facade behind which the United States can try to hide, while it obstructs those who would otherwise act to halt the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria.

The logical outcome of the U.N. plan is that al-Assad will remain in power, with all the instruments of state terror at his command, to be used if and when and to the extent needed to maintain himself in power. Keeping him in power will ensure the Russians the continued operation of their naval base at Tartus, their listening post for the Middle East, and their arms contracts and other business relationships with the al-Assad regime.

One is reminded of the children’s story by Hans Christian Andersen entitled, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. See the translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Keiserens nye Klæder” by Jean Hersholt.

The Emperor in this case is President Barack Obama. The Emperor has no clothes.

Obama’s foreign policy has no moral core.

The Trenchant Observer

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For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer on this topic, and others, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page.

Limited military action to halt crimes against humanity: A new template to halt terror in Syria, and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #18 (March 28)

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

For the Observer’s selection of the latest news reports, click here.

***

“We are…in a historical moment in which the international community is called upon to craft a new response to regimes in crisis that cling to power against the democratic demands of their populations by the use of terror and the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“The response that is required, however, …does not countenance long, drawn-out negotiations with a Dictator who continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against his population. It does not accept a scenario in which negotiations continue in diplomatic time, as thousands are killed in real time.

“It does not accept a diplomatic dance that places the trump cards in the hands of authoritarian regimes complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in the hands of the Dictator committing those crimes.

“It does not accept the “devil’s bargain” of negotiating with a war criminal the cessation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in exchange for his retaining power and the capability of using the instruments of state power to continue widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights…

“…Limited military actions to halt the ongoing commission of such crimes may form a part of this international response, with the approval of the Security Council whenever possible, but without it if Security Council action is blocked by a veto and the atrocities and butchery continue.”

–The Trenchant Observer, below

The Hope

Rami Khouri of the Daily Star (Beirut) argued recently that

We may be witnessing in Syria the first example of a new global diplomatic process to end a conflict, protect civilians, and instigate democratic political reforms within a sovereign country in a manner that is at once legitimate, credible and effective.

In the past three months, a variety of countries – Arab and foreign, big and small, friends and foes of Syria – have all performed an ever-evolving diplomatic dance that last week generated a United Nations Security Council statement on Syria that is important for three reasons: It is unanimously supported by all council members, including Russia and China, who had vetoed earlier resolutions critical of Syria’s leadership; it waters down the earlier Arab League that explicitly called for President Bashar Assad to step aside; it seeks instead to halt the violence and open the way for an unspecified process of dialogue and reform leading to a democratic transition that may one day result in a new regime in Syria.

The two previous possible templates for addressing the Syrian situation – the Libyan intervention and war by NATO, and the unilateral Arab and Western demands that Assad step aside and make way for a democratic transition in the country – have both proved undesirable or unfeasible for certain key actors, primarily Russia. The past month has shown that if Russia and China decide to oppose the American-led camp, the situation will remain diplomatically frozen.

The chance of this package being accepted or implemented by the Syrian government is virtually zero, because it knows very well that if it pulls back its military and stops attacking its own civilians in urban centers, hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets in peaceful demonstrations against the regime. The important point is that the key global actors have agreed on this approach, to open the door to a peaceful process of political transformation by which Syrians nonviolently and democratically change their regime and install a more democratic system of governance.

A key element in this approach is that President Bashar Assad and his family who run the country will remain in power for now, and are the key party with whom the opposition negotiates. This is understandably distasteful to the opposition, given the extreme cruelty and near barbarism that the regime’s military forces have used against unarmed Syrian civilians for the most part.
..
The Assad regime’s ability to hide behind its own sovereignty is now exhausted. This week the world has started to craft a legitimate diplomatic mechanism that shatters the shield of this abused sovereignty, and demands certain actions that improve conditions inside Syria, and perhaps provide a slow-motion means of changing the regime for the better over a period of months or years.

The diplomatic dance continues, seeking to resolve the Syria crisis, but also to craft a new international diplomatic order.

–Rami G. Khouri, “A new world order is born in Syria,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 24, 2012.

The Reality

Khouri’s optimism regarding the U.N. initiative led by Kofi Annan is noteworthy, particularly in view of the earlier pessimism expressed by the Editorial Board of The Daily Star.  On March 9, 2012, they wrote:

The scene around Syria overflows with talk. The world’s big players proffer big words, which amount to zero in their impact on the Syrian regime – if anything they are utilized in their propaganda campaign.

The international community is attempting to save face, and by doing so is exhibiting its hypocrisy in every step and every word. This is hypocrisy of the worst kind, not only uncovering the ulterior motives of the world powers, but also serving as an eye-opener as to the intentions of the small, medium and super powers. God help any downtrodden party who takes the words of those powers at their face value. In this, the international community’s reaction to the crisis in Syria should be a lesson for many nations that look to it for support.

In the meantime, help for Syria is still at square one and none of the steps currently being taken are going to eradicate the shame of the international community.

–Editorial, “We procrastinate,” The Daily Star, March 9, 2012.

Correction: Earlier versions of this article mistakenly atribributed this text to Rami G. Khouri, to whom we apologize for the error.

A New Template to Halt Terror in Syria, and Elsewhere

While the Observer has the highest respect for Khouri and his judgment, the available evidence in the public domain suggests that the March 9 Editorial of The Daily Star remains much closer to the mark than his March 24 column on “the birth of a new world order.”

We are indeed in a historical moment in which the international community is called upon to craft a new response to regimes in crisis that cling to power against the democratic demands of their populations by the use of terror and the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The response that is required, however, and which may yet emerge–if not in this crisis perhaps in the next–does not countenance long, drawn-out negotiations with a Dictator who continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against his population.  It does not accept a scenario in which negotiations continue in diplomatic time, as thousands are killed in real time.

It does not accept a diplomatic dance that places the trump cards in the hands of authoritarian regimes complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in the  hands of the Dictator committing those crimes.

It does not accept the “devil’s bargain” of negotiating with a war criminal the cessation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in exchange for his retaining power and the capability of using the instruments of state power to continue widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights, including the right to life and physical integrity of the human person, the right of assembly, the rights to free speech, freedom of the press, and to receive and impart information and ideas, and the right to due process and a fair trial by an independent judiciary.

Instead, the response that is required, for both moral and political reasons, is an insistence on the cessation of crimes against humanity and war crimes as a condition precedent to negotiations betwen the dictatorial regime, its democratic opposition, and the international community.  Limited military actions to halt the ongoing commission of  such crimes may form a part of this international response, with the approval of the Security Council whenever possible, but without it if Security Council action is blocked by a veto and the atrocities and butchery continue.

Any such military action without Security Council authorization should be strictly limited to defending populations which the offending state has a “responsibility to protect“–in situations where it is failing to do so, and even actively orchestrating the commission of the crimes which are to be defended against. Further, it should be limited to halting the atrocities, and undertaken as provisional measures of protection of the victims until such time as the Security Council is able to act–without a veto–to implement “the responsibility to protect”.

The Trenchant Observer

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For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer on this topic, and others, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page.

Syrian onslaught continues in Deraa, Hama, Kalidiya, Homs, Saraqueb, Qalit al-Madiq, and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #17

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Latest News Reports

The Christian Science Monitor reports,

“Robert Grenier, former director of the CIA counterterrorism center, writes in a commentary for Al Jazeera that Annan’s plan merely helps Assad by buying him time to continue the crackdown.

“… does anyone honestly think that the Syrian regime, committed as it is to a programme of violent intimidation and collective punishment, will provide “full humanitarian access”, or a daily “humanitarian pause” for those whom it suspects of aiding its adversaries? What are the chances that the tender Mr Assad will release detainees who may promptly rejoin the struggle against him, or that he will permit foreign journalists to freely document his atrocities? Who would want to bet his life, or the lives of those dear to him, that Bashar and his generals will honour a ceasefire, or engage in good faith in a “political dialogue” with those who are challenging their power?

“Pursuing such “solutions” is worse than feckless, for it forestalls other, potentially effective actions. By permitting the Syrian regime added time, it is morally equivalent to aiding and abetting Bashar al-Assad.

“Such good as can be done in these circumstances will only be done by those who are willing to climb metaphorically into the ring, and to dirty themselves in the process of providing such assistance as is possible to the oppressed of Syria as they struggle to liberate themselves from an unspeakable regime. It will mean taking sides.

–Ariel Zirulnick, “Syria violence raises concerns Assad is only buying time with UN cease-fire deal; The day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly agreed to UN envoy Kofi Annan’s cease-fire plan, fighting continued in several cities,”The Cristian Science Monitor, March 28, 2012.

Reuters reports, in a late dispatch,

(Reuters) – Syrian forces bombarded cities and towns in southern and northern Syria on Wednesday and stormed villages, forcing thousands to flee after President Bashar al-Assad accepted a peace plan calling for the army to withdraw to barracks.

Assad’s ally Iran backed the peace plan, saying Syria’s crisis “should be dealt with patiently”, and Russia said it was now up to Syria’s opposition groups to also endorse the proposals, which do not require Assad to give up power.

But the United States, Germany and the Arab League called for action not words. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said there was “no time to waste” in implementing a ceasefire.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported military action against towns and villages from the southern province of Deraa to the Hama region 320 kms (200 miles) to the north including shelling in parts of Homs, where Assad on Tuesday toured the devastated streets of a recaptured rebel bastion.

“Military forces accompanied by dozens of armored vehicles stormed the town of Qalaat al-Madiq and nearby villages (in Hama),” the Observatory website reported. The town and its imposing 13th century citadel had been under fire for 18 days, said one activist who gave his name as Abu Dhafer.

“Thousands of people have fled and nearby villagers have gone to homes in safe areas. They are cramming people into their homes, a dozen to a room, men, women and children.”

Four rebels, four civilians and four soldiers were killed In the fighting and five civilians were killed in the shelling of the district of Khalidiya in Homs, activists said.

–Erika Solomon and Douglas Hamilton (Beirut), “Syrian violence ignores peace diplomacy,” Reuters, March 28, 2012 (5:05pm EDT)

And from Beirut, the Associated Press provides an account of the death toll in just one town, Saraqueb:

BEIRUT: Syrian activists are urging international humanitarian organizations to urgently go to the northern Syrian town of Saraqeb, where they say security forces have killed more than 40 people in the past four days.

The Local Coordination Committees network says there are many unidentified corpses and injured people in the streets of Saraqeb.

They say the Syrian army launched a massive military assault on the opposition town on Sunday, leaving a trail of death and destruction.

The Committees and another activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Wednesday that hundreds of homes and shops have been pillaged and burned. Video footage from Saraqeb appeared to back those claims.

Activist Fadi al-Yassin in the northern province of Idlib says the army now completely controls the town.

–AP, “Activists: 40 killed this week in north Syria town” The Daily Star, March 28, 2012

In Thursday’s column, Michael Young of The Daily Star argues persuasively that the Annan plan is cynical, full of holes, and likely to encourage war.

The problem is that most Syrians are wise to the dangers of Annan’s plan. Many prefer civil war to more Assad rule, compounded by barbarous retribution if the Syrian president regains his grip. Annan wants Assad’s victims to cede to their president the latitude to subjugate them for years to come. The provisos in his project manufactured in New York won’t change that. Annan’s six points offer only generalities to defend the Syrian people, with no valid implementation mechanism, and no penalties if Assad ignores the conditions.

That is why Annan’s endeavors will likely accelerate a military conflict. The Syrian opposition will refuse to deal with their killer; those who do so will be marginalized. As many Syrians observe the international community endorsing the Russian and Chinese position; as they realize that Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy are patent hypocrites; and as they witness outsiders, including Syrian exiles hostile to the Assad regime, maneuvering without consulting them, they will become more frustrated and angry, and they will purchase weapons. There will be war, all because no one dares show Bashar Assad the exit.
–Michael Young, “The Annan plan will bring more violence” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 29, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

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Baltasar Garzón y el caso de las escuchas Gürtel: El Tribunal Supremo rechaza el recurso de nulidad, abriendo el camino al Tribunal Constitucional

Monday, March 26th, 2012

En España, la Sala Penal del Tribunal Supremo ha rechazado el recurso de nulidad de las actuaciones en el caso de las escuchas Gürtel, presentado por Baltasar Garzón, abriendo el camino al recurso de Garzón antes el Tribunal Constitucional. 

Véase Julio M. Lázaro, “El Supremo rechaza el recurso de nulidad de Garzón contra su condena; La Sala Penal niega que tuviera “una idea preconcebida” en contra del acusado; La desestimación abre la vía al recurso de amparo ante el Constitucional,” El País, el 23 de marzo de 2012.

Con la elección del Partido Popular en noviembre de 2011, los paraceres de los fiscales–quienes antes apoyaban las posiciones de Garzón–han cambiado. De hecho, los fiscales ya no son los mismos.

Anteriormente, en conferencia de prensa, el Fiscal General del Esado, Eduardo Torres-Dulce, habia dicho que seguiría las recomendaciones de los procuradores adjuntos a la Sala Penal en cuanto a recurrir la sentencia contra Baltasar Garzón en el caso de las escuchas Gürtel, o no:

El fiscal general del Estado, Eduardo Torres-Dulce, manifestó este martes que está a la espera de que la Sección Penal de la Fiscalía del Supremo le notifique su posición sobre si se debe recurrir la sentencia que ha condenado al juez Baltasar Garzón a 11 años de inhabilitación como juez por las escuchas de Gürtel, y “en caso afirmativo”, añadió el fiscal general, “no habrá ninguna pega”.

Pero después del reemplazo del jefe de la sección adjunta a la sala penal, Torres-Dulce decidió no recurrir la sentencia.

En el intervalo, el procurador adjunto a la Sala Penal fue reemplazado por otro nuevo mas simpático al PP, quien anunció–casi sin tener tiempo para estudiar el expediente–que no apelaría la sentencia. Torres-Dulce, también nombrado por la corriente de la magistratura cercana a la PP, pudo así cumplir con su palabra–en el sentido estricto de la artimaña.

Parece que en el Supremo y ahora también con los procuradores del Partido Popular, no hay vergüenza.

El prestigio de la magistratura española debe estar en uno de sus puntos más bajos desde Franco.

El nuevo Ministro de Asuntos Exteriores y Cooperación–del PP–José Manuel García Margallo, busca ahora salvar la marca España de la mancha negra creada por la actuación del Tribunal Supremo en los casos contra Garzón.

Según ha podido confirmar EL PAÍS, todas las embajadas españolas han recibido en las últimas dos semanas una circular, de carácter secreto, sobre el caso Garzón.
–Véase Miguel Gonzáles, “Exteriores instruye a los embajadores para justificar la condena a Garzón; Exteriores remite a todas las delegaciones una circular con instrucciones,” 11 de marzo de 2012.

Para los interlocutores de los embajadores españoles en el exterior, se recomiende que consulten los artículos del Observador Incisivo o los artículos más extensos de El País, para entender bien lo que occurrió con los casos contra Garzón, especialmente con la sentencia en el caso de las escuchas Gürtel.

El Observador Incisivo
(The Trenchant Observer)

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Syrian military continues campaign to crush opposition in Saraqeb, Homs, al-Qusair and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #16 (March 24, updated March 25)

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Updated March 25, 2012

Please check back for news updates.

Latest news reports

Oliver Holmes and Steve Gutterman (Beirut/Moscow), “Syrian forces on the offensive; Annan in Moscow,” Reuters, March 25, 2012 (10:14pm IST).

Syria: Local Residents Used as Human Shields; Reports of Residents Forced to March in Front of Soldiers in Idlib, Human Rights Watch, March 25, 2012.

Rami G. Khouri, “A new world order is born in Syria,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 24, 2012 (01:25 a.m.).

Khouri’s optimism regarding the U.N. initiative led by Kofi Annan is noteworthy, particularly in view of the earlier pessimism expressed by the Editorial Board of The Daily Star. On March 9, 2012, they wrote:

The scene around Syria overflows with talk. The world’s big players proffer big words, which amount to zero in their impact on the Syrian regime – if anything they are utilized in their propaganda campaign.

The international community is attempting to save face, and by doing so is exhibiting its hypocrisy in every step and every word. This is hypocrisy of the worst kind, not only uncovering the ulterior motives of the world powers, but also serving as an eye-opener as to the intentions of the small, medium and super powers. God help any downtrodden party who takes the words of those powers at their face value. In this, the international community’s reaction to the crisis in Syria should be a lesson for many nations that look to it for support.

In the meantime, help for Syria is still at square one and none of the steps currently being taken are going to eradicate the shame of the international community.

–Editorial, “We procrastinate,” The Daily Star, March 9, 2012.

While the Observer has the highest respect for Khouri and his judgment, the available evidence in the public domain suggests that the March 9 Editorial of The Daily Star is much closer to the mark than his March 24 column on “the birth of a new world order.”

Correction: Earlier versions of this article mistakenly atribributed this text to Rami G. Khouri, to whom we apologize for the error.

It is indeed a historical moment in which the international community is called upon to craft a new response to regimes in crisis that cling to power against the democratic demands of their populations by the use of terror and the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The response that is required, however, and which may yet emerge–if not in this crisis perhaps in the next–does not countenance long, drawn-out negotiations with a Dictator who continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against his population.  It does not accept a scenario in which negotiations continue in diplomatic time, as thousands are killed in real time.

It does not accept a diplomatic dance that places the trump cards in the hands of authoritarian regimes complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in the  hands of the Dictator committing those crimes.

It does not accept the “devil’s bargain” of negotiating with a war criminal the cessation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in exchange for his retaining power and the capability of using the instruments of state power to continue widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights, including the right of assembly, the rights to free speech, freedom of the press, and to receive and impart information and ideas, the right to life and physical integrity of the human person, and the right to due process and a fair trial by an independent judiciary.

Instead, the response that is required, for both moral and political reasons, is an insistence on the cessation of crimes angainst humanity and war crimes as a condition precedent to negotiations betwen the dictatorial regime, its democratic opposition, and the international community.  Limited military actions to halt the ongoing commission of  such crimes  may form a part of this international response, with the approval of the Security Council whenever possible, but without it if Security Counil action is blocked by a veto and the atrocities and butchery continue.

***

Original Article (March 24, 2012)

Der Spiegel reports in some detail on Iran’s assistance to the al-Assad government in its war against the opposition.

See “Aufstand in Syrien: Teheran liefert Assad angeblich Waffen,” Der Spiegel, den 24 März 2012.

See also, “Hopeless Diplomacy: Syrian Regime Resembles Mafia Cartel; Hopes that diplomacy will force Syrian President Bashar Assad to back down seem misguided, given that his regime resembles a mafia cartel bent on defending its turf by any means. There is no turning back for Assad’s clan or the rebels — both sides know that would spell their doom,” Der Spiegel (English), March 19, 2012.

In Syria, al-Assad’s troops, assisted by non-uniformed men, continued their attacks on rebel strongholds and conducted roundups of civilians.

Associated Press, “Syrian forces shell towns and clash with rebels; dozens killed,” The Washington Post, March 24, 2012.

The website of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights provides updates in English here, and in Arabic here.

We should not forget what is going on in Syria on the ground, not for a single day.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

***

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.

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How to find news reports from around the world
–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
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Attorney General Eric Holder offers legal justification for targeted killings of U.S. citizens abroad

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

On March 5, 2012, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder offered a legal justification for U.S. targeted killings directed against U.S. citizens abroad.

For the text of the speech as prepared for delivery, see “Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at Northwestern University School of Law, Chicago ~ Monday, March 5, 2012,” Department of Justice, March 5, 2012 .

For news reports, see

Peter Finn and Sari Horwitz, “Holder: U.S. can lawfully target American citizens,” Washington Post, March 5, 2012.

Eyder Peralta, “Attorney General Holder Defends Targeted Killings Of Americans,” The Two-Way (NPRs News Blog), March 5, 2012.

Spencer Ackerman, “Here’s Why the Government Thinks It Can Kill You Overseas,” Wired, March 5, 2012.

For earlier articles by the Trenchant Observer, use the search box in the upper right-hand corner of the home page, and search for “targeted killings”, “targeted assassinations”, “extrajudicial executions”, “al-Aulaqi”, and “drones”.

Among the more astonishing assertions contained in the speech is the claim that the “due process” requirement contained in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not mean “judicial process”. The implications of this statement are so far-reaching as to be almost mind-boggling, as it would presumably apply also to actions by state governments in the United States whose constitutionality is governed by the “due process” clause of the 14th Amendment.

Further critical comment and analysis will follow.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

--A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.
--A list of all articles by The Trenchant Observer and published here is found on the Articles in Chronological Order page, which has a link in the top right-hand corner of the homepage, or

here.

***

How to find news reports from around the world
–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser,
The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on any subject, you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com

***

Kofi Annan is not God—Obama’s debacle in Syria — Update #15

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Kofi Annan is not God

At first sight, it might appear that the international community, including the three Permanent Members of the Security Council that are not directly blocking any effective action by the Council, had some mystical belief in the divine powers of former U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan to somehow forge order and reason out of the daily hell the citizens of Syria face at the hands of the Syrian Dictator, Bashar al-Assad.

But Kofi Annan is not God.

While he seems to lull the Security Council into some kind of trance, in his lugubrious speech–at a rate which could not exceed 75 or at most 100 words a minute–he does not have divine powers to succeed where all others have failed before him.

He kept the peace plan proposal which he took to Damascus secret, until it was revealed when the “presidential statement” was issued by the Security Council.  He asserted in a press conference that he should be the only person leading mediation of the conflict in Syria. Now, in the presidential statement issued by the Security Council on March 21, the Council pledges “to commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy.”

We poor chumps in the peanut galleries have no idea what “an empowered interlocutor” is or what his terms of reference will be.

Annan is now “the Envoy”. The Security Council will act, by appointing “an empowered interlocutor” when the Envoy invites them to do so. So, it is the Envoy who controls the pace of the negotiations, and the potential actions of the Security Council.

This sounds like the script from a bad Star Trek episode.

It is time to take the baton back from Kofi Annan. He is, in effect if not intention, helping the Russians play their cynical game of maintaining al-Assad in power at all costs. These costs include direct complicity in the war crimes and crimes against humanity al-Assad is committing every day. They are supplying the weapons and ammunition. They are supplying Russian military advisors on the ground in Syria to train al-Assad’s forces in the use of the weapons. These weapons are being used–every day–to commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and widespread grave violations of fundamental human rights.

In the case of China, and the few other countries which have opposed U.N. action condemning Syria or abstained in votes in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, it seems that they are anxious to reserve the right to commit similar atrocities against their own people if they are “forced” to do so to retain their hold on power. In China’s case, Tibet comes immediately to mind.

We should take a close look at the interests of and human rights situations in these other countries which have voted against or abstained in votes on resolutions condemning Syria in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. Their votes tell us something important–extremely important–about the nature of their regimes and how they see their future.

The “mediation” of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the current U.N. process led by Kofi Annan has from the very beginning been based on a dangerous and fatally flawed concept. The international community should never “mediate” to bring to a halt war crimes and crimes against humanity. The cessation of these crimes is non-negotiable.  Discussions regarding modalities of cessation may be necessary. But mediation of the conflict itself can begin only after the commission of these crimes has stopped.

A ceasefire is nowhere in sight. Each day Annan continues his mission, al-Assad kills more opponents. Annan has failed. His mission should be terminated.

Washington Post Editorial of March 22, 2012

The Washington Post, in an editorial on March 23, 2012, has also noted that Annan’s mission is ill-conceived and bound to fail. The Editorial stated,

AFTER THE U.N. Security Council endorsed a six-point diplomatic plan for Syria by former secretary general Kofi Annan on Wednesday, U.S. ambassador Susan Rice sounded almost jubilant. “Annan’s proposal,” she said, “is the best way to put an end to the violence, facilitate much-needed humanitarian assistance and advance a Syrian-led political transition.” We can only hope that the envoy does not take her own words too seriously.

In fact, there is virtually no possibility that the new initiative will accomplish any of those aims — as the Obama administration should know by now. Instead, it will likely provide time and cover for the regime of Bashar al-Assad to continue using tanks and artillery to assault Syrian cities and indiscriminately kill civilians. That’s exactly what the regime was doing Thursday — pounding the city of Hama, where at least 20 people have been reported killed in army attacks in the past two days.

The Annan plan won’t work because, like the Arab League plan before it, it calls for the Assad government to take steps that would lead to its swift collapse — and the regime has no intention of capitulating. It says that Syrian forces should stop using heavy weapons in cities, begin a pullback of troops, permit a daily “humanitarian pause” for the delivery of aid and accept a U.N.-supervised cease-fire, while allowing freedom of assembly and the free circulation of journalists. To buy time last year, the regime accepted nearly identical demands by the Arab League, admitted its monitors — and then proceeded to ignore its obligations completely.

What the Annan mission does not offer is “the best way to put an end to the violence.” It is just the opposite: a guarantee that the bloodshed will continue, and probably worsen. The fighting in Syria will end only when Mr. Assad is forced to stop — or he succeeds in killing his way to victory.

–Editorial Board, “The Post’s View: The U.N.’s unworkable plan for Syria,” Washington Post, March 22, 2012.

Human Rights Council Resolution of March 23, 2012

The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a further resolution (A/HRC/19/L.38/Rev.1) condemning Syria today, March 23, 2012.

–Reuters, UN rights forum extends Syria investigators’ mandate; [Human Rights] Council adopts EU resolution on widespread crimes by Syrian forces, says perpetrators must be brought to justice; China and Russia vote against text; mediator Annan going to Moscow and Beijing this weekend”, The Jerusalem Post, March 23, 2012.

The vote tally or breakdown was as follows:

The result of the vote was as follows:

In favour (41): Angola, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Congo, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, United States and Uruguay.

Against (3): China, Cuba and Russian Federation.

Abstentions (2): Ecuador and Uganda.

A summary of the resolution and statements made before or after the vote are found here.

Developments on the Ground

See

“Mass protests and fresh violence in Syria; Mortar fire and clashes between security forces and opposition fighters as activists report mass rallies around country,” Al Jazeera, March 24, 2012 (04:10 h).

Rakan al-Fakih and Antoine Amrieh, “Thousands take part in anti-Syria protests across Lebanon,” The Daily Star, March 24, 2012 (01:52 AM).

Antonio Pampliega (Binnish) “Binnish será un infierno; La ciudad del norte de Siria aguarda el asalto de las tropas leales a Bachar el Asad, El País, 23 de marzo de 2012 (11:50 CET).

For an overview of the responsibility to protect since 2005, see Andreas Ross, “Pyrrhus-Durchbruch; Von Ruanda bis Syrien: Legitimiert die Schutzverantwortung auch Regimewechsel? Der designierte UN-Vizegeneralsekretär Eliasson hält etwa den Libyen-Einsatz weiterhin für richtig,” Frankfurter Allgemeine, den 23 März 2012.

Matthew Brunwasser, “Is Syria’s Idlib Like Srebrenica?” PRI’s The World, March 23, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

***

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.

***

How to find news reports from around the world
–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com

***

Security Council issues “presidential statement”; al-Assad’s military onslaught continues unabated—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #14 (March 22)

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

On March 21, 2012, the U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed the issuance of a “presidential statement” on Syria which was notable primarily for its support by Russia and China. The statement reiterated the proposals Kofi Annan took to Damascus and presented to Bashar al-Assad on his recent visit to Syria–which were not made public previously.

Al-Assad’s response was to continue shelling cities and towns, and to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity–today.

See

“UN peace push fails to halt Syria violence; Ten civilians fleeing to Turkey on a bus among dozens killed, as violence rages despite Security Council statement,” Al Jazeera, March 22, 2012 (20:02 h)

“Syria: Government Uses Homs Tactics on Border Town; Indiscriminate Shelling, Sniper Killings, Attacks on Fleeing Residents,” Human Rights Watch, March 22, 2012.

Alastair Beach, “UN finally agrees peace plan for Syria – but will it end bloodshed? Russia and China fall into line – but Ban Ki-moon admits fallout from conflict could spread through the region,” The Independent, March 22, 2012.

Ariel Zirulnick, “Syria thumbs its nose at the UN; Despite a UN statement yesterday calling for an end to the violence, which was backed even by Syria ally Russia, 82 people were killed yesterday in clashes around the country,” Christian Science Monitor, March 22, 2012.

“Bürgerkrieg in Syrien; Assad-Truppen rücken gegen Protesthochburgen vor; Alle Appelle der Uno verpuffen: In Syrien sind erneut heftige Kämpfe zwischen Aufständischen und der Assad-Armee ausgebrochen, unter anderem in Daraa, Sabadani und Hama. Nach Angaben von Aktivisten schießen die Regierungstruppen mit Panzern in Wohnviertel,” Der Spiegel, den 22 März 2012.

(Le Monde.fr avec AFP et Reuters), “Répression en Syrie: des roquettes tombent sur le Liban,” Le Monde, le 22 mars 2012 (mis à jour à 15h58).

The statement contains contradictory provisions, with one calling for an immediate ceasefire and another calling for a two-hour “pause” in the fighting to allow humanitarian relief through and the wounded to be evacuated from areas of fighting.

Unfortunately, although the Council’s peace plan contains many positive elements, it has no legal force, and even provisions that would have required a response from al-Assad within seven days were eliminated in order to get the Russians to sign on to the statement.

The text of the operative paragraphs of the March 21 Presidential Statement (U.N. Doc. S/PRST/2012/6) follow:

“To this aim, the Security Council fully supports the initial six-point proposal submitted to the Syrian authorities, as outlined by the Envoy to the Security Council on 16 March 2012, to:

(1) commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy;

(2) commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country. To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres. As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism. Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;

(3) ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level;

(4) intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained, immediately begin organizing access to such locations and through appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for information, access or release regarding such persons;

(5) ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;

(6) respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.

“The Security Council calls upon the Syrian government and opposition to work in good faith with the Envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and to implement fully and immediately his initial six-point proposal.

“The Security Council requests the Envoy to update the Council regularly and in a timely manner on the progress of his mission. In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate.”

Delay is the enemy. Russia and China vetoed the Security Council resolution aimed at stopping the atrocities on February 4, 2012. Thousands have died as a result of the delay in concerted international action which has occurred to date. Today is March 22.

Thousands more will undoubtedly die before the Security Council authorizes action that can stop the killing by al-Assad, if indeed it can ever reach that point given Russia’s brazen support of the Syrian Dictator as government forces continue to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian population.

What is needed is a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, period. Al-Assad’s promises are worthless. What counts is his and Syria’s actions on the ground in implementing the ceasefire.

What is llkely, however, is more delay, while al-Assad proceeds with his murderous onslaught against the oppostion to his reign of terror. Russia, by arguing for not making demands on al-Assad, not setting deadlines, continues its perfidious game of acting to maintain Bashar al-Assad in power and to protect its perceived interests with its last client state in the Middle East (and practically anywhere else). These interests include the maintainance of military-technical cooperation, the naval base at Tartus, and Russia’s communications and listening post for the region.

These are the hard realities.

Watch what is going on in Syria on the ground, not what the diplomats are saying. Words alone will not stop the tanks and artillery that are bombarding civilian population centers, apartment buildings and homes throughout Syria–today.

The sole priority for the Security Council–and all other actors–should be an immediate cessation of hostilities. This demand should not be linked in any way to other demands, such as that for the initiation of a political dialogue (listed as point 1 in the presidential statement!).

The demand for an immediate ceasefire should be contained in a legally binding Security Council resolution. Compliance should be measured by facts of the ground.

Western, Arab, and other civilized nations should–with the greatest urgency–prepare options for the use of military force to bring the killing to a halt.

See Michael O’Hanlon, “What Are Our Military Options in Syria?” The New Republic, March 19, 2012.

Delay is the enemy. Action is required. Leadership–from any quarter–is also required.

We should not forget the people of Syria “for a single day”. In the words of British Foreign Secretary William Hague,

Assad should step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people. One year after the regime first tried to stamp on dissent, allowing a genuine dialogue on transition would be the most fitting way to mark this tragic anniversary. Until it does, we will not forget the people of Syria for a single day (emphasis added).

–William Hague, “Op-ed: UK Foreign Secretary William Hague vows not to forget Syrian people for a single day,” ynetnews.com/Israel Opinion, March 22, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

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www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

***
–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer on Syria, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.
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***
How to find news reports from around the world
–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on any subject, you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com
***

Putin plays hardball in Syria, uses Lavrov to distract gullible UN and international community—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #13 (March 20)

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

AP reporter Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow a week ago that:

Russia has no intention of curtailing military cooperation with Syria despite calls from the West to stop arming President Bashar Assad’s regime, a senior Russian government official said Tuesday.

Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Russia will abide by existing contracts to deliver weapons to Syria despite Assad’s yearlong crackdown on the opposition, in which over 7,500 people have been killed.

“Russia enjoys good and strong military technical cooperation with Syria, and we see no reason today to reconsider it,” Antonov told reporters.

(I)n January, a Russian ship allegedly carrying tons of munitions made a dash for Syria after telling officials in EU member Cyprus, where it had made an unexpected stop, that it was heading for Turkey. Turkish officials said the ship had instead charted course for Tartus.

Antonov said Russia’s supply of weapons to Syria is in line with international law and will continue. “Russian-Syrian military cooperation is perfectly legitimate,” he said.

“The only thing that worries us today is the security of our citizens,” Antonov said in a reference to Russian military personnel in Syria that are training the Syrians in the use of weapons supplied by Russia.

He declined to say how many of them are currently stationed in Syria.

“It’s part of our contractual obligations,” said Antonov, who oversees military technical cooperation with foreign countries. “When we supply weapons, we have to provide training.”

–Vladimir Isachenkov (AP), “Russia says it will keep selling weapons to Syria,” The Guardian, March 13 2012.

While Russia continues to furnish the weapons and ammunition that are being used by the Syrian regime to commit crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria, and to train the Syrian military in the use of those weapons through Russian military personnel on the ground in Syria, Vladimir Putin is using Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to sound notes critical of al-Assad and indicating frustration with al-Assad’s approach to the opposition.

Obama and the West and the Arab countries of the Middle East hang on the hope that Kofi Annan may persuade al-Assad to slacken the pace of the slaughter of his opponents in Syria, and make a few concessions in the direction of humanitarian measures. Instead of a total ceasefire by the Syrian forces and a withdrawal of tanks from cities, as called for in the Arab League’s November 2, 2011 peace plan, their goal now is to have two hours a day of humanitarian relief access–while al-Assad’s murderous assault on his opponents, armed and unarmed, goes unchecked.

Let us keep our eyes on the ball: The Russian game has as its clear goals 1) the maintenance of Bashar al-Assad in power; 2) continued military-technical cooperation with Syria, including the continuing supply of arms and ammunition, and Russian trainers and training; 3) continued presence and operation of Russia’s naval base at the port of Tartus (Tartous); 4) continued maintenance in Syria of its communications and listening post for the region; and 5) presumably its continued use of Syria as a platform for clandestine operations in the Middle East.

Nothing Lavrov has said, or which the Security Council might agree to in a new resolution accepted by Russia and China, along the lines being discussed, will change the realities on the ground. Al-Assad will continue to control the game of what he will or will not allow the UN to do, which diverts attention from what his own military and security forces are doing every day throughout the country.

Moreover, a new resolution could make things worse, by establishing a Security Council commitment to leave al-Assad in power while he continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, with strong and continued Russian and Chinese backing to block any meaningful action by the Security Council in the future.

Heads, Russia and al-Assad win.
Tails, the West, the Arab countries and the international community lose.

With any new Security Council resolution catering to the demands of Russia, what will be the chances that detainees in Syria will not be tortured and killed? What will be the chances that they will have fact-based charges brought against them, a right to an attorney, and a fair trial by an independent judiciary?

What prospects will there be for al-Assad and his henchmen to be brought to justice before an international court?

What kind of peaceful transition removing al-Assad from power will be possible as long as he is making the decisions? As long as he and his Russian backers are calling the shots?

The United States had better wake up and grasp the fact that Putin is out to play hardball–and not only in Syria–and that U.S.-Russian relations are not likely to return to a stable orbit until Obama demonstrates some resolve and pushes back.

U.S.-Russian relations may be in fact at an extremely dangerous point, as Putin, flush with his vistory at the polls and a new term as president before him, may have taken the measure of President Obama and could judge him lacking in resolve, much as Nikita Kruschev misjudged John F. Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961 and after his meeting with Kennedy at the Vienna summit on June 4, 1961, making a colossal miscalculation by deciding to introduce nuclear missiles into Cuba. That decision led the world to the edge of the precipice of nuclear war–much closer to the edge than is commonly appreciated.

The UN “mediation” remains a gambit that plays to the Russians’ demands, and which even if successful, will leave al-Assad in power, free to unleash his military or security forces against anyone and everyone at will, with the real chances of a peaceful transition resulting from this process being close to nil.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

***

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.

***

How to find news reports from around the world
–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com

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