Archive for May, 2012

Goals to guide the international community in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #47 (May 29)

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

With talk of orchestrating a Yemen-style transition in Syria through agreement between Russia and the United States, it may be useful to address the question of what the legitimate goals of the international community in Syria should be.

To start the discussion, the following goals are suggested:

1. Immediately halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity;

2. Ensure that any transitional regime fully respects the international “responsibility to protect” as set forth in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1674 (2006).

3. Establish an interim government committed to immediately respecting the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Syria, of all sects including Alawites, Christians and other minorities.

These fundamental human rights are set forth in the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, and further articulated in the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.N Convention Against Torture, and other international human rights treaties.

(The Security Council, through adoption of a mandatory resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, could provide that even those of these norms that have not become customary international law will be binding on Syria.)

4. Within this context of the interim government’s guarantee of respect for fundamental human rights, provide for the organization of political parties, the election of a constituent assembly to draft a constitution, and the subsequent holding of elections to a National Assembly followed by presidential elections to select a new, legitimate government to replace the interim transitional government.

5. Establish a Truth and Reconciliation process through which those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity will be held morally, and potentially legally, responsible for the crimes they have committed. This process could involve creation of a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission,  with optional referral to domestic judicial authorities or to the International Criminal Court, depending on the whether the individual concerned cooperated fully with the Commission and acknowledged the crimes he or she may have committed. (The South African and Argentine models might be taken into account in designing the appropriate truth and reconciliation process.)

6. Establish a United Nations Authority in Syria with a mandate to assist Syria in developing mechanisms designed to ensure observance of “the responsibility to protect”, and with residual powers to ensure compliance with the goals set forth in paragraphs 1-5 above.

7. Establish a United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Syria for an interim period of 1-2 years to ensure the safety and security of all citizens of Syria, incuding in particular the members of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria.

Any discussion of a possible Yemen-style “solution” to the situation in Syria should be measured against the 21st century goals set forth above.

The outcome of the actual negotiated, transitional “solution” in Yemen is far from evident, with al-Qaeda operating through large portions of the country’s territory and a revival of earlier civil wars between diferent regions of the country remaining a realistic threat.

Moreover, Syria obviously represents an entirely different political and social reality than Yemen, with a recent history of barbarism on a wholly different order of magnitude than anything done by the Saleh regime in Yemen.

The goals of the international community do not include maintenance of Russian control of the port of Tartus, just as they do not include agreement with the U.S. that it can conduct drone strikes on targets in Syria. These issues can only be decided by the interim government and then the elected government of Syria.

Instead of giving al-Assad more time to commit atrocities against his opponents as diplomatic negotiations continue, and to help focus his mind and those of his inner circle on what is to come, it will be essential to develop and if necessary undertake vigorous military actions to halt the crimes referred to in paragraphs 1-3 of the list of suggested goals above.

These options should be developed–and if necessary exercised–even in the absence of Security Council authorization. Russia must not be allowed to use negotiations as a cover for supporting al-Assad’s continued commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is time for the international community to act on an urgent basis to halt the atrocities in Syria, and to commence the transitional process that will lead to a future government based on respect for fundamental human rights, implementation of the “responsibility to protect”, and the establishment of a process that will lead to a government that reflects the aspirations and desires of the Syrian people.

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, 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.

Security Council Press Statement on Houla massacre: Empty words, without significance—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #46 (May 28)

Monday, May 28th, 2012


UN News Centre, “Security Council strongly condemns massacre of civilians in Syria,” May 27, 2012.

The text of the Security Council Press Statement of May 27, 2012 stated the following:

The following Security Council press statement was issued today by Council President Agshin Mehdiyev (Azerbaijan):

The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings, confirmed by United Nations observers, of dozens of men, women and children and the wounding of hundreds more in the village of El-Houleh, near Homs, in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood. The members of the Security Council also condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse. The members of the Security Council extended their profound sympathies and sincere condolences to the families of the victims, and underscored their grave concern about the situation of civilians in Syria.

Such outrageous use of force against civilian population constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government under United Nations Security Council resolutions 2042 (2012) and 2043 (2012) to cease violence in all its forms, including the cessation of use of heavy weapons in population centres. The members of the Security Council reiterated that all violence in all its forms by all parties must cease. Those responsible for acts of violence must be held accountable. The members of the Security Council requested the Secretary-General, with the involvement of UNSMIS [United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria], to continue to investigate these attacks and report the findings to the Security Council.

The members of the Security Council demanded that the Government of Syria immediately cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres and immediately pull back its troops and its heavy weapons from in and around population centres and return them to their barracks.

The members of the Security Council reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter.

The members of the Security Council reiterated their full support to the efforts of the Joint Special Envoy for the implementation of his six-point plan in its entirety and requested him to convey in the clearest terms to the Syrian parties, and in particular the Syrian Government, the demands of the Security Council.

With Putin using Medvedev to play Obama like a fool, these meaningless words–meaningless because they have no legal effect and do not change the situation on the ground–should help postpone military actiom, allowing al Assad to gain a couple of more months to commit atrocities against the opposition as he attempts to exterminate them.

The Trenchant Observer

“Looney Toons” at the White House: New York Times article details Obama’s thinking on Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #45 (May 27)

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

[after Looney Tunes, trademark for a series of animated cartoons] [Slang] crazy; demented: also loon’ y-tunes

loon’i-er, looní-est [LUNATIC] crazy; demented
pl. loon’-ies a loony person Also loon” ey, pl. -eys

–Webster’s New Worl Dictionary


In a front-page article in today’s New York Times, Helen Cooper and Mark Landler describe the thinking behind President Obama’s policy towards Syria. They report,

WASHINGTON — In a new effort to halt more than a year of bloodshed in Syria, President Obama will push for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad under a proposal modeled on the transition in another strife-torn Arab country, Yemen.

The plan calls for a negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Mr. Assad’s government in place. Its goal is the kind of transition under way in Yemen, where after months of violent unrest, President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down and hand control to his vice president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in a deal arranged by Yemen’s Arab neighbors. Mr. Hadi, though later elected in an uncontested vote, is viewed as a transitional leader.

The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Mr. Assad’s staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal.

–Helen Cooper and Mark Landler, “U.S. Hopes Assad Can Be Eased Out With Russia’s Aid,” New York Times, May 27, 2012.

President Obama, administration officials said,

will press the proposal with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia next month at their first meeting since Mr. Putin returned to his old post on May 7. Thomas E. Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, raised the plan with Mr. Putin in Moscow three weeks ago.

Donilon, who is not a seasoned diplomat, apparently did not impress Putin, judging by the latter’s cancellation of his participation in the G-8 summit at Camp David on May 18-19.

The biggest problem with the Yemen model, several experts said, is that Yemen and Syria are starkly different countries. In Yemen, Mr. Saleh kept his grip on power for three decades by reconciling competing interests through a complex system of patronage. When his authority collapsed, there was a vice president, Mr. Hadi, who was able to assert enough control over Yemen’s splintered security forces to make him a credible transitional leader.

In Syria, by contrast, Mr. Assad oversees a security state in which his minority Alawite sect fears that if his family is ousted, it will face annihilation at the hands of the Sunni majority. That has kept the government remarkably cohesive, cut down on military defections and left Mr. Assad in a less vulnerable position than Mr. Saleh. Even if he leaves, American officials conceded, there is no obvious candidate to replace him.

The sheer incompetence of this White House on foreign policy matters is stunning.

Paradoxically, among a number of news commentators within the Washington bubble, Obama is viewed as doing pretty well on foreign policy, particularly since taking out Osama Bin Laden. None of these commentators are foreign policy experts with any experience, however. Further, Democratic foreign policy experts have largely held their silence, probably out of concern that criticism could help the Republicans in the November elections. Moreover, Obama has since his first days in office charmed the press, and many reporters and commentators are simply unwilling to criticize the administration on foreign policy issues in any fundamental way.

Significantly, the Washington Post, which is the one newspaper read by most government officials in Washington, has simply failed to cover Syria with a reporter, usually being content to just run the AP wire story. What contributions they do make are limited in the main to stories providing information by administration officials, named and unnamed.

The Editorial Board, on the other hand, has written some clear-minded editorials on Syria. The disconnect betwee the Editorial Board and the reporting side of the newspaper is hard to understand, especially in view of the Post’s illustrious history.

Despite the reputed “successfulness” of the administration’s foreign policy leadership–which analytically does not stretch beyond the fact that it has not become an issue which hurts the Obama in the presidential race, the utter lack of serousness of Preident Obama and the White House on Syria is exposed for all to see in today’s New York Times article by Cooper and Landler.

Washington’s response to Moscow’s callous support of al-Assad as he killed thousands of people through war crimes and crimes against humanity is on a par with Éduoard Daladier’s and Neville Chamberlain’s betrayal of Czechoslovakia in October, 1938, when they signed “the Munich Pact”.

One of the first betrayals on Syria was with Turkey:

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

On the U.S. decision to sell out its regional allies and to work through Russia instead, see

The Trenchant Observer, “The emperor has no clothes”: Foreign policy without a moral core—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #19 (March 29), March 29, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “Into the Abyss: Washington’s Fecklessness, Syria’s Fate—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #20 (March 30), March 30, 2012.

The reader is invited to read the Observer’s recent articles on Syria, and to draw his or her own conclusions as to whether Obama, Donilon, Clinton and the rest of the administration’s foreign policy team are conducting a competent foreign policy, first of all in Syria, but also everywhere else.

In the Observer’s opinion, this team is “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”. For example, the Sixth Summit of the Americas, held in Cartagena, Colombia on April 14-15, was totally overshadowed by the prostitution scandal involving members of the Secret Serivce and the U.S. military. Little press attention was given to the substance of the meeting, the most important of the year with the leaders of the Latin American countries.

See Brian Ellsworth (Cartagena, Colombia), “Despite Obama charm, Americas summit boosts U.S. isolation,” April 16, 1012.

Now, on the Syrian question, by following a path of “working through the Russians”, the Obama administration has given up its last shred of moral legitimacy in the Middle East. Between al-Assad, Russia, China, and Iran, on the one hand, and the people of Syria, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, on the other, and in the face of immense human suffering and the ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime, the United States is pursuing a strategy of “working through the Russians.”

Obama is incompetent as a foreign policy leader. Former Ambassador Marc Ginsberg is to be congratulated for his moral courage in speaking out on the question of Syria, in a clear voice.

What the United States needs, desperately, is for other foreign policy experts–and national leaders–to speak out with equal clarity, be they aligned with the Democratic Party in the United States, with the Republicans, or from other countries that are friends of the United States.

In the meantime, the international community would do well to look elsewhere than to the United States for leadership on the Syrian question.

See The Trenchant Observer, “At least 70 killed nationwide; massacre of 50 in Houla; U.N. International Commission on Syria Update—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update # 43 (May 25),” May 25, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “Chief of UN Observers confirms massacre at Houla; NGOs report 35 children and total of 110 killed—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #44 (May 26),” May 26, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, 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.

Chief of UN Observers confirms massacre at Houla; NGOs report 35 children and total of 110 killed—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #44 (May 26)

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Reuters (Beirut)–“This morning U.N. military and civilian observers went to Houla and counted more than 32 children under the age of 10 and over 60 adults killed,” the head of U.N. team monitoring the ceasefire – which has yet to take hold – said.

Reuters has reported on more of the chilling details of the massacre at Houla, quoting Major General Robert Mood, the head of the UNSMIS monitor mission in Syria, as follows:

(Reuters) – The United Nations said on Saturday that more than 92 people were killed in what activists described as an artillery barrage by government forces in the worst violence since the start of a U.N. peace plan to slow the flow of blood in Syria’s uprising.

The bloodied bodies of children, some with their skulls split open, were shown in footage posted to YouTube purporting to show the victims of the shelling in the central town of Houla on Friday. The sound of wailing filled the room.

The carnage underlined just how far Syria is from any negotiated path out of the 14-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

“This morning U.N. military and civilian observers went to Houla and counted more than 32 children under the age of 10 and over 60 adults killed,” the head of U.N. team monitoring the ceasefire – which has yet to take hold – said.

“The observers confirmed from examination of ordinances the use of artillery tank shells,” Major General Robert Mood said in a statement, without elaborating. “Whoever started, whoever responded and whoever carried out this deplorable act of violence should be held responsible.

–Joseph Logan (Beirut), “U.N. says over 92 killed in Syria, 32 of them children,” Reuters, May 26, 2012 (5:15 p.m. EDT)..”

What will move the international community, or one or two leading nations, to act? That is the question. The foreign ministers of the U.K. and France are reported to be pushing for action.

The events in Syria are the shame of the world.

This shame is far greater, by orders of magnitude, for countries like the United States which have had the power to act but have failed to do so, because President Obama doesn’t want to get involved in Syria before the presidential elections, “regardless of the consequences”.

Well, these are the consequences.

The country which led the victorious struggle against Nazism in Europe and Japanese imperialism in Asia during World War II, from 1941-1945, refuses to act openly to halt the crimes against humanity and war crimes that are being committed every day in Syria.

Surely, this is one of the darkest pages in America’s history.

The only hope for Syria’s people and the international community is that leadership may emerge from some other quarter, from some country other than the United States. As we wrote at a critical turning point in the Libyan conflict, when the U.S. was looking away in a manner similar to the way it is looking away from Syria today,

Today (March 10, 2011) is a sad day for the Observer, as America abdicates its moral leadership in world affairs by adopting the role of mere spectator of the life-and-death struggle for freedom in Libya. Having boldly stated that Qaddafi has to go, President Obama has now taken to the sidelines as Moammar Qaddafi’s murderous regime commits torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in its no-holds-barred battle to retain power.

President Obama, timorous, a prisoner of his own intellectual analytics and lack of prior foreign policy experience, doesn’t take sides when it comes time to act in the struggle for freedom around the world.

It is a sad day not only for the Observer, but also for all of those around the world who believe American foreign policy should be guided by more than 19th century Realpolitik and Staatsräson (Reason of State), for all those who are attracted to the ideals embodied in the American Revolution and America’s two centuries of constitutional government under the rule of law.

For days, the administration has been signaling its unwillingness to act….

History may well mark the month of March, 2011 as the decisive turning point in America’s leadership in world affairs. America has always been more than a state pursuing its self-interests. That era now seems past, at least under Democratic presidential leadership.

The world will take note. Tyrants will relax. As Qaddafi loudly proclaims, they have nothing to fear from the United States, NATO or the United Nations.

Without American leadership, the world will go adrift. The consequences are likely to be enormous and unpredictable.

Despite its cynical record of dealings with dictatorships in the past, it is now to France, that other beacon of human liberty–since the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the defeat of Fascism in 1945 (made possible only with American help), that advocates of democracy and freedom must look.

If America does not want to be a champion of liberty, at least the French, drawing on their own deep traditions, have a possibility of articulating a clear moral vision that might guide us forward toward achievement of the goals of democracy and the rule of law which so many have fought for, at such great sacrifice, for over 70 years.

One of the saddest vignettes from the last few days has been President Obama’s intellectually arrogant and factually incorrect declaration that most revolutions succeed because they come from within and do not rely on outside help. That would come as quite a surprise to George Washington and the Marquis de la Fayette.

–The Trenchant Observer, “Libya—America Abdicates Global Leadership in Struggle for Democracy,” March 10, 2011.

In addition to France, a second beacon of human liberty, throughout the centuries, has been Great Britain.

It is now to France and to Great Britain, and perhaps to some other country that wants to assume the mantle of leadership in the struggle for liberty in the world, that we must look for leadership to stop the atrocities in Syria, and to open a path toward a transition to democracy in that country.

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, 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.

At least 70 killed nationwide; massacre of 50 in Houla; U.N. International Commission on Syria Update—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update # 43 (May 25)

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Periodic Update Report by Independent Commission of Inquiry

The U.N. appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria published a Periodic Update report on May 24, adding to its previous findings. The report is found here.

For a U.N. news article on the report, see

UN News Centre, “UN human rights probe panel reports continuing ‘gross’ violations in Syria,” May 24, 2012.

Excerpts from the Periodic Update report:

2. The Commission remains extremely concerned about the human rights situation in the country where gross violations continue unabated in an increasingly militarized context, despite the parties to the conflict having reached agreement on the Joint Special Envoy’s “six-point plan”. Most of the serious human rights violations documented by the Commission in this Update were committed by the Syrian army and security services as part of military or search operations conducted in locations known for hosting defectors and/or armed persons, or perceived as supportive of anti-government armed groups. The army employed the wide range of military means, including heavy shelling of civilian areas. The Commission received several accounts that anti-government armed groups are also committing human rights abuses.

11. Accounts indicated that the security forces used precise shelling to target small opposition strongholds as well as indiscriminate shelling – dropping shells among residential areas and in neighborhoods suspected of harboring opposition fighters or supporters. After the shelling, security forces would enter the area, position snipers on rooftops, often on school buildings, and conduct house-to-house searches. Repeated accounts of extra-judicial killings in this context were also received. Fighters in anti-government armed groups were killed after being captured or wounded. In some particularly grave instances, entire families were executed in their homes – usually the family members of those opposing the government such as the family members of Colonel Raid Al Asaad.

14. Children continue to suffer in the context of the on-going events in the Syrian Arab Republic. They are frequently among those killed and injured during attacks on protests and the bombardment of towns and villages by state forces. The Commission recorded an incident where several people were allegedly executed in Taftanaz in April 2012, when that village was raided by Government forces. There were five people under 18 among the deceased. Additionally, specific reports of children being killed by snipers arose in two separate villages in Idlib (January and March 2012). In areas where anti-government armed groups hold sway, boys older than 14 years are reportedly targeted as members of such groups. Children, including boys as young as 10 years of age, detained by State forces, repeatedly indicate that they are tortured to admit that older male members of their family are “Free Syrian Army” soldiers or supporters.

18. The Commission has received multiple reports of the extra-judicial executions of members of the army and security forces, suspected informers and/or collaborators captured by anti-government armed groups. Two such incidents occurred in Homs in April 2012. In corroborated statements taken from anti-government fighters, the Commission recorded instances where members of Government forces perceived to have committed crimes – for example, by participating in the shelling of civilian areas –were executed or captured. A defector who fought in the ranks of Al Farouk Brigade “FSA”) in Homs city stated that members of the government forces, including what he claimed were three Iranian snipers, were summarily executed after they apparently confessed. One anti-government armed group fighter also admitted that he and his associates had killed Government soldiers when the captives refused to join them.

50 Civilians Killed in Massacre at Houla (Homs Province)


“13 children die in renewed fighting in Syria; More than 70 people, including 13 children, were reportedly killed in a day of intensified fighting across Syria on Friday,” The Telegraph, May 25, 2012 (10:28 BST).

Conal Urquhart, “Syrian troops ‘kill 50’ near Homs; Ban Ki-moon says some progress has been made, but overall situation remains very serious in further day of bloodshed,” The Guardian, May 25, 2012 (1826 EDT).

Urquhart describes the level and intensity of violence on Friday:

At least 50 people, including 13 children, were killed when Syrian forces attacked the town of Houla in Homs province on Friday according to Syrian anti-government activists.

In other areas of Syria, activists said that a further 33 people were killed. The Syrian government news agency said that 17 people had been killed by anti-government gunmen. None of the figures could be independently verified.

The surge in violence came as Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general told the UN security council there had been some progress in reducing violence, but the overall situation remained very serious.

Reports from activists and the government suggest that violence took places in dozens of areas involving helicopter gunships, tanks, artillery, roadside bombs and small arms.

The most intense violence appeared to take place in Houla, a group of four villages near Homs where Syrian security forces opened fire on an anti-government protest. Anti-government forces retaliated and the army began shelling the area, killing an estimated 50 people, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the local co-ordination committees.

Activist Ahmad Kassem told Reuters: “The soldiers are shelling Houla right now, the casualties are huge.”

The largest demonstrations since the unrest began in March 2011 were reported in Aleppo, where the government introduced tanks for the first time.


Still, the international community remains paralyzed in the face of  barbarism in Syria.

Kofi Annan continues to carry water for the Russians, dragging out his abortive intervention with plans for yet another trip to Damascus. To what end?

We already know all that we need to know, to wit:

1. The Syrian government is committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in crushing the opposition.

2. President Obama, fearful that Syria might affect his reelection prospects, went so far as to say at Camp David that the Group of Eight were in agreement on Syria. If so, that is only because the U.S. and NATO have caved into accepting the Russian position of supporting the Kofi Annan peace plan and observer mission–in the face of al-Assad’s total non-compliance with its provisions. This amounts to supporting al-Assad while he continues to commit atrocities.

3. There are news reports that the U.S. is covertly coordinating the provision of arms to the armed opposition in Syria, while it states publicly that it supports the Security Council 6-point peace plan, which includes “no foreign intervention” as one of its key points.

4. No one remembers what is actually in the Kofi Annan plan, such as guaranteeing foreign journalists free access to Syria, guaranteeing the right of citizens to demonstrate, or providing the names and whereabouts of those who have been detained, and processing their release. If they remembered, they might at least demand compliance.

5. Nothing is going to change, absent some dramatic intervention by some leader of some country. Resolution 2043 which established the 300-member UNSMIS observer team was adopted on April 21, and will remain in effect until its expiration on July 21, 2012 (90 days after its adoption).

6. Everyone seems happy to watch the war crimes and crimes against humanity continue at least until then. They wring their hands and cry out in helpless wonder, but no one is willing to do anything about it.

7. There are no leaders from the great democracies of the West, or from NATO, or from the Arab League countries, who have the courage to challenge President Obama’s passivity and craven surrender to Russia’s cynical policy objectives in Syria–desite the enormous suffering and loss of life that has occurred to date, and which continues.

8. This is surely one of the darkest pages in the history of the United Nations.

9. It is surely one of the darkest pages in the history of the Western democracies since the end of World War II, and the Nuremberg Trials.

10. For all apparent purposes, the Nuemberg Principles now seem to be forgotten, almost as if they were dead.

11. The Responsibility to Protect, which achieved growing support after 2005, and was particularly relevant in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and in Libya in 2011, now appears to be but a distant dream.

12. As we try to deal with the situation in Syria, it seems as if we have moved backwards to the situation which existed before World War II.

What will it take for some leader, in some democratic country, or some country in transition, to do something to abort the Kofi Annan mission, the  UNSMIS observer misssion which can observe but not protect, and the increasing militarization of the civil war in Syria–and to do so in the full light of day?

The worst-case scenario seems to be the one we are now following, with

1. some limited but ineffective covert action coordinated by the United States;

2. a totally failed and ill-conceived “mediation” effort by the Security Council blocking any constructive thought or action in public;

3. accelerating movement toward reigniting the civil war in Lebanon;

4. growing danger that the civil war in Syria will degenerate into ethnic conflict similar to that which took place in the Balkans and in Iraq; and

5. strong prospects that the long, drawn-out covert war Obama may be carefully planning, with his fine intellectual distinctions (such as coordinating the provision of arms, as if that weren’t providing arms–the kind of legal analysis you might get from a lawyer who has never practiced law), will have highly dangerous and unpredictable impacts and outcomes.

Is it not time to act, and to act forcefully to halt the killings and other abuses of fundamental human rights?

If not now, when?

Covert war in Syria. Is that the best we can do?

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, 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.

U.S. State Department Releases “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011” (with video)

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Today, May 24, 2012, three months after the statutory deadline of February 25, the State Department finally released its annual report on the human rights situations in the countries of the world.

The U.S. Department of State “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011” are found here.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks at the presentation of the reports are found here.

A video of Secretary Clinton’s remarks and the following briefing and question and answer session with Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Michael H. Posner, is found on C-Span here.

In her written preface to the reports, Secretary Clinton stated the following:

Secretary’s Preface

The world changed immeasurably over the course of 2011. Across the Middle East, North Africa, and far beyond, citizens stood up to demand respect for human dignity, more promising economic opportunities, greater political liberties, and a say in their own future. Often they faced tremendous odds and endured violent responses from their governments. The resulting upheavals are still unfolding today in places like Syria, where the regime has brutalized its own people. In Burma, after years of repression, the government has taken preliminary steps to allow reforms to begin. This year’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices chronicle these dramatic changes and the stories of the people defending human rights in almost 200 countries around the world.

Congress mandated these country reports more than three decades ago to help guide lawmakers’ decisions on foreign military and economic aid, but they have evolved into something more. Today, governments, intergovernmental organizations, scholars, journalists, activists, and others around the world rely on these reports as an essential update on human rights conditions around the world – where we have seen progress, where progress has come too slowly or at great cost, and all too often, where it has been rolled back.

Our reports are founded on the simple truth at the heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Respect for human rights is not a western construct or a uniquely American ideal; it is the foundation for peace and stability everywhere. Universal human rights include the right of citizens to assemble peacefully and to seek to reform or change their governments, a central theme around the world in 2011. As President Obama has said, “History offers a clear verdict: Governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not.”

In my travels around the world as Secretary of State, I have met many individuals who put their lives on the line to advance the cause of human rights and justice. In ways small and large, they hold their governments accountable for upholding universal human rights. Their courage and commitment to peaceful reform are an inspiration. This report recognizes their bravery and should serve as a reminder: The United States stands with all those who seek to advance human dignity, and we will continue to shine the light of international attention on their efforts.

These reports are part of our broad commitment to promote human rights. Every day, officials from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and many other government agencies devote themselves to advancing human rights as a priority of U.S. foreign policy. They champion our values in every country of the world and stand up for the inherent rights and freedoms of all people. I am honored to work alongside them, and I thank them for their contributions to this report.

On behalf of all of them, and everyone around the world working to protect human rights, I hereby transmit the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 to the United States Congress.

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State

Following her remarks, Secretary Clinton introduced Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, who then conducted a special briefing on the reports prepared under the supervision of his office. His remarks, and the transcript of the question and answer session which followed them, are found here.

A video containing Secretary Clinton’s remarks, Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner remarks and his question and answer session is found on C-SPAN here.

The individual country reports are available on the State Department website.

The report covers 199 countries and territories, according to Assistant Secretary Posner.

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, 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.

Syrian fighting spills over into Lebanon, threatening stability there—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #42 (May 24)

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

[developing story–check back for updates)

Latest News and Opinion
Victor Kotsev, “Syria and Lebanon stare into the abyss,” Asia Times Online, May 24, 2012. (comprehensive overview and analysis)

Dominic Evans (Reuters/Beirut), “Syria violence shakes Lebanon’s fragile stability; Gunmen clash in deadly street battles, protesters block roads with burning tires and opposition politicians demand the prime minister’s downfall, denouncing the army as an agent of a foreign power,” May 23, 2012 (9:26am EDT).

The Trenchant Observer

After G-8 “agreement on Syria”, the fighting continues—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #41 (May 23) REVISED

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

G-8 Camp David Final Communique: Statement on Syria

1. We, the Leaders of the Group of Eight, met at Camp David on May 18 and 19, 2012 to address major global economic and political challenges.

31. We remain appalled by the loss of life, humanitarian crisis, and serious and widespread human rights abuses in Syria. The Syrian government and all parties must immediately and fully adhere to commitments to implement the six-point plan of UN and Arab League Joint Special Envoy (JSE) Kofi Annan, including immediately ceasing all violence so as to enable a Syrian-led, inclusive political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system. We support the efforts of JSE Annan and look forward to seeing his evaluation, during his forthcoming report to the UN Security Council, of the prospects for beginning this political transition process in the near-term. Use of force endangering the lives of civilians must cease. We call on the Syrian government to grant safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel to populations in need of assistance in accordance with international law. We welcome the deployment of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, and urge all parties, in particular the Syrian government, to fully cooperate with the mission. We strongly condemn recent terrorist attacks in Syria. We remain deeply concerned about the threat to regional peace and security and humanitarian despair caused by the crisis and remain resolved to consider further UN measures as appropriate.

–Camp David Declaration, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, May 19, 2012.

For quotes from President Obama at the G-8 summit relating to Syria, Russian statements affirming their position had been adopted, and commentary, see

The Trenchant Observer, “Obama clueless on Syria? G-8 endorses UN 6-point peace plan—Obama’s Debacle in Syria—Update #39 (May 21),” May 21, 2012.

Latest New Reports and Opinion

Syrian forces have resumed their attack on Rastan. AFP reports,

Soldiers were trying to overrun Rastan for the second time in 10 days, with shells crashing into the town at the rate of “one a minute” at one stage, according to the Britain-based watchdog.

An activist told AFP that Free Syrian Army fighters were defending Rastan’s entrances but that “regime forces are being strengthened with new deployments,” including from the elite Republican Guard.

“Electricity has been cut off in Rastan, and water tanks have been shelled,” said activist Abu Rawan. “There is also a severe lack of food because the market is closed and we can’t bring food in from nearby villages.”

Hours later, the activist said the army assault eased when a team of UN observers entered Rastan.

“The situation is calm now because the UN monitors have arrived” having heard the shelling, Abu Rawan told AFP, adding, however, “God protect us when they leave.”

On May 14, 23 soldiers were killed in a failed assault on the town, which straddles the main highway linking the capital to the north and where rebels regrouped from the battered city of Homs.

More than 12,600 people have been killed in the bloodshed, nearly 1,500 of them since a UN-backed truce took effect April 12, according to Observatory figures.

–AFP, “Syria assails rebel town, admits sanctions hurting,” The Daily Star, May 23, 2012 (09:52 PM).

On Tuesday, May 22, in al-Busaira, Syrian police forces fired into a crowd of several hundred people who had gathered to meet with the U.N. monitors, as the latter looked on. According to opposition reports, at least two people were killed.

Unter den Augen von UNO-Beobachtern sollen syrische Polizisten in eine Menschenmenge geschossen und zwei Personen getötet haben. Ein Vertreter der Opposition berichtete am Dienstag, in al-Busaira in der ost-syrischen Provinz Deir al-Zor seien Hunderte begeisterte Menschen aus ihren Häusern gestürmt, um die UNO-Beobachter zu begrüßen. “Binnen Minutenfrist gerieten sie ins Feuer”, sagte der Sprecher der überwiegend aus Deserteuren gebildeten Freien Syrischen Armee (FSA). Andere Informanten aus der Opposition sagten, die Regierungstruppen hätten mit Flugabwehrraketen in die Stadt geschossen.

–“Syrien: Bürger vor Augen von UN-Beobachtern getötet?; Syrische Sicherheitskräfte sollen in eine Menschenmenge geschossen haben, die die UNO-Beobachter begrüßen wollte,” Die Presse (Die / Wien), 22 Mai 2012.

On Monday, May 21, some 38 people were killed in the fighting in Syria, according to opposition sources. These included 22 soldiers, 11 rebels, and 5 civilians.

“Fast 40 Menschen sterben bei Gefechten; Seit Mitte April herrscht in Syrien Waffenstillstand, doch die Gewalt bricht immer wieder aus: Am Montag wurden erneut viele Menschen getötet, Kriegsgerät soll zerstört worden sein. Uno-Generalsekretär Ban sieht die internationalen Friedensbemühungen an einem “kritischen Punkt”, Der Spiegel, 21 Mai 2012.

For an incisive overview of the current situation, stressing the need for urgent action including potentially military action, see Itamar Rabinovich, “The Anarchy Factor in Syria,” ISN Blog (ETH, Zurich), 23 May 2012.


The theoretical U.N. ceasefire “agreed to” as part of the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan was never observed by al-Assad. It seems now that the rebels have resumed their attacks in earnest. Meanwhile, a third element–linked to al-Qaeda–appears to have entered the fray.

The situation is no longer “spinning out of control”. It is out of control. Whether the U.S., Europe and the Arab countries can act quickly enough to stem the tide is an open question.

Judging from the statements at the G-8 summit at Camp David, these key countries are still asleep. Whether there is more than meets the eye, beneath the surface, remains to be seen.

Publicly, the G-8 and NATO are obviously not paying attention and working hard to come up with new solutions. Such solutions would probably involve the credible threat or actual use of military force.

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, 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.

U.S. Covert Action in Syria?—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #40 (May 22)

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

The “Covert Commander in Chief” and America’s real policy toward Syria

Indeed, as pointed out in our previous article, statements from Obama and his administration at the G-8 summit at Camp David do appear clueless. Could “the smartest person in the room” really be so dumb?

Or could it be that he is simply being deliberately opaque, hiding something from view, and being just a little bit too clever to pull it off?

There have been reports in recent weeks of the U.S. facilitating the efforts of certain Gulf countries to arm the opposition in Syria. Obama may in fact be conducting key aspects of U.S. foreign policy by covert means, while presenting a different narrative to the country and to foreign leaders.


Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, “US Helps Gulf States Arm Syrian Rebels: Report; The US is coordinating with Saudi Arabia and Qatar in arming Syrian rebels. Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood also is involved,” Israel National News, May 16, 2012.

Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly, “Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination, Washington Post, May 15, 2012.

These articles tell us what the administration wants us to know. They are based in large part on background information from government officials. Obama does tend to “spill the beans” on covert operations when he feels great pride in their achievements.

Could the U.S. be doing more to supply weapons to the Syrian opposition than coordinating the actions of the arms suppliers and the arms recipients? The CIA certainly has the experience. One need only recall the covert war against the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, to cite one example.

The implications of such a development, if it is happening, would be highly significant. The problem would come not from supplying the rebels, but from doing so covertly while presenting a different narrative to the world.

Singing the praises of the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan while at the same time assisting in supplying arms to the rebels would involve, at a fundamental level, betraying all those who take the United States at its word. This could have a significant impact in the future when the United States seeks to bolster or forge new alliances to support important foreign policy objectives.

The Commander in Chief as Covert Operator

As David Ignatius has pointed out, the president is drawn to the allure of covert action. His most trusted cabinet members are linked to the CIA. The Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, is the previous CIA Director. The current CIA director, David Petraeus, is the former commander in Iraq and was the commander in Afghanistan before moving to his present position.

See David Ignatius, “The covert commander in chief,” Washington Post, September 10, 2011.

Ignatius’ observes,

Obama is the commander in chief as covert operator. The flag-waving “mission accomplished” speeches of his predecessor aren’t Obama’s thing; even his public reaction to the death of bin Laden was relatively subdued. Watching Obama, the reticent, elusive man whose dual identity is chronicled in “Dreams From My Father,” you can’t help wondering if he has an affinity for the secret world. He is opaque, sometimes maddeningly so, in the way of an intelligence agent.

He concludes as follows:

Perhaps Obama’s comfort level with his intelligence role helps explain why he has done other parts of the job less well. He likes making decisions in private, where he has the undiluted authority of the commander in chief. He likes information, as raw and pertinent as possible, and he gets impatient listening to windy political debates. He likes action, especially when he doesn’t leave fingerprints (emphasis added).

What this president dislikes — and does poorly — is political bargaining. He’s as bad a dealmaker as, let’s say, George Smiley would be. If the rote political parts of his job sometimes seem uninteresting to him, maybe that’s because they seem trivial compared to the secret activities that he directs each morning (emphasis added). If only economic policy could be executed as coolly and cleanly as a Predator shot.

There is a seduction to the secret world, which for generations has charmed presidents and their advisers. It’s easier pulling the levers in the dark, playing the keys of what a CIA official once called the “mighty Wurlitzer” of covert action. Politics is a much messier process — out in the open, making deals with bullies and blowhards. But that’s the part of the job that Obama must learn to master if he wants another term.

On this anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, America is lucky to have a president who is adept at intelligence. But it needs, as well, a leader who can take the country out of the shadows and into the light.


This is all very confusing. If such covert action is underway, Obama’s greatest blind spot (common to virtually all spooks)–a fundamental failure to grasp the importance and impact of international law–could come back to haunt him in Syria.

A lot of governments could react with outrage to the U.S. conducting a covert policy to overthrow al-Assad–without justifying it under international law, on the one hand, while publicly supporting the anodyne 6-point peace plan adopted by the Security Council, on the other.

What is America’s covert policy toward the al-Assad regime? That is the question. And, of course, the answer is secret.

Whatever the current U.S. dysfunctional approach to Syria may be, we need to keep in clear view what the situation demands for the killing and other abuses to stop, and for the United States to emerge with its reputation and credibility intact.

What is required in Syria is military intervention to halt al-Assad, accompanied by a strong justification under international law.

To facilitate such action, the UNSMIS mandate should not be extended past its present 90-day term.  The observers currently in Syria should immediately be ordered to stand down, before they or their leaders or a significant number of them are killed by IEDs, RPGs, or other instruments of war. They are at great risk, as the recent attacks on them have demonstrated.

We should bear in mind the tragic fate of Sérgio Vieira de Mello (a potential future Secretary General) and some 20 other members of the U.N. Mission in Bagdad who were killed by bombs on August 19, 2003. The Mission was not adequately protected. The bombing not only had tragic consequences, but also led to a precipitate withdrawal of the United Nations from Iraq.

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, 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.

Obama clueless on Syria? G-8 endorses UN peace plan—Obama’s Debacle in Syria—Update #39 (May 21)

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Latest News Reports and Opinion

Clashes over the weekend following the killing of two Sunni clerics at a roadblock in Tripoli, under ambiguous circumstances, have raised again the real posibility of Lebanon being drawn into the civil conflict in Syria.


Neil MacFarquhar, “Syrian Unrest Prompts Gun Battles in Lebanon,” New York Times, May 21, 2012.

Alice Fordham, “Beirut tense after violent clashes linked to Syrian unrest,” The Washington Post, May 21, 2012.

Obama asserts G-8 in agreement on Syria

President Obama appeared in his public comments at the G-8 summit at Camp David this weekend to be seriously out of touch with reality on the ground in Syria. Reuters reports,

Camp David–President Barack Obama told G8 leaders meeting at Camp David that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave power, and pointed to Yemen as a model of how political transition could work there, the White House said on Saturday.

The Group of Eight leaders, in a statement summing up their discussions, urged all parties in Syria to adhere to their commitments under a joint U.N.-Arab League peace plan “including immediately ceasing all violence so as to enable a Syrian-led, inclusive political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system.”

The G8 statement said the leaders welcomed the deployment of the U.N. mission “and urge all parties, in particular the Syrian government, to fully cooperate with the mission. We strongly condemn recent terrorist attacks in Syria.”

Obama brought up Yemen as an example of a leader departing power peacefully and ushering in a democratic process, Rhodes said. “Our point was that we need to see political transition under way that brings real change to Syria,” he said.

Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled the poor Gulf nation for 33 years and was unseated after an uprising last year that split the country’s armed forces into warring factions.

Saleh was granted immunity from prosecution over the killing of protesters as part of power transfer deal that eased him out of office….

–Jeff Mason, “U.S. tells G8 Syria’s Assad must go, cites Yemen as model, Rueters, May 21, 2012.

These statements sound like they came from a goup that has been asleep for the last six months, and just woke up.

As for the Yemeni model, one should bear in mind that it is now viewed by many as the number one state harboring al Qaeda. Just today, over 90 people were killed as the result of a massive bomb explosion. It should also be borne in mind that Saleh killed hundreds of demonstrators, not the thousands al-Assad has murdered. The number of opposition members who would support a Yemeni-style transition, which would leave countless war criminals in place with impunity, could probably be counted on the fingers of a single hand.

Russians Satisfied

The Russians were satisfied with the results of the G-8 summit.

Global leaders demonstrated consensus on all issues discussed at the G8 summit in Camp David. A statement to this effect was made by Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as he spoke to a Voice of Russia correspondent during the news conference after the summit.

“This summit became my fifth,” the Prime Minister said. “Compared to the previous ones, it was informative and problem-free. We held substantial discussions in which all participants readily took part, and there was little, if any, controversy between delegations, or separate leaders.”

The participants in the summit reached consensus on Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Members of the G8 were unanimous that the Syrian government and all parties involved in the conflict should immediately secure the implementation of all requirements of a peace plan proposed by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The Russian delegation made it clear that the Declaration on Syria was fully in conformity with the position of Moscow (emphasis added).

–Garibov Konstantin, “G-8: unanimity in spite of problems – Medvedev,” The Voice of Russia (radio), May 21, 2012 (14:47 Moscow Time).

The Russians’ triumph on Syria at Camp David came on the heals of a veiled threat by Dimitri Medvedev, now Prime Minister, that armed intervention in Syria could lead to nuclear war.

TEHRAN – Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned on Thursday that military action against sovereign states could lead to a regional nuclear war, starkly voicing Moscow’s opposition to Western intervention ahead of a G8 summit at which Syria and Iran will be discussed, Reuters reported.

The 38th G8 summit is to be held in Camp David, Maryland, from May 18 to 19.

“Hasty military operations in foreign states usually bring radicals to power,” Medvedev, president for four years until Vladimir Putin’s inauguration on May 7, told a conference in St. Petersburg in remarks posted on the government’s website.

“At some point such actions which undermine state sovereignty may lead to a full-scale regional war, even, although I do not want to frighten anyone, with the use of nuclear weapons,” Medvedev said.

“Everyone should bear this in mind,” he added.

–“Medvedev warns against a nuclear war in Mideast,” Tehran Times, May 18, 2012 (May 19 print edition).


President Obama–at least in public–is talking about a Yemen-style transition in Syria, which presumably would include a guarantee that al-Assad and his henchmen would not be prosecuted for their crimes.

He believes a political transition is necessary in Syria, with al-Assad leaving power. He has said this before.

He and the G-8 have endorsed the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan and the UNSMIS observer mission.

Obama–in his public declarations–appears clueless as to how the al-Assad regime might be induced to permit such a transition, or for that matter to cease their crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave violations of human rights (such as those detailed by the Committee Against Torture Report).

Clueless, or so it would appear.

The Trenchant Observer

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