Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

The missing elements in the war against ISIS — Taking down their websites and engaging in robust public diplomacy

Friday, June 12th, 2015

UPDATE June 23, 2015

Europe is setting up a special police unit to monitor jihadist sites and content, andd to remove it.

See

Richard Spencer, “Europe-wide police unit to monitor Islamic State social media; Europol to set up specialist unit in response to concerns not enough is being done to prevent Isil propaganda,” The Telegraph, June 22, 2015 (12:15 p.m. BST).

This is the kind of action that is needed, on a very large scale, not only in Europe but in many other countries.

*****

See Mark Mazzetti and Michael R. Gordon, “ISIS Is Winning the Social Media War, U.S. Concludes,” New York Times, June 12, 2015.

In a converstaion recently, a friend asked what The Observer would do to counter ISIS (or the self-denominated “Islamic State”).

From that conversation emerged crystalized thoughts from months of reflection.  In brief, I would suggest, at least for purposes of debate, that we consider the following:

The Enormity of the Threat

First of all, we must recognize the enormity of the threat to civilized nations represented by ISIS, and the huge progress they have made in waging a war for young Muslim minds. The existence and growth of a barbarian political and military power, in the heart of the Middle East, constitutes an existential threat to societies from the Middle East to Europe, the United States, and beyond.

The most daunting aspect of the threat is the rejection by ISIS and other jihadists of the fundamental moral and legal values undegirding European civilization for the last 400 years. These values have developed since the Peace of Westphalia and the birth of the modern nation state system and international law, following the ThIrty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution (including the revolutions in America and France).

These values spread through the rest of the world following World War II, with decolonization, the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and the universal recognition of governments’ legal obligations to protect fundmental human rights. They are now under attack.

International law obligations to protect fundamental human rights, refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state, and to comply with international treaties, customary international law, and the United Nations Charter itself, are all challenged by the growth of ISIS and other jihadists. The latter reject the values upon which the former are founded, retreating to the use of barbarism in fighting all who do not submit to their twisted and extreme vision of Islamic rule.

To date, the West and other civilized countries have not recognized the larger threat posed by ISIS and other jihadists, or at least not reacted in a manner commensurate with the nature and dimensions of the threat.

Responses have been limited in the main to defending against potential terrorist threats to the homeland, and to killing as many jihadists as possible in order to limit their territorial gains.

This approach, however necessary, has essentially failed to stem the growth of ISIS and others. It fails to adequately address the essential nature of the problem, which is that it involves a war for young Muslim minds, not only in Syria, Iraq, northern Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also in Europe, America and in many other countries throughout the world.

What more can be done?

Proposition for Debate #1: Taking Down Their Websites

First, we should consider whether to attack the capabilities of ISIS and other jihadists to spread their views and to use slick propaganda to gather new recruits.

We could take down their websites as fast as they pop up, and ensure that videos of beheadings and other acts of barbarism cannot be viewed, or viewed for long, on the Internet or social media. We could, perhaps in concert with other countries, prohibit their reproduction on television, in newspapers, or on social media. Italy successfully followed a similar policy in dealing with terrorists in the 1970’s.

We could use all of our military and intelligence capabilities to take down these sites. Freedom of speech is critically important, but it does not include the right to shout fire in a theater, or to incite others to join groups which commit horrendous acts of violence.

To be sure, there will be a need for judicial supervision and review, in some form, of such activities.

One suspects that the intelligence agencies, which probably glean important information about visitors to such websites, will strongly oppose taking them down. Yet a larger view is needed to inform decisions.

Does the intelligence gathered outweigh the benefit of crippling the recruitment and propaganda activities of the jihadists? Who will decide?

We should consider and debate these questions.

Proposition for Debate #2: Creating a much more robust public diplomacy

Second, we could mount a much larger and more effective public diplomacy structure and campaign, something on the scale of the U.S. Information Agency in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Obviously, a large effort would need to be made on the Internet and social media.

But we could also rebuild and build out our shortwave and medium wave broadcast capabilities, fund them, and greatly expand the schedule of broadcasts on the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, for example.

Before this idea is dismissed as obsolete, we should bear in mind that Internet sites can be blocked by those with territorial power such as the “Islamic State” or governments. Users and listeners can be tracked, as they were in Iran in 2009. One of the great advantages of older technologies like radio is that listeners cannot be tracked, and jamming is not always effective. Television can also be beamed by satellites or high-altitude balloons. In an authoritarian country in Africa or the Middle East, radio and broadcast television may still work as ways of getting through. One need only to have listened to a VOA broadcast in a country with no freedom of expression to appreciate this point.

What is clear is that the USIA, since it has been dismantled as an independent agency and wrapped into the Department od State, has lost much of its effectiveness. About all that remains are the VOA and RFE/RL broadcasts, on reduced schedules and to a much more limited number of countries.

Other partners in the battle against ISIS and other jihadists could be encouraged to bolster their own activities. Some form of coordination might be undertaken.

The separation between independent news, on the one hand, and opinion representing the views of the U.S. government, on the other, which flourished when the Agency was led by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950’s, should be strengthened.

Similarly, the laws prohibiting the U.S. government from directing its information activities at domestic audiences should be upheld.

There could be an issue here to the extent such a limitation limits the ways in which public diplomacy efforts can be directed at young Muslims in the United States. Other means of rebutting the jihadists will probably need to be found.

What is critical is that the intelligence agencies, or public diplomacy efforts, not be used to sell government policies to citizens in the U.S. This line has been crossed repeatedly since 9/11, but its strict observance going forward is absolutely critical.

Other Steps

Many defeats in the war for young Muslim minds may be attributed to the loss of respect the U.S. has suffered as a result of its use of torture at Abu Gharib and elsewhere, the conditions in which prisoners were held for years without trial or even military commission review at Guantanamo, the 2003 invasion of Iraq in clear violation of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the use of force, the use of drones outside war theaters in apparent violation of international law, and in general actions that do not sit well with America’s preferred view of itself as a city on a hill, where dedication to the pursuit of freedom and the rule of law, both at home and abroad, are the hallmarks of a democratic society and its government.

Improvement in these areas would in the long term help in the struggle for young Muslim minds, and also help reformers within Muslim societies win their struggle for the rule of law in their own countries.

But for now, two issues which urgently merit full discussion are those outlined above.

The Trenchant Observer

ISIS takes Ramadi and Palmyra; Obama undercuts Merkel and the EU with direct negotiations with Putin—who responds by cutting Russian transit routes to Afghanistan

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

U.S. foreign policy is in utter disarray, failing to meet the two greatest challenges to international peace and security in the world: (1) Russian military aggression in the Ukraine; and (2) The growing power of the Islamic State, emerging from the maelstrom of Syria and advancing against the collapsing military of an Iraqi state riddled by sectarian divisions.

Several factors and the cumulative impact of poor decisions over the last six years have contributed to this situation.

President Barack Obama has not been a trustworthy partner with U.S. allies.

In 2012, he apparently undercut Turkey and others as they were contemplating intervention in Syria.

He has cut adrift the Gulf States, among  America’s closest allies for 50 years, and has lost their trust, as evidenced by the failure of many of the Gulf’s leaders to attend Obama’s Camp David summit last week.

The conference showed all the signs of an impromptu affair suggested by someone in Obama’s entourage (like, “We better do something to placate the Gulf states which are unhappy over the Iran nuclear deal. Let’s invite them all to Camp David for a summit.”). The Summit was not well prepared, and produced no results worthy of note. Just words.

Secretary of State John Kerry apparently didn’t even bother to attend, busy as he was off on his fool’s errand of meeting with Putin in Sochi. Instead of the Secretary of State speaking to the media at the summit, it was Obama’s assistant, Ben Rhodes, who commented on the achievements of the gathering, such as they were.

This was amateurism run amok, evidence of a foreign policy in full disarray.

Kerry’s meetings with Putin and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov broke Russia’s isolation, and severely undercut Angela Merkel’s efforts to take a tough line during her visit to Moscow on May 9-10, where the emphasis was on German atonement for the depradations unleashed on Russia during World War II, and the “criminal” aggression by Russia against the Ukraine in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine, in violation of international law and the bases of the European peace and security order.

In a follow-up to the Sochi discussions, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria “F… the EU” Nuland was scheduled to meet with her counterpart in Moscow.

By undercutting Merkel, Obama also undermined efforts to hold a consensus together within the EU for the reauthorization of sanctions against Russia when they cime up for renewal at the end of July.

In Iraq and Syria, the fall of Ramadi to ISIS, as well as Palmyra, demonstrated the bankruptcy of Obama’s (non) strategy for dealing with Syria, and the growing power of the so-called Islamic State, which has now occupied large portions of Syria (up to 50%), seized Ramadi and Mosul in Iraq, and  sent fighters to Afghanistan and Libya.

If we want to understand the true significance of Benghazi, we need to reflect on the fact that Obama campaigned in 2012 on the proposition that Al Qaeda had been vanquished, just like Bin Laden, whereas the administration knew for a fact this was not the case. That is the significance of the removal from Susan Rice’s talking points of any reference to Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-connected groups.

On the two greatest challenges facing civilization and the West and the maintenance of international peace and security, (1) Russian military aggression against the Ukraine and purported annexation of the Crimea, and (2) the Syrian maelstrom which has given birth to ISIS and the growing threat to civilization it poses, the Obama administration has done next to nothing, aside from the modest economic sanctions imposed on a small number of Russian individuals and entities.

Even with respect to the nuclear deal with Iran, Obama has maneuvered himself into a weak bargaining position in the run-up to the self-imposed June 30 deadline for reaching a final agreement. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has reiterated his opposition to intrusive inspections, for example. With Obama pitching the deal to others before its final text has been agreed, and much of his legacy riding on its conclusion, the United Stats is in a poor position to walk away from a bad deal. Khamenai and the Iranians know this.

Obama’s bottom line with Putin appears to be that he wants to deal, to talk, to “negotiate”—even with Russia illegally occupying the Crimea and engaged in active military aggression in the eastern Ukraine. He wants Russian help on dealing with Syria (despite the evidence of the last four years that Russia has been anything but helpful), and also feels he needs Putin’s help in closing the nuclear deal in the P5 + 1 talks with Iran.

Obama is essentially proceeding from a position of weakness in dealing with Putin, having yielded to big business interests demanding that he impose no economic sanctions on Russia beyond those imposed by the EU. The threat of further sanctions against Russia for its continuing military invasion of the eastern Ukraine is politically impossible in Europe, and as a result is for all intents and purposes off the table.

Obama is unwilling to send lethal weapons to the Ukraine to help that country defend itself against Russia’s invasions.

He is willing to accept Putin’s invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea.

While only America can lead the Western alliance, instead of forging unity in facing down Putin, Obama has actively undercut his allies in Europe such as Angela Merkel.

In all of his actions toward both Putin and ISIS, Obama has demonstrated that he has no capacity for formulating a coherent strategy, and no stomach for ordering strong actions, with more than words, in response to the policies of military aggression and conquest in which both Russia and ISIS are engaged. In his pacifism and appeasement of Putin, he is immovable.

This is the tightly-controlled foreign policy Obama has been running out of his mind, and these are the results.

See

(1)  Ian Black (Middle East editor), “Seizure of Palmyra and Ramadi by Isis reveal gaping holes in US jihadi strategy; Far from being on the defensive, Islamic State has shown that the arms-length approach of the US to Iraq is failing and Washington is operating ‘day by day’,” The Guardian, May 21, 2015 (18:15).

“Robert Gates, the former US defence secretary, put it even more bluntly: “We don’t really have a strategy at all. We’re basically playing this day by day.” The urgent delivery of new anti-tank missiles for the Iraqi army has been one short-term response. But larger military and political questions are still unanswered.

But Obama’s credibility is extremely low. “Next time you read some grand statement by US officials on [the] campaign against Isis or see a Centcom [US Central Command] map about Isis reversals, just bin it,” commented Emile Hokayem, a respected Middle East expert with the International Institute of Strategic Studies.”

(2) Editorial Board, “The U.S. continues to send the wrong message to Russia,” Washington Post, May 21, 2015 (8:49 PM).

(3)  “Nachschub für Afghanistan: Russland schließt Transitweg für Nato; Für die Nato wird es schwieriger, ihre Kräfte in Afghanistan zu versorgen. Russland stellt sich quer. Regierungschef Medwedew beendet den Transit über sein Land,” Der Spiegel, 18. Mai 2015 (19:05 Uhr).

(4) Josef Joffe, “Im Bomben-Basar; Teheran zeigt den USA, was wahre Verhandlungskunst ist,” Die Zeit, 15. Abril 2015 (08:00 Uhr).

The Trenchant Observer

The 70th anniversary of the unconditonal surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Detveloping

On May 8, 1945 the Allied Powers accepted the unconditional surrender of Germany in a ceremony performed in Berlin. Because of the hour, it was May 9 in Moscow, which is why the Allied victory over Germany is celebrated on that date in Russia.

For the United States, which carried the brunt of the war in the Pacific, World War II did not formally end until September 2, 1945, when cereminies formalized the surrender announced by Japan on August 15.

Commemoration ceremonies were held this year in Western Europe on May 8, and a large Soviet-style military parade and celebration were held today in Moscow, on June 9.

The Moscow parade was highly significant, as it was boycotted by the leaders of the West as a result of Moscow’s invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea in February and March, 2014, and its invasion of the eastern Ukraine by special operations and irregular forces, beginning in April, 2014.

These forces seized government buildings by force and set up the self-denominated Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in the eastern Ukraine. By August, thousands of regular Russian troops, tanks, artillery, as well as advanced air-defense systems, had moved into the Donbas, after the border between Russia and these areas had been effectively dismantled by Russian or Russian-led forces.

What are euphemistically referred to as the “separatist” forces are now quite clearly led by and under the direction and control of Russia, according to NATO, which has stated that some 12,000 Russian troops remain in the Donbas, with thousands more menacingly poised on the border.

The boycott is highly significant as evidence of Putin’s and Russia’s isolation from the West.

It reminds us not only of what was achieved 70 years ago in defeating German fascism, but also how far Vladimir Putin has taken us back down the road that leads to totalitarianism and policies of militarism and aggression.

“Victory in Europe Day or “VE Day” marked the end of the war in Europe and the victory of the Allied powers over the European Fascism of Germany and Italy.

But, despite hopes spawned by the Yalta Conference and agreement in February, 1944, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met to set the postwar arrangements for the states of Eastern Europe, the surrender of the Germans did not signify an end to totalitarian government in the countries that had been invaded and occupied by Germany–and the Soviet Union.

For the Soviets had also invaded countries, having agreed with Hitler in the infamous Molotov-von Ribbentropp Pact of August 23, 1939 (a week before the German invasion of Poland), to share in the division of Poland, and to divide territories of Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland into German and Soviet “spheres of influence”.

Stalin invaded Poland, annexed Polish territories (only some of which were returned after the war), annexed portions of Finland after the 1939-1940 “Winter War”, annexed the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1940, and also invaded and annexed portions of Romania.

Beyond these annexations, the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1949 established through the use of force and intimidation communist governments under its control in the Eastern European countries it occupied, except for Austria which gained its independence in 1955 as the result of an agreement among the occupying powers.

These historical facts are highly significant in view of Vladimir Putin’s remarks endorsing the Molotov-von Ribbentropp Pact in November, 2014.

See “Putin approves of 1939 Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact and partitioning oaf Poland,” The Trenchant Observer, Novcember 11, 2014.

To be sure, the Soviet Union was an indispensable partner in defeating Nazism and German “fascism” in World War II. Its soldiers and citizens suffered untold losses and other hardships at the hands of the Germans. For their courage and sacrifice, citizens of the United States, England and many other countries will forever be in their debt.

Yet one must distinguish between the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation and their leaders, on the one hand, and the Russian and other peoples of the Soviet Union who bore these sacrifices, on the other.

It is worth recalling that Stalin was responsible for the massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers, police and intellectuals in what became known as the Katyn Forest massacre (or Katyn massacre) in April and May, 1940, following the Soviet invasion of Poland. As noted above, he was responsible for subjugating the peoples of eastern Europe to totalitarian communist rule, which lasted until the Berlin Wall came down in October, 1989.

Other Soviet leaders used Russian tanks to put down rebellions and revolutions in Poland in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968, keeping totalitarian regimes in place. Brezhnev also invaded Afghanistan in 1980.

So as we celebrate the defeat of Germany and Nazism now, on the 70th anniversary of the German surrender in Berlin in 1945, let us bear in mind that the defeat of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes has not been fully achieved, and that the virus of militarism and aggression which led to World War II remains alive, today, in Russia.

The United Nations was founded in December, 1945, in large part “to avoid the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetimes has brought untold suffering upon mankind.”

The bedrock principle upon which the U.N. and the hope of peace was founded was the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

Unfortunately, so long as Russian troops occupy the territory of a European state as a result of military conquest, and are engaged in ongoing military aggression against that state, hopes for peace in Europe, and elsewhere, will remain in doubt.

The Trenchant Observer

Civilization falters, as Russian aggression stands and Islamic terrorism explodes

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo massacre by Islamic extremists on January 7 underlines the failure of the West and other civilized countries to win the struggle in Muslim and other societies to control the violent extremists who, wearing jihadism as a cloak, wreak havoc upon the world.

Samuel Huntington’s warning of a “clash of civilizations” has become a reality, though its effects perhaps may yet be abated.

The U.S.and other countries have resorted to drone strikes outside the Afghan theater of dubious validity under international law. They have committed torture, and refused to bring those responsible to account.

Meanwhile, the defense of civilization on other fronts falters, as Russian troops stand astride their booty in a war of aggression, the Crimea, Russian-occupied territory of the Ukraine.

Civilization is falling apart, as the West no longer defends its deepest values. Russia occupies the Crimea and has forces in the eastern Ukraine, while French President Francois Hollande calls for an end to sanctions against Russia, two months before they must be renewed by the European Union.

President Barack Obama has stood by while 200,000 Syrians have been killed, seemingly unmoved by their suffering. The cost of that indifference is high, as suggested by Turkey’s turning away from the West.

What is to be done?

Something tells us we cannot kill all the young Muslims who are drawn to the terrorists’ cause, veiled as it is in Muslim religious belief.

Something tells us we cannot win the war against jihadists by using drones, by secret “black” prisons, by torture, or by simply trying to kill them faster than they are formed. We cannot win a war based on a strategy of cutting off the tentacles of a hydra-headed monster which gains strength from our very efforts to kill it.

Driving from the back seat, Obama has wrecked the world. Or at least failed to act effectively to correct its downward course.

No one has the answers, as few even ask the right questions.

There are no leaders. Civilization falls apart.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama seeks to block publication of Senate torture report; Pillar of democracy at stake

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Background — See

(1) “Sicherheitsbedenken: US-Regierung bremst Veröffentlichung von CIA-Folterbericht,” Der Spiegel, 6. Dezember 2014 (19:55 Uhr).

Der US-Senat wollte umfassende Informationen über geheime Foltermethoden der CIA publizieren. Nun blockiert die Regierung in Washington in letzter Sekunde die Veröffentlichung – und begründet dies mit Sorge vor neuer Gewalt im Nahen Osten.”

(2) Reuters (Washington), “Kerry urges caution over timing of releasing U.S. torture report,” Reuters, December 5, 2014 (7:40pm EST).

(3) Matthew Lee and Ken Dilian, “Kerry to Feinstein: Consider timing of CIA report,” Associated Press (AP), December 5, 2014 (6:26 PM EST).

(4) “Obama: ‘We tortured some folks…It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks (our law enforcement and our national security teams) were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.’” (full transcript), The Trenchant Observer. August 1, 2014.

(5) “Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2013.

One of the fundamental pillars of any democracy is the right of the people, those who in the U.S. elect the president and members of the Senate and the House, to know what actions the government has carried out with their money and in their name.

To the extent secret laws, secret courts, and doctrines that prevent the adjudication of the constitutionality and legality of the government’s actions prevent the people, the electorate, from learning what actions the government has taken and what crimes it has committed, the very edifice of democracy is eroded as the structure that remains becomes a hollow shell.

Now we hear the wholly specious argument, from Secretary of State John Kerry no less, that publication of the Senate’s Torture Report must be “delayed” because it will cause violence in the Middle East and South Asia, and will expose American hostages to risks and other Americans to being taken as hostages by extremists. (See Reuters aarticle above.) Release of the Report has already been delayed, for years.

Let there be no confusion over the high probability that further “delaying” the publication of the Torture Report will mean blocking its release. When the Republicans take over control of the Senate in January, it appears very likely they will block dissemination of the Report, if it has not already been distributed.

Kerry’s plea for delay has all the markings of an artful maneuver by Obama to block publication of the Torture Report while claiming he favors its release.

The statement by Kerry’s press spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, that he had called Senator Diane Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to ask for delay, came on Friday–well-timed to avoid coverage in the leading U.S. newspapers over the weekend.

So, the fault here according to the Obama administration is that those who want to learn and publish the facts regarding torture by the U.S. government, or extraordinary rendition to “black” prisons in places like Poland, in flagrant violation of human rights treaties, the laws of war, and customary international law, will endanger the country’s interests and its citizens abroad. The enemy, in short, is the truth.

It doesn’t seem to occur to President Obama or elected officials who acquiesce in such government secrecy that it is the government’s actions and crimes themselves that cause the damage to the nation’s interests. While the Islamic State and other groups are growing by the day, it doesn’t occur to these leaders that the torture itself has imposed an immeasurable cost on the idea of America in the world, and the country’s interests.

With John Brennan sitting as Director of the CIA, and the failure of the Obama administration to prosecute those responsible for policies and acts of torture, in flagrant violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, America has never made a clean break with torture.

The simple fact that  one of the key figures in the torture program has never been prosecuted for torture as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and publishes op-eds in newspapers like the Washington Post every time the there is a threat that the truth about the actions he led might come out, reveals how far America is from making a clean break with its policies of torture in the past.

See

(1) Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., “Today’s CIA critics once urged the agency to do anything to fight al-Qaeda,” The Washingtonn Post, December 5, 2014.

(2) “Key CIA official involved in Bush torture program criticizes “Zero Dark Thirty” for inaccurate depiction of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’,” The Trenchant Observer, January 7, 2013.

One can understand Rodriguez’ anguish over crimes he apparently was complicit in, believing he was acting in accordance with the orders of the highest officials in the country, without agreeing with his arguments and conclusions. He poses serious questions. The best answer to them is publication of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on Torture.

Publication of the Senate Report can begin to correct the government policies that led to torture and that tolerate the non-prosecution of those responsible for torture. If we are ever to diminish the hatred toward America felt by jihadists and many others in the world, it will not be by continuing to hide our crimes behind a wall of secrecy–which only confirms the worst fears and suspicions of the jihadists and those they seek to recruit–but rather by letting the light of truth uncover these crimes and point us down a path that will ensure that they will never happen again.

Barack Obama, in his typically cute way, is seeking to avoid personal responsibility for blocking publication of the report (actually only it’s Executive Summary), seeking through Kerry to block its release while putting out the word that he favors publication.

This is utterly disingenuous on his part.

This is what it’s like to live in a national security and surveillance state where the most important decisions for the life of a democracy are left in the hands of unelected intelligence officials who are themselves complicit in the commission of the crimes to be reported. CIA Director John Brennan is the leading case in point.

Who is in charge of the government, President Barack Obama and the Congress, or John Brennan and the other intelligence chiefs?

If Obama wants to publish the Executive Summary of the Senate Report, he should do so, taking broader considerations into account than those in the narrow purview of secretive intelligence operatives.

Moreover, as soon as possible after publication of the Executive Summary, the full report should be published.

The only redactions that should be accepted are those that are critically important to protecting present sources and methods, and not those aimed at avoiding embarrassment or the revelation of complicity in crimes.

The Trenchant Observer

Abdullah and Ghani reach agreement on power-sharing, national unity government in Afghanistan

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

In what constitutes a big foreign policy success for President Barack Obama and the United States, Afghan presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah have reached agreement on a power-sharing arrangement.

See

Rod Nordland, “Afghan Presidential Rivals Finally Agree on Power-Sharing Deal,” New York Times, September 20, 2014.

Under the agreement, Ghani will assume the position of President, while Abdullah will assume the new position of Chief Executive Officer, with primary responsibility for the execution of government policies. Top posts will be shared equally among the followers of the two candidates.

Nordland reports,

The draft agreement obtained by The Times has changed slightly since it was written, according to diplomats and campaign officials, but the key points are unaltered in the latest version initialed Saturday night. The agreement gives substantial powers to the newly created position of chief executive officer, defining it as having “the functions of an executive prime minister.”

The agreement also creates a council of ministers, headed by the chief executive and including two deputies and all cabinet ministers. “The Council of Ministers will implement the executive affairs of the Government,” the agreement states. In addition, while the president would head his cabinet, which also includes the ministers, “The CEO will be responsible for managing the Cabinet’s implementation of government policies, and will report on progress to the President directly and in the Cabinet.”

Another clause calls for “parity in the selection of personnel between the President and the CEO at the level of head of key security and economic institutions, and independent directorates.”

Significantly, the U.S.-brokered agreement was achieved in large part as a result of the leadership and efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry.

The deal opens the way to the inauguration of President Ghani in the next few days, the signing of the Status of Forces agreement with the U.S. which will allow the continuation of military assistance beyond 2014, and the financial and military support accompanis it.

A strong U.S. presence and active role in brokering differences between the two candidates and their followers will be required if the agreement is to take hold, and the great distrust between the opposing camps is to be overcome.

The agreement marks a great success, if not of the democratic electoral process in Afghanistan, at least in terms of avoiding the great disaster that would have occurred had it not been reached.

The inauguration og Ghani will also mark the first peaceful transition of power in as long as anyone can remember, with President Hamid Karzai giving up the formal reigns of power which he has held for the last 12 years.

The Trenchant Observer

Karzai reportedly involved in massive fraud favoring Ghani in Afghan presidential run-off

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Stunning details of the massive fraud in the Afghan presidental run-off election have been published in the New York Times, in an article by veteran Afghan correspondent Carlotta Gall.

It appears that President Hamid Karzai was deeply involved in the fraud, which greatly and implausibly favored Ashraf Ghani, as his opponent Abdullah Abdullah has charged since shortly after the second-round election was held.

See

(1) “Leading Afghan presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escapes assassination in Kabul,” The Trenchant Observer, June 6, 2014.

(2) “Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission,” The Trenchant Observer, dJune 18, 2014.

(3) “Obama Snubs Abdullah During Latter’s Trip to Washington,” The Trenchant Observer, May 22, 2010.

(4) “NEWS TO NOTE Deal by U.S. with Pakistan Military to Undercut Abdullah in Final Discussions?” The Trenchant Observer, November 11, 2009.

(5) “KARZAI’S FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL IN AFGHANISTAN—THE REAL EXTENT OF THE ELECTORAL FRAUD, ABDULLAH’S CHANCES, AND WASHINGTON’S RESPONSE,” the Trenchant Observer, October 16, 2009.

See also other articles listed on the Afghanistan page, in the upper right-hand corner of the home page, which can be reached by clicking on the banner above.

The Trenchant Observer

Battle over electoral fraud in Afghanistan (updated July 7, 2014)

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

This is probably the last chance for the United States, NATO, and other ISAF countries to avoid losing the Afghan war.

To succeed in averting a collapse in legitimacy, they must fully and with great candor discuss openly the alleged fraud at each voting table, and absolutely insist on a full recount of all votes in dispute–voting station by voting station, with full representation of all parties concerned.

Hamid Karzai was “awarded” the presidency of Afghanistan in 2009 as the result of 1) massive fraud in the first-round election, reportedly organized by him and his supporters; 2) enormous international pressures which led to a very partial and skewed recount which, though it did not reveal the full extent of the fraud, reduced Karzai’s “official” vote count sufficiently to require a second-round runoff with Abdullah Abdullah; and 3) Abdullah’s withdrawal from the run-off, when his demands for reform of the electoral bodies were not met, and also apparently after having been subjected to great pressure from the United States.

In the first-round elections held in April of this year, Abdullah emerged with 45% of the votes as opposed to his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, who received just under 32% of the vote.

In the second-round election held recently, as the vote count proceeded, Abdullah denounced what he alleged was a massive fraud then underway being orchestrated by Ghani and Karzai acting in collusion with electoral officials. The chief electoral official, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, was forced to resign after Abdullah released tapes allegedly showing him and other officials issuing instructions for ballot stuffing.

Much is at stake in whether Abdullah succeeds in gaining a full elimination of fraudulent votes before results are announced. It is no exaggeration to say that the legitimacy and cohesion of the government which emerges from the vote count may determine the chances for the United States’ and ISAF nations’ project in Afghanistan to avoid either a Taliban takeover or a civil war, or a combination of the two.

President Obama seems totally removed from this process, recalling his tightly-managed Afghanistan policy review in 2009, when the ongoing fraud in that year’s election was apparently not even discussed by those involved in the policy review.

This is probably the last chance for the United States, NATO, and other ISAF countries to avoid losing the Afghan war.

To succeed in averting a collapse in legitimacy, they must fully and with great candor discuss openly the alleged fraud at each voting table, and absolutely insist on a full recount of all votes in dispute–voting station by voting station, with full representation of all parties concerned.

In 2009 the United States and its allies took the easier path, accepting Karzai’s refusal to reform the electoral commission and the electoral complaints commission before a second-round run-off, and pressuring Abdullah to withdraw.

This looks like another massively fraudulent election, with the U.S., its allies and the U.N. Mission in Afganistan looking the other way.

Ghani’s numbers do not pass the smell test.

See Margherita Stancati (Kabul), “Afghan Candidate Boycotts Count of Votes; Abdullah, a Karzai Rival, Alleges Fraud in Presidential Runoff, Citing Outsize Turnout in Opponent’s Areas of Support,” Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2014 (Updated 7:40 p.m. ET). Stancati reported,

“Yusuf Nuristani, chairman of the IEC , which organized the election and is counting the votes, said Saturday’s turnout was up from 6.6 million in the first round. While turnout was largely the same or lower in much of the country, the IEC’s initial tallies indicated a dramatic surge —in the areas of eastern Afghanistan that are Mr. Ghani’s base.

“In the eastern province of Khost, for example, initial IEC tallies showed that more than 400,000 voters cast ballots on Saturday, up from 113,000 in the first round.

“According to the 2012-13 data compiled by Afghanistan’s central statistics office, Khost’s entire population is 549,000—and, given Afghanistan’s demographic structure, at least one-third of them are children.

“In the nearby province of Paktika, 390,000 voters cast their ballots on Saturday, up from 180,000. The province’s population is 414,000.”

See also, “Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission,” The Trenchant Observer, June 18, 2014.

Without the acceptance by Abdullah’s supporters of the election results, any future Ghani-Karzai government will have the same weaknesses as the current government of Karzai. Karzai will continue to manipulate the tribal and warlord alliances to keep Ghani and the current political elite in power in Kabul. Ghani will owe his survival to Karzai. But without the continuing presence of the U.S. military in significant numbers to hold things together, such a Karzai-Ghani strategy is not likely to succeed.

Whatever illusions the Americans may have about getting rid of Karzai, while keeping the present political elite of “Corrupt-istan” in power as Karzai pulls the strings from behind the scenes, are likely to evaporate as the new government loses the support of Abdullah’s voters and the Northern Alliance.

Without their support, it is difficult to see how a new government might hold together and succeed in maintaining the allegiance of its soldiers.

See “U.S. National Intelligence Estimate points to dire future in Afghanistan,” The Trenchant Observer, January 8, 2014.

Obama may walk away from Afghanistan the same way he walked away from Iraq in 2011.

Yet it is hard to see how the Democrats, after losing the two wars that have been the focus of Americans’ attention since 2001 and 2003, respectively, could hold back the tide of a Republican sweep of Congress and the presidency in 2016, with Republicans running on a strong national security platform.

To repeat: What Obama and the U.S. do in the next several weeks to ensure a full and accurate vote count in Afghanistan, and what they have to say about it publicly, are likely to have a decisive impact on the success or lack thereof of the Afghanistan project that has been underway since 2001.

See

(1) Adam Ahmed, “Afghanistan Election Dispute Draws More Calls for Vote Audit,” New York Times, July 6, 2014.

(2) “Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission, The Trenchant Observer, June 18, 2014.

(3) “Leading Afghan presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escapes assassination in Kabul,” The Trenchant Observer, June 6, 2014.

(4) “KARZAI’S FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL IN AFGHANISTAN—THE REAL EXTENT OF THE ELECTORAL FRAUD, ABDULLAH’S CHANCES, AND WASHINGTON’S RESPONSE,” The Trenchant Observer, October 16, 2009.

For deeper insights into the present crisis, consider the following articles and their implications:

(5) “Obama Snubs Abdullah During Latter’s Trip to Washington,” The Trenchant Observer, May 22, 2010.

(6) “The real problem with U.S. policy toward Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai and the CIA,” The Trenchant Observer, November 26, 2013.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s six crises and collapsing foreign policy: Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and China’s actions in the East and South China Seas

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Developing

President Barack Obama now faces six simultaneous crises, amid the collapsing edifice of his foreign policy. They are:

1. Russia and the Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of the eastern Ukraine continues, calling the West’s bluff that it would impose sectoral sanctions.

The fact that Russia is acting through special operations and irregular foces has no bearing on its responsibility under international law for these actions. They amount to an “armed attack” under the terms of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, creating a right self-defense on the part of the Ukraine, and a right of “collective self-defense” on the part of other states, up to and including the use of force, to repel the invasion.

Economic and other sanctions are similarly justifiable as measures of self-defense, and also as “countermeasures” in response to illegal intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

But where legal authority for action to stop the Russians is abundant and clear, the political will of the countries in the West to act effectively is almost non-existant. Instead, appeasement and a new form of “hybrid” pacifism have taken hold.

Putin knows his antagonists. As the one-month deadline for stopping support of the “separatists” in eastern Ukraine draws near, the EU and the U.S. are already backing down, talking now of further “targeted” sanctions–not sectoral sanctions. Today Obama added seven individuals to the list.

If there were any doubt in Putin’s mind about Obama’s decisiveness, the latter’s meek and temporizing responses to the advances of ISIS in Iraq should have put those doubts to rest.

Russia continues its invasion of eastern Ukraine, sending additional tanks and other equipment across the border right now.

Having concentrated control of foreign policy in the White House, President Obama does not have the decision making capacity to deal with multiple crises at the same time, or indeed the decisiveness to take timely and effective action in any one of them.

We have devoted great attention to Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and its ongoing invasion of the eastern Ukraine, because these actions and the pacifism and appeasement with which they have been met in the West directly threaten the collapse of the institutions and norms established to uphold the maintenance of international peace and security.

In the hierarchy of grave crises, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine remains the most serious, because it threatens to destroy or eviscerate the necessary tools of international law and institutions which are essential for the resolution of other crises, including those which are presently all raging at the same time.

When the question seems to be where to send the fire brigade, actually the more fundamental question is how can you keep the fire brigade functioning, and operating effectively?

See:

Brett Logiurato, “Ukraine Wants A Ceasefire — Russia Is Sending A Bunch Of Tanks Into Ukraine,” Business Insider, June 20, 2014 (1:16 p.m.).

To be continued…

2. Iraq

The armed forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured Mosul, and are driving south toward Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmurga forces have occupied Kirkuk. The tribes in the Sunni triangle are collaborating with ISIS. The newly elected Parliament is to convene and elect a new prime minister.

Iraq has requested the U.S. to conduct airstrikes against ISIS forces. Obama has disatched under 300 soldiers to help protect the U.S, Embassy, and also approximately 300 special forces troops and advisers to help the Iraqi military.

If the ISIS advance is not stopped, particularly toward Shiite shrines in the south, Iran may intervene militarily to defend the shrines and the al-Maliki Shiite government.

Tellingly, one of Obama’s first moves was to go to Congressional leaders to see what actions might be politically acceptable, instead of huddling with all of his top national security officials to decide what actions are required by the exigencies of the present military and political situation in Iraq.

3. Syria

Syria has been reported by the international chemical weapons agency, charged by the Security Council with overseeing Syria’s surrender and destruction of all of its chemical weapons, as having recently used chemical weapons (chlorine gas) against its population on a number of occasions.

Such actions would appear to cross Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons use. What is he going to do about it? His “red line” seems to have been written in the sand.

4. Afghanistan

The Afghan presidential run-off election on June 14 was, according to the leading candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, the subject of massive fraud in the eastern portions of the country, the traditional base of his opponent, Ashraf Ghani.

The actions the U.S. takes in the coming days may have a decisive impact on the transparency and outcome of the election. If a satisfactory way out of the present crisis is not found, the legitimacy of the new government and the prospects for its survival after U.S. forces withdraw in 2015 could be greatly diminished.

In thinking about Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers should keep one image firmly fixed in their minds: that of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers laying down their arms and fleeing from battle as ISIS forces approached in Mosul, and elsewhere.

A full-blwn crisis has erupted.

5. Iran

A settlement of the nuclear dispute with Iran is far from assured. The six-month interim agreement will expire on July 20. The talks could not bear fruit, raising again the possibility of a military strike by Israel against Iran’s buclear installations.

6. China and territorial claims in the South and East China Seas

In the last week China has begun moving oil rigs into disputed territorial waters. This is highly provocative, and has the potential to generate an arms race with its neighbors in the region, including Vietnam, Japan and Korea.

The U.S. needs to actively intervene in this crisis to ensure it does not lead to military incidents in the region, or an arms race. The ultimate risk is that Tokyo could be driven to deploy nuclear weapons. Few doubt that it has the capability to do so.

Can President Obama and his administration handle all of these crises simultaneously, and successfully?

We shall see, and very soon.

The Trenchant Observer

Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Developing

Four days after the presidential run-off election in Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, who led the first-round results with 45% of the votes compared to 32% for Ashraf Ghani, his opponent in the Sunday second-round election, has accused the Electoral Commission of committing fraud in favor of his opponent, demanded an immediate halt to the vote-counting, and ordered his election workers to withdraw from the centers where the votes are being counted.

Abdullah witnessed massive fraud reportedly orchestrated by President Hamid Karzai in the last presidential election, in 2009, and withdrew from the second-round run-off against Karzai only under intense U.S. pressure to do so.

It appears that he is not willing to go quietly into the night again if he is robbed of a second election.

See

(1) Margherita Stancati (Kabul), “Afghan Candidate Boycotts Count of Votes; Abdullah, a Karzai Rival, Alleges Fraud in Presidential Runoff, Citing Outsize Turnout in Opponent’s Areas of Support,” Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2014 (Updated 7:40 p.m. ET)

(2) Arzam Ahmed and Matthew Rosenberg (Kabul and Pashir Valley), “Candidate’s Protest Clouds Afghan Vote-Counting for President,” New York Times, June 18, 2014.

(3) “Wahlen in Afghanistan: Favorit Abdullah verlangt Abbruch der Stimmenauszählung,” Der Spiegel, 18. Juni 2014 (17:11 Uhr).

Die Präsidentschaftswahl in Afghanistan droht zu scheitern. Vier Tage nach der Stichwahl fordert Kandidat Abdullah, die Auszählung der Stimmen zu stoppen – obwohl ihm die besseren Chancen zugesprochen werden.

(4) “AFGHANISTAN: Favorit Abdullah fordert Stopp der Stimmauszählung,” Die Zeit, 18. Juni 2014 (14:42 Uhr).

Der afghanische Präsidentschaftskandidat hat kein Vertrauen mehr in die Wahlbehörden. Bei der Stichwahl am Samstag sei massiv betrogen worden, sagte Abdullah.

(5) Le Monde.fr avec AFP, “Afghanistan: Abdullah, le favori de la présidentielle, demande la suspension du dépouillement,” 18 Juin 2014 (Mis à jour à 15h23).

Giving an idea of the scale of the alleged fraud, Stancati reported the following:

Yusuf Nuristani, chairman of the IEC , which organized the election and is counting the votes, said Saturday’s turnout was up from 6.6 million in the first round. While turnout was largely the same or lower in much of the country, the IEC’s initial tallies indicated a dramatic surge—in the areas of eastern Afghanistan that are Mr. Ghani’s base.

In the eastern province of Khost, for example, initial IEC tallies showed that more than 400,000 voters cast ballots on Saturday, up from 113,000 in the first round.

According to the 2012-13 data compiled by Afghanistan’s central statistics office, Khost’s entire population is 549,000—and, given Afghanistan’s demographic structure, at least one-third of them are children.

In the nearby province of Paktika, 390,000 voters cast their ballots on Saturday, up from 180,000. The province’s population is 414,000.

The role of the United States, which has reportedly had numerous Afghan government officials on its CIA payroll, in addition to making deliveries of bags containing millions of dollars in cash to the presidential palace on a regular basis, is not clear.

For details of the election fraud in 2009, use the search box to select articles on Afghanistan. It is found in the upper right-hand corner of our home page, which you can reach by clicking on the title banner above

The dedication of the Obama administration to a transparent counting of the votes, against this backdrop, remains to be demonstrated.

Stay tuned for further developments. The stakes are extremely high.

The perceived legitimacy of this election may well have a decisive impact on whether the soldiers in the Afghan army stand and fight after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2015, or rather lay down their arms and run, like the Iraqi soldiers who fled Mosul this last week.

The Trenchant Observer