Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

Words do not make it so: John Kerry’s denial of America’s retreat from the world

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry has made a vigorous verbal argument at Davos that the U.S. is not in retreat around the world.

But words do not make it so. We all can make our own assessment of whether the United States has abandoned its historic role of leadership of the free nations of the world.

See Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (in Davos), John Kerry defends US foreign policy against accusations of ‘standing down’; US engagement ‘as broad and deep as at any point in history’,” The Guardian,24 January 2014 (13.36 EST).

Trainir and Eliot report,

In a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Kerry said the US expected Iran to deliver on its nuclear proliferation pledges, demanded the departure from power of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and urged the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach agreement on a two-nation settlement.

He also said that the US was working for an agreement to end the violence in Ukraine, prevent North Korea from getting nuclear weapons and to secure new transatlantic and transpacific trade deals.

“I must say, I’m perplexed by claims I occasionally hear that somehow America is disengaging from the world – this myth that America is pulling back, or giving up or standing down,” Kerry said. “In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. This misperception appears to be based on the simplistic assumption that our only tool of influence is our military, and that if we don’t have a huge troop presence or aren’t brandishing an immediate threat of force, we are somehow absent from the arena.”

He added: “The most bewildering version of this disengagement myth is about a supposed US retreat from the Middle East. You can’t find another country, not one country, as proactively engaged, or that is partnering with so many Middle Eastern countries as constructively as we are, on so many high-stake fronts.”

While it is true that Kerry and the U.S. are often publicly telling other leaders what they should do, and (as one should expect) are engaged in the Middle East and elsewhere in active diplomacy with a number of countries, it is hard to see any but the softest of edges to the uses of American power. When Bashar al-Assad was leading the wide-scale commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity is Syria, with active Russian support and the latter’s veto of any action by the Security Council, for example, Obama pushed for and approved legislation granting Russia most-favored-nation treatment.

The U.S. has withdrawn from Iraq with results that can be seen from Fallujah to Bagdad. It is withdrawing from Afghanistan, as the forces sent in the time-limited surge are coming home. Amazingly, there is now talk of withdrawing even any residual force before 2017, fully in lockstep with the U.S. electoral calendar.

Kerry deserves credit within the Obama administration for seeking practical solutions to the horrendous problems that seem to be exploding around the world.

But he is crippled by the fact that he has not put his own team into place at State, relying instead on Hillary Clinton’s holdovers while leaving a number of key positions unfilled. For example, the position of State Department Legal Adviser has gone vacant for over a year, something that has not happened at least since before World War Ii, if indeed it ever has.

The Legal Adviser is the primary official responsible for advising the president and other government officials on questions involving international law, and also for articulating the international legal positions of the U.S. to the nations of the world, international organizations, and other international actors. Once, the United States led the world in efforts to build new international legal regimes and institutions to solve the world’s emerging problems. Today, it has completely withdrawn from that role.

Kerry exemplifies the Obama administration’s attempts to solve all the world’s problems with clever words, and by telling others what they should do.

To understand how the United States has withdrawn from the world, we need look no farther than Syria. Kerry said again today that Bashar al-Assad must go.

But in Syria, as in many countries of the world, mere words will not make it so.

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. National Intelligence Estimate points to dire future in Afghanistan

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

developing

The prospects for the government of Afghanistan following the U.S. pull-out by the end of 2014 are grim, regardless of whether the Status of Forces Agreement is signed by Hamid Karzai and a residual international (or just U.S.) force remains, focusing on training activities and strikes against terrorist targets.

President Obama’s entire foreign policy of the last five years in Afghanistan and the Middle East appears to be in a shambles. The reality that Benghazi was emblematic of is now apparent for all to see: Al Queda and other terrorist organizations have not been controlled, and are now wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, while disaster in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of international and U.S. troops seems increasingly probable.

Obama did not keep his eyes on the ball in a fast-moving game. Resolutely refusing to take any effective measures in Syria to halt al-Assad’s war crimes and crimes against humanity, which are continuing, the president failed to understand that Al Qaeda-linked organizations in Syria–and now Iraq–could pose a much more serious and direct threat against the United States and its NATO and Gulf allies than the Taliban ever could.

While he was focused on winding down the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, while bungling the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by failing to secure a status of forces agreement (and accepting that failure), Syria was exploding and in the process becoming the new battleground for jihadists–much as Afghanistan had been in the 1980′s and 1990′s.

It is all collapsing now. The president’s response to the new National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan has been basically to ignore it while he is on vacation. Even if the U.S. succeeds in hanging on with a residual force in Afghanistan, allowing for a new, more capable and less corrupt leadership to emerge following the April, 2014 presidential election (a possiblle but hardly a likely scenario), the unraveling in Syria and Iraq will continue.

The Geneva II peace conference for Syria, scheduled to begin on January 22, holds very little if any promise for leading to an improvement in the civil war there. The hope and illusion of U.S. and other diplomats has been if that if you could somehow just get the parties to sit down at a table in Geneva, that would by itself lead to progress in resolving the issues of the civil war. This is a chimera, as were all of Kofi Annan’s peace plans which turned out to be but beautiful “castles in the sky”.

The result of the peace conference, like that of all of Kofi Annan’s palaces in the sky, will simply be that al-Assad’s grip on power will remain solidified, with the chemical weapons removal proceeding and with Russian and Iranian and Hesbollah support and even participation, while his commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity continues unabated, as he drives to extirpate all of his opponents, both armed and civilian.

But, for the moment, it is worth just focusing on the National Intelligence Estimate or NIE on Afghanistan.

Obama reacts to challenges with torrents of well-tailored words, but no amount of wordsmithing can obscure the dark realities of Afghanistan and the unraveling of the government toward which the country is heading as the U.S. withdraws. This should come as no surprise, as indeed the previous National Intelligence Estimate in 2012 made clear.

See David S. Cloud, “Insurgents could quickly bounce back in Afghanistan, analysis warns; If U.S. troops fully withdraw next year, a resurgent Taliban could launch serious strikes within months, say officials familiar with a classified assessment,”Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2013 (6:38 p.m.).

Curiously, Ken Dilanian’s and David S. Cloud’s story on the previous National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan is no longer to be found on the Los Angeles  Times web site. For excerpts, see The Trenchant Observer, “New National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan not optimistic,” January 12, 2012. The original article is cited as follows:

Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud, “U.S. intelligence report on Afghanistan sees stalemate: The sobering judgments in a classified National Intelligence Estimate appear at odds with recent optimistic statements about the war by Pentagon officials,” Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2012.

The original link was

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-intel-afghan-20120112,0,3639052.story#axzz2prjVyFldote>

On the 2012 NIE, see also Opinion L.A.: Observations and provocations from The Times’ Opinion staff, “Assessing the Afghan war: Guess what? We aren’t winning,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2012.

On the 2010 NIE, see Elisabeth Bumiller, “Intelligence Reports Offer Dim View of Afghan War,” New York Times, December 14, 2010

On the most recent NIE, see also Ernesto Londoño, Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller, “Afghanistan gains will be lost quickly after drawdown, U.S. intelligence estimate warns, Washington Post, December 28, 2013.

The New York Times, the publisher of “All the News That’s Fit to Print”, appears to have not published a report on the latest Afghanistan NIE.

The Trenchant Observer

The real problem with U.S. policy toward Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai and the CIA

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

It is sometimes stunning to observe how journalists at leading U.S. newspapers can write about some recent action Hamid Karzai has taken against U.S. interests in Afghanistan, without at the same time recalling for the reader Karzai’s near-certain deep ties to the CIA and the latter’s funding the corruption of his government.

Karzai’s latest outrage is his attempt to introduce new conditions for his signing of the status of foces agreement with the United States that Secretary John Kerry and everyone else thought had just been agreed to last week.

But Karzai decided to raise the ante in his perennial game of high-stakes poker with U.S. military and civilian leaders–saying he wouldn’t sign the (agreed-upon) agreement until after the April 5 elections, which incidentally would give him enormous leverage over the U.S. and other Western countries to ensure that they do not push too hard for really democratic presidential elections in April, or denounce the electoral fraud that will surely take place again, as it did in 2009 when Karzai through the most curious of circumstances was “elected” to be president of Afghanistan.

Without U.S. support, Karzai’s fate might very well be sealed in short order, with the collapse of his government.

We have to ask, “What gives Karzai such brazen assurance that he can defy the U.S. with impunity, without consequences?

For one thing, he has done it for many years and always gotten away with it.

The reason for his impunity from any consequences from the U.S. for repeatedly outrageous and perfidious behavior results, in all likelihood, from the close ties he and his deceased brother have had with the CIA over the years.

See

Matthew Rosenberg, “With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan.” New York Times, April 28, 2013.

Rosenberg reported,

KABUL, Afghanistan — For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.

All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.

“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”

The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.

“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

See also

Alissa J. Rubin, “Departing French Envoy Has Frank Words on Afghanistan,” New York Times, April 27, 2013.

Michael Kelly, “The CIA Has Paid Tens Of Millions Of Dollars To The Afghan President’s Office Over The Last Decade,” Business INsider, April 29, 2013 (12:34 AM).

Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, “Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by C.I.A.,”New York Times, October 27, 2009.

On CIA payments to other high Afghan government officials, see

“CIA Payments Undercut U.S. Efforts to Strengthen Governance in Afghanistan, The Trenchant Observer, September 2, 2010.

Karzai’s most recent act of perfidy is one he could only be emboldened to undertake as a result of the close relationship he and his family have had with the CIA, and his unbroken string of successes in forcing the U.S. to back down or to accept his outrageous comments and behavior.

Instead of a democratic project in Afghanistan, what we have seen at least since 2004 or 2005 is a cynical policy in which the CIA paid high government officials, even if corrupt or involved in the drug trade, in a policy based on the assumption that good governance would somehow just automatically spring into existence as U.S. and ISAF forces fulfilled their missions and trained the Afghan army and security forces.

We saw how that works with the abject failure of the “government in a box” concept in the Marja campaign in 2010.

See the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

McChrystal, Petraeus, COIN, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan, June 23, 2010; and

“REPRISE: Reasoning from Conclusions in Afghanistan,” August 19, 2012.

What we are seeing now with Karzai is only the logical consequence of that cynical policy, where U.S. money was used to block the development of truly democratic forces and institutions in Afghanistan, through bags of money delivered to President Karzai and other government officials, off the books, and by other means.

The last exit ramp from the Karzai carrousel was in 2009 when a second round of presidential elections was called, and the U.S. had the power to ensure that it actually be held. But they couldn’t break with Karzai, who undoubtedly has a lot of dirty linen on the CIA, and without whose help and that of Ahmed Wali Karzai, his brother in Kandahar (until his death in 2011), the CIA and the U.S. military probably couldn’t even have operated effectively in the south.

So the endgame is in McLean, and not in Kabul. For the United States to ever have a stable status of forces agreement upon which it can rely, and a chance to ever build a state in Afghanistan that can stand on its own, it will have to be prepared to cut the cord with Hamid Karzai, and to support genuinely free presidential elections in Afghanistan in April, 2014.

Karzai is now acting to forestall that possibility. But the U.S. urgently needs to push back, to change its strategy, and to stop relying on Karzai, if there is to be any point to keeping a residual force in Afghanistan after 2014. To achieve that, Obama will have to negotiate with John Brennan at the CIA in McLean, not with Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

The great risk here is that Karzai is overplaying his hand, and domestic politics in the United States may produce a result which leads to a complete withdrawal of U.S. and international forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, if not before, and a withdrawal of the financial assistance which keeps the Afghan state afloat.

In sum, any of a number of events, such as a miscalculation, events on the ground, or political reactions in the United States, could lead to an abrupt American withdrawal, resulting in the same kind of fiasco as has occurred in Iraq, with one difference: the Afghan state would be likely to collapse.

The Trenchant Observer

Karzai moves to get U.S. to guarantee his hold on power after 2014 elections

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Hamid Karzai, the green-caped magician, has for over 12 years successfully entangled the U.S., ISAF countries, and other international actors in a continuing saga of graft and corruption, in a narco-state run by criminal enterprises with the active participation of government officials, and with the outsiders financing the whole enterprise and defending it with the blood of their soldiers. Time and time again these corrupt criminal enterprises, financed by U.S. taxpayers among others, have undermined any chances for democratic forces to take root in Afghanistan.

The major risk points for the warlords who run Afghanistan’s “kleptocracy” are the periodic elections to the national assembly and for the presidency that he Constitution requires to be held.

In 2009 Karzai emerged victorious from the massive electoral fraud of the first round election, with the help of the U.S. who apparently persuaded Abdullah Abdullah, who would have faced Karzai in a second-round run-off, to withdraw from the race.

Now Karzai has hit upon the brilliant scheme of delaying signature of the status-of-forces agreement with the U.S. and other countries until after the upcoming presidential elections to be held on April 5, 2014. By this stroke of genius, if the West allows it to stand, Karzai will have guaranteed the U.S. and other Western countries’ acquiescence in whatever level of fraud may be required to ensure his hand-picked successor is elected.

See

Steve Kerry, “Kerry Opposes Afghan Delay on Security Deal,” New York Times, November 22, 2013.

Azam Ahmed, “Karzai Says He’ll Wait to Sign Security Pact With U.S. Until Next Year,” New York Times, November 21, 2013.

If they complain about fraud, no status-of-forces agreement will enter into effect. Consequently, Karzai will have enormous leverage.

Because it believes a contingent of U.S. and other ISAF forces should remain, through 2024, the U.S. will in effect become the guarantor of Karzai’s next round of fraudulent elections.

Absolutely brilliant.

Among tHe alternative scenarios would be to dump Karzai and push really hard for free and fair elections in April, which could return a leader not beholden to or a puppet of Karzai. Someone like Abdullah Abdullah, who made eminent good sense and spoke like a real democrat during the 2009 campaign. This would require overcoming resistance from the CIA, which has had many high government officials in Afghanistan on its payroll, and which (it would not be surprising to learn some day) may have or have had had a similar relation with Karzai himself at some point in the past.

Another alternative would be for the U.S. Congress to immediately pass a law providing that no U.S. funds can be spent in Afghanistan after January 1, 2015 if the status of forces agreement does not come into force by January 1, 2014.

But, in the end, the American people will ask more fundamental questions, such as why U.S. taxpayers should pay one more cent, or their soldiers expend one more drop of blood, to keep Karzai and his cronies in power in “Corrupt-istan” (in Dexter Filkins’ memorable phrase).

Why not rebuild Detroit instead?

Why not, in fact, initiate a rapid withdrawal of all U.S. and ISAF forces from Afghanistan beginning January 1, 2014, regardless of what ruse or ploy the green-caped magician comes up with next?

These are some of the questions the American people will be asking.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s foreign policy incompetence, and what to do about it

Friday, November 1st, 2013

For background, see the following articles:

Victor Davis Hanson, “Is Obama Still President? National Review Online, October 29, 2013 (3:00 AM).

David Ignatius, “Pitfalls of a ‘realist’ Middle East strategy,” Washington Post, October 30, 2013.

Elizabeth C. McCall, “President Obama’s Absentee Foreign Policy,” U.S. News and World Report, August 27, 2013.

Doyle McManus, “On foreign policy, a consistently inconsistent president: Op-Ed Obama’s rhetoric tends to outrun his willingness to use U.S. power,” Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2013.

(developing story)

Wherever you look across the globe, the United States is in retreat, and held in lower and lower esteem and respect. This is the result of the incompetent foreign policy of Barack Obama, who despite his insistence on being in control of all the important issues facing the United States in the world, is not in control. No one is in control. The state is adrift.

The president has no sense of strategy, or even of keeping on top of things in different parts of the world. What is worse, he doesn’t seem to be able to delegate important authority to those under him.

The recent U.S.-Russian deal in Geneva on the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting in Geneva, and the subsequent achievement of a strong Security Council resolution imposing a chemical weapons disarmament regime on Syria, might conceivably count as an exception to the general pattern.

That might be the case had it not occurred in the context of the complete fiasco of the U.S. preparing to use military force against Syria in response to the al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013, mobilizing its allies (e.g., Britain) to support such action, and then Obama “flinching” at the moment of truth, the moment when he might have pulled the trigger, and throwing the hot potato to Congress where he could not have assumed he would get approval.

The chemical weapons deal if fully carried out may achieve one American objective–the removal of chemical weapons from Syria–and two Russian objectives, first, the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, and, second, the establishment of a dynamic which is sure to bolster al-Assad and keep him in power for quite some time to come.

Obama cut the rug out from under his allies, including the French and, most notably, Saudi Arabia. His decision to “work through the Russians”, which seems to be a longstanding preference, had the effect of selling out the Free Syrian Army and the civilian opposition to the al-Assad regime.

Bashar al-Assad is now continuing his campaign of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the armed opposition and innocent civilians, while chemical weapons inspectors go about their business.

Throughout the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles. Stalwart allies for decades, like Saudi Arabia, have become disillusioned with the United States, fully aware that if Obama can sell out the Turks as he did a year ago when they were preparing for the use of military force in Syria, and could sell out the Syrian opposition as he just did, he could surely sell out the Saudis as he pursues a nuclear settlement with Iran.

Last month the United States used force violating the territorial integrity and political independence of Libya (see U.N. Charter, Article 2 para. 4) to catch an al-Qaeda terrorist high on the U.S. target list, without even offering a justification for its actions under international law. It also sent armed forces into Somalia on the same day to capture a target on their wanted list, also without a justification under international law. Last week Israel bombed targets in Syria for the third time, without acknowledgment or legal justification, or any comment so far as I am aware from the White House.

The civil war in Iraq is gaining steam, wiping out all of the gains U.S. blood and treasure was spent to secure.

In Afghanistan, the best hopes are for the survival of a narco-state ruled by war lords under the general coordination of Hamid Karzai, who appears to want to continue to rule from behind the throne following the upcoming presidential elections.  For the U.S., the logical policy would be to strongly insist on these elections and the electoral process being truly democratic, which if that were to occur could actually bring to power individuals who might collectively help to stablize the country. But as the U.S. showed in 2009, it is hardly an impartial player in the electoral game.

Obama’s record is one of inaction, and of inaction aggravated by failing to connect the dots and to understand how inaction could produce a domino effect leading to immense damage to U.S. foreign policy interests.

Where in the world is the U.S. leading on any foreign policy issue? What significant international initiatives has the U.S. launched? What international conventions or treaties is it pushing, in order to reduce the scourge of war and to improve the lot of mankind?

What has it done to support human rights, in deeds and not just empty rhetoric?

The cumulative damage over the last four years has been enormous. Just ponder the fact that four Latin American states are seeking to undermine the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, each of which which played an instrumental role in restoring democracy to the countries of Latin America in the 1970′s and 1980′s after decades of dictatorship.

The world has taken the measure of Barack Obama, and is not impressed.

What is to be done?

1. One alternative is impeachment (e.g. for failure to protect the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States by authorizing the NSA and other intelligence agencies to act in total disregard of its prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures).  But the Democrats would not be likely to go along with such an option.

2. A second option would be to persuade Obama to resign, turning the leadership of the country over to Vice-President Joseph Biden. But that seems unlikely to work against the capacious ego of a vain and arrogant president whose ego and belief he is the smartest man in the room, any room, seem to be made of titanium.

3. A third option, suggested earlier here, would be for the president to turn foreign policy leadership over to John Kerry, who actually has some experience in the area. But does this seem likely?

4. A fourth option would be to just wait out the rest of Obama’s term, which ends on January 20, 2017.

The fourth option, while the likeliest to be followed, is also perhaps the most dangerous. Given the damage Obama has already inflicted on U.S. foreign policy interests, who knows what further disasters he might produce in the next three years and three months?

For evidence The Trenchant Observer is not alone in his thinking, see the list of articles above, which will be updated regularly.

We are really in a pickle, as they say.

The Trenchant Observer

Europas “Menschen des Wortes”, ihr Schweigen, und die Verantwortung die Europa auch für Syrien trägt (aktualisiert am 17. Juli 2013)

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Update von 17. Juli 2013

Uber das Schweigen der deutschen Schriftstellern im Fall eines Kolleges der von Islamischen Extremisten bedroht ist, siehe:

Georg Diez (S.P.O.N. — Der Kritiker), “Merkelschreiber fürs Merkelland; Braucht noch jemand einen Beweis dafür, wie bieder und bedeutungslos deutsche Literaten derzeit sind? Hier ist er: Der deutsch-ägyptische Publizist Hamed Abdel-Samad muss um sein Leben fürchten, weil er den Islam kritisiert hat. Und hierzulande herrscht Schweigen.” Der Spiegel, 12 July 2013.

***************************************************************

Artikel zuerst veroffentlicht am 28 Juni 2013

“Wer, wenn nicht die Menschen des Wortes, wären verpflichtet, an die Verantwortung zu erinnern, die Europa damit auch für Syrien trägt?”
–Navid Kermani

Zum Thema des Schweigens der “Menschen des Wortes” in Europa und weltweit über Syrien, siehe:

Navid Kermani (“Bürgerkrieg in Syrien: Gastbeitrag), “Fürs gute Gewissen ist es zu spät; Es ist zum Verrücktwerden: Untermaßgeblicher Beteiligung ausländischer Staaten eskaliert ein Konflikt, der nicht nur ein Land, sondern die gesamte Region noch Jahrzehnte mit Gewalt überziehen könnte. Es gibt keine Lösungen mehr für die Syrien-Krise. Doch von allen falschen Optionen ist Nichtstun die gefährlichste; Europa hat keinen Grund, sich als Oberlehrer zu gebärden,” Suddeutsche Zeitung, 28. Juni 2013 (13:36 Uhr).

Der Autor ist Schriftsteller und Orientalist und lebt in Köln. Zuletzt erschien von ihm “Ausnahmezustand. Reisen in eine beunruhigte Welt” bei C. H. Beck (Redaktion der Zeitung).

Kermani beginnt und endet sein Artikel mit einem Hinweis auf das Schweigen der “Menschen des Wortes” Europas und weltweit über was in Syrien geschieht und geschehen ist.

Laut dröhnt das Schweigen, mit dem weltweit die Menschen des Wortes, die Literaten und Gelehrten, auf den Krieg in Syrien reagieren. Der Strudel an Brutalität, Verelendung, Vertreibung und konfessionellem Schisma, in den der Aufstand der Syrer geraten ist, findet Beachtung nur noch in der außenpolitischen Berichterstattung.

Am Ende seines Beitrags, Kermani unterstreicht die Geschicte Europas in 20. Jahrhundert, und fordert die “Menschen des Wortes” darauf sich auszusprechen:

Unter allen Städten des Orients waren Damaskus und Aleppo vielleicht die leuchtendsten, jeden Besucher verzaubernden Beispiele für die Möglichkeit einer friedlichen Koexistenz unterschiedlicher Ethnien, Sprachen und Religionen. Europa, das seine ursprüngliche Vielfalt im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert mit Konzentrationslagern und ethnischen Säuberungen weitgehend ausgelöscht hat, Europa hat keinen Grund, sich als Oberlehrer der Toleranz zu gebärden.

Aber es könnte mit seinen Erfahrungen dazu beitragen, dass andere Gesellschaften nicht denselben Irrweg gehen.

Endlich, schreibt er, “Wer, wenn nicht die Menschen des Wortes, wären verpflichtet, an die Verantwortung zu erinnern, die Europa damit auch für Syrien trägt?”

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
(The Trenchant Observer)

Obama’s “blind rhetoric”: Making speeches instead of foreign policy

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

The Observer has the impression that President Barack Obama has decided to take the easy route in foreign policy, and just go around the world delivering fine speeches articulating his visions of desirable developments in international affairs, but with little attention to the views of other critical countries, or the hard work of negotiating with adversaries and allies to develop effective initiatives that have any realistic chances of success.

It is intellectual speech-making divorced from the realities and requirements of building an effective foreign policy manifested in actions, and not just words.

Obama’s recent Berlin speech on the need for a reduction in nuclear weapons offers an important case in point. Arms control agreements require above all a minimum level of trust–between the nations that sign on to their provisions, and also among the two-thirds of the members of the Senate whose affirmative vote is required for their ratification.

That trust doesnot exist today between Moscow and Wasington, or among the members of the Senate, who only recently failed to ratify a United Nations covention to protect the rights of handicapped individuals.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry appears embarked on a similar journey of making the case for good actions and negotiated solutions, most recently on the Israeli-Palestine issue, but without a strategy for sustained use of U. S. power and inluence to achieve the desired result.

See “Editorial, ‘Blind Rhetoric,’ The Daily Star (Beirut),
June 27, 2013.

One almost has the sense that there are two groups of people in Washington: 1) those who have followed developments closely in a country or region for a number or years (e.g., Afghanistan, Syria), and 2) those who have only recently become interested in the country or subject in any detail, and whose understanding is limited to what they hear from others or read in their briefing papers.

And, as luck would have it, it is the second group, led by Obama himself, that seems to be making the decisions–and charting America’s foreign policy in the maelstrom of current events. They appear to be like sailors, cast about on storm-tossed seas, without a compass or even a sextant, or a course laid out before they left home port.

As The Daily Star put it, in the Editorial cited above,

Kerry, like his predecessor Hillary Clinton and others, appears to ignore the idea that a foreign policy based on making statements and performing positive spin control can run into trouble when people discover there is no actual vision or urgency behind such rhetoric. As a result, Washington’s credibility sinks even further, while the perception that the Obama administration has no true foreign policy steadily gains ground. The only question is whether U.S. officials are truly aware of the damage they are doing to their country’s interests.

Obama and Kerry are making great speeches. But after four years of words not backed by actions, is anybody listening?

The Trenchant Observer

Hamid Karzai’s Scurrilous Attacks on the U.S. in Afghanistan

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Recent News and Opinion

Alyssa J. Rubin, News Analysis: Karzai Bets on Vilifying U.S. to Shed His Image as a Lackey,” New York Times, March 12, 2013

Alyssa J. Rubin and Rod Norland, “U.S. General Puts Troops on Security Alert After Karzai Remarks,” New York Times, March 13, 2013

Leslie H. Gelb, “To Hell With Karzai,” The Daily Beast, March 12, 2013 (4:45 AM ET)

Ewen MacAskill (in Washington), “White House: claims of US collusion with Taliban ‘categorically false’; Obama spokesman rejects Karzai’s criticism of US as Afghan in police uniform kills seven including two American troops,” The Guardian, March 11, 2013 (15.51 ET)

Analysis

The United States has tolerated Hamid Karzai’s scurrilous attacks on the U.S. over the years, reacting with “understanding” that, e.g., Karzai is speaking to a domestic audience, or is acting crazy again.

But the U.S. has never reacted to these outrageous attacks with any understanding of their impact in a culture based on honor, and as a result has suffered the double humiliation of being attacked falsely and of being viewed as not having the courage to defend one’s honor.

Such attacks have worked for Karzai in the past, due to the American insistence that its envoys and military commanders get along with the green-caped magician. Karzai has proven far more adept than his allies at manipulating the other party or parties in an alliance which has kept him and the country’s corrupt political elite in power at the cost of U.S. and allied soldiers’ and civilians’ lives, and billions of dollars funneled into the coffers of government officials in what Dexter Filkins has quite aptly termed “Corruptistan”.

In 2009, the U.S. and NATO had a chance to bring Karzai to heel when decisions were being made on whether to insist that a second round in the presidential elections in Afghanistan actually be held, following the first-round elections held on August 20. Karzai’s fraud was so immense, that even the International Elections Commission, which found electoral corruption sufficient to require a second-round run-off,  barely touched the surface of the real fraud, due to the highly selective criteria it used to sample precincts for voting abuses.

The United States blinked, and backed Karzai instead of the democratic project the elections had been intended to further.

In view of the American backing of Karzai and the latter’s failure to guarantee that the second-round election would be fairly conducted, Abdullah Abdullah, the candidate who came in second with backing from the Northern Alliance and others, withdrew.

In any event, it had been obvious for some time that Karzai was the favored candidate of the U.S., for reasons which may have included his brother’s involvement in Kandahar with the CIA as well as that of many other high government officials who were on the CIA payroll.  While there is no public evidence of direct involvement of Hamid Karzai with the CIA, such a relationship now or in the past seems quite plausible given the CIA’s penetration of the highest ranks of the Afghan government, and therefore cannot be ruled out.

For whatever reasons, America could not break with Karzai.

As a result, without improvement of governance in the country to keep pace with military gains, Afghanistan now faces a period of growing instability in which it is fairly likely that the Taliban will achieve increasing control of the countryside as U.S. and ISAF forces draw down and essentially withdraw from the country.

Obama’s decisions in 2009 relating to the presidential elections constituted one of his worst foreign policy failures since assuming office.

The fact that the elections and decisions regarding the holding of the second-round election were not addressed within Obama’s much-touted Afghanistan policy review group revealed either the president’s incompetence in the foreign policy arena, or the fact that he and the CIA had decided issues relating to Karzai outside of the Afghan policy review process, or both of the above. The fact that then CIA Director Leon Panetta did not attend the last sessions of the policy review group lend support to the second hypothesis.

As for Karzai, Thomas Friedman predicted with unerring accuracy the following in an op-ed piece in March, 2010:

We have thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan and more heading there. Love it or hate it, we’re now deep in it, so you have to want our engagement there to build something that is both decent and self-sustaining — so we can get out. But I still fear that Karzai is ready to fight to the last U.S. soldier. And once we clear, hold and build Afghanistan for him, he is going to break our hearts.
–Thomas L. Friedman, “This Time We Really Mean It,” New York Times, March 30, 2010

As long as Karzai is calling the shots, the chances for the kinds of improvements in governance that are required for the government to remain in power and hold off the Taliban after the draw-down and departure of U.S. and ISAF troops do not appear great.

The Trenchant Observer

For (numerous) previous articles on Afghanistan by the Trenchant Observer, use the Search box in the upper right-hand corner of the home page.

UPDATE (MARCH 6) WITH LINKS TO SENATOR RAND PAUL FILIBUSTER; REPRISE: Secret Laws, the John Brennan vote, and the rule of law

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

SENATOR RAND PAUL FILIBUSTER UPDATE

At 12:39 a.m. EST, Senator Rand Paul concluded a filibuster on the floor of the U.S. Senate that lasted more than 12 hours, conducting a rare “speaking” filibuster of the confirmation vote for John Brennan to be CIA Director. Brennan was approved by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence earlier by a vote of 12-3.

The filibuster was carried live on C-Span II.

See C-SPAN for the archived debate up to the present, here.

Brennan is expected to be confirmed shortly.

But historians will look back at this dark period in which America abandoned the rule of law, and ask, “Who Spoke Up? Who opposed such actions?” Rand Paul will have a privileged place in the history they write. At least one Senator took this set of issues beyond the comfort zone. Others will stand up in voting against the Brennan nomination, some for the reasons set forth by Paul and in the article reproduced below.

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REPRISE: Secret Laws, the John Brennan vote, and the rule of law

We must bear witness to the truth and fight to uphold the rule of law.

Originally published February 24, 2013

Let  us step back for a moment from the details of what John Brennan is saying now in order to get confirmed by the Senate as CIA Director.

The Senate Select Intelligence Committee vote on his confirmation, like the full Senate vote that may follow, poses fundamental moral and political questions for the Senators who will be voting.  Because the Brennan confirmation itself raises key questions regarding the struggle against terrorism and the rule of law, they will in effect be voting for a definition of American democracy as it exists today, in 2013.

Moreover, because the U.S. has been been viewed over the centuries as a beacon of liberty, their votes will have far-reaching impacts throughout the world, where the nature of democracy is also at issue.

Most importantly, perhaps, their votes will engage their own individual moral responsibilty for government actions which they, whether by acquiescence or affirmation, in effect approve of by their votes on the Brennan nomination.

These questions go to the heart of what it means to say America is a democratic nation governed by the rule of law.

In a democracy, can the government rule by secret laws?

In a democracy, can secret decrees or interpretations of legal authority be used to authorize or condone acts of torture, extraordinary renditions, or targeted killings?

What is the difference between secret star chamber proceedings in a dictatorship and secret proceedings in the U.S. Executive Branch by which it is decided that the right to life of a U.S. citizen, or a foreign citizen for that matter, is to be extinguished and that individual is then killed?

What does it say about American democracy today, in 2013, if Executive branch claims of legal authority to act extra-judicially to kill citizens of the U.S. or other countries are tacitly accepted, when the legal justifications for such actions are held in secret from the public and the Congress as a whole?

What does it say about American democracy when the constitutionality and legality of such actions, purportedly authorized by secret legal memoranda, are not subject to judicial review as a result of the Executive’s’ invocation of the “state secrets privilege”, whose broad interpretation by the Bush and Obama administrations the courts have not yet had the courage to strike down?

Can the American Democracy be said to be based on the rule of law, in 2013, under these circumstances?

Mr. Brennan is by all accounts the chief architect under Mr. Obama of the targeted killings programs of the Obama administration. In all likelihood, he is the single person who has done the most to persuade Mr. Obama, a former President of the Harvard Law Reviw and a former adjunct professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law School, to go over to “the dark side”.

He did so in part by offering Obama moral justifications based on so-called “just war theory” going back to St. Thomas Aquinas, while ignoring the last century of developments in international law and the historical lessons they embodied.

In addition, Mr. Brennan has a deep association with the torture and extraordinary renditions programs of the Bush administration. He was unable, at his February 7, 2013 confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, to state clearly that “waterboarding” constitutes torture. Throughout his testimony he referred to acts of torture as “enhanced interrogation technicques” or, in even more Orwellian shorthand, as “EITs”.

Further, if one examines carefully the transcript of the Frebruary 7 confirmation hearing, one finds that he is a master of circumlocution and verbal legerdemain, and of telling political superiors what they want to hear.

Will he be able to enforce U.S. and international legal obligations prohibiting torture within the Central Intelligence Agency?  This appears hardly likely in view of his past, and his unwillingness to admit that even waterboarding is torture.

He has also said that the Bush torture program of enhanced interrogation techniques “saved lives”.  If he believes that to be the case, and the efficacy of torture is the standard to be applied, it is hard to see how he might avoid giving others in the CIA the impression he would give a wink and a nod to any aberrant behavior they felt they had to do.

Nor is Brennan likely to reestablish the human intelligence capabilities of the CIA, with his history of being the chief architect of the “killing lists” and the Obama policy of “targeted killings”–which is merely a euphemism for the words “extrajudicial executions” or “targeted assassinations” whenever they are conducted in  violation of international law (which may be much more often than Obama claims.)

The fact that he is extraordinarily skilled at telling political authorities exactly what they want to hear, and has other Obama officials willing to assert (on background, to be sure) that he is a voice of moral restraint within the White House, or is determined to improve the Agency’s human intelligence capabilities, should not be taken at face value. He is, after all, a spook, a trained expert in deception.  We should look at his history, his actions, and not just what he says today, in reaching any judgment about whether he should be confirmed.

Do we know yet today, for example, what role if any he played in the strange evolution of the Benghazi talking points?  His colleague, acting CIA Director Michael Morrell, could not even get his version of testimony to Congress on the talking points straight in a single day.

Can a democracy kill people on the basis of secret legal memoranda purporting to find legal authority for the Executive for such actions?

Can a democracy conduct extrajudicial killings in other countires without publishing its interpretation of international law that would authorize such killings, without subjecting its legal arguments to evaluation and responses by impartial experts from other countries, other states, and eventually the judges of international tribunals?

Can the Executive in a democracy kill individuals on the basis of secret legal justifications which are are shielded from judicial review and from the public?

That is the question. It is time that Senators take a stand on these issues, and there is no better opportunity or place to take such a stand than on the vote to confirm John Brennan.

By their votes, each Senator will incur individual moral responsibility for the actions he or she condones or rejects, and responsibility before history for the answers each gives  regarding the nature of democracy in America, in 2013.

The Trenchant Observer

The vote on John Brennan’s confirmation to be CIA Director: Opinion and Commentary

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Recent Commentary and Opinion

“It is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations.”

This stern verdict comes from Vali Nasr, who spent two years working for the Obama administration before becoming dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. In a book called “The Dispensable Nation,” to be published in April, Nasr delivers a devastating portrait of a first-term foreign policy that shunned the tough choices of real diplomacy, often descended into pettiness, and was controlled “by a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers.”

–Roger Cohen, “Beltway Foreign Policy,” New York Times,
February 18, 2013

Shaun Waterman, “Vote on Brennan for CIA post put off; On Benghazi attack, questions remain, “The Washington Times, February 27, 2012.

Dana Milbank, “‘Trust me’ is not enough on drone warfare,” The Washington Post, February 8, 2023 (02:38 PM EST)

Glenn Greenwald. “Debating Zero Dark Thirty and John Brennan; Both the critics’ favorite film of 2012 as well as Obama’s nominee for CIA Director are supporters of torture,” The Guardian, January 8, 2013 (18.01 EST)

See also the following articles by the Trenchant Observer:

What difference does it make if John Brennan is confirmed?
February 27, 2013

Brennan’s wristbands, McCain’s hold, and assertions of legality under international law based on secret operations and secret legal memoranda (with links to Brennan confirmation hearing video, transcript, and written questions and answers)
February 25, 2013

Secret Laws, the John Brennan vote, and the rule of law
February 24, 2013

Imagine: The Collapse of International Order, Syria, and Berlin in 1945
February 20, 2013

Brennan unclear in confirmation hearing as to whether “waterboarding” constitutes “torture” (with transcript)—The John Brennan File #2
February 14, 2013

Drone Killings, the Constitution, International Law, and the John Brennan File
February 7, 2013

The Trenchant Observer