Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Category

Not indexed by Google — Censorship by another name: Obama and the Iran nuclear deal

Monday, July 20th, 2015

A number of articles of a controversial nature have not been indexed by Google in real time. The latest is the following article, which points out that while the P5+1 nuclear deal is a signal achievement for Barack Obama, it appears to have come at an exhorbitant cost:   1)  a U.S. failure to intervene in Syria in 2012 and thereafter, and 2) a failure to strongly oppose Russian invasion of thr Crimea in February, 2014, and of the eastern Ukraine beginning in April, 2014.

See

“The Iran nuclear deal: Has Barack Obama earned his Nobel Peace Prize? (Revised August 18),” The Trenchant Observer, July 16, 2015.

To that can be added America’s apparent tacit acceptance of the annexation of the Crimea in exchange for its support on the the Iranian nuclear deal.

Seej

“Russian annexation of the Crimea: “A criminal violation of international law” for Merkel in Moscow, but not worth mentioning for Kerry in Sochi,” The Trenchant Observer, May 13, 2015.

The article on Iran and the nuclear deal with Iran was immediately indexed by Ixquick, but has not yet been indexed by Google.

Perhaps the most egregious case of Google censorship by not indexing occurred with an article on the presumptive role of Vladimir Putin in the assassination of Russia’s leading opposition figure, Boris Nemtsov, on February 27, 2015

See

“Not indexed by Google Update: Putin and Nemtsov,” The Trenchant Observer, March 18, 2015.

*****

The following observations, made by the Observer in the March 18 article above, remain valid and pertinent to the latest case of “non-indexing by Google”:

The ability of Google and other search engines to index a blog article or web page gives them powers equivalent to those of a totalitarian instrument of thought control.

The latest article by The Trenchant Observer not indexed in real time, and therefore invisible to most readers on the internet, is the following:

“After disappearing act, Vladimir Putin remains prime suspect in Nemtsov assassination, The Trenchant Observer, March 17, 2015 1:46 MDT.

The fact that Google is in effect censoring the blog by not indexing it in a timely fashion reveals the incredible power Google has achieved to affect the public discourse in many countries, including the United States. We now know that Google has cooperated with the NSA in violating Americans’ privacy rights, and that it cooperates with foreign governments in filtering content.

Several important points need to be stressed.

The technology created by Google and its dominant market position in the search industry has resulted in the existance of a totalitarian instrument with incredible power to shape political discussion by not indexing certain pages, or not doing so in real time. It systematically filters out the content of foreign newspapers, and news articles with which your previous searches indicate you would not agree.

It is like a newspaper distributor which has absolute power to unilaterally decide if you will get the New York Times the day it is published, or next week, or maybe a week after a critical debate in Congress–or even after the elections.

It is absolutely clear that “net neutrality” must be maintained to protect the free and timely exchange of ideas and opinions in a democratic state, with one exception: web pages of blogs and other pages containing commentary and comment or analysis of current events must be given priority over all other traffic.

And it is equally clear that the Congress must enact legislation that regulates the use of what is in effect a totalitarian instrument of thought control. The governments in the U.S. and the European Union should be monitoring Google’s cooperation with authoritarian regimes to filter the free expression of ideas, and also its filtering in the U.S. and Europe.

The power of Google is far too great to be left to the unchecked discretion of a company which gathers and sells the personal information of its users in a manner which would permit a totalitarian dossier about every user in every country to be created.

Google’s motto of “Do no evil” is in urgent need of goverment regulation and enforcement, in the U.S, Europe, and other democracies in the world.

See

“Not Indexed by Google: An Update (January 6, 2015)”, The Trenchant Observer, December 9, 2014 (updated January 6, 2015).

*****

Given the power of Google to affect public debate, Congress should establish a legal framework that guarantees that all political opininion is immediately indexed and made available on the Internet to readers around the world.

The Trenchant Observer

The Iran nuclear deal: Has Barack Obama earned his Nobel Peace Prize? (Revised August 18)

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

See

Roger Cohen, “The Door to Iran Opens,” New York Times, July 16, 2015.

David Ignatius, “After the nuclear deal, how to contain Iran’s meddling in the Middle East,” Washington Post, July 16, 2015.

David Ignatius, “After a well-crafted deal, the question is: Will Iran behave?” Washington Post, July 14, 2015.

Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger, “Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen With Time,” New York Times, July 14, 2015.

Thomas Erdbrink, “Ayatollah Khamenei, Backing Iran Negotiators, Endorses Nuclear Deal,” New York Times, July 18, 2015.

A Good Agreement, Considering the Alternatives

President Barack Obama has attained his greatest foreign policy achievement since entering office with the successful conclusion of the P5+1 talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, and the signing of an agreement that will make it extremely unlikely that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon within the next 10-15 years.

The deal is done. It is exceedingly unlikely that Republicans in the Senate and House will succeed in their attempts to block the agreement from taking effect, in the United States.

President Obama and the other Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council can lift the U.N. santions in accordance with the terms of the agreement, and are expected to do so.

Republicans have little to gain from trying to block implementation of what is, after all, the best deal that could be negotiated between the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, U.K., U.S., Germany) and Iran, a country that has been viewed as an enemy of the United States.

Critics will find a number of points on which, negotiating with themselves, they would have come up with stronger provisions.

However, this was the best deal that could be achieved, after years of hard and intricate negotiations and the slow accretion of trust that made it possible.

It is a very good deal, particularly when one reflects on the fact that the alternatives were (1) Iran proceeding to develop nuclear weapons; or (2) a war with Iran entailing frighteningly uncertain consequences, and a likelihood that Iran would develop nuclear weapons in any event.

A number of countries, such as Japan, Germany, Brazil and South Africa, which have the technology to develop nuclear weapons, have nonetheless decided instead to honor their obligations under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or in Latin America the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco.

The present agreement will greatly increase the likelihood that Iran will follow a similar course, even after 10 or 15 years.

In international politics, as in life, nothing is absolutely certain. Certainty in the arms control context is an illusion, one that embodies the principle that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.

We need to look to previous battles over arms control agreements, and the cogent arguments that were advanced to secure their approval, to avoid the error of demanding certainty when verification of compliance with specific terms of highly complex and technical agreements provide a high probability of observance of the agreement’s terms.

“Worst-case secaros” could lead us to reject good agreements. We should avoid this pitfall.

The agreement is a good one.

Obama should still rally the nation and the world to support the agreement, in order to enhance its implementation and long-term compliance with its provisions.

The Question of Ends and Means

If one were to think only of the achievement of the Iran nuclear deal, one might conclude that President Obama has now earned the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 2009.

However, one must also consider the means that were used to secure the end.

According to David Ignatius and others, Obama held back from intervening more forcefully in Syria and to oppose Russian aggression in the Ukraine because he didn’t want to derail the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

A deal with Iran has been Obama’s overriding foreign-policy goal since Inauguration Day, when he declared his desire to engage adversaries on a basis of “mutual interest and mutual respect.” He has paid a heavy cost to protect his Iran peacemaking, sidestepping confrontation with Iranian proxies in Syria and Russia in Ukraine, in part because he saw the Iran deal as a higher priority. Obama explained his logic Tuesday morning: “Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.” Historians will have to judge whether he has gained more than he lost.

–David Ignatius, “After a well-crafted deal, the question is: Will Iran behave?” Washington Post, July 14, 2015.

The cost has been over 220,000 killed in Syria (as of January, 2015), the enormous growth of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and beyond (feeding terrorist attacks in the West), over 6,000 killed in the eastern Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion and the war started there by Russian special operations forces, and virtual silence in the face of continued Russian military occupation of the Crimea, which remains under international law sovereign territory of the Ukraine.

Raison d’Etat or Staatsrason (“Reason of State”) that would justfy such acquiescence in the commission in Syria of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, and the appeasement of Russia following its invasion of the Crimea and then the eastern Ukraine, represents an appalling application of the principle that “the end justifies the means”.

In considering whether Obama has finally earned his Nobel Peace Prize by concluding the Iran nuclear agreement, these considerations must also be taken into account.

The agreement is a signal achievement. But we, and historians, must also consider how it was achieved.

The Trenchant Observer

The great flaw in the Iran nuclear deal: The U.S. says it is not legally binding

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

Developing

See

Felicia Schwartz, “Iran Nuclear Deal, If Reached, Wouldn’t Be ‘Legally Binding,’ Kerry Says; But an Iran deal would have enforcement mechanisms, the secretary of state says,” Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2015 (Updated 9:39 p.m. ET).

Stephen Collinson, “Iran deal: A treaty or not a treaty, that is the question,” CNN, March 12, 2015 (Updated 6:13 AM ET).

Adam B. Lerner, “State Department: Iran deal ‘nonbinding’,” Politico, March 15, 2015 (Updated )1:40 PM ET).

The most bizarre aspect of the hoped-for nuclear deal with Iran is that, according to the U.S., it will be a “political deal” only, and not be legally binding under International Law.

If the Start I and Start II arms control treaties were full of incredible detail and mutual obligations, and were legally binding, why should the Iran nuclear deal not be legally binding as well?

The answer may have to do with Barack Obama’s assessment of whether he could secure Senate ratification of the Iran nuclear deal by the United States Senate.

Whether the other parties to the potential agreement (Iran, France, U.K., Russia, China and Germany) view the potential agreement as legally binding or not is not clear. Moreover, it is difficult to comprehend how the obligations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under the “agreement” and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on which it is partly based can be formalized without what is known as a “treaty” under the 1961 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Furthermore, whatever the U.S. view, the nuclear agreement with Iran itself is likely to fulfill all of the requirements for a treaty under the Vienna Convention, unless the parties specifically stipulate in its text that it is their intent not to be legally bound by the agreement.

Why would any of them want to do that?

Unfortunately, it appears that Obama’s end-run around the Senate’s constitutional authority to give its “advice and consent” to a formal treaty –and arms control agreements have traditionally be regarded as treaties requiring Senate ratification — will deprive the Iran nuclear agreement of the most important kind of commitment that might ensure its full and complete performance — its binding nature under international law.

If it is a treaty in the sense of the Vienna Convention, there are a number of legal rules that define violations and their consequences.  The concept of “material breach” found in domestic law is highly significant here, and is also found in the Vienna Convention, which lays down the rules for the interpretation of treaties. If the agreement is not legally binding and only a “political” agreement, there are no guidelines for interpretation or on what to do in the event of a violation.

One suspects that the lawyers in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser were not fully consulted, or that their advice was not heeded, on the question of whether or not to treat the Iran agreement as legally binding or merely as a “political agreement”.

It sounds more like a White House decision made on the basis of purely domestic political considerations.

We need clarification on the issues raised above. Do the other parties consider the agreement to be legally binding under International Law?

What will happen if some parties view it one way and other parties view it differently?

Will the agreement explicitly express the intent of the parties that the agreement not be legally binding under International Law?

One further possibilty may exist. Technically, it may be possible for President Obama to treat the agreement as an Executive Agreement with Congressional approval. This would require the approval of only a majority of the House and of the Senate, instead of two-thirds of the Senate.

It seems clear that the agreement would be more “binding” on Iran if it were legally binding as a “treaty” under International Law and the Vienna Convention. Such a “treaty” in the International Law sense could be either a treaty (in the domestic law sense) approved by two-thirds of the Senate or an Executive Agreement approved by both houses of Congress.

Perhaps President Obama’s general lack of interest in International Law can account for the curious situation the U.S. finds itself in, asserting that the Iran nuclear deal will not be legally binding but only a “political agreement”.

In ant event, the President owes us a full explanation of this anomaly.

For those who are concerned about whether Iran will fully implement the agreements’ provisions, it may not be too late to insist that the final agreement assume legally binding form under International Law.

The Trenchant Observer

Iran’s parliament approves draft law banning military inspections which, if upheld, would kill nuclear deal, but gives Khamenei final say

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

See

Aresu Eqbali (Tehran) and Asa Fitch (Dubai), “Iran Legislation Seeks to Bar Inspections of Military Sites Under a Nuclear Deal; U.S. and other world powers not likely to accept condition,” Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2015 (7:18 p.m. ET).

There appears to be a growing possibikity that the negotiating tactics of Iran, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, could undermine the essential trust that will be required for any nuclear deal with Iran to be approved in the United States, gain traction, and lead to the lifting of sanctions against Iran.

Whatever games Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is playing domestically, whatever “bazar” negotiating tactics he may be using, and however weak he thinks Barack Obama may be in the nuclear negotiations, he should know that many in the United States who were initially inclined to favor a straightforward and transparent deal with Iran, are beginning to feel that Iran and Khamenei cannot be trusted, no matter what a final paper agreement may say.

Moreover, however much Barack Obama may want a deal with Iran, he will not succeed in lifting sanctions against that country if a majority in the U.S. and in the Congress come to the conclusion Khamenei is not dealing in good faith, and that the deal is not a good deal for nuclear non-proliferation, the United States, or the Middle East.

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

Russian annexation of the Crimea: “A criminal violation of international law” for Merkel in Moscow, but not worth mentioning for Kerry in Sochi

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Merkel in Moscow

Germans know something about international law, which is enshrined in Article 25 of their Basic Law or constitution, while Americans seem to have forgotten all about its meaning and significance.

At a joint news conference with Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Sunday, May 10, 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined the impact of Russian military actions in the Ukraine on German-Russian cooperation, declaring,

“Through the criminal and illegal, in international law, annexation of the Crimea and the military conflicts in the Eastern Ukraine this collaboration has suffered a heavy setback, because we see in these actions a violation of the bases of the common European peace and security order.”

The original German text follows:

Durch die verbrecherische und völkerrechtswidrige Annexion der Krim und die militärischen Auseinandersetzungen in der Ostukraine hat diese Zusammenarbeit einen schweren Rückschlag erlitten schwer, weil wir darin eine Verletzung der Grundlagen der gemeinsamen europäischen Friedensordnung sehen. Dennoch und das ist für mich gerade in diesen Tagen von ganz wesentlicher Bedeutung ist die Lehre aus der Geschichte, dass wir alles daransetzen müssen, Konflikte so schwierig sie auch immer sein mögen friedlich und im Gespräch miteinander zu lösen das heißt, auf diplomatischen Wegen.

–“IM WORTLAUT: Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel und Staatspräsident Putin am 10. Mai 2015 in Moskau,”Die Bundesregierung, 10. Mai 2015.

The simultaneous interpretation by a Russian interpreter and the official Russian transcript omit the word “criminal”.

See “Merkel’s Remark On ‘Criminal’ Annexation Omitted In Russian Translation; Lost in translation?” RFE/RL, May 12, 2015.

To watch the press conference in German and Russian on YouTube, click here.
See “LIVE: Merkel and Putin hold joint press conference in Moscow …
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbyUqvkPrwA”.

Merkel’s prepared statement at the press conference, equivalent to a historic speech, is worth reading closely. It expresses, with great sincerity, the deepest remorse of the German nation over the monstrous depradations it under Nazi rule inflicted on the population of the Soviet Union. It is unflinching in its full acceptance of Germany’s responsibility for those actions. The statement is deeply moving. It may be cited by historians in a hundred years.

In calling for the need to learn from the lessons of history, Merkel’s linking of the crimes committed by Germany under Hitler and Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, while subtle, was extraordinarily evocative.

Unfortunately, an English translation has not yet been published on the German government’s website.

At the press conference, Putin also delivered extended remarks defending the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact, which in a secret protocol partitioned Poland and divided other East European countries in “spheres of influence” of the two countries. Putin did not mention the secret protocol.

Kerry in Sochi

For background and analysis, see “Obama’s endless incompetence in foreign policy: Kerry to travel to Russia to meet with Putin and Lavrov in Sochi,” The Trenchant Observer, May 11, 2015.

At a news conference in Sochi on May 12, 2014, following his meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the Minsk II agreement of February 12, 2015 were implemented, sanctions against Russia could be lifted. No mention was made of the Crimea. Kerry obseqiously thanked Putin for his time.

For the transcript of Kerry’s and Lavrov’s remarks before the press in Sochi, click here.

In short, the U.S. would be willing to lift sanctions with Russian military forces still occupying the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea.

As for Germany, well, not so sure.

Absent a change of course by Moscow, the key issue for the normalization of relations with Russia any time in the foreseeable future, is whether NATO, the EU and other allies are willing to look the other way on the issue of the Crimea.

While it might be easy for the U.S. which no konger takes international law seriously, as that term is understood in the rest of the world, to ignore the small matter of the Russian conquest of the Crimea by force, EU and other NATO members may take a far different view, once they really focus on the issue and its consequences.

In the Observer’s view, “business as usual” with Russia will not be possible so long as the Crimea is occupied by Russian troops.

The only way out of this situation would be some kind of a U.N. Authority overseeing the region for a period of years, followed by a genuinely free plebiscite on the future of the peninsula in which all of its residents and former residents at the time of the February, 2014 Russian invasion were able to vote.

We had better start breaking this news to Vladimir Putin.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s endless incompetence in foreign policy: Kerry to travel to Russia to meet with Putin and Lavrov in Sochi

Monday, May 11th, 2015

How can we win, if (Putin) is boxing, and we are playing chess?”
Lech Walensa

It was announced today in Washington that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Sochi on Tuesday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in order to discuss the Ukraine, peace negotiations in Syria, and the nuclear deal with Iran.

See Felicia Schwartz, “Kerry to Meet With Putin in Russia on Tuesday; Meeting would be first Cabinet-level U.S. visit to Russia since start of crisis in Ukraine, Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2015 (12:26 p.m.).

Two days after the West’s successful boycott of Putin’s Victory Parade in Moscow, the gigantic egos that inhabit the White House and on occasion the Seventh Floor of the State Department have broken ranks with Europe, rushing to the Aggressor’s lair in Sochi to meet with Putin and Lavrov.

Has Kerry taken too many airplane flights, absorbed too many cosmic rays, and spent so little time connecting the dots that he actually thinks he can “pressure” the Russians into changing course in the Ukraine, with his silver tongue?

Or that he can persuade Putin to force al-Assad to enter peace negotiations, and as a result of his own personal diplomatic brilliance agree to negotiations in Syria—a country torn asunder by al-Assad’s war cimes, crimes against humanity and other depradations, and compounded by the competing barbarism of ISIS or the Islamic State group?

Or that, following the recent conclusion of a framework agreement for the final nuclear deal with Iran by June 30, his personal intervention with Putin is needed to seal the deal?

If so, perhaps he has had too many red carpet treatments on his endless diplomatic travels, as a white knight on a shining white horse who must show up in every capital and personally intervene for any agreement on anything to be reached.

Are there no other capable diplomats and ambassadors who Kerry might use to negotiate with foreign leaders and execute foreign policy?

Let us examine again the proffered reasons for the trip:

(1) To discuss the hard work of securing compliance with the Minsk II agreement of February 12, 2015 with Putin, who is directly responsible for repeatedly violating its terms, with thousands of Russian troops fighting in the Donbas region of the Eastern Ukraine, i.e., to further pursue appeasement of the invading Russian Bear.

How can such discussions ever be fruitful, so long as Putin denies the presence of Russian troops in the eastern Ukraine?

They are the problem. How can that problem be solved so long as its very existence is denied?

What we have here is more talk, no actions, in the face of Russian aggression. And to add insult to injury, Obama and Kerry agree to hold the meeting in Russia instead of on neutral ground.

Words will not change Russia’s actions, as anyone who has followed events in the Ukraine for the last 15 months will understand. One should recall Kerry’s April 17, 2014 agreement in Geneva with Lavrov, the EU and the Ukraine, whose terms were violated with increasing intensity immediately following the agreement, or the January 21, 2015 agreement between Kerry and Lavrov and others to withdraw heavy weapons from the front lines, as their use by Russia and its puppet “separatists” intensified.

Is the Crimea on the agenda in Sochi? If not, why not, and what will Putin gather from the omission?

The principal effect of the Sochi meeting will be to weaken Russia’s isolation from the West.

Kerry has failed to grasp the fundamental difference between German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s meeting with Putin on May 10, and his own rush to see Putin in Sochi. Merkel, as the leader of the country that devastated Russia in World War II, had a unique reason for commemorating the soldiers who died at German hands, a highly symbolic action aimed at the reconciliation of two peoples. By not attending the Victory Parade on June 9, the Chancellor struck just the right balance.

Kerry has no such imperative reason to go to see Putin. His visit is ill-considered. In its aftermath, we can expect to see an increasing number of presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers meeting with Putin and the Russians.

In short, Kerry will be responsible for breaking the isolation of Putin, which is one of the few things which, over time, might cause him to consider a change of course.

(2) To continue to “work through the Russians” to find a solution to the civil war in Syria, despite the evidence of the last four years of the futility of such an approach in the absence of actions on the ground;

(3) To discuss the nuclear deal with Iran.

For a devastating critique of Obama’s approach to negotiating the final nuclear deal with Iran, see

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

Apparently we live in an age where no one remembers anything, when unbounded egos vie for a chance to talk to the Great Dictator and Aggressor of Russia, whose plight is greatly eased by the divided leadership of the West, and the pacifists and appeasers who continue to oppose a policy of hard containment of Russia’s military aggression.

Historians will weep at the manifest stupidity and illusory nature of the hopes these actions pursue.

The primary reason for Kerry’s visit to see Putin in Russia appears to be personal vanity, and an exalted view that he, John Kerry, can make significant progress with Putin by speaking words to him in his physical presence.

Yet if there is one truth that emerges from recent years of dealing with Putin in Syria and the Ukraine, it is that Putin is never moved by threats or words, only by actions.

At the same time, Putin’s and Lavrov’s agreements are not worth the paper they are written on.

So, once again, we see the unending incompetence of Obama and his foreign policy team at work. Kerry goes to see Putin, in Russia, breaking his isolation, and for what? Absolutely nothing.

This is what we can expect from Obama’s foreign policy team in the remaing year and a half of his administration.

An endemic failure to connect the dots.

A dogged determination to avoid any actions on the ground that might anger Russia, as in the Ukraine (e.g., arming the government’s forces with lethal weapons).

A failure to lead the Atlantic Alliance and the EU in responding to Russian threats and aggression, including a failure to maintain unity among NATO and EU member states in dealing with Putin.

Indeed, how can we beat Putin, “if he is boxing and we are playing chess?”

The Trenchant Observer

Top articles on Putin, the Ukraine, and Russia

Friday, April 17th, 2015

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Some of the best articles by the Trenchant Observer on Putin, the Ukraine, and Russia include the following:

(1) “Russian propaganda and Western reporters who can’t think: Putin’s great rise in popularity, as revealed by polls,” March 14, 2015.

(2) “Nemtsov assassination represents a stark warning to the opposition: ‘Criticize Putin, especially on the Ukraine, and you may die,’” (Updated March 6, 2015)

(3) “Putin’s triumph over the pacifists and appeasers of the West, and the ferocious opponents he may face in the future,” (revised February 25, 2015).

(4) “Ukraine Update: Overview and signficance of the continuing Russan invasion,” March 5, 2015.

(5) “Minsk II Agreement of February 12, 2015 (with full texts in English and Russian), February 12, 2015.

(6) “Russia’s utter and continuing violation of international law in the Ukraine: U.N. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/25/2625 (1970) on Principles of International Law and Friendly Relations Among States,” February 8, 2015.

(7) “The virus of nationalism and military aggression: Adolf Hitler in Vienna, March, 1938; Vladimir Putin in Sevastopol, May 9, 2014,” June 30, 2014.

(8) “Steinmeier-Lavrov Meeting in Moscow: “Sergej Wiktorowitsch, Du, du liegst mir im Herzen, Du, Du machst mir viel Shmerzen, weisst nicht wie gut ich dir bin,” November 18, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. and Cuba move toward normalization, including diplomatic relations and lifting of sanctions

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

(developing)

See

Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Randal C. Archibold, “Obama and Raúl Castro Meet, Making History,” New York Times, April 11, 2015.

President Barack Obama has now moved firmly toward normalization of relations with Cuba, including reestablishment of diplomatic relations and a lifting of economic sanctions. He is meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro at the OAS Summit of the Americas being held in Panama.

The move, long delayed by U.S. domestic political considerations in Florida, takes advantage of the changing views and new generations of Cuban-Americans in that state, is 30 or 40 years overdue, but welcome nonetheless.

Successive U.S. administrations never could make a convincing argument why the country should have diplomatic and trade relationships with China, while maintaing a harsh sanctions regime against Cuba.

The normalization of relations with Cuba is a move which shores up the southern flank of the United States, denying Vladimir Putin any target of opportunity for restoring military assets in Cuba, while simultaneously opening up a path toward reduced threats from Venezuela and helping in the management of relations with Nicaragua and Honduras.

Over time, the move should also help to limit the appeal, both domestic and international, of the regimes of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina.

Within Cuba itself, these developments appear to be welcomed by the majority of the population who, if somewhat apprehensive over the possibility of everything in Cuba being bought up by the Americans, are also hopeful that restored economic relations with the United States will bring prosperity to the island.

Before 1959, Cuba was a top American tourist destination. Now, given Cuba’s highly educated population and extensive family ties with relatives in the U.S., both tourist development and U.S. business investment can be expected to take off—as fast as the Castro government will allow these to occur.

Obama deserves credit for changing course in relations with Cuba, however late that change might be. One would hope that this change signals a renewed awareness of the importance of Latin America to the United States. However, we will have to wait and see on that score.

The Trenchant Observer

A gift for Nowruz and Easter: The nuclear framework agreement with Iran

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

The United States has led the P5+1 in reaching a historic framework agreement with Iran over the future of its nuclear activities. UN and other sanctions will be lifted, in sequences yet to be determined, in return for measures and guarantees that will restrict to at least a year Iran’s so-called “breakout” capability, i.e., Iran’s ability to break its international agreements (including the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a party) and race to build a nuclear weapon.

The “framework agreement” signed on April 2, 2015 does not resolve all questions, but includes agreement on many major issues. The parties have set themselves a deadline of June 30, 2015 for reaching a final, definitive agreement.

One of the most significant aspects of the last year of negotiations has been a growing relationship by which problems can be addressed through serious discussions. Slowly, the parties are learning to trust each other while dealing effectively with critics at home and abroad.

The interim agreement builds momentum for reaching the final agreement, which if consumated would constitute President Barack Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievement since assuming office in January, 2009.

The timing of the agreement is doubly propitious.

The celebration of Nowruz or the Persian New Year takes place for 13 days following the vernal equinox, which this year was on March 21 in Iran. It is a celebration of “out with the old and in with the new”. Evil spirits are exiled from the home, new clothes are worn, and Persian families visit each other at each others’ homes throughout the period of celebration.

In the West, Easter is celebrated as a time of hope and redemption.

Both are celebrations of life and hope for the future, as Spring in the northern hemispere begins.

For Iranian reactions to the agreement, see

(1) “Iran-P5+1 agreement seeks removal of sanctions, not suspension: Rouhani, Press TV (Tehran), April 5, 2015 (1:3PM).

(2) “Iran top general hails nuclear success in talks with P5+1,” Press TV, April 5, 2015 (3:27PM).

“A senior Iranian military official has heaped praise on the country’s negotiating team for emerging successful in talks with the P5+1 group in Switzerland, expressing hope that a final agreement would be reached soon.

“In a message to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Sunday, Iranian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said the 1979 Islamic Revolution’s progressive movement is continuing “strongly and successfully” thanks to the Leader’s guidelines.

“He congratulated Ayatollah Khamenei and the Iranian nation on the breakthrough and praised efforts by President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s nuclear negotiating team led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.”

(3) “Iran, P5+1 joint statement calling for removal of all anti-Iran sanctions,” Press TV, April 2, 2015 (5:38PM).

For details of the agreement and how it is being portrayed at home by both sides, see

Michael R. Gordon, “Outline of Iran Nuclear Deal Sounds Different From Each Side,” New York Times, April 4, 2015.

With this hopeful development, perhaps thbe world’s leaders can now turn their thoughts from visions of war, which have dominated their thinking in recent years, to visions of peace and how to turn them into reality.

The Trenchant Observer