Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Category

Ukraine Update: Renewal of sanctions, “progress”, and one-sided implementation of Minsk II Agreement (with full text in English)

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.”

Will Rogers

It is quite amazing how the ceasefire called for in the Minsk II Agreement of February 12, 2015 seems to start to hold just before the EU has to vote again to uphold and extend the sanctions against Russia, which were adopted by the EU following the Russian invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea in February and March 2014, and the Russian invasion of the Donbas or eastern Ukraine beginning in April 2014.

Vladimir Putin’s goal appears to be as clear as his ongong violations of the Minsk II agreement’s terms: to block the extension of sanctions.

If he succeeds, he will have won a great victory over the Europeans, whose policies like those of the U.S. were dictated by pacifists and appeasers at least up until the adoption of Stage 3 sanctions against Russia on September 5, 2015. They came into force on Septemer 12, 2014.

Now if he can show “progress” toward implementing the Minsk II provisions, Putin and the pacifists and appeasers within the EU can push for an easing of sanctions.

Because all 28 members of the EU must vote affirmatively for the extension of sanctions, Putin needs only one vote to block their renewal.

So the push is on to show “progress”, with both the EU and the U.S. exerting pressure on Kiev to adopt constitutional amendments that would enshrine the special status of the Donetzk and Luhansk provinces controlled by so-called “separatists” in the Ukrainian constitution.

And the ceasefire seems to be taking hold.

If these moves lead to a blocking of sanctions, Putin will have achieved a great victory. Even if they don’t, the pattern of Ukrainian compliance with Minsk II in the face of constant violations of not only the ceasefire but other key provisions of Minsk II by the “separatists” puppets of Vladimir Putin and by Russia itself will continue.

Does anyone recall that all foreign fighters are to be withdrawn from the Donbas by December 31, 2015 under the terms of Minsk II?

Has or will there be any “progress” on that front?

See “Minsk II Agreement of February 12, 2015 (with full texts in English and Russian) February 13, 2014 (updated and revised).

The Russian Interfax news agency translation into English of the full text is reproduced at the end of this article.

Does anyone remember or care about the fact that Russia seized the Crimea by military force in February 2014, and continues to occupy what is sovereign territory of the Ukraine, under international law, by military force?

For the moment, all observers and decision-makers need to keep their eye on the ball and the big game in the Ukraine: the extension of all sanctions against Russia, including in particular third stage or Stage 3 sanctions.

Could anyone imagine, for an instant, that full implementation of the Minsk II Agreement would become remotely manageable or possible without them?

On the pressures by the EU and the U.S. on Kiev to adopt constitutional amendments giving special autonomous status to the Donbas, see

Claudia von Salzen (Kommentar),”DER KONFLIKT IN DER UKRAINE: Zerreißprobe in Kiew; Im Ukraine-Konflikt halten die Europäer an einem gescheiterten Abkommen fest. Das Land wird zur Verfassungsänderung gedrängt, während Russland keine Zugeständnisse macht,” Die Zeit, 1. September 2015 (Erschienen im Tagesspiegel am 1. September 2015 11:20 Uhr).

The Trenchant Observer

*****

Full text in English of Minsk II Agreement of February 12, 2015

Translation provided by Russian Interfax news agency, as published in the International Business Times, February 12, 2015.

“1. An immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in certain areas of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions and its strict implementation starting at 0000 (Kiev time) on 15 February 2015.

2. Withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides at equal distances in order to create a security zone to be at least 50-km-wide from each other for 100mm or bigger calibre artillery systems, a 70-km-wide security zone for MLRS [multiple launch rocket systems], and a 140-km-wide security zone for Tornado-S, Uragan and Smerch MLRS and Tochka-U tactical missile systems:

– For the Ukrainian troops: from the factual contact line;

– For the armed formations of certain areas of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions: from the contact line according to the Minsk memorandum of 19 September 2014.

The withdrawal of the abovementioned heavy weapons shall begin no later than on the second day after the ceasefire and shall end within 14 days.

The OSCE will facilitate this process with the support of the Tripartite Contact Group.

3. Ensure effective monitoring and verification of the ceasefire regime and the withdrawal of heavy weapons by the OSCE from the first day of the withdrawal, with the use of all necessary technical means, including satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, radar systems and so on.

4. On the first day following the withdrawal, to start the dialogue on the modalities of holding local elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and Ukraine’s law “On the special procedure of local self-governance in some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions” as well as on a future regime of these districts on the basis of this law.

Immediately, no later than in 30 days since the date of the signing of the given document, to adopt a Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian parliament] resolution to specify the territory to which the special regime applies in accordance with the law of Ukraine “On the special procedure of local self-governance in some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions” on the basis of the line set by the Minsk memorandum of 19 September 2014.

5. Ensure pardon and amnesty by putting into force a law that would ban persecution and punishment of individuals in connection with the events that took place in some areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

6. Ensure the release and exchange of all the hostages and illegally held individuals on the basis of the “all for all” principle. This process should be completed no later then on the fifth day after the withdrawal.

7. Ensure safe access, delivery, storage and distribution of humanitarian aid among those who need it on the basis of an international mechanism.

8. Definition of the modalities of a complete restoration of socio-economic ties, including social transfers, such as pension payments or other payments (receipts and income, paying the utility bills on time and renewing taxation within the framework of Ukraine’s legal field).

To meet these objectives, Ukraine will restore control over the segment of its banking system in the areas affected by the conflict, and an international mechanism to facilitate these transfers may be set up.

9. Restoration of full control over the state border in the whole zone of the conflict on the part of the Ukrainian government, which should begin on the first day after local elections and finish after an all-inclusive political settlement (local elections in separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions on the basis of Ukraine’s law, and constitutional reform) by the end of 2015, providing the implementation of clause 11 – in consultations and with the agreement of representatives of separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions within the framework of the Tripartite Contact Group.

10. Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military hardware and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory under the OSCE’s supervision. Disarmament of all illegal groups.

11. Realization of constitutional reform in Ukraine, with the new constitution to enter into force by the end of 2015, and assuming as a key element the decentralization (taking into account the peculiarities of certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as agreed with representatives of these districts), and the enactment of permanent legislation on the special status of certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in accordance with the measures specified in the footnotes, until the end of 2015 (see footnotes)

12. Issues related to local elections shall be discussed and agreed with representatives of certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions within the framework of the Tripartite Contact Group on the basis of the Ukrainian law “On the temporary procedure for local self-government in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions”. Elections shall be held in compliance with the relevant OSCE standards and monitored by the OSCE ODIHR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights].

13. Intensification of the activities of the Tripartite Contact Group, including by means of establishing working groups to fulfil the respective aspects of the Minsk agreements. They will reflect the composition of the Tripartite Contact Group.

Footnotes:

Such measures in accordance with the law “On the special procedure of local self-governance in some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions” include the following:

– Freedom from punishment, persecution and discrimination for individuals connected to the events that took place in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

– Right to self-determination of language;

– Participation of local governing bodies in the appointment of heads of prosecution bodies and courts in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

– The state will provide support to the socio-economic development of certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

– Assistance from the central executive bodies with cross-border cooperation between certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and regions of the Russian Federation;

– Creation of people’s police detachments by the decision of local councils with the aim of maintaining social order in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

– The powers of local council deputies and public servants elected during pre-term elections called by the Ukrainian Supreme Council via this law cannot be prematurely terminated.

This document has been signed by the participants in the Tripartite Contact Group:

[OSCE] Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini

Second President of Ukraine L. [Leonid] Kuchma

Russian Ambassador to Ukraine M. [Mikhail] Zurabov

A. [Aleksandr or Oleksandr] Zakharchenko

I. [Igor or Ihor] Plotnitskiy [Plotnytskyy]”

Abdel al-Sisi visits Vladimir Putin in Russia: Egypt as a new member of the League of Authoritarian States

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Developing

Egyptian President Abdel al-Sisi has visited Vladimir Putin in Russia, seeking to build closer relations with the Russian dictator and his authoritarian state.

As two authoritarian leaders they have a lot in common, including a willingness to trample on human rights and the rule of law whenever they think it will help them achieve their ends.

In Egypt, al-Sisi while mouthing the words of a democratic song, has reportedly been conducting a “dirty war” like the one in Chile under Augusto Pinochet in the 1970’s, with perceived opponents simply “disappearing” from the streets or suffering other dark fates.

Nonetheless, Angela Merkel of Germany and the U.S., like others, have embraced al-Sisi either to clinch business deals or to join cause with him in his war against the Muslim Brotherhood (a non-violent group until 2012) and jihadist terrorist groups in the region.

In Egypt, the results to date have not been encouragng, with a sharp increase in terrorist activity both in the Sinai and in Cairo and the heart of the country itself.

To be sure, to their credit, Egyptian religious leaders at al-Azhar University in Cairo have taken the lead in denouncing the distorted theology of the Islamic State and adopting measures to counter its influence, by refuting its theological bases within the framework of Islam. Al-Azhar University represents the highest religious authority within Sunni Islam.

See

(1) Daniel Steinvorth, “Ägpytisch-russische Beziehungen: Sisi sucht die Nähe zu Putin; So richtig warm geworden ist der Westen bisher nicht mit Ägyptens Präsident Sisi. Umso freundlicher empfängt Russlands Staatschef Putin den Ex-General aus Kairo, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, 26. August 2015 (21:04 Uhr).

(2) Martin Gehlen, “ÄGYPTEN: Schmutziger Krieg gegen die Jugend: In Ägypten verschwinden junge Oppositionelle. Sie werden von der Staatssicherheit entführt, manche ermordet wie zu Zeiten der Militärdiktatur in Chile, Die Zeit, 22. Juni 2015 (15:02 Uhr).

(3) “REPRRISE: ‘The League of Authoritarian States’—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #50,” The Trenchant Observer, July 19, 2012 (first published June 9, 2012).

They justify their actions by reference to the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of any state, as guaranteed in the U.N. Charter.

They ignore, however, that in the 21st century “sovereignty” does not include the right to commit genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, or even the violation of other fundamental human rights. The growth and development of international law has led to treaties and state practice interpreting international law that limit the sovereignty of a nation to undertake acts such as those referred to above.

No Dictator, no authoritarian regime, has that right.

The battle is joined, between the international community which supports human rights and international law, including international criminal law, on the one hand, and the League of Authoritarian States, on the other, whose members believe a Dictator should have such a “right”, and who are willing to block the effective responses of the international community by vetoing resolutions in the Security Council.

Undoubtedly other governments will join the League of Authoritarian States, in order to protect their own ability to use terror including war crimes and crimes against humanity to retain their hold on power.

One fundamental question remains: Can you effectively defend civilization against barbarians by undertaking or endorsing actions which violate its most fundamental norms, including respect for human rights and the rule of law?

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. presidential primaries: Donald Trump as incendiary wildcard, and Hillary Clinton as hyper-advised calculating robot

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as dream candidates—for the other side

Sometimes it seems that the Republicans and the Democrats have found the perfect candidate — for the other party!

Donald Trump is a dream candidate for the Republican presidential primaries, and Hillary Clinton is a dream candidate for the Democratic primaries — each for the other party.

Donald Trump will alienate so many voters in the Republican party and those leaning Republican that it will be hard for the Republican nominee (even Jeb Bush) to win them back. He makes the Republican Party look like the stridently anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant party of Donald Trump.  Good luck with the Hispanic vote in the general elections! Even Jeb Bush, whose wife is of Mexican origin and who speaks fluent Spanish, will have a hard time overcoming the identification in voters’ minds of the Republicans as the anti-immigrant party.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is a dream candidate for the Republicans, for several reasons.

First, she has incredibly high unfavorability ratings among the general electorate, who believe she cannot be trusted. The ongoing saga about her private e-mail server as Secretary of State, and other matters the House Special Committee is looking into, particluarly her role in the Banghazi affair, are certain to keep the issue of her candor and trustworthiness before voters’ eyes.

Second, by so dominating the Democratic primaries through building a massive machine and warchest, seeming to have locked up the support of major Democratic donors, she has sucked the air out of the room ncessary for other potential candidates to launch viable campaigns.

She seems most likely to win the nomination, and most likely to lose the general election — if the Republicans can put up a reasonable candidate and can unite their party after the primaries, or in the not unlikely event that she faces criminal chargs over her handling of classified information, or some other scandal, perhaps related to the Clinton foundation, drags her down.

Hillary and Machine Politics, 2015 style

Hillary personifies the new machine politics of the Democrats in 2015. She is the head of the machine, infinitely calculating, never saying anything that the machine of messaging and narratives and policy positions does not tell her to say. Even her new spontaneity must be viewed as a decision by her machine of countless advisers and pre-tested focus groups that she needs to inject spontaneity and candor into her campaign. There is an inherent contradiction here.

See

Michael Gerson, “Hillary Clinton’s Nixonian mindset is on full display,” Washington Post, August 17, 2015 (8:04 PM).

Jan Fleischhauer, “Warum die Amis Hillary Clinton nicht mögen; Hillary Clinton will die erste US-Präsidentin werden. Doch jeder Satz von ihr klingt, als ob ein Beraterteam ihn vorher getestet hätte. Die meisten Bürger wollen aber im Weißen Haus einen Menschen aus Fleisch und Blut – keinen Sprechautomaten,” Der Spiegel, 11. August 2015 (17:49 Uhr).

It is hard to see in Hillary the leader of the nation after her performance during the Benghazi affair. When four Americans including the ambassador to Libya were killed in Benghazi on September 11-12, 2012, she as Secretary of State did not go forth to reassure the country, but rather sent U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to the Sunday morning talk shows to present a highly ambiguous and misleading account of what had happened.  

Rice downplayed the link to al Qaeda and related terrorist groups. Candor would have contradicted Barack Obama’s presidential campaign narrative that Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda had been defeated, and that terrorism was under control. Obama, and Clinton, knew at the time this was not the case, which is why the CIA had a “black” operation in Benghazi whose known tasks included monitoring the activities of Ansar al-Sharia and other terrorist groups in the region–whose names were scrubbed from Susan Rice’s talking points.

The Citizens United decision and electoral politics

Isn’t there a new generation of leaders ready to take on the challenges of the incredibly perilous times in which we live?

If money did not rule politics in the U.S. as it has since the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United in 2010, wouldn’t we have a better chance of seeing and hearing these candidates, who might also be able to launch viable campaigns?

Like the Supreme Court decisions in the Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) case upholding slavery, and Lochner v. New York (1905) which held labor legislation limiting working hours to 10 hours per day and 60 hours per week unconstitutional as violative of the “liberty of contract” implicit in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010) ruling has upended the Constitution, giving the wealthy and super-wealthy the power to use their money as “free speech” to drown out the free speech of others and to subvert the electoral system established by the Constitution.

The only remedy for this situation is a constitutional amendment reversing Citizens United, or its unlikely reversal by the Supreme Court itself. Neither will happen in time to affect the 2016 race, if ever.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin resumes fighting near Mariupol

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

UPDATE–Latest News (August 12, 2015)

See

Pierre Vaux, “Ukraine’s Cold War Hot as Combat Explodes in the Last 24 Hours,” The Daily Beast, August 12, 2015.

“UKRAINE: EU sieht OSZE-Mission in Gefahr; Ein Brandanschlag auf Fahrzeuge, Mitarbeiter im Kreuzfeuer: OSZE-Beobachter in der Ukraine sind zunehmend bedroht. Die EU spricht von einer Eskalation des Konflikts, ” Die Zeit, 12. August 2015 (04:49 Uhr).

The Donbas puppets of Vladimir Putin are 100% dependent on Russia for their survival. Russian regular troops as well as irregular troops have been in the Ukraine for over a year, and have played a decisive role in key battles with the Ukrainian military. There can be little doubt that the puppets act, and weave and bob, in response to the movements of the wires by which they are suspended. And there can be little doubt that Vladimir Putin is the puppeteer who controls those wires, and who moves the figures attached to them.

Now Putin and his puppets have resumed fighting near Mariupol, the strategic port city that controls the path and potential land bridge to the Crimea, which under international law remains sovereign territory of the Ukraine under Russian military occupation.

At the same time, four OSCE vehicles were set on fire in Donetzk in front of the observers’ hotel and across the street from the building that serves as the headquarters of the leader of the local parliament, Andrei Purgin.

The tactic is right out of the playbook in the Syrian conflict, when Bashar al-Assad was presumably responsible for the crowds that harrassed and the shootings at U.N. observers which ultimately led first to their withdrawal to their hotel, the replacement of their commander who sought to keep them safe, and finally their withdrawal from Syria. Russia, as al-Assad’s strongest backer, was intimately familiar with these events.

The strategy is simple: If you don’t want international observers reporting on events, attack them, fire on them, until their mission becomes so dangerous to the individual observers that their mission must be stopped.

See

Pilar Bonet (Moscú), “La escalada bélica en Ucrania amenaza los pactos de Minsk; La situación en el frente entre las tropas de Kiev y los insurgentes de Donetsk se deteriora, El Pais, 10 de Agosto 2015 (22:38 CEST).

“Trotz Waffenruhe: Ukraine meldet heftige Kämpfe nahe Mariupol; Seit Februar gilt in der Ukraine eine Waffenruhe, eingehalten wird sie selten: Die prorussischen Rebellen sollen heftige Angriffe gegen Regierungstruppen gestartet haben. Kiew meldet einen erfolgreichen Gegenschlag,” Der Spiegel, 10. August 2015 (19;25 Uhr).

NATO and the West need to keep a watchful eye on developments around Mariupol, and with the EU be prepared to act if Putin tries to take the city.

In the meantime, NATO and the U.S. should proceed with quickly supplying more lethal weapons and training to the Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

The cold-blooded REALPOLITIK of the American president: Obama’s intellectual calculations in foreign policy, and his heart as cold as stone

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Developing

Obama seems to have opposed stronger action in Syria and in opposing Russian aggression in the Ukraine out of some demented belief that he is smarter than everyone else, and it is OK to stand aside and watch 250,000 people die in Syria, if that is necessary to “work through the Russians” to take a larger chess piece by making the nuclear deal with Iran. Or to adopt what was in effect a policy of appeasement against Russia as they invaded and “annexed” the Crimea, and invaded — and have hung on to — the eastern Ukraine, in order to gain Russian support for the P5+ 1 nuclear deal with Iran.

Richard Spencer of The Telegraph has summarized what appears to be Obama’s highly intellectual policy towards Syria.

See

Richard Spencer (Middle East Editor, “Barack Obama does not want to defeat Isil – yet; For American foreign policy, winning the war against Isil quickly would be pointless and potentially disastrous” The Telegraph, July 31, 2015 (8:00 p.m. BST).

See also the articles by David Ignatius cited earlier here.

In Ethiopia this week, Obama hardly pressed the country’s leaders on their human rights violations. The U.S.has given priority to fighting terrorism, and seems willing to look away from seeing these human rights violations in Africa.

See

Sharon L. Fawcett, “Obama’s heartbreaking words in Addis Ababa: It only took eight words for Barack Obama to break the hearts of millions of Ethiopians. Alemayehu Mariam was one of them,” Righting It:
(Writing to champion human RIGHTS), August 6, 2015.

Fawcett writes, “Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ethiopia to address the African Union. While there, on July 27th, he took part in a press conference with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. When asked by a Fox News journalist about his “obvious concerns about human rights…in Ethiopia,” Obama paused, looked down, and stated that he was “mindful of Ethiopia’s history,” then followed up with his view of Ethiopia’s recent elections: “…the elections put forward a democratically elected government.” Fawcett goes on to refute any assertion that the government was democratically elected, citing Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and U.S. State Department reports on human rights in the country.

See also,

“Words and Deeds: Obama’s Defense of Democracy in Africa, 2011,” The Trenchant Observer, August 1, 2011.

“Obama and Democracy in Africa, 2011,” The Trenchant Observer, July 16, 2011.

Obama wants to foster entrepreneurial activity in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, without taking on the hard repression that exists in so many countries, which will have a decisive impact on who the new entrepreneurs are.

The needs to support human rights defenders and to strengthen civil society are obliterated by the stong emphasis on business and weak positions (and actions) on human rights.  African countries need not only to grow, but also to distribute both old and new income beyond narrow elites.

The message is clear: The U,S. is willing, even eager, to work with dictators in Africa on security and economic issues, regardless of their records on human rights.

This is consistent with Obama’s call to Putin to thank him for his support on the Iran nuclear deal, as if it could not have been achieved without it.

No one asks, “Why didn’t Putin call Obama to thank him for his support in securing the nuclear deal?” That, howver, is a fair and even an essential question.

The president gives lip service to human rights and civil society. But as we’ve learned, we must watch carefully what he actually does, not merely what he says. We need to track carefully how much money the U.S. puts into foreign assistance in Africa to support those fighting dictatorships and for the rule of law.

To ignore human rights in Africa, in deeds if not in words, is to follow a false path, and it is sad to see Obama continue down it.

Think only of what has been going on in Egypt, and how silent the U.S. administration has been in the face of horrendous abuses.

The Trenchant Observer

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 provides a high probability of observance of the agreement’s essential 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