Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Category

Brazil publishes Truth Commission Report; U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture Released; U.S. officials debate whether torture “worked”

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Developing — preliminary draft

See

(1) “Comissão Nacional da Verdade entrega a Dilma relatório final das investigawções; Presidente recebeu em audiência no Palácio do Planalto, às 9h, os seis integrantes da CNV,” O GLOBO, 10 dezembro 2014 8:28 ( ATUALIZADO 10/12/2014 10:03 h)i

(2) Comissão da Verdade, “Relatorio Final,” O Estado de Sao Paulo, 1d0 Dezembro 2014.

(3) (Brasilia / Sao Paulo)”CRIMES DA DITADURA: Comissão pede punição para 377 pelos crimes da ditadura; LISTA INCLUI PRESIDENTES; GRUPO DIZ QUE LEI DA ANISTIA NÃO SE APLICA; FORÇAS ARMADAS SILENCIAM SOBRE RELATÓRIO,” Folha de Sao Paulo, 10 Dezembro 2014.

(4) “The Senate Committee’s Report on the C.I.A.’s Use of Torture,” New York Times, DEC. 9, 2014.

It will take a few days to process all that is being said about the Senate Torture Report and its contents. The report was released on December 9, 2014.

Today, on December 10, 2014, Human Rights Day, the Brazilian Truth Commission released its report on the crimes committed under military rule from 1964 to 1985.

The two documents should perhaps be read together, so Americans can learn a thing or two from the Brazilian experience.

The U.S. Senate report is narrowly focused on acts of torture and other cruel and inhuman punishment committed by the CIA from September 11, 2001 through the end of the Bush presidency in January, 2009. Subjects excluded are acts of torture committed by the military, and procedures followed after January 2009, when Barack Obama became president.

The Brazilian report, while delayed for 30 years, is much more comprehensive. It is not heavily redacted like the Executive Summary of the U.S. Senate Report, is published in full and not just as an Executive Summary, and lists names, dates, victims, and the individuals responsible for the crimes that were committed.

One other difference stands out: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has not given free reign to those in the government to defend in public the commission of what constitute grave international crimes.

In the U.S., the former architects and implementers of torture have launched an all-out public relations campaign aimed at persuading the public that the actions they carried out were necessary, legal, morally justified, and produced critically important imformation that saved innocent lives.

On the legal issue, it is worth stressing that the crimes they committed were felonies under U.S. law as well as international crimes under the U.N. Torture Convention, other Human Rights conventions, and humanitarian law (the Law of War), including the 1949 Geneva Conventions and subsequent Protocols.

They argue that they were carrying out orders from top government officials, under legal guidance from the Department of Justice.

But they ignore the fact that “due obedience” to a superior order, or even under purported legal cover from the Department of Justice, is no defense to the charges of international crimes for which they may still one day have to answer.

The president does not have the authority to legally authorize the commission of torture or other international crimes.

No court can order torture, or approve of its use.

However loud their cries of self-justification may be today, they would be well advised to make their future travel plans abroad with meticulous care.

For while Barack Obama has refused to prosecute them, under the Convention Against Tortue other countries may some day bring them to justice.

There is a hidden benefit to the public relations campaign now underway by those who would defend and justify the use of torture. They are identifying themselves publicly as “friends of torture”.

A list should be made of those making these arguments, which could be helpful to future prosecutors looking for officials or former officials who may be suspected of committing torture, or who might serve as material witnesses in other cases.

The list should also be useful in identifying present or former government officials who are releasing, apparently without authorization, classified information which they seek to marshal in the defense of torture.

There is one further aspect which is worth reflecting on. While the “friends of torture” are arguing loudly and vociferously that torture was justified, and they were justified in adopting policies or committing acts of torture, they at the same time have argued that release of the Senate report would pose risks to Americans and American interests abroad.

But think about it for a minute. Won’t the declarations that torture was justified, and “produced results”, simply confirm the beliefs of jihaddists and others who they seek to recruit or win over, that the U.S. remains a country that believes in torture, and whatever Obama’s Executive Order may state, is a country that will resort to torture in the future whenever it believes that it will be effective in securing useful information?

In short, the “friends of torture” are undermining America’s statement of its commitment to the world that it will never commit torture again.

Of course, the real issues that should be considered are whether it is morally or legally permissible to commit felonies or international crimes against the physical integrity of another human being, however effective it might be in securing some immediate objective.

The argument is no different from an argument that it is morally permissible to kill another human being without a valid legal excuse, merely in order to achieve some important private or public goal. Certainly no civilized country could allow a private individual to commit such crimes, and even less so can we permit a government official, acting with the authority and power of the state, to take a human life or violate the physical integrity of another human being.

Finally, the “friends of torture” argue that torture works.

It may, in some cases, which did not prevent the Romans from banning the use of torture against Roman citizens, or Europe and America beginning in the 18th century from banning the tortue of any human being.

Our experience with Japan and Germany in World War II confirmed the absolute necessity of protecting human beings from torture by government officials, under any circumstances.

It is remarkable that during Workd War II the United States did not adopt a policy of using torture, despite the exigencies of those times. Indeed, until 2001 the U.S. upheld the prohibition of torture, while prosecuting those responsible for its commission.

Obama has violated and continues to violate the peremptory obligation under the Torture Convention to prosecute those who are suspected of planning or participating in acts of torture.

The United States must now move to follow the Brazilian example, or one like it, by publishing all of the facts on U.S. acts and policies of torture, with names and dates of perpetrators as well as victims, in unredacted form.

Those responsible for torture should then be prosecuted–there is no statute of limitations for international crimes–or required to go through a peace and reconciliation process in which they admit their crimes as a condition for leniency or even pardon.

if Obama wants to limit the risks to Americans and damage to U.S. interests, he should start by ordering John Brennan and other intelligence operatives in the U.S. government to shut up, to stop trying to publicly justify their acts of torture, which were contrary to  current U.S. policy and  legal obligations, both international and domestic.

He should also prosecute those “friends if torture” who are releasing without authorization classified information in their defense of torture.

Finally, he should fire John Brennan, who clearly is not equipped or willing to reform the CIA so as to ensure it never commits torture in the future.

Trenchant Observer

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

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Background — See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See

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

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

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

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

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

This is utterly disingenuous on his part.

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

Putin’s Larger Plan: The sobering facts of Russia’s assault on Europe and the West

Monday, December 1st, 2014

A team of top reporters at one of Germany’s leading newspapers, Die Zeit, have together written a sobering account of Vladimir Putin’s ambitious plan to engage the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which were formerly either part of the Soviet Union or within its firm zone of control behind “the iron curtain”. The article appeared on November 20, 2014.

See

JOCHEN BITTNER, MARC BROST, MATTHIAS GEIS, MARTIN KLINGST, MATTHIAS KRUPA, JÖRG LAU, GERO VON RANDOW UND MICHAEL THUMANN, “RUSSLAND: Putins großer Plan; Geheimdienstoperationen, Zollkriege, Grundstückskäufe, Propaganda und militärische Intervention: Wie Russland von der Ostsee bis zur Adria seine Macht ausbaut,”Die Zeit, 20. November 2014 (15:33 Uhr).

The article is exceptionally important for an understanding of what Europe and the West are up against in a struggle with Moscow which may well be as decisive as the struggle with the Soviet Union in Europe during the first years after World War II.

To read it in a language other than the German original, use Google Translator.

The Trenchant Observer

The Elephant in the Room: Reflections on the nuclear deterrent and the Ukraine

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Developing

As Russia flexes its military muscles around the world, after annexing the Crimea and while conducting an ongoing military intervention in the eastern Ukraine, one factor stands out as “the elephant in the room” which no one will mention.

That factor is the nuclear deterrent of the United States and its NATO allies.

For over 40 years it was the lynchpin of NATO strategy for containing the massive land forces of the Soviet Union. It stayed in place even after the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989 and the Soviet Union was disbanded in December, 1991 following an abortive miltary coup in August of that year.

It remains in place, as Putin remilitarizes Russia and has embarked on a militaristic foreign policy whose immediate fruits–in the Crimea and portions of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in the Donbas region of Ukraine–we can now see with great clarity.

Russian military intervention in and violations of Ukrainian sovereignty continue daily, across a border which Russia has through military means rendered wide-open.

The elephant in the room is the U.S. and NATO nuclear deterrent.

Without it, U.S. military doctrine always recognized, Western Europe would not be able to defend itself against Soviet invasion by ground troops and other forces.

Today, it would appear that NATO countries are ill-prepared to defend their periphery by conventional means against an invasion by Russian ground troops.

Nonetheless, one has the strong impression that President Barack Obama has taken the U.S. and NATO nuclear deterrent off the table.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has grasped this fundamental change in the U.S.-Russian balance of power, and has acted decisively to take advantage of it in the Ukraine.

During the conflict between the West and Russia over Syria beginning in 2011, Putin and then President Dimitry Medvedev (2008-2012) made a number of veiled and not-so-veiled threats of nuclear war. Obama, at least in public, never seemed even to acknowledge them.

After the chemical weapons attacks at Ghouta by the Bashar al-Assad government on August 21, 2013, President Obama flinched at the moment of truth and refused to pull the trigger on a long-threatened and long-awaited military response against Syria for crossing his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons.

Putin’s veiled and not-so-veiled nuclear threats have continued.

One has the strong impression that Putin came to the conclusion that Obama would never use nuclear weapons, no matter what the provocation. Meanwhile, the provocations continue.

What indeed happened to the U.S. nuclear deterrent as a part of NATO’s strategy for defending against a Russian ground invasion in Europe?

Is it not time for people to start talking about the elephant in the room?

Perhaps Senator John McCain (R.-Arizona), as the new Chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committe, can initiate a full review of American nuclear strategy and readiness, particularly as it pertains to countering Russian threats and military actions in Europe.

The Trenchant Observer

Pacifism and appeasement towards Russia in Germany, Europe, and the United States

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

In Europe, the fact that Angela Merkel and other leaders continue to meet with Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov itself speaks volumes about the fact they have nothing but talk and further appeasement of Russia to offer.

In the asymmetric war between Putin’s tanks and the West’s economic weapons, not understanding that the struggle is already on, they refuse to apply further sanctions against Russia.

Meanwhile, they have taken no binding measures to halt the delivery to Russia by Francois Hollande and France of “The Vladilovstok” — a Mistral-class attack warship and area command and control system representing a 10-year technological advantage over Russia. The ship is in Ste. Navaire, the Russian crew has been trained, and we can expect the ship to slip away under Russian command any day now.

Neither the EU nor NATO nor individual NATO member states have taken any concrete measures to prevent this delivery from taking place. In all likelihood, it will soon be a fait accompli.

At the G-20 summit in Brisbane, Australia this last weekend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to talk tough to Putin in public, but it turned out to be just talk.

Later that evening, in fact, she engaged in a private four-hour meeting with Putin on the Ukraine. Details were not forthcoming.

The outcome?

More talk, more efforts to find magic formula that will placate the Russian aggressor, Vladimir Putin. This is the evidence that emerged following foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s visits to Kiev and Moscow, where he met with Sergey Lavrov and also Vladimir Putin, on November 18.

Merkel and her foreign minister are lost, with no further ideas for action beyond trying to use more words to talk Putin out of his current aggression in the Ukraine.

On Steinmeier’s meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, see,

Pilar Bonet (Moscu), “Rusia y Alemania quieren obligar a Kiev y los separatistas a pactar; Ambos países coinciden en que el fin de la guerra en Ucrania requiere acomodar los intereses de las partes en un Estado común,” 18 Noviembre 2014 (20:32 CET).

Julia Smirnova, “Steinmeier sieht Europa vor der Spaltung Außenminister Steinmeier ringt in Kiew und in Moskau um Entspannung in der Ukraine-Krise, doch optimistisch ist er nicht. Die Nato berichtet derweil von weiteren Truppenbewegungen Russlands,” Die Welt, 18. November 2014.

Alison Smale, “Germany’s Foreign Minister, a Man in the Middle; Frank-Walter Steinmeier Meets With Vladimir Putin,” New York Tims, November 19, 2014.

Putin can relax. The Europeans aren’t going to do anything to stop his ongoing military intervention in the Donbas, much less to get him to disgorge the Crimea.

The Americans, for their part, are following the Europeans’ “lead”, such as it is, which means they aren’t even in the game.

They are certainly not leading the NATO alliance, which increasingly appears to be little more than a relic of the last cold war.

Putin has invaded the Ukraine twice, annexing the Crimea, but still NATO members can’t even see their way to abrogating the 1997 partnership agreement with Russia.

They cling to illusions and past dreams which are now dead, ignoring the harsh and threatening facts and realities on the ground. Every threat is transformed into a quest for political consensus, without focusing on the real effectiveness of the response which emerges from this political process.

Imagine! They are not yet agreed on the urgency of stationing large numbers of NATO troops on the eastern front bordering Russia! They insist on complying with the 1997 partnership agreement with Russia, long after the latter has rendered its obligations into mere scraps of torn-up papers lying on the ground.

In Europe, the pacifists and appeasers remain firmly in control. Expect Putin to move swiftly on Mariupol and to continue building his land bridge to the Crimea, as soon as attention is diverted from the Ukraine or the will of the West to oppose his aggression is weakened even further still. He can sit and wait until the circumstances are propitious.

As for the United States, President Barack Obama has recently conceded in his words that Russia’s actions in the Ukraine go beyond an “incursion”. But don’t expect any action to follow that verbal adjustment, or leadership from him, or any real economic sanctions that would significantly increase the pressure on Russia.

See Mark Landler, “Obama Says Russia’s Arming of Separatists Breaks Pact With Ukraine,” New York Times, November 16, 2014. he reports:

BRISBANE, Australia — President Obama edged closer to describing Russia’s military incursions in Ukraine as an invasion, saying on Sunday that the Western campaign to isolate Moscow would continue, though additional sanctions were unnecessary for now.

Speaking to reporters at the end of the annual meeting of the Group of 20, an organization of 19 industrial and emerging-market countries along with the European Union, Mr. Obama said the Russians were supplying heavy arms to separatists in Ukraine in violation of an agreement Russia signed with Ukraine a few weeks ago.

“We’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles,” he said, “and one of those principles is you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.”

Note the juxtaposition between the fact that Russian tanks, artillery and troops have been pouring into the eastern Ukraine, and the fact that Obama sees no need for further economic sanctions at this time.

Such statements make one wonder, eight months after the Russian invasion of the Crimea, and three months after the intensified Russian invasion with regular troops of the eastern Ukraine, whether Obama is “the smartest man in the room”, or rather “the slowest kid in the class”.

In the Middle East, Obama has demonstrated that he is impotent to restrain Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel from pouring oil on the fire by building new settlements in response to terrorist attacks by Palestinians, or to restrain the latter, as the downward spiral of violence continues, unchecked.

With respect to the Islamic State, Obama refuses to introduce combat forces that would empower the battle from the air to be truly effective, sticking to his mantra of “no combat troops” for Iraq. Still, they will eventually have to be sent in. The costs of delay will be high.

In general, at present the United States cannot be viewed as dealing from a position of strength in its foreign affairs. Nonetheless, Obama is hoping to conclude a historic agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue. An important part of the proposed solution will depend on Russia repeocessing Iranian fuel.

This is the world we live in. There are no real leaders in major powers who are willing to act to turn back, or even halt, Russian aggression in the Ukraine.

Putin will continue his “salami technique” approach to gaining control of territory in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, and beyond.

A new Iron Curtain is descending across the face of Europe, as a new Cold War is gathering momentum.

Current governments in Europe and the United States appear unwilling to act to halt Russian advances. Putin won’t be stopped until, in the West, something “clicks”. When that might happen, not even Putin can know.

It may fall to the governments that follow those of the present appeasers to take energetic action to contain the Russians, militarily, economically, and politically.

By then, the costs and the efforts that will be required will have assumed much larger dimensions.

Along the way, accidents could happen, perhaps plungimg countries into war — with nuclear weapons in reserve.

In the meantime, there is little we citizens can do other than to sound the alarm, while trying to maintain a clear-eyed view of the turbulent forces that are sweeping down upon us.

Replacing pacifists and appeasers with real leaders to defend the West’s most sacred values

Then, as soon as we have the opportunity, we can replace the pacifists and appeasers who lead us today with real leaders, men and women who will stand up and fight to defend our most sacred values.

These values include the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter, such as the prohibition of the threat or use of force across international frontiers, compliance with treaties and other norms of international law, and the promotion and defense of the rule of law, including the protection of fundamental human rights in places like the Donbas, the Ukraine, and even Russia itself.

It is the age-old struggle between tyranny and freedom, between democracy and dictatorship, between the ideology of freedom and democracy on the one hand, and that of dictatorship upheld by guns and a boot upon the neck, on the other.

Generations of Europeans and Americans have fought in this struggle, which has progressed to a point where democracy and freedom have become the dominant ideology in the world.

Moreover, one thing has changed in this age of the Internet: We are all connected now.

Vladimir Putin will not turn back this tide.

One day the Maidan will also come to Red Square.

We await only the leaders of this generation who understand these values, and who will lead us in defending them as their impact spreads throughout the world.

The Trenchant Observer

Go for Putin!

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Commentary

The contempt Vladimir Putin evidently feels for Barack Obama and the West was revealed in a split-second at the APEC summit in Beijing these last two days, when Putin slapped Obama on the back in a gesture which is often friendly but here was one of utter contempt.

We advised Obama years ago to be reticent with physical contact with foreign leaders from very different cultures, but he has not followed the advice. He puts his hands all over people, with backslaps, grabbing an arm or an elbow, in what is easily identifiable as Alfa-male behavior.

Well, this time, Putin returned the favor, with backslapping that hardly concealed his feelings of contempt for the U.S. president.

Putin was a very interesting character to watch at the summit, from his backslapping of Obama to his draping a coat or shawl over the shoulders of Chinese Leader Xi Jinping’s wife, which she immediately discarded.

How would you like Adolf Hitler draping his coat over your shoulders as he was invading “rump” Czechoslovakia in March 1939?

Watching Putin move about the conference, with an irrepressible smirk on his face instead of a smile, you could almost hear the derisive laughter in his head as he knew full-well what was underway in the Ukraine.

The other APEC leaders could do and say as they liked, but they would soon learn, once again, the value of all their pleasantries and high-minded thoughts, all of their moral appeals and “moral pressure”, in the face of the iron and steel of the Russian military machine, deploying once again its might disguised behind the veil of his brilliantly conceived and now proven new form of “stealth warfare”.

Russia had the military might and was more than willing to use it, almost with “joy”, against the feckless and spineless West, “led” by that tall man he had just stretched to slap on the back.

See Naftali Benadavid (Brussels) and Gregory L. White (Moscow), “NATO Sees ‘Significant Buildup’ of Russian Forces in Ukraine; Large Convoys Reported to be Moving Into the Region,” Wall Sreet Journal, Updatedy November 12, 2014 (7:55 p.m. ET).

Watching Putin in Beijing, one might easily feel with indignation that he, the great and rising Dictator of 2014, had no right to be present among these other leaders, heads of state of civilized nations which still stood by the United Nations Charter, and its obligations to settle international disputes by peaceful means, and not to resort to the threat or use of force against another state except in self-defense or perhaps in other narrowly circumscribed cases such as to halt genocide.

No, Putin didn’t belong there, and he doesn’t deserve to be treated with ceremony as a head of state, at least not while he is engaged in the invasion of another country.

He should be shunned, the way he was shunned prior to François Hollande’s invitation to attend the D-Day commemoration exercises at Normandy on June 6, and then to have dinner at the Elysée palace–the same evening Obama had to dine with Hollande at a Parisian restaurant–and then Hollande’s lifting of the suspension of the delivery of the Mistral-class warship.

The delivery has been suspended again, to avoid inclusion in the new EU “stage 3″ sanctions list on September 5, but who knows for how long? Invitations to a delivery ceremony on November 14 were even sent out on October 8, though French officials then said conditions were not “ripe” for delivery “at this time”.

Yes, Putin should be shunned! In general, those who launch aggressive wars, presumptive war criminals, should be shunned.

No more telephone calls from other world leaders. No more meetings between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov. No more pretense of civility when the Russians are invading another country and killing innocent people, military and civilians alike. No more handshakes with rogues who threaten nuclear conflict, or to invade other neighbors if they don’t get their way.

And while we’re shunning Putin and his supporters, in Russia and abroad, maybe the leaders of the West can drop their delicacy and call things by their real names, like “invasion” instead of “incursion”.

Maybe we can even get some of our leading newspapers, like the Wall Street Journal, to drop the practice of reporting NATO and Ukrainian charges about Russian military aggression, while dutifully noting that Russia denies the charges, e.g., that they have sent troops and tanks into the Donbas.

Yes, maybe we could even get an American newspaper to boldly report the facts of the Russian infiltration and invasion of the eastern Ukraine!

And if we could do that, maybe we could even take the battle directly to Putin, and go directly after his monstrous lies and deceptions by demonstrating, in the U.N. Security Council and elsewhere, that there is irrefutable evidence that his assertions are false, and that Russia has invaded the eastern Ukraine, that Russia is at this very moment intensifying its invasion, and that there are hundreds of Russian tanks, artillery pieces, air-defense systems, and other equipment, and thousands of Russian combat and other irregular troops in the Donbas.

U.S. military and other intelligence agencies undoubtedly have massive amounts of proof that the denials of the Russians of military involvement in the eastern Ukraine are blatant and outrageous lies.

Understandably, methods and sources need to be protected, within limits. But surely in Washington there must be some “big picture” officials who understand the importance of rebutting Putin’s lies, destroying his credibility, and laying out the truth with evidence–e.g., satellite photos showing the movements of tanks and troops, accounts from captured soldiers, intercepted communications, and a marshaling of what is already in the public record.

In a word, Washington should lay out the facts, the truth, with concrete evidence to back up its factual assertions.

If the Russians still deny the obvious facts, as they undoubtedly will, the U.S. should put forward a resolution in the U.N. Security Council establishing an impartial fact-finding commission, drawing on the work of other U.N. bodies such as the Human Rights Council, to investigate and report the truth about what has happened in the Donbas, who the “separatists” really are, and who among Russia, the “separatists” and the Ukraine is complying with and who is violating the provisions of the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014.

Go after Putin! Refute his propaganda with impartial determination and reporting of the facts!

Show the world, beyond any doubt, the truths that rebut Putin’s shameless lies.

Shun him. Let him threaten the U.S. with his long-range bombers. The U.S. knows how to shoot them down. If Putin harbors any misconceptions over who would prevail in a nuclear showdown with the West, Washington should make it clear to him that he will be facing not only Barack Obama but the united military and security forces of the United States, NATO, and other allies.

But the U.S. needs to get its act together. To do so, the U.S. will have to do better than the incoherence in communications revealed by the following quote from the Wall Street Jounal article cited above:

Russia is sending fresh convoys of troops and tanks into eastern Ukraine, NATO said, and threatening to dispatch warplanes on maneuvers over the Gulf of Mexico, flexing its military muscles in a Cold War-style escalation with the West.

U.S. officials said they couldn’t confirm the new incursion into Ukraine announced by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and an international monitoring group in the region, but accused Russia of repeatedly violating the terms of a peace pact signed two months ago.

Really! The U.S. can’t confirm statements by U.S. General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe and Commander of NATO?

As “U.S. officials couldn’t confirm the new incursion into Ukraine”, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was denouncing it at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

See

(1) United Nations Security Council, Press Release, “Security Council Briefed on Fast-Breaking Developments in Ukraine, as Political Official Warns Failure to Secure Russian-Ukrainian Border Obstructing Peace, ” U.N. Security Council, 7311th Meeting (PM), U.N. Doc. SC/11645 (2014), November 12, 1014.

(2) Ukraine – Security Council, 7311th meeting, 12 Nov 2014 – 7311th meeting of the Security Council on the situation in Ukraine, Webcast (English)

(3) The Webcast of the 7311th Meeting of the Security Council on November 12, in the original language of the speaker, is found here.

Obama needs to bring experienced adults in to take charge of his national security team and its spokespersons, at the earliest opportunity.

We need to communicate clearly and strongly to Putin. This kind of incompetence does not help.

The Wall Street Journal, for its part, didn’t even bother to report on the Security Council meeting, which suggests the need for adult supervision there as well.

The Trenchant Observer

U.N. Security Council meets in emergency session (link to video); NATO confirms columns of Russian tanks, artillery and troops crossing border into eastern Ukraine; Kiev denounces imminent large-scale invasion

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Developing

See

(1) Ewen MacAskill (defence correspondent), “Russian tanks and troops crossing into Ukraine, says Nato commander General Philip Breedlove warns of renewed war as border between two countries becomes ‘completely porous’,” November 12, 2014 (13.00 EST).

Nato’s chief military commander has said that columns of Russian tanks, artillery and troops have been spotted crossing the border into Ukraine over the last two days, amid fears of a renewal of all-out conflict in the war-torn east of the country.

Moscow has denied that any columns have crossed the border and challenged Nato to produce evidence.

Philip Breedlove, the US general who is supreme allied commander Europe, speaking in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Wednesday, said: “What worries me the most is that we have a situation now that the former international border between Ukraine and Russia is completely porous, it is completely wide open.”

He added: “Forces, money, support, supplies, weapons are flowing back and forth across this border completely at will and that is not a good situation.”

(2) Osten der Ukraine: Nato bestätigt Militärtransporte aus Russland; Panzer, Artillerie und Truppen: Die Nato hat Berichte bestätigt, wonach Russland seine militärische Präsenz im Osten der Ukraine ausbaut. Die Regierung in Moskau dementiert,” Der Spiegel, 12. November 2014 (14:32 Uhr).

Kiew/Sofia – Die Nato beobachtet, dass “zahlreiche Kolonnen” mit militärischer Ausrüstung von Russland aus in den Osten der Ukraine transportiert werden. “In den vergangenen zwei Tagen haben wir dasselbe gesehen, was die OSZE berichtet: Wir haben Kolonnen russischer Ausrüstung gesehen, vor allem russische Panzer, russische Artillerie, russische Luftabwehrsysteme und russische Kampftruppen, die in die Ukraine gebracht werden”, sagte Nato-Oberkommandeur Philip Breedlove. Die genaue Anzahl der Einheiten sei unklar, doch bestünde Einigkeit, dass es “zahlreiche Kolonnen” seien.

(3) U.N. Security Council Meeting on Ukraine; The U.N. Security Council held a meeting on Ukraine, as Russian combat troops, tanks, and artillery moved into the country, C-SPAN, November 12, 2014. The video link is here.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Veterans’ Day, 2011: “Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?”

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

First published, November 11, 2011

My uncle died in a field in northern France with a German bullet in his head. To him, and all the other veterans of America’s wars, I am immensely grateful for his, and their, sacrifice.

The Vision of Peace After World War II

At the end of World War II, the leaders of the world had a clear vision of the horrors of war, and acted with resolution to bring wars to a halt through the creation of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, and by codifying the international law governing the use of force in Article 2 paragraph 4 and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. Article 2 paragraph 4 prohibited the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of members of the organization, a prohibition later extended to include all states. Article 51 provided for an exception in the case of an “armed attack”. These provisions have become customary international law and, importantly, also aquired the status of jus cogens or peremptory law from which there can be no exception or derogation by agreement.

A Vision of Perpetual War

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama and the United States are currently embarked on a policy based on the assumption of perpetual war. The implementation of this policy includes targeted assassinations through drone strikes and other means, the establishment of new drone bases throughout the northern part of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, and the development of new generations of drones some of which are as small as insects.

This policy has been implemented with little regard for the international law governing the use of force, and even less regard for the duty of the United States to contribute to the development of international law and institutions that can help ensure the security of the United States and other countries in the future.

These actions indicate that the United States has no current vision of peace as an overriding goal to be achieved, and no coherent strategy for actually achieving this objective.

Without the goal of peace, we are not likely to take the actions necessary to achieve peace, or to give those actions the urgent priority they should receive.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

In these circumstances, one is reminded of Pete Seeger’s famous song entitled “Where have all the flowers gone?” For the lyrics, click here.

Pete Seeger’s performance of this song is available on YouTube here.

See also, pasquetflowerponderings.blogspot.com, “Grandpa’s War – A Veteran’s Day Post,” November 11, 2011, which contains recollections of America’s recent wars, and a link to a clip of Pete Seeger singing ” Where have all the flowers gone” with a moving montage of photographs evoking American experiences of war, created by the TheSpadecaller in 2008.

Joan Baez, in a more recent performance of the song, can be found on YouTube here.

Marlene Dietrich’s recording of this song in English is also found on YouTube here.

For Dietrich’s performance of the song in French, see “Qui peut dire ou vont les fleurs?” here.

For her performance of the German version of this song, see “Sag mir wo die Blumen sind”, here.

Marlene Dietrich, in a version of perhaps her most famous song, “Lili Marleen”, written in 1915 and later a hit among troops on both sides during World War II, takes us back to November 11, 1918 and the terrible war that preceded the armistice on that day. Her recording of the song, in English, is found on YouTube here. The original German version of the song is found here.

Obama’s Vision of Perpetual War and International Law

In his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in Oslo, on December 10, 2009, President Obama said:

In the wake of such destruction (World War II), and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another world war. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations – an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize – America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

To begin with, I believe that all nations – strong and weak alike – must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I – like any head of state – reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.

Closely parsed, these statements are full of contradictions, as when President Obama affirms:

(1) “We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”
(2) “To begin with, I believe that all nations – strong and weak alike – must adhere to standards that govern the use of force.”
(3) “I – like any head of state – reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation”; and
(4) “Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.”

Affirmation (1) accepts violent conflict as inevitable. (2) states that all nations must adhere to the norms that govern the use of force. (3) states that he, the president, “like any head of state”, reserves the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend his nation; and (4) states he is convinced adhering to “international standards” strengthens those who do.

These contradictions in Obama’s thinking, it is submitted, have contributed to the incoherence of U.S. foreign policy, particularly when measured against the requirements of international law, and the historical burden of strengthening international law and building better international institutions, which is no less important today than it was in 1945.

Reading these excerpts and the whole speech reveals that the president does not have a clear vision of peace as the goal, or a strategy on how to achieve that goal. While he pays lip service to observing international law, he insists that he has the paradoxical right–“like any head of state”–to violate it if necessary, in his view. So much for the concept of international law governing the use of force.

Without the clear and overriding goal of peace or a strategy for achieving peace, it is hard to see how we and other nations can view as the highest priority taking the steps necessary to achieve peace.

President Obama and the United States currently seem to have no overarching vision of peace, or strategy for achieving peace. As a result, their policies and actions are not guided by the pursuance of this goal in a strategic sense, but rather only by the demands of meeting with expediency the challenges of the moment.

By way of contrast, consider, if you will, the vision of the founders of the United Nations in 1945, particularly as set forth in the Preamble and Articles 1, 2, and 51 of the Charter.

We in the United States, like citizens in other countries, need a strong vision of peace and a coherent strategy for achieving it. Consequently, we need a president who has such a vision, and is guided by it.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin approves of 1939 Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact and partitioning of Poland

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Russian President Valdimir Putin, in a meeting with historians, has voiced approval of the Molotov-von Ribbentrop non-aggression treaty signed on August 23, 1939, a week before the German invasion of Poland. In a secret protocol to the treaty, which Moscow did not acknowledge until 1989, Germany and Russia agreed to the partition of Poland between them.

See

(1) “Nichtangriffspakt: Putin verteidigt Hitler-Stalin-Pakt; Bei einer Historikerveranstaltung in Moskau hat Wladimir Putin den Hitler-Stalin-Pakt gerechtfertigt: Der sei keine schlechte Idee gewesen,” Der Spiegel, 7. November 2014 (13:39 Uhr).

(2) Tom Parfitt (Moscow), “Vladimir Putin says there was nothing wrong with Soviet Union’s pact with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany; Russian president says he sees nothing wrong with treaty with Nazi Germany that led to the carve-up of Poland – and blames Britain for destroying any chance of an anti-fascist front,” The Telegraph, November 6, 2014 (1:15 p.m.).

“Serious research must show that those were the foreign policy methods then,” he said, adding: “The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty with Germany. People say: ‘Ach, that’s bad.’ But what’s bad about that if the Soviet Union didn’t want to fight, what’s bad about it?”

Secret protocols of the pact in which the Nazis and the Communists agreed to divide up Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Poland into spheres of influence were officially denied by the Kremlin until 1989.

More than 20,000 arrested and captured Poles were executed by the Soviet secret police in the Katyn massacre in 1940. The Nazis began an extermination campaign that would eventually lead to the deaths of three million Jews in Poland alone.

Mr Putin appeared to imply the secret protocols continued to be a matter of dispute today, saying, “people still argue about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and accuse the Soviet Union of dividing up Poland”.

In 2009, the Russian leader condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact as “immoral” but said France and the UK had destroyed any chance for an anti-fascist front with the Munich Agreement.

This latest statement is is yet another in a growing number of pieces of evidence, consisting of both words and actions, that Putin has become an admirer of Adolf Hitler and is copying his methods.

Putin’s statements are an attempt to rewrite history.

What is particularly dangerous about his assertions is that there is no one in the West in a high position who is providing detailed, factual rebuttals of them.

With budget cuts and the transfer of the U.S. Information Agency to the State Department, U.S. “public diplomacy”, like that in other allied countries, is effectively dead. Consider, for example, the simple fact that the BBC World Service no longer operates under the supervision of the Foreign Office.

No one is calling Putin out for his lies and distortions of history, just as no one has bothered to refute in detail and in a sustained manner his preposterous international legal arguments or the blatant lies and misrepresentations his propaganda machine churns out, night and day.

The risk is that Putin, not hearing any rebuttals, may come to believe that his assertions are generally accepted in the West. Together with the policy of appeasement followed by the leaders of the United States and Europe in response to Russian invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea, and the ongoing Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine, Putin could easily assume that he could intensify his aggression in the Donbas without any significant adverse consequences.

France is still weighing whether to deliver “The Vladilovstok”, a Mistral-class attack warship and regional command and control system, to Russia in November (invitations to a November 14 delivery ceremony were sent out on October 8).

The EU is considering imposing further “sanctions” on additional individuals in Russia, though these are not really sanctions in the true sense of the word. The idea that such measures could do anything beyond assuaging the guilt of Europeans over doing nothing to defend the Ukraine is ludicrous.

The United States continues to refuse to provide the Ukraine with the military assistance and training, including “lethal” weapons, that Ukrainian President Petro Petroshenko requested many months ago. It is not even considering further sanctions, at least publicly.

We are living in a world where the structures of international peace and security are being hollowed out, losing strength and deterrent force every day, as the international order we have known for over 70 years begins to collapse.

The U.S. has demonstrated over the last six years that it is not capable of exercising effective foreign policy leadership in the world. Unfortunately, there is no one else with the clear vision and the iron will required to do so.

The earliest the U.S. might even begin to exercise such leadership in the world is January, 1917, after a new president and a new team take office. But there is nothing at all certain about that prospect.

One is reminded once again of the first stanza of “The Second Coming”, William Butler Yeats’ celebrated poem written after World War I, which reads as follows:

The Second Coming (published 1921)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats

The entire poem including the second stanza can be found here.

The Trenchant Observer

Russia poised for much larger military intervention in Ukraine

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Roger Cohen of the New York Times points to the grave dangers of further Russian aggression in the Ukraine, and the temptation Washington might feel to sacrifice the Ukraine in exchange for vital Russian assistance in making a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue.

See Roger Cohen, “The Iran-Ukraine Affair,” New York Times, November 10, 2014.

Cohen suggests Putin may have designs on all of the Ukraine, while pointing out the formidable military force he has amassed within and on the border of the eastern Ukraine. He reports:

…There is every reason to believe he has designs on all Ukraine. The West’s mistake has been to think that Putin is not serious in wishing to reconstitute the Soviet Union in new guise.

The current Russian buildup has all the signs of preparation for an offensive. Large, unmarked convoys of heavy weapons and tanks manned by personnel without insignia on their uniforms (like those who took over Crimea) have been seen rumbling toward the front lines in rebel-held territory. Sophisticated artillery and ground-to-air missile systems have been moved into position. Units all the way from the east and far north of Russia have been massed. You don’t move military units thousands of miles for nothing.

A retired NATO general who recently held talks with the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, told me that intelligence estimates are of some 45,000 regular Russian troops on the border; tens of thousands of Russian irregulars of various stripes inside Ukraine organized by a smaller number of Russian officers and military personnel; some 450 battle tanks and over 700 pieces of artillery.

“Ukraine has no real fighting capacity to face all this,” he said….

Cohen connects the dots, and draws the right conclusions.

Watch what Vladimir Putin does, not what he says.

Not only the future of the Ukraine — and freedom from tyranny like that East Germans escaped when the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago — but also the whole future of NATO and the Atlantic Alliance are at stake.

The U.S. should impose harsher sanctions on Russia today, for its ongoing military aggression in the eastern Ukraine and its undermining of the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014, including the ceasefire and 12-step peace plan it established.

See

“The Russia-Ukraine War: Minsk Protocol near collapse; What is at stake; Harsher sanctions against Russia needed,” The Trenchant Observer, November 3, 2014 (updated).

The Trenchant Observer