Archive for the ‘CIA’ Category

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

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

developing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The original link was

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

Outlook for 2014 and beyond: Technology and the creation of increasingly powerful instruments of totalitarian control

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
–Lord Acton (1834-1902)

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
–Edmund Burke

The onward push of technology in general, and information technology in particular, brings George Orwell’s vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s vision in Brave New World (1932) more clearly, more palpably into view.

For a more contemporary example, see the German film, Das Leben der Anderen (“The Lives of Others”), which received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film in 2006. The movie is available in English, French, and Spanish, as well as the original German.

Technology’s relentless push places new capabilities in government officials’ hands, as new tendencies toward the creation of totalitarian instruments of oppression appear to sweep past all legal, historical and cultural restraints.

The new mantra of governments in democractic countries where minimal oversight and control of government actions still exists to some degree is that, “We do it because we can do it.”

Justifications are not lacking, for zealous officials in their efforts to control terrorist and other threats.

“What if,” they ask, “a nuclear bomb were exploded by terrorists in a major city?” Citing such examples, they conclude that everything is justified, and nothing is excluded.

The requirements of necessity and proportionality that existed in the past are increasingly lost. Thus, to protect society against terrorists, military and intelligence agencies move relentlessly toward doing everything they can to forestall both perceived and inchoate threats.

The relationship between ends and means–of central importance in both domestic and international law–is lost among officials which have succeeded in forging a secret dominion of secret action, where they are not in any meaningful sense held to account. Over time, they secure the acquiescence if not the enthusiastic support of elected government officials, and even of some judges. They develop doctrines such as the “state secrets privilege” which governments invoke to avoid judicial review of the  legality and constitutionality of their actions and programs.

At the same time, the number of individuals employed by the government and its contractors to protect the population and the state grows astronomically. Powerful commercial interests become fused with the technologoical imperatives and the drive to create ever greater capabilities–and to use them.

The national security officials pushing these programs frequently come from intelligence backgrounds where they are not accustomed to conducting their activities in a manner in which they are held to account before the constitution and the law.

Consequently, as we enter 2014 we are being pushed headlong into a future where the state holds in its hands incredibly powerful instruments of totalitarian control. The government, citing the need for secrecy and the classified nature of the information required for legal challenges, does everything it can to avoid effective judicial and constitutional review of its actions. Legal memoranda justifying secret programs are themselves held secret on the theory that their publication would undermine free and vigorous debate among government officials.

The paradoxical result is that while government lawyers are arguably freed up to produce legal justifications that will never see the light of day, citizens and their representative are denied their right to assess whether the government is acting within the law and the Constitution.

In the end, because in a democracy secret legal justifications lack validity and can have no legitimizing force, the government in effect simply fails to offer any legal justifications for its secret operations. The rule of law is broken, as the government operates outside the framework of legal and constitutional accountability which is the bedrock of a democratic state governed by law.

These are matters which are abundantly clear to first-year law students, but not apparently to ranking lawyers within the Executive Branch in Washington.

A government which proceeds in this manner has gone outside the framework of constitutional government under law. Secret laws, secret legal analyses, secret programs and secret activities whose legality cannot be assessed, are deadly assaults on the rule of law.

Yet they continue. They continue with the full backing of President Barack Obama, as revealed through his actions. Here, as elsewhere, we need to watch what the president does, and not what he says.

We assure ourselves that our elected representatives will safeguard our freedoms even in this new world where everything is known by government officials, and large private organizations such as Google and Facebook.

Yet when someone like the Director of the CIA, David Petraeus, is suddenly forced to resign over an affair after his e-mails somehow become known to intellgence officials shortly after the FBI tells him that their investigation has ended and that he will not be the subject of further inquiry, no one insists on knowing what legal authority the FBI used to secure these e-mails.  No one demands to know why FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce called David Clapper, the head of the NSA, on November 6, 2012 (as election results flowed in), and told Clapper about the affair, or why Clapper immediately called Petraeus and strongly urged him to resign.  Were the e-mails obtained through abuse of an FBI or NSA program? No one dares to focus on this question, or to investigate it tenaciously to the bitter end.  No one is held accountable.

Edward Snowden’s revelations in The Guardian and other leading newspapers throughout the world have opened a window through which we can now see how absolutely without limits U.S. intelligence agencies have conducted surveillance and made copies of the communications of everyone in the world, including those in the United States.

We know these capabilities have been and are used to identify individuals who become the objects of targeted killings by drone strikes, without judicial process, even when as in the Anwar al-Aulaqi case the target is a U.S. citizen.

We trust that these capabilities will never be “misused” by our government officials, while casting a blind eye to how similar capabilities are currently being used by dictatorships to root out and if necessary to destroy their opponents.

We want to think, “It couldn’t happen here.”

But in a sense it is already happening here. These activities–which seem to clearly violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures, if the words in the text and two centuries of constitutional interpretation have any meaning–have already had a chilling effect on free speech in the United States, and elsewhere. The precise text of the Constitution is worth recalling:

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Writers and journalists already weigh their words carefully, and the topics on which they choose to write. Self-censorship makes insidious inroads into habits of free thought. Many are in denial, and are loathe to admit that they themselves censor what they write.

But engage a writer in a deeper conversation, off-the-record.  Cross-examine a writer as to whether the current climate–resulting from the government’s surveillance operations, its extremely aggressive prosecution of any who have made classified information public, and even reporters to whom such information has been leaked– has affected any of their decisions regarding what to investigate, what sources to use, and how tenaciously to pursue their investigation, and you may be surprised to learn the degree to which writers and journalists are already pulling their punches.

What can be done?

Our answers to this question will be duly recorded by government surveillance programs and operatives. Of that we can be sure. Does that fact in and of itself affect our answers? If it does, extra courage may be required if we are to come up with effective plans of action to defend our liberties.

Still, is there any amount of collective courage that might be summoned, in a country which has nurtured and protected the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution for over 200 years, to reverse this onslaught of technological and commercial imperatives, growing government secrecy, and the creation of increasingly powerful instruments of totalitarian control?

If we don’t speak out and take corrective measures now, when will we? Can we imagine that it will become easier in the future? In the words of the Talmud, “If not now, when?”

Does anyone remember J. Edgar Hoover, and the abuses he committed with far fewer tools at his command?

How long can we assume that those who hold (or in the future may hold) these extraordinary and growing powers and the power of the state itself in their hands, will always act benevolently and to uphold the rule of law?

The Trenchant Observer

Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel

Friday, December 20th, 2013

The Trenchant Observer noted, quite some time ago, that torture will not be done with Obama, or with us, until we are all done with torture.

See The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 10, 2010.

That is because torture is an international crime, and there is no way it can be simply forgotten without first going through a process involving publication and admission of the facts and a judicial process or transitional justice process under judicial oversight.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Senate Intelligence Committee is now demanding public release of a 6,000 page classified report containing the details of the Bush Adninistration’s torture policy and its implementation, and release of the legal memoranda prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department purporting to uphold the legality of the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

It is of course not inevitable that this step in the justice process take place at this precise time, but rather only that–in a democracy–it will take place sooner or later.

What is going on in the Carolyn Krass confirmation hearings to be the top lawyer at the CIA is that the Senate Intelligence Committee is — finally — insisting that the secret legal memoranda that were used to justify the use of torture as an official policy of the United States be turned over to the Committee.

Those who apparently had knowledge of the program–CIA Director John Brennan first and foremost among them–are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the public release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

See “Editorial: Release the Torture Reports,” New York Times, December 19, 2013.

Much is at stake, including the core priniples of a democratic state governed by law, which require public legal justification of state actions, including those that are carried out in secret.

See

Spencer Ackerman (Washington), “Senate intelligence committee presses CIA to release torture report; Secret 6,300-page report details ‘enhanced interrogation’; “Lawyer nomination brings contention into public view,” The Guardian, December 20, 2013 (11.40 EST).

“The Carolyn Krass nomination to be General Counsel at the CIA, secret legal justifications and memos, and democratic government under the rule of law,” The Trenchant Observer, December 18, 2013 (updated December 19, 2013).

“Senate confirms John Brennan as CIA Director—with tally and breakdown of vote,” The Trenchant Observer, March 8, 2013.

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

“Secret Laws, the John Brennan vote, and the rule of law,” The Trenchant Observer, February 24, 2013.

The Senate Intelligence Committee now has an opportunity to take a major step toward restoration of the full rule of law in the United States.

The Trenchant Observer

The Carolyn Krass nomination to be General Counsel at the CIA, secret legal justifications and memos, and democratic government under the rule of law

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Should the President of the United States be able to conduct secret operations and activities without revealing to Congressional oversight committes the legal memoranda on which he is relying in making such decisions?

The subject came up, again, in the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearings for Carolyn Krass to become the CIA’s top lawyer, on December 17, 2013.

The cute argument made in defense of the refusal to hand over certain memos relating to torture and other covert activities, prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), is that they could not be turned over because they were “pre-decisional” and needed to be kept secret to protect free debate among the president’s advisors.

This argument (with its echoes of a claim of Executive Privilege) is misleading and obscures the central fact that, in a democracy, congressional committees with responsibility for oversight of covert activities need to know the legal basis on which the president has authorized certain covert or secret activities. Without access to the written legal justifications upon which the president relied, they cannot effectively exercise oversight of the legality of the activities involved.

What the country needs is for top lawyers, from outside the national security coterie of lawyers who have been in the national security loop in the government while they or other lawyers supported torture, extraordinary renditions, targeted executions, and a whole range of covert activities in different countries, to come in and assume the top legal positions at the CIA, the State Department and other key institutions.

Such new lawyers from the outside will bring with them a fresh perspective, and a fresh approach to what is really legal or not. That is both the reason their appointment will be fiercely resisted and the reason such resistance must be overcome. Those in the government who have been working on these issues may well have an inkling of how an unbiased eye might appraise their work.

Only then will the Congress and the American people have confidence in the constitutionality of the covert actions undertaken, and in their legality under international law.

Government of the people, by the people, and under the rule of law cannot abide secret legal justifications for covert activities, whose very occurrence is itself wrapped in secret.

See Josh Gerstein, “Judge orders Obama foreign aid order released, Politico, December 17, 2013 (6:16 p.m. EST).

See also, on the question of whether in a democracy the government can rule by secret laws, upheld by secret courts, and never exposed to the light of day,

“Secret Laws, the John Brennan vote, and the rule of law,” The Trenchant Observer, February 24, 2013

Secret laws, secret legal analyses, secret legal memoranda, and secret judicial decisions, it should be recognized, represent key building blocks for a totalitarian state.

See “The Disposition Matrix”: Is Obama laying the foundations of a future totalitarian state?” The Trenchant Observer, July 18, 2013, (Updated July 27, 2013).

In this article, the Observer explains,

The disposition matrix is just one piece of architecture which when used by others in the future could form part of a totalitarian state.

Other elements would be total surveillance of individuals in society who might pose a challenge, any challenge, to those who control the machinery of the state. Another would be the ability of the government to influence and move public opinion by using personal data to sway voters in electoral campaigns, as the Democrats and Obama did so successfully in the 2012 elections.

Another element would be the use of secret laws and secret legal justifications, and the state secrets privilege, to avoid public debate and public challenges in the courts to governmental actions violating basic constitutional rights (e.g., free speech, due process, Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.).

A final element would be control of the flow of information, an enterprise in which Google has been obtaining vast experience, dealing with authoritarian regimes throughout the world.

No nominee to be General Counsel of the CIA or any nominees for to be a top legal official at another agency should be confirmed if he or she is unwilling to commit to sharing with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees the legal basis, expressed in written analyses and memorands, for covert activities and operations authorized and carried out by the President of the United States.

The essential and core elements of a democratic state governed by the rule of law are at stake.

There can never exist such a thing as the secret “rule of law”.

The very concept is an oxymoron. The reality of efforts to use secrecy to avoid accountability before the law (as interpreted not only by the Executive but also by the Congress and by the Supreme Court) represents a mortal threat to any democracy, including the American Democracy.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See

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

Rosenberg reported,

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

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

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

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

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

See also

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

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

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

On CIA payments to other high Afghan government officials, see

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

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

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

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

See the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

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

Friday, November 1st, 2013

For background, see the following articles:

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

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

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

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

(developing story)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is to be done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are really in a pickle, as they say.

The Trenchant Observer

New strategy and accompanying military action needed in Syria; Justification under International Law

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

President Barack Obama’s strategy for dealing with Syria has demonstrably failed.

That strategy consisted mainly in looking the other way, providing fitful and ineffectual covert support, and actively blocking the efforts of others to mount some form of military action that might have brought the widespread commission by the al-Assad regime of war crimes and crimes against humanity to a halt. These have now culminated in the use of chemical weapons by al-Assad on a large scale against his own people.

The covert action has had minimal results, involving coordination of the supply of arms by Qatar and Saudi Arabia to the insurgents, apparently with the assistance of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The results of this policy, as long predicted here and by knowledgeable experts, has been a brutal civil war in Syria whose death toll now exceeds 100,000, according to the latest U.N. update.  However, the number is  growing by hundreds if not thousands every week, and likely to be much higher than even this appalling number.

Military action to stop the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime in Syria has been needed for a long time, but now must be undertaken by the West and allied Arab countries in order to avoid an exploding regional conflict between Shi’a and Sunni militias and regimes, on the one hand, and to prevent Syria from becoming the first chemical weapons battleground since the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), if not since World War I, with the concomitant acquisition of chemical WMD by al-Qaeda affiliated and other terrorists groups, on the other.

The options available to the West and the Arab states, following two and a half years of dithering and blocking actions by the Obama administration, are not enviable.

Nonetheless, what is needed is a military and diplomatic strategy that will produce results and outcomes that safeguard the vital interests of the West, the Arab countries, and other civilized nations in the world.

Before considering that strategy, it will be useful to highlight mistakes that have been made and which must not be repeated.

First, the illusion of a negotiated agreement with Bashar al-Assad should be discarded at the outset. Al-Assad has not kept a single agreement with the international community, from the Arab League peace plan of November 2, 2011, to the agreements reached with Kofi Annan regarding the cessation of hostilities in the first half of 2012. Moreover, al-Assad has proven, time and time again, that he is a master of playing off different countries one against the other, with promises of this or that, or negotiations on this or that to get his approval, all coming to naught.

The lesson is clear: The new strategy should not seek al-Assad’s agreement to any kind of peace agreement short of an agreement to hand administration of the country over to a NATO or United Nations Authority under the protection of a NATO-led or United Nations Peacekeeping Force, in a manner similar to the establishment of IFOR under the agreements reached with Slobodan Milosovich of Serbia and the leaders of Bosnia and Croatia by Richard Holbrooke and the United States in Dayton, Ohio on November 21, 1995.

Second, with over a year and a half of experience with the Russians following their and the Chinese veto of a mild U.N. Resolution on February 4, 2012, the West and the Arab states should not waste their efforts on negotiating anything with the Russians in the Security Council which does not include:

1) the immediate authorization of the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria; and

2) immediate steps for the implementation of a binding cease-fire in Syria,  which is obligatory on Syria with or without its consent under the terms of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.

The use of military force should be aimed at securing these objectives, not the agreement of al-Assad to this or that proposal. Above all, no negotiation of the final political and military arrangements should be undertaken before a cease-fire takes effect. The disastrous precedent of Kofi Annan and the U.N. seeking to negotiate elements of the outcome with al-Assad in exchange for his cessation of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity should not be repeated. Ever.

The military campaign against al-Assad’s government and its ongoing atrocities should be pressed until the commission of these crimes ceases, and a NATO-led or U.N. force and accompanying International Authority for Syria are established and put in place.

The military actions required to achieve the above strategic objectives should be publicly justified under international law, along the lines suggested here in earlier articles, as temporary measures of protection undertaken to protect the population of Syria against the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity and their effects. The justification should be very narrowly tailored to the facts of the Syrian case, as suggested previously here.

On justifications under international law for military intervention in Syria, see the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

Syrian Options: The White House’s sophomoric understanding of International Law, June 14, 2013.

The U.N. Charter, International Law, and Legal Justifications for Military Intervention in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #83 (September 1), September 1, 2012.

Continuing massacres in Syria, at Daraya and elsewhere; legal justification for military intervention — Obama’s Debacle in Syria —Update #78 (August 26), August 26, 2012

REPRISE: Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria— Update #68 (July 25), July 25, 2012

Military Intervention to establish “no-kill zones” and humanitarian corridors—Syria Update #9 (February 25), February 24, 2012

Military action without clear strategic objectives will not be effective. The sooner the West comes to grip with these harsh realities, the better the outcome will be.

When a strategy has failed, spectacularly, the most important thing is that it not be pursued further, and that it be abandoned as an approach to the solution of the conflict.

Military action is now urgently required. But it should be undertaken as a means for securing the goals of an effective strategy, not just to satisfy the demands of the press or other countries to take some action in response to the massacre of Syrian citizens by the use of chemical weapons on a large scale.

The Trenchant Observer

For previous articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria Page, or click here.

Extraordinary rendition in Italy: Inside details revealed in 2003 CIA Milan abduction of Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

See

Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Washington Bureau), “U.S. allowed Italian kidnap prosecution to shield higher-ups, ex-CIA officer says,” McClatchy, July 27, 2013.

Greg Miller, “Ex-CIA operative convicted in Italy of kidnapping Muslim cleric is detained,” July 18, 2013 (updated July 19 8:58 a.m.).

See also

“European court of human rights condemns Macedonia for “extraordinary rendition” to cooperating CIA officials, in Khaled el-Masri case,” The Trenchant Observer, December 28, 2012.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And the claims of law for justice, the claims of international law for punishment of violators of fundamental human rights so that justice be done, are dogged, persistant claims. They will not go away. Violators will always have those claims hanging over them. They will always be subject to arrest and punishment for their crimes, even if it takes 50 years to bring them to justice.

The Trenchant Observer

The United States and Syria: Incoherent policy

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

The Daily Star is one of a handful of outstanding English-language newspapers in the Middle East, and does not have an anti-Western bias. When it criticizes the United States, or Europe, its comments are directed at policies. The following editorial consequently merits close attention, because its caustic judgments come from writers who live in the vortex of events in the region and yet are not ill-disposed to the United States as a country.

See

Editorial, “Incoherent policy,” Yhe Daily Star, July 17, 2013 (12:43 AM).

The editorial is cogent, and makes its telling points in a few words:

Over the last two years, many have waited with bated breath over U.S. foreign policy in the region, and where exactly it was headed. But now it appears that all along there was no grand plan, and it is precisely as haphazard and shortsighted as it has seemed since the start of the Arab Spring.

Where once it seemed as if the American vagueness was based on calm and reasoned wisdom, a pragmatic approach gained after decades of experiences and learning in the Middle East, it now appears that its foreign policy, or lack thereof, actually stems from a gross misunderstanding of events on the ground.

This policy wavering would be a luxury if it were not for the thousands of lives being lost in the region, 5,000 a month in Syria alone, the U.N. said Tuesday. On this issue, the U.S. has flagrantly procrastinated and dithered….American “support” for the opposition, which transpires as little more than words, is perhaps more harmful to the rebels, and civilians than Russian arms handed to the regime.

This same tangled foreign policy approach has been witnessed in Egypt, where, three weeks after the ousting of Mursi and the U.S. still appears as lost and befuddled as ever, clearly not knowing what to do or who to ally with….

The only good that can come from this confused and incoherent policy is that now the veil has been removed. The people of this region can see the U.S. for what it is, and while the election of President Barack Obama once seemed to symbolize a future full of hope for the Middle East, his presidencies now stand for a nightmare.

These are words worth reflecting on and which call for taking urgent remedial action.

The Trenchant Observer

“The Disposition Matrix”: Is Obama laying the foundations of a future totalitarian state? (Updated July 27, 2013)

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

A recent article in The Guardian on Obama’s kill lists and the now highly bureacratized killing machine used to extirpate individuals on the lists, highlights for those who missed it that the kill lists and the bureacratic machinery for using them have now been re-baptized as “The Disposition Matrix”.

This wonderful euphemism is presumably from John Brennan, the president’s teacher and moral guide in all such matters, and now Director of the CIA. Brennan, it will be recalled from his confirmation hearings, preferred to refer to “enhanced interrogation tecniques” (“torture” as defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture) as “EIT’s”. Presumably, we will soon be referring simply to the “DM” and individuals who were dealt with through “DM techniques”, or maybe just “DMT” for short.

George Orwell wrote of the abuse of language as the sure methodology of totalitarian movements and states. One of the key concepts is to divorce words from any unpleasant images or feelings which they might conjure up.

So, we can see how euphemisms such as “extraordinary rendition” avoid the unpleasant associations of a kidnapping squad which, acting under the authorization of the American president but in flagrant violation of both domestic and international law, grabs someone off the street and “renders” him to a CIA “black site” (secret jail) or to a foreign power where he is likely to be tortured, and held in conditions completely violating his fundamental human rights (right to a lawyer, right to due process, including trial by an independent court, in public, for specific violations of public laws, etc).

Or, how “enhanced interrogation techniques”, or “EIT’s” for short, avoid associated images of a man experiencing drowning as he is waterboarded, or his body and mind are abused in other ways which, if actually described accurately, would call up associated images which in ordinary people produce feelings of physical disgust.

Now, at the pinnacle of our Orwellian linguistic pyramid we have the stunningly opaque yet descriptive euphemism of “the disposition matrix”. This would be a wonderful title for a movie, and undoubtedly will become one.

What is different, however, is that in the past such movies were usually told from the point of view of the victims or the potential victims, whereas in the White House and other agencies the term is used with pride, without self-doubt, by today’s bureaucrats entrusted with the efficient protection of society from terrorists who would do us harm. (The bureaucratization of this killing machine brings to mind other killing machines, and places like Auschwitz and Treblinka.)

Not to worry: Citizens need not be troubled by the images that would come up if factually descriptive words told us exactly what the operations entailed, here the killing of another human being without due process of law (as that term is defined in international human rights treaties and indeed the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States).

The disposition matrix is just one piece of architecture which when used by others in the future could form part of a totalitarian state.

Other elements would be total surveillance of individuals in society who might pose a challenge, any challenge, to those who control the machinery of the state. Another would be the ability of the government to influence and move public opinion by using personal data to sway voters in electoral campaigns, as the Democrats and Obama did so successfully in the 2012 elections.

Another element would be the use of secret laws and secret legal justifications, and the state secrets privilege, to avoid public debate and public challenges in the courts to governmental actions violating basic constitutional rights (e.g., free speech, due process, Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.).

A final element would be control of the flow of information, an enterprise in which Google has been obtaining vast experience, dealing with authoritarian regimes throughout the world.

Already Google “filters” what results you see in a search by nationality, language, and algorithms based on your previous search history. One result, even now, is that you are less likely to see press reports and opinion critical of U.S. government actions and policies which are published outside the U.S. (e.g., in England, Canada, or Australia) or in a language other than English. Further, Google has the ability to delay the indexing of blogs or other pages, so that you cannot see critical opinion in a timely manner, in real time.

For example, let’s see how long it takes Google to index this article. See “Do search engines delay indexing of blog posts they don’t like?” The Trenchant Observer, June 5, 2013.

Another way to control the flow of information is to go after its source, for the government to go after its critics, as in the James Risen case, or to intimidate journalists so that they engage in self-censorship. These are old tools typically used by authoritarian regimes. What is different is the magnitude of the threat and its reach as the result of new technological capabilities.

The pieces are not all in place. But they are moving in that direction.

For details on “the disposition matrix”, see

Jonathan S. Landay and Marisa Taylor (McClatchy Washington Bureau), “Experts: Obama’s plan to predict future leakers unproven, unlikely to work,” McClatchey newspapers, July 9, 2013.

Greg Miller, “Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists,” Washington Post, October 23, 2012.

Ian Cobain, “Obama’s secret kill list – the disposition matrix; The disposition matrix is a complex grid of suspected terrorists to be traced then targeted in drone strikes or captured and interrogated. And the British government appears to be colluding in it,” The Guardian, July 14, 2013 (14.00 EDT).

Daniel Byman and Benjamin Wittes, “How Obama’s ‘Disposition Matrix’ Decides The Fate Of ‘Terrorists’,” The Atlantic, January 3, 2013.

See also Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, “Obama is laying the foundations of a dystopian future; The US leader’s successors will be able to target anyone, say Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick,” Financial Times, July 10, 2013 (7:36 p.m.).p

How can we, and the American Republic, survive the personal tragedy of Barack Obama and its nefarious consequences? Obama is the protagonist of a Greek tragedy, the story a would-be hero brought down by a tragic flaw. In his case, that flaw is hubris, unbounded arrogance, and something approaching disdain for the views of those who diagree with him. We are talking of behavior manifested by action, not the endless stream of words issuing from the White House.

He is a president who imagined himself as entering history in the company of such real heroes as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, but who will instead be remembered as the “Bush and Cheney on steroids” who systematically undermined the Constitution in a quest for unlimited power over the lives and fates of others.

In this quest, characterized by secret legal opinions and secret judicial decisions and covert activities, “the covert commander in chief” sought to become and ultimately succeeded in becoming responsible to no one–not to Congress, not to the courts, not to the informed judgments of citizens with access to the truth about government actions, and not to the judgments of other states regarding the legality of his actions and policies under international law.

In view of the above, we must ask ourselves:

How will we ever re-establish the complete and full rule of law in the United States? This will be the most critical question facing Americans for the remainder of Obama’s second term, and perhaps far beyond.

The Trenchant Observer

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