Archive for the ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ Category

Putin the aggressor, and the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Developing

One man, President Vladimir Putin, and one country, the Russian Federation, are responsible for launching an invasion of the Crimea and its annexation, and the invasion by special operations and irregular forces of the eastern Ukraine, particularly in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and the territory in between.

As the Ukrainian armed forces have tightened their noose around the so-called “pro-Russian separatists” (actually led by Russian citizens who are either current or former military intelligence officers), Russia has dramatically increased its directed flow of Russian “volunteers” (recruited and dispatched by Russia) across the border into the Ukraine.

In coordinated large-scale military operations, Ukrainian border posts and control centers have been attacked and/or taken over by “separatist” forces, throwing the border wide open. These forces appear to have included Russian special operations and irregular troops.

After the fall of Sloviansk to the Ukrainian armed forces and the retreat of the “separatists” to the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia has supplied pro-Russian forces with growing numbers of heavy weapons including tanks and increasingly sophisticated air-defense systems. The latter have been used in recent weeks to shoot down Ukrainian aircraft, including a transport plane whose downing led to the loss some 41 lives. Only days ago, another plane was shot down. A Ukrainian jet was also shot down by a missile which may have been launched in Russia.

Vladimir Putin, who launched his war of aggression and annexation in blatant violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter and its absolute prohibition of “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence” of any state, is morally and legally responsible for actions taken in the war he launched and which he continues to coordinate in the eastern Ukraine.

His efforts to maintain “plausible deniability” as he engages in the new Russian form of “stealth warfare” (e.g., “little green men” in the Crimea, subsequently acknowledged to be Russian special forces), are transparent and in vain in terms of shielding him from political and legal responsibility.

Just as he and Russia are complicit and responsible under international law for supporting the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Bashar al-Assad and his regime in Syria, Putin is responsible for the actions of the military and irregular forces he has launched against the eastern Ukraine in what is an ongoing and intensifying invasion and war of aggression.

Nor should we forget the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Putin and Russia in Chechnya.

He is a presumptive war criminal. A cold-blooded killer.

For the taking of a human life outside the framework of domestic and international law–which provides for self-defense and punishment-with-due-process exceptions–is, in legal and moral terms, simply murder.

Only an international or domestic court can make the authoritative finding that Putin is legally guilty of war crimes. One can only hope that some day, perhaps in the distant future, such proceedings will be held. In the meantime, we can draw our own conclusions from the evidence that is available. Certainly he deserves to be tried as an accused war criminal.

The next time Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, or Barack Obama sits down for dinner and a glass of wine with Vladimir Putin, they should have present in their mind that they are looking into the cold blue eyes and expressionless face of a presumptive war criminal responsible for the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of human beings.

We don’t know what specific orders and chain of command was responsible for the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17. However, it is worth noting that Putin has often responded to increased sanctions with an escalation (e.g., annexation of the Crimea), and increased “targeted sanctions” were imposed by the U.S. and the EU only a few days ago.

It is hard to imagine that “separatist” forces in the Ukraine, or even Russian forces operating within Russia, would be shooting down Ukrainian aircraft or presumed Ukrainian planes without Putin’s knowledge and assent.

In that sense, at a minimum, Putin’s fingerprints are on the trigger that fired the missile that downed Malaysian Flight MH17.

See

(1) Review and Outlook (Opinion), “The Downing of MH17; Putin is the one leader who quickly assigned blame for the disaster,” Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2014.

(2) Carsten Luther, “FLUG MH17: Dieser Abschuss verändert alles, Die Zeit, 18. Juli 2014.

“Indizien deuten darauf hin: Von Russland unterstützte Separatisten haben das Passagierflugzeug in der Ukraine abgeschossen. Der Konflikt erreicht damit eine neue Stufe.”

(3) Anne Applebaum, “The Malaysia Airlines crash is the end of Russia’s fairy tale,” Washington Post, July 18, 2014 (2:57 PM).

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

REPRISE: André Glucksmann, “The killing continues in Syria” (English translation (originally published August 28, 2012)

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

The following article was originally published here in English on August 28, 2012. The original version was published here in French on August 13, 2012.

The French text of André Gluckmann’s article on Syria and Vladimir Putin, published in Le Monde on August 11, has now been translated (in rather free form) into English.

See

André Glucksmann, “How Kofi Annan Allowed Putin To Become The Godfather Of Tyrants”, LeMonde/ Worldcrunch, August 14, 2012. from Le Monde, August 8).

Translation from the French, André Glucksmann, “Pendant les JO, la tuerie continue en Syrie,” Le Monde, 11 août 2012 (updated August 13, 2012).

An article by the Trenchant Observer on Glucksmann’s article, with concluding observations, was published here in French on August 13. An English version of that article (drawing on the WorldCrunch translation) is reproduced below.

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

André Glucksmann, “The killing continues in Syria”—Obama’s debacle in Syria — Update #74 (August 13) (translation)

André Glucksmann, an important French philosopher and writer, writes in Le Monde of August 11, 2012, that while the Olympic Games fascinate the world’s public and the tanks and the planes of Bashar Al-Assad  “spoil, by themselves, the pleasure of sensitive souls,”

the resignation of Kofi Annan is received in a complete summer silence. Nonetheless, when the UN peace envoy to Syria threw in the towel, it marked the end of a shameful fiasco. The affable Ghanaian diplomat and Nobel Peace Laureate, who has been both number one and number two in the international organization, displayed goodwill, humanitarianism and pacifism but yielded only catastrophic results.

As the UN’s number two, responsible for peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Rwanda, his passivity shielded the Hutu’s genocide of the Tutsi people. In 1994, 800,000 civilians were murdered with machetes over a three-month period whilst Kofi Annan refused to send 5,000 blue helmets to stop the genocide. Ten years later, he released a statement saying he could have personally done more to stop the genocide. Rather than being punished, he was promoted to UN General Secretary, a post he would assume from 1997 to 2006. During that time, he didn’t say a word as Vladimir Putin undertook to slash the living population of Chechnya by a fifth.

Were we to believe that this small people of one million inhabitants included 200,000 terrorists?

Glucksmann exlains why one should not have any hope for a change in the policy of Vladimir Putin, reminding us of his history:

Russia’s geriatric communist leaders have been replaced by a KGB member who knows neither scruples nor restraint. You have to be as naïve as a French diplomat or simply obsessed with elections, like Barack Obama and his European counterparts, to imagine for a second that the “executioner of the Caucasus” would bat an eye at the bloodshed in Aleppo, Homs or Damascus. “20,000 have died in a year!” cries the press and the NGOs. “Is that all?” Putin smirks, you can do better, Bashar al-Assad!

Don’t speculate about the charitable sentiments of the Russian leaders.  They have felt the wind of the cannonball, offended as they were by the sight of the streets of Moscow submerged by the opposition. Everything that can stop dead the liberating contagion of “the Arab springs” interests the camarilla (entourage of officials) concerned about its own survival. If Putin protects Assad, it is a potential Assad victory that will protect Putin. A bloodily repressed rebellion, like that in Chechnya, would serve as an example and a warning for the Russian people and its close neighbors.

The drama taking place in the Security Council has gone on long enough. We cannot wait forever to see if Putin (and his Chinese comrades) ever becomes a little teary-eyed or if one humanitarian fiber in his body responds to the conflict in Syria. The failure of Kofi Annan is that of an idealist international community: for twenty years it has left its fate up to the phony unanimity of the Security Council, submissive to the diktats of Saint Vladimir, patron of the Lubyanka.

***

From another quarter, Nicholas Sarkozy, former president of France and the person who provoked the world into undertaking the humanitarian intervention in Libya in 2011, has made strong statements critical of the lack of action by the new socialist president, François Hollande, in the face of the developments in Syria.

See Matthieu Alexandre (avec Matthieu Deprieck), “Sarkozy veut coincer Hollande sur le front syrien,” L’Express, 8 août 2012.

As far as the U.N. is concerned, according to reports, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is poised to name Lakhdar Brahimi as the new Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan’s successor.

See Mark Leon Goldberg “Can a New Special Envoy Move Syria Diplomacy?” UN Dispatch, August 13, 2012.

Nonetheles, it is important not to lose sight of some points which are essential for analysis of the situation in Syria:

1. The failure of Kofi Annan was at the same time a failure of Ban Ki-Moon, who has been just as responsible for Kofi Annan’s disaster as Kofi Annan himself.

2. Until now, the Secretary General of the United Nations has shown himself to be totally incapable of organizing actions aimed at putting an end to the barbarism in Syria. He wants to continue the talks of Kofi Annan, with a new chief of interviews.

3. The problem in Syria is a military problem, not a diplomatic problem. To turn it into a problem susceptible of a diplomatic solution in the future, it is necessary now to utilize methods that are more energetic than words.

4. At the present, there is no valid reason for the appointment of a successor to Kofi Annan as Special Envoy. That is the game of the Russians. One must simply not play it!

5. In the event Lakhdar Brahimi is appointed Special Envoy for Syria, (a) he should not accept the position; and (b) in the event he does, the countries which are tired of playing this game with the Russians at the U.N. should not collaborate with him, given the fact that his mission tends to attract all of the attention of the international press to his efforts and to what the Russians think, or say, or accept or do not accept. The time for this should be finished.

6. The Russians, like the Chinese, have played a role of acting in bad faith, of supporting the murderous crimes of the Bashar al-Assad regime.  Now, the West and the Arab countries and the other civilized countries of the world should search for a solution to the Syrian crisis on the path of facts, of actions, and never again on the roads of a dream world of formulations of beautiful words.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin’s wager: Russia’s rogue authoritarianism versus fundamental human rights and the existing international political and legal order

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

In a fatal error, Putin challenges the modern postwar international political and legal order

It is historicly ironic, and from Vladimir Putin’s point of view perhaps tragic, that Russia’s crowning achievement at the Sochi Winter Games culminated precisely when the Yanukovych government in the Ukraine began to stumble and fall. On the other hand, Putin had only himself to blame.

Since then, Vladimir Putin has overreached, and made the fatal mistake of undertaking actions that put Russia permanently at odds with the world’s international political, legal and economic order.

While formally created during and at the end of World War II (1939-1945), the system has roots that go back to Hugo Grotius and the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648. The idea for the United Nations can be traced back to the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, and the Covenant of the League of Nations and the founding of the League in 1919.

Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, the system of international law established within the framework of the United Nations Charter, including its bedrock principle prohibiting the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, has become the very fabric of international society, constituting principles that have been repeatedly accepted in countless treaties and agreements as binding norms of international law by virtually every country.

Now along comes Russia’s new Dictator to suppress within Russia fundamental human rights such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to a fair trial; to challenge the entire structure of the existing international political and legal order by invading the Ukraine, seizing the Crimea by military force and annexing it to Russia; and now threatening to invade the eastern Ukraine if the government of that country responds to Russia’s initial invasion by special forces and seizure of government buildings by force with its own necessary and legal use of force to reassert its control over its own government offices and territory.

Putin wants Russia to be able to invade the eastern Ukraine with special forces, and then to be able to decry any attempt by the Ukrainian government to restore public order as “crimes” against the Ukrainian constitution. He does so without mentioning his own crimes against the Russian constitution by suppressing civil liberties, or his own use of brutal force in putting down the rebellion in Chechnya–which included the commission of war crimes on a very large scale.

Putin and his lieutenant, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, accuse the Ukraine and the West of violating international law, as they sit on the spoils of Russian aggression in the Crimea, and openly threaten military intervention in the Eastern Ukraine if that country’s government moves with force to restore public order and the ordinary functioning of government institutions.

Like the case of Northern Cyprus, invaded by Turkey in 1967, or East Timor which was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975, Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea will never be accepted by other nations.

Nor will any further conquests in the eastern Ukraine, or of independent countries which formerly made up the Soviet Union, ever be recognized.

An invasion of the eastern Ukraine will indeed produce results, just not those Putin in his demented shortsightedness seeks to secure.

An immediate result will be stiffer sanctions from the U.S. and the EU, which moreover are likely to grow in intensity over time.

An invasion is highly likely to produce permanent enmity toward Russia in the Ukraine, and to strengthen the desire of Ukrainians, East and West, to join the European Union and, if necessary to protect their independence in the future, to join NATO as well (whatever time may be required to achieve this result).

An invasion is also likely to produce energetic responses from NATO aimed at Russia, if not immediately then at least over the intermediate term. To counter potential Russian aggression, large forces of American and other NATO-country troops are likely to eventually be moved from Germany to forward bases in Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The current drawdown of American forces from Europe, in time, could be reversed.

Europe will probably also undertake vigorous policies to reduce its consumption of Russian gas and oil, though this may take a few years.

Putin’s wager is that his domestic repression and suppression of freedom of the press, free elections, the right to a fair trial and other fundamental human rights will be a model others will want to emulate, or at least be willing to ignore.

His wager that wars of aggression involving military invasions and the annexation of conquered territories will not matter to other countries, which will be happy to look the other way and continue doing business with Russia, is not likely to be successful in the middle or long term.

To be sure, the slowness with which democracies respond to military challenges may appear to be acqiescence or appeasement in the short term, but in the intermediate to longer term the combined economic and military strength of the U.S., NATO, Japan and their allies will be able to contain Russian military expansionism while depriving Russia of vital opportunities to join the first ranks of nations in a wired and interconnected world.

Finally, Putin’s wager overlooks the vital forces within Russia itself, symbolized by courageous dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov, or even Communist party leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. These forces have visions of Russia that are deeply at odds with Putin’s embodiment of autocratic dictatorship at home, and wars of aggression abroad.

Putin’s wager may in fact hasten the day when his greatest fears are realized, the day the Maidan comes to Red Square.

The Trenchant Observer

After Geneva: Putin’s double game, and what to do about it

Monday, April 21st, 2014

(Developing—check back for updates)

Geneva agreement delays further sanctions; Russian non-compliance and new conditions; tacit acceptance of Crimean annexation; 40,000 combat-ready troops on border continue to threaten invasion; Western response

For recent commentary, see

(1) Andreas Umland (Kommentar), “KRIM-ANNEXION: Wie Putin den Westen austrickste,” Die Zeit, 18. April 2014 (1949 Uhr).

“Wladimir Putin hat sein Ziel erreicht: Die Genfer Erklärung imnpliziert, dass die Krim nicht mehr zur Ukraine gehört. Der Westen lässt Russland wieder einmal gewähren.”

(2) David J. Kramer, “Action, not words, needed for Ukraine,” April 21, 2014 (10:29 AM).

The response of the EU, the U.S., and NATO to Russian aggression in the Ukraine continues to be one of pacifism and an unwillingness to confront Putin which is so great that it amounts to appeasement.  For example, there was no mention of the invasion and annexation of the Crimea in the communiqué which was issued at the end of the four-party meeting between Russia, the EU, the U.S. and the Ukraine in Geneva on April 17, 2014.

The West has adopted no sanctions which can seriously be considered as aimed at forcing Russia to undo the annexation and return the Crimea to the Ukraine restoring the situation to the status quo ante prior to the invasion.

The West has adopted no serious sanctions against Russia for threatening an invasion of the eastern Ukraine with 40,000 combat-ready troops on the border fully equipped for an invasion.

The West has adopted no serious sanctions against Russia for having invaded the eastern Ukraine with special operations forces and others under their control, which have seized and continue to occupy public buildings through the use of armed force.

The next stage of sanctions which the West is threatening to adopt if Putin expands his invasion of the eastern Ukraine with regular military forces appears to be limited to the addition of more individuals and companies to the list of those targeted by individual sanctions.

On the military front, NATO and the U.S. have announced some token deployments of troops (e.g., 150 U.S. troops) to Poland and one or more of the Baltic nations which are members of NATO.

What the West has Forgotten

The West has forgotten the history of the Soviet Union, and Russia. Europe and the U.S. seem to have no memory of the methods, lies and subterfuge which were essential elements of Soviet diplomacy after World War II, as they took over one Eastern European country after another with lies, subterfuge, and where necessary assassinations of democratic opponents. The West has both forgotten this history and failed to recognize the fact that the new Russian leaders and apparatchiks have resumed the use of such methods in the conduct of Russian foreign policy.

Hitler, Goebbels, and Soviet leaders since Stalin have understood that the public has a very short memory, that the “Big Lie” must be endlessly repeated, and that non-official sources of news and information must be ruthlessly suppressed. Every assertion by the enemy that is at variance with the official propaganda and narrative of the party or the state must be vigorously, endlessly disputed, so as to create confusion in the minds of the public and to effectively suppress the real news about what is going on.

The greatest enemy of official propaganda, both Hitler and Soviet dictators have always known, is the truth.

It is not difficult to see and understand the implementation of this strategy by the current Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his apparatchiks such as foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.

Among the constantly repeated lies the Russians are propagating, and which are repeated again and again, is the assertion that the Kiev government, which was elected by a vote of parliament after President Viktor Yanukovych fled first Kiev and then the country, assumed power as a result of a “military coup”.  Yet there was no military coup, and indeed the military had nothing to do with Yanukovych abandoning the government and fleeing Kiev.

Another lie, constantly repeated, has been that the Kiev government is controlled by neo-Nazis and fascists. Even if in fact the Rightist sector is represented in the government, to a limited degree, it is very far from the truth to say they control the government, when the President and the Prime Minister come from the party most closely associated with Iulia Timoshenko.

The point is that, nurtured by 25 years of illusions that Russia might become like a Western country, Europe and the U.S. are having a very difficult time disabusing themselves of these illusions despite growing and incontrovertible evidence that they are false.

This evidence includes:

(1) Russian aggression against Georgia in 2008 and the fact that it still has troops occupying several Russian-speaking enclaves in that country;

(2) The harsh repression of fundamental human rights in Russia, including the right to a free press and freedom of expression, the right to engage in peaceful demonstrations, and the right to a fair trial; and

(3) Russia has become an authoritarian dictatorship where alternative versions of reality are no longer permitted to be transmitted through the press or the media. In a highly revealing move, Russia stopped transmissions by the Voice of America on local frequencies only weeks before the Crimean invasion.

Alternative versions of reality which question official facts cannot be permitted. The greatest enemy of Russian propaganda is the truth. That is why the truth must be suppressed and factual reports from outside the area whose media Russia controls must be vigorously contested and contradicted at every step of the way.

The greatest enemy is the truth, because if the truth is allowed to penetrate the bubble of propaganda, the whole bubble will burst.

It is in this context that we must understand Sergey Lavrov’s assertions that the U.S., the EU and the U.S. are violating the “agreement” reached in Geneva on April 17, 2014, or engaged in actions which violate international law, or his assertions that the government in Kiev is violating the Ukrainian constitution. This propaganda, which is dutifully and endlessly repeated in the Russian television and press, and by U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin in the Security Council whenever that body meets, is an integral part of a strategy which is based on (1) the “big lie” that Russian-speakers in the Crimea or the eastern Ukraine are under threat or being attacked; and (2) the “need” or asserted “right” of Russia to respond by the use of military force to protect those threatened Russian-speakers, or cultural nationals.  Hitler used the term “Volksdeutsche” in referring to cultural nationals as he claimed the same right Putin claims to intervene on their behalf.

It is in this context that the armed clash which occurred at a checkpoint in the eastern Ukraine on Sunday, resulting in the death of at least one person, must be considered. Russian camera crews were suspiciously on the scene very quickly, and it is far from clear that Ukrainian “Rightest Sector” supporters were behind it, as was immediately asserted in the Russian media. Students of history will recall that Adolf Hitler staged a fake attack on German soldiers by Polish forces, to provide a pretext for his invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.

The Rightest sector forces in Ukraine deny that they were behind the attack. It is entirely possible, if not probable given the unusual circumstances such as the presence of Russian television crews, that the operation was executed by Russian special forces in an effort to continue building a case for Russian military intervention in the eastern Ukraine.

In the light of Vladimir Putin’s uncompromising speech on April 17, delivered as his foreign minister was agreeing in Geneva for the militia and “protesters” to withdraw from the buildings they had seized in a number of localities in the eastern Ukraine, their subsequent refusal to do so, and the attack on the checkpoint on Sunday, such an intervention may indeed be likely, if not imminent.

As for the Geneva agreement, it served the obvious purpose of throwing a monkey-wrench into Western plans to adopt stronger sanctions against Russia for  (1) its military seizure and annexation of the Crimea; (2) its attacks in the eastern Ukraine by Russian armed forces and others under their control, who seized and continue to occupy a number of public administration buildings; and (3) its massing of 40,000-50,000 combat-ready troops on the Ukrainian border, in an obvious threat of invasion if Kiev does not accede to its demands regarding internal constitutional arrangements and other matters within its domestic jurisdiction.

The vagueness of the agreement in Geneva also leaves open to Russia the argument that the refusal of the militia and “protestors” in the government buildings seized in the eastern Ukraine is beyond their control, since Russia has no military or other forces in the eastern Ukraine, and exerts no control over the pro-Russian “demonstrators”.

Furthermore, in analyzing the conduct of Russia vis-à-vis any agreement, such as the April 17 agreement in Geneva, one must bear in mind that Russia was working very closely with Bashar al-Assad when he signed an Arab League peace agreement in November 2011, the agreements pursuant to Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043 (2012) under which al-Assad agreed to ceasefire provisions and observers to verify compliance, and the June 30, 2012 Geneva I agreement which established a process (clearly illusory) for a ceasefire and resolution of the conflict.

Al-Assad complied with none of these agreements, while blocking Western sanctions initiatives and gaining valuable time through signing them. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this history, and Russia’s diplomatic and military role in supporting the al-Assad regime, to see similar behavior now from Russia in relation to the Ukraine.

The Significance of the April 17 Geneva Agreement

At Geneva on April 17, Russia achieved a tacit recognition that its invasion of the Crimea should not be the subject of further dispute, while derailing efforts then underway to adopt stronger sanctions against Russia for the behavior described above.

What the West achieved was an agreement for an expanded team of OSCE observers to deploy to the region.  They also “achieved” the illusion of progress on the ground with withdrawal of militia and “demonstrators” from public buildings they have seized and still occupy in the eastern Ukraine, and a further undertaking not to continue such seizures.

If the U.S. and the EU quickly adopt really serious sanctions, e.g., for the invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and expand military moves in eastern countries of the NATO alliance, and the OSCE observers are robustly backed by the West, it is possible that the Geneva agreement of April 17 may play a useful role in defusing tensions in the eastern Ukraine.

However, it must be recognized that Putin and Russia represent a powerful military force that is moving, with great momentum, which will not be stopped or slowed until it encounters an equally strong opposing force. That force may consist of real economic sanctions that are implemented, and military moves by NATO that should make Russia think twice.

This would be a good time, for example, to launch a vigorous discussion within NATO about the need to permanently move the deployment of U.S. and other NATO troops forward to Poland, Romania, and Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. U.S. troops were stationed during the Cold War within hundreds of kilometers of East Germany and Czechoslovakia, where opposing Warsaw Pact forces were stationed. Given the changes in geopolitical realities revealed by the Russian invasion of the Crimea, a strong case can now be made that to deter future Russian military aggression against member states, NATO forces should be forward-deployed to where they might have a significant military impact in deterring or halting any such action.

Real, permanent economic sanctions should now be imposed against Russia for its invasion and annexation of the Crimea. As suggested previously, a good start would be to impose a total ban on financial transactions with, or doing any other business with, companies in the Crimea, or with other companies doing business with such companies. These sanctions should have the goal of eventually reversing the effects of the invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and should not be lifted until those conditions are met. They are limited and proportional measures of collective self-defense, which Kiev has or will formally request from NATO, the U.S. the EU countries, and other countries.

The U.S. should adopt these sanctions immediately, because it can, while the EU should adopt these measures or the closest approximation they can reach, as soon as they can. Other NATO allies or U.S. allies, such as Canada and Australia, should adopt such measures as quickly as they can.

Can we expect such concentrated attention and concerted action from Barack Obama and Europe’s leaders?

It does not appear likely on the record they have established to date for pacifism and appeasement. If Germany is not willing to sacrifice one half of one percent of its GDP in order to impose sanctions that might help to uphold the postwar military, political and economic order, appeasement may carry the day.

But at some point, hopefully soon, they will see behind Putin’s mask, and understand that he and Russia are a force, moving with great momentum, that will not be stopped until it encounters a countervailing force of equal strength. To reach that point, we can only hope that they experience a sudden infusion of insight and political courage.

Is the effort to uphold the U.N. Charter and the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state worth what it will cost, even when we are talking about a country that is not a member of NATO or any other military alliance with the United States?

Ask the war veterans who fought in the Korean War to repel North Korean aggression.

Ask the 500,000 veterans who fought in the 1990-91 Gulf War to repel the Iraqi invasion and attempted annexation of part of Kuwait.

Ask any serious student of diplomatic history or international law.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Is Putin like Hitler?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

For a strong opinion on why Russian annexation of the Crimea cannot be accepted, see Jana Puglierin, “Wir dürfen die Annexion nicht hinnehmen,” Der Spiegel, 1. April 2014.

Die Akzeptanz für Putins Annexion der Krim ist erstaunlich. Der Regelbruch darf kein Präzedenzfall werden, sonst ist es mit dem Frieden nicht nur in Europa vorbei.

A German minister’s comment that Putin had used the same methods in seizing and annexing the Crimea as Hitler had used in annexing the Sudetenland has created much consternation in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

See:

(1) “Hitler-Vergleich: Schäuble verteidigt Äußerungen zur Ukraine-Krise,” Die Zeit, 4. April 2014.

“Ich bin doch nicht so blöd”: Finanzminister Schäuble versucht die Diskussion um seinen angeblichen Nazi-Vergleich zu entschärfen. Die Empörung darüber hält allerdings an – Moskau beschwert sich offiziell über die “Provokation”.

Schäuble defended his comment as taken out of context by the media. The quote which caused the uproar is reproduced below:

“Schäuble hatte bei der Veranstaltung zu Wochenbeginn Parallelen zwischen Russlands Vorgehen auf der Krim und der Annexion des Sudetenlandes 1938 durch Nazi-Deutschland gezogen. Mit Blick auf ein mögliches Szenario hatte er den Schülern gesagt: “Das kennen wir alles aus der Geschichte. Mit solchen Methoden hat schon der Hitler das Sudetenland übernommen – und vieles andere mehr.”

(2) Jan Fleischhauer, “Außenpolitik à la Putin: Gebt uns das Elsass zurück!” Der Spiegel, 3. April 2014.

“Folgt man Putins Logik, sieht die europäische Landkarte bald ganz anders aus: Erst holen wir Deutschen uns die Siedlungsgebiete in Belgien zurück, dann reden wir ein ernstes Wort mit den Franzosen.”

(3) “Putin’s seizure of the Crimea and Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland: The comparison is accurate,” The Trenchant Observer, April 1, 2014.

Although the statement by Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is absolutely correct on the merits, the comparison of anyone with Adolf Hitler remains highly disturbing for many Germans.

There are still those in Germany who, if only at a subconscious level, do not want to be reminded of Hitler’s crimes, or of the fact that like Putin today Adolf Hitler gained popularity from violating international law and annexing the territory of other countries.

Demonstrating the point about Putin’s propaganda machine made below, Russia responded to Schäuble’s quoted statement by telling the new German ambassador in Moscow that the statement was an impermissible “provocation”. After invading the Crimea and annexing it to Russia, Putin and his propaganda machine know no shame.

Of couse, the actual comparisons that have been made have related to the methods used by Hitler to annex the Sudetenland. One might add the annexation or Anschluss with Austria in March, 1938.

The outraged responses to any comparison of Putin and Hitler serve an important purpose, however.

They open up the question, “In what ways is Putin like Hitler?”

Putin has actively supported Bashar al-Assad’s regime in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, thereby incurring international criminal responsibility as an accomplice to such crimes.

He has committed the international crime of launching an armed aggression against a sovereign state, the Ukraine.

He has annexed territory of another state seized through the illegal use of force in violation of Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, and peremptory norms of international law (jus cogens) from which there can be no derogation even by agreement between states.

He is the “butcher of the Caucasus” responsible for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Chechnya.

He has suppressed fundamental human rights in Russia, including the right to a free press and freedom of expression, and the right to a fair trial before an independent court.

He has invaded the territory of Georgia in 2008, and maintains Russian troops on Georgian territory today.

Finally, Putin is like Hitler in his use of propaganda. This includes “The Big Lie”. As Adolf Hitler is quoted as saying, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

Putin’s use of propaganda in relation to Russian aggression against the Ukraine and its seizure and annexation of the Ukraine has employed the tried and true techniques of Hitler’s and Joseph Goebbels’s propaganda machine, as further enhanced by Soviet leaders from Lenin and Stalin up to the days of glasnost under Mikhail Gorbachev.

As a formern KGB operative, Putin’s mastery of these propaganda techniques should not come as a surprise.

Nor should we be surprised by the lies being pedaled by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who assured John Kerry and the world that Russia had no intention of violating the territorial integrity or political independence of the Ukraine just days before its military takeover of the Crimea, or the repetition of the lies of Russian propaganda by U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin in the U.N. Security Council.

Russia has the propaganda toolbox, and has been using all of its tools in connection with Syria, first, and now the Ukraine. That represents a great similarity between Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler.

The Need for Further Inquiry: “Is Putin like Hitler, and how?

So, the comparison between Putin and Hitler is an interesting one, and one which merits both close examination and deep reflection.

Hitler tore up the League of Nations Covenant by invading other countries, symbolized by the seizure with German tanks of the grounds of the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague in May, 1940.

Putin, if his aggression against the Ukraine is allowed to stand, threatens to overthrow the postwar political and legal order based on the United Nations Charter of 1945.

Putin seeks to subordinate the sovereign will of the Ukraine by bargaining with other states over its internal constitutional arrangements, under threats of further aggression from an estimated 40,000 troops (or more) massed on the border with Ukraine and equipped for a rapid military incursion into that country.

Russia also seeks to subordinate the sovereign will of Ukraine by raising the price of gas exports in violation of existing concession agreements between the Ukraine and Russia, which provide for discounted prices as payment for an extension of the Russian lease on Crimean installations and the stationing of the Black Sea fleet on its territory.

The Russian rebuttal of this argument is particularly cute: Since the Crimea now belongs to Russia (as a result of its aggression!), it no longer needs to honor these agreements. In other words, a legal obligation in an agreement with another country can be extinguished by invading that country and appropriating the territory and assets which are being leased.

So, let the reader inquire and reflect on the question, “In what ways is Vladimir Putin like Adolf Hitler, both in the methods used to forcibly annex foreign territories, and in other ways?”

Whatever the taboos in political discourse may be in Germany, or elsewhere, at the end of the day readers should bear in mind the truth of an old aphorism:

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Appeasing the Aggressor: (Hybrid-) Pacifists in U.S. and E.U. give Russia a slap on the wrist for aggression and military intervention in the Ukraine

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Appeasement in Europe, 2014

The “hybrid-pacifists” who lead Europe and the U.S. may have been willing in some cases to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, but having departed Iraq and now withdrawing from Afghanistan, and following the NATO action in Libya in 2011 (with Security Council authorization), they are now only (in a few cases) willing to send forces to Africa in limited numbers, with Security Council blessings.

In terms of defending the vital national interests of Europe or Syria, they have become (or remained) diehard pacifists, who cannot imagine any circumstances in which real force might be used, or its threat even mentioned or displayed.

While the efforts of Angela Merkel and her foreign minister to engage Russia in the kind of dialogue that might reverse the momentum on the ground were worthy, for a while, it must now be recognized that they have failed.

The hybrid-pacifist leader of the U.S., Barack Obama, after giving into military pressure for “the surge” in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, and discreetly joining the multilateral efforts in Libya and Africa sanctioned by the Security Council, is now willing to use deadly force only by eliminating targets on the “kill lists” prepared for and aproved by the White House, where individual enemies can be destroyed by rockets from drones or secret special forces units where the risk of military engagement with another nation’s forces is non-existent. He was notably unwilling to actually use military force against Syria after al-Assad crossed his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta on August 21, 2014.

That moment, when he flinched and turned away from the use of force, was probably the green light that convinced Putin he had nothing to fear in the Ukraine.

So, we are where we are. Neither Europe nor the United States is prepared to stand up and really oppose Russian aggression in the Ukraine. There is not even a hint that they will move troops or do anything to make Russia think twice before committing further aggression.

In the face of the pacifism of Europe and the U.S. as they are confronted with military intervention in the Crimea, and both threats and actions backed by threats in the eastern Ukraine, the Russian aggressor faces an open field for further aggression, with no opposing military force to be seen, even in the distance.

The “sanctions” imposed on Russian and Crimeans prior to the Russian decision to annex the Crimea, announced on March 18, were laughable if their intent was actually to dissuade Russia from annexation of the Crimea or further aggression in the Ukraine. The derision they were met with in Moscow was fully merited.

The sanctions were not designed with a view toward actually influencing Putin’s and Russia’s actions in the Ukraine. They were reminiscent of the EU sanctions against Syria which probited gold transactions with Syria, or financing them.

What can be done?

Ultimately, with the pacifist leadership of Europe and the U.S., the West can only beg the Russian aggressor not to commit further aggression in the Ukraine or beyond.

They could, if they understood history and the present situation, impose serious economic sanctions. These might include, for example,

1. Extending targeted sanctions to include Putin’s closest associates, and even Putin himself. He after all, has been the architect and prime executioner of the aggression.

The problem is bureaucratic thinking, particularly in Europe but also in the U.S. and its non-European allies.

Sanctions are targeted against individuals and some companies. That is the bureaucratic and organizational tool that is available, once you’ve ruled out any really serious sanctions.

Many beleve such sanctions are the reason Iran (until now) has been more forthcoming at the negotiating table with the U.S. in Oman and in the five plus one (5 + 1) talks. This is far from established, however, and may have more to do with internal developments in the Iranian political system. In fact, much stronger sectoral sanctions imposed by the Security Council, the U.S., and the EU on Iran.

The effects of similar targeted insanctions in Syria are there for all to see: Nil. 170,000 dead, and counting.

What would real economic sanctions look like? Here are a few examples:

1. Europe cuts gas delivery orders from Russia by 25-50%.

2. Strict limits are established on Russian access to international banking and financial services sectors. Sharp restrictions on the tranfer of funds from and to Russia through the EU and the U.S. are set.

3. The U.S. repeals (or at least suspends) most-favored-nation trading status for Russia, thereby raising tariffs on Russian products in the U.S., with immediate effect.

4. The U.S. and the EU impose broader Limits on exports and imports, and financial services.

Putin has probably factored in sanctions into his calculus, betting they would be mild. Really tough santions might get his attention.

5. EU and U.S. legislation is adopted to prohibit any financial institution under their jurisdiction from processing financial transactions involving any individual or company in the Crimea, with a process for granting exceptions on a case-by-case basis, or doing business with any company or institution which processes such transactions.

The world is in an extrely dangerous situation, with four nuclear powers facing each other in a confrontation over the Ukraine. Many former nuclear arms control arrangements and the previous deployment of forces agreement between Russia and the West are no longer operating.

If NATO and the West do not respond much more forcibly, including through military exercises and the forward deployment of forces to strategic positions to defend against an invasion by Russia of the Ukraine proper or another country, there will be no opposing force to make Putin and his advisers think twice before engaging in further aggressive behavior.

Putin and his advisers are in an emotional and delusional bubble. Pinpricks will not pierce that bubble. Much stronger actions, implemented urgently–not over five years as with the Iranian sanctions–will be required both to burst that bubble and to mobilize other actors in Russia who can bring pressure on Putin to reverse his current course of action.

Above all, the peoples and leaders of the West must be brought to understand that the peace and prosperity they have known for the last 70 years were not given to them for free. The costs were paid by Allied soldiers in World War II, and by NATO and the Marshall Plan, both disproportionately funded by U.S. taxpayers. That peace and prosperity were also won through successful management of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and the nuclear show-down with the Soviet Union during the 1973 Yon Kippur war in Israel.

History reveals that the path of appeasement, whatever the short-term benefits of what Neville Chamberlain called “peace in our time” in 1938, have huge costs further down the road.

The challenge for everyone in the West is to change the thinking of their pacifist leaders, or replace them, while standing up and paying the price for upholding the postwar political and legal order enshrined in the United Nations Charter, in order to avoid war.

The situation is explosive. But appeasement of the aggressor is not going to improve it.

The Trenchant Observer

The fruits of pacifist foreign policies: Aggression in Ukraine, atrocities in Syria; Merkel’s fact-finding mission—a last chance to avert disaster?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

The new hybrid pacifism

The new, hybrid pacifism of Barack Obama and NATO countries has been obscured by Obama’s use of drones, and military operations begun long ago but now winding down in Afghanistan.

The military intervention of France and NATO in Libya pursuant to a U.N. Security Council mandate represented an exception to the general pacifism which characterizes Obama’s foreign policy, an exception and now rare case (outside of Africa) where military action is undertaken pursuant to authorization by the U.N. Security Council.

Other interventions by France and U.N. and African Union forces in Mali and the Central African Republic have reflected the paradoxical nature of current pacifist policies, which are hybrid in nature, admitting the use of military force to stabilize situations in African countries when there is a Security Council mandate or an invitation by the government of the target country.

However, often hiding behind simplistic interpretations of legal prohibitions, in effect ruling out the strong use of military force against powerful opponents when real blood and treasure must be put at risk, the new hybrid pacifism has the effect of ceding the playing field to ruthless countries such as Syria, Iran and Russia, allowing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and military invasions to effectively go unopposed.

On legal interpretations and justifications, see Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC, “Stepping Back a Moment – The Legal Basis in Favour of a Principle of Humanitarian Intervention,” EJIL Talk, September12, 2013.

The U.S. and other NATO countries, reeling from their losses in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little to show for their sacrifices, don’t want to live in a world where real military force may have to be used.

So they rule it out. U.S. and NATO military leaders, seemingly unaware of the impact of their words on adversaries, loudly proclaim they are ruling out the possible use of military force. This has occurred not only in the Ukraine, but also and repeatedly in Syria. These statements, like those of U.S. military leaders stressing the difficulty of taking military action in Syria, are essentially aimed at domestic audiences and allied governments while naively ignoring their impact on opponents.

Furthermore, it is painful to see military and NATO leaders allow themselves to get drawn into political debates, in public. These discussions should be conducted behind closed doors, without leaks to the press about what is going on or what leaders are thinking with respect to military action.

In Syria, this new, hybrid pacifism has been obscured behind cynical acceptance of Kofi Annan’s illusory six-point peace plan for Syria (and the promise of political settlement at the Geneva I and Geneva II peace conferences), and behind the simplistic legal argument that the U.N. Charter prohibits any military action (except self-defense) without the approval of the Security Council, even to stop the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, as in Syria.

Under this interpretation, Russia would have been allowed to install nuclear missiles aimed at the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1963, the genocidal war in the former Yugoslavia would never have been halted, and Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999 would have been allowed to proceed.

In a future world (after the Permanent Members’ veto has been eliminated), adherence to such a norm would be essential. In the meantime, we must rely on the closest approximations possible, limiting any such actions to the most narrowly circumscribed cases, where there is overwhelming support by the nations of the world for the action to be undertaken, and preferably when it is carried out under the authorization of another international organization.

In any event, this new form of hybrid pacifism has taken hold in America and NATO countries. As a result, Bashar al-Assad has been left free to commit his atrocities, which include not only the bombardment of civilian populations including hospitals and medical personnel, but also the arrests, torture, and executions in the night which do not make the daily news, and of which those who follow events closely only hear much later from international organizations when the latter report, for example, that maybe 80,000 people have “disappeared”.

Another, highly significant result has been Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine in February and March, 2014. This aggression follows that in Georgia in 2008, which NATO and the West allowed to stand, conducting business as usual with Russia afterwards. To be sure, Georgia was not blameless in the evolution of events. However, in the end Russian aggression through the illegal use of force across international frontiers was allowed to stand, without serious consequences for Russia.

Russia’s calculus in the Ukraine might have been very different had Anders Rasmussen, the Secretary General of NATO, not assured his members–and Russia–that options involving the use of force by NATO were not under consideration, and if, for example, NATO countries had put their military forces on alert, and NATO naval and air assets been strategically deployed within the region.

Now, however, absent a determined will to deploy force against the illegal threat or use of force, the pacifist leaders of the U.S. and Europe, and other NATO countries, must now resign themselves to the depredations of a Russian leader willing to invade neighboring countries in utter defiance of international law, and indeed the foundations of the post-WW II international legal and political order.

Given the current pacifism of the West, and given the fact that major consequences for Russia have already been triggered by its military intervention in the Ukraine, there is little to dissuade Putin from similarly using his military power to bring Georgia and Moldova (and other former Soviet Republics) back within the Russian “sphere of influence” or community of states.

China supports Russia, suggesting that it too might in the future be willing to settle its disputes with its neighbors through the use of military force.

Nonetheless, we need to recall certain hard-won lessons from history.

International law and order are in the end indivisible, for if the prohibition of the threat or use of force can be defied with impunity by one country in one part of the world, surely it can be defied by other countries elsewhere. When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1983, it is worth recalling, the military operation was named “Operation Goa”, recalling the precedent set by India when it invaded the Portuguese colony and enclave of Goa in 1961.

Obama’s pacifism, and that of Europe and NATO, have left a vacuum in Europe which Vladimir Putin appears ready to fill with Russian military forces. Even if his actions are delusional, and make no sense in reality as the latter is understood in the West, they have already had momentous consequences which will reshape economic and political relations in Europe and beyond for decades to come.

Further, Putin’s actions have produced a situation in which the Ukraine has become a tinderbox, while madmen are running around with torches in their hands.

War is by its very nature wholly unpredictable. What could happen, for example, if Russians started killing Ukrainians, and Poland decided to send military forces to support Kiev in exercise of the right of collective self-defense?

Impact on Nuclear Proliferation

One impact from Russian intervention in Ukraine is of exceptional significance for the future of international peace and security. Following Russia’s violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of the Ukraine in exchange for its surrender of its nuclear weapons, it is inconceivable that any arms control agreement with Russia could be ratified by the U.S. Senate so long as Putin remains in power–and probably long thereafter.

See Peter Spiegel, “Ukraine and the West: an international legal primer, Financial Times (Brussels Blog), March 2, 2014.

If one thinks carefully about the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine, it is obvious that Russia would have been extremely reluctant to engage in such behavior if the Ukraine still had the 1900 nuclear warheads on missiles it surrendered in 1994, when it also joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

One of the greatest impacts of the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine is likely to be the powerful impetus it will give to the forces of nuclear proliferation. Even in the context of the 5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, the invasion is likely to reduce the credibility of any guarantees of Iranian territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence to near zero, at least insofar as Russia is concerned..

A Last chance to draw back from the abyss? Merkel’s fact-finding mission

There may still be a slight chance to avoid unleashing the dogs of war, what the founders of the United Nations referred to as “the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind” (U.N. Charter, Preamble, below).

Russia and Putin appear to be under a kind of delusional spell which seems to result from believing their own propaganda, having stirred up a public which appears eager to use military force, in scenes reminiscent of the enthusiasm for war felt among the populations of the European powers in 1914 on the eve of and during the first days of World War I.

In these circumstances, Angela Merkel’s proposal to send an impartial fact-finding mission to the Crimea and the Ukraine should be implemented immediately. Putin has told Merkel that he agrees to the proposition.

The mission could be undertaken under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), or even an organ of the U.N. such as the Human Rights Council where Russia does not have a veto.

At the same time, it could be useful for NATO to place some military forces on alert and move military assets into place in case a need arises for them to be used.

Russia is spewing lies about what is going on in the Crimea and the Ukraine, and seeking to provoke violence which might provide a thin veneer of legitimacy to its legal claims that it is intervening in the Crimea to protect its nationals.

These claims should be rebutted immediately in official reports published by NATO and other countries. The fact that the transitional president of Ukraine has vetoed a bill which would have revoked the 2010 language law allowing use of Russian as a second language should be made known to every citizen in Ukraine.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev exchanged letters at the most critical moments of the crisis, when nuclear war was a most palpable possibility. Khrushchev sent one letter to Kennedy on Friday, October 26 which was conciliatory in tone:

If, however, you have not lost your self-control and sensibly conceive what this might lead to, then, Mr. President, you and I ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knots of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.

–”Krushchev letter of October 26, as received in the White House,” reprinted in Larson, “Cuban Crisis”, pp. 175-80, quoted in Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow, “Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis,” at p. 355 (2d ed. 1999).

Saturday, October 27, when an American U-2 was shot down over Cuba, a much harsher letter bearing the stamp of the Kremlin’s collective leadership was broadcast over the radio, adding new conditions to the offer in the Friday letter. Kennedy decided to ignore the second letter and to reply to the first (in what was referred to as “a Trollope ploy”, alluding to the acceptance of ambivalent gestures as a marriage proposal, in Anthony Trollope’s 19th century novels).

The West should now follow Kennedy’s example, and accept Putin’s acceptance of Merkel’s proposal for sending a fact-finding mission to the Ukraine, regardless of what he or the Russians have said since. Moreover, they should do so at breakneck speed, blasting through the diplomatic procedures that normally slow things down. The goal must be to get the first elements of the fact-finding mission on the ground in the Crimea within a matter of hours, not days. Time is of the essence.

Reports from the mission, including daily press briefings or updates, could then help defuse the war fever in Russia, affording Putin a gradual way to climb down should he become sufficiently enlightened to do so. Also worth bearing in mind is the fact that he may have unleashed organizational and bureaucratic forces which are not easily controlled, and may need time to be able to reverse course successfully when and if he comes to his senses and decides to do so.

The ends of the rope on which the knot of war has been tied must be loosened now, if at all possible, even at this late hour. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, assisted by her capable and experienced foreign minister, Walter-Frank Steinmeier, should lead the effort, with full support from the United States, France, Poland and other European and NATO countries.

The Trenchant Observer
(Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Obervateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivio)

At this moment, the following words from the Preamble to the United Nations Charter, in which the drafters explained their purposes, are particularly worth recalling:

PREAMBLE

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
• to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
• to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
• to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
• to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS
• to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
• to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
• to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
• to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

Michael Young of The Daily Star (Beirut): “Give Syria’s dead a chance to speak out.”

Friday, January 31st, 2014

More details of the atrocities in Syria continue to emerge. See:

Michael Young, “Give Syria’s dead a chance to speak out,” The Daily Star, January 23, 2014 12:25 AM.

Mark Landler and Ben Hubbard, “State Dept. Learned in November of Photos Said to Show Torture in Syria,” New York Times, January 22, 2014.

ian Black (Middle East editor), “Syrian regime document trove shows evidence of ‘industrial scale’ killing of detainees; Senior war crimes prosecutors say photographs and documents provide ‘clear evidence’ of systematic killing of 11,000 detainees,” The Guardian, January 20, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Friday, January 24th, 2014

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

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

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

Trainir and Eliot report,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

183 dead in Syria on January 14—Western intelligence meetings with Syria, the moral universe, and Geneva II

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the following earlier today:

Final death toll for Tuesday [14/01/2014]: Approximately 183 people killed in Syria.

The dead: (40 civilians including(7 children, 7 women, 2 teenagers) , 36 rebels, 39 YPG, 10 ISIS, 10 non-Syrian ISIS and Islamic fighters, 11 NDF, 31 regular forces, 6 unknown fighters)

by province: Aleppo(12 civilians), Dera’a(9 civilians, 3 rebels), Reef Dimashq(7 civilians, 3 rebels), Homs(4 civilians, 1 rebel), Idlib(2 civilians), Der-Ezzor(1 civilian).

We all need to pay close attention to what is ocurring on the ground in Syria, each and every day.

See also “REPRISE: The Olympic Games, and the Battle for Aleppo, Begin (July 28, 2012); Geneva II and the urgency of a ceasefire NOW,” The Trenchant Observer,
January 12, 2014. Update reports 697 people killed in nine days in Syria.

The Geneva II Peace conference scheduled to begin January 22, 2014 is unlikely to halt, or even slow, the fury of the ongoing civil war in Syria, and the wanton and systematic commission of war cimes and crimes against humanity by the Bashar al-Assad regime, and also by some if not many of the insurgents.

Meanwhile, Western intelligence agencies have met with Syrian officials regarding jihadist threats.

See Maria Abi-Habib, “European Spies Reach Out to Syria,” Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2014 (updated 10:41 p.m. ET).

AFP and Reuters, “Western intelligence ‘talking to Syria regime’,” Gulf News (GulfNews.com), January 15, 2014 (13:34 h). This report cites Western intelligence officials confirmation of contacts, and quotes Secretary of State John Kerry as saying he knew nothing about them.

BBC, “Syria says West talks to Damascus about Islamist rebels; Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister: “Many foreign intelligence agencies have visited Damascus”, BBC News, January 15, 2014 (10:18 ET). The BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet said informed sources had confirmed meetings between Western and Syrian intelligence officials.

Incredible! All the more incredible as Secretary of State John Kerry is quoted as saying he knew nothing of these meetings. More sheer incompetence from the Obama administration!

Who makes foreign policy in Washington and the capitals of the Western countries–the intelligence agencies or the elected governments which represent the people?

The civilized nations of the world cannot simply resume intelligence cooperation with al-Assad, without surrendering the last shred of any claim to moral authority which their countries may still have.

If we act as if we do not live in a moral universe where human actions have meaning and moral significance, as Barack Obama and other leaders who have followed or acquiesced in his vision of the world have done in Syria, we will create a self-fulfilling prophecy hurtling us all into a moral abyss. The consequences will be felt in every country, throughout the world. They are already being felt today.

Obama’s place in history is set, barring unforeseen miracles of redemption. Even if the Group of Five plus One and the Security Council conclude a nuclear deal with Iran to limit its nuclear program, the deaths of 130,000 Syrians (and counting) will weigh heavily on Barack Obama’s place in history, not to speak of his reputation for the rest of his life.

While America lies dormant in a deep isolationist sleep, that will not always be the case. When America awakes, as awake it must to deal with the horrific forces unleashed by Obama’s morally obtuse and utterly incompetent foreign policy, no amount of remorse or rueful apologies (as in the cases of Rwanda, or Srebrenice) will salvage Barack Obama’s legacy from the ashes.

In Syria, these ongoing atrocities must be stopped, now.  The Geneva II Peace Conference can be useful, if at all, only if it establishes as its primary and highest goal the establishment of a ceasefire throughout all of Syria.

The Trenchant Observer