Archive for the ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ Category

REPRISE: Syria—As Christmas approaches, the assault on civilization continues

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

First published on December 22, 2013

The bloody fighting in Syria continues, with a renewed assault on Aleppo by the al-Assad regime. President Obama is off to Hawaii for a 17-day vacation over the Christmas holidays. European leaders will soon be traveling to their homes to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season.

Yet in Syria, and Aleppo, the message of Christmas is distant, drowned out by the roar of war machines.

The world has turned its back on and its attention away from Syria. When the Free Syrian Army headquarters of General Salim Idriss was overrun by jihadist fighters last week, the U.S. announced that it was halting weapons deliveries to the Western-backed insurgents. Some of their weapons had fallen into jihadist hands. Response: “Fold ’em up (as in a game of cards). We’re out of here.”

For Obama and other leaders, this was just the denouement needed to absolve oneself of moral or any other kind of responsibility for what is happening to civilians in Syria, and the insurgents to whom we pledged our support.

Last week, Washington and Britain announced the suspension of non-lethal aid into northern Syria after the Islamic Front, a new alliance of several rebel factions, seized a border crossing and weapons warehouses from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.
–“Salim Idris has failed as leader of Syrian rebels, coalition says Syria’s opposition coalition seeks support from international backers for a new armed force after losing faith with Gen Salim Idris, the commander of the rebel Supreme Military Council,”

Damien McElroy “Salim Idris has failed to make an institution,” The Telegraph, December 16, 2013 (5:09 p.m. GMT)

See also

EFE/El Cairo, “Un bombardeo contra Alepo causa decenas de muertos; El régimen de Bachar el Asad intensifica su ofensiva contra la ciudad rebelde con ataques aéreos; El régimen sirio se ensaña con Alepo,” 22 diciembre 2013 (19:39 CET).

Markus Bickel (Cairo), Syrien-Konflikt; Der Diktator als Staatsmann; Rund einen Monat vor Beginn der Syrien-Konferenz nahe Genf geht Machthaber Baschar al Assad in die Offensive. Es sieht sogar so aus, als könnte er sich als Bollwerk im Kampf gegen Al Qaida inszenieren, Frankfurter Allgemeine, 21 Dezember 2013.

Obama’s callous indifference to the war crimes being committed in Syria every day, and the support or acquiescence of other Western and Arab leaders, has set into motion forces that will reap the whirlwind.

Europe and the United States will be fighting the terrorism spawned in Syria, as its “blowback” returns to their shores, for the next generation.

Everything is connected. And that is the most important point about foreign policy that Obama doesn’t get. Moreover, with some five years of experience, it appears fairly clear that he will never get it.

Leadership must come from somewhere else. On foreign policy, Obama is already practically a lame duck in the eyes of many foreign leaders. To be sure, they must still reckon with the power of the state he leads.

Returning to Aleppo, however unpleasant it may be for us personally, as individuals, we must keep Syria and what is going on there ever in our minds.

What is going on there, and what is not not going on here or in the West, will affect hundreds of millions of people in the world, if not billions. This is true precisely because things are connected.

The Trenchant Observer

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends commemoration of 1937 Japanese “Rape of Nanjing” (Nanking)

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the first official commemoration ceremony marking the anniversary of the 1937 Japanese massacre at Nanjing (known in history as “the Rape of Nanking”).

300,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians were reportedly mssacred and some 20,000 Chinese women raped.

At this important ceremony, commemorating what some believe was the single greatest atrocity at one time during World War II in either the European or the Pacific theater, Xi made important statements reaffirming China’s dedication to upholding international peace.

See

Mich Song, ed., “President Xi attends China’s first state commemoration for Nanjing Massacre victims,” Xinhuanet, December 13, 2014 (16:41).

The Xinhuanet article reports as follows:

Japanese troops captured Nanjing, then China’s capital, on Dec. 13 of 1937 and started a 40-odd-day slaughter. More than 300,000 Chinese soldiers, who had laid down their arms, and civilians were murdered and about 20,000 women were raped.

Xi, who wore a white flower on his lapel, said the ceremony was held to commemorate innocent victims in the massacre, compatriots killed by Japanese aggressors, as well as revolutionary martyrs and heroes who devoted their lives to victory in the war against Japanese aggression.

“The purpose of the memorial ceremony for Nanjing Massacre victims is to recall that every good-hearted person yearns for and holds a firm stance of peace, but does not try to prolong hatred,” Xi said.

“Only if everyone cherishes and safeguards peace, and only if everyone remembers the bitter lessons of war can there be hope for peace,” he said.

The Chinese and Japanese people should live in friendship from generation to generation and make joint efforts to contribute to the peace of humanity, he said.

“We should not bear hatred against an entire nation just because a small minority of militarists launched aggressive wars. The responsibility for war crimes lies with a few militarists, but not the people. However, we cannot at any time forget the severe crimes committed by aggressors,” he said.

People who love peace and justice must remain highly cautious and firmly oppose words and actions that glorify war, he added.

Japan first invaded the northeast portion of China in 1931. In 1937, it invaded the rest of the country.

The Trenchant Observer

Human rights abuses by Putin’s puppets: The seventh report of the OHCHR on the human rights situation in the Ukraine (with link to full report)

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Draft

By launching a war of aggression in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine, in flagrant violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter, Russian President Vladimir Putin is directly responsible for the deaths, both military and civilian, that have occurred in the Ukraine.

The latest (Seventh) report by the U.N. OHCHR on the human rights situation in the Ukraine (see below) makes for chilling reading.

Behind all the lies and distortions of Putin and his war propaganda machine, lie the grisly facts regarding what has been happening in the Donbass and the Crimea following the Russian invasions of these regions.

The so-called “separatists” in the Donbas were led by Russian special forces and intelligence agents from the very beginning, when they lauched a highly sophisticated and coordinated campaign to seize government buildings and then to organize the establishment of so-called “People’s Republics” in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. When the Ukrainian government sought to put down this “rebellion”, as permitted by domestic and international law, regular Russian military forces intervened directly, engaged them, and pushed them back.

On September 5, 2014, in an effort to forestall the imposition of harsher “stage 3″ sectoral sanctions by the EU and the U.S., Russia and the leaders of the two “People’s Republics” signed an agreement with the Ukrainian government to implement an immediate ceasefire and follow a 12-step process for the restoration of peace and stability in the region.

The resulting Minsk Protocol of September 5 and the ceasefire and other measures it provided for, including a withdrawal of foreign fighters and a sealing of the frontier with Russia, has broken down.

Full compliance with its provisions remains, however, the best hope for ending the war and reestablishing peace in the Donbas.

For insights into the atrocities and other violations of fundamental human right committed by the so-called “separatists” in the Donbas and in the Crimea, see

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Serious human rights violations persist in eastern Ukraine despite tenuous ceasefire – UN report,” November 20, 2014.

For the full text of the 49-page Report, wich is summarized below, see

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine,” 15 November 2014. The text is found here.

See also “U.N. report describes widespread violations of human rights in areas of Ukraine under Russian or Russian puppet control,” The Trenchant Observer, October 9, 2014.

The OHCHR summary of the Report states the following:

GENEVA (20 November 2014) – Civilians have continued to be killed, unlawfully detained, tortured and disappeared in eastern Ukraine, and the number of internally displaced people has risen considerably despite the announcement of a ceasefire on 5 September, according to a new UN human rights monitoring report released Thursday.

“Violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law persist,” the report states. “The situation in the conflict-affected area is becoming increasingly entrenched, with the total breakdown of law and order and the emergence of parallel governance systems in the territories under the control of the [self-proclaimed] ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the [self-proclaimed] ‘Luhansk people’s republic’.”

“The continuing presence of a large amount of sophisticated weaponry, as well as foreign fighters that include servicemen from the Russian Federation, directly affects the human rights situation in the east of Ukraine,” the report adds. “Guaranteeing the protection of those who live within the conflict-affected area must be of the highest priority. A peaceful solution must be found to end the fighting and violence, to save lives and to prevent further hardship for those people living in the eastern regions.”

According to the UN Human Rights Office, from mid-April to 18 November, at least 4,317 people were killed and 9,921 wounded in the conflict-affected area of eastern Ukraine. Since the ceasefire began, from 6 September up to 18 November, 957 fatalities were recorded – 838 men and 119 women, although some may have been killed prior to the ceasefire, with the data only recorded later. The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) has also sharply increased from 275,489 as of 18 September to 466,829 on 19 November, according to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.*

The report itself, the seventh produced by the 35-strong UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, covers the period between 17 September and 31 October 2014. The report states that serious human rights abuses by the armed groups continued to be reported, including torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, summary executions, forced labour and sexual violence as well as the destruction and illegal seizure of property.

The report itself, the seventh produced by the 35-strong UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, covers the period between 17 September and 31 October 2014.
The report states that serious human rights abuses by the armed groups continued to be reported, including torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, summary executions, forced labour and sexual violence as well as the destruction and illegal seizure of property.

Reports on the use of cluster munitions in both urban and rural areas must be urgently and thoroughly investigated, the report states, as must all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law.

“Accountability and an end to impunity are at the core of ensuring peace, reconciliation and long term recovery,” the report stresses, adding that crimes must be promptly investigated, perpetrators held accountable and victims provided with an effective remedy, as well as with the required help and support.

It notes that secret and illegal places of detention continue to be in operation, with individuals detained incommunicado and allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Thousands of individuals remain missing. Ad hoc graves continue to be found and exhumed to establish the identities of those buried in them and to allow their bodies to be handed over to relatives.

There were also worrying accounts of the conduct of prisoner exchange processes, including reports that individuals were actually deprived of their liberty for the purpose of the exchange, the report says.

Severe curtailment of the economic, social and cultural rights of people in Ukraine is also of grave concern. One particularly pressing concern is the threat of interrupted treatment of nearly 60,000 HIV-positive and around 11,600 multi-drug resistant tuberculosis patients in all regions, due to non-completed tenders for the purchase of essential life-saving medicine.

“Discontinuation of treatment is life-threatening for more than 70,000 patients and may lead to the uncontrolled spread of epidemics,” the report warns. “Provision of essential medicines is one of the core obligations of the State to ensure the satisfaction of the minimum essential level of the right to health.”

The situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is marked by reports of increasing human rights violations and protection challenges, especially for vulnerable minority and indigenous groups, and most notably for the Crimean Tatars.

issioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein welcomed the decree, which he hoped would place a greater, sustained emphasis on the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. However, he stressed that good laws and policies need to be accompanied by a genuine political commitment to implement them.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein … Zeid expressed deep dismay at the lack of significant progress on accountability for violations and abuses perpetrated so far, and for continued violations of the ceasefire.

“The list of victims keeps growing. Civilians, including women, children, minorities and a range of vulnerable individuals and groups continue to suffer the consequences of the political stalemate in Ukraine,” Zeid said.

“Respect for the ceasefire has been sporadic at best, with continued outbreaks of fighting and shelling resulting in an average of 13 people a day being killed during the first eight weeks of the ceasefire,” he added. “All parties need to make a far more whole-hearted effort to resolve this protracted crisis peacefully and in line with international human rights laws and standards.”

* Figures contained in this paragraph have been updated beyond the period covered by the report. The casualty figures are estimated by OHCHR and WHO; and the figures for displacement by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

First published, November 11, 2011

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

The Vision of Peace After World War II

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

A Vision of Perpetual War

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

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

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

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

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama’s Vision of Perpetual War and International Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE — The fruits of pacifist foreign policies: Aggression in Ukraine, atrocities in Syria

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Viewing the developing Russian-Ukrainian war from the vantage point of March 3, 2014, it is striking to note how much of what has happened since was in effect a tragedy foretold. It has indeed been a tragedy foretold, like in a Greek tragedy where the audience (here, some in the audience) know the outcome, but the chief protagonists don’t, as they proceed to go about playing their tragic roles.

The question today (October 21, 2014), of course, is whether we can see further tragedies about to unfold and yet may still act to avert what the Greeks might have considered to be irreversible Fate.

*******

REPRISE — The fruits of pacifist foreign policies: Aggression in Ukraine, atrocities in Syria; Merkel’s fact-finding mission—a last chance to avert disaster?,” The Trenchant Observer, March 3, 2014.

First published on March 3, 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 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

Ommitted: Preamble to the United Nations Charter

A rudderless U.S. foreign policy: Obama flounders in dealing with the Ukraine, ISIS, and Ebola

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

Draft

While the United States has finally, and belatedly, begun military actions in Iraq and Syria to slow the advance of ISIS forces, the country is still led by a White House of extraordinary incompetence. This is not about politics, but rather about the ability to formulate coherent strategies, policies and plans, and then to execute them effectively.

If this is what “driving from the back seat”means, it is a total and unmitigated disaster.

We have witnessed this disaster in the making, with Obama’s contradictory and indecisive policies toward Syria as far back as 2011 and 2012, when he refused the unanimous advice of his principal foreign policy advisers to provide military support to the Syrian opposition forces. His refusal to do so had the result of helping Syrian president al-Assad beat back the insurgents, and opened the space for the growth of what became known as ISIS, which now threatens not only Iraq and Syria but countries across the world, from Australia to the U.S. and Europe.

One element of Obama’s indecisiveness led to pulling the rug out from under Turkey in 2012 as it was poised to intervene in Syria, according to well-founded reports.

At the moment, Turkey stands over the border from Kobanê in Syria, a town with a large Kurdish population which has been coming under increasing pressure from ISIS notwithstanding U.S. and perhaps allied airstrikes and which, according to some reports, could soon fall into the hands of ISIS.

In order for it to intervene, Turkey is demanding a commitment from the U.S. that it will also include in its goals the defeat of the Syrian regime, which has caused the deaths of over 200,000 persons in Syria through barbarous atrocities including war crimes and crimes against humanity on a grand scale.

In Iraq, despite U.S. and allied coalition airstrikes, and even the use of Apache heliocopters, in addition to the successful formation of a new Shiite-led government after the departure of former president al-Maliki, reports speak of the realistic possibility that all of Anbar province could fall to the ISIS fighters. ISIS already holds a broad swathe of territory in the province.

While the U.S. has done an admirable job of putting together a coalition to fight ISIS, at least on paper, it has yet to prove that it is capable of leading and coordinating an effective military campaign and coalition war against ISIS, as demonstrated not by statistics on the number of airstrikes launched (self-regarding) but rather by strategic objectives and results obtained on the ground.

At the moment, Obama would appear to be not following the advice of his generals. When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey stated in Congressional testimony that conditions could conceivably arise under which he would advise the president to send ground combat forces to Iraq, he was immediately contradicted the following day by President Obama who, in a military setting, firmly asserted that he would not introduce combat troops into Iraq.

With respect to the Russian-Ukrainian war, Obama was so slow in reacting that the Crimea had been annexed before the U.S., NATO and the EU could get around to offering a serious response. On economic sanctions, the U.S. did succeed in getting coordinated sanctions adopted with the EU, but only after much delay. Since September 5, when the sanctions were agreed and NATO also announced the creation of a rapid deployment force, the ceasefire called for in the Minsk Protocol of September 5 has stopped the advance of Russian troops, tanks and artillery, but has proven shaky particularly in the Donetsk region and around the Donetsk airport.

Over a month after the sanctions were agreed and the Minsk Protocol was signed, Russian troops remain in the Ukraine, and neither Obama nor the EU have taken any concrete initiatives to force their withdrawal.

With respect to the Ebola epidemic, currently out of control in West Africa in Liberia, Sierra Leone and possibly Guinea, which potentially threatens the entire world, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have played a superb role in leading the response to the crisis on a technical, medical level. They have laid out the case that if 70% of new cases are not confined to Ebola treatment centers by November 20, the exponential growth in the number of infected individuals may reach 1.4 million in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January 20.

Obama has pledged to send 3,000 military personnel, but they will not be on the ground before November. Meanwhile the contagion of the disease continues to explode. Resources and above all the coordination of efforts have been slow to materialize on the ground. This is a situation which calls for massive and extraordinarily urgent action, but the U.S. has only said what it is going to do, and that’s it.

The common thread to these ongoing failures of foreign policy, to which many other examples could be added, is Obama’s emphasis on what the U.S. is going to do–no more, and what other nations need to do. The emphasis almost seems to be on what the U.S. is not going to do, in a world in which time is not of the essence.

The focus is self-regarding, on what the U.S. and others are going to do, and not going to do, and not on the realities of the challenge on the ground and what is required to meet that challenge within the time limits that those realities impose.

Whether with respect to the Ukraine, ISIS and al-Assad in Syria, the defense of Anbar province and beyond in Iraq, or halting the explosion in Ebola infections, we are faced with policies which include many necessary elements (e.g., the replacement of al-Maliki with the formation of a a more inclusive regime in Baghdad (a work in progress, yet to convince the Sunnis), but which are blind to the urgency of the moment, to quickly developing military advances of ISIS on the ground, or the rapid explosion in the number of Ebola cses in West Africa.

Returning to the situaiton in Kobanê, one has the impression that Obama is far more interested in winning a battle of wills with the Turks over whether to also target the al-Assad regime than he is in protecting the hundreds of thousands of human beings who will be affected by a continued failure to take effective action. The airstrikes are important, but not sufficient to achieve the goal.

Obama doesn’t seem to grasp the importance of symbolic and strategic victories or of momentum on the ground.

The Daily Star in Beirut expressed the general exasperation with Washington’s policies in the Middle East in an Editorial published on October 10. The paper wrote,

The vastly contradictory statements coming from the U.S. government over the last few days are emblematic of a wider problem: that the Obama administration apparently has no coherent strategy when it comes to Syria, and now Iraq, and is playing the whole thing by ear. But this absence of any tangible policy will have ramifications far wider than simply the countries directly involved.

Despite a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS, backed by a coalition of some 60 countries, the U.S. is confused and confusing. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. was looking closely at the idea of a buffer zone along the border with Turkey, inside Syria. Hours later the Pentagon and the White House said (the) option was absolutely not on the table.

This flip-flopping really makes one wonder where decisions are being made, and by whom….

(T)the mistakes of Obama’s administration have done untold and likely irreparable damage.

And the vacuum that has been left appears to have given oxygen to the most extreme and most dangerous groups around the world. The destruction and loss of life happening now across the Middle East is only the beginning. The aftershocks of current political indecisiveness will be felt for generations.

The Trenchant Observer

International law and the use of military force against groups in Syria

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Preliminary draft – developing

There is considerable confusion over the legality under international law of taking military action against groups and targets in Syria.

This has led some governments participating in the coalition against the so-called Islamic State (or ISIS, ISIL, or Da’eesh) to support military action within Iraq but not within Syria.

It should be helpful to clarify the different legal authorities under international law under which military force may be used in Syria.

These break down into three broad categories:

(1) Action againsr ISIL in Syria may be taken in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter “in the case of an armed attack”. ISIL has launched and is currently engaged in such an armed attack.

If Iraq issues a request for military assistance in repelling that attack, other states may use force that is necessary and proprtional to defending against the attack.

Collective self-defense is a valid justification for U.S. and allied air strikes and land action against ISIL in Syria.

With respect to Kobane, in particular, given the scale of the attack on Iraq and in response to a request from that country for assistance in collective self-defense, Turkey would be justified under international law in sending ground forces into Syria to attack ISIL forces and to repel the attack on that border city.

(2) The second justification for using military force in Syria, whether against ISIL or the Bashar al-Assad regime itself, would be to halt he commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a broad scale, until such time as the U.N. Security Council can take effective action to halt the commission of these crimes.

The justification is somewhat novel under international law, but it is submitted makes eminent good sense if narrowly drafted within the framework of the Security Council’s duty to implement the “responsibility to protect” resolution adopted in 2006.

See

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

(2) “Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #24,” The Trenchant Observer, April 8, 2012.

In the case of ISIL, this would be a second legal justification, in addition to that of collective self-defense.

In the case of the al-Assad government, which has not committed an “armed attack” against Iraq, this would constitute the main legal justification for taking military action against Syria.

As set forth in considerable detail in previous articles on the legality of humanitarian intervention in Syria to halt al-Assad’s atrocities, the objective of such military intervention should be to halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad government, under extraordinary circumstances and then only until the Security Council can take effective action.

Whatever objections Russia may have at one time been prepared to make to such an argument, resting on an overly mechanistic interpretation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter, it is hardly now in a position to make in view of its invasions of the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine.

(3) The third category of actions involve taking military action within Syria against jihadist or al-Qaeda related groups which have not been involved in an armed attack against Iraq or, arguably, even the large-scale commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Here, the weakness of the international legal arguments used by the U.S. to justify drone attacks and other uses of force outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan war theater comes fully into view.

The U.S. argument turns essentially on assertions that the war against jihadists is global in nature with the result that the war theater is also global, and that certain interptetations by the U.S. of the laws of war or humanitarian law are (1) valid within the framework of humanitarian law itself; and (2) take precedence over the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political indedendence of any state contained in article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, which is universally recognized as a kind of “super” or mandatory law (jus cogens), from which there can be no derogation.

The legal arguments used to support this third category of military actions within Syria are widely disputed outside the U.S. government, and do not appear to be supported by a wide number and variety of states.

That is why the recent U.S. air attacks on the Khorasan group, an al-Qaeda cell deemed to be particularly dangerous, at the same time the U.S. attacked ISIL targets in Syria, created much confusion, particularly in the absence of a detailed written legal justification for either kind of attack.

What was provided was a letter to the U.N. Security Council justifying the attacks both as collective self-defense and in the case of the attack on the Khorasan group as individual self-defense by the U.S.

The latter justification consisted in the mere statement of a conclusion, and failed to address the three self-defense requirements of immediacy, necessity, and proportionality.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited.

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

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Russia and the Ukraine—The Big Picture

Originally published April 24, 2014

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

It is historically 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

Obama in Control: No lethal aid for Ukraine, no combat troops in Iraq no matter what, and lethal aid for “moderates” in Syria

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Friday night fatigue can affect one’s musings on world affairs.

Much of the fatigue this week comes from the news,

The Russian-Ukrainian War

Russia is sending another white truck convoy into the Donbas, probably again without Ukrainian authorization or ICRC and OSCE inspections prior to crossing the border, as in the two prior cases, bearing who knows what cargoes in each direction.

Such violations of Ukraine’s terrirorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence have become so numerous that they have become routine.

Like repeated rapes of a helpless victim from whom onlookers look away so as not to see, the Russian rape of Ukraine’s sovereignty is repeated often, probably across unmarked tracks in the middle of the night—and by white-truck convoys of who knows what.

In terms of looking away, it was highly significant today that the New York Times didn’t even carry its story on the Poroshenko visit on the front page, relegating the little issue of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and the visit of its president to the back pages.

The repeated rapes of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity have become so routine that almost no one still bothers to object.

Those who seek to investigate and throw light on the Russian invasions are beaten up like the BBC news team this week, or the local legislator who wrote about the dispatch of the unit of a Russian soldier to the Ukraine who was killed there. Or they are labeled as subversive, as in the case of a prominent NGO of mothers of soldiers who pressed too hard for information about soldiers who had died or disappeared in or near the Ukraine.

In America, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gave an extraordinarily eloquent speech before Congress about what is involved in the Russian-Ukrainian war, calling to mind John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in West Berlin on June 26, 1963. He then met with Barack Obama, who ruled out giving the lethal aid that he has for months been requesting.

The body language in the photos and videos says it all: Obama does not publicly embrace, with positive energy and enthusiasm, the one leader in the world who personifies the struggle for freedom in the face of military aggression, and who has been orchestrating with great courage the defense of his country against Russian intervention.

Obama may still mouth pretty words about freedom from time to time, but for the Observer his pacifism and appeasement toward Putin, and the incredible record of incompetence he has built over the last six years, have driven home the fact that when it comes to foreign policy he lacks substance.

Obama’s reception of Petroshenko in the White House showed how cold-blooded and petulant the U.S. President has become. He was obviously peeved at Poroshenko for appealing directly to Congress for lethal aid. The package of non-lethal assistance which Obama announced yesterday was paltry, on the order of $50 million dollars foe a country engaged in war with a nuclear power with still perhaps the second strongest military on the planet.

Obama’s stated rationale for refusing lethal aid was pathetic, sounding as if it had not been updated since March: the provision of lethal aid might provoke the Russians to further acts of military aggression. Only days before, NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, U.S. General Philip Breedlove, had described the troop positions of Russian military forces within and on the border of the Ukraine as being arranged to dictate terms to Kiev, or to take Mariupol, while maintaining open suppy lines to the “separatists” in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas which they control

One of the greatest tests of a president is whether he (or she) can ascertain and react to the most urgent threats facing the country. This week, President Obama focused on taking the battle to ISIS or the self-denominated “Islamic State”.

In doing so, he failed to understand the magnitude of the threat represented by Russia, whose army sits astride two regions of the Ukraine following military invasions and annexation of one of them, the Crimea.

Obama may also have been cowed by big business which, in full-page advertsiements in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers, pressured him not to adopt sanctions against Russia that went further than those the EU imposed. The arguments put forward by the American Association of Manufacturers and the American Chamber of Commerce were lame in the extreme. Here, however, it is campaign contributions and political support—money, in a word—that counts, not the logical strength of arguments for a policy.

The War Against ISIS

In Syria and Iraq, Obama seems determined to use the least amount of military force possible. This led to an open display of civilian-military tensions this week. After Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff Martin Dempsey stated in Congressional testimony that circumstances could conceivably arise that could lead him to recommend the sending of combat troops to Iraq, the next day, Obama went out of his way, before a military audience, to declare that he would not send ground troops to Iraq. Period.

The military was probably not pleased with this put-down of their leader.

The administration’s argument that the Iraqi’s must take both political and military actions to repel ISIS have merit, but miss the essential point that they may not be sufficient to turn the tide on the battlefield within the time frame needed.

The decision to arm the “moderate” rebels in Syria with $500 million of arms, training and equipment is over two years’ overdue. But the situation has changed. One cannot supply rebels whose goal is to defeat al-Assad and tell them it must be used only to fight ISIS. It won’t work.

The U.S. needs a coherent startegy toward Syria, but doesn’t have one.

The challenge of devising a coherent approach to ISIS and Syria is daunting. Had Obama acted to arm the rebels and take direct military action against Syria to halt the comission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale (which would lead to over 200,000 deaths by 2014), ISIS would not have the weapons, men, money, and control of territory they have today, or represent the overwhelming threat that they have become.

A successful strategy toward ISIS and Syria would require not only effective military action against ISIS within Syria, but also aid to the “moderate” rebels to enable them to fight both ISIS and al-Assad’s forces in order to bring to a halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Such a strategy would require taking a clear stand against the barbarism of both al-Assad and ISIS, and defending Western values of respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

Confusion in Threat Perception, Priorities, and Strategic Responses

$50 million in non-lethal aid for the Ukraine, $500 million in lethal aid and training for the “moderate” rebels in Syria.

These actions signify a confusion of priorities and means that is stunning, but wholly consistent with Obama’s leadership of U.S. foreign policy through tightly-controlled decisions by him and his White House foreign policy team, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”, whose exploits have been detailed in earlier articles here.

Because the president sets the national agenda, his confusion over priorities affects the press and all of us. That is why the New York Times story on Poroshenko’s visit was buried in the back pages

Obama seems to have no plan for turning back Russian military aggression in the Ukraine, other than to continue down the path of apeasement, taking care not to provoke Putin by supplying lethal weapons to Kiev.

One last thought or feeling can be shared:

The reception given Poroshenko by Obama, including his flat refusal to supply arms and other lethal aid, and the palty amounts of non-lethal aid announced, made yesterday a day of shame for America. The defense of freedom in the world and opposition to military aggression faltered.

From all of Obama’s beautiful words and speeches, the only figure that sticks in the mind is that of a man utterly out of his depth, unable to perceive grave strategic threats to the country or devise effective responses to those he sees.

Of greatest importance to the president, it seems, are the domestic political consequences of foreign policy actions, his own control of every aspect of foreign policy, and the management of his foreign policy narrative through carefully crafted words.

Filled with hubris, he remains determined to impose his own will in implementing foreign policy, in a world where others do not fully understand the issues and he is unable to genuinely see that he has made any mistakes.

The Trenchant Observer

Order in the World: Things fall apart

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

One of the wisest and most-experieced journalists reporting on foreign policy, Roger Cohen, who writes an Op-Ed column for the New York Times, has published a thoughtful and deeply pessimistic article on the current state of world affairs.

See Roger Cohen, “The Great Unraveling,” September 15, 2014.

It was the time of unraveling. Long afterward, in the ruins, people asked: How could it happen?

It was a time of beheadings…

It was a time of aggression. The leader of the largest nation on earth pronounced his country encircled, even humiliated. He annexed part of a neighboring country, the first such act in Europe since 1945, and stirred up a war on further land he coveted. His surrogates shot down a civilian passenger plane. The victims, many of them Europeans, were left to rot in the sun for days. He denied any part in the violence, like a puppeteer denying that his puppets’ movements have any connection to his. He invoked the law the better to trample on it. He invoked history the better to turn it into farce. He reminded humankind that the idiom fascism knows best is untruth so grotesque it begets unreason.

It was a time of weakness. The most powerful nation on earth was tired of far-flung wars, its will and treasury depleted by absence of victory…. The nation’s leader…set objectives for which he had no plan. He made commitments he did not keep. In the way of the world these things were noticed. Enemies probed. Allies were neglected.. Words like “strength” and “resolve” returned to the leader’s vocabulary. But the world was already adrift, unmoored by the retreat of its ordering power. The rule book had been ripped up.

It was a time of disorientation. Nobody connected the dots…

Until it was too late and people could see the Great Unraveling for what it was and what it had wrought.

Regarding the weakening of international order, see

“Imagine: The Collapse of International Order: Syria, and Berlin in 1945,” The Trenchant Observer, February 20, 2013.

In this article, we observed,

There is nothing inevitable about international order.

The lessons of two world wars which informed the creation of the United Nations in 1945, and the maintenance of international peace and security for some 60 years, can be forgotten.

It is entirely conceivable that without decisive leadership from either Europe or the United States, the international order that has existed for many decades could start to wobble and even collapse.

And it is nearly impossible to conceive of such leadership emerging any time soon.

The rubble in Syria resembles the rubble in Berlin and the destruction in Germany in 1945, which occurred the last time the international order collapsed.

How bad could it get?

You could have wars like the one in Syria devastating countries in Africa, a nuclear attack on Los Angeles from North Korea, Iran with nuclear weapons and delivery systems within 5-10 years, and Israel surrounded by hostile Islamist states.

Things could fall apart.

Imagine a world without law, without international law governing the use of force which is generally observed and which states seek to uphold when it is violated.

Imagine a  world in which states use force without acknowledging they have acted, and without any obligation to publicly justify the legitimacy of their actions by reference to international law.

That is the direction in which we are heading.

See also,

“A weak American president fails to lead, and anarchy is unleashed upon the world,” The Trenchant Observer, April 29, 2014.

“International Law and the Use of Force: Drones and Real Anarchy Unleashed Upon the World, The Trenchant Observer, July 17, 2011.

The only path that might lead us out of the present downward spiral of events, the Observer submits, is one that embraces the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter, including

(1) the prohibition of “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”(Article 2 paragraph 4),

(2) except in exercise of “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense” in the case of an “armed attack” (Article 51),

(3) and the international protection of human rights (Preamble and Aricle 55 (c) of the U.N. Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and many other human rights treaties).

That is the best starting point for halting and reversing the current process of a collapsing world order. If anyone has a better idea, let him or her come forth and state it.

Without a renewed dedication to upholding these cornerstone principles of the United Nations Charter, and international law, international order becomes increasingly difficult to conceive.

The world’s citizens, and their governments, must rededicate themselves to upholding these bedrock principles of international law, if international order is to endure.

The Trenchant Observer