Archive for the ‘Justice Department’ Category

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

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Developing

Excerpt from President Barack Obama’s press conference today, Fiday, August 1, 2014:

Q What about John Brennan?

THE PRESIDENT:

On Brennan and the CIA, the RDI report has been transmitted, the declassified version that will be released at the pleasure of the Senate committee.

I have full confidence in John Brennan. I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff. And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled. Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.

With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.

I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.

–Transcript, Press Conference by the President, White House, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, August 1, 2014 (2:45 P.M. EDT). The text of the transcipt is found here.

It’s hard to know what is more shocking: 1) the casual language the President used in admitting torture; 2) what he actually said (calling torturers “real patriots”; or 3) the fact that he seemed totally oblivious to the import and impact of what he was saying.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama hides behind European appeasers on sanctions; France blocks defense sector measures

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Developing

For recent news and commentary, see:

(1) Jennifer Rubin, “Truth telling at the U.N., obfuscation at the White House,” Washington Post, July 20, 2014.

(2) Carsten Luther, “MH17-ABSCHUSS: Keine Sanktion ist zu hart, Die Zeit, 22. juli 2014 (19:29 Uhr).

Der Abschuss von MH17 über der Ostukraine ist noch nicht endgültig aufgeklärt. Trotzdem darf der Westen nicht wieder den Fehler machen, zu lange auf Russland zu warten.

The Presidency of France is not what it used to be. Former President Nicholas Sarkozy is under criminal investigation for interference in judicial proceedings against him, notably for calling a high judge for details of how a corruption case against him was going.

Francois Hollande, the current president, has become an appeaser of Vladimir Putin, breaking the latter’s isolation from the West by extending invitations to Putin to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of D-Day at Normandy, and dinner at the Elysee Palace, while simultaneously announcing his government’s decision to proceed with delivery of two Mistral-class helicopter transports and amphibious attack vessels to Russia, with the first delivery due this fall.

Now he is blocking the adoption of EU sanctions banning the export to Russia of military arms and equipment. The deal for the two warships is valued at $1.8 billion dollars.

In the last few days, Hollande has apparetly indicated that he would be willing to suspend the delivery of the second warship, but not the first.

That puts the price of France’s integrity and good name at somewhere under $1 billion.

That is what the United States and the rest of Europe get, today, in return for the Allied liberation of France in 1944 and 1945, and the Marshal plan which enabled it and the rest of Europe to emerge from the aftermath of World War II and achieve the prosperity that it knows today.

Cynics say they always knew France had a price, and that it is not unusual for French commercial interests to trump security and political interests, but that they simply didn’t know that the price could be so low.

In the United States, Barack Obama, under pressure from big business groups not to adopt unilateral sanctions against Russia that are not matched by the EU, sits and waits for Europe to take the lead.

Above all, the reigning illusion that pinprick “targeted measures” against a small number of individuals and highly-calibrated “targeted measures” against a few companies and banks will cause Putin and the Kremlin to change course retains its grip on political leaders’ imaginations, in Washington as in Europe.

The evidence that such “pinprick” measures potentially might change the course and foreign policy of a powerful state under the authoritarian control of Vladimir Putin and his coterie is utterly lacking, whereas the failure of this approach with respect to the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine is clear for all to see.

The pacifists in Washington and Europe remain in the delusional grip of beliefs that by empty threats and words they can change Putin’s course. They want to give him “one last chance” to halt his support of the so-called “separatists” in the eastern Ukraine.

They have made many such peremptory threats and “one last chance” requests for Putin to desist from his aggression in the Ukraine. Each time, the former KGB operative has cunningly offered them just the verbal concessions necessary to take the wind out of the sails of any movement to impose serious sectoral sanctions, i.e., sanctions against the Russian state and not just individuals or a few companies.

They also shrink from placing the one most obvious candidate on their sanctions list: Vladimir Putin himself.

Nor are they even thinking of rolling back the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

Given the transparent nature of their decision-making processes, their pacifism and appeasement manifested in a permanent lack of resolve, and their unwillingness to take even the most obvious measures to protect NATO members bordering Russia–e.g., by moving NATO troops from the safe heartland of Europe to forward bases in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania–the leaders of Europe are like children in the woods with the Big Bad Wolf, Vladimir Putin.

Anyone who expects good results to emerge from this constellation of dispositions and forces will surely be disappointed.

Despite her notable successes on the economic front in Europe, Angela Merkel’s legacy is likely to be defined in terms of her failure to respond to Russian aggression in the Ukraine. Hollande will likely be remembered for responding to challenges requiring great courage and statesmanship with the mentality and actions of a small-town merchant.

Instead of Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle, their names in the future will likely evoke memories of Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, the English and French leaders who in Munich delivered the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia to their fate at the hands of Adolf Hitler and the Wehrmacht of the Third Reich.

As for Barack Obama and his indecisiveness and lack of resolve, what can be said, other than that he is the most incompetent president of the United States in foreign policy at least since 1932, who is laying the groundwork for a triumphant Republican sweep of the 2016 presidential elections by running on a strong national security platform and a repudiation of the Democrats’ withdrawal from world leadership in international affairs?

The Trenchant Observer

Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine continues; Europe refuses serious sanctions; Only serious sanctions can stop Russia

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Developing

For background, see The Trenchant Observer, “The virus of nationalism and military aggression: Adolf Hitler in Vienna, March, 1938; Vladimir Putin in Sevastopol, May 9, 2014,” June 30, 2014.

The article includes video links to Vladimir Putin’s speech to a joint session of Russia’s parliament on March 18, 2014, and to Adolf Hitler’s speech upon his entry into Vienna in 1938, together with links to television programs from Walter Cronkite’s “The Seeds of War” series on the background to World War II.

Russia continues its aggression in the eastern Ukraine, while diplomatic discussions are to continue by Saturday on establishing a cease-fire which is observed by both sides, and other conditions to be met, including the return of border posts to the Ukraine. NATO Supreme Allied Commander Philip Breedlove offers a sobering assessment of what has actually been happening on the ground in the last month while diplomats and heads of state have been talking, negotiating, and essentially dithering. See Rosen, below.

Meanwhile, the iron will of the German Chancellor, and of the French President and other EU heads of state, has in effect foreclosed the imposition of serious, stage-three sanctions on Russia for its continuing aggression. This refusal helps account for the intense diplomacy underway to secure a real ceasefire and a cessation of the Russian invasion and occupation by special forces and others under their control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This diplomacy, if not backed by real sanctions, is not likely to succeed. Commercial interests, pacifism, and appeasement remain the leitmotifs of European actions and decisions. See the article in Die Zeit, below.

Stefan Kornelius of the Suddeutsche Zeitung, in a powerful commentary, explains why only serious sanctions can stop Russian aggression in the eastern Ukraine, and convince Putin that a Georgian style solution of frozen conflict is not possible in that country, both because of its size and because of its importance and ties to Europe. See his commentary, below.

The Ongoing Russian Invasion of the Eastern Ukraine

(1) James Rosen, “NATO chief to move forces from U.S. to Europe to respond to Russia in Ukraine,” McClatchy Washington Bureau, July 1, 2014.

Rosen quoted the U.S. Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Air Force General Philip M. Breedlove, as saying U.S. troops will be moved to Europe in October to help shore up the troops on rotation in the eastern NATO members bordering Russia.

Breedlove said Moscow has supplied pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine with tanks, armored personnel carriers, anti-aircraft artillery and other heavy weapons.

The four-star general, who assumed NATO command last year, said there’s “a very good likelihood” that the anti-aircraft artillery used to shoot down a Ukrainian transport plane June 14, killing all 42 people on board, came from Russia.

“(What) we see in training on the (Russian) side of the border is big equipment, tanks, (armored personnel carriers), anti-aircraft capability, and now we see those capabilities being used on the (Ukrainian) side of the border,” Breedlove said.

Asked how many Russian troops have massed on the Ukraine border, Breedlove responded that there are “seven-plus battalion task groups on the east side of that border,” which would be on the order of 5,000 troops.

The Refusal of the EU to Impose Serious Sanctions

(2) “UKRAINE-KRISE: EU scheut Wirtschaftssanktionen gegen Russland; Die Staats- und Regierungschefs der EU haben ihre Drohung nicht wahr gemacht: Russland muss vorerst keine schwerwiegenden Wirtschaftssanktionen fürchten,” Die Zeit, 1. Juli 2014 (Aktualisiert um 16:00 Uhr).

Only the Imposition of Serious Sanctions Can Move Russia

(3) Sefan Kornelius (Kommentar), “Krise in der Ukraine; Sanktionen sind der einzige Hebel,” Suddeutsche Zeitung, 2. Juli 2014.

Die vergangenen Tage haben es gezeigt: Die Zeit ist nicht reif für einen echten Waffenstillstand. Frieden in der Ukraine kann es nur geben, wenn das Spiel aus Propaganda und Unaufrichtigkeit ein Ende hat. Moskau muss akzeptieren, dass der Osten der Ukraine kein zweites Georgien ist.

Politisch wird sich dieser Krieg nur dann beenden lassen, wenn Russland das Spiel von Lug und Trug aufgibt und den Separatisten sowohl die militärische als auch die politische Basis für ihr Treiben entzieht. Dazu muss Russland einem Ziel glaubwürdig abschwören: Eine Zone dauerhafter Unruhe darf es in der Ostukraine nicht geben.

As for President Barack Obama and the United States, they are nowhere to be found. The U.S. is not even participating in the negotiations, at the foreign minister level, between Germany, France, Russia and the Ukraine. To be sure, given the Obama administration’s performance in the past, this could possibly be a good thing–despite what it says about the quality of current American leadership.

Ironically, the failure of the U.S. and the EU to carry through on their previous threats of serious sanctions has, if anything, emboldened Putin to undertake the brazen military interventionist activities of the last month.

The empty threats of the West seem to have caused him to call the West’s bluff, increasing and amplifying the intensity of his military aggression.

The failure to carry through with these threats, even now, risks further escalation of the conflict by Russia, including overt military intervention to protect ‘Russian people” who need not even be ethnic Russians.

“When I speak of Russians and Russian-speaking citizens,” Mr. Putin said, “I am referring to those people who consider themselves part of the broad Russian community. They may not necessarily be ethnic Russians, but they consider themselves Russian people.”

–See David M Herszenhorn, “Russia Demands New Cease-Fire in Ukraine as Foreign Ministers Seek Path to Peace, New York Time, July 2, 2014, quoting Putin.

The West has simply not bothered to effectively refute this outrageous and unfounded asserted justification under international law of a right to use military force to defend “Russian people”.

Historians will wonder at the fecklessness of today’s leaders in the West, and the lack of concern of leaders in other parts of the world, just as they wondered at the appeasement of Hitler by Britain’s Neville Chamberlain and France’s Edouard Daladier when they agreed to the Munich Pact in 1938, ceding the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to the Germans.

The Trenchant Observer

The West, Russia and the Ukraine: Threats, facts on the ground, and sectorial sanctions

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

The EU and the U.S. are on the verge of deciding, once again, whether they will actually carry out their last round of threats. They stated, in the strongest terms, that they would impose third-stage, sectorial sanctions against Russia if Putin and Russia did not withdraw their forces from the border and halt their support of so-called “separatists” in the eastern Ukraine.

These “separatists”, it is worth recalling, are led by the Russian special forces and intelligence agents who launched the rebellion in the East, and their followers, now including thousands of Russian “volunteers” who–in the last month–have flooded across the border into the Ukraine, together with ground-to-air missiles, tanks and other arms and equipment.

The border was “opened” for the Russians and their “volunteers” by a well-coordinated military campaign of attacks against Ukrainian border posts and their supporting control centers.

In the last month, Putin has continued to play his “double game” of saying one thing and doing something else. He has not ceased support on the ground for the “separatists” who, despite the former KGB-man’s machinations in a new form of “stealth war”, we have every reason to believe remain under Putin’s direction and control.

The West threatened sectorial sanctions if Putin did not change course. He changed only–at the last minute–in his verbal formulations, in what he said to Western leaders, but not in his actions on the ground.

If we look at what has transpired in the last month, can anyone say with a straight face that Putin has met the West’s conditions for not imposing sectorial sanctions?

Those who have followed Putin’s maneuvering in Syria are quite familiar with his modus operandi, of saying just enough to throw the West into disarray and to defuse any momentum toward the adoption of real, hard-hitting sanctions or stronger action, only to resume the relentless pursuit of his goals once the concentration and motivation of the West and other civilized nations has dissipated.

A fundamental question facing the West in deciding whether to defer sectorial sanctions and try to use them–again!–as a threat to induce Putin to act the way they want, is whether they want to continue devoting this enormous amount of energy and degree of concentration to the perfidious president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Or, might they prefer to move on, to contain Russia through concrete actions, and then to devote their energies to building Europe and restoring the vitality of the Atlantic Alliance and its leadership.

Putin is not going to change. He is not going to become the democrat that Boris Yeltsin once thought he might become. He is someone the West can never trust again.

Moreover, the U.S. doesn’t really need Russian assistance to get out of Afghanistan, or to deal with Iran and the nuclear issue through the “five plus one” (5 +1) talks. Russia is not America’s friend, and won’t be again so long as Putin remains in power.

Consequently, the choice facing the West is whether

(1) to continue playing Putin’s game, on his terms, where all attention is directed toward him and what he might say or do, or not do; or

(2) to finally act forcefully in the face of the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and the ongoing Russian “stealth” invasion of the eastern Ukraine, by taking hard actions to contain Russia, halt its aggression, and restore observance of international law. The latter is of paramount importance, and includes the priniples of the U.N. Charter prohibiting the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country, including the Ukraine.

Containment will require, at some point and sooner rather than later, the forward deployment of NATO troops in the front-line states of Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Romania.

Moreover, Russia needs to be pushed hard by the West and other civilized countries on the issue of its observance of human rights. We should not remain silent in the face of an increasingly repressive authoritarian regime whose “democracy” has become no more than a “Potemkin village”. The Magnitsky Act should be enforced.

Nothing is to be gained by further delay of sectorial sanctions. If the threat of such sanctions is ever to be credible in the future, repeated threats in the past must now be executed in view of Putin’s failure to comply with their conditions.

That doesn’t mean that measures like the OSCE monitoring of the border and of the situation in the eastern Ukraine need not be pursued, or that negotiations within the Ukraine under OSCE auspices must be halted.

It means only that the West, having called Putin’s bluff, will be in a stronger position to deal with him and Russia.

It will bring home to Putin, through actions and not mere words, that the EU, NATO, and the U.S. have finally gotten serious about putting an end to his aggression and redressing its consequences.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Dare anyone say it? “We applaud the courage of the Ukrainian government and people in defending public order and the sovereignty and territorial independence of the Ukraine.”

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

In the face of Russian aggression, in the last few days the Ukrainian government has shown great courage in defending public order, and the territorial integrity, political independence and sovereignty of their nation.

Their courageous actions should make the authors of the cowardly responses of the West and the broader international community feel deeply ashamed. For the latter have merely paid lip service to the defense of freedom, human rights and international law, while engaging in a policy of pacifism and appeasement in the face of blatant Russian aggression.

Nor is the duty to act to uphold the U.N. Charter, international law, and the maintenance of international peace and security solely that of the United States and the West. The abstention by Brazil and other countries on the General Assembly resolution condemning the invasion and annexation of the Crimea, for example, will long remain as a black page in the histories of these countries.

The appeasement by the West and other countries is particularly clear with respect to the military invasion and annexation by Russia of the Crimea. These actions have upended the entire postwar international political and legal order. The demands of Western leaders for a restoration of the status quo ante in the Crimea have grown silent, while they have adopted no sanctions which can be realistically viewed as aimed at securing a reversal of the aggression and annexation.

In all communities, the force of law and its deterrent effect weakens when the community whose interests it protects do not act to uphold its norms.

Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, its attack on the eastern Ukraine through special operations forces and the organization, coordination and direction of pro-Russian militias and armed thugs–taking over public buildings and even towns by armed force, and its continuing threats of military intervention by massing combat-ready troops on the border poised to launch an invasion, have placed the entire postwar military, political and legal order in question in the greatest crisis of this nature since World War II.

Will anyone speak out in praise of the actions of the Ukrainian government, without which Russian aggression would triumph, and the rule of law and protection of the human rights of citizens in the eastern Ukraine would be lost?

Are Western leaders afraid to remind the world each time they speak that Russia has committed aggression in the Crimea and continues fresh acts of aggression in the eastern Ukraine?

Will they not only speak out in defense of international law and human rights, in defense of liberty and the rule of law, but also undertake immediate and concrete measures of a serious nature to come to the defense of the Kiev government and assist it in facing down Russian aggression?

Though Barack Obama and Angela Merkel and other world leaders seem oblivious to the fact, Ukrainian soldiers and security forces are today fighting to uphold the principles of the U.N. Charter and international law which guarantee their security and that of the citizens they represent.

If these leaders can grasp this point, might they not do more, through really significant actions, to aid the Ukraine in its defense of their common values of respect for international law and international human rights?

The future of their countries and of the international political and legal order are in their hands. If they are leaders, and not merely followers of ill-informed public opinions on critical foreign policy matters, can and will they lead?

The Trenchant Observer

A weak American president fails to lead, and anarchy is unleashed upon the world

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Mark Landler of the New York Times published an article today, April 29, that reveals not only the deep roots of pacifism and appeasement in President Obama’s thinking and character, of which attendant observers were previously quite aware, but also—and shockingly–the confused and muddled state of his thinking about foreign policy in general, and responding to Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Ukraine in particular.

Mark Landler, “Ending Asia Trip, Obama Defends His Foreign Policy,” New York Times, April 28, 2014 (April 29 print edition).

As reported by Landler, Obama feels on the defensive, and throws out straw men to knock down in his own defense. For example, in rebutting critics of his responses to Russian aggression in the Crimea and its subsequent annexation, or his failure to respond to Putin’s attack against the eastern Ukraine, and continuing threats of an invasion, Obama argues that the introduction of troops in the Ukraine would not help to solve the problem.

With all due respect, Mr. President, you are being criticized at the moment for your failure to impose real economic sanctions on Russia that are serious enough to get them to stop their present takeover of the eastern Ukraine, and dismemberment of Europe’s largest nation in area which also has a population of 45 million people.

What is truly shocking to hear is the muddled thinking of Obama, who doesn’t seem capable of recognizing critical issues and the time frame within which they will be decided. He doesn’t seem to understand what is at stake in the Crimea, or the eastern Ukraine, or in terms of upholding international law.

As he had done in Syria through Medvedev, Putin through his media and spokesmen has made not so subtle allusions to the possibility of nuclear war. In both Syria and in the Ukraine, it would appear that such threats, delivered obliquely to be sure, may have gotten to Obama.

Whether that is the case or not, Obama has repeatedly manifested the dug-in attitude of a diehard pacifist willing to do almost anything to appease Russia.

Obama acts not as the principal protagonist on the world stage who can laad the West and its allies in facing down Russian aggression, as only an American president is in a position to do, but rather as a detached observer who does not even believe the latest round of targeted sanctions will achieve the effect of making Putin and Russia change course.

He seems to be afraid of Putin and Russia, and entering into a confrontation with them over anything, whether that be the future of the Ukraine, of NATO, or of the postwar international political and legal order established under the framework of the United Nations Charter.

If there are no circumstances in which the U.S. will impose strong economic sanctions, or even use military force, Putin has an open playing field as wide as central and eastern Europe. Others around the world will take their cues from Obama’s pacifism and appeasement, and from Russia’s success in taking advantage of America’s current lack of leadership and resolve.

It’s too bad Obama didn’t play American football in high school. He might have learned something about how to summon the courage to tackle and stop a large body coming directly at him at high speed and with great force and momentum.

The West is without a leader, and anarchy is unleashed upon the world.

The Trenchant Observer

New sanctions, the U.S., Russia and the Ukraine: The smartest people in the room are blundering idiots in foreign policy

Monday, April 28th, 2014

The Editorial Board of the Washington Post addressed the contradiction between Russia’s actions and whatis happening on the ground in Ukraine in terms that cut to the heart ofthe matter:

VLADIMIR PUTIN’S assault on Ukraine has been relentless and increasingly
reckless: Forces working with Russian personnel in eastern Ukraine are torturing and murdering opponents and holding international observers hostage. In contrast, President Obama’s response has been slow and excruciatingly measured. New U.S. sanctions announced Monday fall well short of the steps that senior officials threatened when the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine began three weeks ago.

No wonder that, even as he announced them, Mr. Obama expressed skepticism that they would work. “We don’t expect there to be an immediate change in Russia’s policy,” a top aide told reporters. This official acknowledged that the United States could take steps that would impose “severe damage on the Russian economy” but was holding them back. The obvious question is: Why would the United States not aim to bring about an immediate change in Russian behavior that includes sponsorship of murder, torture and hostage-taking?

–Editorial, “Obama’s half-measures give Vladi­mir Putin little to fear,” Washington Post, April 28, 2014 (1:38 p.m. ET).

The fine-tuned “targeted sanctions” imposed on Russia by the U.S. and the West are like mosqito bites on Putin and Russia’s leaders. Meanwhile, as Europe and America debated which Step II sanctions to impose this week, Russia’s invasion with special operations forces and others under its direction and control continued to spread unrest in the eastern Ukraine, as Kiev increasingly lost authority and control in the region.

Angela Merkel is reported to have told Barack Obama, after a conversation with the Russian president, that Putin is in another world.

But in point of fact it is Barack Obama, and his extraordinarily weak foreign policy team, who are in another world. Their world is one in which a dictator who has invaded and annexed the Crimea, sent special operations teams into the eastern Ukraine to stir up and coordinate unrest and rebellion, and who has 40,000 to 80,000 troops in combat-ready status poised for an all-out invasion, will be deterred by sanctions prohibiting defense exports “that will increase the capability of the Russian military”.

Barack Obama, the highly-touted and self-proclaimed “smartest man in the room”, in foreign policy and when it comes to dealing with Russia is in fact an amateur, one of the more cluelss members of the group in the room.

His fine intellectual distinctions have had no impact in the Crimea, or now in the eastern Ukraine.

Russian decision making is not attuned to or responsive to such fine intellectual distinctions.

While Russia and its followers are assassinating opponents in the eastern Ukraine, and town after town slips from Kiev’s control–as evidenced above all by the refusal of local police to defend local leaders or buildings, or pro-Kiev demonstrators—Obama thinks of his next round of “smart sanctions” targeted at individuals and companies in Russia.

There is no strong evidence that targeted individual sanctions, alone, have ever worked. Obama is betting the future of Europe on the proposition that, with Russia and the Ukraine, they will.

Obama’s and Europe’s policy toward Russia has been flawed from the start, when they failed to react with serious economic sanctions and other measures in response to Russia’s invasion of the Crimea, and again when Russia annexed The Crimean peninsula.

As made clear in the Geneva meeting on April 17, they clearly signaled to Putin that they would accept a return to business as usual despite the annexation of the Crimea, provided Russia committed no further aggression in the esstern Ukraine. Their statements left the impression that only the movement of regular troops in an invasion of the eastern Ukraine would trigger real economic sanctions–the so-called “Step III” sanctions.

The slaps on the wrists that they ordered have had no apparent impact on Putin or Russian leaders.

When the tale is told by historians of how Barack Obama lost the Crimea to Russia, and then the Ukraine, the story will revolve around an incometent foreign policy team, and the deep roots of pacifism and appeasement that guide Barack Obama, and other U.S. and European decision makers.

Obama’s policy of “slap-on-the-wrist” sanctions has failed. He and Europe have failed to deter Russian intervention in the eastern Ukraine, which is currently proceeding.

Unless radical changes are immediately made in the responses of the U.S. and the West, the eastern Ukraine will soon be lost.

These are the fruits of pacifism and appeasement in the face of Russian aggression in Europe.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

The April 17 Geneva meeting on the Ukraine: Aggressor and appeasers on the road to Munich II

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

As Russia, the U.S., the EU and Ukraine meet on April 17 in Geneva, it is useful to consider previous analysis and the latest commentary from Germany and the United States.

Essentially, Russia has already committed an “armed attack” against the eastern Ukraine by sending in forces and agents under its control who have conducted armed takeovers of government buildings in a number of cities, particularly in the Donetsk region. This is a flagrant violation of the prohibition against the threat or use of force contained in the bedrock principle of the U.N. Charter, expressed in Article 2 paragraph 4. It is no exaggeration to state that the entire postwar international military and security order rests on observance of this principle, and its vigorous defense whenever it is violated.

This is the second major Russian violation of the principle in the Ukraine, following the invasion of the Crimea and its annexation in March.

A third, ongoing violation of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter consists in massing 40,000 combat-rady troops on the border with Ukraine, threatening invasion if the Kremlin’s conditions are not met.

The West and the international community have failed to respond with really serious economic sanctions, and as we write seem prepared to accept the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea. Leaders who support the actions that have led to this state of affairs have not thought matters through.

There is still one sanction whose logical basis is absolutely clear, and which the U.S. and the EU should still impose now:

A total ban on financial transactions and doing business with any entity in the Crimea, or with any non-Crimean company or entity engaged in financial tranansactions or doing business with such Crimean companies or entities. This should be a permanent sanction, to be lifted only when the annexation has been undone and the situation returned to the status quo ante.

The sad truth is that the West is now led by a generation of leaders who have little memory of Nazi Germany’s and the Soviet Union’s depredations in the 20th century. They have succumbed to a deeply-rooted pacifism and readiness to accept appeasement in response to aggression.

On April 17, they will sit down with the aggressor to essentially beg the aggressor to halt its offensive activities in the eastern Ukraine, while there seems to be little evidence that they will demand a return of the Crimea to the Ukriane and a withdrawal of Russian forces to the level at which they were in the status quo ante, before the invasion.

These Western leaders are unaccustomed to dealing with diplomats and presidents like Lavrov and Putin who repeatedly and shamefacedly tell blatant lies, orchestrate propaganda campaigns full of lies aimed at inciting civil strife and rebellion in the Ukraine, and launch Russian aggression by “stealth” with “little green men”, who are heavily armed and are in fact either Russian soldiers or directed and controlled by Russian soldiers, or both.

They couldn’t believe the true evil and atrocities they saw in Syria, involving the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale–with active Russian support, and were unable to formulate actions that would do anything to stop them. Russia learned from this experience.

There is no more reason to expect any progress in Geneva on April 17 than there was to expect any progress at the Geneva II conference on Syria last June, where all hopes proved to be illusory.

The pacifist leaders of the West who are prepared to accept the annexation of the Crimea and the takeover of regions of the Eastern Ukriane by Soviet military aggression, have already traveled well down the road to total appeasement of Putin and the Russian bear.

What the world will look like after that, nobody knows.

For background, see the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

(1) Russia threatens further aggression against the Ukraine: The response of the West has been a bad joke; Putin must be stopped, April 8, 2014.

(2) The language of actions: Russia, the Ukraine, and the response of the West
April 10, 2014.

(3) Munich II: The meeting in Geneva between the U.S., the EU, the Ukraine and Russia, April 11, 2014.

(4) Kiev caves in to Russian military threats, offering far-reaching concessions in eastern Ukraine; Pacifism and appeasement grip Wasington and Europe; First signs of Russian military intervention appear, as troops on border are poised to strike, April 12, 2014.

(5) Ukraine: U.N. Security Council meeting, latest news reports, and opinion (with link to April 13 Security Council meeting webcast), April 13, 2014. Excerpts:

We should not be fooled by the faux outrage of Russia and its calling of an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council today, Sunday, April 13.

Everyone knows who the fox in the chicken coop is, and no one is fooled by the fox’s loud complaints that it is being attacked by the chickens.

While the statements made tonight in the Security Council were informative, they should not distract our attention from what is taking place on the ground, and the actions we need to take to effectively counter ongoing Russian aggression.

For these actions the United States should immediately impose broad and deep sanctions against Russia itself, not merely 38 targeted individuals and two companies (a Russian bank, and the seized gas company of the Crimea). As soon as they can reach agreement, the 28 states of the EU should adopt similar sanctions.

A good start would be an immediate ban on all financial transactions involving the Crimea or companies doing business in the Crimea, and all financial transactions or doing buiness with any companies that are engaged in such activities.

In the forthcoming meeting in Geneva on April 17 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the U.S., the EU, and the Ukraine should begin the discussions with an absolute demand for Russia to undo the annexation of the Crimea and to return the situation to the status quo ante existing prior to the Russian invasion.

Latest Commentary from Germany and the United States

(1) Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), “Moskau als Choreograf der Krise: Putins Druck auf die Ukraine ist übermächtig,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 16. April 2014.

Es gibt nur einen Weg, eine Katastrophe in der Ukraine abzuwenden: Russlands Präsident Putin muss die Übergriffe seiner Spezialeinheiten und Agenten stoppen und den militärischen Druck von der Grenze nehmen. Die Indizien für den subversiven Einfluss Moskaus sind erdrückend. Die Ukraine soll keine Chance haben.

(2) Florian Eder (Straßburg), “Schwerwiegendste Krise in Europa seit 1945; Moskau, Kiew, die EU und die USA verhandeln am Donnerstag in Genf über eine friedliche Lösung der Ukraine-Krise; Russland rüstet propagandistisch weiter auf; Die Atmosphäre ist frostig,” Die Welt 16. April 2014.

(3) Olexander Motsyk, “Ukraine deserves international support in stopping Russian aggression, Washington Post, April 16, 2014 (5:23 p.m.). Motsyk is Ukraineś Ambassador to the U.S.

(4) David Ignatius, “The cost of Putin’s adventurism in Ukraine, Washington Post, April 15, 2014.

Ignatius reports on the current thinking of U.S. Analyst in Chief, Professor Barack Obama.

(5) Daniel Henninger, “Cold War 2.0, the Videogame: Obama’s uninterest in Ukraine forgets history,” Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2014 (7:13 p.m. ET).

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To influence Putin: Strong action by the West is required—Analysis and further commentary on the Ukraine

Friday, March 14th, 2014

The Crimea is going ahead with its referendum, on Sunday, on whether it wants to be annexed by Russia. The Russian parliament or Duma is poised to annex the Crimea next week.

Vladimir Putin is now making decisions on the Ukraine only with a small inner circle of hawkish advisers heading the nation’s various security Forces. He is apparently not listening to foreign minister Sergey Lavrov or foreign ministry officials.

There are only two decisions which just possibly might be averted or reversed before they are finally made.

The first is whether to immediately proceed to have the Duma vote to annex the Crimea, following the referendum on Sunday.

The second is whether to continue to stir up strife in the Eastern Ukraine in order to provide a pretext for Russian military intervention beyond the Crimea.

Without the Crimea, pro-Western parties are quite likely to win the Ukrainian national elections scheduled for May 25, resulting in a decisive turn toward the West and eventual membership in the European Union, if not NATO. These factors will inevitably figure in Putin’s decisions in the coming days and weeks.

The last chance to influence these decisions, at least in the short term, depends on the seriousness of the responses of the West to the Sunday referendum in the Crimea.

Step 2 (of 3) of the sanctions response of the EU is likely to be decided upon Monday in Brussels, and next week in Washington. Unless the sanctions are really sharp, including a number of recently-imagined “Step 3″ sanctions, they are not likely to be seen by Putin as anything other than a sign of weakness on the part of Europe and the West.

Paradoxically, the best chance for Europe and the West to avoid a total breakdown in economic and commercial relations with Russia depends on their imposing very stiff sanctions now. If Putin changes course, they can be relaxed.

It should be clearly understood in the West, however, that Obama’s risible statements that there will be “costs” or “consequences” if the Russians don’t back down are probably seen in Moscow as a show of utter weakness.

Obama’s fine intellectual distinctions and diffidence in his choice of words in all likelihood only confirm Putin’s belief that Obama is a weak character, unable even to pull the trigger on military strikes against Syria in response to al-Assad’s crossing His “red line” by using chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013 (and actually much earlier, on multiple occasions).

It is time for Obama and Europe’s leaders to speak forthrightly, and to eschew the diplomatic and euphemistic niceties that now make no sense, if they ever did, in dealing with a rogue state which has committed naked aggression against the Ukraine.

Russia has seized part of its territory by military force, employing subterfuge, lies, and “The Big Lie” that Russian citizens and Russian-speaking Ukrainians were the object of threats and attacks against their lives and safety. Moreover, Russia continues to threaten further aggression, while moving troops and engaging in military exercises near the Ukrainian border to back up its threats.

We are no longer dealing with the logic of words and hopes to persuade by logic, in dealing with men who have taken over the territory of another country, and who menacingly threaten to expand the geographical scope of their military intervention.

As suggested here earlier, NATO should not only express receptiveness to the Ukraine’s request for military equipment and intelligence cooperation, made by its prime minister in his meetings with President Obama in Washington on Thursday, but also indicate clearly that the request will be granted if Russia proceeds with annexation of the Crimea.

To forestall further Russian aggression in other parts of the Ukraine, NATO should actively consider and make contingency plans for moving 10,000 to 20,000 troops into the Ukraine, in response to any request from the latter for assistance in exercise of the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, in accordance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

This is not a time to focus, first of all, on what individual countries might or might not be willing to do, but rather a moment to assess the requirements of the situation if desired results are to be achieved, and to reflect deeply on the consequences of failure.

Above all, it is a time for action.

It is not a time for announcing actions that will or may be taken in the future, but rather the occasion for implementation of really tough and far-reaching sanctions, to take effect immediately or in the shortest time possible.

With armies on the move and Putin caught in the “groupthink” of a small circle of hardline national security chiefs, anything less is not likely to capture his attention.

A further point is of fundamental importance. Only the strongest of sanctions are likely to bolster the position of officials within Putin’s government who have a broader understanding of the world and the dire consequences continuing aggression are likely to bring down on Russia. Strong action by the West is required, above all, to shift the constellation of advisers which surround Putin (and the views they represent), and consequently the flow of information and advice upon which he bases his understanding of the situation and decides to take action.

Thus, to pierce Putin’s delusional bubble, to broaden his sources of information and advice, and to counter the “groupthink” which appears to hold him and his narrow circle of national security advisers in its grip, the West must act forcefully, enacting strong sanctions and taking other hard actions, with immediate effect.

For countries deciding how tough the measures can be which they will take, one final consideration should weigh heavily in the balance. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 in exchange for guarantees of its territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence from the Russian Federation and the United States, guaranteed in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

As Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk eloquently argued at the Security Council meeting on March 13, if Russian military intervention in the Crimea is allowed to stand, no nation in the future will agree to give up nuclear weapons.

Consequently, in addition to the more obvious issues, the nuclear non-proliferation regime hangs in the balance, as do the 5 + 1 talks, and whether Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state.

Recent Opinion and Commentary

For illuminating commentary on the Ukraine crisis, and the long-term impact of Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine both forn him and for Russia, see the following articles:

(1) “Ukraine Crisis: Putin, the Loser”

Nikolaus Blome(Kommentar), “Ukraine-Krise: Putin, der Verlierer,” Der Spiegel, 14 Marz 2014 (11:11 Uhr).

(2) “The Agent in his Labyrinth”

Roger Cohen, “The Agent in His Labyrinth, New York Times, March 13, 2014.

(3) “Obama Has Made America Look Weak”

John McCain, “Obama Has Made America Look Weak (John McCain on Responding to Russia’s Aggression),” New York Times, March 14, 2014.

(4) “Putin’s ‘Honest Brokers’”

Maxim Trudolyubov, “Putin’s Honest Brokers,” New York Times, March 14, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

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The qualities that are needed in a new CIA Director, Part I (with video links to Feinstein Senate speech and Brennan rebuttal)

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

(Developing story–check back for updates over the next few days)

John Brennan’s battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Torture Report

Given his past associations with Bush’s torture and other scandalous programs, and his role in overseeing White House targeted killing lists and ensuing drone strikes with the president’s approval and/or participation, John Brennan should never have been confirmed as Director of the CIA.

Now he has become both the symbol of a rogue CIA and the primary obstacle to getting control of the agency and bringing it back under the supervision and control of a democratic state governed by law. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, that supervision is the responsibility of both the president and the congress, including in particular the Senate Intelligence Committee which is chaired by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California).

She has now delivered an extraordinary speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in which she lays out in detail the obstruction her committee has encountered in dealing with the CIA, particularly in connection with the drafting, declassification, and publication of a 6,000 word report on the CIA’s involvement in George W. Bush’s torture program, euphemistically referred to as one of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, or as Brennan referred to them in his Senate confirmation hearings, “EIT’s”.

For background on Brennan and his confirmation hearings, see the following article and the articles cited in it:

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

As noted below, the Krass nomination was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 4, 2014.

It is difficult to imagine how John Brennan can continue to lead the CIA, now that he is involved in a very public and bitter dispute with the Senate Intelligence Committee and its Chair, Senator Feinstein–over matters that go to the very heart of what constitutes democratic government under the rule law.

Brennan’s hubris was once again revealed as he immediately gave a TV interview in which he contradicted Senator Feinstein.

Despite his extraordinarily close relationship with President Obama, to whom he served in many respects as a mentor and guide to the secret world of intelligence operations, Brennan should begin looking for a new job.

Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine and military seizure of the Crimea has been a wake-up call for Washington, demonstrating again how international law is important after all, particularly in terms of setting precedents, and of mobilizing coalitions and generating international support for collective action.

Russian intervention in the Ukraine has underlines the fact that unsanctioned violations of international law weaken its authority, and even its most important provisions including the prohibition of the illegal threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state.

It is now time for the United States to put its rogue actions behind it, and to bring its policies and actions into compliance with international law.

Brennan is a symbol and defender of these rogue policies from the past, and doesn’t fit the new requirements of the job. To cite but one example, at his confirmation hearings, he was unable to bring himself to admit that “waterboarding” constitutes torture.

A new kind of leader is needed at the CIA.

Links to Videos and Transcripts

For links to the video and transcripts of Senator Feinstein’s speech on the Senate floor, and Brennan’s response, see:

(1) “Sen. Feinstein Accuses CIA of Searching Congressional Computers,” C-SPAN, March 11, 2014. (CLIP FROM MARCH 11, 2014, Senate Session, Part 1, with informal transcript).

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee says the CIA improperly searched a stand-alone computer network established for Congress as part of its investigation into allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California defended her committee’s work and challenged the CIA on Tuesday as she sought to set the record straight amid various reports of disputes between Congress and the agency.

For the YouTube video, click here.

(2) “CIA Director Denies Spying on Senate Intel Committee” NBC News, March 11, 2014 (with video link).

(3) The Senate Intelligence Committee approved the nomination of Carolyn Krass to be General Counsel of the CIA on March 4, it was announced on March 6, 2014, by a vote of 13-2. If approved by the full Senate, she will replace acting General Counsel Robert Eatinger, who has been at the center of a number of controversial issues and decisions related to the torture program.

The Qualities Needed in a New CIA Director

(To be continued)

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