Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Abdel al-Sisi visits Vladimir Putin in Russia: Egypt as a new member of the League of Authoritarian States

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Developing

Egyptian President Abdel al-Sisi has visited Vladimir Putin in Russia, seeking to build closer relations with the Russian dictator and his authoritarian state.

As two authoritarian leaders they have a lot in common, including a willingness to trample on human rights and the rule of law whenever they think it will help them achieve their ends.

In Egypt, al-Sisi while mouthing the words of a democratic song, has reportedly been conducting a “dirty war” like the one in Chile under Augusto Pinochet in the 1970’s, with perceived opponents simply “disappearing” from the streets or suffering other dark fates.

Nonetheless, Angela Merkel of Germany and the U.S., like others, have embraced al-Sisi either to clinch business deals or to join cause with him in his war against the Muslim Brotherhood (a non-violent group until 2012) and jihadist terrorist groups in the region.

In Egypt, the results to date have not been encouragng, with a sharp increase in terrorist activity both in the Sinai and in Cairo and the heart of the country itself.

To be sure, to their credit, Egyptian religious leaders at al-Azhar University in Cairo have taken the lead in denouncing the distorted theology of the Islamic State and adopting measures to counter its influence, by refuting its theological bases within the framework of Islam. Al-Azhar University represents the highest religious authority within Sunni Islam.

See

(1) Daniel Steinvorth, “Ägpytisch-russische Beziehungen: Sisi sucht die Nähe zu Putin; So richtig warm geworden ist der Westen bisher nicht mit Ägyptens Präsident Sisi. Umso freundlicher empfängt Russlands Staatschef Putin den Ex-General aus Kairo, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, 26. August 2015 (21:04 Uhr).

(2) Martin Gehlen, “ÄGYPTEN: Schmutziger Krieg gegen die Jugend: In Ägypten verschwinden junge Oppositionelle. Sie werden von der Staatssicherheit entführt, manche ermordet wie zu Zeiten der Militärdiktatur in Chile, Die Zeit, 22. Juni 2015 (15:02 Uhr).

(3) “REPRRISE: ‘The League of Authoritarian States’—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #50,” The Trenchant Observer, July 19, 2012 (first published June 9, 2012).

They justify their actions by reference to the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of any state, as guaranteed in the U.N. Charter.

They ignore, however, that in the 21st century “sovereignty” does not include the right to commit genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, or even the violation of other fundamental human rights. The growth and development of international law has led to treaties and state practice interpreting international law that limit the sovereignty of a nation to undertake acts such as those referred to above.

No Dictator, no authoritarian regime, has that right.

The battle is joined, between the international community which supports human rights and international law, including international criminal law, on the one hand, and the League of Authoritarian States, on the other, whose members believe a Dictator should have such a “right”, and who are willing to block the effective responses of the international community by vetoing resolutions in the Security Council.

Undoubtedly other governments will join the League of Authoritarian States, in order to protect their own ability to use terror including war crimes and crimes against humanity to retain their hold on power.

One fundamental question remains: Can you effectively defend civilization against barbarians by undertaking or endorsing actions which violate its most fundamental norms, including respect for human rights and the rule of law?

The Trenchant Observer

The cold-blooded REALPOLITIK of the American president: Obama’s intellectual calculations in foreign policy, and his heart as cold as stone

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Developing

Obama seems to have opposed stronger action in Syria and in opposing Russian aggression in the Ukraine out of some demented belief that he is smarter than everyone else, and it is OK to stand aside and watch 250,000 people die in Syria, if that is necessary to “work through the Russians” to take a larger chess piece by making the nuclear deal with Iran. Or to adopt what was in effect a policy of appeasement against Russia as they invaded and “annexed” the Crimea, and invaded — and have hung on to — the eastern Ukraine, in order to gain Russian support for the P5+ 1 nuclear deal with Iran.

Richard Spencer of The Telegraph has summarized what appears to be Obama’s highly intellectual policy towards Syria.

See

Richard Spencer (Middle East Editor, “Barack Obama does not want to defeat Isil – yet; For American foreign policy, winning the war against Isil quickly would be pointless and potentially disastrous” The Telegraph, July 31, 2015 (8:00 p.m. BST).

See also the articles by David Ignatius cited earlier here.

In Ethiopia this week, Obama hardly pressed the country’s leaders on their human rights violations. The U.S.has given priority to fighting terrorism, and seems willing to look away from seeing these human rights violations in Africa.

See

Sharon L. Fawcett, “Obama’s heartbreaking words in Addis Ababa: It only took eight words for Barack Obama to break the hearts of millions of Ethiopians. Alemayehu Mariam was one of them,” Righting It:
(Writing to champion human RIGHTS), August 6, 2015.

Fawcett writes, “Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ethiopia to address the African Union. While there, on July 27th, he took part in a press conference with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. When asked by a Fox News journalist about his “obvious concerns about human rights…in Ethiopia,” Obama paused, looked down, and stated that he was “mindful of Ethiopia’s history,” then followed up with his view of Ethiopia’s recent elections: “…the elections put forward a democratically elected government.” Fawcett goes on to refute any assertion that the government was democratically elected, citing Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and U.S. State Department reports on human rights in the country.

See also,

“Words and Deeds: Obama’s Defense of Democracy in Africa, 2011,” The Trenchant Observer, August 1, 2011.

“Obama and Democracy in Africa, 2011,” The Trenchant Observer, July 16, 2011.

Obama wants to foster entrepreneurial activity in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, without taking on the hard repression that exists in so many countries, which will have a decisive impact on who the new entrepreneurs are.

The needs to support human rights defenders and to strengthen civil society are obliterated by the stong emphasis on business and weak positions (and actions) on human rights.  African countries need not only to grow, but also to distribute both old and new income beyond narrow elites.

The message is clear: The U,S. is willing, even eager, to work with dictators in Africa on security and economic issues, regardless of their records on human rights.

This is consistent with Obama’s call to Putin to thank him for his support on the Iran nuclear deal, as if it could not have been achieved without it.

No one asks, “Why didn’t Putin call Obama to thank him for his support in securing the nuclear deal?” That, howver, is a fair and even an essential question.

The president gives lip service to human rights and civil society. But as we’ve learned, we must watch carefully what he actually does, not merely what he says. We need to track carefully how much money the U.S. puts into foreign assistance in Africa to support those fighting dictatorships and for the rule of law.

To ignore human rights in Africa, in deeds if not in words, is to follow a false path, and it is sad to see Obama continue down it.

Think only of what has been going on in Egypt, and how silent the U.S. administration has been in the face of horrendous abuses.

The Trenchant Observer

The missing elements in the war against ISIS — Taking down their websites and engaging in robust public diplomacy

Friday, June 12th, 2015

UPDATE June 23, 2015

Europe is setting up a special police unit to monitor jihadist sites and content, andd to remove it.

See

Richard Spencer, “Europe-wide police unit to monitor Islamic State social media; Europol to set up specialist unit in response to concerns not enough is being done to prevent Isil propaganda,” The Telegraph, June 22, 2015 (12:15 p.m. BST).

This is the kind of action that is needed, on a very large scale, not only in Europe but in many other countries.

*****

See Mark Mazzetti and Michael R. Gordon, “ISIS Is Winning the Social Media War, U.S. Concludes,” New York Times, June 12, 2015.

In a converstaion recently, a friend asked what The Observer would do to counter ISIS (or the self-denominated “Islamic State”).

From that conversation emerged crystalized thoughts from months of reflection.  In brief, I would suggest, at least for purposes of debate, that we consider the following:

The Enormity of the Threat

First of all, we must recognize the enormity of the threat to civilized nations represented by ISIS, and the huge progress they have made in waging a war for young Muslim minds. The existence and growth of a barbarian political and military power, in the heart of the Middle East, constitutes an existential threat to societies from the Middle East to Europe, the United States, and beyond.

The most daunting aspect of the threat is the rejection by ISIS and other jihadists of the fundamental moral and legal values undegirding European civilization for the last 400 years. These values have developed since the Peace of Westphalia and the birth of the modern nation state system and international law, following the ThIrty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution (including the revolutions in America and France).

These values spread through the rest of the world following World War II, with decolonization, the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and the universal recognition of governments’ legal obligations to protect fundmental human rights. They are now under attack.

International law obligations to protect fundamental human rights, refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state, and to comply with international treaties, customary international law, and the United Nations Charter itself, are all challenged by the growth of ISIS and other jihadists. The latter reject the values upon which the former are founded, retreating to the use of barbarism in fighting all who do not submit to their twisted and extreme vision of Islamic rule.

To date, the West and other civilized countries have not recognized the larger threat posed by ISIS and other jihadists, or at least not reacted in a manner commensurate with the nature and dimensions of the threat.

Responses have been limited in the main to defending against potential terrorist threats to the homeland, and to killing as many jihadists as possible in order to limit their territorial gains.

This approach, however necessary, has essentially failed to stem the growth of ISIS and others. It fails to adequately address the essential nature of the problem, which is that it involves a war for young Muslim minds, not only in Syria, Iraq, northern Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also in Europe, America and in many other countries throughout the world.

What more can be done?

Proposition for Debate #1: Taking Down Their Websites

First, we should consider whether to attack the capabilities of ISIS and other jihadists to spread their views and to use slick propaganda to gather new recruits.

We could take down their websites as fast as they pop up, and ensure that videos of beheadings and other acts of barbarism cannot be viewed, or viewed for long, on the Internet or social media. We could, perhaps in concert with other countries, prohibit their reproduction on television, in newspapers, or on social media. Italy successfully followed a similar policy in dealing with terrorists in the 1970’s.

We could use all of our military and intelligence capabilities to take down these sites. Freedom of speech is critically important, but it does not include the right to shout fire in a theater, or to incite others to join groups which commit horrendous acts of violence.

To be sure, there will be a need for judicial supervision and review, in some form, of such activities.

One suspects that the intelligence agencies, which probably glean important information about visitors to such websites, will strongly oppose taking them down. Yet a larger view is needed to inform decisions.

Does the intelligence gathered outweigh the benefit of crippling the recruitment and propaganda activities of the jihadists? Who will decide?

We should consider and debate these questions.

Proposition for Debate #2: Creating a much more robust public diplomacy

Second, we could mount a much larger and more effective public diplomacy structure and campaign, something on the scale of the U.S. Information Agency in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Obviously, a large effort would need to be made on the Internet and social media.

But we could also rebuild and build out our shortwave and medium wave broadcast capabilities, fund them, and greatly expand the schedule of broadcasts on the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, for example.

Before this idea is dismissed as obsolete, we should bear in mind that Internet sites can be blocked by those with territorial power such as the “Islamic State” or governments. Users and listeners can be tracked, as they were in Iran in 2009. One of the great advantages of older technologies like radio is that listeners cannot be tracked, and jamming is not always effective. Television can also be beamed by satellites or high-altitude balloons. In an authoritarian country in Africa or the Middle East, radio and broadcast television may still work as ways of getting through. One need only to have listened to a VOA broadcast in a country with no freedom of expression to appreciate this point.

What is clear is that the USIA, since it has been dismantled as an independent agency and wrapped into the Department od State, has lost much of its effectiveness. About all that remains are the VOA and RFE/RL broadcasts, on reduced schedules and to a much more limited number of countries.

Other partners in the battle against ISIS and other jihadists could be encouraged to bolster their own activities. Some form of coordination might be undertaken.

The separation between independent news, on the one hand, and opinion representing the views of the U.S. government, on the other, which flourished when the Agency was led by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950’s, should be strengthened.

Similarly, the laws prohibiting the U.S. government from directing its information activities at domestic audiences should be upheld.

There could be an issue here to the extent such a limitation limits the ways in which public diplomacy efforts can be directed at young Muslims in the United States. Other means of rebutting the jihadists will probably need to be found.

What is critical is that the intelligence agencies, or public diplomacy efforts, not be used to sell government policies to citizens in the U.S. This line has been crossed repeatedly since 9/11, but its strict observance going forward is absolutely critical.

Other Steps

Many defeats in the war for young Muslim minds may be attributed to the loss of respect the U.S. has suffered as a result of its use of torture at Abu Gharib and elsewhere, the conditions in which prisoners were held for years without trial or even military commission review at Guantanamo, the 2003 invasion of Iraq in clear violation of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the use of force, the use of drones outside war theaters in apparent violation of international law, and in general actions that do not sit well with America’s preferred view of itself as a city on a hill, where dedication to the pursuit of freedom and the rule of law, both at home and abroad, are the hallmarks of a democratic society and its government.

Improvement in these areas would in the long term help in the struggle for young Muslim minds, and also help reformers within Muslim societies win their struggle for the rule of law in their own countries.

But for now, two issues which urgently merit full discussion are those outlined above.

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. strategy and leadership needed: The Middle East and other countries hurtle into the Vortex

Friday, March 27th, 2015

On some days, the news is so disturbing that you want to take a broader view of what is going on in a region, or the world.

The Middle East appears to be convulsed by civil war and situations that could lead to further civil and international conflict. At times it seems that everyone has forgotten about international law. States don’t bother to offer legal justifications for their actions, or sometimes even admit they are responsible for them.

Chaos in the Middle East

Shiite Houthis backed by Iran are taking over Yemen, provoking military responses from Sunni Arab states.

Did anyone offer a legal justification for the actions of the Sunni military coalition?

Barack Obama’s statements several years ago that we should pursue a “Yemen-like” solution to the Syrian civil war don’t look so good today.

Libya has become a failed state, ruled now by violence and near anarchy.

U.S. bombers join in Iraqi government attacks on ISIS in Tikrit, as Iranian-led Shiite militias engaged in the battle for the city stand down or adopt ambiguous postures. The United States is now participating directly in the confict with ISIS in Iraq, in what seems to be an open-ended commitment.

This may be required in order to counter Iranian influence in Iraq, but has not yet been the subject of much public debate in the United Stares.

Israeli-Palestinian relations are at their lowest point since the Second Intifada, following Banjamin Netanyahu’s scurrilous playing of the race card in the last days before the recent elections to the Knesset. After warning right-wing voters that the Israeli Arabs were turning out in droves for the elections, Netanyahu has lost all respect as a leader of Israel.

In the days before the elections, Netanyahu also promised right-wing voters that there would never be a Palestinian state so long as he remained in office. That sounded the death knell for the two-state solution, at least for now.

There are no negotiations underway, and it is hard to see how they can be restarted so long as Netanyahu remains prime minister.

Relations with the Obama administration are at an all-time low, putting the U.S. automatic veto against any U.N. Security Council resolution adverse to Israel into play.

Charlie Rose interviews Bashar al-Assad, giving a megaphone–once again–to a mass murderer guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria on a massive scale, where over 220,000 have been killed. With blood dripping from his hands, al-Assad wants to make a deal with the West to fight the Islamic State group or ISIS, leaving his regime and him in power.

In his diffidence to al-Assad, Rose refers to dropping barrel bombs and other war crimes and crimes against humanity as “actions that others look down on” or words to that effect.

Regarding Rose’s shameful interview with al-Assad in September, 2013, on the eve on an expected vote in Congress authorizing Obama to use military force against Syria–following the use of chemical weapons by Syria at Ghouta on August 21, 2013–see

See “CBS News and PBS: Network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and PBS, give al-Assad megaphone for propaganda to oppose Obama—ON MONDAY!,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2013.

The Islamic State group, the al-Nusra front, the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, Western-backed so-called “moderate” rebels, and who knows who else mix it up in the meat grinder of Syria.

Threats Beyond the Middle East

An unsteady truce holds in the eastern Ukraine. Putin sits poised like a leopard, waiting for the West to be distracted and/or show disunity before he strikes at Mariupol and continues building his strategic land bridge to the Crimea.

The Greek prime minister suggests, on the eve of his trip to Moscow, that Greece may veto the renewal of EU sanctions against Russia when they come up for renewal later this year.

Putin is driven by a need to continually engage the West in conflict, in order to distract his population from their sinking economy and worsening living conditions. He also seems to be on the path of delusions of grandeur, as he would be the leader who restored the Russian Empire and its sphere of influence.

See John Simpson, “Vladimir Putin is fighting for political survival – by provoking unrest in Ukraine, New Statesman, March 30, 2015 (9:44 a.m)

Writing from Sevastapol, the BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson explains how Russia’s premiere is stalling. His Crimean coup is an attempt to distract the west.

No one refers to international law.

Endless war, including war between Sunni states and Iran, is highly possible.

Once the genie of a broad Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East is out of the bottle, who could contain it again?

In Washington, as in Europe and the Middle East, leaders are needed to deal with these situations effectively, pursuant to a coherent strategy. Yet such leaders are hard to find.

Into the Vortex we all go.

The Trenchant Observer

Strategy beyond the Ukraine: It’s time to start thinking about the risks of nuclear war with Russia, and of appeasement

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

The world stands at a perilous point where the risks of an accidental (or other) nuclear war with Russia are greater than they have been since the most perilous points in the Cold War, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962 and the Yom Kippur War between Israel and the Arab states in 1973.

According to news reports, there is no functioning liaison between American and Russian nuclear officials. In the United States, funds for verification of Russian compliance with arms control treaties have been cut, while appropriations for new and better nuclear weapons have grown.

On the American side, no one seems to have been in charge. The stories of American ICBM crews cheating on preparedness tests seem to be but the tip of the iceberg.

On the Russian side, we appear to have in President Putin a megalomaniac who believes that in any nuclear showdown with Barack Obama he would win, hands down.

Neither Putin nor Obama seems to understand, or to be taking active steps to mitigate, the risks of accicdental nuclear war. Putin and his prime minister, Dimitry Medvedev, have over the last several years engaged is careless and dangerous talk of nuclear war.

According to press reports, the famous “red telephone” may not be in working order, or able to be used within the 10 minutes or so a president might have to decide whether a radar image of an incoming ICBM warrants the launching of a nuclear counter-strike. Even if Obama is ready to take or make a call at 3:00 a.m., the “red phone” line may be dead or there may be nobody on the other end.

See

(1) Markus Becker (München), “Nato-Russland-Krise: Das nukleare Gespenst kehrt zurück; Die Ukraine-Krise hat die Nato und Russland in den Kalten Krieg zurückgeworfen. Die Zusammenarbeit bei der nuklearen Sicherheit wurde eingestellt, ein “Rotes Telefon” gibt es nicht mehr. Experten halten das für extrem gefährlich,” Der Spiegel, 8. Februar 2015 (18:06 Uhr).

(2) Michael Stürmer, “Die Welt ist heute gefährlicher als im Kalten Krieg; Hegemonie oder Gleichgewicht braucht Die Welt, sagte Kissinger;. Also eine Supermacht – wie die USA vorübergehend – oder zwei Supermächte – wie im Kalten Krie.;Der tGlobus ist von beidem weit entfernt, “Die Welt, 6. Februar 2015.

(3) “The Elephant in the Room: Reflections on the nuclear deterrent and the Ukraine,” The Trenchant Observer, December 1, 2014.

The world stumbled into World War I a century ago, and 75 years ago the world was thrown into the maelstrom of World War II due to the military aggression of Adolf Hitler, the West’s response of appeasement, and Hitler’s alliance with the Soviet Unuin (1939-1941) and his alliance with Japan, which led to Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Putin stated recently that he approved of the 1939 Von Rippentropp Pact of alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union, which also provided for the partition of Poland between the two signatories.

The U.S. and NATO are on a collision course with Putin and Russia.  Continued appeasement is likely to only embolden Putin and heighten, not lower, the risks of more direct conflict.

The next time Angela Merkel wants to say, “There is no military solution to the Ukraine conflict,” she should engage her brain before she speaks.

Putin believes there is a military solution that will help him resolve the conflict the way he wishes, achieving his goals.  He is avidly–and successfully–pursuing this military solution every day.

He does so even by signing peace agreements he will not honor, if he imagines that they will help him avoid some immediate countermove, such as third-round economic sanctions by the EU (agreed upon the day he signed the Minsk Protocol), or the U.S. deciding to send defensive weapons to Kiev to assist them in their own self-defense (which he may hope to avert by appearing to be cooperative at the forthcoming Minsk summit in February 11, 2014).

Yet given Putin’s duplicitous nature and his record of breaking agreements on the Ukraine, the upcoming summit in Minsk on Wednesday with François Hollande (Mr. Mistral), Angela Merkel (Mrs. coalition partner of the SDP appeasers and pacifists including her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Vladimir Putin (Mr. military aggression), and Petro Poroshenko, the valiant leader of the Ukraine whose toughness depends on that of Hollande, Merkel, Obama, and the West, holds little promise for more than a brief respite from the killing.

The Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014 was an agreement that was about as balanced and reasonable as you could get, given ongoing Russian military advances on the ground.

Russia simply didn’t abide by its provisions, and decided to go for more military advances.

While the West frets over angering the aggressor if it sends arms to Kiev, Putin is not at all worried about sending troops, tanks, artillery, advanced air defense systems and highly sophisticated electronic equipment across the international frontier with the Ukraine, in flagrant violation of article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter. He is not afraid of angering the West, because to date they have proven to be utterly spineless.

Have American leaders forgotten that it is Putin who is violating the most basic norms of international law prohibiting the use of force, while sending lethal arms to Kiev is fully in compliance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes measures of collective self defense, up to and including the use of force, in response to an “armed attack”?

There can be no doubt that Russia has committed an “armed attack” against the Ukraine, first in the Crimea and then in the eastern Ukraine. As we write, Russian regular troops and other military forces are fighting against Ukrainian government forces, within the Ukraine.

However, the real issue, which no one is discussing in public, is the urgent need to impose crippling economic sanctions on Moscow.

The EU appears paralyzed, and is fighting merely to re-authorize the sanctions already in place. That leaves the heavy lifting to the United States, which should impose crippling economic sanctions now, while working to help the EU catch up as soon as possible.

Only such action might forestall further military advances by Russia in the Donbas, and progressive consolidation of its position.

The West is in for a long and formidable struggle with Russia, and should be implementing long-term policies that might contain its current military aggression while bringing Russia back into the international community that supports the U.N. Charter and international law. Its actions should be principled, and aimed not only at Putin and his coterie, but also at the new leaders who will follow him.

In this new struggle with Russia, the West’s greatest weapons are steadfast defense of its values through economic sanctions, including denial of access to technology which would otherwise permit Russia to advance to the first rank of nations.

Military and financial aid to Kiev, as well as other moves by NATO, may also be required.

Immediate steps that can be taken would be to block Russia’s access to the SWIFT international payments system, to impose much broader sectoral sanctions on the Russian economy, to organize a boycott of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia (militating for a change of venue to a non-aggressor state), and to add Vladimir Putin himself to the sanctions list, including the freezing of all of his assets abroad.

These steps would be likely to influence Russia much more than a mere decision to send arms to Kiev, however important that action may be.

It is not logic that is lacking in Washington, Brussels, Paris and Berlin, but political courage and steadfastness of purpose.

Someone had better start thinking seriously about these issues, including both the risks of nuclear war and the risks of further appeasement of Putin and Russia.  Then Western leaders must start acting forcefully to address the challenges presented, in an effective manner.

The Trenchant Observer

 

Civilization falters, as Russian aggression stands and Islamic terrorism explodes

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo massacre by Islamic extremists on January 7 underlines the failure of the West and other civilized countries to win the struggle in Muslim and other societies to control the violent extremists who, wearing jihadism as a cloak, wreak havoc upon the world.

Samuel Huntington’s warning of a “clash of civilizations” has become a reality, though its effects perhaps may yet be abated.

The U.S.and other countries have resorted to drone strikes outside the Afghan theater of dubious validity under international law. They have committed torture, and refused to bring those responsible to account.

Meanwhile, the defense of civilization on other fronts falters, as Russian troops stand astride their booty in a war of aggression, the Crimea, Russian-occupied territory of the Ukraine.

Civilization is falling apart, as the West no longer defends its deepest values. Russia occupies the Crimea and has forces in the eastern Ukraine, while French President Francois Hollande calls for an end to sanctions against Russia, two months before they must be renewed by the European Union.

President Barack Obama has stood by while 200,000 Syrians have been killed, seemingly unmoved by their suffering. The cost of that indifference is high, as suggested by Turkey’s turning away from the West.

What is to be done?

Something tells us we cannot kill all the young Muslims who are drawn to the terrorists’ cause, veiled as it is in Muslim religious belief.

Something tells us we cannot win the war against jihadists by using drones, by secret “black” prisons, by torture, or by simply trying to kill them faster than they are formed. We cannot win a war based on a strategy of cutting off the tentacles of a hydra-headed monster which gains strength from our very efforts to kill it.

Driving from the back seat, Obama has wrecked the world. Or at least failed to act effectively to correct its downward course.

No one has the answers, as few even ask the right questions.

There are no leaders. Civilization falls apart.

The Trenchant Observer

The Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, and the torture trail leading to Abu Gharib

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

See

ANDREW HIGGINS and MAÏA de la BAUME, “Two Brothers Suspected in Killings Were Known to French Intelligence Services,” New York Times, January 8, 2015.

Higgins and de la Baume report on the background of one of the suspects, who appears to have been radicalized by anger over U.S. torture at Abu Gharib prison in Iraq, as follows:

Chérif’s interest in radical Islam, it was said at the 2008 trial, was rooted in his fury over the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, particularly the mistreatment of Muslims held at Abu Ghraib prison.

While there can be no excuse or justification in any sense for the abhorrent acts of terrorism that took place in Paris, there may be an important insight to be gained. Aside from the moral dimension of torture, it appears that debates over its efficacy must now be much more broadly framed.

The Trenchant Observer

Three imperious challenges for U.S. foreign policy: Ukraine, ISIS and Ebola

Monday, October 13th, 2014

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.

Syria

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.

See “REPRISE: “Looney Toons” at the White House: New York Times article details Obama’s thinking on Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #45,” The Trenchant Observer, May 27, 2012.

One of the first betrayals on Syria was with Turkey:

“Secretary Clinton caught her Turkish counterpart off guard during their meeting in Washington last month. Clinton reportedly told Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the Obama Administration “preferred going through the Russians” in an attempt to achieve a political solution being shopped by the UN/Arab League’s Special Syrian Envoy Kofi Annan.
–Amb. Marc Ginsberg, “Syria Is Obama’s Srebrenica,” Huffington Post (The Blog), March 28, 2012 .”

On the U.S. decision to sell out its regional allies and to work through Russia instead, see

The Trenchant Observer, “The emperor has no clothes”: Foreign policy without a moral core—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #19 (March 29), March 29, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “Into the Abyss: Washington’s Fecklessness, Syria’s Fate—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #20 (March 30), March 30, 2012.

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.

ISIS, Iraq and Syria

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.

Russian-Ukrainian War

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.

The Ebola Epidemic

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 he 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.

Unfortunately, the U.N. special representative for the Ebola crisis, Dr. David Nabarro, has been putting the credibility of the United Nations Ebola response on the line with optimistic statements that appear not to have a solid basis in scientific fact, or which are at least highly misleading. He hash stated, for example,

The UN special envoy on Ebola says he hopes that the outbreak can be brought under control within three months.

David Nabarro told the BBC the number of Ebola cases was currently increasing exponentially, but greater community awareness would help contain the virus.

People were becoming aware that isolating those infected was the best way to prevent transmission, he added.

So far, there have been more than 8,300 confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola, and at least 4,033 deaths.

Mr Nabarro said that the number of new cases was “quite frightening”, as the spread of the disease was currently accelerating.

At the beginning, many west African communities did not understand that the outbreak was an infectious disease, he said.

“I think we’ve got much better community involvement [now] which leads me to believe that getting it under control within the next three months is a reasonable target,” he said.

–“UN: Ebola outbreak could be controlled in three months,” BBC, October 11, 2014 (23:52 ET).

His assertions stand in sharp contrast to the scientific analysis contained in the last (sixth) Morbity and Mortality (MMWR) Special Report, dated September 26, 2014, which explained that under a worst case scenario the total number of Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone would be likely to reach 1,400,000 by January 20, 2015.

If trends continue without additional interventions, the model estimates that Liberia and Sierra Leone will have approximately 8,000 total Ebola cases (21,000 total cases when corrected for underreporting) by September 30, 2014 (Figure 1). Liberia will account for approximately 6,000 cases (16,000 corrected for underreporting) (Appendix [Figure 1]). Total cases in the two countries combined are doubling approximately every 20 days (Figure 1). Cases in Liberia are doubling every 15–20 days, and those in Sierra Leone are doubling every 30–40 days (Appendix [Figure 1]).

By September 30, 2014, without additional interventions and using the described likelihood of going to an ETU, approximately 670 daily beds in use (1,700 corrected for underreporting) will be needed in Liberia and Sierra Leone (Figure 2). Extrapolating trends to January 20, 2015, without additional interventions or changes in community behavior (e.g., notable reductions in unsafe burial practices), the model also estimates that Liberia and Sierra Leone will have approximately 550,000 Ebola cases (1.4 million when corrected for underreporting) (Appendix [Figure 2]). The uncorrected estimates of cases for Liberia on September 9, 2014, were 2,618, and the actual reported cases
were 2,407 (i.e., model overestimated cases by +8.8%). The uncorrected estimates of cases for Sierra Leone on September 13, 2014, were 1,505 and the actual reported cases were 1,620 (i.e., model underestimated cases by -7.6%).

See

“CDC projects huge increase in number of Ebola cases in West Africa until 70% of new cases confined to Ebola treatment centers or equivalent, The Trenchant Observer, October 6, 2014.

Adam Nossiter, “Officials Admit a ‘Defeat’ by Ebola in Sierra Leone,” New York Times, October 10, 2014.

Whether the 70% level of Ebola treatment centers or equivalent isolation can be achieved in time to break the momentum of the epidemic by December is an open question. Significantly, the critical factor is isolation not community understanding of the disease and its transmission, though the latter factor is obviously critically important in order to reach the 70% isolation target.

Common Threads

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 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 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.

Obama has decided to send 3,000 mikitary personnel, and other material assistance.

What is needed, however, is something like the Berlin Airlift of 1948, with all -out mobilization by the U.S. and other countries to get the people and the facilities to Liberia and Sierra Leone when they can still save tens or hundreds of thousands of lives.

The number of actual Ebola cases is estimated to,be 2.5 times the number of reported cases, or about 20,000 cases in Liberia a That number is doubling in Liberia and Sierra Leone every 20 days.

The Trenchant Observer

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

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