Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

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 principle of international law, if international order is to endure.

The Trenchant Observer

The Russia-Ukraine War: Putin, cunning judo master, versus Obama, NATO, and EU, conflicted and confused; Protagonists continue battle for Ukraine and vision of world order

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Developing

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a cunning and brilliant tactician who has now taken on the entire international legal and political order through his invasions of the Ukraine and “annexation” of the Crimea, seems to seize every day on some new target of opportunity offered up by the West.

To their credit, the EU, the U.S. and NATO in the last two weeks have overcome the resistance of pacifists and appeasers within their midst and begun to take forceful decisions to use their economic power to counter the advances of Ruusian troops and tanks in the Ukraine, and to strengthen their military posture toward Russia in the East.

They are now embarked on a strategy which will cost Russia grievously in the long and even intermediate term.

Their antagonist, Valadimir Putin, who seems — perhaps deceptively — to represent an inreasingly arbitrary one-man rule tending toward a totalitarian future, is not a long-term strategist.

In strategic terms, his policy of support for Bashar Al-Assad as the latter committed war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, leading to the deaths so far of over 200,000 people, has been deeply flawed. Focusing on the play-by-play game of defeating U.S. President Barack Obama and his allies, day by day, he has failed to anticipate the growth of ISIS or the “Islamic State” (“IS”) which poses a grave threat to Russia and its southern republics in the Caucasus.

ISIS is attracting, training, and providing experience to thousands of fighters who will one day return to Russia to wreak havoc with their nihilistic and barbarian policies of sowing fear, death and destruction.

In the Ukraine, through his military invasions and short-term victories, Putin has brought Ukrainian nationalism to a brightly burning flame, and ensured that the population of this strategically and economically critical country will distrust and hate Russia for generations.

By trying to prevent the Ukraine from moving toward Europe and the West by economic war and military force, he has ensured the opposite result, at least in the intermediate to long term. While absolutely determined to prevent the Ukraine from joining NATO, Putin has virtually assured that they will do so in the longer term, as the only means available to them so secure their Eastern frontier.

In short, Putin is not a particularly good long-term strategist.

Rather, he is a briliant tactician whose cunning in the pursuit of his own personal short-term objectives far exceeds that of the divided leaders of the West.

Moreover, he seems to be obsessed with playing the current short-term game in the battle for influence and ultimately control over the Ukraine.

His moves, like those of a champion judo master, are brilliantly executed. His method includes the following elements:

1) Stealth, as in the way he invaded and seized the Crimea, and launched his invasion of the eastern Ukraine in April (if not before).

The plausible deniability such stealth provides him is useful in dividing his opponents, as he gives pacifists and appeasers in the West reasons not to act, or to argue among themselves over whether to take any actions in response to Russian aggression.

2) Blatant lies, Misrepresentations, and War Propaganda

Useful both at the diplomatic level, in confusing leaders of countries which might oppose him, and in maintaining domestic support through his control of the media and television in particular, Putin’s lies and war propaganda are eventually recognized as outrageous by foreign observers (after they have served their short-term purposes), but are now essential domestically for him to maintain his grip on power.

On open question is whether the preposterous lies and propaganda can maintain their effectiveness over the longer term. In this respect, Joseph Goebels’ domestic propaganda may have been superior over the longer term precisely because of the realism with which it was imbued.

Putin’s domestic propaganda bubble could burst, which accounts for the extreme reactions of his government when news of Russian soldiers dying in the Ukraine began to come out. One deputy who visited the grave of a soldier who died in the Ukraine was beaten up. A highly respected NGO representing the mothers of Russian soldiers was denounced as subversive when it pressed too openly for details regarding the fates of missing and other soldiers deployed to the Ukraine.

3) Surprise

Putin is a master of striking a blow when his opponent’s guard is down. Thus, following the wrenching struggle to proceed with implementation of the latest EU sanctions by the EU, the next day Putin sent a second convoy of white trucks purportedly carrying humanitarian aid across the border into the Donbas region, in a blatant violation of the Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. There was no prior inspection by the IRC or the OSCE, or authorization by Ukrainian authorities.

4) De-sensitization to violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Putin has used this technique with great effect, both in the Crimea and in the eastern Ukraine. Executing small and low visibility violations of the border, repeatedly, by sending in irregular fighters, arms, and even sophisticated air-defense systems, Putin progressively de-sensitized leaders in the West to such border violations.

No single violation seemed worse than the preceding one, to which leaders had not objected. Once they had been de-sensitized, larger violations could take place without raising alarm, until finally thousands of Russian troops, and tanks, artillery pieces, and other equipment had entered the Ukraine and were engaged in fighting the Ukrainian forces.

Putin’s Latest Moves

Putin’s latest moves include sending the white truck convoy into the Ukraine beginning Saturday, without Ukraine’s permission or IRC or OSCE prior inspection and accompanying of the cargoes to their destination.

He has thus succeeded in de-sensitizing Western leaders by initially speaking to the IRC and OSCE, and even reaching some agreements on the first convoy in August, then violating them when he sent the first convoy into the Donbas without Kiev’s authorization or OSCE and IRC inspection and control.

This time, he used great surprise, and unlike the first convoy, simply sent the second convoy across the border into the Ukraine with no inspections, no controL, and no authorization from Kiev.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko did not complain loudly, as he seems now to be buying in to the idea of appeasing Putin and responding to his threats–after the Ukrainian army was badly bloodied by the direct attacks of Russian troops–by going along with what he does, in order to maintain the viability of the Minsk Protocol cessefire and peace plan agreement.

This is the only way to understand Poroshenko’s statement in the last week that 70% of the Russian forces had been withdrawn, when NATO reported seeing no such activity.

At the same time, Putin has underlined the fragility of the ceasefire by resuming separatists attacks in Donetsk, with artillery and rockets being used in an attack on the Donetsk airport. The attack was successfully repelled by Ukrainian forces. But Putin made his point.

In the West, Obama, clueless, is focused on the wrong conflict

Meanwhile, as a showdown between Russia and the West is in full swing, Barack Obama is consumed with taking action in another conflict, with ISIS or the so-called Islamic State.

What the deaths of 200,000 people in Syria could not achieve, the beheadings by IS of two Americans produced within weeks: a decision by the Obama administration to engage militarily against ISIS both in Iraq and Syria, and to provide military aid to the “moderate” rebels within Syria.

The U.S. actions are necessary and appropriate, though perhaps not sufficient.

The important point here is that Obama has been focused on these decisions, and the dramatic change in his policies toward Iraq and Syria, instead of focusing on the war in the Ukraine.

In strategic terms, the war in the Ukraine is of paramount importance.

Obama and his administration should not be distracted from paying full attention, and being actively engaged in decision making with the EU, NATO and their allies,in deciding how to respond quickly to Putin’s next moves.

The Trenchant Observer

Barack Obama’s phantasmagoric world, where the choice of words defines reality

Friday, September 5th, 2014

phantasmagoria /ˌfæntæzməˈɡɔːrɪə/, phantasmagory /fænˈtæzməɡərɪ/
n
1. a shifting medley of real or imagined figures, as in a dream
2. a sequence of pictures made to vary in size rapidly while remaining in focus
3. RARE a shifting scene composed of different elements

Etymology: 19th Century: probably from French fantasmagorie production of phantasms, from phantasm + -agorie, perhaps from Greek ageirein to gather together

phantasmagoric /ˌfæntæzməˈɡɒrɪk/, ˌphantasmaˈgorical
adj

–Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers

U.S. President Barack Obama was quite successful as a candidadate in 2008 and 2012 through the modern political technique of managing the narrative.

Unfortunately, he has for five and half years applied the same tecnique to the management of his foreign policy narrative.

Tragically, he has paid much more attention to the narrative of his foreign policies and the fine intellectual distinctions he makes in his head than he has to the changing realities on the ground in a number of crises, the relationships between them, and the need for the adoption of an effective strategy and implementing actions which can simultaneously deal with all of them.

These crises include Russia and its invasions of the Ukraine, Syria, ISIS, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia, the expansion of islamic militant groups across the northern half of Africa (Boko Haram in Nigeria is but one example), and China’s territorial claims and militant actions in the South China and East China Seas.

The evidence that Obama gives priority to the choice of words and managing his foreign policy narrative instead of developing strategy and implementing it through decisive actions is very strong.

In Afganistan, the 2009 policy review spent an enormous amount of time debating whether the goal there should be to “degrade” or to “defeat” the Taliban.

With ISIS, which did not come upon the scene overnight, there is evidence that a similar debate has been taking place, with the president only at the NATO Summit on September 4-5 declaring that the goal should be both to “degrade” and to “destroy” ISIS.

Aside from revealing the divisions within his foreign policy team, this unhappy formulation also reveals–paradoxically–that the president does not always think through the implications of the words he speaks.

From a foreign policy narrative perspective, the formulation makes perfect sense, since it can be portrayed as not reflecting a change in policy. From a strategic and action perspective, the words are pure nonsense.

Further evidence of the priority given by the President to words instead of actions is provided by the emphasis he has placed on calling ISIS by his preferred name, ISIL (“the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”), instead of ISIS (“the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” or “the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham”).

Most recently, as the EU, NATO and the U.S. have faced the challenge of how to respond to the second Russian invasion of the Ukraine, this time in the Donbass, Obama has been very careful to characterize the movement of Russian tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, and sophisticated air-defense systems into the Ukraine as an “incursion” and not an “invasion”. This played right into Vladimir Putin’s hands, as he sought to confuse the issue and hide the fact that an outright military invasion had occurred and was continuing.

The pacifists and appeasers in NATO and the EU have displayed a similar diffidence in avoiding the term “invasion”, whether due to Obama’s leadership on verbal formulations or not.

An “incursion” might be allowed to stand, as in Georgia. Still, it is hard to see how the seizure of the Crimea and its annexation could be considered a mere “incursion”. It may be that, for now, the pacifists and appeasers who lead the West are simply unable to think about the Crimea.

Finally, mention must be made of Obama’s careful phraseology in stating that if Putin continues on this or that course of action, he and Russia will pay additional “costs”.

This way of looking at the world can be found in Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance sppech where, while reserving to himself the right to use force whenever necessay to protect America, he stated that the rules of the road governing the use of force should be followed because it is in the interests of national leaders to do so.

There is no moral imperative contained in his formulations, then or now.

Obama’s leadership in verbal formulations is reflected in the adoption by other NATO and EU leaders of this terminology of “additional costs”.

At times it seems like Obama is stating–matter-of-factly–to an armed burglar in his house, who has already killed one of his children and threatens to rape his wife, that the intruder should desist or else he will have to pay “additional costs”. Lest this example sound too extreme, one should recall that some 3,000 people have killed in the fighting in the eastern Ukraine.

The language of imposing “additional costs” on the aggrssor Putin also has a more pervasive impact on how Obama and other decision makers think about what is going on in the Ukraine. It reveals that Obama, and others who adopt this terminology, have fallen victim to the “Rational Actor Fallacy”, which results from thinking within a “Rational Actor” or “Analytic” paradigm in which all government actions are viewed as the product of a rational calculus by a single, unitary rational mind or its equivalent. This paradigm is manifestly inadequare, and leads to making false assumptions about the causes and motivations of state behavior.

The significance of Obama’s focusing on the choice of words and managing the foreign policy narrative of his administration is that it leads to fuzzy and confused thinking, which can mask the presence of very grave threats to the national security of the United States, NATO members, and other states.

Russia has “invaded” the eastern Ukraine by military force in violation of the prohibition of the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter.

It did so in the Crimea. It has done so now in the eastern Ukraine. Its forces remain in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine in open and flagrant violation of that bedrock principle of the U.N. Charter and international law.

That is the reality we face, and the reality we must clearly understand, without obfuscations with words, if we are to muster the courage to take effective action to reverse the situation, and to reaffirm and reestablish observance of the most fundamental norm in the U.N. Charter and international law.

The words you choose affect the way you think, as George Orwell explained in 1946. Words which are not connected to actions, as Theodore Roosevel explained in 1907 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (delivered in 1912), are meangingless, or worse.

To avoid floundering in a phantasmagoric world of visions that lead to lunging at shadows, or sitting immobile when a bear is coming at your throat, Obama and other leaders need to use real words to describe the realities which they see, and the actual and very real threats to which they must respond.

See

(1) Andrew Higgins, “On Ukraine, the West Sidesteps a Fraught Term,” September 4, 2014.

(2) “Russian “Invasion” or Incursion” in Ukraine? Obama and the primacy of words over actions,” The Trenchant Observer, August 28, 2014.

(3) “ISIS or ISIL? A telling tale of the primacy of words over actions in Obama’s foreign policy,” The Trenchant Observer, June 19, 2014.

(4) “The smartest person in the room, and the Afghanistan policy review,” The Trenchant Observer, October 24, 2010.

(5) The Daily Star: “The “Rational Actor” Fallacy and Stopping Syria’s Atrocities—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #8 (March 9) The Trenchant Observer, March 9, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

The Vatican calls on Muslim leaders to condemn violence by jihadists in “the Islamic State”

Friday, August 15th, 2014

The Vatical has called on Muslim religious leaders to denounce the crimes committed by the juhaddist so-called “Islamic State” (formerly known as ISIS)

See:

(1 John Hooper (Rome), “Vatican calls on Muslim leaders to condemn Christian persecution in Iraq; Statement suggests dialogue with Islamic representatives may be cut if leaders fail to denounce crimes in name of religion,” The Guardian, August 12, 2014 (09.37 EDT).

(2) Yasmine Hafiz, “Vatican Urges Muslim Leaders To Condemn The Islamic State Formerly Known As ISIS, The Huffington Post, August 12, 2014.

Hafiz points out that a number of Muslim leaders have already spoken out:

Many have already done that. Iyad Ameen Madani, the Secretary General for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation called the actions of the Islamic State a “crime that cannot be tolerated” in July. Sunni and Shiite Muslim leaders from the UK made a video to condemn the Islamic State in July, and professors from the ancient and influential al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, have also publicly rejected the Caliphate. Most recently, the Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, Egypt’s top Muslim scholar, denounced the Islamic State as an “extremist and bloody group” on Tuesday.

(3) Shafik Mandhai, “Muslim leaders reject Baghdadi’s caliphate; Prominent Muslim leaders rebuke the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed caliphate, calling it ‘void’ and ‘deviant’,” Al Jazeera, August 7, 2014.

(4) “World’s top Muslim leaders condemn attacks on Iraqi Christians,” Vatican Radio, July 25, 2014.

(5) Reuters, “Egypt’s Top Muslim Leader Condemns Islamic State: Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam Denounces ‘Bloody Group,’” Huntington Post, August 12, 2014 (Updated: 08/13/2014 6:59 am EDT).

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. and other nations must establish a ceasefire in Gaza NOW

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Developing

Hamas has no right to attack Israel with indiscriminate rockets, or with commandos entering through tunnels.

Israel has a right of self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

But that right must still be exercised in accordance with the requirements under international law of immediacy, necessity, and proportionality for any measues of force taken in self-defense.

That right must also be exercised in accordance with the requirements of humanitarian law or “the laws of war”.

That means Israel can’t lawfully target hospitals and schools, and probably means that the targeting of Gaza’s sole electric power generator and storage tanks cannot be justified as an act that is necessary and proportionate to the achievement of a military objective, in the face of an immediacy requirement for action leaving no alternative of action.

The fact that the government of a territory engages in armed attacks against Israel does not give the latter the right to destroy whole swaths of the Gaza Strip, and to reduce that territory to rubble.

Just as it was morally and legally wrong to allow the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980 to proceed, because of anger at Iran over the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran and the view that the country was a bad actor, it is wrong to allow Israel to proceed further under the illusion that if given a free reign it can physically and materially destroy Hamas, just because the organization is a bad actor.

Instead, the United States and other countries should act immediately, with the greatest urgency, to secure the establishment of a ceasefire in Gaza. Absent consent of the parties, a ceasefire can be imposed by the U.N. Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the U. N. Charter. Regional countries, including Qatar, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, should also play their part.

The United States holds enormous power to influence Israel’s actions, because it is only a veto by the United States that prevents the U. N. Security Council from taking action against Israel.

This is real leverage, and it should be used in order to protect the civilians and civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

Domestic political lobbies in the U.S. should be managed to allow such leverage to be exercised, for ends which ultimately will benefit Israelis as well as Palestinians. America’s strong alliance with Israel should not serve as an excuse for thowing reason, and considerations of humanity, to the winds.

Israel appears to be engaged in activities in Gaza which constitute an abuse of the right of self-defense.

These activities must be stopped, for reasons of humanity.

After a ceasefire has been established, diplomatic negotiations involving a larger number of parties may take on the task of determining how to stop attacks on Israel by rockets or using tunnels, and how to end the siege of Gaza in order to open up possibilities for its inhabitants to have access to the world.

In the present conflict, there is much evidence of pure hatred on both sides. This is what happens when a hot war is underway, as the reptilian brains of partisans on both sides take control.

Now, however, it is time for cooler heads to prevail. Those cooler minds must come from outside the territories of the warring parties.

And, with whatever means may be required, a ceasefire must be imposed.

It is not too early even to begin thinking of a United Nations peacekeeping force stationed in Gaza.

For the innocent civilians, school children, civilian infrastructure, and well-being of the human beings caught up in the maw of this mindless warfare,

For reasons of humanity, for Israelis as well as Palestinians,

A ceasefire must be imposed now.

The Trenchant Observer

“Krystallnacht” in Mosul and the Islamic Caliphate

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Developing

Just as “Krystallnacht” (Chrystal Night), on November 9-10, 1938, signaled loudly to the World Hitler’s and Nazi Germany’s policy of persecution of the Jews in Germany (already including Austria and the Sudetenland) and the horrors yet to come, the so-called Caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (al-Shams), also known as ISIS or “Da-ish”, has threatened to kill Christians in Mosul who do not covert to Islam or pay a tax imposed on non-Muslims for protection, revealing current horrors underway and heralding those yet to come.

Such action is wholly outside the bounds of international law and modern civilization.

It brings to our consciousness a new dimension of the ISIS jihadists, which is apparent genocide committed against Christians and other non-Muslims.

See “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 9 December 1948,” here. Articles II and III of the Convention provide:

Article II

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III

The following acts shall be punishable:
(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.

Louisa Loveluck in The Telegraph reports the following:

Christian families streamed out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Saturday after Islamist fighters said they would be killed if they did not pay a protection tax or convert to Islam.

The warning was read out in Mosul’s mosques on Friday afternoon, and broadcast throughout the city on loudspeakers.

“We offer [Christians] three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment… if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword,” the announcement read.

It said Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who the group has now named Caliph Ibrahim, had ordered Christians who did not want to stay and live under those terms to “leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate”.

In recent days, Islamic State fighters had reportedly been tagging Mosul’s Christian houses with the letter N for “Nassarah”, the term by which the Koran refers to Christians.

Islamic State fighters robbed departing Christians of their belongings, (Fadi, a teacher) said, leaving them to face destitution in grim camps for the displaced. Deprived of their cars and cash, many Christians were forced to walk to safety.

–Louisa Loveluck, “Christians flee Iraq’s Mosul after Islamists tell them: convert, pay or die,” The Telegraph, July 19, 2014 (7:16PM BST).

“Iraqi Christians leave city en masse after Islamist militants threatened to kill them unless they converted to Islam or paid a ‘protection tax”.”

The echo of Krystallnacht (and earlier Biblical events) was stunning, with the ISIS jihadists marking Christians’ houses with the letter N for “Nassarah”.

As international peace and security in many parts of the world breaks down, simultaneously, from the Ukraine to Gaza to Iraq and Syria and Libya, the civilized nations of the world must not forget and must act urgently to prevent acts of genocide against Christians and other non-Muslims in the new Islamic Caliphate of ISIS.

As these disparate events show, and the founders of the United Nations well understood, international peace and security is something that is indivisible.

One cannot allow the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale by Bashar al-Assad in Syria, without opening the gates of hell.

One cannot allow Russia to invade a European state, and annex part of it, without greatly weakening the deterrent force of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition
of the threat or use of force across international frontiers.

One cannot look at a single crisis alone, without missing the broader picture of the general weakening of international peace and security that is currently underway.

Civilized nations must now act, on an urgent basis, to halt Russian aggression in the Ukraine, to stop potential genocide within the Islamic Caliphate, to halt the war crimes and crimes against humanity of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to stop the fighting in Gaza, and to ensure that territorial disputes in the East and South China seas are resolved exclusively by peaceful means.

To achieve these goals, it is imperative that the international community uphold and reaffirm the fundamental principles of the U.N. Charter and U.N. conventions prohibiting the threat or use of force or violating the fundamental human rights of all human beings.

This they must do not through endless formulaic repetitions of words, of oft-repeated dilplomatic incantations, but rather through real actions aimed at rapidly changing the situation on the ground in different arenas.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s six crises and collapsing foreign policy: Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and China’s actions in the East and South China Seas

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Developing

President Barack Obama now faces six simultaneous crises, amid the collapsing edifice of his foreign policy. They are:

1. Russia and the Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of the eastern Ukraine continues, calling the West’s bluff that it would impose sectoral sanctions.

The fact that Russia is acting through special operations and irregular foces has no bearing on its responsibility under international law for these actions. They amount to an “armed attack” under the terms of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, creating a right self-defense on the part of the Ukraine, and a right of “collective self-defense” on the part of other states, up to and including the use of force, to repel the invasion.

Economic and other sanctions are similarly justifiable as measures of self-defense, and also as “countermeasures” in response to illegal intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

But where legal authority for action to stop the Russians is abundant and clear, the political will of the countries in the West to act effectively is almost non-existant. Instead, appeasement and a new form of “hybrid” pacifism have taken hold.

Putin knows his antagonists. As the one-month deadline for stopping support of the “separatists” in eastern Ukraine draws near, the EU and the U.S. are already backing down, talking now of further “targeted” sanctions–not sectoral sanctions. Today Obama added seven individuals to the list.

If there were any doubt in Putin’s mind about Obama’s decisiveness, the latter’s meek and temporizing responses to the advances of ISIS in Iraq should have put those doubts to rest.

Russia continues its invasion of eastern Ukraine, sending additional tanks and other equipment across the border right now.

Having concentrated control of foreign policy in the White House, President Obama does not have the decision making capacity to deal with multiple crises at the same time, or indeed the decisiveness to take timely and effective action in any one of them.

We have devoted great attention to Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and its ongoing invasion of the eastern Ukraine, because these actions and the pacifism and appeasement with which they have been met in the West directly threaten the collapse of the institutions and norms established to uphold the maintenance of international peace and security.

In the hierarchy of grave crises, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine remains the most serious, because it threatens to destroy or eviscerate the necessary tools of international law and institutions which are essential for the resolution of other crises, including those which are presently all raging at the same time.

When the question seems to be where to send the fire brigade, actually the more fundamental question is how can you keep the fire brigade functioning, and operating effectively?

See:

Brett Logiurato, “Ukraine Wants A Ceasefire — Russia Is Sending A Bunch Of Tanks Into Ukraine,” Business Insider, June 20, 2014 (1:16 p.m.).

To be continued…

2. Iraq

The armed forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured Mosul, and are driving south toward Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmurga forces have occupied Kirkuk. The tribes in the Sunni triangle are collaborating with ISIS. The newly elected Parliament is to convene and elect a new prime minister.

Iraq has requested the U.S. to conduct airstrikes against ISIS forces. Obama has disatched under 300 soldiers to help protect the U.S, Embassy, and also approximately 300 special forces troops and advisers to help the Iraqi military.

If the ISIS advance is not stopped, particularly toward Shiite shrines in the south, Iran may intervene militarily to defend the shrines and the al-Maliki Shiite government.

Tellingly, one of Obama’s first moves was to go to Congressional leaders to see what actions might be politically acceptable, instead of huddling with all of his top national security officials to decide what actions are required by the exigencies of the present military and political situation in Iraq.

3. Syria

Syria has been reported by the international chemical weapons agency, charged by the Security Council with overseeing Syria’s surrender and destruction of all of its chemical weapons, as having recently used chemical weapons (chlorine gas) against its population on a number of occasions.

Such actions would appear to cross Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons use. What is he going to do about it? His “red line” seems to have been written in the sand.

4. Afghanistan

The Afghan presidential run-off election on June 14 was, according to the leading candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, the subject of massive fraud in the eastern portions of the country, the traditional base of his opponent, Ashraf Ghani.

The actions the U.S. takes in the coming days may have a decisive impact on the transparency and outcome of the election. If a satisfactory way out of the present crisis is not found, the legitimacy of the new government and the prospects for its survival after U.S. forces withdraw in 2015 could be greatly diminished.

In thinking about Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers should keep one image firmly fixed in their minds: that of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers laying down their arms and fleeing from battle as ISIS forces approached in Mosul, and elsewhere.

A full-blwn crisis has erupted.

5. Iran

A settlement of the nuclear dispute with Iran is far from assured. The six-month interim agreement will expire on July 20. The talks could not bear fruit, raising again the possibility of a military strike by Israel against Iran’s buclear installations.

6. China and territorial claims in the South and East China Seas

In the last week China has begun moving oil rigs into disputed territorial waters. This is highly provocative, and has the potential to generate an arms race with its neighbors in the region, including Vietnam, Japan and Korea.

The U.S. needs to actively intervene in this crisis to ensure it does not lead to military incidents in the region, or an arms race. The ultimate risk is that Tokyo could be driven to deploy nuclear weapons. Few doubt that it has the capability to do so.

Can President Obama and his administration handle all of these crises simultaneously, and successfully?

We shall see, and very soon.

The Trenchant Observer

ISIS or ISIL? A telling tale of the primacy of words over actions in Obama’s foreign policy

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

President Barack Obama has been very careful to enunciate clearly the acronym of the terrorist organization whose forces have taken Mosul and have been rapidly advancing toward Baghdad. ISIL, or “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” is the official U.S. nomenclature for this group.

Others, if not most outside the government, call the group “ISIS”, or “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”.

The actual name of the organization in Arabic is

الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام or داعش (dāʿiš). The pronunciation of the Arabic acronym is something like “Da eesh”.

See Patrick J. lyons and Mona El-Maggar, “What to Call Iraq Fighters? Experts Vary on S’s and L’s; Islamic State in Iraq and Syria? Or Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant?” New York Times, June 18, 2014.

The nuances of meaning in the two alternate names, neither of which contains a precise translation of the Arabic word “al-Sham”, is a matter of some intellectual interest.

But when Obama spelled out “eye ess eye ell” for the TV cameras, he was stressing that he knew the correct name for this group, and that we should learn to say it correctly.

Or perhaps it was just so new to him, despite the last year’s events in Syria and Western Iraq, that he was simply trying to get it right himself.

Does it matter? In a theoretical sense, there could be an issue as to whether the goals of the group are to establish a caliphate “in Iraq and Greater Syria (which encompasses Lebanon), or in a much broader but not clearly-defined region, “the Levant”. The term includes parts of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel and the Left Bank. The term was used 100 or 200 years ago by European colonial powers, but has fallen out of usage, in part because of its colonialist overtones.

But is the translation of an acronym really the right place to sort this out?

The Arabic refers to “al-Sham”, which itself has a vague meaning in historical usage, but at least it starts with “S”.

Wouldn’t it be better to focus on the military, political and diplomatic aspects of the crisis, rather than the linguistic ones?

Does Obama have any sense of what is salient, at this particular moment, and what must be decided and executed today?

Or is he lost in an academic world where what ultimately counts is a brilliant analysis, articulated in well-crafted words? Or is he, or is he at the same time, lost in a legislator’s sense of time, where all issues seemingly can be visited again?

The president seems far removed from the ominous requirements of decisive action and consequences which Dwight D. Eisenhower faced on the eve of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, or which John F. Kennedy faced as Soviet warships carrying nuclear missiles bore down on Cuba in October, 1962.

In any event, what is salient and requires urgent decision, now, is certainly not to insist on “ISIL” when everyone else is using “ISIS”.

It is actions, and actions taken at the right moment, that will determine the outcome of the current crisis in Iraq and Syria.

Had Obama acted two and a half years ago with even a minimal use of force to halt Bashar al-Assad’s massive war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, we probably wouldn’t even be talking today about Iraq falling apart because of ISIS or ISIL.

You could call the group “The Flying Rocket Men”, for all the difference the name makes.

As for The Observer, I’ll stick with ISIS, or “Da’ish”.

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. sends military assistance to Iraq as Iran, violating U.N. sanctions, sends arms to Syria through Iraq

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

The United States has begun sending missiles and other military assistance to Iraq, maintaining radio silence on Iranian arms shipments to Syria through Iraq and Iraqi airspace.

See

Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmidt, “U.S. Sends Arms to Aid Iraq Fight With Extremists,” New York Times, December 25, 2013.

Has anyone in the U.S. stopped to think about the propriety of supplying Iraq with missiles and other military equipment, while at the same time Iran, violating U.N. sanctions, flies and sends arms and other military supplies to Syria through Iraq and Iraqi airspace to assist Bashar al-Assad and his murderous regime?

They should.

See Reuters, “Iran, Syria reiterate alliance as Assad government says it’s winning the war; Syrian ministerial delegation travels to Tehran to discuss trade; Iranian vice president says that his country stands alongside Syria in its fight against ‘axis of evil,’” Haaretz, November 30, 2013.

Mark Landler, “On Iran and Syria, Tests of Diplomacy Intertwine,” New York Times, December 19, 2013.

Reuters, “US, Iraq work together to combat Syria spillover effects; United States to provide Iraq with shared intel, F-16 jets in attempt to curb Iran weapons flyovers to Syria,” The Jerusalem Post, August 16, 2013.

Ned Parker, “U.S. official: Iraq continues to allow Iranian overflights to Syria,” Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2013.

Howard LaFranchi, “John Kerry urges Iraq to inspect Iranian overflights to Syria; Secretary of State John Kerry tells Iraq it must curb Iran’s use of Iraqi airspace to aid Syrian regime, but a shrinking US presence is leaving it with less sway over postwar events,” The Christian Science Monitor, March 25,2013.

Kerry chides Iraq over Iran flights to Syria; US secretary of state tells leaders in Iraq to stop Iranian overflights of arms to Syria, saying they are “problematic”. al Jazeera, 24 Mar 2013 (18:30).

U. N. Security Council Resolition 1747 (2007) probinits Iranian arms shipments to other countries, as follows

The Security Council

5. Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran;
–See SC/8980 (24 March 2007), reproducing the text of Resolution S/1747 (2007).

Obama’s failure to publicly address this issue is notable, but the failure of the press to raise this question is even more noteworthy.

How can the U.S.provide military assistance to a country which, by allowing Iranian overflights of its territory with arms for Syria, flagrantly violates the U.N. sanctions against Iran?

Is it even legal under U.S. law for the U.S. to provide assistance to an Iraqi regime which is violating the Iran sanctions regime?

Shouldn’t the U.S. at least insist on Iraq halting such Iranian arms shipsments to Syria through its airspace or by land as a condition precedent for any military assistance?

Shouldn’t Congress weigh in on this issue, as it involves the expenditure of U.S. funds?

Is there a problem here?

What is the strategic rationale behind these actions?

The Trenchant Observer

The big picture in Egypt: The referendum on the draft constitution on January 14-15, and the government’s crackdown on demonstrators

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

What is going on in Egypt?

The referendum on the draft constitution to be held on January 14-15, 2014 holds the promise of a transition to democracy in the new charter’s text, while the government has cracked down on demonstrations by sentencing three leading human rights leaders to three years in prison.

The referendum will also be a referendum on the “roadmap” for a transition to democracy set out by the Army and the interim government of Adly Mansour, who signed a restrictive law on demonstrations in late November.

See

Patrick Kingsley (Cairo), “Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour signs ‘anti-protest law’; Rights groups and lawyers say legislation requiring permission to gather will make legal demonstrations almost impossible, The Guardian, 24 November 2013 (11:27 EST).

The government has, in fact, engaged in a number of actions which appear to be anti-democratic and violative of human rights.

While restrictions and violations of human rights should not be condoned, it may be useful to try to understand the strategy the government seems to be pursuing.

The biggest challenge to the government and the draft constitution does not come from human rights activists, but rather from the Muslim Brotherhood. The November law restricting protests was probably aimed at the onongoing protests by Brotherhood supporters above all.

It is important to the military and the government that the referendum be approved both by a high percentage of voters and by a turn-out with broad participation. They are taking no chances that the Brotherhood might turn the referendum to its advantage.

Once the referendum and the “roadmap” have been approved by Egyptian voters, the transition will move into a new phase. After the new constitution enters into force, human rights advocates will have a stronger set of tools with which to wage their struggle for the rule of law. The landscape will shift.

Significantly, two leading liberal parties have just announced that they will join together, and are also calling on other progressive parties to join them. Moreover, they have come out clearly for the holding of presidential elections prior to national assembly elections, which the draft constitution leaves up to the interim government to decide.

Further, liberal political leaders and parties appear to be moving toward acceptance of General Al-Sisi’s running for president, even pledging their support if he decides to run.

See

AP, “Egypt’s Moussa defends draft constitution; As Egypt’s draft national charter set to be put to referendum in near future, head of outgoing constitution-amending committee defends final version,” Ahram Online, December 10, 2013.

“Raid on Egyptian rights group widely condemned; Egyptian human rights organisations condemn police raid on Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights and detention of its staff,” Ahram Online , 19 December 2013.

Youssef Hamza, “Egypt’s charter referendum will be a verdict on Islamism, The National (UAE), December 21, 2013 (updated December 22, 2013 at 07:46).

“Egypt’s Maher, Adel and Douma sentenced to 3 years in jail,” CoptsUnited, December 23, 2013.

“Two liberal parties announce merger,” Aswat Masriya, December 22, 2013.

Whether General Al-Sisi decides to run for president, and whether if elected he would respect the new constitution’s provisions, or rather use the blunt instruments of state power in an attempt to re-establish the old order, are questions which can only be answered over time.

In order to have a successful referendum in January, the government of Adly Mansour would do well to demonstrate its respect for the fundamental human rights established in the draft constitution, whose approval by the people of Egypt is so earnestly sought.

The short-sighted use of heavy-handed tactics could defeat the government’s goals of achieving a large turnout for the referendum, and the legitimacy a resounding vote of approval could confer.

Egypt’s future stability lies in the balance.

The Trenchant Observer

For updated news on Egypt from Egptian sources, see

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt Independent

Egypt Daily News

Aswat Masriya

CoptsUnited: A Newspaper for All Egyptians

Egypt Online (Egyptian State Information Service. The site contains the official text of the army statement of July 1, 2013.

Daily News Egypt