Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Obama-Putin meeting at UN: The resurgence of pacifism and appeasement toward Putin and Russia in Europe and the U.S.

Thursday, September 24th, 2015


Julia Smirnova, “Die wundersame Rückkehr des Wladimir Putin In der New Yorker UN-Woche drängt Putin ins Zentrum der Weltbühne. Durch die aktive Rolle im Syrienkonflikt hofft der Kreml-Chef auf seine Rehabilitierung. Warum er auf einmal wieder salonfähig ist,” Die Welt, 25. September 2015 (15:54 Uhr).

Peter Baker and Michael R. Gordon, “White House Says President Obama and Vladimir Putin Will Meet Next Week,” New York Times, September 24, 2015.


Vladimir Putin and Russia are driving events and decisions in the Middle East and the Ukraine far faster than the U.S., NATO and Europe can devise coherent policies and strategies to counter them.

One has the impression that Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have a broad strategy which they are implementing with vigor, taking full advantage of the policy disarray they see on the part of the West, which in fact no one is leading.

It is like they see the whole chessboard, nimbly moving their pieces around at will, constantly keeping their opponents off balance, while the U.S., NATO and Europe can only focus on one move at a time.

In two weeks the U.S. has moved from trying to block military shipments to new Russian air bases in Syria, to accepting these Russian strategic and military moves with passivity while “thinking about” whether U.S. interests and Russia’s overlap in Syria.

In the same time period they have moved from a policy of demanding Bashar al-Assad leave office as a condition for any political settlement in Syria, to openly accepting that he will not have to leave “on the first day or in the first month”.

In a word, they have caved in to the Russian position, not having anticipated Russia’s major military move into the country, in coordination with Iran.

At the same time, France has agreed to sell to Egypt the two Mistral-class warships originally sold to Russia, whose delivery was blocked following the Russian invasions of the Crimea and the Donbas region in the eastern Ukraine. It would be interesting to see Russia’s role in the deal, which includes the prospect of selling Russian helicopters for the two Midstral-class warships to Egypt. One has to ask, moreover, where the money for the warships is coming from, Moscow or the Gulf States?

France and Russia have settled the financial details in the dispute over non-delivery of the Mistrals, without France having to pay any penalties. An appreciative Francois Hollande has started calling for a lifting of the EU sanctions imposed on Russia because of its aggression against the Ukraine.

This week Angela Merkel appeared together with former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Putin’s leading and most shameless apologist in Germany, on the occasion of the presentation of a biography of Schroeder. Merkel was full of praise for Schroeder, downplaying their differences in foreign policy.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the leader of the SPD, Sigmar Gabriel, has just come out with a full-throated appeal for an end of EU sanctions against Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama now appear willing to negotiate with al-Assad over the future of Syria, as Russian military forces move into the country to militarily ensure his survival.

Suddenly Barack Obama has plans to meet with Putin on the sidelines during the upcoming session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, in a visit that shows all the signs of being thoroughly unprepared. It was first announced in Moscow, and appears to have been requested by Putin. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, is quoted as saying that the two presidents will talk about the Ukraine “if there is time”.

Given the antipathy between the two men, one would have thought that Obama’s advisers would have done their utmost to avoid a meeting between them, particularly one without the usual policy planning and broad government preparations for a summit.

In the meantime, Putin has directed his puppets in the eastern Ukraine to observe the Minsk II ceasefire, which has been holding for several weeks now.

The outlines of the Western appeasement of Putin are starting to emerge.

In exchange for Putin’s bringing al-Assad to the negotiating table and working toward a political settlement in Syria, provided the cease-fire continues to hold in the eastern Ukraine, EU sanctions against Russia will be greatly eased, with the Americans acting in parallel.

The West will in effect accept and tacitly acknowledge the Russian conquest of the Crimea, and will accept the “frozen conflict” in the eastern Ukraine, with the Russians keeping troops and irregular forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, while continuing to control the open border between the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

Putin wins, in Syria and in the Ukraine, while the harshest sanctions are lifted in response to the ceasefire holding, without full implementation of the Minsk II agreement’s provisions.

The impact on the U.N. Charter prohibition of the use of force is likely to be great.

Whether this acceptance of military aggression by Russia in the Ukraine and its fruits will have any impact on China in the East and South China Seas appears to be a question that has not been seriously considered by Obama or the other appeasers of Putin in Europe.

The U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state (Article 2 paragraph 4) will have lost much of its deterrent force, with Russia having annexed the Crimea, frozen the conflict in the eastern Ukraine through ongoing military invasion, and through military intervention having ensured the hold on power of Bashar al-Assad, a leader who has committed some of the greatest war crimes and crimes against humanity since World War II.

In Syria, Putin is building Russian military bases and introducing combat aircraft and other combat forces, shifting the military balance of power in the region. All of this Russia is doing before a supine and leaderless West.

This is the deal with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad that Barack Obama, François Hollande, and Angela Merkel are cooking up.

Only if those with a memory of the last four years in Syria, the last two years in the Ukraine, and the most basic norms of the United Nations Charter and international law speak up, and mobilize, will this disaster be avoided.

The Trenchant Observer

David Petraeus offers clear policy suggestions on Syria and Iraq in testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee (video and transcript)

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

“U.S. Policy in the Middle East, C-Span, September 22, 2015.

Former CIA Director and General David Petraeus (Ret.) testified at a hearing on U.S. policy toward the Middle East and combating ISIS* in the region. He talked about his support for military enclaves in Syria and for greater military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS. He also gave his assessment of the Russian military build-up in Syria and of the Iran nuclear agreement. 

At the beginning of his testimony, General Petraeus apologized for what what he called his “serious mistake” of sharing classified information with his biographer, with whom he also had an extramarital affair.

* The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or DAISH/DAESH in Arabic is a militant group that has called itself the Islamic State.

the transcript of Petraeus’ testimony, and the C-Span video, are found here.

the Trenchant Observer

Kerry and Obama’s strategy on Syria: Work through the Russians and thow a “Hail Mary” pass on negotiations

Sunday, September 20th, 2015


MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT, “Russian Buildup in Syria Raises Questions on Role,” New York Times, September 19, 2015.

Stefan Braun, Berlin, und Nicolas Richter, Washington, “Syrien-Konflikt: Kerry und Steinmeier hoffen auf Putin; Gibt es doch noch eine diplomatische Lösung des Syrien-Konflikts? Ein Angebot aus Moskau klingt für die USA und Europa vielversprechend. Aber welches Ziel verfolgt Russlands Präsident Wladimir Putin wirklich?” Suddeutscher Zeitung, 21. September 2015 (06:14 Uhr).

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have no strategy for dealing with the Syrian crisis, and as we pointed out a few days ago are basically clueless.

See “Russia and the U.S. flying missions in Syrian airspace — Failed U.S. Policies lead to dangerous situation as Russia makes strategic military move into Syria,” The Trenchant Observer, September 18, 2015.

Gordon and Schmitt describe this disastrous situation in Kerry’s own words

“We need to get to the negotiation,” Mr. Kerry said at a joint news conference with (British Foreign Secretary Philip) Hammond. “That’s what we’re looking for, and we hope Russia and Iran, other countries with influence, will help to bring that about, because that’s what’s preventing this crisis from ending.”

Right now, Assad has refused to have a serious discussion,” Mr. Kerry added, “and Russia has refused to help bring him to the table in order to do that.”

Kerry focuses on the issue of Assad’s departure, as if that would bring the hell that the conflicts in Syria have become to a resolution. His suggestion is basically similar to that which led to the U.N. Geneva II Conference on Syria in January, 2014, which produced absolutely no results, not even an agreement to keep talking.

What will be needed to resolve the Syrian crisis goes far beyond Assad’s departure. Something like a U.N. Authority for Syria will eventually have to be established under Security Council auspices in order to bring any kind of peace to that country.

The fact that Kerry entertains the idea of negotiating with Russia and al-Assad ignores the fact that any agreement with al-Assad would be utterly meaningless given his track record, and an agreement with Russia would not be worth much more, given Putin’s own record of backing al Assad’s broken promises in Syria and breaking his own in the Ukraine.

Gordon and Schmitt report,

Kerry and Hammond “emphasized that Mr. Assad could not remain in power if there was to be a durable solution to the conflict, but they said that the timing of his departure during a political transition in Syria would be a matter of negotiation.

“It doesn’t have to be on Day 1 or Month 1,” Mr. Kerry said. “There is a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can best be achieved.”

The policy, if you can call it that, is to “work through the Russians” and to throw a “Hail Mary pass” on negotiations, hoping that through some divine intervention negotiations might lead to a solution to the conflict, when there is virtually no evidence to suggest that might happen.

That’s where John Kerry and Barack Obama are on Syria. Out of the game, entertaining phantasies and completely ignoring the events in the country over the last four years.

The Trenchant Observer

Russia and the U.S. flying missions in Syrian airspace — Failed U.S. Policies lead to dangerous situation as Russia makes strategic military move into Syria

Friday, September 18th, 2015


See Louis Imbert (avec Reuters), “Etats-Unis et Russie évoquent la présence de leurs avions respectifs dans le ciel Syrien,” Le Monde le 19 Septembre 2015 (à 06h34 • Mis à jour le 19.09.2015 à 07h36).

Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Begins Military Talks With Russia on Syria,” New York Times, September 18, 2015.

Barack Obama will go down in history as perhaps the most clueless and least successful foreign policy leader of the United States since 1933. While there are a few bright spots in his record, such as normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and, together with the other P5+1 countries, the nuclear deal with Iran, on the whole his record has been devoid of major achievements and characterized by horrendous errors.

Even the Iran nuclear deal, while a net success, was concluded without bipartisan support, and from various accounts at the cost of opposing the Russians or the Iranians in places like Syria and the Ukraine.

No failure has been greater than the U.S. failure to adopt and execute effective policies to halt Baschar al-Assad’s war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities against the Syrian people, leading to the growth of ISIS and other jihadist groups in the country and in Iraq, and a massive exodus of the population many of whom are now in or on their way to Europe.

At this moment, the Russians are moving to introduce Russian troops and aircraft into Syria, creating an extraordinarily dangerous situation in which American and Russian planes will be simultaneously operating within Syrian airspace.

Obama is utterly clueless, entirely dependent on senior military and other officials to devise “options” (not policies) for Obama’s consideration, all within a bureaucratic politics framework of jockeying for position in which most initiatives are thwarted by the president’s indecisiveness and tight control.

One of most perilous aspects of the current crisis in Syria is that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry lack any coherent policy or vision of how to proceed, as Vladimir Putin cold-bloodedly acts to ensure al-Assad’s grip on power while building out Russian bases and capabilities in the country. Given the American policy disarray, Putin is moving quickly to take advantage of the situation.

Obama and Kerry, who have never had or executed a coherent policy toward Syria, now retreat to the great illusion that “working through the Russians” they can achieve a political solution to the conflict—ignoring virtually everything that has happened or that should have been learned since Kofi Annan’s disastrous mediation efforts in 2012.

Stefan de Mistura, who followed Lakhdar Brahimi as Annan’s successor, remains without any ideas other than to assert that the formula for a peaceful settlement exists in the form of the Geneva II proposals of January 2014. But De Mistura’s illusions have no more basis in reality than did Kofi Annan’s, which Lakhdar Brahimi carried forward to Geneva II, and should be resisted by the West. They can do no more than drag out the conflict to the benefit of Russia and al-Assad, while deterring the U.S. and others from taking military action to actually move the conflict toward resolution.

Should the U.S. now give its blessing to Moscow’s military move into the heart of the Middle East?

American leaders are acting from a position of policy disarray, in purely reactive mode. They are even considering the option of making a Faustian deal with the Russians (and their client, al-Assad), throwing America’s deepest values to the wind.

The situation is extremely dangerous, and the most dangerous part about it is that Obama seems to be oblivious to the challenges that exist in Syria and how his own foreign policy failures there and in Iraq have contributed to them.

He had to be told by his own officials, in Congressional testimony this week, that his policy of training “moderate” Syrian rebels has been a “joke”, with only four or five trained moderates deployed in Syria.

The Republicans, if they can get their act together, are going to have a field day running against the foreign policy failures of President Obama and his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Politics aside, the most urgent task for Democrats and Republicans alike is to decide upon and execute policies that defeat (not “degrade”) the Islamic State, and which stabilize the military situation in Syria—without caving in to the Russians’ latest strategic and military moves.

The Trenchant Observer


Crumbling world order: Power politics and international law—the way forward

Thursday, September 10th, 2015


Stefan Kornelius, “Putins Machtspiele; Ruhe in der Ukraine, Druck in Syrien. Russlands Präsident sendet rätselhafte Signale. Sucht er einen Weg aus der Isolation? Oder einen neuen Schauplatz, um Stärke zu zeigen?” Suddeutscher Zeitung, 9. September 2015 (19:05 Uhr).

MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT, “U.S. Moves to Block Russian Military Buildup in Syria,” New York Times, September 8, 2015.

The post-World War II political and legal order appears to be crumbling.  At no other time since 1945 have the fundamental norms of the United Nations Charter and the prohibition of the threat or use of force been so widely violated with such an absence of invocation of international law by major countries in the world.

Russia has invaded and seized part of the Ukraine, the Crimea, and almost nowhere does one hear serious demands for Russian withdrawal and a return to the status quo ante, as required by international law. When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled with a delegation to meet with Vladimir Putin and the Russians in Sochi, the issue was not even mentioned.

Russia continues its invasion of the eastern Ukraine, with thousands of Russian troops, tanks, artillery and other war equipment stationed in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces (Oblasts) of the Ukraine.

In Syria, the United States and other NATO countries, including Turkey, are engaged in military activities against the so-called Islamic State, the al-Nusra Front, and other jihadist groups. Ankara has been attacking the PKK in Kurdish parts of Syria, and recently has even launched attacks against claimed PKK targets in Iraqi Kurdestan. A number of countries are assisting Iraq and the U.S. in attacking IS positions within Iraq.

In Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition is conducting air strikes against Houthi- held positions.

Within the last year Egypt conducted airstrikes against Libyan militia groups in retaliation for the murder of Egyptian workers.

Israel has conducted a number of air strikes within Syria aimed at preventing the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and also launched air strikes against targets in the Golan Heights.

Beyond these obvious uses of military force, the United States has launched drone attacks and special operations attacks against jihadist leaders and other militants. Sometimes they have been  “signature strikes” against victims whose names are not even known, and who are  executed because of a pattern of activities suggesting they are members of terrorist groups. The attacks and special forces operations are not limited to the Afghanistan and Pakistan war theater.

In Syria itself, the Bashar al-Assad regime has carried out war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, resulting in the deaths of some 220,000 to 250,000 people, the displacement of millions of Syrians, and the current scramble by millions of refugees to find a safe haven in Europe, or other countries.

One of the greatest challenges to international law has become the failure of states to report the use of force to the Security Council as required by Article 51 of the Charter, or to even acknowledge that they are the authors of state actions.

This is a spillover from the use of covert actions to achieve military objectives. Yet without acknowledgement of state behavior, much less attempts to legally justify it, international law governing the use of force cannot really deter future violations.

Perhaps the greatest casualty from these events has been a loss of awareness of the relevance and critical importance of international law and institutions in controlling the international use of force, and demanding compliance with the terms of treaties related to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of different states or countries throughout the world.

The president of the United States, Barack Obama, has virtually eliminated the use of the term and concept of international law from his discourse, going back as far as his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in Oslo in December, 2009.

Moreover, we should not forget that the entire edifice of international human rights is based on international law treaties and the development of customary international law norms in the human rights area.

Human rights are a creation of international law. We should not be too surprised, therefore, to find that the human rights policies of a president who holds little regard for international law have themselves been quite disappointing.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, have invoked international law from time to time, they can hardly be taken seriously so long as Russia stands atop its military conquest in the Crimea, and continues its invasion of the eastern Ukraine.

With these developments, and Obama’s obvious lack of regard for international law, the risk is great that the West, including the U.S., NATO, and the EU, will try to solve the great problems it faces by reverting to the use of “great power politics”— without regard for the development of international law and institutions, and state practice, that have occurred in the last 100 years.

Using this aproach, deals could be struck with Russia to recognize the conquest and annexation of the Crimea, with the lifting or easing of sanctions, in exchange for Russian “cooperation” in solving the Syrian problem.

In this way, the Russians who are themselves complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity within Syria, might secure permanent bases and recognition of al-Assad’s continuing hold on power, at least  in a rump state in the North and along the Mediterranean where a high percentage of the Alawite population is found.

So, are we to simply give up on the concept and accumulated state practice of international law governing the use of force?

Or is there some way of dealing with the power politics dimension of international affairs without giving up on international law?

These are the questions for current leaders in the world, from Washington, Brussels and Berlin, to Taipei, Manila and Hanoi, and even Argentina.

What would the world look like without international law governing the use of force, or the protection of human rights?

These are not idle or theoretical questions. For the answers we come up with will determine the future kind of world we live in.

Nor are these new questions. They were fully considered by the Drafters of the U.N. Charter, and by generations of leaders who sought to uphold its provisions.

Moreover, not only leaders need to consider and answer these questions, but also political elites, media, and the populations of different countries.

For their continuing and incessant demand for legal justifications of state actions under international law may be the best and perhaps the only way to ensure that the gains achieved over the last 100 years will not be lost.

No one can take the international law governing the use of force for granted. Only persistent demands for legal justification can guarantee its continuing relevance and deterrent power in a world that threatens to sink increasingly into armed conflict and chaos.

In a nuclear age—and we need always to remember that we still live in one— “power politics” without international law is a formula for disaster, and for the eventual annihilation of the human race through nuclear war, or newer and even more efficient means of mass destruction.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE–Syria: Russia and Iran complicit under International Law in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Late News—-

See MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT, “U.S. Moves to Block Russian Military Buildup in Syria,” New York Times, September 8, 2015.

Vladimir Putin is now engaged in extremely dangerous brinksmanship in Syria, apparently introducing Russian troops and special operations forces to bolster the collapsing Bashar al-Assad regime—in a war theater in which U.S. and allied air forces and NATO member Turkey have become militarily active.

Vladimir Putin, the veteran chess master, has moved a big piece on the international chessboard, as European leaders are overwhelmed by the waves of refugees and immigrants now roaming through their territories, while EU sanctions against Russia for its invasions of the Ukraine must be renewed by July 15, with the formal written approval of all 28 governments, or they will lapse. Even a lapse of a few days could have huge and unforeseen consequences.

This is a wonderful playing field for Mr. Putin, but one in which miscalculation, accident or the unexpected could hurtle the nuclear superpowers into a direct and escalating conflict with the potential for nuclear war.

Putin seems convinced he can out outbluff Barack Obama in any nuclear showdown. This could lead to dangerous miscalculations in dealing with an American government whose strategic nuclear decisions could be taken not by a vacillating President Obama acting alone, but rather by a united national security team including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the country’s military leaders, acting in concert with the president.

At such a juncture, it is useful to recall that Russia is complicit under international law for the past and ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime and its supporters.


REPRISE:  Syria: Russia and Iran complicit under International Law in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” The Trenchant Observer, June 16, 2013.

Sergei Lavrov argues that Russia has to supply modern weapons systems to Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria in accordance with contracts that have already been signed, and warns the West and the Arab countries that any military action such as establishing a no-fly zone in Syria (without U.N. Security Council authorization), would violate international law.

Staff and Agencies, “Syria no-fly zone would violate international law, says Russia; Comments by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov underline G8 challenge faced by US in trying to gain support for intervention,” The Guardian, June 15, 2013 (07:11 EDT).

However, as Lavrov makes this argument, one central fact must be kept foremost in mind:

Under International Law, Russia and Iran are themselves complicit in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria. The Russians have knowingly supplied weapons, training and personnel to assist al-Assad’s forces in the commission of such crimes. Both Russia and Iran have helped finance the continuing commission, with their own ongoing advice and participation, of these crimes.

Consequently, they themselves are guilty of the commission of these crimes.

On the relevant international law on complicity in the commission of international crimes, see

Helmut Philipp Aust, Complicity and the Law of State Responsibility, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). Introductory front matter for the book, including a table of contents, is found here.

For a summary of Aust’s book, see Michael Byers, Book Review of Helmut Philipp Aust, Complicity and the Law of State Responsibility, in 23 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW (EJIL), pp. 583–589 (2012). The full text of the book review is found here.

For an earlier (1996) treatment of the subject, see Bernard Graefrath, “Complicity in the Law of International Responsibility,” 1996 REVUE BELGE DE DROIT INTERNATIONAL, No. 2, pp. 370-381. The full text of the article can be found here.

In view of the above, when Barack Obama and the other G-8 leaders sit down with Vladimir Putin at the G-8 meeting in Belfast on Monday, June 17, they should all bear in mind that they are in the presence of a Russian president who is responsible for Russian aid and assistance to al-Assad’s regime in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that as a result Russia itself is guilty of committing these crimes.

Putin and Russia cannot cynically argue that they are allowed to assist al-Assad in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, incurring international responsibility, while under international law the West and the Arab states can do nothing to help protect their victims.

That is not where international law is, today, in 2013.

For an idea of the crimes they are supporting, see the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, articles 1, 7 & 8, which largely represent a codification of existing customary international law relating to these international crimes. The text of the Statute of the ICC is found here.

It goes without saying that the commission of all international crimes in Syria must be stopped, including those committed by the insurgents.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015


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.


(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


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.


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 human rights violations in Africa.


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 need to support human rights defenders and to strengthen civil society is 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.


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