Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

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.


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.


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.


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

Egypt: Final negotiations and votes in the “Committee of 50″, and its adoption of draft constitution

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

For an incisive analysis of the final negotiations and deliberations of the “Committee of 50″ charged with with drafting Egypt’s new constitution, see

“On the right track: Gamal Essam Al-Din reviews the final draft of Egypt’s new constitution,” Al-Ahram Weekly, December 4, 2013 (01:38 p.m. ET).

The Trenchant Observer

Text of draft Egyptian constitution in English and Arabic

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

The new draft constitution builds upon past achievements, and contains some notably progressive articles. It is being translated into English as quickly as possible. Articles 1-122 are reproduced in English at the following link.

“Text of constitutional amendments: First three parts (articles 1-83) of Egypt’s constitutional amendments adopted by the 50-member committee,” Islamic Societies Review Active Series, December 3, 2013.

Of course, no constitution can in and of itself, guarantee democracy. It can place strong tools in the hand of defenders of democracy and the rule of law, however. Close analysis of the emerging text in English translation is merited.

For an excellent summary of the entire text, see

Hend Kortam and Rana Muhammad Taha,”Divisions of power in the constitution under scrutiny,” Daily News Egypt, December 4, 2013.

For the full text of the draft constitution in English, see Nariman Youssef, Egypt’s draft constitution translated, Egypt Independent, December 4, 2013.

The Trenchant Observer

Iran, Syria, and the nuclear question

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

(Developing story)

Iran is within reach of achieving an expansion of its influence through solidifying an arc of Shia states or Shia-led states reaching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterrean Sea. Iran, Iraq, Syria under Alawite rule, and a Lebanese state where Hezbollah is the largest party, has its own well-trained and well-armed militia and blocking or veto power over the actions of the government, represent a formidable challenge to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which have significant Shia populations subject to the pull of Iranian influence.

Despite the obvious benefit of removing chemical weapons from Syria and greatly resducing the chances they might fall into the wrong hands, the chemical weapons deal does not signal an advance for U.S. interests in the region, for it leaves al-Assad in power and increasingly dependent on Iranian economic and military support (including troops and commanders), with Hezbollah providing battle-hardened troops from Lebanon to support al-Assad militarily, particularly in decisive battles.

Proponents of a much-touted potential nuclear deal with Iran need to keep these broader considerations in mind. A nuclear deal that doesn’t address the Syrian question or that leaves Iranian nuclear weapons break-out capabilities intact, could prove to be an illusory achievement. In particular, an accord that would allow work on the Awak heavy water reactor to continue during an initial six-month “freeze” on Iran’s nuclear program is viewed by experts as allowing Iran to continue its advance toward achieving a nuclear weapons capability while sanctions are loosened.

Moreover, we must ask what made Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei suddenly become willing to settle the nuclear issue with the group of P5+1, immediately following Obama’s military back-down on Syria and what must have appeared in Tehran as lack of resolve to use military power.

For recent commentary, see:

(1) Jackson Diehl, “John Kerry’s Middle East dream world,” Washinton Post, November 10, 2013.

(2) Raniah Salloum, “Teherans Mann für Syrien: Irans gefährlichster General,” Der Spiegel, 10 November 2013 (17:34 Uhr).

Er ist Teherans Mann für heikle Missionen im Ausland: Kassim Soleimani, Chef der Eliteeinheit al-Kuds. In Afghanistan und im Irak hat er den Amerikanern bereits schwer zu schaffen gemacht. Jetzt soll er Irans Einfluss in Syrien retten.

(3) Julian Borger, “Iran nuclear programme deal in danger of unravelling; US negotiator leaves talks to reassure Israeli prime minister after France sinks bid to seal temporary agreement,” The Guarian, November 10, 2013.

(4) Julian Borger, “Last-minute rethink stalled deal on nuclear Iran; Details have emerged of how talks with Tehran in Geneva broke up at 11th hour after France and US took a robust stance,” The Guardian, November 11, 2013 (13.06 EST).

The Trenchant Observer

Obama, Putin and Syria: Commentary on the fallout from Obama’s backdown

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

(1) Jacques Schuster, “Meinung: Russland Garantiemacht aller Schurken in Nahost,” Die Welt, 19 September 2013.

Im Syrien-Konflikt halten sich sieben Parteien für den Gewinner. Kann das sein? Wer darf sich im Ringen um die Abgabe der Chemiewaffen als erfolgreich bezeichnen? Ein düsterer Blick auf die Zukunft.

(2) Jean-Marie Colombani, “Analisis: Putin el vencedor, El Pais, 15 Septiembre 2013.

En Rusia, el juego de Putin consiste en hacer como si hubiera reconstruido el poder de la Unión Soviética. Y, por tanto, aprovecha todas las bazas que le deja lo que solía llamarse “Occidente”

The Trenchant Observer

(Der scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(El Observador Incisivo)

Obama, Putin and Syria: Commentary

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Roger Cohen, “An Anchorless World,” New York Times, September 12, 2013.

Laure Mandevill, “Syrie : Obama sort de la crise affaibli face à Poutine,” Le Figaro, le 15 septembre 2013.

Tomas Avenarius, Kairo (Kommentar), “Abkommen zu Syrien: Tausche Senfgas gegen Machterhalt,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 15. September 2013.

“Der Plan zur Vernichtung der syrischen Chemiewaffen wird als diplomatische Meisterleistung beklatscht. Es gibt dem Diktator Assad aber auch Zeit, die Rebellion niederzuschlagen – die Aufständischen werden der russisch-amerikanischen Großmachtpolitik geopfert. Dieser Verrat wäre nur auf eine Weise zu rechtfertigen.”

The Trenchant Observer

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!

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

What we should be seeing now, both on American television and television abroad, are programs which put in perspective the looming question of whether the U.S. and its allies should use force to stop Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons and further committing war crimes and crimes against humanity (e.g. bombing or using artillery against civilian neighborhoods). These programs should be putting before the public the factual record of what has occurred in Syria since 2011, in all its bloody detail.

Instead, the coverage is like the coverage of a horse-race: Will Obama receive authorization for military action or not, which Senators and House Members are leaning this way or that way, and what do they have to say?

There is very little coverage of what has actually happened in Syria. This may be based on the premise that it has all been reported before. But the brutal fact about public memory in the age of mass media in 2013, when people don’t read the newspapers much any more, is that people don’t remember what they may have seen on TV a year or two ago, or a month ago. All of the past, all of the facts, are lost in the media in what may be termed “the infinite expansion of the present moment.”

So, we now hear that Charlie Rose has interviewed Bashar al-Assad, and CBS is going to broadcast excerpts from the interview on CBS News on Monday morning, and evening, across all of CBS’ news platforms, and PBS will broadcast the full interview in a special edition of the Charlie Rose Program on Monday night at 9:00 p.m.

For those who live outside of the Washington-New York media and political bubble, like the Trenchant Observer, some developments are so jaw-dropping that one must pinch oneself in the arm to make sure what one is seeing is not just a bad nightmare.

Now, Charlie Rose and CBS News have sounded the death knell for any idea that CBS or Charlie Rose is engaged in objective news reporting, as opposed to the immoral chase of ratings at whatever the cost—the moral cost, the cost to national security, the cost to the democratic process itself, which depends on an informed citizenry and the votes of their elected representatives.

Bashar al-Assad, in the interview, denies that his government was behind the chemical weapons attack on Ghouta on August 21, 2012.

Charlie Rose, who used to have a fairly interesting interview program on PBS, has long since evidenced the lack of preparation necessary to ask difficult questions, as his ambition has led him to also serve as an anchor on the CBS Morning News. His programs are now characterized by interventions which aim to show he knows everyone and everything, while allowing his speakers to say whatever they want without any sharp questioning, particularly any sharp questioning that would require preparation and a deep knowledge of the facts.

CBS News has itself entered the fray now, giving a voice to Syrian propaganda at a critical moment which may affect the Congressional vote on whether or not to authorize military action against Syria.

We can all see now that CBS’ News’ analysis is worthless, or sidelined by commercial considerations which manifest in essence a disloyalty to the United States, which amounts to the same thing.

What were they thinking?

Has CBS News formed no judgments as to what has been going on in Syria in the last two and a half years? Have they reached no conclusions regarding who has been responsible for the commission on a massive scale of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the use of chemical weapons?

Do they understand they are placing al-Assad on a platform of moral equivalency to the President of the United States by broadcasting the interview with him on Monday, the very day President Obama is seeking to make the case to the American people for military action in Syria, and one night before he formally addresses the nation on the subject?

This is one of the most most shameful spectacles in the history of CBS News, which as we all know has become but a shadow of its former self.

How can outstanding correspondents such as Bob Schieffer and Lara Logan continue to work for such a company, which is now willing to offer its airwaves for the propaganda of one of the greatest war criminals of this or the last century?

I can imagine that CBS News—the 2013 version and not the Edward R. Murrow or the Walter Cronkite version—would broadcast an interview with Adolf Hitler denying the existence of Auschwitz and the gassing of the Jews, as Allied forces closed in on Berlin in 1945.

The promotional ads might sound something like this:

“On the one hand, we have the reports of intelligence and military officials who have confirmed the existence of the gas chambers at Auschwitz, and how they were used. On the other hand, German Leader Adolf Hitler denies these allegations, maintaining that they are fabrications of the Allied Powers’ propaganda machine.

Now, here, we present an interview with Mr. Hitler taped earlier today. You can listen to his arguments, and you yourself can decide which side has the stronger case.”

This action is so offensive that Charlie Rose, and CBS News, can now count on the permanent loss of this viewer. In fact, a boycott of the Charlie Rose program and of CBS News would not be a bad idea for others to consider.

And let us bear in mind, to understand how utterly immoral the Washington political-media complex has become, that the brother of Ben Rhodes, one of Obama’s top foreign policy advisers, is the President of CBS News.

Instead of presenting documentaries on what has occurred during the last two and a half years of the civil conflict in Syria, and citing the UN and other reports which have documented in great detail the barbarism and atrocities committed by the al-Assad regime, CBS News and the Charlie Rose Program on PBS give us…SYRIAN PROPAGANDA!

The head of CBS News, and everyone else responsible for this atrocious decision, should be immediately sacked. Charlie Rose should depart CBS News. And PBS should drop the Charlie Rose program forthwith.

What is involved is the nation’s security, at a delicate moment in which the electorate is uninformed, or trying to second guess the decisions of the commander in chief as to what specific military means and objectives should be pursued to safeguard the vital national interests of the country.

Here, the timing is everything, and reveals the utter lack of moral bearings of Charlie Rose and CBS News alike.

The Trenchant Observer

Commentary on Syria and the response of the West

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Latest News Reports and Commentary

Aus Deutschland

(1) Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), Obama spürt die Kraft der zwei Mahlsteine, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7. September 2013 (9:34 Uhr).

Die Völkergemeinschaft hat sich nach dem G-20-Gipfel in Sankt Petersburg ein erschreckendes Zeugnis ihrer Kraflosigkeit ausgestellt. Um Obama wird es dabei immer einsamer: Putin bleibt stur und auch zu Hause schlägt dem US-Präsidenten Widerstand entgegen. Dabei könnte ein Luftschlag zu einer Wende im Bürgerkrieg führen.

Über den Autor, die Redaktion schreibt das Folgendes:

Stefan Kornelius leitet seit 2000 das außenpolitische Ressort der Süddeutschen Zeitung. Zuvor arbeitete er als stellvertretender Leiter des Berliner Büros und berichtete während der Clinton-Präsidentschaft als Korrespondent aus Washington. Von 1991 bis 1996 war Kornelius als Korrespondent im Bonner Bundesbüro der SZ für die Berichterstattung über Verteidigung und sicherheitspolitische Themen sowie über die CDU zuständig. Kornelius absolvierte die Henri-Nannen-Journalistenschule und studierte an der Universität Bonn und der London School of Economics. Er ist Mitbegründer der Zeitschrift Medium Magazin./blockquote>

(2) Bernd Ulrich (Kommentar), “Syrien: Der Tiefpunkt von Merkels Kanzlerschaft; Ein ungeheurer Vorgang: Als einzige europäische Regierungschefin hat Merkel auf dem G-20-Gipfel Obama die Unterstützung seiner Syrien-Strategie verweigert,” Die Zeit, 6. September 2013 (21:44 Uhr).

Der scharfsinniger Beobachter
(The Trenchant Observer)

Moral cowardice in Europe and elsewhere: Bad-faith arguments on Syria by Germany and other countries lacking the courage to act

Friday, September 6th, 2013

(Developing article)

Following are the statements and ways German and other European and world leaders use to disguise the moral cowardice of nations that give lip service to universal ideals of truth and justice, but are nowhere to be found when action is required to put those ideals into practice.

1. Military action against Syria would violate the U.N. Charter unless it were backed by an authorization from the Security Council.

Is there anyone making this argument who sincerely believes it will help solve the Syrian crisis, and bring to a halt the atrocities being committed by al-Assad in that country?

Is there anyone unaware of the Russian and Chinese vetoes of draft resolutions in the Security Council, and Russia’s current role in the Council of blocking any effective action?

2. What is needed in Syria is a negotiated solution, which should be achieved through the Geneva II peace conference backed by U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Has no one studied the history of Kofi Annan’s “castles in the sky”, or failed to understand how he was helping the Russians defer any outside action through his illusory peace proposals, and his last illusion of convening a peace conference in Geneva, to which everyone gave lip service on June 30, 2012—not because they thought it would work, but rather to gain diplomatic cover for looking the other way and doing nothing?

3. Arguments about Syria that proceed from the assumption of a tabula rasa, as if there were no history of what has happend in Syria in the last two and a half years.

So, we can debate whether the rebels gassed their own people, despite the overwheming evidence of this and previous attacks by the Syrian government, and the entire history of al-Assad’s armed forces’ actions in the conflict since 2011.

Why does anyone even listen to the arguments of Russia, Syria and Iran? How stupid can we be?

4. Failure to speak frankly and forthrightly about what is really going on in Syria. and in the United Nations and the Security Council. (Bravo! to Samantha Power for speaking out!)

See Jennifer Rubin, “Hats off to Samantha Power,” Washington Post, September 6, 2013 (8:45 a.m.)

5. Failure to interrupt and immediately rebut statements that are no more than propaganda–propaganda which falls far short of the standards set by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister.

No nation bears greater responsibility for its silence than does Germany, as no nation has a darker history of violating these universal ideals in the past–until 68 years ago, in fact, until 1945. Nor should we forget how Germany blocked decisive action in the Balkans prior to Srebrenice and the Dayton Accords in 1995.

German complacency about war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria reminds us, sadly, of how complacent Germans were when these same crimes were taking place in their midst.

Obama and other leaders of the feckless West share a huge responsibility for shaping public opinion to support their policies of looking the other way and doing nothing when faced by the utter barbarism of Bashar al-Assad.

Now they must explain to their populations what has actually happened in Syria since 2011, in great and bloody detail, and rally their peoples to confront the greatest threat to Western values of our time.

This threat also engages our most vital national security interests. Tel Aviv is only 134 miles from Damascus. Damascus is closer than we think:

Beirut, Lebanon — 53 miles
Amman, Jordan — 110 miles
Tel Aviv, Israel — 134 miles

If Germany and NATO want to stand idly by, at this critical moment, then the U.S. should give the most urgent consideration to withdrawing from NATO–both militarily and financially.

It is time for the moral cowards in Europe and elsewhere to wake up, and to seek to hear, to speak and, above all, to act upon the truth regarding the situation in Syria, and what has been going on there for two and a half years, as the world averted its eyes.

The Trenchant Observer