Archive for the ‘public diplomacy’ Category

Shift in funding source spells dim future for BBC World Service

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

The decline in the quality of BBC World Service radio programs has been underway for some time, with the elimination of one of its two best news programs, “The World Today,” some time ago. The remaining top program, “Newshour”, has lost some of the editorial judgment it used to have, and it is not unusual to hear one of its reporters ranting at a government official somewhere in the world rather than analyzing and reporting the news.

In 2011, the World Service quit broadcasting in Mandarin Chinese.

The total budget for the BBC World Service for 2014/2015 is reported to be 245 million pounds, which is a pittance compared to the value of the operation in demonstrating the value of freedom of the press and providing independent news coverage beyond the headlines.

Its value is most appreciated, perhaps, by those living in countries without a free flow of information. Stations like the BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, or the Voice of America may provide the only source of independent news reporting in a number of countries ruled by dictatorships and authoritarian regimes.

Now, the funding of the BBC World Service has shifted from a subsidy from the Foreign Office to funds provided from the proceeds of British television user fees. It should therefore come as a surprise to no one if in the future the interests of those paying the fees produce a cut-back in foreign language programs and even the English language program of the BBC World Service.

It is amazing that in a shrinking world the lights by which we see its contours and details are going out. For a pittance.

See

(1) Belinda Goldsmith (London), “Committee fears for BBC World Service under new funding,” Reuters, March 31, 2014.

(2) Judy Dempsey, “Stop the Decline of the BBC World Service!” Carnegie Europe, July 3, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s West Point speech: A foreign policy of words, not deeds

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Developing

There is something pathetic about President Barack Obama’s kickoff speech for a month-long campaign to recast the foreign policy failures of the last five years as some kind of “success” within the “new” foreign policy framework he enunciated at West Point today.

The speech, like his announcement that the U.S. would withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by 2016, embodied Obama’s ongoing attempts to manage U.S. foreign policy by looking first and foremost to domestic political objectives and, in this context, to manage the narrative about the “success” of his foreign policy.

The speech reveals, above all else, Obama’s inability to hear the substance of what his critics are saying about his foreign policy. They either “don’t understand” or are making criticisms for purely partisan purposes.

The speech was an attempt to persuade his many audiences “that he was right” in the foreign policy decisions and actions he has taken over the last five years. He makes no attempt to hide the arrogance of this assertion.

As Russia is still engaged, today, in aggression against the Ukraine by sending both special operations and irregular forces across its border with Ukraine, to wreak havoc and intimidation among the population in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and more widely, Obama trumphets his appeasement and pacifism in the face of Russian aggression–tempered only by modest targeted sanctions against individuals and companies in Russia and the Ukraine.

As we have long suggested, the reader would be wise to pay attention to Obama’s actions, and just ignore the torrents of well-crafted words which seek to put him in the best light.

Obama was an extraordinary candidate, particularly in 2008. But now, after five years in office, the president can and will be judged by his record. The time for electoral speeches is past. He has but two and a half years to alter the judgment of history. If his speech today is any indication, those years are likely to be an opportunity wasted.

Long after he has lost his ability to influence the narrative of his foreign policy, it is to deeds, to actions and not words, that historians and others will look.

The record of those actions, and their consequences in the world, is not a pretty one. Speeches will not, and cannot, change that fact.

The Trenchant Observer

Ukraine: Latest news and opinion (with links to May 2 Security Council meeting, and to text of April 17 Geneva agreement)

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

See below Le Monde’s dispatch on the latest developments in Sloviansk, and Torsten Krauel’s commentary on the real stakes in the Ukraine — no less than the fruits of victory in World War II and the war aims of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman — published in Die Welt today.

Benoît Vitkine (Sloviansk, envoyé spécial), “Ukraine: dans Sloviansk, ville assiégée,” Le Monde, le 3 Mai 2014 à 02h17 (Mis à jour à 03h16)

Torsten Krauel, “Zerschlagung der Ukraine wäre das Ende der UN,” Die Welt, 2. Mai 2014.

Die Ukraine ist ein unabhängiger UN-Staat, dessen Grenzen Russland feierlich anerkannt hatte. Die Ukraine jetzt gewaltsam zu zerschlagen würde nicht nur bedeuten, die UN-Charta in den Staub zu treten.

The webcast of the May 2, 2014 U.N. Security Council meeting on the Ukraine is found here.

See also:

Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), “Merkel und Obama: In Ohnmacht vereint,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 3. Mai 2014 (06:36 Uhr).

Eric Guje, “Der Westen ist nicht wehrlos: Ein neuer Geist der Konfrontation,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2. Mai 2014 (14:03 Uhr).

​Simon Denyer and Anna Nemtsova, Ukraine suffers deadliest day in months; 34 killed in Odessa,” Wasington Post, May 2, 2014 (Updated: Updated: 3:20 PM).

The text of the April 17, 2014 Geneva “Statement” (Agreement) between Russia, the Ukraine, the EU and the U.S. ia found here.

The May 2, 2014 Security Council Meeting and Press Release SC/11377

The Press Release regarding the U.N. Security Council Meeting on May 2, 2014 (U.N. Doc. SC/11377) is found here.

The text of the Press Release is reproduced below.

The webcast of the May 2, 2014 Security Council meeting is found here.

The Trenchant Observer

****************

SC/11377
May 2, 2014

Security Council
7167th Meeting* (AM)

DIPLOMATIC SOLUTION ONLY WAY OUT, AS SITUATION IN UKRAINE DETERIORATES,

UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL

The situation in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine had seen “further severe deterioration”, with fresh events — including the downing of two helicopters — threatening to destabilize the country and the region, the Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs told the Security Council today.

Jeffrey Feltman, briefing the Council three days after his most recent update, said that in more than a dozen cities in Donetsk Oblast and Luhansk, armed groups had taken over a growing number of buildings. The situation in the eastern city of Slovyansk, occupied by armed insurgents since 12 April, was of most immediate concern.

According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence, he said, two helicopters had been shot down overnight during operations by the authorities, with at least one pilot killed. Other casualties had been reported on both sides. In Donetsk Oblast and in the city itself, self-declared separatists had seized the regional prosecutor’s office on 1 May. Other reports cited clashes during a pro-unity protest in the southern city of Odessa.

He understood that the President of the Russian Federation had dispatched a special envoy to help free the seven military monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and accompanying Ukrainian staff being held by gunmen in Slovyansk. A diplomatic solution was the only way out of the crisis and all sides must redouble efforts to revive the spirit of compromise shown during the 17 April Geneva talks.

The representative of the Russian Federation said he had called today’s meeting because of the punitive operations being conducted in south-east Ukraine by the Kyiv Government, which was using military helicopters, striking at protestors and entrenching fighters. Unless its criminal misadventures were stopped, dire consequences would be unavoidable. Ukraine’s measures against its own people showed it had no desire to comply with the Geneva Statement.

While the Russian Federation was making efforts to de-escalate the crisis, Ukraine had started full-scale use of military force, annihilating any hope of agreement, he said. Urging an end to outside interference in Ukraine’s affairs, he said that by supporting those who had perpetrated a coup d’état in Kyiv, the United States and the European Union were destroying the path to a peaceful solution.

The representative of Ukraine said his country was committed to implementing the Geneva Statement, noting that free and fair presidential elections on 25 May were a top priority. The Russian Federation had made no effort to implement the Geneva accords. Instead, it supported illegal militants in eastern Ukraine and had created an atmosphere of violence.

He said the counter-terrorist operation, renewed in Slovyansk, sought to isolate militants from civilians in the city. Illegal militants were using heavy weapons against Ukrainian Special Forces, having shot down two helicopters and used the local population as shields. Earlier today, Russian saboteurs had attempted to cross the border. He urged the Russian Federation to stop supporting illegal militants. Russian claims of English-speaking foreigner involvement were “cynical” and “false”, as only Russian saboteurs and mercenaries were involved.

Also speaking in today’s debate were the representatives of France, United Kingdom, United States, Luxembourg, Argentina, Australia, China, Chad, Lithuania, Nigeria, Jordan, Chile, Rwanda and the Republic of Korea.

The meeting began at 12:03 p.m. and ended at 1:50 p.m.

Background

Meeting this afternoon to consider the situation in Ukraine, members of the Security Council had before them a letter from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation (document S/2014/264) addressed to the Council President. Dated 13 April, it requests a meeting to consider “alarming” developments in Ukraine.

Briefing

JEFFREY FELTMAN, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that since the Council’s last meeting on 29 April, there had been a further, severe deterioration of the situation in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine. Recent developments in those areas threatened a serious further destabilization of the country and the region, as well as Ukraine’s unity. In more than a dozen cities in Donetsk Oblast and Luhansk, an increasing number of buildings were being taken over by armed groups, he said, emphasizing that the situation in the eastern city of Slovyansk, occupied by armed insurgents since 12 April, was of most immediate concern.

According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence, he continued, two helicopters had been shot down overnight during ongoing operations by the authorities, with at least one pilot killed. A number of other casualties had been reported on both sides, but the total could not be verified. The acting Interior Minister had stated that a number of roadblocks had been removed from around the city, but it was understood from the media that tense standoffs continued, at least in parts of the city and around it.

At the same time, he continued, the seven military monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) accompanying Ukrainian military staff and held by gunmen in Slovyansk remained in detention amid repeated calls for their release. To that end, it was understood that the President of the Russian Federation had dispatched a special envoy to help free the hostages, he said, reiterating the Secretary-General’s call to those responsible to release them immediately, unconditionally and unharmed.

The crisis had also escalated in the Donetsk Oblast region and in Donetsk itself, where self-declared separatists had seized the regional prosecutor’s office on 1 May, he said. Other reports stated that the Ukrainian authorities had banned Russian passenger planes from flying to Donetsk and Kharkiv, while still others reported clashes during a pro-unity demonstration in the southern city of Odessa. Reiterating elements of the Secretary-General’s statement today, in which he expressed his grave concern over the situation, he said the escalating violence and reported further loss of life in Slovyansk were a stark reminder of how dangerous the situation had become. A diplomatic solution was the only way out of the crisis and all sides must redouble efforts to revive the spirit of compromise demonstrated during the 17 April Geneva talks, Mr. Feltman stressed, adding that during his meetings in Kyiv and Moscow next week, he would continue to reiterate a message of restraint and an immediate return to dialogue.

Statements

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said he had called for today’s meeting because of the resumed punitive operations being conducted in south-east Ukraine by the Kyiv Government, which was using military helicopters, striking at protestors and entrenching fighters, leading to casualties. Unless the criminal misadventures of the Kyiv clique were stopped, dire consequences would be unavoidable, he warned, adding that the Ukrainian Government’s criminal measures against its own people showed that it had no desire to comply with the 17 April Joint Geneva Statement. It was now clear that the Kyiv Government’s many declarations in favour of dialogue were nothing less than hypocrisy.

At a time when the Russian Federation was making efforts to de-escalate the crisis, Ukraine had started full-scale use of military force, annihilating any hope of agreement, he continued. On the radio waves, one could hear English-speaking foreigners among those carrying out assaults in Slovyansk. Calling for an end to outside interference in Ukraine’s affairs, he urged the United States to end its double standards, adding that by supporting those who had perpetrated a coup d’état in Kyiv, that country and the European Union were in effect destroying the path to a peaceful solution. He called upon signatories to the Geneva Statement not to commit a fatal error, and on the West to stop its destructive policy concerning Ukraine and halt its operations there. An authentic political dialogue was needed, he emphasized.

GÉRARD ARAUD (France) said that the armed groups involved in progressively taking over cities in eastern Ukraine were being manipulated by Russian forces and refusing to implement the Geneva Statement. Ukraine, which had shown great restraint all along, had now decided to use its army and police against armed groups creating a climate of insecurity, he said, emphasizing that the latter were not spontaneous local demonstrators, who would be incapable of shooting down a helicopter with surface-to-air missiles. The Russian Federation had invoked the 21 February agreement, which it had not endorsed, while waiving the Geneva Agreement, to which it had consented but had made no effort to implement. He described as “comical” the Russian Federation’s accusation blaming the European Union for the violence, emphasizing that the Russian Federation had opened a Pandora’s box and unleashed the demon of nationalism. “We have a pyromaniac situation,” he said, stressing that the Russian Federation must disarm the groups that it had armed, free the OSCE monitors and negotiate with Ukraine.

MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) said the Russian Federation’s description of events in Ukraine as a punitive military operation against activists was a gross distortion of facts. Ukraine had a duty to uphold the rule of law and to protect its territory, and should carry it out in a proportionate, measured way, he emphasized. Its actions in and around Slovyansk were meant to relieve that city from armed groups sponsored by the Russian Federation who were terrorizing the population. No Council member would allow its towns to be overrun by armed militants, he pointed out, stressing that the Russian Federation’s claims about “peaceful activists” were not credible given the use of sophisticated weapons against Ukrainian forces, including by professionals funded and equipped by the Russian Federation. He urged the Russian Federation to refrain from inflammatory propaganda, throw its full weight behind the 17 April accord and rein in the armed groups that it supported.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) described as false the Russian Federation’s claims that Ukraine was carrying out a large-scale attack on unarmed civilians, emphasizing that the latter’s actions were intended to contain Russian paramilitaries and protect Ukrainian citizens. Russian-directed agents and paramilitaries were the source of the violence, she stressed. Another falsehood was that the Russian Federation was concerned about instability in the east, while it was itself behind the instability. With Russian troops massing along its border, Ukraine had shown “remarkable, almost unimaginable” restraint, implementing international agreements, refraining from military responses to aggression and committing to direct dialogue with Moscow. Ukraine’s efforts to reclaim its cities were the same as any country would have made in the face of threats, she said, adding that 32 buildings in 17 eastern Ukraine towns were occupied by pro-Russian separatists. The Council had heard the Russian Federation build its case for outright intervention, but there was no evidence that Ukraine had threatened the Russian Federation in any way, she said. Ukraine’s steps to restore order were justified, but the fact that the Russian Federation had chosen to call an emergency Council meeting was another sign that it was trying to replicate the Crimea charade, she said, urging the latter to pull back its troops, stop its campaign of instability, and work to release international observers and journalists.

SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg) expressed concern over the actions of pro-Russian, militant separatists intent on destabilizing Ukraine and preventing it from holding elections on 25 May. Confronted with violations against its sovereignty, Ukrainian authorities had shown restraint. Until Thursday, their response to the illegal seizure of public offices and the growing number of attacks and violence by armed groups against peaceful protests had been moderate. The presence of impartial United Nations and OSCE monitors across Ukraine was vital to establish the facts and put an end to bellicose propaganda. She condemned the taking of OSCE monitors as hostages and called on the pro-separatists to free them as soon as possible.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina) said that the spirit of compromise reached in Geneva must be restored. Hate speech and incitement to violence had only lead to rising tensions, undermining the international community’s efforts. All actors must work towards constructive diplomacy so the Geneva Statement could be implemented. The Council’s calls for a de-escalation of tensions had not been consistent. “It is not too late. It is still possible to avoid the worst,” she said, calling on the Council to assume its responsibility to maintain international peace and security.

GARY QUINLAN (Australia) said the planned, coordinated destabilization of Ukraine could not happen without external support, as seen with the downing of two helicopters. Armed groups had consolidated control in Donetsk and Kharkiv and had orchestrated violence which had spread to Odessa. The actions of pro-Russian groups were not legitimate protests, but rather calculated, highly provocative actions intended to undermine Ukrainian authority. They made a mockery of what the Russian Federation had committed to in the Geneva agreement. The Ukraine Government was implementing its Geneva obligations and was committed to holding public debate on constitutional change. In response to extreme provocation, Ukrainian authorities had a responsibility to restore public order. It must take measures to ensure security and protect its citizens in its territory. “We are at a very dangerous, manipulated moment,” he said, urging the Russian Federation to implement the Geneva Statement and demonstrate it had no further territorial ambitions in Ukraine.

LIU JIEYI (China), stressing that the situation in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine was of deep concern, urged parties to safeguard ethnic groups, keep calm, exercise restraint and avoid a further deterioration of conditions. A political solution was the only way out of the crisis. Ukraine must consider the full situation and accommodate the aspirations of various regions and ethnic groups in order to achieve a balance. Noting his Government’s efforts towards promoting peace and facilitating negotiations, he expressed hope that the parties would pursue dialogue, implement the agreements reached, start a political settlement process and realize the stability of Ukraine. China would continue to support good offices with the aim of promoting a political settlement.

MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad) said that, despite repeated calls for restraint and calm, the situation continued to deteriorate, politically and in terms of security. There was a risk of a war that carried incalculable consequences. While a number of efforts had been made to open the way for dialogue, the results had been far from expectations. Reiterating the call for an immediate halt to combat, he urged non-violence by the authorities and separatists alike, as well as for the release of the seven OSCE observers. The solution must be political, sought in full respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Further, countries with influence should use all means possible to help establish direct dialogue. He also encouraged the Secretary-General to step up efforts to bring about a rapprochement.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) said Ukraine could not be blamed for taking steps against those trying to carve it up and parcel it out. It had a right to protect its sovereignty. The Russian Federation so far had not condemned the Syrian regime’s missile and bomb attacks this week in Aleppo or similar previous acts. Today, two Ukrainian helicopters were downed by mobile air defence systems. Militants, not protestors, had opened fire. Had the separatists carried out the Geneva Statement or had the Russian Federation called on the separatists to enter into peace talks with the Ukrainian Government, such attacks, and today’s deadly provocations in Odessa, would not be happening. The Russian Federation continued to blame Ukraine, the only side taking steps to implement the Geneva Statement. She rejected all Russian attempts to validate its intentions or send Russian “peacekeeping” forces to Ukraine. She noted that OSCE observers must be able to carry out their tasks.

U. JOY OGWU (Nigeria) expressed concern over the downing of a military helicopter and the seizure of Slovyansk. All sides must refrain from violence, intimidation and provocative action, and all armed groups must vacate buildings they had seized. Territorial integrity must be respected. The alternative would be “falling dominoes” in Eastern Europe and every region of the world. “The scenario is simply mortifying. It is our collective responsibility to prevent the domino theory from being replayed in our times,” she said.

MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan), expressing deep concern over events in Ukraine, called on all hostages held by rebels in Slovyansk to be released, including OSCE monitors. An unfolding mutiny in eastern Ukraine, as rebels seized public and Government buildings and threatened civilians, had contravened both international law and the Geneva agreement. Ukraine had a right to take appropriate measures to retain its unity and sovereignty, as well as uphold the constitutional and legal order. It must work towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis, within international criteria, sparing no effort to engage in dialogue with all stakeholders. He urged implementing the Geneva Statement and exerting pressure on the rebels to end the crisis. Further, all stakeholders should refrain from racist or hate speech, he said, underscoring the importance of respecting Ukrainians’ aspirations, notably by ensuring that elections were held in May.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile), emphasizing that the crisis was quickly entering an unpredictable phase, expressed concern over events in Slovyansk and urged the Council to again call for all means to pursue a peaceful settlement through dialogue. Parties must refrain from acting unilaterally and must support international mediation efforts, he said, condemning the kidnapping of OSCE observers and reiterating the call for their release. It was vital to work in a spirit of compromise, he said, urging the disarmament of armed groups and returning illegally occupied buildings. He reiterated the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, supporting both the Secretary-General’s efforts and visit to the Russian Federation by the Under-Secretary-General.

EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA (Rwanda) said the situation in Ukraine had escalated. Pro-separatist forces had continued to occupy buildings and they had shot down helicopters. OSCE observers had been detained. He condemned the armed methods used by militants and called for a proportionate response by Ukraine’s armed forces. He called on all Council members to give the Under-Secretary-General the meaningful backing necessary, and noted that only a genuine dialogue by the Ukrainian parties and a strong commitment by those with influence could resolve the crisis. Otherwise, the conflict would become regional or worse, and the Council would continue holding emergency meetings on that matter. “We need here to scale down the rhetoric,” he said.

OH JOON (Republic of Korea) expressed concern over continuing tensions in Ukraine, particularly over the violence in Slovyansk, which had included an attack on a military helicopter. Dialogue among all parties was the only way to achieve a peaceful solution, and he called on all parties to the Geneva Statement to implement it. With elections scheduled for May, it was all the more important to ensure an environment conducive to free and fair elections and without any outside interference. He expressed hope for a transparent, Ukraine-led process.

OLEKSANDR PAVLICHENKO (Ukraine) said his country remained committed to implementing the 17 April Geneva Statement, adding that free and fair presidential elections on 25 May were a top priority. The Russian Federation had made no effort to de-escalate the situation and implement the Geneva Statement, and had instead supported illegal militants in eastern Ukraine and created an atmosphere of violence. Security for all Ukrainians was another top priority, and the purpose of the counter-terrorist operation renewed in Slovyansk was to isolate militants from civilians in the city, he said, adding that its commander required the militants to free all hostages and captured administration buildings, and to stop the violence. Ukrainian authorities were ready to grant amnesty to all militant group members who had not committed serious crimes, he said. Describing the Russian Federation’s claims that English-speaking foreigners were involved in the crisis as “cynical” and “false”, he said only Russian saboteurs and mercenaries were present.

He went on to note that the Russian Federation’s embassy in Kyiv had not been notified about the arrival of Special Presidential Envoy Vladimir Lukin. Nonetheless, Ukraine was prepared to discuss with him practical contributions to resolving problems. Due to the situation in Slovyansk, the National Security and Defence Council had launched a counter-terrorist operation, the active phase of which had been renewed in that city and elsewhere, he said. The operation had taken control of nine terrorist checkpoints in Slovyansk. Illegal militants were using heavy weapons against Ukrainian special forces, and had shot down two helicopters with man-portable air defence systems, killing two people and wounding seven others, he said, adding that they had not hesitated to use the local people as shields. Russian saboteurs had tried to break through the border today but they had been stopped by Ukrainian guards, he said, calling upon the Russian Federation to stop supporting illegal militants and other actions that undermined his country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including the use of military threat as a form of pressure.

The representative of the Russian Federation took the floor a second time to refute the claim by his counterpart from France that his country had not endorsed the 21 February agreement. On the contrary, it looked forward to implementing the accord and had helped to conclude the 17 April Geneva Statement, which, while simple, would pave the way out of the crisis. People in eastern Ukraine merely wanted their rights guaranteed, he said. Since the signing of the Geneva Statement, no one had taken up weapons, but there had never been a reasonable response from Kyiv. The Council had heard that on 25 May Ukrainian officials would unveil some sort of decentralization process, he said, noting that his Western colleagues seemed to know about all the operations currently being carried out by the Kyiv Government. He asked why the United States did not want OSCE efforts for dialogue, pointing out that the Russian Federation had suggested different formats for dialogue on several occasions during the course of the crisis, and suggested convening a constitutional assembly, while they had said they were not ready to organize such forums. He also denied claims that his country was refusing to implement the Geneva Statement.

The representative of the United States also took the floor again, saying that for the Russian Federation to blame Ukraine for defending its own actions on Ukrainian territory was like the story of the boy who told his mother that a fight between him and another boy had started when the other had hit him back. “We must be clear about cause and effect here,” she emphasized. It was not true that the United States had never called on the Maidan protestors to leave buildings and renounce violence, and that it was exercising double standards. On 10 January, it had condemned the actions of rioters outside Government buildings, and later that month it had condemned targeted attacks against journalists and called on all protestors to refrain from violence and destruction of property. Those were among the many public statements by the United States Government aimed at ending the fighting. The future was more important, she said, asking whether the Russian Federation would publicly urge the separatists to end their siege of public buildings. It had repeatedly taken aim at the so-called illegitimate Government in Kyiv while refusing to acknowledge its failure to embrace the 21 February agreement after it had been negotiated. Furthermore, the Russian Federation would not come out in support of the 25 May elections, she said, stressing that doing so would be best way to ensure that rights were more autonomous in eastern Ukraine.

The representative of the Russian Federation, responding to a question by the Council President about a possible presidential statement from today’s meeting, first addressed comments made by his United States counterpart. He said that what had been heard from the United States, and the way that message had been delivered, showed everyone that it approved of the forceful change of power in Ukraine, which, in the end, did not serve Ukrainian interests. As for a presidential statement, he said it would be good to end today’s meeting with a statement calling for a swift end to violence and serious implementation of the Geneva Statement.

OH JOON (Republic of Korea), Council President, said he would ask the coordinators to take up the matter.

* *** *

__________

* The 7166th Meeting was closed.

Russia’s propaganda and empty justifications for aggression in the Ukraine; the urgent need for the West to broadcast accurate news into eastern Ukraine

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

See Nik Afanasjew, “RUSSISCHE PROPAGANDA: Senden, um zu siegen; Im Krieg der Worte ist die Ukraine zum Schlachtfeld geworden; Die russische Propaganda ist Putins schärfste Waffe und Dmitri Kisseljow sein General,  Die Zeit, 28. April 2014  (17:46 Uhr)

Russia’s bald lies and cynicism in seeking to justify its aggression against the Ukraine seem to know no limits. It is difficult to understand how Foreign Mininster Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin can advance their empty justications with straight faces, and even feigned anger.

To grasp the wholly fallacious nature of their case, and their propaganda, we need to step back a little from the latest ferocious arguments over disputed facts, in which they engage in the classic strategem of defending their utterly false propaganda narrative from being deflated in any aspect by the truth.

Their key objective here is to shift the attention of the broad public, which has a short memory and does not think and feel in rational, analytical fashion, to endless and unrelenting arguments over specific details and facts, while diverting its attention from the essential facts of the larger situation.

The bad faith of the Russian justifications for their aggression can be quickly grasped by posing a series of hypothetical questions:

Would Russia view subversion by “little green men” from the West or Arab countries in the Gulf, stirring up unrest in a republic in the Caucusus, seizing buildings, and calling for a referendum on independence from Russia as legitimate, as it does similar activities in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine?

In such a situation would Russia agree that attempts to retake control of public administration buildings, by force if necessary, would be wholly illegitimate and provide troops massed on the border with a neighboring country a justification for invading the Russian republic involved?

Russia should be careful here, if they recall the events in Chechnya, and the potential for foreign subversion in restive republics within the Russian Federation.

Would Russia permit the seizure and annexation of any of its territory by China or Japan?

Would Russia and Putin accept in Russia itself the kinds of demands for regional autonomy they support in the eastern Ukraine?

Just a moment’s thought about these questions shows how empty and cynical Russia’s arguments are.

But, we must always bear in mind, Russia’s propaganda arguments are not aimed at intellectuals and pundits in the West. Rather, they are aimed at the broad public, and have a specific propaganda purpose which is an integral part of the Russian strategy of aggression.

Their goal is to create mass emotions which support the actions and goals of Russian subversion, both in eastern Ukraine (as in the Crimea earlier) and in Russia as a whole.

The entire propaganda bubble depends on denying access to any alternative narratives or versions of the facts which otherwise might be available through public dissemination, whether by television, radio, the press, or social media.

To counter Russia’s propanda supporting the “Big Lie” that Russian-speakers are under threat in the Ukraine, the West must counter Russia’s attempt to establish an “electronic curtain” around the population of the eastern Ukraine to shield them from hearing objective news reporting and the truth. That is why it is important for the Russians to seize television towers, and replace Ukrainian TV channels with Russian channels which endlessly repeat the lies of the Russian propaganda machine. That is why they have taken control of Russia’s leading social media site in recent days.

What the West Must Do to Counter Russian Propaganda

Russia shut down the Voice of America transmissions on local frequencies in Moscow just weeks before the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

This fact alone demonstrates how critically important it is to get objective, factual news reporting to be heard (and where possible seen) by the broad public in eastern Ukraine, and in Moscow.

The U.S. has the capabilities, and should use them, to get the truth into the ears of the populations of the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

Every available short- and middle-wave transmitter of Radio Free Europe (RFE), the Voice of America (VOA), and other Western state broadcasters such as Radio France International (RFI), Deutsche Welle (DW), and Radio Netherlands, should be aimed at the eastern Ukraine with round-the-clock coverage of events. Let them continue to broadcast objective news programs as well as commentary according to their own judgments. But get their signals into the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

The U.S. military has airborne broadcast capabilities, which should be used.

The bubble of Russian propaganda is what gives life support to the Russian sabateurs and special operations forces operating in the eastern Ukraine.

That bubble must be burst, within days, by establishment and operation of such enhanced broadcasts to the eastern Ukraine and to Russia itself.   All bureaucratic obstacles must be overcome on an emergency basis.  Western countries can quickly supply short-waive receivers to hear their broadcasts if middle-wave broadcasts are jammed.

The West can also help the Ukrainan government in maintaing access to the Internet in eastern Ukraine, by providing mobile cell phone platforms and internet signals, including in particular wireless wide-area networks (WWAN’s). The technology exists. Google should be brought in (quietly) to help, if necessary. Wireless wide-area network modems can be made readily available throughout the region in great numbers.

A multi-pronged attack, given the highest priority and urgency, should be able to pierce through Russia’s electronic curtain in the eastern Ukraine in fairly short order. The effect will be to let some of the air, if not a great deal of it, out of Putin’s tires.

The people in the eastern Ukraine undoubtedly have a great desire to find out the truth about events in their region, and on the diplomatic front as well.

Western countries can also assist the Ukraine in producing newspapers in Russian and Ukrainian for widespread dissemination throughout the region, making up in part for the closure and supression of local newspapers in various localities. The newspapers might usefully reproduce key articles from leading newspapers in the West and throughout the World, which would give them added credibility.

The one weapon the West has and which Russia doe not have, is the truth.

For Putin’s subversion in the eastern Ukraine to succeed, that truth must be suppressed and replaced by the blatant lies and disortions of Russian propaganda.

The West should spare no effort in piercing Russia’s electronic curtain, and taking that truth to the people of the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

Congress should immediately approve whatever emergency funds are required to produce the actions outlined above within a matter of days, not weeks.

The need for such action is extraordinarily urgent.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

After Geneva: Putin’s double game, and what to do about it

Monday, April 21st, 2014

(Developing—check back for updates)

Geneva agreement delays further sanctions; Russian non-compliance and new conditions; tacit acceptance of Crimean annexation; 40,000 combat-ready troops on border continue to threaten invasion; Western response

For recent commentary, see

(1) Andreas Umland (Kommentar), “KRIM-ANNEXION: Wie Putin den Westen austrickste,” Die Zeit, 18. April 2014 (1949 Uhr).

“Wladimir Putin hat sein Ziel erreicht: Die Genfer Erklärung imnpliziert, dass die Krim nicht mehr zur Ukraine gehört. Der Westen lässt Russland wieder einmal gewähren.”

(2) David J. Kramer, “Action, not words, needed for Ukraine,” April 21, 2014 (10:29 AM).

The response of the EU, the U.S., and NATO to Russian aggression in the Ukraine continues to be one of pacifism and an unwillingness to confront Putin which is so great that it amounts to appeasement.  For example, there was no mention of the invasion and annexation of the Crimea in the communiqué which was issued at the end of the four-party meeting between Russia, the EU, the U.S. and the Ukraine in Geneva on April 17, 2014.

The West has adopted no sanctions which can seriously be considered as aimed at forcing Russia to undo the annexation and return the Crimea to the Ukraine restoring the situation to the status quo ante prior to the invasion.

The West has adopted no serious sanctions against Russia for threatening an invasion of the eastern Ukraine with 40,000 combat-ready troops on the border fully equipped for an invasion.

The West has adopted no serious sanctions against Russia for having invaded the eastern Ukraine with special operations forces and others under their control, which have seized and continue to occupy public buildings through the use of armed force.

The next stage of sanctions which the West is threatening to adopt if Putin expands his invasion of the eastern Ukraine with regular military forces appears to be limited to the addition of more individuals and companies to the list of those targeted by individual sanctions.

On the military front, NATO and the U.S. have announced some token deployments of troops (e.g., 150 U.S. troops) to Poland and one or more of the Baltic nations which are members of NATO.

What the West has Forgotten

The West has forgotten the history of the Soviet Union, and Russia. Europe and the U.S. seem to have no memory of the methods, lies and subterfuge which were essential elements of Soviet diplomacy after World War II, as they took over one Eastern European country after another with lies, subterfuge, and where necessary assassinations of democratic opponents. The West has both forgotten this history and failed to recognize the fact that the new Russian leaders and apparatchiks have resumed the use of such methods in the conduct of Russian foreign policy.

Hitler, Goebbels, and Soviet leaders since Stalin have understood that the public has a very short memory, that the “Big Lie” must be endlessly repeated, and that non-official sources of news and information must be ruthlessly suppressed. Every assertion by the enemy that is at variance with the official propaganda and narrative of the party or the state must be vigorously, endlessly disputed, so as to create confusion in the minds of the public and to effectively suppress the real news about what is going on.

The greatest enemy of official propaganda, both Hitler and Soviet dictators have always known, is the truth.

It is not difficult to see and understand the implementation of this strategy by the current Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his apparatchiks such as foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.

Among the constantly repeated lies the Russians are propagating, and which are repeated again and again, is the assertion that the Kiev government, which was elected by a vote of parliament after President Viktor Yanukovych fled first Kiev and then the country, assumed power as a result of a “military coup”.  Yet there was no military coup, and indeed the military had nothing to do with Yanukovych abandoning the government and fleeing Kiev.

Another lie, constantly repeated, has been that the Kiev government is controlled by neo-Nazis and fascists. Even if in fact the Rightist sector is represented in the government, to a limited degree, it is very far from the truth to say they control the government, when the President and the Prime Minister come from the party most closely associated with Iulia Timoshenko.

The point is that, nurtured by 25 years of illusions that Russia might become like a Western country, Europe and the U.S. are having a very difficult time disabusing themselves of these illusions despite growing and incontrovertible evidence that they are false.

This evidence includes:

(1) Russian aggression against Georgia in 2008 and the fact that it still has troops occupying several Russian-speaking enclaves in that country;

(2) The harsh repression of fundamental human rights in Russia, including the right to a free press and freedom of expression, the right to engage in peaceful demonstrations, and the right to a fair trial; and

(3) Russia has become an authoritarian dictatorship where alternative versions of reality are no longer permitted to be transmitted through the press or the media. In a highly revealing move, Russia stopped transmissions by the Voice of America on local frequencies only weeks before the Crimean invasion.

Alternative versions of reality which question official facts cannot be permitted. The greatest enemy of Russian propaganda is the truth. That is why the truth must be suppressed and factual reports from outside the area whose media Russia controls must be vigorously contested and contradicted at every step of the way.

The greatest enemy is the truth, because if the truth is allowed to penetrate the bubble of propaganda, the whole bubble will burst.

It is in this context that we must understand Sergey Lavrov’s assertions that the U.S., the EU and the U.S. are violating the “agreement” reached in Geneva on April 17, 2014, or engaged in actions which violate international law, or his assertions that the government in Kiev is violating the Ukrainian constitution. This propaganda, which is dutifully and endlessly repeated in the Russian television and press, and by U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin in the Security Council whenever that body meets, is an integral part of a strategy which is based on (1) the “big lie” that Russian-speakers in the Crimea or the eastern Ukraine are under threat or being attacked; and (2) the “need” or asserted “right” of Russia to respond by the use of military force to protect those threatened Russian-speakers, or cultural nationals.  Hitler used the term “Volksdeutsche” in referring to cultural nationals as he claimed the same right Putin claims to intervene on their behalf.

It is in this context that the armed clash which occurred at a checkpoint in the eastern Ukraine on Sunday, resulting in the death of at least one person, must be considered. Russian camera crews were suspiciously on the scene very quickly, and it is far from clear that Ukrainian “Rightest Sector” supporters were behind it, as was immediately asserted in the Russian media. Students of history will recall that Adolf Hitler staged a fake attack on German soldiers by Polish forces, to provide a pretext for his invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.

The Rightest sector forces in Ukraine deny that they were behind the attack. It is entirely possible, if not probable given the unusual circumstances such as the presence of Russian television crews, that the operation was executed by Russian special forces in an effort to continue building a case for Russian military intervention in the eastern Ukraine.

In the light of Vladimir Putin’s uncompromising speech on April 17, delivered as his foreign minister was agreeing in Geneva for the militia and “protesters” to withdraw from the buildings they had seized in a number of localities in the eastern Ukraine, their subsequent refusal to do so, and the attack on the checkpoint on Sunday, such an intervention may indeed be likely, if not imminent.

As for the Geneva agreement, it served the obvious purpose of throwing a monkey-wrench into Western plans to adopt stronger sanctions against Russia for  (1) its military seizure and annexation of the Crimea; (2) its attacks in the eastern Ukraine by Russian armed forces and others under their control, who seized and continue to occupy a number of public administration buildings; and (3) its massing of 40,000-50,000 combat-ready troops on the Ukrainian border, in an obvious threat of invasion if Kiev does not accede to its demands regarding internal constitutional arrangements and other matters within its domestic jurisdiction.

The vagueness of the agreement in Geneva also leaves open to Russia the argument that the refusal of the militia and “protestors” in the government buildings seized in the eastern Ukraine is beyond their control, since Russia has no military or other forces in the eastern Ukraine, and exerts no control over the pro-Russian “demonstrators”.

Furthermore, in analyzing the conduct of Russia vis-à-vis any agreement, such as the April 17 agreement in Geneva, one must bear in mind that Russia was working very closely with Bashar al-Assad when he signed an Arab League peace agreement in November 2011, the agreements pursuant to Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043 (2012) under which al-Assad agreed to ceasefire provisions and observers to verify compliance, and the June 30, 2012 Geneva I agreement which established a process (clearly illusory) for a ceasefire and resolution of the conflict.

Al-Assad complied with none of these agreements, while blocking Western sanctions initiatives and gaining valuable time through signing them. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this history, and Russia’s diplomatic and military role in supporting the al-Assad regime, to see similar behavior now from Russia in relation to the Ukraine.

The Significance of the April 17 Geneva Agreement

At Geneva on April 17, Russia achieved a tacit recognition that its invasion of the Crimea should not be the subject of further dispute, while derailing efforts then underway to adopt stronger sanctions against Russia for the behavior described above.

What the West achieved was an agreement for an expanded team of OSCE observers to deploy to the region.  They also “achieved” the illusion of progress on the ground with withdrawal of militia and “demonstrators” from public buildings they have seized and still occupy in the eastern Ukraine, and a further undertaking not to continue such seizures.

If the U.S. and the EU quickly adopt really serious sanctions, e.g., for the invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and expand military moves in eastern countries of the NATO alliance, and the OSCE observers are robustly backed by the West, it is possible that the Geneva agreement of April 17 may play a useful role in defusing tensions in the eastern Ukraine.

However, it must be recognized that Putin and Russia represent a powerful military force that is moving, with great momentum, which will not be stopped or slowed until it encounters an equally strong opposing force. That force may consist of real economic sanctions that are implemented, and military moves by NATO that should make Russia think twice.

This would be a good time, for example, to launch a vigorous discussion within NATO about the need to permanently move the deployment of U.S. and other NATO troops forward to Poland, Romania, and Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. U.S. troops were stationed during the Cold War within hundreds of kilometers of East Germany and Czechoslovakia, where opposing Warsaw Pact forces were stationed. Given the changes in geopolitical realities revealed by the Russian invasion of the Crimea, a strong case can now be made that to deter future Russian military aggression against member states, NATO forces should be forward-deployed to where they might have a significant military impact in deterring or halting any such action.

Real, permanent economic sanctions should now be imposed against Russia for its invasion and annexation of the Crimea. As suggested previously, a good start would be to impose a total ban on financial transactions with, or doing any other business with, companies in the Crimea, or with other companies doing business with such companies. These sanctions should have the goal of eventually reversing the effects of the invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and should not be lifted until those conditions are met. They are limited and proportional measures of collective self-defense, which Kiev has or will formally request from NATO, the U.S. the EU countries, and other countries.

The U.S. should adopt these sanctions immediately, because it can, while the EU should adopt these measures or the closest approximation they can reach, as soon as they can. Other NATO allies or U.S. allies, such as Canada and Australia, should adopt such measures as quickly as they can.

Can we expect such concentrated attention and concerted action from Barack Obama and Europe’s leaders?

It does not appear likely on the record they have established to date for pacifism and appeasement. If Germany is not willing to sacrifice one half of one percent of its GDP in order to impose sanctions that might help to uphold the postwar military, political and economic order, appeasement may carry the day.

But at some point, hopefully soon, they will see behind Putin’s mask, and understand that he and Russia are a force, moving with great momentum, that will not be stopped until it encounters a countervailing force of equal strength. To reach that point, we can only hope that they experience a sudden infusion of insight and political courage.

Is the effort to uphold the U.N. Charter and the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state worth what it will cost, even when we are talking about a country that is not a member of NATO or any other military alliance with the United States?

Ask the war veterans who fought in the Korean War to repel North Korean aggression.

Ask the 500,000 veterans who fought in the 1990-91 Gulf War to repel the Iraqi invasion and attempted annexation of part of Kuwait

Ask any serious student of diplomatic history or international law.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Eid-e-shoma mobarak: President Obama’s 2014 Statement on Nowruz

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

President Obama issued his annual Nowruz greeting to Iranians today, on March 20, 2014.

The English text is found here.

The video of the President’s message, with subtitles in Persian (farsi),is found here.

The video of the President’s message, without subtitles, is founf here.

The transcipt of the video in Persian (farsi) is found here.

The Trenchant Observer

Benghazi update: New questions raised on intelligence, decision-making failures (Updated November 6, 2012)

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Latest Reports and Opinion

Adam Housley, “Exclusive: Security officials on the ground in Libya challenge CIA account,” Fox News, November 3, 2012.

Jennifer Rubin, “Obama’s legacy: The blunder in Benghazi,”

Washington Post, November 5, 2012 (12:20 ET). Rubin cites the Lake and Bing articles cited below.

Eli Lake, “Ansar al-Sharia’s Role in Benghazi Attacks Still a Mystery;The U.S. didn’t consider Ansar al-Sharia a threat—until they showed up in Benghazi on Sept. 11,” The Daily Beast, November 5, 2012 (4:45 a.m. EST).

Bing West, “Cynicism Confirmed,” National Review Online, November 3, 2012 (5:59 P.M).

Brett Baier, “CBS Held Damaging Obama Benghazi Tape: What President Obama really said in that ’60 Minutes’ interview about Benghazi,” Fox Nation, November 5, 2012.

The Intelligence Failure in Benghazi, and Beyond

Lake reports that the U.S. was not following Ansar al-Sharia before September 11, as follows:

Before the attacks, the U.S. intelligence community didn’t consider Ansar al-Sharia a threat to American interests, and the group wasn’t a priority target for the CIA officers monitoring jihadists in Libya, according to U.S. intelligence officials with knowledge of the investigations into the Benghazi attacks.

This assertion underlies a fundamental weakness in U.S. intelligence capabilities: As the CIA has become increasingly focused on conducting drone strikes and preparing kill lists, it has also increasingly failed to adequately perform its core mission, which is to collect and disseminate intelligence information that serves the strategic interests of the United States.

One need only reflect on the intelligence debacle which led to the Khost tragedy, where a CIA commander lacking field experience was responsible for the poor tradecraft that enabled a double agent to penetrate to the core of the outpost and explode his suicide vest, without being searched.

See

The Trenchant Observer, “Intelligence Matters: CIA Capabilities in Afghanistan, March 20, 2010.

The Trenchant Observer, “Intelligence Matters: Khost, The Flynn Report, and a Few Hypotheses,” March 17, 2010.

Over and over, the U.S. has been blindsided by developments which the CIA and other intelligence agencies should be picking up but aren’t. The Ansar al-Sharia attack on the Benghazi consulate in the only the latest example.

The sheer incompetence of the intelligence failure at Benghazi, when there was a CIA operation based right there reportedly tasked with monitoring jihadist groups in Libya, is staggering.

Questions Regarding the Incompetence of the Security Precautions in Place on September 11

Second, a number of questions have been raised regarding the adequacy of the security forces and precautions in place in Benghazi, and the denial by the Obama administration of repeated and urgent requests for more protection.

One aspect is of particular significance. A striking fact about Ambassador Stevens’ death was that he was reportedly in the “safe room” at the Consulate, but nonetheless succumbed to smoke inhalation. Housley reports,

One former Special Op now employed by a private company in Benghazi said that even the safe room wasn’t properly set up. He said “the safe room is one of the first measures you take” and that he is “not sure how you can set a safe room without fire suppression and ventilation in case of fire.” He also said, “Ambassador Stevens would likely be alive today if this simple and normal procedure was put into place.”

Questions Regarding the Incompetence of the Response

A third issue is raised by the incompetence of the responses of American officials to the impending and then ongoing attack. Security officials were reportedly aware of roadblocks being set up hours before the attack. The attack itself, according to sources on the ground, began at least an hour before the time stated by the administration. See Housley.

The Manipulation of the Truth

A fourth issue involves the very obvious manipulation of the truth by the Obama administration in statements to the American people about what had occurred at Benghazi. See the Trenchant Observer articles cited above.

Of particular note are Obama’s words in the third presidential debate on October 22 denying any misrepresentation, when he stated he had characterized the attack on the Consulate as a terrorist attack in his comments in the Rose Garden on September 12.

On rebuttal, Obama seemed rehearsed, but indignant. “The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror… And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief (emphasis added).”

–Brett Baier, “CBS Held Damaging Obama Benghazi Tape: What President Obama really said in that ’60 Minutes’ interview about Benghazi,” Fox Nation (Fox News), November 5, 2012.

CBS held video footage of the president’s remarks on “60 Minutes” which effectively refuted the claim that he had stated there had been a terrorist attack, but withheld it and did not finally release it publicly until November 4. See Baier.

Particularly striking is the similarity of the language used by Obama here, and the language he used in a June 8 press conference when he denied that the White House had been the source of leaks regarding targeted killings by drone strikes and other covert operations.

In the June 8 press conference, President Obama was asked directly the following question:

There are a couple of books out with, essentially, details about national security issues. There are reports of terrorist kill lists that you supervise and there are reports of cyber-attacks on the Iranian nuclear program that you ordered. Two things. First of all, what’s your reaction of this information getting out in public? And secondly, what’s your reaction to lawmakers who accuse your team of leaking these details in order to promote your reelection bid?

In response the President stated, among other things, the following:

(S)ince I’ve been in office, my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation.

Now, we have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences. In some cases, it’s criminal — these are criminal acts when they release information like this. And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past.

The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong. And people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office (emphasis added).

See the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

“The Obama Leaks: The issue is not the leaks, but whether the president lied to the American people,” July 4, 2012.

“Holder’s Investigations into Torture and Covert Operations Leaks–An Obama Cover-up?” June 26, 2012.

“Did the White House authorize recent leaks on covert programs?” June 10, 2012.

The Failure of the Press to Find and Report the Truth

Finally, the failure of the press corps to uncover and publish the facts relating to the attack on the Benghazi consulate and annex, over a period of some seven weeks, is truly shameful. To be sure, there have been some exceptions. But the studious way in which the national media avoided addressing obvious questions in their reporting, and their equally obvious failure to uncover the underlying facts in a timely manner, reveal both an overdependence on information fed to reporters by government officials, frequently speaking on background, and an apparent reluctance to delve too deeply into matters which could lead to revelations that might hurt Obama in the his reelection campaign.

The last point is addressed with forceful logic by Bing West in an op-ed piece on November 3.

See Bing West, “Cynicism Confirmed,” National Review Online, November 3, 2012 (5:59 P.M).

He asserts,

The intent is to cause the press and the public to lose interest in a story that seems exhaustively repetitive, while the key issues are never addressed:

1. Why did the State Department ignore repeated warnings that security at Benghazi was deficient?

2. Did operations centers in Washington receive or monitor requests for help during the attack on 9/11/12?

3. Did the president direct the military to use all means to save American lives?

4. If authorized to enter Libyan territory, why did the military not send a fighter aircraft overhead to frighten what the White House claimed was a mob? Why did the military not send an ad hoc rescue force from Sigonella Navy Base, while the CIA was sending six men as the rescue force from Tripoli, about equal distance from Benghazi? Is the U.S. military too rigid to do anything helpful during a seven-hour battle?

5. Why did the White House persist for weeks in spinning a false story about a mob enraged by a YouTube video, when no intelligence supported the story? Who gave our ambassador to the U.N. her “talking points” that emphasized the video? Our intelligence community says it did not come from intelligence agencies.

The Duty of a Free Press:  Speak Truth to Power, at All Times

We need a national press corps that eagerly and passionately leaves no stone unturned in its pursuit of the truth, and which never pulls its punches to favor one candidate or party over another.  Holding Barack Obama to account for his administration’s actions and statements is essential for the foreign policy of the United States to be successful.

The vocation and the duty of the true journalist is to speak truth to power, always.

Attempts to hold Obama to account do not reveal an intention to help his opponent, Mitt Romney, who may indeed be even more unqualified as a foreign policy leader. Rather, they reflect a dogged insistence that the President of the United States–and his administration–never lie to the American people, and always be held accountable.

Whoever the President may be.

The Trenchant Observer

New details on Benghazi attack on consulate, American response

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

New details about the attack on the American consulate and annex in Benghazi and the American response on the ground on the evening of September 11-12 have been made public.

See AP/The Huffington Post, “New Details From Libya Consulate Attack: State Department Abandons Claim Of Protest Outside Gates,” The Huffington Post, October 9, 2012 (Updated: October 10, 20, 2012 8:58 pm EDT).

For a chronology of events at the American consulate and “annex”  based on interviews with eyewitnesses, some of whom were present throughout the attack, see Thierry Portes, “Benghazi : le récit de l’assaut anti-américain,” Le Figaro, 16 septembre 2012.

Following requests by U.S. government officials to the press to withhold certain information, there has been little discussion in the American press of the CIA black operation in Benghazi and its relationship, if any, to he attack on the consulate and the “annex”.  Nonetheless, the location of the annex was revealed by apparent error at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on October 10, 2012. (Obama’s foreign policy has been characterized, among other things, by the sloppiness of its execution. This revelation was another example of “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight” bungling an intelligence matter.)

See “U.S. intelligence hurt after ‘CIA base’ in east Libya abandoned,” Al Arabiya News, October 13, 2012.

Dana Millbank (op-ed), “Letting us in on a secret,” Washington Post, October 10, 2012.

Analysis

The key questions here are the following:

1. Was the plan to replace highly-trained U.S. security personnel with local guards an intelligent policy decision, in a former war zone and an increasingly insecure area?

2. Were Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the U.S. personnel provided with adequate security in the light of the circumstances known before September 11? Were requests for additional U.S. and private contractor personnel denied in Washington for essentially bureaucratic reasons?

3. What was the precise relationship between the CIA “black operation” in Benghazi and the attack on the consulate? Did the government of Libya know at the highest levels about this operation? Has its unmasking contributed to government instability in Libya since September 11-12?

4. Did the Obama administration knowingly make misleading statements suggesting that the attack was related to the anti-Muslim film and a demonstration at the consulate against the film, when such an assertion had no factual basis and was contradicted by the known facts?

The critical issue is whether the Obama administration deliberately attempted to mislead the public with its early accounts of a spontaneous demonstration. 

If it did so, was it attempting to divert attention from the black operation in Benghazi, or to defend the narrative, for essentially political purposes, according to which Obama has been successful in fighting Al Quaeda and Islamic terrorists?

If the former is the case, we are dealing with ineptness.  If the latter is the case, the issue assumes much greater importance in terms of Obama’s character and that of his administration.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama and Democracy in Africa, 2011

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Michelle Obama’s visit to Africa in June was, by most accounts, a successful goodwill tour by the First Lady and her family, serving to underline the importance of U.S.-African relations in general, and the personal interest of the First Family in African countries in particular.

See Andrew Malcolm (commentary), “Michelle Obama’s magical family tour of Africa,” Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2011

Certainly, the symbolism, particularly of her meeting with Nelson Mandela, was powerful, recalling as it did the triumph in two great countries of peaceful social revolutions based on the ideas and inspiration of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela himself.

Nonetheless, the visit was also a time to reflect on U.S.-African relations, evoking a number of criticisms of U.S. policy toward Africa under President Barack Obama.

An article by Krissah Thompson, published in the Washington Post on June 18, 2011, nicely captured the gulf between the attention given the Obamas as media celebrities when they travel to Africa, and the reality of U.S. policies toward the countries of the continent.

Typical of the criticisms cited by Thompson were the foilowing:

(T)he big challenges facing the continent — poverty, government corruption, threats of extremism, and AIDS — have not drawn the White House attention that Mwiza Munthali, public outreach director of TransAfrica Forum, had hoped for.

U.S. officials, said Munthali, “are not seeing Africa as a big priority. There has been some ambivalence.”

From another viewpoint, the following criticism was heard:

Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, a Ghanaian who runs a New York investment and research firm specializing in Africa, pointed to what he said was the irony in the shared disappointment. “We really said if a black man became president, it would change the world, but we are basically back at the same level we were before,” he said. “The bulk of the policy is still the legacy of the Clinton and Bush years. The Obama legacy toward Africa is still yet to be seen.”

–Krissah Thompson, “First lady’s African trip resurrects criticism of president on African issues,” Washington Post, June 18, 2011

A lame defense of U.S. policy towards Africa offered by White House officials only underlined the absence of really significant U.S. programs and initiatives in the region.

White House officials disagreed (with the criticisms), saying that the administration has laid out clear priorities in Africa: supporting democratic regimes, decreasing hunger and developing the $63 billion Global Health Initiative. That program seeks to integrate the Bush administration’s focus on AIDS with a wider approach to public health issues.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, noted that Obama met with the leaders of Nigeria and Gabon this month, and last year hosted a large group of handpicked young adults from the continent for a White House forum.

While Obama’s schedule has prevented him from traveling (to) the continent more, Rhodes said, the president delivered audio messages urging a peaceful democratic transition in Ivory Coast and an end to violence in Sudan, which recently divided into northern and southern jurisdictions with U.S. backing.

“We have looked for ways for him to continue to speak to the African people directly,” Rhodes said.

–Krissah Thompson, “First lady’s African trip resurrects criticism of president on African issues,” Washington Post, June 18, 2011

This defense was bolstered–perhaps–by an apology for Obama administation policies toward Africa written by two Brookings Institution Africanists and published on July 6.

See Mwangi S. Kimenyi and Nelipher Moyo, “Favorite or Prodigal Son? U.S. – Africa Policy under Obama,” Brookings (blog of the The Brookings Institution), July 6, 2011

Against this backdrop, one might ask, what is going on in terms of U.S. support of democratic forces and civil society in the region? How much money is it spending on such support?

Going forward, how much has the Obama administration asked for, and how much is the Republican-controlled House of Representatives willing to spend, on democracy and governance activities in Africa that support democratic forces and strengthen civil society?

To put these numbers in perspective, one might also ask how does this number, per country, compare to the cost of supporting one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan for one year?

The fact is that demands for democracy and accountable government are not confined to the North African countries of “the Arab Spring.” They have also been heard in West Africa, from Ivory Coast to Liberia to Nigeria, while deep and significant movements toward democracy are also underway in the countries of Southern Africa, inspired in part by the example of South Africa. Elsewhere in the 54 countries of Africa, elections are being held and democratic governments are being formed and, everywhere, the struggle for democracy is underway.

What is the Obama administration doing, now, to support democratic forces and civil society in these African countries that are caught up in the struggle for democracy?

That is the question.

The Trenchant Observer

www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

See also Words and Deeds: Obama’s Defense of Democracy in Africa, 2011, August 1, 2011

Obama: “eide shoma mobarak” — The President’s Nowruz (New Year’s) Greeting to Persians Throughout the World

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

See also the following related articles:

The Trenchant Observer, President Obama’s 2013 “Statement on Nowruz”, March 20, 2013

The Trenchant Observer, “eide shoma mobarak”—President Obama sends 2012 Nowruz greetings to Persians, denounces “electronic curtain” in Iran,” March 20, 2012

“President Obama’s Nowruz Message,” The White House, (with links to video and written text in Persian), March 20, 2011

President Barack Obama has issued a 2010 Nowruz Greeting to Persians in Iran and throughout the world who are celebrating the Persian New Year. The video in English with subtitles in Farsi, a version of the video in English with subtitles in Arabic, and the text in English may be accessed by clicking on the preceding links. The written texts in Farsi (Persian) and Arabic may also be downloaded as pdf files from the White House web site.

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.