Archive for the ‘U.N. Charter’ Category

REPRISE: August 20, 1968 — “Dubček, Svoboda!”

Monday, August 24th, 2015

From August 20, 2011

On this date, 43 years ago, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia, putting down with its tanks what its own broken ideology could no longer extinguish–ideals of freedom of the press and personal liberty free from the oppressive weight of a totalitarian state.

Those ideals and dreams survived, and triumphed.

REPRISE: August 20, 1968 — “Dubček, Svoboda!”

See The Trenchant Observer,
“August 20, 1968 — “Dubček, Svoboda!” (Personal Takes)”
August 20, 2010

The original article, from 2010, is reproduced below.

***

Alexander Dubcek

Personal Takes

I had a picture of Alexander Dubček on my wall when I was a student studying international law. He represented the hope of many in Czechoslovakia and beyond that the communist party might evolve from within. He and the President of Czechoslovakia, Ludvik Svoboda (whose last name meant “freedom” in Czech), were for a brief moment during “the Prague Spring” the team that stood for the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom, within a communist party and under a communist government.

The threat was too great for the leaders of the Soviet Union, and after a summer of feints and betrayals and illusions, they sent their tanks across the frontier into the sovereign territory of Czechoslovakia, on August 20, 1968.

29 years earlier, Adolph Hitler had sent his tanks into Prague, following the betrayal of Chamberlain at Munich which recognized the annexation of the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia settled by ethnic Germans.

In March 1938, the linking together or annexation (“Anschluss”) of Austria was consummated at the barrel of a gun. The infamous Munich Pact followed on September 30, ceding the Sudetenland to Germany. On March 15, 1939 Germany invaded and took direct control of the rest of Czechoslovakia. The invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, followed months later, setting off World War II.

These events, for a young international lawyer, seemed together to define the core values of the structure and body of international law and institutions, which had begun following a terrible “world war” in the 17th century, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which at the Peace of Westphalia and through the pen of Hugo Grotius gave birth to the modern system of nation states and to the basic framework of principles and norms of international law.

The devastation and suffering that took place during The Thirty Years’ War underlined the need for rules governing the relations of princes and states. Three centuries later Hitler’s Anschluss and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia defined, in a sense, the core values of international law.

Those core values, which had become clear by the 20th century, included the sanctity of the human person and the principle prohibiting the threat or use of force against the political independence or territorial integrity of any state, except in self-defense.

These values were defined by their utter violation, in much the same way that Albert Camus found that moral values were created by their brutal violation by Hitler’s armies and the Gestapo before and during World War II. Camus, who as editor of the French resistance newspaper Libération was a leader in the French resistance, articulated–particularly in “The Rebel” and his novel “The Plague”—a vision of how values acquired their substance and contours not through abstract logic, but more directly through the experience of the horrors of their violation.

So today, on August 20, 2010, let us salute the courage of Dubček and Svoboda in their struggle to put “a human face” on socialism. Years later, their countryman, Václav Havel, gave expression to the dream of freedom of the Prague Spring generation in a voice that resonated through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and throughout the world. Havel became President of Czechoslovakia as a result of “the Velvet Revolution” in 1989.

I remember how in 1968, after the Soviet tanks had crushed the Prague Spring and the autonomous government of Alexander Dubček, it occurred to me that if there were ever a reform from within the Communist party led by a Soviet Dubček, there would be no Soviet tanks to crush the reform. As it turned out, I was only half right. Twenty years later, Mikhail Gorbachev, introducing glasnost and perestroika, led such a reform. Boris Yeltsin put down the reaction by overcoming tanks in 1991, leading to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

For insight into the Prague Spring, see Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), and the 1988 American movie of the same title, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin, and Juliette Binoche.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin resumes fighting near Mariupol

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

UPDATE–Latest News (August 12, 2015)

See

Pierre Vaux, “Ukraine’s Cold War Hot as Combat Explodes in the Last 24 Hours,” The Daily Beast, August 12, 2015.

“UKRAINE: EU sieht OSZE-Mission in Gefahr; Ein Brandanschlag auf Fahrzeuge, Mitarbeiter im Kreuzfeuer: OSZE-Beobachter in der Ukraine sind zunehmend bedroht. Die EU spricht von einer Eskalation des Konflikts, ” Die Zeit, 12. August 2015 (04:49 Uhr).

The Donbas puppets of Vladimir Putin are 100% dependent on Russia for their survival. Russian regular troops as well as irregular troops have been in the Ukraine for over a year, and have played a decisive role in key battles with the Ukrainian military. There can be little doubt that the puppets act, and weave and bob, in response to the movements of the wires by which they are suspended. And there can be little doubt that Vladimir Putin is the puppeteer who controls those wires, and who moves the figures attached to them.

Now Putin and his puppets have resumed fighting near Mariupol, the strategic port city that controls the path and potential land bridge to the Crimea, which under international law remains sovereign territory of the Ukraine under Russian military occupation.

At the same time, four OSCE vehicles were set on fire in Donetzk in front of the observers’ hotel and across the street from the building that serves as the headquarters of the leader of the local parliament, Andrei Purgin.

The tactic is right out of the playbook in the Syrian conflict, when Bashar al-Assad was presumably responsible for the crowds that harrassed and the shootings at U.N. observers which ultimately led first to their withdrawal to their hotel, the replacement of their commander who sought to keep them safe, and finally their withdrawal from Syria. Russia, as al-Assad’s strongest backer, was intimately familiar with these events.

The strategy is simple: If you don’t want international observers reporting on events, attack them, fire on them, until their mission becomes so dangerous to the individual observers that their mission must be stopped.

See

Pilar Bonet (Moscú), “La escalada bélica en Ucrania amenaza los pactos de Minsk; La situación en el frente entre las tropas de Kiev y los insurgentes de Donetsk se deteriora, El Pais, 10 de Agosto 2015 (22:38 CEST).

“Trotz Waffenruhe: Ukraine meldet heftige Kämpfe nahe Mariupol; Seit Februar gilt in der Ukraine eine Waffenruhe, eingehalten wird sie selten: Die prorussischen Rebellen sollen heftige Angriffe gegen Regierungstruppen gestartet haben. Kiew meldet einen erfolgreichen Gegenschlag,” Der Spiegel, 10. August 2015 (19;25 Uhr).

NATO and the West need to keep a watchful eye on developments around Mariupol, and with the EU be prepared to act if Putin tries to take the city.

In the meantime, NATO and the U.S. should proceed with quickly supplying more lethal weapons and training to the Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Developing

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

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

See

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

See also the articles by David Ignatius cited earlier here.

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

See

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

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

See also,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

The faces of Genocide at Srebrenice

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Here are the faces of some 2,400 out of the more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys massacred at Srebrenice on July 7-8, 1995.

See RFE/RL, “Lives cut short: The faces of those who died at Srebrenice,” July 13, 2015.

Sometimes it is difficult to grasp what large numbers of victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes really signify, in human terms. Look at these pictures to begin to grasp the true nature of the crimes that have created these numbers:

–over 8,000 men and boys massacred at Srebrenice in July, 1995;

–over 6,000 people killed in the eastern Ukraine since Russia began its “stealth” invasion in April, 2014, which is no konger shrouded behind a veil of secrecy; and

–over 220,000 killed in Syria since 2011.

These pictures speak to us on a more direct level than pure numbers, as we peruse them until we begin to grasp the enormity of the crimes involved, as our minds become numb.

The Trenchant Observer

A new and more dangerous Cold War is underway

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Developing

See

Ansgar Graw, Claus Christian Malzahn, Christoph B. Schiltz, Julia Smirnova, “Das unheimliche Comeback des Kalten Krieges Putin rüstet sein Atomarsenal auf, die USA liefern schwere Waffen an die Nato-Ostgrenze. Das Misstrauen war seit der Kuba-Krise nicht mehr so groß. Gerät der Ukraine-Konflikt außer Kontrolle?” Die Welt, 21. Juni 2015.

(Anspar Graw has been Die Welt’s foreign correspondent in Washington since 2009. Julia Smirnova, Die Zeit’s foreign correspondent who has been reporting from Moscow, has regularly provided some of the most penetrating reporting and analyses on developments in Russia and on the Russian war against the Ukraine).

Excerpts:

Dismantling of safeguards adopted after Cuban Missile Crisis

“Wir erleben einen Stellvertreterkrieg zwischen Ost und West”, analysiert Frank Elbe. Der 74-jährige Nuklearexperte kennt das Säbelrasseln noch aus jener Epoche, die viele schon zu den Akten gelegt hatten. Elbe, seit Jahrzehnten ein enger Vertrauter des ehemaligen Außenministers Hans-Dietrich Genscher, war in den 80er-Jahren im Auswärtigen Amt im Abrüstungsreferat tätig, später vertrat er die Interessen der Bundesrepublik als deutscher Botschafter unter anderem in der Schweiz und in Polen.

Was Elbe heute über russische Raketen und westliche Manöver in den Zeitungen lesen muss, gefällt ihm ganz und gar nicht. Sein Eindruck: Während die Supermächte im Nachgang der Kuba-Krise im Herbst 1962, als die Welt am Rande eines nuklearen Infernos stand, einen sicherheitspolitischen Puffer nach dem
anderen installierten, scheinen genau diese Sicherheitsmaßnahmen gerade wieder abgebaut zu werden. “Was wir zwischen Russland und dem Westen erleben, ist
klassisches Tit for Tat”, klagt Elbe.

Nuclear weapons as part of Putin’s hybrid war strategy

Die westliche Antwort wird nicht lange auf sich warten lassen. In der kommenden Woche wollen die Nato-Verteidigungsminister intensiv über die nukleare Strategie Russlands beraten. Grundlage der Gespräche ist ein Geheimpapier der Nato-Führung. “Wir sind in großer Sorge über die nukleare Strategie Russlands. Atomwaffen spielen in der neuen russischen Strategie der sogenannten hybriden Kriegsführung eine wichtige Rolle”, sagte ein hochrangiger Nato-Diplomat dieser Zeitung. Das Verteidigungsbündnis will nun analysieren, welche Rolle Atomwaffen für Putin in der neuen Auseinandersetzung mit dem Westen genau spielen, wie stark die nuklearen Fähigkeiten Russlands sind und welche Konsequenzen die Nato daraus ziehen soll. Das Treffen der Verteidigungsminister soll dafür Auftakt sein. Offen ist, ob die Nato langfristig eine neue kohärente Abschreckungsstrategie entwickeln wird, die konventionelle und nukleare Fähigkeiten umfasst.

Commentary

Putin’s apparent strategy against the Ukraine and the West ignores the basic principles of the United Nations Charter, including the sovereign equality of all states and the duty of non-intervention, the prohibition of the use of force, and the obligation to comply with international treaties, customary international law, and the U.N. Charter itself.

His head appears to be filled with thoughts of war and the threat or use of military force to achieve his objectives. He wants to take us back to the power politcs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the period before the Kellogg-Briand Treaty of 1928 which outlawed the use of aggression as an instrument of national policy. Thoughts and policies of power politics like his led the world into two world wars and the “untold suffering of mankind” whose repetition the United Nations was established to prevent.

The world needs to understand what would be involved in any lasting return by Russia (to be followed by other states) to “power politics” and policies of miltary aggression and conquest.

For over 50 years Russia and the United States, with other countries, understood the terrible risks a return to such policies would entail in a world of mutual assured destruction (MAD) in which tens of thousands of nuclear weapons on each side were pointed at the opponent’s cities and civil and industrial infrastructure. The world could be destroyed in less than 30 minutes.

They understood after the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 the risks of accidental nuclear war in an escalating conflict between the two leading nuclear powers. Then, they took bold steps to mitigate those risks, including the conclusion of arms control treaties, inspection regimes, and other confidence-building measures. Now, these achievements are being dismantled, as the risks of accidental nuclear war  grow again at an exponential pace. The world can still be destroyed in 30 minutes.

Appeasement has not and will not work with Putin. The West and other nations must now take even more forceful actions to contain Russia and Putin’s militarism, while upholding the principles of the United Nations Charter.

With the power he has amassed within his person, and the nuclear weapons at his command, Putin has become the most dangerous man on the planet. He appears to be increasingly infused with delusions of grandeur and a willful determination to rewrite history and redraw the borders of Europe according to his own designs.

Moreover, he appears to be directly responsible for the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, the leading opposition figure and opponent of the Ukraine war prior to his murder on February 27, 2015. He is obviously not constrained by any moral scruples. Should he become terminally ill or mentally deranged, he could blow up the world. He knows we know that. It is probably part of his calculus in making nuclear threats.

To focus our minds, we need to think hard about what Adolf Hitler might have done in his bunker in April, 1945, if he had had unchallenged control over a nuclear arsenal like the one Putin today has at his command.

A new and more dangerous Cold War is underway.

As Putin challenges the West and the organizing principles of the existing international political and legal order, “containment” of Putin and Russia, while acting to reduce the risks of accidental or other nuclear war, must be our highest priority.

The Trenchant Observer

Jacob Zuma flouts South African court order, Constitution and international law, allowing Sudanese president al-Bashir to escape arrest on ICC charges of genocide

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Developing

See

Norimitsu Onishi, “South Africa High Court Says Allowing Bashir to Leave Violated Constitution, June 15, 2015.

Isabel Ferrer, “Un nuevo revés para La Haya; La Corte Penal ve dañada su credibilidad tras la salida de Sudáfrica del presidente sudanés; Un tribunal de Sudáfrica ordena que el presidente sudanés no deje el país,” El Pais, 15 de junio 2015 (13:45 CEST).

Le Monde.fr avec AFP, “Recherché par la justice internationale, Omar Al-Bachir est parvenu à quitter l’Afrique du Sud,” Le Monde, le 15 juin 2015 (à 15h05, Mis à jour à 17h20).

“South Africa strays from Mandela’s vision, abstaining in Security Council vote on Syria— Update #69 (July 27),” The Trenchant Observer, July 27, 2012.

Some observers have described Zuma’s violation of the South African constitution and international law as a blow against the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is far from true. It is those who violate and throw obstacles in the way of the effective functioning of international law and institutions who will be remembered, for their obstructionism, not the norms and institutions introduced to advance the rule of law.

In 10 or 20 years’ time, Zuma will be remembered as participating in the African Union’s assault on the ICC, his vote to abstain on the May 15, 2013 U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, and the efoorts of African leaders to weaken the international machinery established for the protection of human rights, including the merger of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights with the African Court of Justice, an organ of the African Union, to form a new African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

Zuma, unlike Nelson Mandela, will not be remembered for his defense of human rights in Africa.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Friday, June 12th, 2015

UPDATE June 23, 2015

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

See

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

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

*****

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

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

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

The Enormity of the Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more can be done?

Proposition for Debate #1: Taking Down Their Websites

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

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

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

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

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

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

We should consider and debate these questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Steps

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

ISIS takes Ramadi and Palmyra; Obama undercuts Merkel and the EU with direct negotiations with Putin—who responds by cutting Russian transit routes to Afghanistan

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

U.S. foreign policy is in utter disarray, failing to meet the two greatest challenges to international peace and security in the world: (1) Russian military aggression in the Ukraine; and (2) The growing power of the Islamic State, emerging from the maelstrom of Syria and advancing against the collapsing military of an Iraqi state riddled by sectarian divisions.

Several factors and the cumulative impact of poor decisions over the last six years have contributed to this situation.

President Barack Obama has not been a trustworthy partner with U.S. allies.

In 2012, he apparently undercut Turkey and others as they were contemplating intervention in Syria.

He has cut adrift the Gulf States, among  America’s closest allies for 50 years, and has lost their trust, as evidenced by the failure of many of the Gulf’s leaders to attend Obama’s Camp David summit last week.

The conference showed all the signs of an impromptu affair suggested by someone in Obama’s entourage (like, “We better do something to placate the Gulf states which are unhappy over the Iran nuclear deal. Let’s invite them all to Camp David for a summit.”). The Summit was not well prepared, and produced no results worthy of note. Just words.

Secretary of State John Kerry apparently didn’t even bother to attend, busy as he was off on his fool’s errand of meeting with Putin in Sochi. Instead of the Secretary of State speaking to the media at the summit, it was Obama’s assistant, Ben Rhodes, who commented on the achievements of the gathering, such as they were.

This was amateurism run amok, evidence of a foreign policy in full disarray.

Kerry’s meetings with Putin and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov broke Russia’s isolation, and severely undercut Angela Merkel’s efforts to take a tough line during her visit to Moscow on May 9-10, where the emphasis was on German atonement for the depradations unleashed on Russia during World War II, and the “criminal” aggression by Russia against the Ukraine in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine, in violation of international law and the bases of the European peace and security order.

In a follow-up to the Sochi discussions, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria “F… the EU” Nuland was scheduled to meet with her counterpart in Moscow.

By undercutting Merkel, Obama also undermined efforts to hold a consensus together within the EU for the reauthorization of sanctions against Russia when they cime up for renewal at the end of July.

In Iraq and Syria, the fall of Ramadi to ISIS, as well as Palmyra, demonstrated the bankruptcy of Obama’s (non) strategy for dealing with Syria, and the growing power of the so-called Islamic State, which has now occupied large portions of Syria (up to 50%), seized Ramadi and Mosul in Iraq, and  sent fighters to Afghanistan and Libya.

If we want to understand the true significance of Benghazi, we need to reflect on the fact that Obama campaigned in 2012 on the proposition that Al Qaeda had been vanquished, just like Bin Laden, whereas the administration knew for a fact this was not the case. That is the significance of the removal from Susan Rice’s talking points of any reference to Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-connected groups.

On the two greatest challenges facing civilization and the West and the maintenance of international peace and security, (1) Russian military aggression against the Ukraine and purported annexation of the Crimea, and (2) the Syrian maelstrom which has given birth to ISIS and the growing threat to civilization it poses, the Obama administration has done next to nothing, aside from the modest economic sanctions imposed on a small number of Russian individuals and entities.

Even with respect to the nuclear deal with Iran, Obama has maneuvered himself into a weak bargaining position in the run-up to the self-imposed June 30 deadline for reaching a final agreement. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has reiterated his opposition to intrusive inspections, for example. With Obama pitching the deal to others before its final text has been agreed, and much of his legacy riding on its conclusion, the United Stats is in a poor position to walk away from a bad deal. Khamenai and the Iranians know this.

Obama’s bottom line with Putin appears to be that he wants to deal, to talk, to “negotiate”—even with Russia illegally occupying the Crimea and engaged in active military aggression in the eastern Ukraine. He wants Russian help on dealing with Syria (despite the evidence of the last four years that Russia has been anything but helpful), and also feels he needs Putin’s help in closing the nuclear deal in the P5 + 1 talks with Iran.

Obama is essentially proceeding from a position of weakness in dealing with Putin, having yielded to big business interests demanding that he impose no economic sanctions on Russia beyond those imposed by the EU. The threat of further sanctions against Russia for its continuing military invasion of the eastern Ukraine is politically impossible in Europe, and as a result is for all intents and purposes off the table.

Obama is unwilling to send lethal weapons to the Ukraine to help that country defend itself against Russia’s invasions.

He is willing to accept Putin’s invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea.

While only America can lead the Western alliance, instead of forging unity in facing down Putin, Obama has actively undercut his allies in Europe such as Angela Merkel.

In all of his actions toward both Putin and ISIS, Obama has demonstrated that he has no capacity for formulating a coherent strategy, and no stomach for ordering strong actions, with more than words, in response to the policies of military aggression and conquest in which both Russia and ISIS are engaged. In his pacifism and appeasement of Putin, he is immovable.

This is the tightly-controlled foreign policy Obama has been running out of his mind, and these are the results.

See

(1)  Ian Black (Middle East editor), “Seizure of Palmyra and Ramadi by Isis reveal gaping holes in US jihadi strategy; Far from being on the defensive, Islamic State has shown that the arms-length approach of the US to Iraq is failing and Washington is operating ‘day by day’,” The Guardian, May 21, 2015 (18:15).

“Robert Gates, the former US defence secretary, put it even more bluntly: “We don’t really have a strategy at all. We’re basically playing this day by day.” The urgent delivery of new anti-tank missiles for the Iraqi army has been one short-term response. But larger military and political questions are still unanswered.

But Obama’s credibility is extremely low. “Next time you read some grand statement by US officials on [the] campaign against Isis or see a Centcom [US Central Command] map about Isis reversals, just bin it,” commented Emile Hokayem, a respected Middle East expert with the International Institute of Strategic Studies.”

(2) Editorial Board, “The U.S. continues to send the wrong message to Russia,” Washington Post, May 21, 2015 (8:49 PM).

(3)  “Nachschub für Afghanistan: Russland schließt Transitweg für Nato; Für die Nato wird es schwieriger, ihre Kräfte in Afghanistan zu versorgen. Russland stellt sich quer. Regierungschef Medwedew beendet den Transit über sein Land,” Der Spiegel, 18. Mai 2015 (19:05 Uhr).

(4) Josef Joffe, “Im Bomben-Basar; Teheran zeigt den USA, was wahre Verhandlungskunst ist,” Die Zeit, 15. Abril 2015 (08:00 Uhr).

The Trenchant Observer

Russian annexation of the Crimea: “A criminal violation of international law” for Merkel in Moscow, but not worth mentioning for Kerry in Sochi

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Merkel in Moscow

Germans know something about international law, which is enshrined in Article 25 of their Basic Law or constitution, while Americans seem to have forgotten all about its meaning and significance.

At a joint news conference with Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Sunday, May 10, 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined the impact of Russian military actions in the Ukraine on German-Russian cooperation, declaring,

“Through the criminal and illegal, in international law, annexation of the Crimea and the military conflicts in the Eastern Ukraine this collaboration has suffered a heavy setback, because we see in these actions a violation of the bases of the common European peace and security order.”

The original German text follows:

Durch die verbrecherische und völkerrechtswidrige Annexion der Krim und die militärischen Auseinandersetzungen in der Ostukraine hat diese Zusammenarbeit einen schweren Rückschlag erlitten schwer, weil wir darin eine Verletzung der Grundlagen der gemeinsamen europäischen Friedensordnung sehen. Dennoch und das ist für mich gerade in diesen Tagen von ganz wesentlicher Bedeutung ist die Lehre aus der Geschichte, dass wir alles daransetzen müssen, Konflikte so schwierig sie auch immer sein mögen friedlich und im Gespräch miteinander zu lösen das heißt, auf diplomatischen Wegen.

–“IM WORTLAUT: Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel und Staatspräsident Putin am 10. Mai 2015 in Moskau,”Die Bundesregierung, 10. Mai 2015.

The simultaneous interpretation by a Russian interpreter and the official Russian transcript omit the word “criminal”.

See “Merkel’s Remark On ‘Criminal’ Annexation Omitted In Russian Translation; Lost in translation?” RFE/RL, May 12, 2015.

To watch the press conference in German and Russian on YouTube, click here.
See “LIVE: Merkel and Putin hold joint press conference in Moscow …
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbyUqvkPrwA”.

Merkel’s prepared statement at the press conference, equivalent to a historic speech, is worth reading closely. It expresses, with great sincerity, the deepest remorse of the German nation over the monstrous depradations it under Nazi rule inflicted on the population of the Soviet Union. It is unflinching in its full acceptance of Germany’s responsibility for those actions. The statement is deeply moving. It may be cited by historians in a hundred years.

In calling for the need to learn from the lessons of history, Merkel’s linking of the crimes committed by Germany under Hitler and Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, while subtle, was extraordinarily evocative.

Unfortunately, an English translation has not yet been published on the German government’s website.

At the press conference, Putin also delivered extended remarks defending the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact, which in a secret protocol partitioned Poland and divided other East European countries in “spheres of influence” of the two countries. Putin did not mention the secret protocol.

Kerry in Sochi

For background and analysis, see “Obama’s endless incompetence in foreign policy: Kerry to travel to Russia to meet with Putin and Lavrov in Sochi,” The Trenchant Observer, May 11, 2015.

At a news conference in Sochi on May 12, 2014, following his meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the Minsk II agreement of February 12, 2015 were implemented, sanctions against Russia could be lifted. No mention was made of the Crimea. Kerry obseqiously thanked Putin for his time.

For the transcript of Kerry’s and Lavrov’s remarks before the press in Sochi, click here.

In short, the U.S. would be willing to lift sanctions with Russian military forces still occupying the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea.

As for Germany, well, not so sure.

Absent a change of course by Moscow, the key issue for the normalization of relations with Russia any time in the foreseeable future, is whether NATO, the EU and other allies are willing to look the other way on the issue of the Crimea.

While it might be easy for the U.S. which no konger takes international law seriously, as that term is understood in the rest of the world, to ignore the small matter of the Russian conquest of the Crimea by force, EU and other NATO members may take a far different view, once they really focus on the issue and its consequences.

In the Observer’s view, “business as usual” with Russia will not be possible so long as the Crimea is occupied by Russian troops.

The only way out of this situation would be some kind of a U.N. Authority overseeing the region for a period of years, followed by a genuinely free plebiscite on the future of the peninsula in which all of its residents and former residents at the time of the February, 2014 Russian invasion were able to vote.

We had better start breaking this news to Vladimir Putin.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s endless incompetence in foreign policy: Kerry to travel to Russia to meet with Putin and Lavrov in Sochi

Monday, May 11th, 2015

How can we win, if (Putin) is boxing, and we are playing chess?”
Lech Walensa

It was announced today in Washington that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Sochi on Tuesday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in order to discuss the Ukraine, peace negotiations in Syria, and the nuclear deal with Iran.

See Felicia Schwartz, “Kerry to Meet With Putin in Russia on Tuesday; Meeting would be first Cabinet-level U.S. visit to Russia since start of crisis in Ukraine, Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2015 (12:26 p.m.).

Two days after the West’s successful boycott of Putin’s Victory Parade in Moscow, the gigantic egos that inhabit the White House and on occasion the Seventh Floor of the State Department have broken ranks with Europe, rushing to the Aggressor’s lair in Sochi to meet with Putin and Lavrov.

Has Kerry taken too many airplane flights, absorbed too many cosmic rays, and spent so little time connecting the dots that he actually thinks he can “pressure” the Russians into changing course in the Ukraine, with his silver tongue?

Or that he can persuade Putin to force al-Assad to enter peace negotiations, and as a result of his own personal diplomatic brilliance agree to negotiations in Syria—a country torn asunder by al-Assad’s war cimes, crimes against humanity and other depradations, and compounded by the competing barbarism of ISIS or the Islamic State group?

Or that, following the recent conclusion of a framework agreement for the final nuclear deal with Iran by June 30, his personal intervention with Putin is needed to seal the deal?

If so, perhaps he has had too many red carpet treatments on his endless diplomatic travels, as a white knight on a shining white horse who must show up in every capital and personally intervene for any agreement on anything to be reached.

Are there no other capable diplomats and ambassadors who Kerry might use to negotiate with foreign leaders and execute foreign policy?

Let us examine again the proffered reasons for the trip:

(1) To discuss the hard work of securing compliance with the Minsk II agreement of February 12, 2015 with Putin, who is directly responsible for repeatedly violating its terms, with thousands of Russian troops fighting in the Donbas region of the Eastern Ukraine, i.e., to further pursue appeasement of the invading Russian Bear.

How can such discussions ever be fruitful, so long as Putin denies the presence of Russian troops in the eastern Ukraine?

They are the problem. How can that problem be solved so long as its very existence is denied?

What we have here is more talk, no actions, in the face of Russian aggression. And to add insult to injury, Obama and Kerry agree to hold the meeting in Russia instead of on neutral ground.

Words will not change Russia’s actions, as anyone who has followed events in the Ukraine for the last 15 months will understand. One should recall Kerry’s April 17, 2014 agreement in Geneva with Lavrov, the EU and the Ukraine, whose terms were violated with increasing intensity immediately following the agreement, or the January 21, 2015 agreement between Kerry and Lavrov and others to withdraw heavy weapons from the front lines, as their use by Russia and its puppet “separatists” intensified.

Is the Crimea on the agenda in Sochi? If not, why not, and what will Putin gather from the omission?

The principal effect of the Sochi meeting will be to weaken Russia’s isolation from the West.

Kerry has failed to grasp the fundamental difference between German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s meeting with Putin on May 10, and his own rush to see Putin in Sochi. Merkel, as the leader of the country that devastated Russia in World War II, had a unique reason for commemorating the soldiers who died at German hands, a highly symbolic action aimed at the reconciliation of two peoples. By not attending the Victory Parade on June 9, the Chancellor struck just the right balance.

Kerry has no such imperative reason to go to see Putin. His visit is ill-considered. In its aftermath, we can expect to see an increasing number of presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers meeting with Putin and the Russians.

In short, Kerry will be responsible for breaking the isolation of Putin, which is one of the few things which, over time, might cause him to consider a change of course.

(2) To continue to “work through the Russians” to find a solution to the civil war in Syria, despite the evidence of the last four years of the futility of such an approach in the absence of actions on the ground;

(3) To discuss the nuclear deal with Iran.

For a devastating critique of Obama’s approach to negotiating the final nuclear deal with Iran, see

Josef Joffe, “Im Bomben-Basar; Teheran zeigt den USA, was wahre Verhandlungskunst ist,” Die Zeit, 15. Abril 2015 (08:00 Uhr).

Apparently we live in an age where no one remembers anything, when unbounded egos vie for a chance to talk to the Great Dictator and Aggressor of Russia, whose plight is greatly eased by the divided leadership of the West, and the pacifists and appeasers who continue to oppose a policy of hard containment of Russia’s military aggression.

Historians will weep at the manifest stupidity and illusory nature of the hopes these actions pursue.

The primary reason for Kerry’s visit to see Putin in Russia appears to be personal vanity, and an exalted view that he, John Kerry, can make significant progress with Putin by speaking words to him in his physical presence.

Yet if there is one truth that emerges from recent years of dealing with Putin in Syria and the Ukraine, it is that Putin is never moved by threats or words, only by actions.

At the same time, Putin’s and Lavrov’s agreements are not worth the paper they are written on.

So, once again, we see the unending incompetence of Obama and his foreign policy team at work. Kerry goes to see Putin, in Russia, breaking his isolation, and for what? Absolutely nothing.

This is what we can expect from Obama’s foreign policy team in the remaing year and a half of his administration.

An endemic failure to connect the dots.

A dogged determination to avoid any actions on the ground that might anger Russia, as in the Ukraine (e.g., arming the government’s forces with lethal weapons).

A failure to lead the Atlantic Alliance and the EU in responding to Russian threats and aggression, including a failure to maintain unity among NATO and EU member states in dealing with Putin.

Indeed, how can we beat Putin, “if he is boxing and we are playing chess?”

The Trenchant Observer