Archive for the ‘U.S Foreign Relations’ Category

The great flaw in the Iran nuclear deal: The U.S. says it is not legally binding

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015



Felicia Schwartz, “Iran Nuclear Deal, If Reached, Wouldn’t Be ‘Legally Binding,’ Kerry Says; But an Iran deal would have enforcement mechanisms, the secretary of state says,” Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2015 (Updated 9:39 p.m. ET).

Stephen Collinson, “Iran deal: A treaty or not a treaty, that is the question,” CNN, March 12, 2015 (Updated 6:13 AM ET).

Adam B. Lerner, “State Department: Iran deal ‘nonbinding’,” Politico, March 15, 2015 (Updated )1:40 PM ET).

The most bizarre aspect of the hoped-for nuclear deal with Iran is that, according to the U.S., it will be a “political deal” only, and not be legally binding under International Law.

If the Start I and Start II arms control treaties were full of incredible detail and mutual obligations, and were legally binding, why should the Iran nuclear deal not be legally binding as well?

The answer may have to do with Barack Obama’s assessment of whether he could secure Senate ratification of the Iran nuclear deal by the United States Senate.

Whether the other parties to the potential agreement (Iran, France, U.K., Russia, China and Germany) view the potential agreement as legally binding or not is not clear. Moreover, it is difficult to comprehend how the obligations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under the “agreement” and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on which it is partly based can be formalized without what is known as a “treaty” under the 1961 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Furthermore, whatever the U.S. view, the nuclear agreement with Iran itself is likely to fulfill all of the requirements for a treaty under the Vienna Convention, unless the parties specifically stipulate in its text that it is their intent not to be legally bound by the agreement.

Why would any of them want to do that?

Unfortunately, it appears that Obama’s end-run around the Senate’s constitutional authority to give its “advice and consent” to a formal treaty –and arms control agreements have traditionally be regarded as treaties requiring Senate ratification — will deprive the Iran nuclear agreement of the most important kind of commitment that might ensure its full and complete performance — its binding nature under international law.

If it is a treaty in the sense of the Vienna Convention, there are a number of legal rules that define violations and their consequences.  The concept of “material breach” found in domestic law is highly significant here, and is also found in the Vienna Convention, which lays down the rules for the interpretation of treaties. If the agreement is not legally binding and only a “political” agreement, there are no guidelines for interpretation or on what to do in the event of a violation.

One suspects that the lawyers in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser were not fully consulted, or that their advice was not heeded, on the question of whether or not to treat the Iran agreement as legally binding or merely as a “political agreement”.

It sounds more like a White House decision made on the basis of purely domestic political considerations.

We need clarification on the issues raised above. Do the other parties consider the agreement to be legally binding under International Law?

What will happen if some parties view it one way and other parties view it differently?

Will the agreement explicitly express the intent of the parties that the agreement not be legally binding under International Law?

One further possibilty may exist. Technically, it may be possible for President Obama to treat the agreement as an Executive Agreement with Congressional approval. This would require the approval of only a majority of the House and of the Senate, instead of two-thirds of the Senate.

It seems clear that the agreement would be more “binding” on Iran if it were legally binding as a “treaty” under International Law and the Vienna Convention. Such a “treaty” in the International Law sense could be either a treaty (in the domestic law sense) approved by two-thirds of the Senate or an Executive Agreement approved by both houses of Congress.

Perhaps President Obama’s general lack of interest in International Law can account for the curious situation the U.S. finds itself in, asserting that the Iran nuclear deal will not be legally binding but only a “political agreement”.

In ant event, the President owes us a full explanation of this anomaly.

For those who are concerned about whether Iran will fully implement the agreements’ provisions, it may not be too late to insist that the final agreement assume legally binding form under International Law.

The Trenchant Observer

Donald Tusk to Alexis Tsipras: “The game is over” — but Europe needs to show magnamnity to Greece — immediately

Friday, June 26th, 2015

LATE UPDATE: Alexis Tsipras, demonstrating again his lack of experience, has wrecklessly called for a snap referendum on July 5 on whether or not to accept the creditors’ conditions for a debt agreement. Nonetheless, as recommended in the article below, at this critical juncture the Europeans and the IMF should still show magnaminity toward Greece.

See Jim Yardley and Niki Ki, “Greek Prime Minister Calls for Referendum on Bailozut Terms,” New York Times, June 26, 2015.


Original article

For the latest developments in the Greek debt crisis, see

C. Gammelin (Berlin), A. Mühlauer gBrüssel), und C. Schlötzer (Athen), “Athen lehnt neues Angebot der Geldgeber ab; Die Kreditgeber haben eine Verlängerung des derzeit laufenden Hilfsprogramms bis November ins Spiel gebracht. Doch Athen lehnt ab,” Suddeutscher Zeitung, 26. Juni 2015 (19:21 Uhr).

As Greece and its creditors approach a June 30 deadline to find an immediate solution to the debt crisis that would avoid a default, EU Council president Donald Tusk is reported to have told Alexis Tsipras in an emotional face-to-face encounter, in English, “The game is over.”

Tsipras reportedly responded with great passion, declaring,”It is no game.” Behind him “stood 1.5 million unemployed, three million poor, and thousands of families with no income which live on the income of their grandparents.” One should not underestimate what “a humliated people” is capable of, he declared.

Europe and the IMF, with great urgency, need to show magniminity toward Greece

According to reports, the positions of the two sides in the negotiations are now very close.

But a lack of trust, and indeed strong anger by Europe’s leaders and the IMF over the street-fighting techniques used by Tsipras and the Greek government throughout recent months of negotiations, could cause a deal not to be reached, a run on the Greek banks, and a default by Greece on its international debt obligations, leading to its exit from the Euro zone.

As has been remarked, these negotiations have resembled the drag race in the movie “Rebel without a cause” in which James Dean survives but the other racer is killed as he fails to jump in time and his car goes off a cliff.

Tsipras and his government rejected the creditors last “take it or leave it” offer on Friday. European officials are now working on “Plan B” in order to limit the damage to their own banks and financial institutions in the event of a default. Greek banks may not open on Monday.

It is time for the creditors to step back and take a deep breath, and also a look around at the geopolitical and historical context.

Tsipras has traveled twice to Moscow to meet with Putin, and declared that he opposed the EU sanctions against Russia and might even vote to block their renewal. While the EU recently decided to renew the sanctions through January, they should not overplay their hand. After a default Greece could block further renewals with its veto. It could even enter into security cooperation agreements with Russia. Everyone should be mindful of the experience of the Greek civil war in 1946-49.

It has even been suggested that the creditors are refusing to budge on the last details of the deal in order to provoke a “soft coup” in Greece which would bring a more malleable government to power after new elections.

See Laurence Lee, “Tsipras trapped inside his own Shakespearean drama; As the prime minister continues talks with creditors over Greece’s debt, some organisations have begun agitating,” Al Jazeera (, June 25, 2015 (11:07 GMT).

In short, it is time for Europe and the IMF to take the long view, and to act urgently to show magnaminity toward the Greek people. Greek recovery will take time. And the end of the “New Cold War” with Putin and Russia is not likely to arrive by January, 2016, when the sanctions will come up again for renewal, requiring Greek cooperation or acquiescence.

Europe and the IMF must pull back from the brink, solve this immediate challenge, and then seek ways to cooperate with Greece in finding a way to positive growth, including debt restructuring where required.

Above all, they should think of the Greek people, history, and the future of Europe which is hardly conceivable without Greece, the cradle of its civilization. The Greek civil war was not fought, and won, in order to let Greece sink back into the abyss.

Tsipras is an inexperienced leader, who has barely been in office six months. He and his finance minister, Yanos Varoufakis, have offended the Europeans, greatly, with outrageous and personal attacks. But the future of Europe and the Euro Zone should not be decided on the basis of personalities, or the politicians of the moment.

It is time for Europe’s seasoned leaders and Christine Lagarde, Managing Director the IMF, to show magnaminity toward the Greek people, and even its current leaders.

The Trenchant Observer

An upside-down world: From democracy’s victory in Turkey to beautiful “words” at the G-7, Renzi’s ease with an aggressor, the Security Council, and Putin and the Pope

Thursday, June 11th, 2015


There are news stories this week that give cause for hope, and also a sense of foreboding.

First, the people of Turkey showed that democracy has deep roots in that country, and turned back Erdogan’s naked grab for dictatorial power through elections.

In Bavaria, the G-7 met and produced photographs of the seven leaders of the free world walking through a mountain meadow, seemingly happy wanderers, lost in the delights of summer and oblivious to the approach of a hard winter in their relations with an increasingly authoritan and aggressive Russia.

Pacifists and appeasers in Germany in the SPD, in particular, bemoaned the fact that Russia had been excluded from the group, warning of the dangers of isolating Putin. This chorus, led by former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and joined in by another former SPD Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, reflected the pacifism which has gripped Germans, a majority of whom, according to a recent PEW poll, would be unwilling to take up arms to defend their eastern NATO partners, as required by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

Pacifist sentiments with respect to Russia and the Ukraine are also strong in other NATO countries, particularly in the South.

So, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea, and is continuing its invasion of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the eastern Ukraine, in the Donbas. So what? What is all the fuss about?

Meanwhie, Matteo Renzi welcomed Vladimir Putin to Italy, in Milan, following his ill-advised trip to Moscow in March immediately following the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, Russia’s leading opposition figure and the most outspoken critic of Putin’s secret war in the Ukraine.

What is Renzi thinking? “Let’s maintain our dialogue wirh the aggressor and presumed murderer, just as we did with Stalin and should have done with Hitler?” Or is he thinking at all?

Of course, Italy under Mussollini was an ally of Germany under Hitler, lest we forget.

In Bavaria the G-7 leaders blithely reassured themselves that the EU sanctions against Russia would be renewed at the end of July, at least until January, and not lifted until the Minsk II agreement of February 15, 2015 was fully implemented.

That, however, is a chimera, as the “agreement” has so many holes in it that it looks like a piece of Swiss cheese. It is as illusory as Kofi Annan’s much-touted 6-point peace plan for Syria, and the misplaced hopes it spawned for any progress in reaching peace at the Geneva I and Geneva II peace conferences, during a period in which over 200,000 Syrians were killed.

As for the renewal of the sanctions against Russia, the G-7 leaders would do well to recall the very real possibility that existed that the stage three sanctions adopted on September 5, 2014 would be blocked and reversed during the week it took to achieve their implementation.

Only one EU member needs to balk for the sanctions to expire, and Putin is assiduously working to achieve this result.

So Renzi welcomes Putin to Italy.

In the Vatican, Putin kept Pope Francis waiting for over an hour for his grand arrival in a caravan fit for a king. Here, the symbolism was extraordinary, with the embodiment of ruthless authoritarianism and military conquest in the form of Vladimir Putin, on the one hand, arrayed against the spiritual power of the humble Argentine Archbishop who seeks to emulate the life of Jesus Christ, on the other. Against Putin’s thuggish mimicking of piousness in Russia, stood the real spiritual power of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

No doubt Pope Francis tried to get through to the thug’s heart and to facilitate some small measure of redemption. Yet the aggressor and presumed author of Nemtsov’s murder shows every sign, in his expressionless face and cold demeanor, of having a heart of stone, the heart of a KGB man.

Pope Francis had his work cut out for him. One can only hope that he met with some measure of success.

In the meantime, the U.N. Security Council has met to consider the urgent situation existing in the Ukraine. It is worth reading and listening to the interventions of the delegates, which reflect the views of large numbers of nations in the world, including the most important ones.

Such have been the events of recent days. Turkey shows that the ideals of freedom and the rule of law live on in the hearts of a majority of the Turkish people, and while the story is not over the news is encouraging.

Yet pacifism and appeasement still grip European and American leaders in dealing with Putin, in whose merciless visage they strain to make out the face of a friend. Yet he is not a friend, and will not become a friend. He is probably responsible for Boris Nemtsov’s murder, and is a presumptive war criminal for having launched a war of aggression against the Ukraine.

The Russian military occupation of the Crimea remains. It cannot simply be ignored. At the same time, the Russian invasion of the Donbas continues, with over 9,000 Russian troops fighting the Ukrainian army within the borders of the country.

Meanwhile, America, Europe and the West have no realistic strategy for rolling back Russia’s aggression and “annexation” of the Crimea, or even stopping Russian military aggression in the East.

Nor do they have a coherent strategy for dismantling ISIS and the barbarism which it embodies.

Turkey stands for hope, and is a welcome sign that the longing for freedom and the rule of law still burns brightly in the hearts of men, in Turkey and elsewhere.

But as long as Russian soldiers occupy the Crimea, there can be no stable and durable peace and security in Europe. The G-7 communique fudged this point, saying the sanctions would not be lifted until Russia complied fully with the Minsk II agreement, and fully respected the territorial integrity of the Ukraine.

That is precisely the point: Russian “annexation” of the Crimea, and its continued military occupation of this piece of sovereign Ukrainian territory, constitute flagrant and continuing violations of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, in violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter. This is the bedrock principle upon which the post World War II international political and legal order is based. The opposing positions, divided over whether or not to lift the sanctions while overlooking Russia’s military conquest and “annexation” of the Crimea, are neatly contained and finessed within this single formulation in the G-7’s comunique.

It remains to be seen how things will play out.

The Trenchant Observer

Lech Walensa on Putin: “How can we win, if he is boxing, and we are playing chess? “

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Will Stewart, “Vladimir Putin has started a war with the “whole civilised world” which could leave “ten million people dead”, The Independent, March 17, 2015 (16:50).

Former Solidarity leader and former Polish President Lech Walensa, commenting on Putin, said :

“He broke agreements, contracts, guarantees. The world cannot just leave it like this. If something like this happens, only force is left.

“How can we win, if he is boxing, and we are playing chess?

“This kind of fighting is from another epoch, which is doomed to be defeated. I do not doubt it that freedom and democracy will win.”

The Trenchant Observer

Ukrainian journalist’s question: “How many Russian servicemen have been killed in Ukraine?” At December 18 press conference, Putin has no answer

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Russian Presdent Vladimir Putin gave an extended news conference in Moscow on December 18, 2014. In many ways it was a tour de force, demonstrating Putin’s mastery of the issues and verbal dexterity in dealing with the press.


English Transcript, “News conference of Vladimir Putin, December 18, 2014 (15:20 Moscow).

The transcript in Russian is found here.

There were some revealing moments, however. Perhaps the most important came in an exchange with a Ukrainian journalist, as follows:

ROMAN TSYMBALYUK, UKRAINIAN NEWS AGENCY UNIAN: I have two short questions, if I may.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Go ahead, please.

ROMAN TSYMBALYUK: My first question concerns the punitive operation you have launched in eastern Ukraine, which is mostly spearheaded against Russian speakers. It’s an open secret that it is Russian servicemen and Russian militants who are fighting there. Question: How many Russian servicemen and units of equipment have you sent there, and how many of them have been killed in Ukraine? What would you as the Commander-in-Chief say to the families of the Russian servicemen and officers killed there?

And my second short question, if I may. We had a president called Viktor, who is now hiding in Russia. He had imprisoned the number one on the Batkivshchyna list, Yulia Tymoshenko. She has been released, but now the current number one on the party list is in prison, this time in Russia…

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What? Say it again please?

ROMAN TSYMBALYUK: The number one on the list of Yulia Tymoshenko’s party, Batkivshchyna, is currently in a Russian prison. I have a question: On what conditions will you release Ukrainian pilot Savchenko, Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and at least 30 Ukrainian prisoners of war whom you are keeping in various prisons in Russia? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s begin with the second question, and then I will certainly answer your first question.

The question about Ukrainian citizen Savchenko and the conditions for her release. I have an open and, as far as I can see, a clear position on this issue. You can see in this audience the colleagues of our journalists – they are also your colleagues – who have died in the line of duty in southeast Ukraine. I want to stress that they did not take part in fighting for any of the sides, and they were unarmed. It is the duty of all state agencies, including the military ones, to protect their lives and health and to give them an opportunity to do their professional duty which is to provide objective and full information, at least as they see it. It is a fact that has been recognised in the civilised world. They have been killed. According to our law enforcement agencies, Ms Savchenko called in artillery fire via radio. If it is reliably established during the pretrial investigation and the subsequent trial that she was not involved and is not guilty, she will be released immediately. But if they prove that she was indeed involved in the journalists’ murder, a Russian court will issue a proper ruling, as I see it, and she will serve her sentence in accordance with the verdict. However, no one has the right to hold anyone guilty of a crime on account. I mean that Russian legislation includes the presumption of innocence. So we’ll see how the pretrial investigation proceeds, and what conclusions the Russian court will make.

As for the other servicemen you have mentioned, we don’t consider them prisoners of war. They are in detainment in Russia, and they are being investigated on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity. This is all I can say on your second question.

Now to the first question, about responsibility. In Russia, like in any other presidential republic, it is the president who is responsible for everything. And responsibility for military personnel rests with the Commander-in-Chief. Let me remind you that in Russia this is one and the same person.

All those who are following their heart and are fulfilling their duty by voluntarily taking part in hostilities, including in southeast Ukraine, are not mercenaries, since they are not paid for what they do.

Russian public opinion holds that what is now happening in southeast Ukraine is actually a punitive operation, but it is conducted by the Kiev authorities and not the other way around. The self-defence fighters of the southeast were not the ones who sent troops to Kiev. On the contrary, the Kiev authorities amassed their military forces in the southeast of Ukraine, and are using multiple rocket launchers, artillery and fighter jets.

What is the problem here and how it can be solved? I’ll try to answer this question as well. The problem is that after the government coup (and no matter how others call it and what is being said in this respect, a government coup was carried out in Kiev by military means) part of the country did not agree with these developments.

Instead of at least trying to engage in dialogue with them, Kiev started by sending law enforcers, the police force, but when that didn’t work out, they sent in the army, and since that didn’t work out either, they are now trying to settle the issue by using other forceful methods, the economic blockade.

I believe that this path has absolutely no future whatsoever and is detrimental to Ukraine’s statehood and its people. I hope that by engaging in dialogue – and we are ready to assume the role of intermediaries in this respect – we will succeed in establishing a direct, political dialogue, and by employing such methods and political instruments we will reach a settlement and restore a single political space.

The Direct Question and the Relevant Response

ROMAN TSYMBALYUK: My first question concerns the punitive operation you have launched in eastern Ukraine, which is mostly spearheaded against Russian speakers. It’s an open secret that it is Russian servicemen and Russian militants who are fighting there. Question: How many Russian servicemen and units of equipment have you sent there, and how many of them have been killed in Ukraine? What would you as the Commander-in-Chief say to the families of the Russian servicemen and officers killed there?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: All those who are following their heart and are fulfilling their duty by voluntarily taking part in hostilities, including in southeast Ukraine, are not mercenaries, since they are not paid for what they do.

The Trenchant Observer

Vladimir Putin’s Press Conference on December 18, 2014 (with link to transcript)

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

(Partial) English Transcript, “News conference of Vladimir Putin, December 18, 2014 (15:20 Moscow).

The (partial) transcript in Russian is found here.

Check back for Excerpts and Analysis

The Trenchant Observer

Anti-Russian activists “disappeared” during and after Russian occupation of Crimea

Friday, December 5th, 2014


Maansur Mirovalev, “Disappearing Crimea’s anti-Russia activists; Opponents of Russia’s annexation are being abducted and killed amid reports of escalating human rights abuses,” Last updated: 04 Dec 2014 10:35.

Human Rights Watch, “Rights in Retreat: Abuses in Crimea, November 17, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin approves of 1939 Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact and partitioning of Poland

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Russian President Valdimir Putin, in a meeting with historians, has voiced approval of the Molotov-von Ribbentrop non-aggression treaty signed on August 23, 1939, a week before the German invasion of Poland. In a secret protocol to the treaty, which Moscow did not acknowledge until 1989, Germany and Russia agreed to the partition of Poland between them.


(1) “Nichtangriffspakt: Putin verteidigt Hitler-Stalin-Pakt; Bei einer Historikerveranstaltung in Moskau hat Wladimir Putin den Hitler-Stalin-Pakt gerechtfertigt: Der sei keine schlechte Idee gewesen,” Der Spiegel, 7. November 2014 (13:39 Uhr).

(2) Tom Parfitt (Moscow), “Vladimir Putin says there was nothing wrong with Soviet Union’s pact with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany; Russian president says he sees nothing wrong with treaty with Nazi Germany that led to the carve-up of Poland – and blames Britain for destroying any chance of an anti-fascist front,” The Telegraph, November 6, 2014 (1:15 p.m.).

“Serious research must show that those were the foreign policy methods then,” he said, adding: “The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty with Germany. People say: ‘Ach, that’s bad.’ But what’s bad about that if the Soviet Union didn’t want to fight, what’s bad about it?”

Secret protocols of the pact in which the Nazis and the Communists agreed to divide up Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Poland into spheres of influence were officially denied by the Kremlin until 1989.

More than 20,000 arrested and captured Poles were executed by the Soviet secret police in the Katyn massacre in 1940. The Nazis began an extermination campaign that would eventually lead to the deaths of three million Jews in Poland alone.

Mr Putin appeared to imply the secret protocols continued to be a matter of dispute today, saying, “people still argue about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and accuse the Soviet Union of dividing up Poland”.

In 2009, the Russian leader condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact as “immoral” but said France and the UK had destroyed any chance for an anti-fascist front with the Munich Agreement.

This latest statement is is yet another in a growing number of pieces of evidence, consisting of both words and actions, that Putin has become an admirer of Adolf Hitler and is copying his methods.

Putin’s statements are an attempt to rewrite history.

What is particularly dangerous about his assertions is that there is no one in the West in a high position who is providing detailed, factual rebuttals of them.

With budget cuts and the transfer of the U.S. Information Agency to the State Department, U.S. “public diplomacy”, like that in other allied countries, is effectively dead. Consider, for example, the simple fact that the BBC World Service no longer operates under the supervision of the Foreign Office.

No one is calling Putin out for his lies and distortions of history, just as no one has bothered to refute in detail and in a sustained manner his preposterous international legal arguments or the blatant lies and misrepresentations his propaganda machine churns out, night and day.

The risk is that Putin, not hearing any rebuttals, may come to believe that his assertions are generally accepted in the West. Together with the policy of appeasement followed by the leaders of the United States and Europe in response to Russian invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea, and the ongoing Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine, Putin could easily assume that he could intensify his aggression in the Donbas without any significant adverse consequences.

France is still weighing whether to deliver “The Vladilovstok”, a Mistral-class attack warship and regional command and control system, to Russia in November (invitations to a November 14 delivery ceremony were sent out on October 8).

The EU is considering imposing further “sanctions” on additional individuals in Russia, though these are not really sanctions in the true sense of the word. The idea that such measures could do anything beyond assuaging the guilt of Europeans over doing nothing to defend the Ukraine is ludicrous.

The United States continues to refuse to provide the Ukraine with the military assistance and training, including “lethal” weapons, that Ukrainian President Petro Petroshenko requested many months ago. It is not even considering further sanctions, at least publicly.

We are living in a world where the structures of international peace and security are being hollowed out, losing strength and deterrent force every day, as the international order we have known for over 70 years begins to collapse.

The U.S. has demonstrated over the last six years that it is not capable of exercising effective foreign policy leadership in the world. Unfortunately, there is no one else with the clear vision and the iron will required to do so.

The earliest the U.S. might even begin to exercise such leadership in the world is January, 1917, after a new president and a new team take office. But there is nothing at all certain about that prospect.

One is reminded once again of the first stanza of “The Second Coming”, William Butler Yeats’ celebrated poem written after World War I, which reads as follows:

The Second Coming (published 1921)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats

The entire poem including the second stanza can be found here.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin’s shameless criticisms of Obama, made by a presumptive war criminal

Monday, October 20th, 2014


ANNA SMOLCHENKO, “Putin Accuses Obama Of ‘Hostility’ And ‘Blackmail,” AFP, October 16, 2014 (6:32 a.m.).

Read more:

A rudderless U.S. foreign policy: Obama flounders in dealing with the Ukraine, ISIS, and Ebola

Saturday, October 11th, 2014


While the United States has finally, and belatedly, begun military actions in Iraq and Syria to slow the advance of ISIS forces, the country is still led by a White House of extraordinary incompetence. This is not about politics, but rather about the ability to formulate coherent strategies, policies and plans, and then to execute them effectively.

If this is what “driving from the back seat”means, it is a total and unmitigated disaster.

We have witnessed this disaster in the making, with Obama’s contradictory and indecisive policies toward Syria as far back as 2011 and 2012, when he refused the unanimous advice of his principal foreign policy advisers to provide military support to the Syrian opposition forces. His refusal to do so had the result of helping Syrian president al-Assad beat back the insurgents, and opened the space for the growth of what became known as ISIS, which now threatens not only Iraq and Syria but countries across the world, from Australia to the U.S. and Europe.

One element of Obama’s indecisiveness led to pulling the rug out from under Turkey in 2012 as it was poised to intervene in Syria, according to well-founded reports.

At the moment, Turkey stands over the border from Kobanê in Syria, a town with a large Kurdish population which has been coming under increasing pressure from ISIS notwithstanding U.S. and perhaps allied airstrikes and which, according to some reports, could soon fall into the hands of ISIS.

In order for it to intervene, Turkey is demanding a commitment from the U.S. that it will also include in its goals the defeat of the Syrian regime, which has caused the deaths of over 200,000 persons in Syria through barbarous atrocities including war crimes and crimes against humanity on a grand scale.

In Iraq, despite U.S. and allied coalition airstrikes, and even the use of Apache heliocopters, in addition to the successful formation of a new Shiite-led government after the departure of former president al-Maliki, reports speak of the realistic possibility that all of Anbar province could fall to the ISIS fighters. ISIS already holds a broad swathe of territory in the province.

While the U.S. has done an admirable job of putting together a coalition to fight ISIS, at least on paper, it has yet to prove that it is capable of leading and coordinating an effective military campaign and coalition war against ISIS, as demonstrated not by statistics on the number of airstrikes launched (self-regarding) but rather by strategic objectives and results obtained on the ground.

At the moment, Obama would appear to be not following the advice of his generals. When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey stated in Congressional testimony that conditions could conceivably arise under which he would advise the president to send ground combat forces to Iraq, he was immediately contradicted the following day by President Obama who, in a military setting, firmly asserted that he would not introduce combat troops into Iraq.

With respect to the Russian-Ukrainian war, Obama was so slow in reacting that the Crimea had been annexed before the U.S., NATO and the EU could get around to offering a serious response. On economic sanctions, the U.S. did succeed in getting coordinated sanctions adopted with the EU, but only after much delay. Since September 5, when the sanctions were agreed and NATO also announced the creation of a rapid deployment force, the ceasefire called for in the Minsk Protocol of September 5 has stopped the advance of Russian troops, tanks and artillery, but has proven shaky particularly in the Donetsk region and around the Donetsk airport.

Over a month after the sanctions were agreed and the Minsk Protocol was signed, Russian troops remain in the Ukraine, and neither Obama nor the EU have taken any concrete initiatives to force their withdrawal.

With respect to the Ebola epidemic, currently out of control in West Africa in Liberia, Sierra Leone and possibly Guinea, which potentially threatens the entire world, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have played a superb role in leading the response to the crisis on a technical, medical level. They have laid out the case that if 70% of new cases are not confined to Ebola treatment centers by November 20, the exponential growth in the number of infected individuals may reach 1.4 million in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January 20.

Obama has pledged to send 3,000 military personnel, but they will not be on the ground before November. Meanwhile the contagion of the disease continues to explode. Resources and above all the coordination of efforts have been slow to materialize on the ground. This is a situation which calls for massive and extraordinarily urgent action, but the U.S. has only said what it is going to do, and that’s it.

The common thread to these ongoing failures of foreign policy, to which many other examples could be added, is Obama’s emphasis on what the U.S. is going to do–no more, and what other nations need to do. The emphasis almost seems to be on what the U.S. is not going to do, in a world in which time is not of the essence.

The focus is self-regarding, on what the U.S. and others are going to do, and not going to do, and not on the realities of the challenge on the ground and what is required to meet that challenge within the time limits that those realities impose.

Whether with respect to the Ukraine, ISIS and al-Assad in Syria, the defense of Anbar province and beyond in Iraq, or halting the explosion in Ebola infections, we are faced with policies which include many necessary elements (e.g., the replacement of al-Maliki with the formation of a a more inclusive regime in Baghdad (a work in progress, yet to convince the Sunnis), but which are blind to the urgency of the moment, to quickly developing military advances of ISIS on the ground, or the rapid explosion in the number of Ebola cses in West Africa.

Returning to the situaiton in Kobanê, one has the impression that Obama is far more interested in winning a battle of wills with the Turks over whether to also target the al-Assad regime than he is in protecting the hundreds of thousands of human beings who will be affected by a continued failure to take effective action. The airstrikes are important, but not sufficient to achieve the goal.

Obama doesn’t seem to grasp the importance of symbolic and strategic victories or of momentum on the ground.

The Daily Star in Beirut expressed the general exasperation with Washington’s policies in the Middle East in an Editorial published on October 10. The paper wrote,

The vastly contradictory statements coming from the U.S. government over the last few days are emblematic of a wider problem: that the Obama administration apparently has no coherent strategy when it comes to Syria, and now Iraq, and is playing the whole thing by ear. But this absence of any tangible policy will have ramifications far wider than simply the countries directly involved.

Despite a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS, backed by a coalition of some 60 countries, the U.S. is confused and confusing. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. was looking closely at the idea of a buffer zone along the border with Turkey, inside Syria. Hours later the Pentagon and the White House said (the) option was absolutely not on the table.

This flip-flopping really makes one wonder where decisions are being made, and by whom….

(T)the mistakes of Obama’s administration have done untold and likely irreparable damage.

And the vacuum that has been left appears to have given oxygen to the most extreme and most dangerous groups around the world. The destruction and loss of life happening now across the Middle East is only the beginning. The aftershocks of current political indecisiveness will be felt for generations.

The Trenchant Observer