Archive for the ‘U.S. Intervention’ Category

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

U.S. strategy and leadership needed: The Middle East and other countries hurtle into the Vortex

Friday, March 27th, 2015

On some days, the news is so disturbing that you want to take a broader view of what is going on in a region, or the world.

The Middle East appears to be convulsed by civil war and situations that could lead to further civil and international conflict. At times it seems that everyone has forgotten about international law. States don’t bother to offer legal justifications for their actions, or sometimes even admit they are responsible for them.

Chaos in the Middle East

Shiite Houthis backed by Iran are taking over Yemen, provoking military responses from Sunni Arab states.

Did anyone offer a legal justification for the actions of the Sunni military coalition?

Barack Obama’s statements several years ago that we should pursue a “Yemen-like” solution to the Syrian civil war don’t look so good today.

Libya has become a failed state, ruled now by violence and near anarchy.

U.S. bombers join in Iraqi government attacks on ISIS in Tikrit, as Iranian-led Shiite militias engaged in the battle for the city stand down or adopt ambiguous postures. The United States is now participating directly in the confict with ISIS in Iraq, in what seems to be an open-ended commitment.

This may be required in order to counter Iranian influence in Iraq, but has not yet been the subject of much public debate in the United Stares.

Israeli-Palestinian relations are at their lowest point since the Second Intifada, following Banjamin Netanyahu’s scurrilous playing of the race card in the last days before the recent elections to the Knesset. After warning right-wing voters that the Israeli Arabs were turning out in droves for the elections, Netanyahu has lost all respect as a leader of Israel.

In the days before the elections, Netanyahu also promised right-wing voters that there would never be a Palestinian state so long as he remained in office. That sounded the death knell for the two-state solution, at least for now.

There are no negotiations underway, and it is hard to see how they can be restarted so long as Netanyahu remains prime minister.

Relations with the Obama administration are at an all-time low, putting the U.S. automatic veto against any U.N. Security Council resolution adverse to Israel into play.

Charlie Rose interviews Bashar al-Assad, giving a megaphone–once again–to a mass murderer guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria on a massive scale, where over 220,000 have been killed. With blood dripping from his hands, al-Assad wants to make a deal with the West to fight the Islamic State group or ISIS, leaving his regime and him in power.

In his diffidence to al-Assad, Rose refers to dropping barrel bombs and other war crimes and crimes against humanity as “actions that others look down on” or words to that effect.

Regarding Rose’s shameful interview with al-Assad in September, 2013, on the eve on an expected vote in Congress authorizing Obama to use military force against Syria–following the use of chemical weapons by Syria at Ghouta on August 21, 2013–see

See “CBS News and PBS: Network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and PBS, give al-Assad megaphone for propaganda to oppose Obama—ON MONDAY!,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2013.

The Islamic State group, the al-Nusra front, the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, Western-backed so-called “moderate” rebels, and who knows who else mix it up in the meat grinder of Syria.

Threats Beyond the Middle East

An unsteady truce holds in the eastern Ukraine. Putin sits poised like a leopard, waiting for the West to be distracted and/or show disunity before he strikes at Mariupol and continues building his strategic land bridge to the Crimea.

The Greek prime minister suggests, on the eve of his trip to Moscow, that Greece may veto the renewal of EU sanctions against Russia when they come up for renewal later this year.

Putin is driven by a need to continually engage the West in conflict, in order to distract his population from their sinking economy and worsening living conditions. He also seems to be on the path of delusions of grandeur, as he would be the leader who restored the Russian Empire and its sphere of influence.

See John Simpson, “Vladimir Putin is fighting for political survival – by provoking unrest in Ukraine, New Statesman, March 30, 2015 (9:44 a.m)

Writing from Sevastapol, the BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson explains how Russia’s premiere is stalling. His Crimean coup is an attempt to distract the west.

No one refers to international law.

Endless war, including war between Sunni states and Iran, is highly possible.

Once the genie of a broad Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East is out of the bottle, who could contain it again?

In Washington, as in Europe and the Middle East, leaders are needed to deal with these situations effectively, pursuant to a coherent strategy. Yet such leaders are hard to find.

Into the Vortex we all go.

The Trenchant Observer

Russia was prepared for nuclear showdown with West during Crimea takeover, Putin asserts in film

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

According to RT, the Russian news channel, Vladimir Putin was thinking of a possible nuclear showdown with the West when he invaded Crimea:

The president assured that the Russian military were prepared for any developments and would have armed nuclear weapons if necessary. He personally was not sure that Western nations would not use military force against Russia, he added.

–Putin in film on Crimea: US masterminds behind Ukraine coup, helped train radicals,” RT, March 15,, 2015 (updated 17:36).

This is but the latest of Putin’s veiled nuclear threats, to which to the writer’s knowledge, neither the U.S. nor NATO have ever responded publicly.

The Trenchant Observer

What’s the hurry? Russia pushes hard for U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing Minsk II agreement—a “Munich II” agreement reached under the pressure of Russian military aggression

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande may assume they have achieved something notable in the Minsk II agreement of February 12, but in point of fact they have forged an agreement at the end of the barrel of a Russian gun which weakens the provisions already agreed upon on September 5, 2014 in the Minsk Protocol.

Bearing in mind that the Minsk II agreement represents paper promises by Vladimir Putin, who used the paper promises in the Minsk Protocol to lull the West to sleep while pouring more Russian troops, tanks, artillery and other war machines into the eastern Ukraine, then lauching military offensives with Russian troops leading and fighting alongside “separatist” forces (Putin  puppets) to produce the territorial gains now in place on the ground, one has to ask why Russia wants the Security Council to endorse the Minsk II agreement.

The answer is manifestly clear. The Minsk II Agreement represents an outstanding victory over the pacifists and appeasers who lead the West, a victory which Putin now wants to put into stone with a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Moreover, he apparently has the support of France, Germany and Ukraine for such a resolution. The threat, hardly veiled, is that Russia will continue its military onslaught in the eastern Ukraine if it doesn’t get its way.

That is the same threat the West will face if Putin doesn’t get his way in the future negotiations called for in the Minsk II agreement, over future elections in the separatist-controlled areas of the Donbass, or the legal and constitutional reforms that are conditions for a return of the border to the Ukraine, and in practice a withdrawal of Russia troops, irregulars and war machines from the territory of the Donbas.

What would a Security Council resolution endorsing Minsk II add to the latter?

Absolutely nothing.

The Minsk II agreement depends on Putin for its implementation, and if he doesn’t cooperate there is nothing the West can do about it through direct military means, other than begin the delivery of lethal weapons to Kiev. That, while advisable for a number of reasons, will hardly be decisive against the largest land army in Europe.

Instead of endorsing the terms of Minsk II, the Security Council should be called upon to vote on a draft resolution demanding an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and irregular forces, and their military equipment, and immediate restoration of Ukrainian border control in the Donbas.

The role of the Security Council is to halt aggression and restore international peace and security at the earliest possible moment.

It is not to become embroiled in a ceasefire charade or an illusory political solution as it did with Resolutions 2042 (2012) and 2043 (2012) on Syria, and the wholly illusory 6-point peace plan of Kofi Annan, which led to the useless Geneva I and Geneva II peace conferences, while over 200,000 Syrians were being killed –with full Russian backing of the government and diplomacy of Bashar al-Assad.

Hollande and Merkel have given us the 2015 equivalent of the Munich Pact of 1938, surrendering to Vladimir Putin and Russia on all real issues likely to affect military developments on the ground in the Donbas.

They now want to accede to Russia’s demands for a Security Council resolution to further placate the Russian Aggressor, while covering over their own fecklessness in concluding the Minsk II agreement, accepting at face value the promises of a known and pathological liar while ceding to him huge military concessions on the ground.

There is no reason for haste in adopting any U.N. Security Council resolution on the Ukraine,

Any such resolution should in any event refer specifically to the  Russian military occupation of the Crimea, sovereign territory of the Ukraine, and the steps that will be taken to secure the withdrawal of Russian troops, perhaps establish an international authority, and after a period of years hold a plebiscite under international supervision and control on the future of the Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

The postwar international political and legal order must be restored, and the fruits of Russian military aggression rolled back.

The Trenchant Observer

U.S., France, U.K. and other members should vehemently oppose any Russian-backed Security Council resolution endorsing Minsk II agreement

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

News reports speak of the intention of Russia to bring a resolution to the U.N. Security Council which would incorporate the terms of the Minsk II agreement reached on February 12.

See

“Ukraine-Krise: Poroschenko will bei Scheitern der Waffenruhe Kriegsrecht verhängen,” Der Siegel, 14. Februar 2015 (18:30 Uhr).

“Russland brachte einen Resolutionsentwurf in den Weltsicherheitsrat ein, mit dem die Vereinbarungen der Minsker Friedensgespräche vom Donnerstag festgehalten werden sollen. Wie die Staatsagentur Tass berichtete, könnte das mächtige Uno-Gremium an diesem Sonntag darüber abstimmen. Frühere Uno-Resolutionen hatte Russland blockiert.”

While such a resolution endorsing the original Minsk Protocol might have been a good idea, the U.S., France, the United Kingdom and other Security Council members should oppose and vote against any resolution that would endorse the Minsk II agreement.

What is at issue is the fact that Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

This is a principle of jus cogens or mandatory international law to which there can be no exception, even by agreement. As we pointed out yesterday, this means that the provision in the Minsk II agreement that would delay restoration of control of the border to the Ukraine up to the end of 2015, contingent on the “separatists” agreeing to various measures called for in the Minsk II agreement, is null and void under international law.

Consequently, Russia is under an international legal obligation to withdraw its troops, tanks, artillery, irregular fighters and other war equipment immediately, and to halt its military aggression in the eastern Ukraine immediately.

If a U.N. Security Council resolution endorses or incorporates the terms of the Minsk II agreement, this could change. Security Council resolutions under Chapter VII of the Charter are binding on all member states.

If such a resolution were to be adopted, Russia could then argue that the Security Council had authorized it to remain in the eastern Ukraine until at least the end of 2015, and that the provisions requiring approval by the Donetsk and Luhansk “separatist” leaders were binding on all states under international law.

In this way, while the Western powers are asleep, Putin and Russia will have succeeed in creating  “a frozen conflict” that is backed by a legally binding Security Council resolution.

Some experts in international law might still argue that the Security Council had exceeded its powers, but this would be a purely academic debate of no relevance to the national decision makers responsible for acting to manage and resolve the conflict in the eastern Ukraine.

If states want to freeze the conflict in the eastern Ukraine by backing the Minsk II agreement with a binding Chapter VII resolution, they should vote with the Russians.

If they want Russian military aggression against the Ukraine to cease forthwith, they should vehemently oppose and vote against any such Russian-backed resolution.

Any Security Council resolution on the Ukraine should call for:

(1) the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces and war machines and equipment from the eastern Ukraine;

(2) the immediate withdrawal of all other Russian irregular and special operations forces and equipment from the eastern Ukraine; and

(3) the immediate cessation of Russian supplies of weapons, machines of war and other equipment to the so-called “separatists” in the Donbas region of the Ukraine.

The Minsk II Agreement has a lot of well-sounding language in it, as did the original Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014.

Putin through systematic violations of the Minsk Protocol, with the direct participation of Russian military forces and equipment in the fighting in the eastern Ukraine, has changed the facts on the ground, and forced Petro Poroshenko and his French and German supporters to make further concessions in the Minsk II agreement.

Virtually all of the changes from the original Minsk Protocol of September 5 and the implementing Minsk Memorandum of September 19 have been secured through further, intensified, and more transparent Russian aggression against the Ukraine.

This Russian perfidy should not be endorsed by the Security Council, or anyone else.

Russia needs to get its troops, weapons, special operatives and irregular forces out of the Ukraine along with all their weapons, to immediately halt their supply of weapons and equipment to the so-called “separatists”, and to comply fully with the ceasefire and heavy weapons withdrawal provisions of the Minsk II agreement.

Meanwhile, the U.S. the EU and NATO should prepare to ban Russia from the SWIFT international payments system, boycott or move the 2018 FIFA World Cup competition from Russia to a non-aggressor state, prepare crippling sectoral economic sanctions against Russia, deliver lethal defensive weapons to Kiev, and begin moving NATO troops to the eastern front with Russia, should Russia or the “separatists” (Putin’s puppets) fail to comply with the ceasefire, withdrawal and other provisions of the Minsk Protocol and the Minsk II Agreement of February 12.

Putin should have no illusions that continued military aggression against the Ukraine will be able to avoid a hardball conflict with the West, in which his tanks and war machines will prove no match for the economic weapons at the disposal of the West, which can bring the Russian economy to a halt.

The Trenchant Observer

February 11 Minsk Summit on the Ukraine: Latest update and analysis (Updated February 10, 2015)

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Updated February 10, 2015

BACKGROUND

The following articles, by some of the most experienced and incisive commentators writing on international affairs, provide the context and background necessary to understand the negotiations planned for the Minsk summit on November 11:

(1) Anne Applebaum, “The long view with Russia,” Washington Post, February 8, 2015.

(2) Roger Cohen, “Western Illusions Over Ukraine,” New York Times, February 9, 2015.

(3) Julia Smirnva, “Was erhofft sich Putin von Verhandlungen? Diplomatie auf höchster Ebene soll die Ukraine-Krise beenden. Russlands Präsident Putin scheint bei den Gesprächen mit dem Westen darauf zu setzen, dass die Krise zum “eingefrorenen Konflikt” wird,” Die Welt, 9. February 2015.

Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin are to meet in Minsk on Wednesday, February 11, 2015, to see if they can hammer out some kind of a “deal” that will include a ceasefire in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Ukraine known as the Donbas, and perhaps other areas where the so-called “separatists” (Putin’s puppets) have, with active Russian military participation, extended the territory under their control.

Putin’s objectives will be to make just enough concessions to confuse the Europeans and make the renewal of existing economic sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine as problematic and uncertain as possible, while sowing divisions among the EU’s members that will make the imposition of new and really tough sectoral sanctions impossible given the unaniminity requirement for action by the EU.

He will also seek to forestall any decision—much less action!—by President Barack Obama to send “lethal” military weapons and other assistance to Kiev, or for European countries to even consider doing so.  Here he will be trying to intimidate both the Europeans and the Americans and make them fear his reaction if they do send weapons, and certainly to make them have qualms about sending arms in a quantity and manner than could really make a difference on the ground.

Today’s leaders, in Europe as in the United States, seem to have little grasp of history, international law, or the origins and history of the United Nations. Their response to Russian military aggression against the Ukraine, beginning in the Crimea in February, has been one of incredulity followed by laughable “sanctions” against Russia that were always “too little, too late”.

Throughout, their fear of the aggressor and unwillingness to contemplate any military moves–such as sending arms to Kiev–has given Putin an open playing field where, having militarily dismantled the border between Russia and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Ukraine, he has been left free to move tanks, artillery, advanced air defense weapons systems, and other advanced electronic equipment, as well as thousands of Russian special operations forces, irregular forces, and regular Russian troops and equipment back and forth across the border at will.

If Western leaders did know something of history, they might remember that the United Nations was established to provide international peace and security, above all else, to the nations of the world, based on the concept of collective security. Thus, when a state was the object of aggression, the U.N. Security Council was to be called upon to take action to restore international peace and security, including binding measures and the authorization of the use of military force to secure that objective.

However, given the veto in the Security Council which was granted to the five great and victorious powers in 1945–the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China–the U.N. Charter also provided for the taking of measures of “collective self-defense” up to and including the use of force whenever an “armed attack” was committed against one of its members, (a rule later extended to include all states).

The concept was not that some states would come to the collective self-defense only of other states in a military alliance to which they belonged (such as NATO, which was not formed until 1949), but rather that any and all willing states could come to the defense of any state which was the victim of an armed attack.

This concept is worth preserving, since the alternative is a large number of overlapping military alliances (such as the Warsaw Pact, or the system of regional collective security under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (or “Rio Treaty”) established in the Americas under the auspices of the Organization of American States.

The original Charter scheme of collective security made sense in 1945, and it makes sense now.

Any state should feel free and legally authorized to take measures to aid the Ukraine in collective self-defense in repelling Russian aggression, as authorized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. This includes sending arms, or even troops.

The idea was and remains that any country that was the victim of an “armed attack” had the right to benefit from military assistance from any other states in order to repel and bring to an end the armed attack. Thus, from its very inception, the United Nations Charter created a system in which a country such as the Ukraine which was the victim of an armed attack carried out by a country such as Russia would as a matter of course be entitled to receive military assistance, including lethal arms or even troops, from other states acting in collective self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

The United Nations Charter also embodied another idea: the sovereign equality of all states, and their rights under the Charter and international law not to be coerced by large military powers to adopt policies and actions in subordination of their sovereign will.

In other words, the old “balance of power” system from the 19th century, which had led to two world wars in the 20th century, was to be replaced by a system based on the basic principles of the Charter, which included the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, and the obligation of states to conduct their international relations in accordance with the Charter, international law, and treaties to which they were parties that had been validly concluded under international law.

That is the scheme of the United Nations Charter, and the system of international peace and security which up until 2014 never encountered a frontal rejection such as that represented by Russia’s military aggression against the Ukraine during the last year, and its “annexation” of the Crimea, Russian-occupied territory of the Ukraine.

The biggest issue the delegates to the Minsk summit on Wednesday will face may not be at the top of the list of their immediate concerns, but it remains the biggest issue nonetheless:

What is to be done about the Russian invasion, occupation and purported “annexation” of the Crimea?

As news stories about the latest negotiations in Minsk hit the headlines, it will be useful for the readers bear in mind the broader context in which the negotiations are taking place.

They should bear in mind the monstrous lies Putin and his propaganda machine, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have been telling–denying for example that Russia has sent any troops and tanks, etc. into the Donbas.

They should bear in mind that Putin has not honored a single agreement Russia has made on the Ukraine.

They should bear in mind what the United Nations Charter and international law have to say about military aggression by one country invading another.

See “Russia’s utter and continuing violation of international law in the Ukraine: U.N. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/25/2625 (1970) on Principles of International Law and Friendly Relations Among States,” The Trenchant Observer, February 8, 2015.

They should bear in mind the risks of inadvertent nuclear war in view of the present collision course on which NATO and Russia are embarked, and the risks of further acts of appeasement leading to heightened risks of further conflict driven by an emboldened Vladimir Putin, whose goals appear to include disabling NATO and Europe, and not just winning in the Ukraine.

See “Strategy beyond the Ukraine: It’s time to start thinking about the risks of nuclear war with Russia, and of appeasement,” The Trenchant Observer, February 8, 2015.

“Putin’s Larger Plan: The sobering facts of Russia’s assault on Europe and the West,” The Trenchant Observer, December 1, 2014.

They should bear in mind that the real issue is the prompt adoption of really biting sectoral sanctions against Russia so long as it keeps its troops and ongoing military operations underway in the Ukraine.

Sanctions which might be adopted now include the following:

Immediate steps that can be taken would be to block Russia’s access to the SWIFT international payments system, to impose much broader sectoral sanctions on the Russian economy, to organize a boycott of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia (militating for a change of venue to a non-aggressor state), and to add Vladimir Putin himself to the sanctions list, including the freezing of all of his assets abroad.

Putin has machines of war and soldiers in and near the Ukraine to continue his military aggression against that country. The West has far more powerful economic weapons that it can use to defend the Ukraine, and if necessary to bring Russia’s economy to a halt. With an active Russian military invasion of the eastern Ukraine in progress, and accelerating, while Russian military occupation of the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea continues, the West should use those weapons now, decisively.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Kiev caves in to Russian military threats, offering far-reaching concessions in eastern Ukraine; Pacifism and appeasement grip Wasington and Europe; First signs of Russian military intervention appear, as troops on border are poised to strike

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

Originally published April 12, 2014

The Atmosphere in Washington

On Saturday, April 12, The New York Times did not have a story (or even a reference) on its front page on the Ukraine.

The Wall Street Journal, however, in a superb article by Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, published a penetrating account of the extent to which top U.S. civilian and military leaders are in the grip of President Obama’s pacifism and approach of appeasement.

See Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. Tries to Help Ukraine, Reassure Allies Without Riling Russia; Obama Administration, NATO Face Quandary as They Plan Response to Moscow’s Annexation of Crimea, April 12, 2014.

Entous and Barnes offer a few illustrative examples:

(1) Seeking to demonstrate strong American support for Ukraine, U.S. military planners considered using Air Force planes to ferry food rations to outnumbered and underequipped Ukrainian troops facing superior Russian forces across the border.

Pentagon leaders settled instead for a less-conspicuous operation: They sent the promised meals-ready-to-eat, or MREs, in commercial trucks from storehouses in Germany.

(2) “Ukrainian forces got the MREs late last month, about two weeks after requesting aid. The White House says it is still reviewing other items on Kiev’s wish-list, including medical kits, uniforms, boots and military socks.

“‘You want to calibrate your chest-thumps,” a senior military official said of the step-by-step American response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military moves. “He does something else in Ukraine, we release the socks.'”

Yatsenyuk’s Offer on of Sweeping Concessions, and Escalating Unrest in the East

Meanwhile, in Donetsk on Friday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in a move signaling a cave-in to Russian pressures and military threats–as few signs suggested that the West would support the Ukraine in defending its territory against a second Russian invasion–offered concessions so broad that they would undermine the unity and sovereignty of the Ukrainian state, if they were ever accepted and implemented.

Protesters, however, seem to be following a different script, dictated by Moscow. An escalating wave of seizures of government buildings by armed protesters continued on Saturday, promising to make the holding of Ukrainian national elections on May 25 all but untenable in the eastern parts of the country where the protests are centered.

The Guardian has provided an overview of the latest developments in the Ukraine, including the concessions offered by Yatsenyuk in Donetsk on Friday:

Protesters in Donetsk have called on Russia to deploy peacekeepers to facilitate a referendum on independence by 11 May.

Yatsenyuk did not agree to a referendum but suggested the system of regional administrations appointed by the president should be replaced by executive committees elected by regional parliaments, which would have “all financial, economic, administrative and other powers to control the corresponding region”.

He also recommended that the parliament approve legislation that would change the constitution to allow for local referendums, a move strongly supported by the leaders of the Donetsk occupation.

Yatsenyuk said changes to the country’s constitution should be approved before a presidential election planned for 25 May that the Kiev regime has said will fully legitimise the new government.

–Alec Luhn in Donetsk, Oksana Grytsenko in Luhansk and agencies, “Ukraine fails to break stalemate with pro-Russian protesters in east; Arseniy Yatsenyuk promises devolution to local government in hope of staving off demands for their independence from Kiev,” The Guardian, Friday 11 April 2014 (15.03 EDT).

The tactics being used are from the Crimea playbook, with reported escalations today (Saturday, April 12) involving military units not wearing military insignia.

See Gregory L. White and Lukas I. Alpert, “Pro-Russian Protests Spread in Eastern Ukraine; Armed Men in Military-Style Uniforms Move to Commandeer Government Offices, Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2014 (updated 7:23 p.m. ET) .

White and Alpert report:

Witnesses said the men who took over the buildings in Slavyansk weren’t the local activists who had led protests in the region in recent weeks.

Instead, they appeared better-equipped and trained, carrying military-style gear and weapons, but with no insignia on their camouflage uniforms.

Such descriptions were similar to the thousands of troops who moved into and took over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last month, leading quickly to Russia’s annexation. Those troops were later confirmed to be Russian, though Moscow never officially admitted that.

See also:

“Kämpfe in mehreren Städten der Ostukraine; Im Osten der Ukraine bekämpfen sich prorussische Aktivisten und Sicherheitskräfte. Präsident Alexander Turtschinow berief für den Abend den nationalen Sicherheitsrat ein,”Die Zeit, .”12. April 2014 (19:20 Uhr).

The growing protests and incipient violence appear to be setting the stage for Russian military intervention, by the 40,000-80,000 troops that have been mobilized in preparation for such action.

The Diplomatic Front

On the diplomatic front, Russia is playing the same delaying game it played in Syria, talking of diplomatic solutions and illusory “agreements”, while gaining time for other kinds of solutions produced by the use of military force on the ground.

The strategy has been successful in Syria, and it should come as no surprise that the Russians are following a similar script in their diplomacy vis-à-vis the Ukraine.

The near-constant diplomatic contacts between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry, and others, serve two important Russian purposes.

First, they allow the Kremlin to monitor with great precision the intentions and potential actions of the at times compulsively transparent Obama administration, and its Western allies.

Second, they offer excellent opportunities to divide the Western countries by planting false seeds of hope. For example, Lavrov offered earnest reassurances to Kerry that Russia had no intention of violating the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, only days before the Russian invasion of that country. Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Russian troops on the border with Ukraine would be withdrawn (or significantly reduced). No such drawdown has occurred, and indeed the build-up has continued.

A similar hope, in all likelihood also illusory, has been offered that if the West does not anger Russian President Vladimir Putin by its responses to Russia’s actions, he will not invade the eastern Ukraine.

Under current circumstances, it is a very bad idea for the U.S. and the EU to meet with Russia on April 17 to discuss the Ukraine’s fate, even with the Ukraine also participating.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Munich II: The meeting in Geneva between the U.S., the EU, the Ukraine and Russia, April 11, 2014.

The meeting, to find a “diplomatic solution” to “the “Ukrainian Crisis” provides Russia with an excellent opportunity to continue its strategy of deception and delay, dividing the West and offering illusory hopes to defuse the momentum for the adoption of any serious responses.

John Kerry, Sergey Lavrov, Catherine Ashton of the EU, and the Ukraine will meet in a context in which only Russia can gain, either by securing “Munich II”-style concessions from the West at the expense of the Ukraine, or by sowing division and doubt among the countries of the West.

Yatsenyuk’s proffered concessions on April 11 suggest that “Munich II”-style concessions are already being crafted, probably under pressure from the U.S. and the EU.

The Costs of Further Delay in Imposing Really Significant Sanctions

Further delay by the West in taking military steps and adopting really meaningful “third-stage” sanctions (such as a ban on financial transactions with Russia and/or a freezing of Russian assets in the West) will enable Russia to proceed with its destabilization of the eastern Ukraine and what may be its plan to have local “referendums” held on May 9, Russia’s Victory Day (celebrating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II). Demands for such referendums are now being heard from pro-Russian protesters.

The Russians are following Adolf Hitler’s playbook for the Anschluss with Austria and the annexation of the Sudetenland to the letter. The first took place on March 12, 1938. The second took place six months later, with the approval of France and Great Britain at Munich on September 30, 1938.

See
“Is Putin like Hitler?” The Trenchant Observer, April 4, 2014.

“Putin’s seizure of the Crimea and Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland: The comparison is accurate,” April 1, 2014.

Because of the complexity and time-consuming nature of EU and NATO decision processes (unanimity is required, in both cases), only the U.S. is in a position to lead and to act quickly.

The additional sanctions announced by Obama on April 11, 2014 (adding seven individuals and a major Crimean gas company seized by the Russians to those on the list of targeted sanctions) represent small steps in the right direction. But no one should imagine for an instant that they are sufficiently serious to affect Russia’s decisions, including any which may have already been made to invade the Ukraine for a second time.

The United States and the West are speaking the language of peace and reason. Russia is speaking the language of war and military action on the ground.

If only Obama and his “groupthink” coterie could come to their senses, grasp these realities, and react with forceful actions that are executed, not threatened, much might still be salvaged from the current debacle. After the invasion and annexation of the Crimea one would think they might have learned a thing or two.

But the roots of pacifism grow deep, and it is not easy for those who are committed to appeasement to discern–much less react to–realities which are dramatically changing, hour by hour, on the ground.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Will Obama and EU countries send lethal arms to help Kiev in Russian-Ukrainian war?

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Developing

See

(1) Carsten Luther (Kommentar), “UKRAINE: Manchmal helfen nur Waffen; Militärisch ist der Krieg in der Ukraine nicht zu lösen. Und doch könnten gerade amerikanische Waffenlieferungen an Kiew die Diplomatie wieder stärken,” Die Zeit, 2. Februar 2015 (19:10 Uhr).

(2) David J. Kramer,”Six Ways to Help Ukraine Resist Russia’s Latest Invasion,” Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2015 (6:15 p.m. ET).

Barack Obama has been reported as “considering” whether to send “defensive” lethal arms to help Kiev in the Russian-Ukrainian war, in which the Ukraine is badly outgunned by the regular Russian troops inside the Ukraine.

At the same time, the irregulars and “separatists” they helped organize and alongside whom they are now fighting have just received new shipments of weapons and weapons systems from Russia, across the wide-open border between Russia and the Donbas.

Angela Merkel, under the sway of her pacifist SPD foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has repeatedly stated she is against sending weapons to Kiev.

Until she fires Steinmeier, which she needs to do if she is ever going to be directly in charge of German foreign policy, this position is most unlikely to change.

As they did in Syria, Germany and other countries in the West proclaim that the conflict in the Ukraine cannot be solved by military means. Only a political settlement can lead to peace, they assert.

They ignore the fact that the conflict was caused by Russia invading the Ukraine, by military means, and that the obvious solution is for it to withdraw its military forces and comply with the terms of the Minsk Protocol which it signed on September 5, 2014. For starters.

Meanwhile, the most powerful army in Europe, that of the Russian Federation, continues its military aggression against the Ukraine, which has now cost over 5,400 lives in the Donbas alone since April.

As the West declares there can be no military solution to the conflict in the Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and Russia are shaping facts on the ground every day as they produce their own military solution to the conflict.

Look at the map of Europe and how it has changed since Putin launched his war of aggression against the Ukraine in February, 2014, beginning with the conquest and subsequent purported “annexation” of the Crimea.

In the U.S., Obama is always “considering” something, and the media take and repeat the narratives and explanations the White House feeds them. When Ben Rhodes, the president’s “strategic communications” chief is quoted in a news article, he is channeling Obama, and preparing the public for one more decision by Obama to do nothing.

Anyone who followed the endless press accounts of how Obama was “considering” sending arms to the rebels in Syria, or had “decided” to send arms to the rebels in Syria, all of which came to nothing, is familiar with Obama’s modus operandi of “considering” military options, and then doing nothing.

The one recent exception has been the use of air power against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  This was the least amount of force required to avoid catastrophe.  To date, however, it has failed to reverse the ideological momentum of ISIS,  or to reduce the territory under their control.  At the moment, they are mounting a concerted attack on Kirkuk, in Iraq.

Doing nothing, or doing the least he possibly can to avoid immediate disaster, has been Obama’s pattern ever since he acceded, in 2009, to the demands of his military in ordering the “surge” in Afghanistan.

It is almost as if he has resolved never to follow their advice again.

He is, after all, the American prsident who, contrary to the advice of his military leaders, “ended” the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bottom line: Don’t expect Obama to send any significant quantity of arms to Kiev, though he may speak as if he might in order to deflect pressures on him, now coming from a wide array of former national security officials and many others, to send “lethal” arms to Kiev in a quantity and in a manner which might actually  change the course of events.

The U.S. shipment of “lethal” arms to Kiev is not likely to happen, though it could.  In Europe and America, the pacifists and appeasers of Putin and Russia still appear to be firmly in control.

The Trenchant Observer

The Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, and the torture trail leading to Abu Gharib

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

See

ANDREW HIGGINS and MAÏA de la BAUME, “Two Brothers Suspected in Killings Were Known to French Intelligence Services,” New York Times, January 8, 2015.

Higgins and de la Baume report on the background of one of the suspects, who appears to have been radicalized by anger over U.S. torture at Abu Gharib prison in Iraq, as follows:

Chérif’s interest in radical Islam, it was said at the 2008 trial, was rooted in his fury over the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, particularly the mistreatment of Muslims held at Abu Ghraib prison.

While there can be no excuse or justification in any sense for the abhorrent acts of terrorism that took place in Paris, there may be an important insight to be gained. Aside from the moral dimension of torture, it appears that debates over its efficacy must now be much more broadly framed.

The Trenchant Observer