Archive for the ‘U.S. Military’ Category

Russian-Ukrainian war update: Putin’s perfidy in full view, as war intensifies

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

For a comprehensive overview of the current military situation in the Eastern Ukraine, see

MICHAEL WEISS, JAMES MILLER, “LANDBRIDGE TO CRIMEA: PUTIN IS WINNING THE UKRAINE WAR ON THREE FRONTS,” The Daily Beast, January 26, 2015.

Putin’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, signed an agreement in Berlin with the Ukraine on January 21, 2015, to withdraw heavy armor from the demarcation line agreed in the Minsk Memorandum.

At the same time, Russian troops and armor were moving into the eastern Ukraine and launching a new offensive by the so-called “separatists”, including attacks on Mariupol, the gateway city for the conquest of a land-bridge linking Russia and rebel territory in the Donbas to the Crimea.

Russia’s perfidy at Berlin recalled its perfidy at Geneva on April 17, 2014, when it agreed to halt the takeover of government buildings in the eastern Ukraine, as they intensified.

Both agreements were no more than propaganda ploys. Russia under Putin can never again be trusted. Negotiated agreements are meaningless.

Putin agreed to the Minsk Protocol on September 5, 2014 in an effort to weaken or forestall the EU “stage 3″ sanctions agreed also on September 5, and finally put into force on September 12, 2014.

Putin has repeatedly and brazenly violated the Minsk Protocol, which is at the moment all but a dead-letter.

It could be useful if it were included in a new U.N. Security draft resolution which would be put to a vote.

Putin’s military aggresion must be stopped now, and rolled back.

Weapons and training for the Ukraine can help stop further advances by Russian troops and their “separatist” puppets, together with new and much harsher sectoral economic sanctions.

Over time, as these sanctions are intensified — if they are — they can also bring Russia to negotiating a way out of its current occupation of the Crimea, conquered by force in violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter.

Whether the pacifists and appeasers who lead the United States and Europe can put aside their illusions and deal effectively to halt the greatest military threat to Europe since 1945 is, at best, an open question.

Whether Barack Obama, who has checked out from leading the foreign policy of the U.S., can find his way back to the office and engage on foreign policy, is also an open question.

The future of NATO, and perhaps eastern Europe, hangs in the balance.

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

REPRISE: Christmas reflections—What Obama has taught the American people about Syria

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

First published on December 25, 2013

We owe it to the people of Syria to pause for a moment, on this Christmas Day, and bow our heads in shame for what we, the nations of the civilized world, have not done to protect them.

In this regard, the burden Barack Obama will bear in history not only for his inaction, but also for blocking the actions of others, is enormous.

Since 2011, he has taught the American people that the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity is no longer a matter of grave concern.

He has taught the American people not to act to stop the horrors of Syria, but instead to look the other way.

He has eased any discomfort they might have felt by using the military to make the political argument that using force to halt the atrocities in Syria would be hard.

He has spoken many words about Syria, and offered many explanations of this or that turn in U.S. policy.

In thinking about Obama and what historians will have to say about his policy of inaction toard Syria, however, readers might usefully bear in mind what Theodore Roosevelt had to say when he accepted the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, about words and deeds:

“International Peace”

We must ever bear in mind that the great end in view is righteousness, justice as between man and man, nation and nation, the chance to lead our lives on a somewhat higher level, with a broader spirit of brotherly goodwill one for another. Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.

Moreover, and above all, let us remember that words count only when they give expression to deeds, or are to be translated into them (emphasis added). The leaders of the Red Terror2 prattled of peace while they steeped their hands in the blood of the innocent; and many a tyrant has called it peace when he has scourged honest protest into silence. Our words must be judged by our deeds; and in striving for a lofty ideal we must use practical methods; and if we cannot attain all at one leap, we must advance towards it step by step, reasonably content so long as we do actually make some progress in the right direction.

[Footnote] 2. The “Terror” is a term characterizing the conduct of power in revolutionary France by the second committee of Public Safety (September, 1793-July, 1794), sometimes identified as the “Red Terror” to distinguish it from the short-lived “White Terror”, which was an effort by the Royalists in 1795 to destroy the Revolution.

–Theodore Roosevelt, 1907 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, delivered May 5, 1910.

Whenever President Obama speaks of Syria, let us remember these words from Teddy Roosevelt.

Let us also, on this Christmas Day, at least not forget to think of the people of Syria, and to say a prayer that some leader or leaders in the world will find the courage not to talk of peace, but to act with force to halt the Syrian government’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale.

See also the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

“Syria: As Christmas approaches, the assault on civilization continues,” December 22, 2013.

“60,000 killed in Syria—REPRISE II: The Olympic Games, and the Battle for Aleppo, Begin—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #91 (January 2, 2013),” January 2, 2013.

“The Leopard and the Impala: Putin astutely plays Obama for a chump,” September 12, 2013.

“Moral cowardice in Europe and elsewhere: Bad-faith arguments on Syria by Germany and other countries lacking the courage to act,” September 6, 2013.

“Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III”,” February 25, 2012.

“REPRISE: A prayer for the children of Syria,” December 25, 2013.

The Trenchant Observer

The Elephant in the Room: Reflections on the nuclear deterrent and the Ukraine

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Developing

As Russia flexes its military muscles around the world, after annexing the Crimea and while conducting an ongoing military intervention in the eastern Ukraine, one factor stands out as “the elephant in the room” which no one will mention.

That factor is the nuclear deterrent of the United States and its NATO allies.

For over 40 years it was the lynchpin of NATO strategy for containing the massive land forces of the Soviet Union. It stayed in place even after the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989 and the Soviet Union was disbanded in December, 1991 following an abortive miltary coup in August of that year.

It remains in place, as Putin remilitarizes Russia and has embarked on a militaristic foreign policy whose immediate fruits–in the Crimea and portions of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in the Donbas region of Ukraine–we can now see with great clarity.

Russian military intervention in and violations of Ukrainian sovereignty continue daily, across a border which Russia has through military means rendered wide-open.

The elephant in the room is the U.S. and NATO nuclear deterrent.

Without it, U.S. military doctrine always recognized, Western Europe would not be able to defend itself against Soviet invasion by ground troops and other forces.

Today, it would appear that NATO countries are ill-prepared to defend their periphery by conventional means against an invasion by Russian ground troops.

Nonetheless, one has the strong impression that President Barack Obama has taken the U.S. and NATO nuclear deterrent off the table.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has grasped this fundamental change in the U.S.-Russian balance of power, and has acted decisively to take advantage of it in the Ukraine.

During the conflict between the West and Russia over Syria beginning in 2011, Putin and then President Dimitry Medvedev (2008-2012) made a number of veiled and not-so-veiled threats of nuclear war. Obama, at least in public, never seemed even to acknowledge them.

After the chemical weapons attacks at Ghouta by the Bashar al-Assad government on August 21, 2013, President Obama flinched at the moment of truth and refused to pull the trigger on a long-threatened and long-awaited military response against Syria for crossing his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons.

Putin’s veiled and not-so-veiled nuclear threats have continued.

One has the strong impression that Putin came to the conclusion that Obama would never use nuclear weapons, no matter what the provocation. Meanwhile, the provocations continue.

What indeed happened to the U.S. nuclear deterrent as a part of NATO’s strategy for defending against a Russian ground invasion in Europe?

Is it not time for people to start talking about the elephant in the room?

Perhaps Senator John McCain (R.-Arizona), as the new Chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committe, can initiate a full review of American nuclear strategy and readiness, particularly as it pertains to countering Russian threats and military actions in Europe.

The Trenchant Observer

Russian military intervention in the Ukraine: THE FACTS

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

NATO and Western nations charges that Russia has invaded the Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Russian President Ladimir Putin and the propanda mouthpieces under him, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, deny that Russia has intervened militarily in the Ukraine.

In determing who is right, it is useful to take a look at the facts while remembering each party’s record of veracity as regards the Ukraine.

See:

(1) Konrad Schuller und Friedrich Schmidt, “Ukraine: Ein offenes Staatsgeheimnis; Von Anfang an spielten Russlands Soldaten im Konflikt in der Ukraine eine entscheidende Rolle. Selbst in Moskau wird deren Engagement nur noch heruntergespielt, aber nicht mehr geleugnet,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 22. November 2014.

(2) Reinhard Veser, Russische Tatsachen; Der Kreml ist am Krieg in der Ukraine beteiligt, das bestätigen auch die Separatisten ganz offen. Wer das noch leugnet, verschließt die Augen vor den Tatsachen,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 22. November 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Go for Putin!

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Commentary

The contempt Vladimir Putin evidently feels for Barack Obama and the West was revealed in a split-second at the APEC summit in Beijing these last two days, when Putin slapped Obama on the back in a gesture which is often friendly but here was one of utter contempt.

We advised Obama years ago to be reticent with physical contact with foreign leaders from very different cultures, but he has not followed the advice. He puts his hands all over people, with backslaps, grabbing an arm or an elbow, in what is easily identifiable as Alfa-male behavior.

Well, this time, Putin returned the favor, with backslapping that hardly concealed his feelings of contempt for the U.S. president.

Putin was a very interesting character to watch at the summit, from his backslapping of Obama to his draping a coat or shawl over the shoulders of Chinese Leader Xi Jinping’s wife, which she immediately discarded.

How would you like Adolf Hitler draping his coat over your shoulders as he was invading “rump” Czechoslovakia in March 1939?

Watching Putin move about the conference, with an irrepressible smirk on his face instead of a smile, you could almost hear the derisive laughter in his head as he knew full-well what was underway in the Ukraine.

The other APEC leaders could do and say as they liked, but they would soon learn, once again, the value of all their pleasantries and high-minded thoughts, all of their moral appeals and “moral pressure”, in the face of the iron and steel of the Russian military machine, deploying once again its might disguised behind the veil of his brilliantly conceived and now proven new form of “stealth warfare”.

Russia had the military might and was more than willing to use it, almost with “joy”, against the feckless and spineless West, “led” by that tall man he had just stretched to slap on the back.

See Naftali Benadavid (Brussels) and Gregory L. White (Moscow), “NATO Sees ‘Significant Buildup’ of Russian Forces in Ukraine; Large Convoys Reported to be Moving Into the Region,” Wall Sreet Journal, Updatedy November 12, 2014 (7:55 p.m. ET).

Watching Putin in Beijing, one might easily feel with indignation that he, the great and rising Dictator of 2014, had no right to be present among these other leaders, heads of state of civilized nations which still stood by the United Nations Charter, and its obligations to settle international disputes by peaceful means, and not to resort to the threat or use of force against another state except in self-defense or perhaps in other narrowly circumscribed cases such as to halt genocide.

No, Putin didn’t belong there, and he doesn’t deserve to be treated with ceremony as a head of state, at least not while he is engaged in the invasion of another country.

He should be shunned, the way he was shunned prior to François Hollande’s invitation to attend the D-Day commemoration exercises at Normandy on June 6, and then to have dinner at the Elysée palace–the same evening Obama had to dine with Hollande at a Parisian restaurant–and then Hollande’s lifting of the suspension of the delivery of the Mistral-class warship.

The delivery has been suspended again, to avoid inclusion in the new EU “stage 3″ sanctions list on September 5, but who knows for how long? Invitations to a delivery ceremony on November 14 were even sent out on October 8, though French officials then said conditions were not “ripe” for delivery “at this time”.

Yes, Putin should be shunned! In general, those who launch aggressive wars, presumptive war criminals, should be shunned.

No more telephone calls from other world leaders. No more meetings between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov. No more pretense of civility when the Russians are invading another country and killing innocent people, military and civilians alike. No more handshakes with rogues who threaten nuclear conflict, or to invade other neighbors if they don’t get their way.

And while we’re shunning Putin and his supporters, in Russia and abroad, maybe the leaders of the West can drop their delicacy and call things by their real names, like “invasion” instead of “incursion”.

Maybe we can even get some of our leading newspapers, like the Wall Street Journal, to drop the practice of reporting NATO and Ukrainian charges about Russian military aggression, while dutifully noting that Russia denies the charges, e.g., that they have sent troops and tanks into the Donbas.

Yes, maybe we could even get an American newspaper to boldly report the facts of the Russian infiltration and invasion of the eastern Ukraine!

And if we could do that, maybe we could even take the battle directly to Putin, and go directly after his monstrous lies and deceptions by demonstrating, in the U.N. Security Council and elsewhere, that there is irrefutable evidence that his assertions are false, and that Russia has invaded the eastern Ukraine, that Russia is at this very moment intensifying its invasion, and that there are hundreds of Russian tanks, artillery pieces, air-defense systems, and other equipment, and thousands of Russian combat and other irregular troops in the Donbas.

U.S. military and other intelligence agencies undoubtedly have massive amounts of proof that the denials of the Russians of military involvement in the eastern Ukraine are blatant and outrageous lies.

Understandably, methods and sources need to be protected, within limits. But surely in Washington there must be some “big picture” officials who understand the importance of rebutting Putin’s lies, destroying his credibility, and laying out the truth with evidence–e.g., satellite photos showing the movements of tanks and troops, accounts from captured soldiers, intercepted communications, and a marshaling of what is already in the public record.

In a word, Washington should lay out the facts, the truth, with concrete evidence to back up its factual assertions.

If the Russians still deny the obvious facts, as they undoubtedly will, the U.S. should put forward a resolution in the U.N. Security Council establishing an impartial fact-finding commission, drawing on the work of other U.N. bodies such as the Human Rights Council, to investigate and report the truth about what has happened in the Donbas, who the “separatists” really are, and who among Russia, the “separatists” and the Ukraine is complying with and who is violating the provisions of the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014.

Go after Putin! Refute his propaganda with impartial determination and reporting of the facts!

Show the world, beyond any doubt, the truths that rebut Putin’s shameless lies.

Shun him. Let him threaten the U.S. with his long-range bombers. The U.S. knows how to shoot them down. If Putin harbors any misconceptions over who would prevail in a nuclear showdown with the West, Washington should make it clear to him that he will be facing not only Barack Obama but the united military and security forces of the United States, NATO, and other allies.

But the U.S. needs to get its act together. To do so, the U.S. will have to do better than the incoherence in communications revealed by the following quote from the Wall Street Jounal article cited above:

Russia is sending fresh convoys of troops and tanks into eastern Ukraine, NATO said, and threatening to dispatch warplanes on maneuvers over the Gulf of Mexico, flexing its military muscles in a Cold War-style escalation with the West.

U.S. officials said they couldn’t confirm the new incursion into Ukraine announced by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and an international monitoring group in the region, but accused Russia of repeatedly violating the terms of a peace pact signed two months ago.

Really! The U.S. can’t confirm statements by U.S. General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe and Commander of NATO?

As “U.S. officials couldn’t confirm the new incursion into Ukraine”, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was denouncing it at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

See

(1) United Nations Security Council, Press Release, “Security Council Briefed on Fast-Breaking Developments in Ukraine, as Political Official Warns Failure to Secure Russian-Ukrainian Border Obstructing Peace, ” U.N. Security Council, 7311th Meeting (PM), U.N. Doc. SC/11645 (2014), November 12, 1014.

(2) Ukraine – Security Council, 7311th meeting, 12 Nov 2014 – 7311th meeting of the Security Council on the situation in Ukraine, Webcast (English)

(3) The Webcast of the 7311th Meeting of the Security Council on November 12, in the original language of the speaker, is found here.

Obama needs to bring experienced adults in to take charge of his national security team and its spokespersons, at the earliest opportunity.

We need to communicate clearly and strongly to Putin. This kind of incompetence does not help.

The Wall Street Journal, for its part, didn’t even bother to report on the Security Council meeting, which suggests the need for adult supervision there as well.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Veterans’ Day, 2011: “Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?”

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

First published, November 11, 2011

My uncle died in a field in northern France with a German bullet in his head. To him, and all the other veterans of America’s wars, I am immensely grateful for his, and their, sacrifice.

The Vision of Peace After World War II

At the end of World War II, the leaders of the world had a clear vision of the horrors of war, and acted with resolution to bring wars to a halt through the creation of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, and by codifying the international law governing the use of force in Article 2 paragraph 4 and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. Article 2 paragraph 4 prohibited the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of members of the organization, a prohibition later extended to include all states. Article 51 provided for an exception in the case of an “armed attack”. These provisions have become customary international law and, importantly, also aquired the status of jus cogens or peremptory law from which there can be no exception or derogation by agreement.

A Vision of Perpetual War

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama and the United States are currently embarked on a policy based on the assumption of perpetual war. The implementation of this policy includes targeted assassinations through drone strikes and other means, the establishment of new drone bases throughout the northern part of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, and the development of new generations of drones some of which are as small as insects.

This policy has been implemented with little regard for the international law governing the use of force, and even less regard for the duty of the United States to contribute to the development of international law and institutions that can help ensure the security of the United States and other countries in the future.

These actions indicate that the United States has no current vision of peace as an overriding goal to be achieved, and no coherent strategy for actually achieving this objective.

Without the goal of peace, we are not likely to take the actions necessary to achieve peace, or to give those actions the urgent priority they should receive.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

In these circumstances, one is reminded of Pete Seeger’s famous song entitled “Where have all the flowers gone?” For the lyrics, click here.

Pete Seeger’s performance of this song is available on YouTube here.

See also, pasquetflowerponderings.blogspot.com, “Grandpa’s War – A Veteran’s Day Post,” November 11, 2011, which contains recollections of America’s recent wars, and a link to a clip of Pete Seeger singing ” Where have all the flowers gone” with a moving montage of photographs evoking American experiences of war, created by the TheSpadecaller in 2008.

Joan Baez, in a more recent performance of the song, can be found on YouTube here.

Marlene Dietrich’s recording of this song in English is also found on YouTube here.

For Dietrich’s performance of the song in French, see “Qui peut dire ou vont les fleurs?” here.

For her performance of the German version of this song, see “Sag mir wo die Blumen sind”, here.

Marlene Dietrich, in a version of perhaps her most famous song, “Lili Marleen”, written in 1915 and later a hit among troops on both sides during World War II, takes us back to November 11, 1918 and the terrible war that preceded the armistice on that day. Her recording of the song, in English, is found on YouTube here. The original German version of the song is found here.

Obama’s Vision of Perpetual War and International Law

In his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in Oslo, on December 10, 2009, President Obama said:

In the wake of such destruction (World War II), and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another world war. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations – an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize – America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

To begin with, I believe that all nations – strong and weak alike – must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I – like any head of state – reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.

Closely parsed, these statements are full of contradictions, as when President Obama affirms:

(1) “We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”
(2) “To begin with, I believe that all nations – strong and weak alike – must adhere to standards that govern the use of force.”
(3) “I – like any head of state – reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation”; and
(4) “Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.”

Affirmation (1) accepts violent conflict as inevitable. (2) states that all nations must adhere to the norms that govern the use of force. (3) states that he, the president, “like any head of state”, reserves the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend his nation. And (4) states he is convinced adhering to “international standards” strengthens those who do.

These contradictions in Obama’s thinking, it is submitted, have contributed to the incoherence of U.S. foreign policy, particularly when measured against the requirements of international law, and the historical burden of strengthening international law and building better international institutions, which is no less important today than it was in 1945.

Reading these excerpts and the whole speech reveals that the president does not have a clear vision of peace as the goal, or a strategy on how to achieve that goal. While he pays lip service to observing international law, he insists that he has the paradoxical right–“like any head of state”–to violate it if necessary, in his view. So much for the concept of international law governing the use of force.

Without the clear and overriding goal of peace or a strategy for achieving peace, it is hard to see how we and other nations can view as the highest priority taking the steps necessary to achieve peace.

President Obama and the United States currently seem to have no overarching vision of peace, or strategy for achieving peace. As a result, their policies and actions are not guided by the pursuance of this goal in a strategic sense, but rather only by the demands of meeting with expediency the challenges of the moment.

By way of contrast, consider, if you will, the vision of the founders of the United Nations in 1945, particularly as set forth in the Preamble and Articles 1, 2, and 51 of the Charter.

We in the United States, like citizens in other countries, need a strong vision of peace and a coherent strategy for achieving it. Consequently, we need a president who has such a vision, and is guided by it.

The Trenchant Observer

The Russian-Ukrainian War: Minsk Protocol near collapse; What is at stake; Harsher sanctions against Russia needed

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

UPDATE: OSCE reports movements of armed colums and tanks in eastern Ukraine

See
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REPRISE — The fruits of pacifist foreign policies: Aggression in Ukraine, atrocities in Syria

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Viewing the developing Russian-Ukrainian war from the vantage point of March 3, 2014, it is striking to note how much of what has happened since was in effect a tragedy foretold. It has indeed been a tragedy foretold, like in a Greek tragedy where the audience (here, some in the audience) know the outcome, but the chief protagonists don’t, as they proceed to go about playing their tragic roles.

The question today (October 21, 2014), of course, is whether we can see further tragedies about to unfold and yet may still act to avert what the Greeks might have considered to be irreversible Fate.

*******

REPRISE — The fruits of pacifist foreign policies: Aggression in Ukraine, atrocities in Syria; Merkel’s fact-finding mission—a last chance to avert disaster?,” The Trenchant Observer, March 3, 2014.

First published on March 3, 2014

The new hybrid pacifism

The new, hybrid pacifism of Barack Obama and NATO countries has been obscured by Obama’s use of drones, and military operations begun long ago but now winding down in Afghanistan.

The military intervention of France and NATO in Libya pursuant to a U.N. Security Council mandate represented an exception to the general pacifism which characterizes Obama’s foreign policy, an exception and now rare case (outside of Africa) where military action is undertaken pursuant to authorization by the U.N. Security Council.

Other interventions by France and U.N. and African Union forces in Mali and the Central African Republic have reflected the paradoxical nature of current pacifist policies, which are hybrid in nature, admitting the use of military force to stabilize situations in African countries when there is a Security Council mandate or an invitation by the government of the target country.

However, often hiding behind simplistic interpretations of legal prohibitions, in effect ruling out the strong use of military force against powerful opponents when real blood and treasure must be put at risk, the new hybrid pacifism has the effect of ceding the playing field to ruthless countries such as Syria, Iran and Russia, allowing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and military invasions to effectively go unopposed.

On legal interpretations and justifications, see Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC, “Stepping Back a Moment – The Legal Basis in Favour of a Principle of Humanitarian Intervention,” EJIL Talk, September12, 2013.

The U.S. and other NATO countries, reeling from their losses in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little to show for their sacrifices, don’t want to live in a world where real military force may have to be used.

So they rule it out. U.S. and NATO military leaders, seemingly unaware of the impact of their words on adversaries, loudly proclaim they are ruling out the possible use of military force. This has occurred not only in the Ukraine, but also and repeatedly in Syria. These statements, like those of U.S. military leaders stressing the difficulty of taking military action in Syria, are essentially aimed at domestic audiences and allied governments while naively ignoring their impact on opponents.

Furthermore, it is painful to see military and NATO leaders allow themselves to get drawn into political debates, in public. These discussions should be conducted behind closed doors, without leaks to the press about what is going on or what leaders are thinking with respect to military action.

In Syria, this new, hybrid pacifism has been obscured behind cynical acceptance of Kofi Annan’s illusory six-point peace plan for Syria (and the promise of political settlement at the Geneva I and Geneva II peace conferences), and behind the simplistic legal argument that the U.N. Charter prohibits any military action (except self-defense) without the approval of the Security Council, even to stop the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, as in Syria.

Under this interpretation, Russia would have been allowed to install nuclear missiles aimed at the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1963, the genocidal war in the former Yugoslavia would never have been halted, and Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999 would have been allowed to proceed.

In a future world (after the Permanent Members’ veto has been eliminated), adherence to such a norm would be essential. In the meantime, we must rely on the closest approximations possible, limiting any such actions to the most narrowly circumscribed cases, where there is overwhelming support by the nations of the world for the action to be undertaken, and preferably when it is carried out under the authorization of another international organization.

In any event, this new form of hybrid pacifism has taken hold in America and NATO countries. As a result, Bashar al-Assad has been left free to commit his atrocities, which include not only the bombardment of civilian populations including hospitals and medical personnel, but also the arrests, torture, and executions in the night which do not make the daily news, and of which those who follow events closely only hear much later from international organizations when the latter report, for example, that maybe 80,000 people have “disappeared”.

Another, highly significant result has been Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine in February and March, 2014. This aggression follows that in Georgia in 2008, which NATO and the West allowed to stand, conducting business as usual with Russia afterwards. To be sure, Georgia was not blameless in the evolution of events. However, in the end Russian aggression through the illegal use of force across international frontiers was allowed to stand, without serious consequences for Russia.

Russia’s calculus in the Ukraine might have been very different had Anders Rasmussen, the Secretary General of NATO, not assured his members–and Russia–that options involving the use of force by NATO were not under consideration, and if, for example, NATO countries had put their military forces on alert, and NATO naval and air assets been strategically deployed within the region.

Now, however, absent a determined will to deploy force against the illegal threat or use of force, the pacifist leaders of the U.S. and Europe, and other NATO countries, must now resign themselves to the depredations of a Russian leader willing to invade neighboring countries in utter defiance of international law, and indeed the foundations of the post-WW II international legal and political order.

Given the current pacifism of the West, and given the fact that major consequences for Russia have already been triggered by its military intervention in the Ukraine, there is little to dissuade Putin from similarly using his military power to bring Georgia and Moldova (and other former Soviet Republics) back within the Russian “sphere of influence” or community of states.

China supports Russia, suggesting that it too might in the future be willing to settle its disputes with its neighbors through the use of military force.

Nonetheless, we need to recall certain hard-won lessons from history.

International law and order are in the end indivisible, for if the prohibition of the threat or use of force can be defied with impunity by one country in one part of the world, surely it can be defied by other countries elsewhere. When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1983, it is worth recalling, the military operation was named “Operation Goa”, recalling the precedent set by India when it invaded the Portuguese colony and enclave of Goa in 1961.

Obama’s pacifism, and that of Europe and NATO, have left a vacuum in Europe which Vladimir Putin appears ready to fill with Russian military forces. Even if his actions are delusional, and make no sense in reality as the latter is understood in the West, they have already had momentous consequences which will reshape economic and political relations in Europe and beyond for decades to come.

Further, Putin’s actions have produced a situation in which the Ukraine has become a tinderbox, while madmen are running around with torches in their hands.

War is by its very nature wholly unpredictable. What could happen, for example, if Russians started killing Ukrainians, and Poland decided to send military forces to support Kiev in exercise of the right of collective self-defense?

Impact on Nuclear Proliferation

One impact from Russian intervention in Ukraine is of exceptional significance for the future of international peace and security. Following Russia’s violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of the Ukraine in exchange for its surrender of its nuclear weapons, it is inconceivable that any arms control agreement with Russia could be ratified by the U.S. Senate so long as Putin remains in power–and probably long thereafter.

See Peter Spiegel, “Ukraine and the West: an international legal primer, Financial Times (Brussels Blog), March 2, 2014.

If one thinks carefully about the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine, it is obvious that Russia would have been extremely reluctant to engage in such behavior if the Ukraine still had the 1900 nuclear warheads on missiles it surrendered in 1994, when it also joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

One of the greatest impacts of the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine is likely to be the powerful impetus it will give to the forces of nuclear proliferation. Even in the context of the 5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, the invasion is likely to reduce the credibility of any guarantees of Iranian territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence to near zero, at least insofar as Russia is concerned..

A Last chance to draw back from the abyss? Merkel’s fact-finding mission

There may still be a slight chance to avoid unleashing the dogs of war, what the founders of the United Nations referred to as “the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind” (U.N. Charter, Preamble, below).

Russia and Putin appear to be under a kind of delusional spell which seems to result from believing their own propaganda, having stirred up a public which appears eager to use military force, in scenes reminiscent of the enthusiasm for war felt among the populations of the European powers in 1914 on the eve of and during the first days of World War I.

In these circumstances, Angela Merkel’s proposal to send an impartial fact-finding mission to the Crimea and the Ukraine should be implemented immediately. Putin has told Merkel that he agrees to the proposition.

The mission could be undertaken under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), or even an organ of the U.N. such as the Human Rights Council where Russia does not have a veto.

At the same time, it could be useful for NATO to place some military forces on alert and move military assets into place in case a need arises for them to be used.

Russia is spewing lies about what is going on in the Crimea and the Ukraine, and seeking to provoke violence which might provide a thin veneer of legitimacy to its legal claims that it is intervening in the Crimea to protect its nationals.

These claims should be rebutted immediately in official reports published by NATO and other countries. The fact that the transitional president of Ukraine has vetoed a bill which would have revoked the 2010 language law allowing use of Russian as a second language should be made known to every citizen in Ukraine.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev exchanged letters at the most critical moments of the crisis, when nuclear war was a most palpable possibility. Khrushchev sent one letter to Kennedy on Friday, October 26 which was conciliatory in tone:

If, however, you have not lost your self-control and sensibly conceive what this might lead to, then, Mr. President, you and I ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knots of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.

–“Krushchev letter of October 26, as received in the White House,” reprinted in Larson, “Cuban Crisis”, pp. 175-80, quoted in Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow, “Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis,” at p. 355 (2d ed. 1999).

Saturday, October 27, when an American U-2 was shot down over Cuba, a much harsher letter bearing the stamp of the Kremlin’s collective leadership was broadcast over the radio, adding new conditions to the offer in the Friday letter. Kennedy decided to ignore the second letter and to reply to the first (in what was referred to as “a Trollope ploy”, alluding to the acceptance of ambivalent gestures as a marriage proposal, in Anthony Trollope’s 19th century novels).

The West should now follow Kennedy’s example, and accept Putin’s acceptance of Merkel’s proposal for sending a fact-finding mission to the Ukraine, regardless of what he or the Russians have said since. Moreover, they should do so at breakneck speed, blasting through the diplomatic procedures that normally slow things down. The goal must be to get the first elements of the fact-finding mission on the ground in the Crimea within a matter of hours, not days. Time is of the essence.

Reports from the mission, including daily press briefings or updates, could then help defuse the war fever in Russia, affording Putin a gradual way to climb down should he become sufficiently enlightened to do so. Also worth bearing in mind is the fact that he may have unleashed organizational and bureaucratic forces which are not easily controlled, and may need time to be able to reverse course successfully when and if he comes to his senses and decides to do so.

The ends of the rope on which the knot of war has been tied must be loosened now, if at all possible, even at this late hour. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, assisted by her capable and experienced foreign minister, Walter-Frank Steinmeier, should lead the effort, with full support from the United States, France, Poland and other European and NATO countries.

The Trenchant Observer

Ommitted: Preamble to the United Nations Charter

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

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

Draft

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