Archive for the ‘use of force’ Category

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

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Developing

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

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

See

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

See also the articles by David Ignatius cited earlier here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

The Iran nuclear deal: Has Barack Obama earned his Nobel Peace Prize? (Revised August 18)

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

See

Roger Cohen, “The Door to Iran Opens,” New York Times, July 16, 2015.

David Ignatius, “After the nuclear deal, how to contain Iran’s meddling in the Middle East,” Washington Post, July 16, 2015.

David Ignatius, “After a well-crafted deal, the question is: Will Iran behave?” Washington Post, July 14, 2015.

Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger, “Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen With Time,” New York Times, July 14, 2015.

Thomas Erdbrink, “Ayatollah Khamenei, Backing Iran Negotiators, Endorses Nuclear Deal,” New York Times, July 18, 2015.

A Good Agreement, Considering the Alternatives

President Barack Obama has attained his greatest foreign policy achievement since entering office with the successful conclusion of the P5+1 talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, and the signing of an agreement that will make it extremely unlikely that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon within the next 10-15 years.

The deal is done. It is exceedingly unlikely that Republicans in the Senate and House will succeed in their attempts to block the agreement from taking effect, in the United States.

President Obama and the other Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council can lift the U.N. santions in accordance with the terms of the agreement, and are expected to do so.

Republicans have little to gain from trying to block implementation of what is, after all, the best deal that could be negotiated between the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, U.K., U.S., Germany) and Iran, a country that has been viewed as an enemy of the United States.

Critics will find a number of points on which, negotiating with themselves, they would have come up with stronger provisions.

However, this was the best deal that could be achieved, after years of hard and intricate negotiations and the slow accretion of trust that made it possible.

It is a very good deal, particularly when one reflects on the fact that the alternatives were (1) Iran proceeding to develop nuclear weapons; or (2) a war with Iran entailing frighteningly uncertain consequences, and a likelihood that Iran would develop nuclear weapons in any event.

A number of countries, such as Japan, Germany, Brazil and South Africa, which have the technology to develop nuclear weapons, have nonetheless decided instead to honor their obligations under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or in Latin America the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco.

The present agreement will greatly increase the likelihood that Iran will follow a similar course, even after 10 or 15 years.

In international politics, as in life, nothing is absolutely certain. Certainty in the arms control context is an illusion, one that embodies the principle that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.

We need to look to previous battles over arms control agreements, and the cogent arguments that were advanced to secure their approval, to avoid the error of demanding certainty when verification of compliance with specific terms of highly complex and technical agreements provide a high probability of observance of the agreement’s terms.

“Worst-case secaros” could lead us to reject good agreements. We should avoid this pitfall.

The agreement is a good one.

Obama should still rally the nation and the world to support the agreement, in order to enhance its implementation and long-term compliance with its provisions.

The Question of Ends and Means

If one were to think only of the achievement of the Iran nuclear deal, one might conclude that President Obama has now earned the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 2009.

However, one must also consider the means that were used to secure the end.

According to David Ignatius and others, Obama held back from intervening more forcefully in Syria and to oppose Russian aggression in the Ukraine because he didn’t want to derail the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

A deal with Iran has been Obama’s overriding foreign-policy goal since Inauguration Day, when he declared his desire to engage adversaries on a basis of “mutual interest and mutual respect.” He has paid a heavy cost to protect his Iran peacemaking, sidestepping confrontation with Iranian proxies in Syria and Russia in Ukraine, in part because he saw the Iran deal as a higher priority. Obama explained his logic Tuesday morning: “Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.” Historians will have to judge whether he has gained more than he lost.

–David Ignatius, “After a well-crafted deal, the question is: Will Iran behave?” Washington Post, July 14, 2015.

The cost has been over 220,000 killed in Syria (as of January, 2015), the enormous growth of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and beyond (feeding terrorist attacks in the West), over 6,000 killed in the eastern Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion and the war started there by Russian special operations forces, and virtual silence in the face of continued Russian military occupation of the Crimea, which remains under international law sovereign territory of the Ukraine.

Raison d’Etat or Staatsrason (“Reason of State”) that would justfy such acquiescence in the commission in Syria of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, and the appeasement of Russia following its invasion of the Crimea and then the eastern Ukraine, represents an appalling application of the principle that “the end justifies the means”.

In considering whether Obama has finally earned his Nobel Peace Prize by concluding the Iran nuclear agreement, these considerations must also be taken into account.

The agreement is a signal achievement. But we, and historians, must also consider how it was achieved.

The Trenchant Observer

The faces of Genocide at Srebrenice

Monday, July 13th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

–over 220,000 killed in Syria since 2011.

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

The Trenchant Observer

Greek debt and the stategy of Europe, NATO, and the U.S. to “contain” the militarism and aggression of Russia

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

UPDATE II July 12, 2015, 6:00 p.m. EDT)

The ghost of Versailles hangs over the Greek debt negotiations in Brussels this evening.

In 1919, with Germany defeated after World War I, the delegates to the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 imposed draconian reparations requirements on a prostate Germany. This became known as the “Dolchstoss” or knife in the back which helped propel Adolf Hitler to power 14 years later, in 1933.

The hardline governments engaged in the final debt package negotiations with Greece, led by Germany, are seeking to impose humiliating conditions on Greece even after Alexis Tsipras met most of their previous demands on Thursday night.

In doing so, they are repeating the same mistake they made the week the negotiations broke down and Tsipras called a snap referendum on July 5, by imposing new and harsher conditions.

By their actions they are poisoning the future of Greek politics and Greece’s relations with the Euro Zone and even the EU itself.

There may still be time for the heads of state meeting tonight in Brussels to pull back from the edge, show magnaminity, and back off from the program of extreme humiliation which the finance ministers seem to support.

Foreign ministries should be involved in these decisions. Frank-Walter Steinmeier should be at Angela Merkel’s side, and not just Wolfgang Schäuble.

A constructive path forward must be found, putting aside any personal desires for vengeance or vindication, or to teach Tsipras a lesson.

If the EU leaders fail, Vladimir Putin and other extremists will reap the benefits of decisions that are disastrous for Europe and the West in geopolitical terms.

The Trenchant Observer

UPDATE (July 12, 2:30 p.m. EDT)

Hardliners and technocrats appear to have dominated the EU finance ministers’ discussions on whether to accept Tsipras’ Thursday night proposal as a basis for formal negotiations.

Now only the Eurozone heads of government and heads of state can save Greece from an exit from the Euro (“Grexit”).

Seen

(1) Kevin Hagen und Christina Hebel, “+++ Newsblog zur Krise +++: Euro-Minister erwägen Grexit (aber nur in Klammern); Die Eurofinanzminister schreiben in einem Dokument, es gebe die Möglichkeit einer griechischen Euro-Auszeit. Allerdings steht der Absatz nur in Klammern – denn die Gruppe ist sich nicht einig. Alle Entwicklungen im Newsblog, Der Spiegel, 12. Juli 2015.

(2) Draft(?) Statement of the EU finance ministers, July 12, 2015 (16:00 CET).

The conditions are so harsh they seem designed to cause Greece to choke, or have been designed in a matter utterly oblivious of the realities of Greek politics.

For example, to tell Greece it has to adopt a new Code of Civil Procedure within three days is utterly humiliating to Greece, and will generate the opposition of lawyers and others from all parties. No international group or organization can dictate such a measure to a sovereign country.

Unless the heads of government and heads of state intervene forcefully to reject these conditions, with a view to the geostrategic realities in Europe, they will hurl Greece — and themselves — into the abyss.

These decisions require the inputs of foreign ministers, who should be called to Brussels.

Statecraft of a high order is now required.

##########

Original article

See

Bruce Ackerman, “Germany’s Failure of Vision,” New York Times, July 9, 2015 (Op-Ed).

Today the finance ministers of the Euro Zone met in Brussels to consider whether Greece’s debt proposal sumbitted Thursday evening forms a sufficient basis to permit the opening of formal negotiations for a third Greek bailout program. The meeting adjourned without any decicision, and is to reconvene on Sunday at 11:00 a,m. The leaders of the 19 Euro Zone countries are to meet in the afternoon, and then the heads of government of all 28 EU member states are to meet at 6:00 p.m. to decide on the Greek proposal, and on humanitarian assistance to Greece in the event it is rejected. Such a rejection would in all likelihood cause a de facto Greek exit (or”Grexit”) from the Euro Zone as early as Monday.

Late news reports suggest the finance ministers are split down the middle on whether to agree to the Greek proposal.

Following the European press for the last few weeks, one is struck by the absence of geopolitical and strategic considerations from the debates, which have proceeded as if the question of what to do with the Greek debt question were purely a matter for finance ministers and those involved in European economic matters.

Let us recall that EU sanctions against Russia will have to be renewed in January, 2016, that this can be achieved only with the affirmative vote or acquiescence of all 28 EU member states, and that a very large element of uncertainty as to the Greek vote will be introduced if Greece is forced to exit the Euro Zone leading to a further collapse of its economy.

Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA have embarked on a disastrous course of playing a game of “chicken” with Greece’s creditors in Europe and the IMF. They have dstroyed the trust that is sessential for Europe and Greece to work together to resolve the debt crisis.

They have acted as untrustworthy partners in the Euro Zone. If other countries acted as Greece, neither the Euro Zone nor the EU could function or even continue to exist.

The Tsipras government, even with French technical help, presented a request that was wildly short of what the IMF estimates Greece will need to survive the current crisis.

The Greek government does not appear to be technically very competent.

So, what should Europe do?

First, they must ignore the personal insults, lack of trustworthiness, and incompetence of the Greek officials.

Second, they should follow France’s example of helping the Greeks on a technical level to develop realistic plans for resolving the crisis. This they were doing before the plebiscite. Now they should resume.

Third, they should seek to build a partnership with the Greek people and help the Tsipras government (or the one that follows it) to devise and implement necessary structural reforms, while creating scenarios that give hope to the Greek people that they will return to growth and emerge from the current crisis.

If the Greeks do not cooperate in implementing such an approach, Greece must then be allowed to exit from the Euro Zone, in an orderly fashion.

Right now, above all, Europe’s leaders and the IMF should look at the map of Europe, consider that Russian troops occupy the Crimea and are in the eastern Ukraine, and act decisively to defend the southern flank of Europe.

For they are engaged not only in financial and economic decisions, but also in geopolitical decisions of the highest order.

The Trenchant Observer

A new and more dangerous Cold War is underway

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Developing

See

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

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

Excerpts:

Dismantling of safeguards adopted after Cuban Missile Crisis

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

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

Nuclear weapons as part of Putin’s hybrid war strategy

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

Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new and more dangerous Cold War is underway.

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

The Trenchant Observer

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

Friday, June 12th, 2015

UPDATE June 23, 2015

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

See

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

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

*****

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

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

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

The Enormity of the Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more can be done?

Proposition for Debate #1: Taking Down Their Websites

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

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

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

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

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

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

We should consider and debate these questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Steps

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

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

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

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

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Merkel in Moscow

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

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

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

The original German text follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry in Sochi

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

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

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

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

As for Germany, well, not so sure.

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

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

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

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

We had better start breaking this news to Vladimir Putin.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Monday, May 11th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us examine again the proffered reasons for the trip:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(3) To discuss the nuclear deal with Iran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An endemic failure to connect the dots.

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

The 70th anniversary of the unconditonal surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Detveloping

On May 8, 1945 the Allied Powers accepted the unconditional surrender of Germany in a ceremony performed in Berlin. Because of the hour, it was May 9 in Moscow, which is why the Allied victory over Germany is celebrated on that date in Russia.

For the United States, which carried the brunt of the war in the Pacific, World War II did not formally end until September 2, 1945, when cereminies formalized the surrender announced by Japan on August 15.

Commemoration ceremonies were held this year in Western Europe on May 8, and a large Soviet-style military parade and celebration were held today in Moscow, on June 9.

The Moscow parade was highly significant, as it was boycotted by the leaders of the West as a result of Moscow’s invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea in February and March, 2014, and its invasion of the eastern Ukraine by special operations and irregular forces, beginning in April, 2014.

These forces seized government buildings by force and set up the self-denominated Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in the eastern Ukraine. By August, thousands of regular Russian troops, tanks, artillery, as well as advanced air-defense systems, had moved into the Donbas, after the border between Russia and these areas had been effectively dismantled by Russian or Russian-led forces.

What are euphemistically referred to as the “separatist” forces are now quite clearly led by and under the direction and control of Russia, according to NATO, which has stated that some 12,000 Russian troops remain in the Donbas, with thousands more menacingly poised on the border.

The boycott is highly significant as evidence of Putin’s and Russia’s isolation from the West.

It reminds us not only of what was achieved 70 years ago in defeating German fascism, but also how far Vladimir Putin has taken us back down the road that leads to totalitarianism and policies of militarism and aggression.

“Victory in Europe Day or “VE Day” marked the end of the war in Europe and the victory of the Allied powers over the European Fascism of Germany and Italy.

But, despite hopes spawned by the Yalta Conference and agreement in February, 1944, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met to set the postwar arrangements for the states of Eastern Europe, the surrender of the Germans did not signify an end to totalitarian government in the countries that had been invaded and occupied by Germany–and the Soviet Union.

For the Soviets had also invaded countries, having agreed with Hitler in the infamous Molotov-von Ribbentropp Pact of August 23, 1939 (a week before the German invasion of Poland), to share in the division of Poland, and to divide territories of Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland into German and Soviet “spheres of influence”.

Stalin invaded Poland, annexed Polish territories (only some of which were returned after the war), annexed portions of Finland after the 1939-1940 “Winter War”, annexed the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1940, and also invaded and annexed portions of Romania.

Beyond these annexations, the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1949 established through the use of force and intimidation communist governments under its control in the Eastern European countries it occupied, except for Austria which gained its independence in 1955 as the result of an agreement among the occupying powers.

These historical facts are highly significant in view of Vladimir Putin’s remarks endorsing the Molotov-von Ribbentropp Pact in November, 2014.

See “Putin approves of 1939 Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact and partitioning oaf Poland,” The Trenchant Observer, Novcember 11, 2014.

To be sure, the Soviet Union was an indispensable partner in defeating Nazism and German “fascism” in World War II. Its soldiers and citizens suffered untold losses and other hardships at the hands of the Germans. For their courage and sacrifice, citizens of the United States, England and many other countries will forever be in their debt.

Yet one must distinguish between the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation and their leaders, on the one hand, and the Russian and other peoples of the Soviet Union who bore these sacrifices, on the other.

It is worth recalling that Stalin was responsible for the massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers, police and intellectuals in what became known as the Katyn Forest massacre (or Katyn massacre) in April and May, 1940, following the Soviet invasion of Poland. As noted above, he was responsible for subjugating the peoples of eastern Europe to totalitarian communist rule, which lasted until the Berlin Wall came down in October, 1989.

Other Soviet leaders used Russian tanks to put down rebellions and revolutions in Poland in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968, keeping totalitarian regimes in place. Brezhnev also invaded Afghanistan in 1980.

So as we celebrate the defeat of Germany and Nazism now, on the 70th anniversary of the German surrender in Berlin in 1945, let us bear in mind that the defeat of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes has not been fully achieved, and that the virus of militarism and aggression which led to World War II remains alive, today, in Russia.

The United Nations was founded in December, 1945, in large part “to avoid the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetimes has brought untold suffering upon mankind.”

The bedrock principle upon which the U.N. and the hope of peace was founded was the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

Unfortunately, so long as Russian troops occupy the territory of a European state as a result of military conquest, and are engaged in ongoing military aggression against that state, hopes for peace in Europe, and elsewhere, will remain in doubt.

The Trenchant Observer