Posts Tagged ‘drones’

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

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

Monday, November 11th, 2013

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 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 vote on John Brennan’s confirmation to be CIA Director: Opinion and Commentary

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Recent Commentary and Opinion

“It is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations.”

This stern verdict comes from Vali Nasr, who spent two years working for the Obama administration before becoming dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. In a book called “The Dispensable Nation,” to be published in April, Nasr delivers a devastating portrait of a first-term foreign policy that shunned the tough choices of real diplomacy, often descended into pettiness, and was controlled “by a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers.”

–Roger Cohen, “Beltway Foreign Policy,” New York Times,
February 18, 2013

Shaun Waterman, “Vote on Brennan for CIA post put off; On Benghazi attack, questions remain, “The Washington Times, February 27, 2012.

Dana Milbank, “‘Trust me’ is not enough on drone warfare,” The Washington Post, February 8, 2023 (02:38 PM EST)

Glenn Greenwald. “Debating Zero Dark Thirty and John Brennan; Both the critics’ favorite film of 2012 as well as Obama’s nominee for CIA Director are supporters of torture,” The Guardian, January 8, 2013 (18.01 EST)

See also the following articles by the Trenchant Observer:

What difference does it make if John Brennan is confirmed?
February 27, 2013

Brennan’s wristbands, McCain’s hold, and assertions of legality under international law based on secret operations and secret legal memoranda (with links to Brennan confirmation hearing video, transcript, and written questions and answers)
February 25, 2013

Secret Laws, the John Brennan vote, and the rule of law
February 24, 2013

Imagine: The Collapse of International Order, Syria, and Berlin in 1945
February 20, 2013

Brennan unclear in confirmation hearing as to whether “waterboarding” constitutes “torture” (with transcript)—The John Brennan File #2
February 14, 2013

Drone Killings, the Constitution, International Law, and the John Brennan File
February 7, 2013

The Trenchant Observer

European court of human rights condemns Macedonia for “extraordinary rendition” to cooperating CIA officials, in Khaled el-Masri case

Friday, December 28th, 2012

News to Note

See

Nicholas Kulish, “Court Finds Rights Violation in C.I.A. Rendition Case,” New York Times, December 13, 2012.

Amrit Singh, “European court of human rights finds against CIA abuse of Khaled el-Masri; America must now apologise to the German citizen, a victim of mistaken identity who was kidnapped and beaten by the CIA,” The Guardian, December 13, 2012.

Richard Norton-Taylor, “CIA ‘tortured and sodomised’ terror suspect, human rights court rules; Landmark European court of human rights judgment says CIA tortured wrongly detained German citizen,” The Guardian, December 13, 2012.

For a detailed description of the judment, see “Macedonian Government responsible for torture, ill-treatment and secret rendition of a man suspected of terrorist ties,” Press Release, issued by the Registrar of the Court, Doc. ECHR 453 (2012) 13.12.2012.

The decision was made by a unanimous vote of the 17-member Grand Chamber of the Court, comprised of the following members:

Nicolas Bratza (United Kingdom), President,
Françoise Tulkens (Belgium),
Josep Casadevall (Andorra),
Dean Spielmann (Luxembourg),
Nina Vajić (Croatia),
Peer Lorenzen (Denmark),
Karel Jungwiert (Czech Republic),
Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijan),
Isabelle Berro-Lefèvre (Monaco),
Luis López Guerra (Spain),
Ledi Bianku (Albania),
Işıl Karakaş (Turkey),
Vincent A. de Gaetano (Malta),
Julia Laffranque (Estonia),
Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece),
Erik Møse (Norway),
Helen Keller (Switzerland)

Commentary

Whoever President Obama’s nominee to be Director of the CIA may turn out to be, the first question in his or confirmation hearings should be to explain the international law underpinnings of this decision, and their implications for extraordinary renditions, torture, and the use of drones under current U.S. policy.

Obama and U.S. intelligence officials, including John Brennan and others in the White House don’t “get” international law.

The confirmation hearings should make sure that they do. International law is the language of international relations in the world today, not 17th century “just war theory” as Brennan, the President and other national security officials would have us believe.

Any nominee to be the head of the CIA sould know every detail of this case by heart, and be able to explain it to any member of the Senate. Obviously, it will also be important to know precisely what the involvement of the nominee, if any, has been in cases of extraordinary rendition, torture, and the use of kill lists and drones to conduct extrajudicial executions, both inside and outside the theater of the war in Afganistan

The Trenchant Onserver

Foreign policy incompetence; further opinion on President Obama as “Executioner in Chief”

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

[Please check back for updates.]

See The Trenchant Observer, “More news and opinion on President Obama as ‘Executioner in Chief,'” June 3, 2012 (Updated June 4, 2012)

The Trenchant Observer, “President Obama as ‘Executioner in Chief,'” June 1, 2012

Thoughtful analysis and opinion may benefit from reflection over time. Reactions to the recent revelations by the New York Times on the role played by President Obama as “Executioner in Chief” continue.

As the following article by Dan Simpson suggests, the President may eventually pay a high price for his willful ignorance and disdain for international law.

See Dan Simpson, “Is Obama committing crimes? He might someday be prosecuted for ordering drone attacks,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 6, 2012.

See also Ramesh Thakur, “Obama drifts further to dark side with drone war,” Canberra Times, June 7, 2012 (op-ed).

Pankaj Mishra, “From dreams to drones — who is the real Obama?” Dawn, June 6, 2012
.

Because he dismisses international law, Obama doesn’t know how to use it to his advantage when possible, or to avoid “rookie” mistakes in foreign policy when undertaking actions that are way over the line in terms of its prohibitions.

These shortcomings are significant factors in the incompetence of President Obama as a foreign policy leader, and the incompetence of his foreign policy team, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight.” Obama leads a foreign policy juggernaut that sometimes acts blindly, without regard for the medium and longer-term consequences of its actions.

In the last few weeks alone, Obama has pursued a policy of  “working with the Russians” to find a solution to the grave crisis in Syria, revealed through orchestrated leaks that he is personally directing drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, and the details of the criteria used to place an individual on the White House “kill list” (some of which are far beyond the bounds of international law, as interpreted by a neutral third party). 

See The Trenchant Observer, “Targeted Killings: U.N. Special Rapporteur Alston Publishes Report to U.N. Human Rights Council,” June 2, 2010

Further, through leaks he has revealed that the United States has conducted cyber warfare against the nuclear facilities of Iran, launching cyber attacks that cause centrifuges to explode.

See David E. Sanger, ” Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” New York Times, June 1, 2012.

In undertaking these actions without taking the trouble to develop with other countries legal frameworks that might limit the use of drone attacks or cyber warfare in the future, Obama has established precedents that could lead other countries, carrying out similar actions, to inflict extreme damage on the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens.

By making these covert actions public, for blatantly political purposes, Obama has revealed classified information without a viable justification, and greatly complicated the task of developing legal regimes that will effectively regulate the use of targeted killings and the conduct of cyber warfare in the future. 

This amounts to foreign policy incompetence of a high order.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.

Lack of Moral Courage at the Highest Levels—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #7 (March 8)

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.

President Obama’s response to the terror and crimes against humanity underway in Syria, and that of his national security team and military leadership, bespeak a lack of moral courage at the highest levels.

It appears that Obama, as the Observer has noted for some time, can only be moved by the arguments of electoral politics, by factors that might affect his bid for reelection to the presidency in November, 2012.

This itself is an enormously sad statement. But it is the duty of the best journalists, and others including academics who write about public affairs–particularly those who live in free societies–to speak truth to power.

U.S. policy towards Syria has been described by Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Daily Star in Beirut, where citizens have direct experience living under Syrian occupation and a birds-eye view of current developments in neighboring Syria, as “pathetic”.

It is difficult to conclude otherwise.

What words other than “lack of moral courage” (or even “moral cowardice”) can be used to accurately describe decisions regarding Syria by the highest leaders of the U.S. government to not develop robust military options that are available to the president for immediate execution?  At least up until now, when Senator McCain’s call for air attacks on Syrian forces raises the spectre of Syria becoming an issue in the fall elections.

How might one characterize decisions by the U.S. to not lead a drive within NATO to develop contingency plans for military intervention in Syria, to not move military assets to the Eastern Mediterranean, or to have U.S. military leaders publicly declare that military intervention is not an option?

Or to have our military leaders tell Congress that military intervention in Syria would be difficult, too hard, to tell Congress the U.S. could not intervene militarily until it knows more about the people who are being slaughtered in Syria, understands exactly what the costs would be, and knows what the outcome would be?

It appears that we now have a military leadership that will not act in any situation unless they know what it will cost and what the outcome will be. That is the military that fights the Taliban with drones, with executions of targets placed on “kill lists”, which seeks to ensure the security of the United States by deploying these same methods through the Middle East and Southwest Asia and the northern parts of Africa.

With these methods the casualties are known, for the drone operators working the night shift somewhere in the United States–or maybe even closer to the field of combat–do not have to risk their lives to fight their war. They can kill the enemy with no personal risk, by remote control.

To be sure, others do risk their lives, and they deserve the highest praise for their valor and courage in fighting for the objectives the U.S. political leadership has set for them. Even the drone operators in the employ of the U.S. military deserve our deep respect, for their work is certainly not risk-free in a psychological sense, as many may subsequently suffer deep psychological problems as a result of their work.

But now the country that would attack Iran, if it doesn’t halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons, offers to Congress as an excuse for inaction in Syria the fact that the country’s air defenses may be five times more difficult to take down than Libya’s were.

No comparison is made with Serbia, where the U.S. military performed admirably in defeating the air defenses of the Milosovic regime as it was committing crimes against humanity in Kosovo.

Have we forgotten also that the United States posseses an awesome arsenal of cruise missiles, which could undoubtedly give al-Assad a wake-up call if there were a firm commitment in the White House to stop the killing in Syria?

The latest arguments, just leaked to the press in the last few days, revolve around Syria’s possession of chemical and perhaps biological weapons. We don’t really know if there is any more substance to this argument than there was in 2003 when WMD was the rationale for taking down Sadam Hussein’s air defenses and invading Iraq. (Incidentally, the U.S. performed rather impressively in taking down Iraq’s air defenses.)

Moreover, this argument ignores the impact in Syria that active military intervention by the U.S. and coalition partners would be likely to have within the Syrian government and military leadership circles.

WMD may represent a risk, but does that mean than military action is forestalled? How is such an argument likely to affect Iran in deciding whether or not to acquire a nuclear weapons capability or nuclear weapons?

So, now that Senator McCain has called for military intervention with air strikes, the president begins to develop military options for dealing with Syria.

Unfortunately, we are now faced with a disastrous situation due to the U.S. administration’s presumed support of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s decision to name Kofi Annan as a mediator on behalf on the U.N. and the Arab League, to mediate the cessation of the crimes against humanity and war crimes that are underway. Annan, who as former Secretary General cannot be viewed as lacking in self-esteem, has laid claim to being the mediator of the only mediation process with al-Assad and his murderous regime.

Now, today, Annan spoke out loudly against any military intervention.

One can hardly imagine developments more favorable to al-Assad. Kofi Annan and his mediation effort–for as long as it continues–function as a shield against military attack, dividing the leaders of the civilized world. It gives al-Assad control over the pace of the mediation efforts, and even if he reached an agreement–as he did with the Arab League in the fall–there would be further delay to ascertain whether or to what extent he had complied with it, and diplomatic consultations to determine how to react to violations, and what to do next.

During all of this time, the Syrian Dictator would be able to continue the commission of mass atrocities and the use of all the tools of a modern police state to hunt down each and every one of his opponents, and to summarily dispense with them.

Annan’s mission should be halted if it doesn’t produce a cessation of the killing by al-Assad’s forces within the next seven days. Such a cessation of hostilities should be its first and only aim, until the killing stops.

The U.S. response to events in Syria has been cynical and craven, and is indeed in Michael Young’s words “pathetic”.

Now, because Obama seems only able to respond to arguments with potential electoral impact, what is needed is some moral courage on the part of Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House.

It is time for them to speak out, loudly, to the President, to the American people, and to the world.

There may be leaders in the Democratic Party who abhor the lack of moral courage that has been evidenced to date on Syria, who will speak out, and who may even launch a challenge–within the Democratic Party or in a third party–to Obama’s reelection as president.

That would involve electoral logic. It could potentially move President Obama to act. It appears that nothing else will.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
twitter.com/trenchantobserv

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Obama’s New Year’s Resolutions for Foreign Policy in 2012

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

The Observer has been trying to get inside President Obama’s head for over two years. Recently, he may have succeeded, or had a very strange dream, in which the following was revealed:

Obama’s 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Foreign Policy in 2012

1. Ok, I will finally try to read through the impenetrable legalese of Philip Alston’s Report to the Human Rights Council on the legality under international law of U.S. drone attacks.

2. Admitting that public international law was not my favorite course in law school—in fact I can’t remember if I even took it—I will accept State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh’s longstanding offer to lead me in a weekly tutorial on the subject for, as Koh puts it, “as long as it takes for (me) to get it.”

3. I accept the challenge to deliver a speech based on a rewrite of my Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo which includes the themes of “a vision of peace” and “how to get there”.

4. To make my rewrite of the Oslo speech easy for everyone to understand, I will even stop avoiding the use of the words “international law”, which should be easier after (2), if not (1).

5. I will ask Ambassador Koh to explain to me in plain English what some of these European and European-influenced international lawyers keep referring to as “dédoublement fontionnel”, which I think has something to do with the idea that nations should try to build and strengthen international law, instead of just trying to see what they can get away with. I don’t really get the point, but maybe I’ll understand better if it is spelled out in English.

6. I agree that we don’t really want to be giving a lot of money to governments who murder outspoken journalists like Syed Saleem Shahzad. I think Admiral Mullen said something about this. Dexter Filkins made a pretty compelling case that the murder was ordered by the highest officials in the Pakistani military in his New Yorker article on September 19. (Letter From Islamabad: The Journalist and the Spies–The murder of a reporter who exposed Pakistan’s secrets. The New Yorker, September 19, 2011.)

There are even reports that the Pakistani Ambassador to Washington, until recently, fears for his life in Pakistan as a result of “memogate”. But, as Richard Holbrooke used to stress, we have to deal with the Pakistanis, unsavory as that may be. I will agree to cutting U.S. aid to the military there by one half—from $1.3 billion to $650 million. Once they’ve arrested and tried the general(s) allegedly responsible for the order to murder Syed Saleem Shahzad, the other half of the aid will be restored.

7. I will enlist the CIA, with Leon Paneta’s help if necessary, in a secret program aimed at persuading the top civilian and military officials involved in Bush’s torture program to retire. Attorney General Eric Holder has concluded that none of them except a few low-level types should be prosecuted for torture, but if he has new evidence and wants to take up the issue again, I’ll let him. If other parties to the Torture Convention arrest some of these officials while they are traveling abroad, and ask us if it is OK for them to try them themselves, I’ll let the Attorney General make the call.

8. Ok, guys, I will finally issue an executive order that confirms my interpretation of U.S. laws banning torture as banning all kinds of torture, as that term is defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

9. After completing (2) and (1), I will reconsider the position that U.S. citizens may be executed by drones or special commando operations without trial if they have been placed on a special targets list. I don’t really get the point about the fifth amendment language that “no citizen will be deprived of …life..without due process of law” and I don’t see how these guys can be given the right to an attorney, but I will commit to not invoking the “state secrets” doctrine to block further consideration of these issues by the courts.

10. Ok, while I think we already examined our strategy in Afghanistan in 2009, ad nauseum, I promise I will reread Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s memos from November, 2009, for whatever that’s worth.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Friday, November 11th, 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 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

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Comments are invited.

International Law and the Use of Force: Drones and Real Anarchy Unleashed Upon the World

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Recently a number of articles have been published that are of particular interest with respect to the development and use of drones.

See

William Wan and Peter Finn, “Global race on to match U.S. drone capabilities, Washington Post, July 4, 2011

Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, “War Evolves With Drones, Some Tiny as Bugs,” New York Times, June 19, 2011

Peter Beaumont, “Campaigners seek arrest of former CIA legal chief over Pakistan drone attacks: UK human rights lawyer leads bid to have John Rizzo arrested over claims he approved attacks that killed hundreds of people,” The Guardian, July 15.2010

Michael Tennant, “U.S. Begins Drone Strikes in Somalia,” The New American, July 14, 2011

In previous articles, The Trenchant Observer has pointed to some of the troubling issues in international law raised by the use of unpiloted aircraft or drones in situations removed from the active battlefield in an on-going armed conflict.

Now, with other countries driving to develop comparable military capabilities in the form of drones, some as tiny as bugs, the short-sightedness of U.S. military policy regarding drones has come fully into view.

Moreover, as far as is publicly known, the United States has done nothing to develop in cooperation with other countries new international legal regimes and norms that might help to control what appears to be a headlong rush toward real anarchy among the nations of the world.

President Barack Obama rarely, if ever, speaks of international law. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he spoke not of international law and legal norms, but rather of international “rules” or “norms”. The words “international law” are absent from his discourse.

One consequence has been an approach to international law that can be summed up as “If I can get away with it I can do it,” a formulation that goes back to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s famous dictum about “the bad man theory of law”.

The system of international law is different from the domestic system in which a “bad man” might focus on the law only in terms of what he might be able to get away with. For the nations that are subject to international law are themselves the creators of the norms of international law. They are at once the legislature, the sheriff and the potential offender. This creates a dual responsibility on the part of nation states and their lawyers: They must not simply interpret international legal norms in a permissive way that allows them to do what they want, but also act to safeguard and strengthen the system of international law, and the way international legal norms wiil be interpreted by other countries. This is sometimes referred to by international lawyers as the “double-function” (or “dédoublement fonctionnel”) of international lawyers and states: in choosing a course of action they must not only seek to pursue their own short-term objectives, but also the critically-important longer-term objectives of building a viable international legal order that will contribute to their own security.

It is precisely in this area, of the obligation to build future international norms and regimes, while not weakening those that exist, that the United States has utterly failed with respect to drones. In past eras, legal regimes to prevent the use of space for military purposes, or the seabed, were developed in order to shape the future environment in which force might be employed. This the Obama administration has failed to do with respect to drones, both as a result of a very short-sighted pursuit of immediate military advantages through their use, and as a result of the fact that President Obama does not seem to understand very deeply the function of international law in safeguarding the nation’s security.

To facilitate reflection on these issues and the legality under international law of the use of drones, a review of the following articles previously published here might be useful.

See

UPDATE: Anwar al-Aulaqi: Targeted Killings, Self-Defense, and War Crimes, August 6, 2010

Targeted Killings: U.N. Special Rapporteur Alston Publishes Report to U.N. Human Rights Council, June 2, 2010

Targeted Killings by Drone Aircraft: A View From India, and Some Observations, May 20, 2010

Targeted Assassinations: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, International Law, and Strategic Implications, February 17, 2010

U.S. Targeted Assassinations Violate Citizen’s Right to Life and Due Process, Undercut International Law
February 3, 2010

As Thomas M. Frank (1931-2009), a distinguished international lawyer and professor of international law at New York University, and Edward Weisband once observed, we should be careful whether to observe and how to interpret international law, because “the law you make may be your own.”

See Thomas M. Franck and Edward Weisband, “The Johnson and Brezhnev Doctrines: The Law You Make May Be Your Own,” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 22, pp. 979-1014 (1970).

The Trenchant Observer

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