Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Russian aggression in Ukraine: Commentary from Europe and beyond

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Some of the best commentary on the Russian military intervention in Ukraine is coming out of Europe, particularly Germany. Because Google and other search engines filter their results by language, country and your own previous search history, resulting in “The Filter Bubble” which may prevent you from seeing some of the best reporting and commentary, we will draw attention to particularly relevant articles from time to time.

The content may be accessed using Google Translate, or other translation software, which provides a pretty good though not perfect idea of the original content.

Putin has been acting like Hitler in the Sudetenland in 1938.

Regarding where we are now in the face of Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine, from which he doesn’t appear likely to back down soon, and what needs to be done to counter his aggressive policies, see:

Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), “Putins Weltbild aus der Vergangenheit,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 8. MÄRZ 2014 (9:27 Uhr).

Wer muss sich als nächstes vor Putins Landnahme fürchten? Die Ostukraine? Das Baltikum? Die Grenzregionen der Kasachen? Falls Russland nach dem illegitimen Referendum die Krim annektiert, muss das eine Sequenz unangenehmer Botschaften des Westens zur Folge haben. Putin, dem Mann des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, muss mit den Mitteln des 21. Jahrhunderts begegnet werden.

For a penetrating analysis of Russia’s strategy in the Middle East and how the Ukraine conflict could affect developments in the region, see

NORA MÜLLER, “Nahost wäre Schauplatz des neuen Kalten Kriegs,,” Die Zeit, 10. März 2014 (20:43 Uhr).

Die Krim-Krise könnte den Beginn einer neuen Ost-West-Konfrontation markieren. Schon ist die Rede vom zweiten Kalten Krieg. In Nahost gibt es schon erste Anzeichen dafür.

The Trenchant Observer

(Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Obervateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivio)

Morsi’s coup in Egypt: Obama’s silence, America’s shame

Friday, December 7th, 2012

See David Ignatius, “Our man in Cairo,” Washington Post, December 7, 2012 (5:01 p.m.)

Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have executed a coup d’etat in Egypt, abrogating the rule of law and seeking to impose an Islamist constitution drafted in illegitimacy. The draft’s constitutionality is highly suspect in view of Morsi’s November 22 “constitutional decree” assuming dictatorial powers, and the Nazi “brown shirt” tactics used by Muslim Brotherhood thugs last Sunday to intimidate and threaten the judges of the Constitutional Court, thereby preventing them from meeting to reach a decision on the constitutionality of the constituent assembly and the drafting process for the draft constitution.

Morsi has been utterly unyielding. Instead of olive branches, he has offered only twigs to mollify the opposition, twigs which do not in any sense put the consolidation of the Islamist dictatorship of the Brotherhood and its religious allies into doubt.

Morsi was known as “the enforcer” of internal discipline within the Brotherhood before running for president. Now he seeks to play the role of “the enforcer” for all of Egypt.

Against this background, the White House and the State Department have issued the most cautious of statements, never mentioning human rights or the rule of law.

David Ignatius notes that, “Through this upheaval, the Obama administration has been oddly restrained. After the power grab, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said: ‘We call for calm and encourage all parties to work together and call for all Egyptians to resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue.’ Not exactly a thundering denunciation.” (“Our Man in Cairo,” above.)

Yesterday Obama called Morsi, not to insist on a return to the rule of law or full guarantees in the constitution for internationally protected human rights, but to state to the Egyptian president that the violence of Thursday night which claimed at least seven lives was “unacceptable”. This was good as far as it went, since much of the violence appears to have been initiated by Brotherhood demonstrators. But it did not speak to the underlying issues.

At once Obama speaks like the king of the world in declaring street violence “unacceptable” to him, while at the same time failing to mention that the United States stands for the rule of law and wishes to see it restored in Egypt.

Obama’s silence on the issue that is tearing Egypt apart–whether the country will be governed by the rule of law and a constitution that provides safeguards for human rights, the separation of powers, and the principle of judicial review–is inexcusable.

If Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist allies succeed in establishing an Islamic dictatorship in Egypt–which the last two weeks have clearly revealed to be their goal, the responsibility of Obama and the leaders of other democratic countries throughout the world will be overwhelming.

The president could threaten to withhold military aid of $1.5 billion per year.  He could threaten to block a $4.8 billion standby loan agreement between Egypt and the IMF.

Instead, in defense of the principles of democracy and the protection of human rights for which the United States has stood throughout its history, Obama has said nothing. Absolutely nothing. Radio silence. His silence shatters the eardrums, throughout the world.

Today, on December 7, 2012,  71 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Obama by his silence shames America and its devotion to democracy, and dishonors the memory of those who fought and died to defeat fascism in World War II (1941-1945).  America is a country which should never pull its punches in standing up for its deepest values, democracy and human rights.

It is a day of shame for the United States, as brave men and women in Egypt fight to defend their revolution and establish the democracy which it promised, while Obama, setting an example for the world, looks on passively, in deafening silence.

Somewhere, somehow, there must be leaders and nations who are willing to speak up to support the defenders of democracy in Egypt. In the United States, Congressmen and Senators should speak out loudly so that the Egyptian armed forces can hear the message that the $1.5 billion of military assistance the U.S. gives to Egypt each year, will not be given to the military of an Islamist dictatorship. Hearings on this aid should be immediately scheduled and held. If this military aid and their relationship with the United States is important to the Egyptian military, they must act to defend democracy and the rule of law. Otherwise they will lose their aid and their support from the United States. That should be the message.

In Europe, leaders of the European Union and its member states should similarly speak out for democracy and international human rights, and let it be known that they will not provide economic assistance to a dictatorship which has abrogated the rule of law.

If President Obama does not want to go down in history as the Democratic president who lost Egypt, who stood by silently when his leadership might have made a difference, he needs to speak out now, loudly and clearly, in defense of human rights and the rule of law in Egypt. Further, his words must have consequences if they are ignored.

Otherwise, he will be known in history as the President who lost Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic dictatorship they and their Salafist allies seek to consolidate. He will be remembered as the President who did nothing when history swayed in the balance, for betraying those fighting for democracy and the rule of law in Egypt, and for losing the most decisive battle in the Middle East for at least the next generation.

Obama is losing Egypt.

Will he speak out and take forceful action? His past suggests the likelihood of continued passivity in the face of looming disaster.

But we would always like to be surprised, and to see him for once not “driving from behind”, from the back seat, but acting like the leader of the free world.

The Trenchant Observer

See also the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

Is Obama losing Egypt?
December 6, 2012

Morsi’s Putsch: Battle lines are drawn—Details in draft constitution reveal Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy to seize all power in Egypt, as democrats defend the rule of law December 2, 2012

Morsi’s Coup d’Etat and Rushed Draft Constiution for Egypt (with latest English translation)
December 1, 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Coup d’Etat in Egypt; William Butler Yeats and “The Second Coming”
November 28, 2012

“L’État, c’est moi”—Mohamed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood launch coup d’état in Egypt
November 27, 2012

REPRISE: Responding to Atrocities in Syria: It’s Not Just About Al-Assad, It’s About Us—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #86 (September 18)

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Responding to Atrocities in Syria: It’s Not Just About Al-Assad, It’s About Us

Originally published March 6, 2012

I heard a boy in Syria on the BBC talking about what was going on there, a few days ago, and he said that ultimately the atrocities could not be stopped until people in other countries really cared about the suffering of the people in Homs, and elsewhere in Syria, and intervened to stop it.

It really comes down to that. Whether the leaders and populations of the countries of the civilized world care about al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sufficiently to stop it. That boy hit the nail on the head. It all boils down to whether we care. Enough.

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

But the leaders of the civilized world, such as they are, don’t care. Not enough to act, not enough to undertake the only action that might stop al-Assad, which is using military force to halt the killing.

Given the momentum and tempo of the murderous offensives underway, it is highly doubtful that even China and Russia, al-Assad’s accomplices in the commission of these crimes, could force Syria to stop the killing. Nor is it likely that a new Security Council resolution, even with the abstention or support of China and Russia, could stop the killing. Unless it authorized the use of military force, and even then delays in execution–such as those that occurred in Libya–could cost thousands of more lives.

**************************************************

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

**************************************************

It is difficult to sleep, here in the United States, knowing that dozens or hundreds of people are being murdered each day by Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers and security forces, during these same hours, in broad daylight in Syria. Men and boys are being rounded up in groups and taken away to be executed–or executed on the spot. Men are pulled from cars at checkpoints, and taken to be shot.

This is what General Franco’s forces did during the Civil War in Spain from 1936-1939. It is what Hitler’s officers and soldiers did throughout Europe in World War II, from September 1939 until they were stopped in May, 1945 by the combined military forces of the Allied Powers.

Not just men and boys, but also women and children are being killed every day in Syria by the indiscriminate shelling by tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons into apartment blocks and homes. Round-ups are underway, where individuals believed to be opponents of al-Assad, or who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who just happen to be Sunni instead of Alawite, are hunted down and either taken away to be tortured and/or shot, or have their throats slit by knives as they lay tied on the ground.

Hell has come to Syria.

A merciless slaughter and brutal repression are currently underway in Syria, each day as we try to sleep in the United States–a relentless, grinding slaughter, with horrors beyond all telling.

We know this. The world knows this. The world has first-hand testimony from witnesses, videos from cameras and smart phones, almost in real time. We have the U.N. Special Commission Report on Syria of February 22, 2012, which provides the details. News accounts bring us up to the present, with chilling accuracy.

The death toll has already surpassed the 7,000 men and boys massacred at Srebrenice, in 1995–as U.N. peacekeepers from the Netherlands, stationed in Srebrenice, stood by and did nothing to protect the population from the butchery of Slobodan Milosovic and Ratko Mladic.

It is some consolation that both were taken to The Hague, where Milosovic died while being tried, and where Mladic’s trial will commence in May. But their trials cannot bring back the men and boys who were slaughtered in Srebrenice on July 11, 1995.

And we, in the civilized world, swore that we would never let Srebrenice happen again.

One would think the Dutch would be out front on this one. But they aren’t.

To be sure, there have been other crimes against humanity, in Rwanda and Darfur, for example. And it is demonstrably true that we in the civilized world cannot stop all such crimes in all such places.

But in Syria, at the center of the lands and civilizations, going back four thousand years, which once formed part of the Roman Empire, close to Jerusalem and the heartland of the three religions of the The Book (Chirstianity, Judaism, and Islam), the civilized world could do something to stop this killing–if it had the courage and the will to do so.

Tragically, our leaders are too feckless to act. It would be difficult to take down the Syrian air defenses, our military leaders testify before Congress. The mililtary action would be difficult, and that is adduced as a reason not to undertake it. As if the Normandy invasion was not difficult. Or the Battle of Corregidor. Or taking down the Serbian air defenses in the bombing in Serbia in 1999 to stop the the ethnic cleansing by the Serbs in Kosovo.

Why is it hard to sleep?

Because I believe that President Obama has real-time intelligence on the details of the atrocities that are being committed, and may well be able to watch events in real-time from cameras on satellites and drones and other platforms (as he did when Bin Laden was taken down). I believe he knows exactly what is going on. And he is unwilling to lift a finger to do anything about it.

He has reportedly vetoed any military action, within the last week.

I support Obamacare, but I can’t support “Obama doesn’t care”.

I heard a boy in Syria on the BBC talking about what was going on there, a few days ago, and he said that ultimately the atrocities could not be stopped until people in other countries really cared about the suffering of the people in Homs, and elsewhere in Syria, and intervened to stop it.

It really comes down to that. Whether the leaders and populations of the countries of the civilized world care about al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sufficiently to stop it. That boy hit the nail on the head. It all boils down to whether we care. Enough.

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

But the leaders of the civilized world, such as they are, don’t care. Not enough to act, not enough to undertake the only action that might stop al-Assad, which is using military force to halt the killing.

Given the momentum and tempo of the murderous offensives underway, it is highly doubtful that even China and Russia, al-Assad’s accomplices in the commission of these crimes, could force Syria to stop the killing. Nor is it likely that a new Security Council resolution, even with the abstention or support of China and Russia, could stop the killing. Unless it authorized the use of military force, and even then delays in execution–such as those that occurred in Libya–could cost thousands of more lives.

That is why Kofi Annan’s U.N. mediation effort is so tragic. It is misbegotten on principle, and the principle is that we should not negotiate the cessation of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We should not negotiate with war criminals, except for the terms of their prompt exit from the scene.

It is ill-considered in that, wholly aside from the principle of the matter, Annan’s consultations will 1) give al-Assad control of the pace of the “mediation” efforts; and 2) lead to drawn-out diplomatic consultations that will give the Syrian Dictator the time he wants to commit more war crimes and crimes against humanity to wipe out his opponents, and their villages and towns.

Only mass amnesia at the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and other powers he may have consulted, could account for the failure to take into account the sad history of the Arab League’s negotiations with Syria over implementation of its November peace plan, and its experience in sending monitors to the country. Whatever al-Assad might agree to, would be utterly worthless, as he has zero credibility. And more time would be lost, to check on his compliance with any agreement, for diplomatic consultations as to what to do. More time for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the total destruction of neighborhoods and towns that have shown opposition or resistance.

Actually, there has been one notable exception to the general passivity of leaders in the civilized world. U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain had the courage to speak up on the floor of the Senate yesterday, March 5, and to call for air attacks on al-Assad’s forces to halt the killing and other atrocities. In the United States, his speech was reported in general, but the powerful and cogently reasoned arguments he presented, supporting his call for immediate military action, have as yet received little coverage in the United States. News coverage in Europe, in fact, may be better.

The speech is of fundamental importance for understanding the options that face us in Syria, and the consequences of inaction. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who is following developments in that country.

So why should all of this cause anyone to be troubled as he goes to sleep?

The crimes are eerily similar to the crimes for which the Nazi war criminals were prosecuted at Nuremberg.

We are doing nothing effective to stop al-Assad from continuing with his massacres. We know what is going on. We are gutless wonders.

So, what is going on in Syria is not only about al-Assad. It is also about us.

It is about the levels of barbarism we are willing to watch, in real time, close to Jerusalem and the heart of Europe and the Middle East, without lifting a finger.

We have no principles left which we believe are worth fighting for.

Afghanistan long since ceased to be about building democracy and the rule of law, even in incipient form, and there we fight only so we can get out without the Afghan government falling. Victory is not the goal, but “degrading the Taliban”, while we delude ourselves with thoughts of a negotiated settlement that would amount to something short of capitulation–over time–to the Taliban.

I doubt that Obama would have acted to bomb Serbia in order to halt the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, if it had occurred on his watch.

We have no leaders, and the world is adrift.

Civilized countries now accept the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

That is not right. And so it is with a troubled mind that I now seek sleep.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
twitter.com/trenchantobserv

What future for UNSMIS and for Kofi Annan? Russia pushes for more of the same, with an implied military threat to dissuade all from any other options—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #61 (July 11)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

For a long-time student of diplomatic history and international politics, it is painful to watch the amateurism of Barack Obama’s foreign policy and foreign policy team.

In the case of Syria, where the interests of Russia, China, Iran, and the al-Bashar regime stand in sharp opposition to the interests of the United States, Europe, NATO, and members of the Arab League, who oppose repression through the use of terror including war crimes and crimes against humanity, following Obama’s foreign policy actions over the last year has been painful indeed.

Russia and China have stood, together with Iran, in stalwart support of the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad, vetoing Security Council resolutions in October 2011 and on February 4, 2012.

Russia, with a very experienced foreign policy team lead by Sergei Lavrov, a veteran diplomat, has acted with great clarity of vision in pursuit of its goal of maintaining Bashar al-Assad in power and deflecting or neutralizing all efforts to bring force to bear in order to halt al-Assad’s terror. Under President Medvedev (with Putin as Prime Minister, but hardly in the background), and now under Putin as president again, Russia has been unwavering in seeking and achieving its objectives.

On the first level, Russia has simply blocked any Security Council resolution that might work to the disadvantage of al-Assad and his regime of war criminals. It has watered down the two resolutions (2042 and 2043) adopted by the Security Council on April 14, and 21, ensuring that the illusory peace plan and cease-fire that they promised were embodied in resolutions with no teeth–with no consequences for al-Assad for violating them. Similarly, it has blocked adoption of any resolution by the Security Council conferring jurisdiction on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

On the second level, Russia has brilliantly played the weakly-led states of the West and the Arab League for fools–knowing fools, perhaps, but fools nonetheless.

The Russians’ willing tool and instrument has been Kofi Annan, with his 6-point peace plan and mediation mission. Annan’s mediation effort, interestingly, was already well underway before it was informally endorsed by the Security Council in a Presidential Statement on March 21 (which itself had no legal force).

Resolution 2042 formally endorsed the plan on April 14, and authorized Kofi Annan and his mission to “mediate” resolution of the Syrian crisis with al-Assad, who continued to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity even as Annan sought to mediate their cessation.

Resolution 2043 was adopted by the Security Council on April 21, expanding an observer mission authorized on April 14 to a 300-member mission known as UNSMIS to observe the cease-fire called for in the 6-point plan and Resolution 2042.

Al-Assad never complied with any of the peace plan’s provisions, and following numerous incidents where its observers were fired upon and threatened by crowds, UNSMIS was forced to stand down, confining its observers basically to their hotels in Damascus.

At various key decision points throughout this saga, Russia has raised the possibility of military engagement with them if the U.S., NATO, and the Arab states intervened in Syria.

One such threat was extraordinary: President Medvedev explicitly raised the possibility of a nuclear war in the region if there were military intervention against a state in the region (definitely Syria, possibly Iran).

At each decision point, the United States–without acknowledging the threat–went along with what the Russians wanted.

Now we are approaching another important decision point, to decide whether the UNSMIS mission should be extended when its initial 90-day authorization expires on or about July 20, and whether Kofi Annan should be authorized to continue his mediation effort.  And, at precisely this moment, Russia has sent a group of warships including Russian soldiers to the Syrian port of Tartus, just in case anyone had forgotten the threat.

The UNSMIS mission and Kofi Annan’s mediation efforts clearly provide cover for al-Assad and his continuing efforts to exterminate his armed and unarmed opposition through the use of terror.

Russia and Iran, which Annan has tried to bring into the diplomatic muddle, and presumably China, strongly support both of these proposed actions.

Will the U.S., NATO, Europe and the Arab League blink again, and in effect accede to the Russian demand that al-Assad be given as much time as he needs to annihilate his opponents–without military opposition from those who would use military force, if necessary, to halt the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes?

Will the countries which support a transition toward democracy in Syria, and an immediate halt to al-Assad’s crimes have the clarity of vision and the guts to oppose the Russians, the Chinese, Iran, and the Syrian regime? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, see the following article which offers a profound analysis of how Syria has divided the world, into what we have dubbed “The League of Authoritarian States,” on the one hand, and those supporting democratic transitions in Syria and elsewhere, on the other.

Michael Ignatieff, “How Syria Divided the World,” NYRblog (New York Review of Books), July 11, 2012.

Russia, China, Iran, and Syria share one bedrock principle: they will use “all necessary measures” in order to repress domestic opposition in their own countries, and will support others who do so abroad. These measures include terror, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights. Importantly, this support now includes the veto by Russia or China of any Security Council resolution that would confer on the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction and a mandate to prosecute those responsible for such crimes.

The battle lines are clearly set. Whether Obama will wake up from his illusion of a “reset” of U.S.-Soviet relations with Medvedev, and now with Putin, is an open question.

Obama is also reported to have a dream of concluding, in his second term, a significant new START treaty with Russia that would dramatically reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. Given his fecklessness on Syria, and the consequences that are likely to flow from the policies and actions he has adopted, it may be doubtful that he could ever secure the two-thirds vote in the Senate needed for ratification of such a treaty. Having watched Obama being outmaneuvered by Putin in Syria, Republicans would likely be skeptical if not outright hostile to any arms control agreement concluded between the two.

Democrats in the United States have for decades had the reputation of being unwilling to use the military when necessary to protect national interests. Obama clearly seeks to overcome the image of Democrats as being weak on defense through his hard-line policies on civil liberties in the war on terror, and his use of targeted executions by drones and other covert means against those perceived as posing a threat to the United States.

Whether these policies will in fact overcome longstanding doubts about the Democrats being weak on defense, in the heat of an election campaign, is an open question.

Certainly, allowing the Russians to roll over the West and the Arab countries in defending Syria and al-Assad’s crimes, will not strengthen the Democrats’ reputation of being unwilling to use military force to stand up to the military challenges of our opponents in the world.

Obama risks being seen, once the voters focus on the issues and hear the Republicans’ arguments, as being all talk, and no action–no guts, no intestinal fortitude, no resolve to act to defend the nation’s vital interests.

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.

The Daily Star: “We procrastinate”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #9 (March 9)

Friday, March 9th, 2012

The Daily Star (Beirut) has been one of the absolute best sources for reliable and up-to-date information on what is going on in Syria, and on the broader significance of events.

Today’s Editorial (March 9) is particularly honest and perceptive, and cuts to the essence of the factors at play now in Syria and in the international community. Extensive excerpts follow:

(T)he death toll is now reaching 8,000, according to estimates, and the Syrian government’s cleansing of towns continues.

Figures of more than 60 a day dead are now becoming commonplace. Yet in a year of massacres, attacks, bombardments and destructions of villages, towns and cities that dare to protest we have seen the international community become mere witnesses, recording events. They simply count the numbers of dead, highlighting the devastation that has been caused.

Their action is painfully limited. Kofi Annan is to travel to Damascus Saturday to confront the violence, but what he can bring to the table is a continuation of what the regime has listened to, and ignored, all year. The United States’, the West’s and the United Nations’ semantic exercises continue unabated, and so does the bloodshed enacted by the Syrian government.

We already know that the ultimate result of Annan’s visit will be further procrastination…

As long as independent foreign media and observers are not allowed in to witness the true scale of the chaos in Syria, it can be assumed that we will continue to face a fiasco, with an international reaction that not only does not help, but actually provides a respite for the regime to continue its campaign of destruction.

The scene around Syria overflows with talk. The world’s big players proffer big words, which amount to zero in their impact on the Syrian regime – if anything they are utilized in their propaganda campaign.

The international community is attempting to save face, and by doing so is exhibiting its hypocrisy in every step and every word. This is hypocrisy of the worst kind, not only uncovering the ulterior motives of the world powers, but also serving as an eye-opener as to the intentions of the small, medium and super powers. God help any downtrodden party who takes the words of those powers at their face value. In this, the international community’s reaction to the crisis in Syria should be a lesson for many nations that look to it for support.

In the meantime, help for Syria is still at square one and none of the steps currently being taken are going to eradicate the shame of the international community.

–Editorial, The Daily Star (Beirut), March 9, 2012

As the sad spectacle of Kofi Annan’s “mediation” of the conflict proceeds, and the world’s attention is turned to what Russia, or Annan, or the U.S. or other countries are saying in their interminable diplomatic dance, it is of utter importance that we all follow the example of The Daily Star and keep our attention riveted on what is happening on the ground.

Let us all, together, focus primarily on that, on events on the ground. As Kofi Annan prepares to travel to Damascus on Saturday, March 10, tanks are surrounding Idlib, soldiers have been bussed to the area, and the new onslaught has already begun as tanks overrun villages in outlying areas. In the meantime, tanks and artillery continue to attack civilian neighborhoods in Homs. Undoubtedly, they are also on the move in other parts of Syria.

For the latest reports, see

Lauren Williams, “Deaths mount in Syria on eve of Annan talks,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 10, 2012 (02:04 AM local time).

Not only is Kofi Annan’s mission the wrong mission, but he has shown by essentially advancing the Russian position that he is not the right man for the job. Nor is it wise to place in a single individual the job of representing both the Arab League and the United Nations.

If Annan does not produce a complete ceasefire and withdrawal of tanks from cities within seven days, then his mission should be terminated by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. This goes against the usual diplomatic inertia and courtesies and niceties, but it constitutes what is required if the killing in Syria is to be stopped.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter/trenchantobserv

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.

***

How to find news reports from around the world
–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com

***

The “Rational Actor” Fallacy and Stopping Syria’s Atrocities—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #8 (March 9)

Friday, March 9th, 2012

“There are times, such as when a man or a group of men are in the act of firing weapons to kill innocent civilians, when it is necessary to halt the killing through means other than rational persuasion.”

A central flaw in the approach of the U.S., the U.N., and many other countries to the conflict in Syria is the assumption that by exercising “pressures” on Bashar al-Assad, we can change his calculus as to whether to continue his brutal repression of the opposition by committing atrocities and widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights. The corrolary of this assumption is another: that if we change the calculus of the “rational” decision-maker, the behavior of the Syrian troops and state security personnel will automicatically change, in this case to halt the killing. Together, these assumptions amount to what is known as “the rational actor fallacy”, the belief that the decisions and actions of a large and complicated organization–such as the government of a country–are taken by a unitary “mind” that perceives reality, makes decisions, and implements those decisions as if it were a single “rational actor”.

See the classic studies on the rational actor fallacy:

(1) Graham Allison and Philip Zelikov, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (2d ed. 1999); and
(2) John D. Steinbruner, The Cybernetic Theory of Decision: New Dimensions of Political Analysis (1974, 2nd paperback ed. with a new preface 2002)

It is worth noting, in passing, that the rational actor fallacy is prominently at work in current discussions about whether or not to attack Iran to halt or set back its nuclear weapons program.

There are various assumptions here.  The first assumption is that al-Assad controls and directs the military and security forces which are committing the atrocities.

The second and related assumption is that he can stop the atrocities if he is persuaded, according to his own rational calculus, that it is more in his interest to halt the commission of these crimes than it is to allow them to proceed. 

Acting on this assumption, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has sent Kofi Annan to try to “mediate” the conflict, the assumption being that if he can persuade al-Assad, the killing will stop. 

There are several flaws in this reasoning.  First, on the basis of public information, we don’t really know if Bashar al-Assad is in control of decision-making processes in Syria, or if rather others are in effect controlling him. 

It is far from clear that Bashar al-Assad can stop the barbaric acts being committed under the leadership of military leaders, including his brother, who may view their mission as a struggle for survival and to preserve their own lives and families and, more broadly, the privileges of the Alawite minority that rules the country.  They may feel that they have reached a point of no return.

Could an emissary from the United Nations, or even China and the Soviet Union, have persuaded Pol Pot and through him the Kmer Rouge to stop the genocide in Cambodia in 1975-1979?

Could an emissary from the Allied Powers have persuaded Adolph Hitler to halt his exterminations at Auschwitz and other camps in 1943 (before adoption of the goal of “unconditional surrender” at the Casablanca Conference in January, 1943), or to have surrendered in January, 1945?

We are faced with a situation of war, of civil war, in which artillery and tanks are firing at civilian neighborhoods, and smaller weapons and even knives are being used to kill those caught in dragnets in cities like Homs, and in neighborhoods like Baba Amr.

Under these circumstances, it is unlikely that persuasion alone will stop the killing.  Even persuasion accompanied by robust military action, we may recall, did not stop Qadaffi and his military from fighting, long after any “rational” calculus would have determined it was time to stop.

Al-Assad may indeed have the leeway, under whatever constraints he may be operating, to negotiate with foreign diplomatic interlocutors as long as it gains him–and his military and state security apparatus–more time to pursue their efforts to annihilate the opposition.

In that context, he could in theory end up making some concessions, e.g., not to totally destroy Idlib like he did Baba Amr (in Homs), in order to forestall military action by the international community, or groups of states within that community.  But given the pattern of the last 11 months, even this seems unlikely. Perhaps he could agree not to destroy the next city after Idlib.

The Fourth Armored Division of the Republican Guard, under the command of Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, is currently on the march toward Idlib, according to reports.

See Khalen Yacoub Oweis (Reuters), “Forças sírias matam 54 antes da chegada de Annan,” Estadão.com.br (O Estado de São Paulo), 9 de marzo de 2012.

Lourival Sant’Anna (O Estado de S.Paulo/Antakya, Turquia), “Tanques de Assad cercam Idlib e rebeldes sírios temem novo massacre,” Estadão.com.br, 9 de marzo de 2012.

Khaled Yacoub Oweis, “Syrian forces kill 54 ahead of Annan peace mission,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 09, 2012.

There are times, such as when a man or a group of men are in the act of firing weapons to kill innocent civilians, when it is necessary to halt the killing through means other than rational persuasion.

We have come to such a moment in Syria.

Kofi Annan has announced his intention to initiate a political process which would involve participation by the opposition in negotiations over how to settle the conflict.  The main opposition group has already declared its firm opposition to any such proposal. Annan’s proposals sound very similar to those of Russia. (China, to its credit, is now pushing for an immediate ceasefire and halt to the killing, at least according to public reports.)

Annan, whose greatest failure as Secretary General was to not stop the U.S. invasion of Iraq, appears determined to prevent the United States from taking any military action against al-Assad’s armed forces. He doesn’t seem to grasp the difference in circumstances between Iraq in 2003 and Syria today.

It would be a mistake to further militarize the conflict, Annan has asserted, ignoring the fact that one side in the conflict is highly militarized with all the weapons of the modern state, and is at this moment using those weapons against the Syrian opposition, including innocent civilians who have not joined the armed resistance.

Further militarization?  By providing people with arms and other assistance so that they can defend themselves against the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Sadly, Annan’s mission will only serve to give al-Assad further time to eliminate his opposition, and to offer multiple opportunities for him to play the various nations of the civilized world off against each other.  This he did brilliantly with the Arab League in delaying its imposition of sanctions, with his immensely cynical “acceptance” of the Arab League monitors, when he had no intention of complying with the conditions for their deployment. And never did.

In short, the Annan mission, and further delay such as that being pushed by the United States, will under the best of circumstances, only serve to help al-Assad consolidate his regime, and his reign of terror. 

After the “mediation”, after the negotiations, any solution that leaves al-Assad and his regime in place will also be a solution that allows his military and state security forces to hunt down and torture and execute opponents to the regime. That is the best-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario is a long and drawn-out civil war, which over time is likely to drag in other powers from the region, and beyond.

Another part of the worst-case scenario is that the civilized world will have to live with the “day after”–the “day after” it has looked the other way in the face of the ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The day after the international community, with full awareness–in real time–of the details of these acts of barbarism, has done nothing to effectively stop them.

It will be a different world, in which dictators everywhere can take heart in knowing that the international “responsibility to protect” is empty verbiage.

It will be a world in which such dictators will be emboldened to use all the instruments of terror, if necessary when faced by civil opposition, to retain their hold on power.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter/trenchantobserv

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.

***

How to find news reports from around the world

–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com

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

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.