Posts Tagged ‘fiasco’

Obama’s foreign policy incompetence, and what to do about it

Friday, November 1st, 2013

For background, see the following articles:

Victor Davis Hanson, “Is Obama Still President? National Review Online, October 29, 2013 (3:00 AM).

David Ignatius, “Pitfalls of a ‘realist’ Middle East strategy,” Washington Post, October 30, 2013.

Elizabeth C. McCall, “President Obama’s Absentee Foreign Policy,” U.S. News and World Report, August 27, 2013.

Doyle McManus, “On foreign policy, a consistently inconsistent president: Op-Ed Obama’s rhetoric tends to outrun his willingness to use U.S. power,” Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2013.

(developing story)

Wherever you look across the globe, the United States is in retreat, and held in lower and lower esteem and respect. This is the result of the incompetent foreign policy of Barack Obama, who despite his insistence on being in control of all the important issues facing the United States in the world, is not in control. No one is in control. The state is adrift.

The president has no sense of strategy, or even of keeping on top of things in different parts of the world. What is worse, he doesn’t seem to be able to delegate important authority to those under him.

The recent U.S.-Russian deal in Geneva on the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting in Geneva, and the subsequent achievement of a strong Security Council resolution imposing a chemical weapons disarmament regime on Syria, might conceivably count as an exception to the general pattern.

That might be the case had it not occurred in the context of the complete fiasco of the U.S. preparing to use military force against Syria in response to the al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013, mobilizing its allies (e.g., Britain) to support such action, and then Obama “flinching” at the moment of truth, the moment when he might have pulled the trigger, and throwing the hot potato to Congress where he could not have assumed he would get approval.

The chemical weapons deal if fully carried out may achieve one American objective–the removal of chemical weapons from Syria–and two Russian objectives, first, the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, and, second, the establishment of a dynamic which is sure to bolster al-Assad and keep him in power for quite some time to come.

Obama cut the rug out from under his allies, including the French and, most notably, Saudi Arabia. His decision to “work through the Russians”, which seems to be a longstanding preference, had the effect of selling out the Free Syrian Army and the civilian opposition to the al-Assad regime.

Bashar al-Assad is now continuing his campaign of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the armed opposition and innocent civilians, while chemical weapons inspectors go about their business.

Throughout the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles. Stalwart allies for decades, like Saudi Arabia, have become disillusioned with the United States, fully aware that if Obama can sell out the Turks as he did a year ago when they were preparing for the use of military force in Syria, and could sell out the Syrian opposition as he just did, he could surely sell out the Saudis as he pursues a nuclear settlement with Iran.

Last month the United States used force violating the territorial integrity and political independence of Libya (see U.N. Charter, Article 2 para. 4) to catch an al-Qaeda terrorist high on the U.S. target list, without even offering a justification for its actions under international law. It also sent armed forces into Somalia on the same day to capture a target on their wanted list, also without a justification under international law. Last week Israel bombed targets in Syria for the third time, without acknowledgment or legal justification, or any comment so far as I am aware from the White House.

The civil war in Iraq is gaining steam, wiping out all of the gains U.S. blood and treasure was spent to secure.

In Afghanistan, the best hopes are for the survival of a narco-state ruled by war lords under the general coordination of Hamid Karzai, who appears to want to continue to rule from behind the throne following the upcoming presidential elections.  For the U.S., the logical policy would be to strongly insist on these elections and the electoral process being truly democratic, which if that were to occur could actually bring to power individuals who might collectively help to stablize the country. But as the U.S. showed in 2009, it is hardly an impartial player in the electoral game.

Obama’s record is one of inaction, and of inaction aggravated by failing to connect the dots and to understand how inaction could produce a domino effect leading to immense damage to U.S. foreign policy interests.

Where in the world is the U.S. leading on any foreign policy issue? What significant international initiatives has the U.S. launched? What international conventions or treaties is it pushing, in order to reduce the scourge of war and to improve the lot of mankind?

What has it done to support human rights, in deeds and not just empty rhetoric?

The cumulative damage over the last four years has been enormous. Just ponder the fact that four Latin American states are seeking to undermine the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, each of which which played an instrumental role in restoring democracy to the countries of Latin America in the 1970’s and 1980’s after decades of dictatorship.

The world has taken the measure of Barack Obama, and is not impressed.

What is to be done?

1. One alternative is impeachment (e.g. for failure to protect the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States by authorizing the NSA and other intelligence agencies to act in total disregard of its prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures).  But the Democrats would not be likely to go along with such an option.

2. A second option would be to persuade Obama to resign, turning the leadership of the country over to Vice-President Joseph Biden. But that seems unlikely to work against the capacious ego of a vain and arrogant president whose ego and belief he is the smartest man in the room, any room, seem to be made of titanium.

3. A third option, suggested earlier here, would be for the president to turn foreign policy leadership over to John Kerry, who actually has some experience in the area. But does this seem likely?

4. A fourth option would be to just wait out the rest of Obama’s term, which ends on January 20, 2017.

The fourth option, while the likeliest to be followed, is also perhaps the most dangerous. Given the damage Obama has already inflicted on U.S. foreign policy interests, who knows what further disasters he might produce in the next three years and three months?

For evidence The Trenchant Observer is not alone in his thinking, see the list of articles above, which will be updated regularly.

We are really in a pickle, as they say.

The Trenchant Observer

Qatar’s leader suggests sending troops to Syria

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

The Financial Times reported today,

Arab troops should be sent to end the bloodshed in the uprising against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Qatar’s ruler has said, the first public call for military action as political efforts to halt the violence unravel.

Qatar’s leader, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in an interview to be broadcast on the CBS program “60 Minutes” on January 15, stated,

“For such a situation to stop the killing … some troops should go to stop the killing,”

The question of military intervention in Syria by international forces has now been openly put on the table.

The Emir’s remarks, in an interview due to be broadcast on Sunday, raise the stakes hugely in a conflict in which even Mr Assad’s enemies abroad have shied away from suggesting military intervention. Western and Arab powers fear the potentially destructive regional impact of war in a country allied with Tehran and which lies at the geographical and political heart of the Middle East.

–Michael Peel (Abu Dhabi), “Qatar calls for intervention to end Syria violence,” Financial Times, January 14, 2012.

For a nuanced analysis of the signicance of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani’s statement, see Al Jazeera English’s news report and interview on January 14 with leading Lebanese commentator Rami Khoury, on YouTube here.

What form of military intervention from outside could actually bring the killing to a halt?

First, it is not clear that outside military intervention could in fact stop the bloodshed in Syria, and indeed it could contribute to the country hurtling quickly into an all-out civil war. Consequently, any military action that might be taken would need to be carefully planned, highly calibrated, and based on a strategic vision that takes into account the need to protect different minorities in Syria and the potential actions and reactions of other players in the region, including Hezbollah and Iran.

Second, international intervention, including potential military intervention, could become necessary to halt the country’s accelerating slide into civil war, which itself could become extremely destabilizing for the region.

In view of the above, it is clear that the international community faces an immense challenge, and is called upon to steer between Scylla and Charybdis in seeking a solution to the conflict within Syria.

Should military action from abroad become necessary, and feasible, what are the broad shape and contours that it might assume?

The Arab League has little peacekeeping experience, and its decisions can be easily stalled or blocked by countries which oppose or least favor intervention. Bashar al Assad gained months by feigning to agree to an Arab League peace plan which involves Arab monitors from the League. The mission of the monitors, who are now in Syria, has been a fiasco, despite the immense courage and dedication shown by many of the members of the monitoring team.

Consequently, it does not seem to be a good idea to simply defer to the Arab League, by itself, to take charge of whatever military steps may be undertaken in Syria.

Arab League “regional enforcement action” under Article 53 of the U.N. Charter–without Security Council authorization–may be a theoretical option for sponsoring military action so long as Russian defense of al Assad remains fierce, but in practice it would be problematical and probably engender strong Russian and Chinese opposition.

While there is a history and a long string of precedents for “regional enforcement action” by the Organization of American States, and U.S. legal positions that such action is permitted under international law so long as the Security Council does not disapprove the action, this does not seem to be a promising path to pursue. The line of precedent is in some regards a relic of the Cold War, and goes against the actual text of Article 53 of the Charter, which states:

“1. The Security Council shall, where appropriate, utilize such regional arrangements or agencies for enforcement action under its authority. But no enforcement action shall be taken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies without the authorization of the Security Council, … until such time as the Organization may, on request of the Governments concerned, be charged with the responsibility for preventing further aggression by such a state.”

Yet, even Russia may tire of defending war criminals whose ongoing attacks on civilians are on daily display on television and video throughout the world.

If and when Russian opposition is overcome or neutralized, the United Nations Security Council could seize direct responsibility for authorizing military actions necessary to protect civilians in Syria. Soldiers from Arab countries could constitute the bulk of the “boots” on the ground. However, U.S. and NATO involvement would also be required, either in public or behind the scenes, in order to provide the logistical, communications, and intelligence support necessary to make the operation a success.

The experience of NATO in Libya, where momentum was lost due to hesitation and inaction when the diplomats were making the military decisions, suggests the need for a clear separation between the political and diplomatic decisions necessary to authorize military action, on the one hand, and the small, close-knit, and unified military command that would decide upon and execute military actions, on the other.

The details remain murky, and in the end U.N. Security Council action will be contingent on Russian acquiescence and the absence of a Russian veto.

Military action in Syria is fraught with risks, and will in any event take considerable time to take shape and become a viable option.

In the meantime, the Security Council could immediately act to grant the International Criminal Court authority to investigate the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by al Assad’s government, and also by any other forces within the country. What arguments could Russia, or anyone else, make against such action? In order to protect civilians, this, at least, should be done now.

The Trenchant Observer

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