Posts Tagged ‘House’

Stop the UN farce!—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #37 (May 15)

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Today al-Assad’s forces reportedly killed 20 demonstrators in Khan Sheikhoun as UN monitors looked on.


Neil MacFarquhar and Hwaida Saad (Beirut), “U.N. Team Sees Clash Between Syrian Protesters and Soldiers,” New York Times, May 15, 2012.

They report the following:

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A convoy of unarmed United Nations monitors got caught up in a violent confrontation between protesters and Syrian government forces on Tuesday, with activist organizations putting the casualty toll at around 20 killed and dozens wounded.

The United Nations monitors escaped unscathed, but three of their four vehicles were damaged by some kind of explosive device, said a statement from Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesman for Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League special envoy for Syria.

Eyewitnesses reached via Skype in Khan Sheikhoun, the town in the embattled northwestern province of Idlib where the confrontation took place, said that a large crowd had turned out for the funeral of a man killed by government forces two days earlier near Hama.

Meanwhile, there were clear signs that the government was manipulating the vote results from the parliamentary elections held on May 7. MacFarquhar and Saad note, in the same article,

“In Damascus, the government announced delayed results from the May 7 election for seats in Parliament, emphasizing what it said was a participation rate that exceeded 51 percent. But in broadcasting the results live on state television, Judge Khalaf al-Azzawi, the chairman of the higher committee for elections, avoided questions about the number of voters in embattled provinces like Homs or Idlib and refused to characterize the political affiliation of the new members.”

Free association: This delay is not much of a surprise as no one expected the elections to be honest in the first place.

But the fact that over a week has passed since the elections does bring to mind the great delay that has occurred with the publication of the State Department human rights reports, which by law were due by February 25.

Could this enormous delay be due to the fact that the Obama administration is massaging the reports for political reasons, contrary to the law’s intent?

On the basis of what we know, one must assume that this is the case. The House and Senate foreign relations committess should immediately convoke hearings for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to offer her excuses and explanations.

These reports are relevant to critical decision making by governments around the world. Their publication should not be delayed for another day.

What will it take for the international community to recognize that by sending more monitors to Syria, it is adding to Bashar al-Assad’s panoply of human shields? Those shields protect him from military action to force him to halt the killing. They also short-circuit the thinking processes of the leaders of all countries who still–at this late date–support the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan.

It is time to dismantle the Kofi Annan 6-point peace plan. UNSMIS should be put into lockdown until al-Assad complies with the conditions in the peace plan, and withdrawn if he doesn’t.

How can this be achieved?

USMIS can be stopped the same way the Arab peace monitor mission was stopped–by countries withdrawing their members, and refusing to send any additional members to the delegation. When the UNSMIS mission comes up for an extension at the end of 90 days, it should be blocked by a majority of the Security Council.

In over 60 years of peace observation and peacekeeping missions, the United Nations has never embarked on a mission so contrary to common sense, so contrary to analysis of the facts of the ground, and so devoid of promise. The mission should be aborted, immediately.

There is no peace to be monitored. A ceasefire, if it comes, will come as a result of a decision or decisions by al-Assad and his entourage, and not one day before.

The only thing that is likely to push the Syrian Dictator and his henchmen to reach such a decision is a credible threat of military intervention by outside powers, and the execution of that threat if the threat does not suffice.

Civilized nations should prepare for such military action at once.

The Trenchant Observer

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 consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria 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

–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.
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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


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,” Estadã (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,” Estadã, 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

–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

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

–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.