Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

Syria: Russia and Iran complicit under International Law in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Sergei Lavrov argues that Russia has to supply modern weapons systems to Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria in accordance with contracts that have already been signed, and warns the West and the Arab countries that any military action such as establishing a no-fly zone in Syria (without U.N. Security Council authorization), would violate international law.  

Staff and Agencies, “Syria no-fly zone would violate international law, says Russia; Comments by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov underline G8 challenge faced by US in trying to gain support for intervention,” The Guardian, June 15, 2013 (07:11 EDT).

However, as Lavrov makes this argument, one central fact must be kept foremost in mind:

Under International Law, Russia and Iran are themselves complicit in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria.  The Russians have knowingly supplied weapons, training and personnel to assist al-Assad’s forces in the commission of such crimes. Both Russia and Iran have helped finance the continuing commission, with their own ongoing advice and participation, of these crimes.

Consequently, they themselves are guilty of the commission of these crimes.

On the relevant international law on complicity in the commission of international crimes, see

Helmut Philipp Aust, Complicity and the Law of State Responsibility, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). Introductory front matter for the book, including a table of contents, is found here.

For a summary of Aust’s book, see Michael Byers, Book Review of Helmut Philipp Aust, Complicity and the Law of State Responsibility, in 23 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW (EJIL), pp. 583–589 (2012). The full text of the book review is found here.

For an earlier (1996) treatment of the subject, see Bernard Graefrath, “Complicity in the Law of International Responsibility,” 1996 REVUE BELGE DE DROIT INTERNATIONAL, No. 2, pp. 370-381. The full text of the article can be found here.

In view of the above, when Barack Obama and the other G-8 leaders sit down with Vladimir Putin at the G-8 meeting in Belfast on Monday, June 17, they should all bear in mind that they are in the presence of a Russian president who is responsible for Russian aid and assistance to al-Assad’s regime in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that as a result Russia itself is guilty of committing these crimes.

Putin and Russia cannot cynically argue that they are allowed to assist al-Assad in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, incurring international responsibility, while under international law the West and the Arab states can do nothing to help protect their victims.

That is not where international law is, today, in 2013.

For an idea of the crimes they are supporting, see the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, articles 1, 7 & 8, which largely represent a codification of existing customary international law relating to these international crimes.  The text of the Statute of the ICC is found here.

It goes without saying that the commission of all international crimes in Syria must be stopped, including those committed by the insurgents.

The Trenchant Observer

The only effective option in Syria: Humanitarian Intervention through the direct use of military force

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

To believe that simply getting the parties to the conference table would quickly lead to a settlement would be like believing that a giant rabbit would suddenly appear on top of the conference table and pull a full resolution to the conflict out of his giant hat.

In a word, while diplomats dither, al-Assad kills.

Yesterday we described the new game in Syria, and suggested that the option of simply arming the rebels is out-of-date. Now, with al-Assad gaining momentum, and allowing for inevitable delays in inplementation, much more will be required to bring his barbarism to a halt.

See The Trenchant Observer, “The new game in Syria and the only real option now: the direct use of military force,” June 11, 2013.

For a glimpse into how much the battlefield has changed, with Hezbollah sending up to 15,000 fighters from Lebanon to participate with al-Assad’s forces in the fighting for al-Qusair, see David Ignatius, “In defeat at Qusair, Syrian rebels’ painful failings,” Washington Post, June 6, 2013 (10:06 PM EDT).

For further background and context, see also the Articles on Syria Page. Because that page has not yet been completely updated, you may also wish to see the Posts in Chronological Order Page, or scroll through the main (top) page of The Trenchant Observer.

The only effective option: Humanitarian Intervention through the direct use of military force

While members of the Obama administration have thrown up a lot of worst-case scenarios or “straw men” to suggest the United States and its allies have few military options in Syria, two columnists have laid out some of the specific military options that are available to President Barack Obama in dealing with the Syrian crisis.

See

Brett Stephens, “What to Do About Syria; Act now against Assad or risk chemical weapons falling into terrorist hands,” The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2013, (7:05 p.m. ET).

Charles Krauthammer, “Message from the ruins of Qusair,” Washington Post, June 7, 2013 (12:33 AM EDT).

Stephens lists a range of military options the U.S. could implement without putting “boots on the ground”:

So what should the Obama administration do?

(1) Disable the runways of Syrian air bases, including the international airport in Damascus. A limited military strike prevents the regime from deploying jets against its own people. It prevents Iran (and Russia) from supplying it (and Hezbollah) with arms. And it enforces U.N. Resolution 1701, which bans weapons transfers to Hezbollah, and No. 1747, which bans Iranian arms exports.

(2) Use naval assets to impose a no-fly zone over western Syria, including Aleppo, Syria’s largest (and most embattled) city. A U.S. threat to shoot down Syrian military aircraft, including helicopters, will keep the Syrian air force grounded without requiring the U.S. to destroy Syria’s sophisticated anti-aircraft capabilities.

(3) Supply the Free Syrian Army with heavy military equipment, including armored personnel carriers and light tanks… posing little risk that the equipment could someday be used by terrorists or threaten Syria’s neighbors.

(4) Throw money at Jordan, no questions asked….

(5) Be prepared to seize and remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, even if it means putting boots (temporarily) on the ground.

(6) Read “Underground,” Haruki Murakami’s journalistic account of the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway… (Stephens includes exceerpts from an eyewitness account of the subway attack).

Krauthammer summarizes the policies of the Obama administration toward Syria, and their consequences, as follows:

Assad, in contrast, has a real friend. Putin knows Obama. Having watched Obama’s retreat in Eastern Europe, his passivity at Russian obstructionism on Iran, his bended-knee “reset” policy, Putin knows he has nothing to fear from the U.S. president.

Result? The contemptuous Putin floods Syria with weapons. Iran, equally disdainful, sends Revolutionary Guards to advise and shore up Assad’s forces. Hezbollah invades Syria and seizes Qusair.

Obama’s response? No warning that such balance-altering provocations would trigger even the most minimal American response.

Even Obama’s chemical weapons red line is a farce. Its very pronouncement advertised passivity…

And when that WMD red line was finally crossed, Obama went into lawyerly overdrive to erase it. Is it any wonder that Assad’s allies are on full offensive — Hezbollah brazenly joining the ground war, Russia sending a small armada and mountains of military materiel, Iran warning everyone to stay out?

Obama’s response is to send the secretary of state, hat in hand, to Moscow. And John Kerry returns actually thinking he’s achieved some great diplomatic breakthrough — a “peace” conference that Russia will dominate and use to re-legitimize Assad and marginalize the rebels.

Press reports suggest Obama is once again considering supplying weapons to the insurgents in Syria, and other military options. 

Lacking any experience in military combat or operations, Obama’s approach to military issues throughout his administration has been intellectual in nature. This time, he is likely once again to split the difference, adopting half-measures that are “too little, too late”–actions which don’t get the job done.

President Obama is looking at two years’ of abject failures in his Syria policy, and the consequences of those failures.

Can he now change his approach, his thinking, and his decisiveness of action?

Presidents have surprised us before, as with Nixon’s trip to China, or Reagan’s arms control agreements with Gorbachev.

If he is to salvage his place in history on foreign policy, Barack Obama needs to surprise us now.

The Trenchant Observer

Next: The Legitimacy of Humanitarian Intervention to Halt the Commission of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.

The new game in Syria and the only effective option now: the direct use of military force

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

To believe that simply getting the parties to the conference table would quickly lead to a settlement would be like believing that a giant rabbit would suddenly appear on top of the conference table and pull a full resolution to the conflict out of his giant hat.

In a word, while diplomats dither, al-Assad kills.

Barack Obama, the United States and the West, and the other civilized countries of the world have lost the first war in Syria, the war to bring Bashar al-Assad’s barbarism, his wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, to an end.

After the fall of al-Qusair, with financing, materiel, sophisticated arms and aerial defense systems, advisers, and intelligence from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, al-Assad now seems to have gained the momentum and to be on the verge of methodically defeating the rebels, town by town.

It’s a one-sided fight, with munitions, cash, advisers, and even militiamen now flowing freely to Syria to support the regime, while the West, immobilized by the opposition of the United States to any forceful action, staggers blindly in the diplomatic fog (created by the Russians with U.S. complicity) swirling around the holding of a second Geneva conference. This would be a conference at a unknown future date, where the Syrian regime–united, wielding a powerful united army, would meet with the opposition, at the moment hopelessly divided in both the military and the political spheres, under terms of reference that imply that al-Assad will stay in power, or have a decisive voice in determining who remains in power.

To believe that simply getting the parties to the conference table would quickly lead to a settlement would be like believing that a giant rabbit would suddenly appear on top of the conference table and pull a full resolution to the conflict out of his giant hat.

Putin and Lavrov have achieved–again–a great advantage for themselves and for al-Assad in the sruggle for Syria: while the conference is endlessly delayed, the feckless leaders ofbthe West can hide behind an apparent justification for not proceeding boldly to provide arms to the rebels and to take direct military action against al-Assad, to halt the ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a word, while diplomats dither, al-Assad kills.

Let us be clear: while diplomats dither, al-Assad and his supporters– Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah–kill. They kill, while China helps Russia block any effective action by the U.N. Security Council.

In June 2013, Obama and the Europeans debate whether to supply weapons to the insurgents, while essentially doing very little on the ground. They debate an option which may have made sense a year or 18 months ago, but which now though necessary will hardly be enough to turn the tide.

If this game continues to play out with no dramatic changes, al-Assad and his backers will continue to gain the upper hand on the battlefield, as the possibility of the armed opposition being routed or collapsing grows day by day.

So, al-Assad wins, and everyone returns home to resume normal relations?

This is hardly likely. What is likely is that after routing the West’s allies in Syria, iran will almost surely obtain nuclear weapons in the next few years.

If the West and the Arab countries could not stand up to Iran in Syria, does anyone seriously believe that Iran will drop its quest for nuclear weapons and the ultimate guaranty against foreign attack? Does anyone think now that Israel alone could by military means stop them? Or that the United States, led by Barack Obama–the same Barack Obama who is unwilling to engage even with their proxies in Syria, will decide to launch a war against Iran to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapons capability?

So, Assad wins. Iran gets nuclear weapons. What will the U.S. options look like then?

The Trenchant Observer

Tomorrow: The only effective option: Humanitarian Intervention through the direct use of military force

U.N. security Council “Press Statement” on Syria on June 7–meaningless words, without legal force

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Security Council Press Statement on Heavy Fighting in Al-Qusayr, Syria

The U.N. Security Council issued another “Press Statement” on Syria today, June 7, 2013. The text follows:

7 June 2013
Security Council
SC/11028

The following Security Council press statement was issued today by Council President Mark Lyall Grant ( United Kingdom):

“The members of the Security Council express their grave concern about the humanitarian impact of the recent heavy fighting in Al-Qusayr.

The members of the Security Council call upon the Syrian Government to allow immediate, safe and unhindered access, in accordance with the United Nations guiding principles of humanitarian assistance, for relevant humanitarian, including UN, actors, to reach civilians in Al-Qusayr, in urgent need of assistance, in particular, medical assistance.

The members of the Security Council call upon all parties in Syria to do their utmost to protect civilians and avoid civilian casualties, recalling the primary responsibility of the Syrian Government in this regard. They emphasize that those responsible for violations of applicable international law will be held accountable.”

Another Meaningless “Press Statement” Lacking Any Legal Force

These press statements are dangerously misleading, because they are reported in the news as the U.N. or the Security Council taking some kind of action, when this is not the case.

The Security Council remains deadlocked on Syria. The fact that diplomats accord even the slightest significance to a Security Council “Press Statement”, which unlike a Security Council Resolution lacks any legal force, simply underlines the extent to which Russia has triumphed again in bringing the focus of attention back to the Security Council, and to the hoped-for Geneva Conference now backed by the U.S. and Russia.

Worth noting is that even the “press statement” made no comment regarding the destruction of al-Qusair by al-Assad and Hezbollah forces, or the very significant escalation represented by the introduction of foreign forces from Lebanon into the conflict.

Falling into the Russians’ Trap, Playing the Russians’ Game

The extent to which the members of the Security Council have fallen into Russia’s trap is underscored by press accounts which attribute significance to the fact that Russia allowed a statement to be released this week, whereas it blocked one last week.

That is where the Russians want the attention of the world: on whether they agree to the inclusion of words in a meaningless press statement or not, instead of focusing on the facts on the ground in Syria, and Russian and Iranian and Hezbollah support with arms and matériel and money for al-Assad and his continuing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Secretary of State John Kerry either did not do his homework before agreeing to sponsor a second Geneva conference on Syria with the Russians, or else caved into the cynical direction of Obama to sponsor a conference with no prospects of success, which no serious expert who has followed events in Syria over the last two years could have seen as bearing the slightest promise.

The Russians and the Chinese have neutered the Security Council insofar as Syria is concerned.

Instead of following the diplomatic dance of what Russia might accept in a press statement, or even a toothless resolution, or what Bashar al-Assad might agree to in terms of going to a peace conference in Geneva, or even the terms of any agreement (which we know he will not keep, as he has never kept an agreement), the civilized nations of the world would be much better advised to focus on events on the ground in Syria, and to get to work on implementing concrete measures including the supply of weapons and the direct use of force, which might actually halt al-Assad’s commission of war crimes and other atrocities.

The Trenchant Observer

International human rights in retreat, as Iran, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia gain the upper hand

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

It has been a hard couple of years for advocates of international human rights, and respect for international law of which they form a part. Since the hopes of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran, and the Arab Spring beginning in Tunisia in February, 2011, the struggle for democracy and the rule of law in the Middle East, and elsewhere, has suffered grievous setbacks.

We can only imagine what Europe would be like today had Serbia and Milosovic and Karadzic not been stopped, eventually by the use of military force when that was ultimately required. Actually, long after it was required, when the U.S. and NATO got around to it.

Now we must imagine a future in which Iran, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia, with their ally in the League of Authoritarian States, China, stand triumphant.

One can try to imagine what Europe would have been like had Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich been left standing after World War II.  Jean Monnet’s dream of a united Europe would have been unthinkable, for example.

So, after World War II, we had the vision of international peace and security which was embodied in the United Nations Charter. For 65 years we pursued the goals set forth in the Charter, without ever admitting they were beyond our reach.

But now, as the Middle East is swept into a vortex that is every bit as dangerous as the Balkans in the summer of 1914, that dream of a world made up of democracies governed by the rule of law, and nation states continuously developing treaties and legal institutions in order to achieve in concrete form the goal of peace, appears to be receding.

The dream, after all, can only survive so long as it is shared by the leaders of the world and their peoples.

Now, however, the enemies of that dream — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Russia, and China (which include the core members of the League of Authoritarian States) — are fighting successfully to replace its hopes with the guns and missiles and bombs and knives of the repression which they represent.

The rest of the world, including those countries which have or aspire to attain democracy and the rule of law, appear to be asleep.

Meanwhile, Iran is defeating the allies of the United States in a hot war in Syria, as Russia resumes its former role of being the ultimate friend of despotic states. The war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by al-Assad and his allies in Syria do not move the Kremlin, which has itself done worse in recent times in Chechnya, not to speak of its atrocities in the 20th century. China is sending troops to participate in the U.N. force in Mali, which is a welcome sign, but will not budge on its support of Russia on Syria.

If that were not enough, the head of the African Union on the 50th anniversary of its founding has accused the International Criminal Court of hunting Africans out of racist motives, notwithstanding the fact that the new head prosecutor of the court is from The Gambia. Together the dictators and autocrats of Africa have taken a stand against the ICC’s prosecution of the newly elected President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity.

So, we can forget all that talk about “the responsibility to protect”, as darker days lie before us in a world where Bashar al-Assad stands triumphant, Vladimir Putin (“the executioner of the Caucasus”) stands triumphant, and the clouds of looming war blacken the skies in which our future hopes might otherwise reside.

The leaders of the West of today, and Barack Obama first among them, will long be remembered as having faced the moment of truth in the struggle between the forces of freedom and those of darkness–who are supporting and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, firing artillery and tanks and bombs on innocent civilian populations—and having shrugged their shoulders and walked away from the battle.

This has been going on now for over two years.

We are witnessing a whole generation of Neville Chamberlains and Éduouard Daladiers in action, with not a single Winston Churchill to be found.

Who does President Obama remind you of more, Winston Churchill or Neville Chamberlain?

Syria does not concern them. Just as Germany and Japan did not concern the democratic nations of the world in 1936 or 1938, and just as the raging civil war in Spain in the 1930′s did not concern them, in which Fascist Germany and Fascist Italy supported Franco’s forces against the Republican armies, while the democracies of Europe hid behind their purported obligations of neutrality.

Iran and Russia appear to have taken the measure of Barack Obama and the resolve of the West, and decided as a result to back al-Assad to the hilt. Iran must now be highly confident that neither the United States nor Israel will engage in any military action that could inflict damage sufficient to halt their onward march toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

For the moment, Iran and Hezbollah and al-Assad and the Russians are winning in Syria, and beyond.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Syrian military continues campaign to crush opposition in Saraqeb, Homs, al-Qusair and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #16 (March 24, updated March 25, 2012)

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

REPRISE
Originally published March 25, 2012

Latest news reports

Oliver Holmes and Steve Gutterman (Beirut/Moscow), “Syrian forces on the offensive; Annan in Moscow,” Reuters, March 25, 2012 (10:14pm IST).

Syria: Local Residents Used as Human Shields; Reports of Residents Forced to March in Front of Soldiers in Idlib, Human Rights Watch, March 25, 2012.

Rami G. Khouri, “A new world order is born in Syria,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 24, 2012 (01:25 a.m.).

Khouri’s optimism regarding the U.N. initiative led by Kofi Annan is noteworthy, particularly in view of the earlier pessimism expressed by the Editorial Board of The Daily Star. On March 9, 2012, they wrote:

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, “We procrastinate,” The Daily Star, March 9, 2012.

While the Observer has the highest respect for Khouri and his judgment, the available evidence in the public domain suggests that the March 9 Editorial of The Daily Star is much closer to the mark than his March 24 column on “the birth of a new world order.”

Correction: Earlier versions of this article mistakenly atribributed this text to Rami G. Khouri, to whom we apologize for the error.

It is indeed a historical moment in which the international community is called upon to craft a new response to regimes in crisis that cling to power against the democratic demands of their populations by the use of terror and the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The response that is required, however, and which may yet emerge–if not in this crisis perhaps in the next–does not countenance long, drawn-out negotiations with a Dictator who continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against his population. It does not accept a scenario in which negotiations continue in diplomatic time, as thousands are killed in real time.

It does not accept a diplomatic dance that places the trump cards in the hands of authoritarian regimes complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in the hands of the Dictator committing those crimes.

It does not accept the “devil’s bargain” of negotiating with a war criminal the cessation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in exchange for his retaining power and the capability of using the instruments of state power to continue widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights, including the right of assembly, the rights to free speech, freedom of the press, and to receive and impart information and ideas, the right to life and physical integrity of the human person, and the right to due process and a fair trial by an independent judiciary.

Instead, the response that is required, for both moral and political reasons, is an insistence on the cessation of crimes angainst humanity and war crimes as a condition precedent to negotiations betwen the dictatorial regime, its democratic opposition, and the international community. Limited military actions to halt the ongoing commission of such crimes may form a part of this international response, with the approval of the Security Council whenever possible, but without it if Security Counil action is blocked by a veto and the atrocities and butchery continue.

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Original Article (March 24, 2012)

Der Spiegel reports in some detail on Iran’s assistance to the al-Assad government in its war against the opposition.

See “Aufstand in Syrien: Teheran liefert Assad angeblich Waffen,” Der Spiegel, den 24 März 2012.

See also, “Hopeless Diplomacy: Syrian Regime Resembles Mafia Cartel; Hopes that diplomacy will force Syrian President Bashar Assad to back down seem misguided, given that his regime resembles a mafia cartel bent on defending its turf by any means. There is no turning back for Assad’s clan or the rebels — both sides know that would spell their doom,” Der Spiegel (English), March 19, 2012.

In Syria, al-Assad’s troops, assisted by non-uniformed men, continued their attacks on rebel strongholds and conducted roundups of civilians.

Associated Press, “Syrian forces shell towns and clash with rebels; dozens killed,” The Washington Post, March 24, 2012.

The website of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights provides updates in English here, and in Arabic here.

We should not forget what is going on in Syria on the ground, not for a single day.

The Trenchant Observer

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

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–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.

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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 www.startpage.com

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The risks of playing the Russians’ diplomatic game: Putin, al-Assad, and their willing dupe–Barack Obama

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Unless the military balance shifts, talk of diplomacy is little more than an excuse to ignore atrocities and red lines. The choice is not between diplomacy and greater U.S. involvement. Without the latter, the former will fail.
–Trudy Rubin, “What Russia gave Kerry on Syria: Very little,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 12, 2013 (3:01 a.m.)

To watch U.S. and Russian diplomatic efforts regarding Syria, one is tempted to view developments related to Obama’s decision to “work through the Russians” one more time, just as the U.S. did this time last year, as a kind of historical “instant replay”.

Unfortunately, what is occurring now is immensely more serious than what happened last year. History has not stood still. The situation in Syria is infinitely worse than it was a year ago, bad as it was then.

What many perceived as the risks of U.S. inaction, of the U.S. not leading at all, not even from the rear, have in large degree materialized.

The risk that extremists allied with Al-Queda might assume a commanding position among the insurgents has materialized in the form of the al-Nusra Front and other groups.

The risk that the conflict might spill over into other countries and become a regional conflict is increasingly being realized, as Hezbollah militia members fight alongside al-Assad’s Syrian army forces in al-Qusair, exerting such extraordinary pressure on Lebanon that the latter could itself explode in civil war within the next year.

Iran, perhaps emboldened by Obama’s failure to back his word regarding the “red line” of chemical weapons with actions when that line was crossed, now have trainers in Syria, and are very much engaged in the conflict, providing arms, intelligence, and advice.

A year ago it was argued that the U.S. should intervene in part because that would cause a severe setback to Iran. The opposite has occurred. U.S. passivity and inaction have handed Iran a victory, and emboldened it in its support of the al-Assad regime. Indeed, Hesbollah, which is highly dependent on Iran, may have sent its fighters to Syria at the Iranians’ request. It is hard to discern a thread of logic that would justify such an action within the Lebanese political context.

The risks of Israel, the U.S. and Russia getting drawn into the conflict have also increased, and begun to materialize.

On May 3-5, Israel conducted air strikes within Syria which were reportedly aimed at destroying a shipment of Fateh-110 missiles, which are medium-range advanced guided missiles capable of hitting targets at a range of up to 300 kilometers.

The first strikes were on May 3-4.

See Syrian media reports Israeli rocket fire targets military research center; Western intelligence sources confirm, say targets were Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles,” Haaretz, May 4, 2013 (10:48 PM).

President Obama argued that the air strikes (if they occurred) were justified. Haaretz reported,

Obama, in an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo as part of a three-day Latin America tour that ended in Costa Rica, would not comment on whether the strikes had in fact taken place.

“I’ll let the Israeli government confirm or deny whatever strikes that they’ve taken,” he said.

But Obama, who visited Israel in March, made clear such strikes would be justified.

“What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon,” he said. (emphasis added)

–Reuters, “Obama: Israel has the right to guard against Hezbollah arms transfer; Syrian media reports Israeli rocket fire targets military research center; Western intelligence sources confirm, say targets were Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles,
Haaretz, May 4, 2013 (10:48 PM).

Subsequent to Obama’s statement, Israel unleashed a second attack within Syria reportedly aimed at destroying the missiles.

See Gili Cohen, Amos Harel and Reuters, “Israel overnight strike targeted Iranian missile shipment meant for Hezbollah’; Only a few days after an alleged Israeli strike, Syrian media reports Israeli rocket fire targeted a military research center; Western intel sources confirm Syrian reports, say targets were Iranian Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles,” Haaretz, May.05, 2013 (8:13 AM).

Worth noting in passing is the fact that the U.N. Charter and international law do not permit anonymous attacks on another country for which no legal justification is given. Moreover, Obama’s argument, for the Israelis, stretches the right of self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter far beyond the breaking point, as that right in international law is limited to situations where an armed attack “occurs”.

Russia has been reported as shipping ground to sea missiles to Syria (known as “Yakhonts”), and as being on the verge of shipping a new, more sophisticated air defense system and missiles (known as S-300) to Syria.

See

Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “Russia Sends More Advanced Missiles to Aid Assad in Syria.” New York Times, May 16, 2013.

With Israel bombing arms shipments destined for Hezbollah within the territory of Syria, Russia delivering ground to sea missiles to the al-Assad regime, and Russia threatening to ship S-300 advanced missile defense systems to Syria, the risk of a direct confrontation bwtween Israel, Russia and/or the United States is substantial.

Wars often happen by accident, it may be useful to recall.

The other risk of playing the Russians’ diplomatic game in 2013, like the U.S. did in 2012, is that another 50,000 people, or more, may be killed in the coming year.

This, however, appears to be the least of the considerations being taken into account in Washington.

Russia is pushing the peace conference and negotiations with Bashar al-Assad because it limits the ability of the U.S. and other countries who oppose him to mount any kind of military action that might actually shift the balance against al-Assad and help bring the fighting and his commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity to a halt.

The Russians now appear to have decided to engage in a more direct confrontation with the United States, introducing substantial military assets for Syria into the mix. They, like the Iranians, may be starting to think that al-Assad can murder his way out of the current situation, and retain his hold on power. This has always been al-Assad’s preferred–and perhaps only–solution.

With Hesbollah and Israel directly entering the fray, the risks of playing the Russians’ diplomatic game, which provides Obama with diplomatic cover for his continuing inaction, are becoming very great indeed–and potentially explosive.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: “Looney Toons” at the White House: New York Times article details Obama’s thinking on Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #45 (May 27, 2012)

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Introduction to the REPRISE (May 7, 2013)

So, Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria turns out to be a red line that leads directly to the Kremlin.

What American diplomacy has failed to achieve, spectacularly, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry now think they can achieve by talking to Putin and Lavrov.

Well, maybe. But hardly likely. Lavrov and Putin now achieve their goal of holding the conference Kofi Annan conjured up as one of his last “castles in the sky” at the conference held at Geneva on June 30, 2012.

How this will stop the killing in Syria is anyone’s guess.

It is just words, words to get Obama off the hook for his “red line” comment, which have come back to haunt him now that al-Assad has used chemical weapons in Syria.

Now that Obama is once again seeking a solution by going to the Russians, who have steadfastly supported al-Assad in his commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. See the following Reprise from the Trenchant Observer to understand just how pitiful this last move by Obama and “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight” is.

Sadly, our hopes in John Kerry seem to have been misplaced.  He appears now to have joined “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.  His role will be to do Obama’s bidding.  Obama will continue to control foreign policy from the White House, guided by assistants such as Ben Rhodes.

If this course is not corrected, the disasters of Obama’s first term are likely to be repeated, on a much grander scale with much graver consequences.

REPRISE: “Looney Toons” at the White House: New York  Times article details Obama’s thinking on Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #45 (May 27)

Originally published May 27, 2012

looney-tunes
adj.
[after Looney Tunes, trademark for a series of animated cartoons] [Slang] crazy; demented: also loon’ y-tunes

***
loony
[Slang]
adj.
loon’i-er, looní-est [LUNATIC] crazy; demented
n.,
pl. loon’-ies a loony person Also loon” ey, pl. -eys

***
–Webster’s New Worl Dictionary

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

In a front-page article in today’s New York Times, Helen Cooper and Mark Landler describe the thinking behind President Obama’s policy towards Syria. They report,

WASHINGTON — In a new effort to halt more than a year of bloodshed in Syria, President Obama will push for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad under a proposal modeled on the transition in another strife-torn Arab country, Yemen.

The plan calls for a negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Mr. Assad’s government in place. Its goal is the kind of transition under way in Yemen, where after months of violent unrest, President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down and hand control to his vice president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in a deal arranged by Yemen’s Arab neighbors. Mr. Hadi, though later elected in an uncontested vote, is viewed as a transitional leader.

The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Mr. Assad’s staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal.

–Helen Cooper and Mark Landler, “U.S. Hopes Assad Can Be Eased Out With Russia’s Aid,” New York Times, May 27, 2012.

President Obama, administration officials said,

will press the proposal with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia next month at their first meeting since Mr. Putin returned to his old post on May 7. Thomas E. Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, raised the plan with Mr. Putin in Moscow three weeks ago.

Donilon, who is not a seasoned diplomat, apparently did not impress Putin, judging by the latter’s cancellation of his participation in the G-8 summit at Camp David on May 18-19.

The biggest problem with the Yemen model, several experts said, is that Yemen and Syria are starkly different countries. In Yemen, Mr. Saleh kept his grip on power for three decades by reconciling competing interests through a complex system of patronage. When his authority collapsed, there was a vice president, Mr. Hadi, who was able to assert enough control over Yemen’s splintered security forces to make him a credible transitional leader.

In Syria, by contrast, Mr. Assad oversees a security state in which his minority Alawite sect fears that if his family is ousted, it will face annihilation at the hands of the Sunni majority. That has kept the government remarkably cohesive, cut down on military defections and left Mr. Assad in a less vulnerable position than Mr. Saleh. Even if he leaves, American officials conceded, there is no obvious candidate to replace him.

The sheer incompetence of this White House on foreign policy matters is stunning.

Paradoxically, among a number of news commentators within the Washington bubble, Obama is viewed as doing pretty well on foreign policy, particularly since taking out Osama Bin Laden. None of these commentators are foreign policy experts with any experience, however. Further, Democratic foreign policy experts have largely held their silence, probably out of concern that criticism could help the Republicans in the November elections. Moreover, Obama has since his first days in office charmed the press, and many reporters and commentators are simply unwilling to criticize the administration on foreign policy issues in any fundamental way.

Significantly, the Washington Post, which is the one newspaper read by most government officials in Washington, has simply failed to cover Syria with a reporter, usually being content to just run the AP wire story. What contributions they do make are limited in the main to stories providing information by administration officials, named and unnamed.

The Editorial Board, on the other hand, has written some clear-minded editorials on Syria. The disconnect betwee the Editorial Board and the reporting side of the newspaper is hard to understand, especially in view of the Post’s illustrious history.

Despite the reputed “successfulness” of the administration’s foreign policy leadership–which analytically does not stretch beyond the fact that it has not become an issue which hurts the Obama in the presidential race, the utter lack of serousness of Preident Obama and the White House on Syria is exposed for all to see in today’s New York Times article by Cooper and Landler.

Washington’s response to Moscow’s callous support of al-Assad as he killed thousands of people through war crimes and crimes against humanity is on a par with Éduoard Daladier’s and Neville Chamberlain’s betrayal of Czechoslovakia in October, 1938, when they signed “the Munich Pact”.

One of the first betrayals on Syria was with Turkey:

Secretary Clinton caught her Turkish counterpart off guard during their meeting in Washington last month. Clinton reportedly told Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the Obama Administration “preferred going through the Russians” in an attempt to achieve a political solution being shopped by the UN/Arab League’s Special Syrian Envoy Kofi Annan.
–Amb. Marc Ginsberg, “Syria Is Obama’s Srebrenica,” Huffington Post (The Blog), March 28, 2012 .

On the U.S. decision to sell out its regional allies and to work through Russia instead, see

The Trenchant Observer, “The emperor has no clothes”: Foreign policy without a moral core—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #19 (March 29), March 29, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “Into the Abyss: Washington’s Fecklessness, Syria’s Fate—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #20 (March 30), March 30, 2012.

The reader is invited to read the Observer’s recent articles on Syria, and to draw his or her own conclusions as to whether Obama, Donilon, Clinton and the rest of the administration’s foreign policy team are conducting a competent foreign policy, first of all in Syria, but also everywhere else.

In the Observer’s opinion, this team is “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”. For example, the Sixth Summit of the Americas, held in Cartagena, Colombia on April 14-15, was totally overshadowed by the prostitution scandal involving members of the Secret Serivce and the U.S. military. Little press attention was given to the substance of the meeting, the most important of the year with the leaders of the Latin American countries.

See Brian Ellsworth (Cartagena, Colombia), “Despite Obama charm, Americas summit boosts U.S. isolation,” April 16, 1012.

Now, on the Syrian question, by following a path of “working through the Russians”, the Obama administration has given up its last shred of moral legitimacy in the Middle East. Between al-Assad, Russia, China, and Iran, on the one hand, and the people of Syria, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, on the other, and in the face of immense human suffering and the ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime, the United States is pursuing a strategy of “working through the Russians.”

Obama is incompetent as a foreign policy leader. Former Ambassador Marc Ginsberg is to be congratulated for his moral courage in speaking out on the question of Syria, in a clear voice.

What the United States needs, desperately, is for other foreign policy experts–and national leaders–to speak out with equal clarity, be they aligned with the Democratic Party in the United States, with the Republicans, or from other countries that are friends of the United States.

In the meantime, the international community would do well to look elsewhere than to the United States for leadership on the Syrian question.

See The Trenchant Observer, “At least 70 killed nationwide; massacre of 50 in Houla; U.N. International Commission on Syria Update—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update # 43 (May 25),” May 25, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “Chief of UN Observers confirms massacre at Houla; NGOs report 35 children and total of 110 killed—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #44 (May 26),” May 26, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

President Obama’s 2013 “Statement on Nowruz” (with links to video and full texts in English, Persian and Arabic)

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

See also the following related articles:

The Trenchant Observer, “eide shoma mobarak”—President Obama sends 2012 Nowruz greetings to Persians, denounces “electronic curtain” in Iran,” March 20, 2012

President Barack Obama, “President Obama’s Nowruz Message,” The White House, (with links to video and written text in Persian), March 20, 2011

The Trenchant Observer, “Obama: ‘eide shoma mobarak’ — The President’s Nowruz (New Year’s) Greeting to Persians Throughout the World,” March 24, 2010

President Barack Obama has issued this year’s statement on Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Last year it was a greeting. This year it is a “Statement”, issued while the president was on his way to Israel. In Israel he stood next to Prime Minister Netanyahu as the latter made a coded threat to militarily attack Iran.

Instead of being a genuine cultural greeting and expression of good will for the New Year (“Eid e Shoma Mobarak”) the “Statement” was no more than a political statement on what Iran must do to solve the nuclear issue with the United States and the Security Council. The flavor is revealed by the following excerpt:

As I have every year as President, I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran.  Since taking office, I have offered the Iranian government an opportunity—if it meets its international obligations, then there could be a new relationship between our two countries, and Iran could begin to return to its rightful place among the community of nations.

It was kind of like receiving a Christmas card from someone who is threatening you with a gun, closing with a “Merry Christmas”. It goes to show, more than anything else, how wet behind the ears, lacking in true international experience, and ultimately incompetent Obama’s White House writers and foreign policy staff really are.

There is no internal evidence in the document that suggests Obama either drafted the statement himself or was meaningfully involved in its review, aside from the self-referential use of the first person singular pronoun and the fact that he did deliver the statement.

The full text of the statement follows:

The White House Ofice of the Press Secretary March 18, 2013 Statement by President Obama on Nowruz.

Dorood.  As you and your families come together to celebrate Nowruz, I want to extend my best wishes on this new spring and new year.  Around the world, and here in the United States, you are gathering at the Nowruz table—to give thanks for loved ones, reflect on your blessings and welcome all the possibilities of a new season. As I have every year as President, I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran.  Since taking office, I have offered the Iranian government an opportunity—if it meets its international obligations, then there could be a new relationship between our two countries, and Iran could begin to return to its rightful place among the community of nations. I have had no illusions about the difficulty of overcoming decades of mistrust.  It will take a serious and sustained effort to resolve the many differences between Iran and the United States.   This includes the world’s serious and growing concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, which threatens peace and security in the region and beyond. Iran’s leaders say that their nuclear program is for medical research and electricity.  To date, however, they have been unable to convince the international community that their nuclear activities are solely for peaceful purposes.  That’s why the world is united in its resolve to address this issue and why Iran is now so isolated.  The people of Iran have paid a high and unnecessary price because of your leaders’ unwillingness to address this issue. As I’ve said all along, the United States prefers to resolve this matter peacefully, diplomatically.  Indeed, if—as Iran’s leaders say—their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, then there is a basis for a practical solution.  It’s a solution that would give Iran access to peaceful nuclear energy while resolving once and for all the serious questions that the world has about the true nature of the Iranian nuclear program. The United States, alongside the rest of the international community, is ready to reach such a solution.  Now is the time for the Iranian government to take immediate and meaningful steps to reduce tensions and work toward an enduring, long-term settlement of the nuclear issue. Finding a solution will be no easy task.  But if we can, the Iranian people will begin to see the benefits of greater trade and ties with other nations, including the United States.  Whereas if the Iranian government continues down its current path, it will only further isolate Iran.  This is the choice now before Iran’s leaders. I hope they choose a better path—for the sake of the Iranian people and for the sake of the world.  Because there’s no good reason for Iranians to be denied the opportunities enjoyed by people in other countries, just as Iranians deserve the same freedoms and rights as people everywhere. Iran’s isolation isn’t good for the world either.  Just as your forbearers enriched the arts and sciences throughout history, all nations would benefit from the talents and creativity of the Iranian people, especially your young people.  Every day that you are cut off from us is a day we’re not working together, building together, innovating together—and building a future of peace and prosperity that is at the heart of this holiday. As you gather with family and friends this Nowruz, many of you will turn to the poet Hafez who wrote: “Plant the tree of friendship that bears the fruit of fulfillment; uproot the sapling of enmity that bears endless suffering.” As a new spring begins, I remain hopeful that our two countries can move beyond tension.  And I will continue to work toward a new day between our nations that bears the fruit of friendship and peace. Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma  Mobarak.

More than anything else, the Statement shows that “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight” is still running the White House on foreign policy matters. It sounds like a simple press statement issued at the White House Press Secretary’s daily briefing, not a direct message to the Iranian people from the President.

This year’s “Statement on Nowruz” represents one more lost opportunity to communicate something meaningful and of substance to the people and government of Iran. You don’t express good will by veiled threats of potential military attack, and telling the other party what they must do to regain their good standing with you, and with the world.

There is no warmth in Obama’s heart expressed in this Statement. It compares unfavorably with the three previous Nowruz greetings issued by the President. The tone of what is essentially a political policy statement does not even reflect recent advances in the five-plus-one talks (the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) with Iran.

One final point is significant. The statement begins with “dorood”, an antiquated greeting which has Islamic overtones.

Durood or Darood Shareef (from Persian: درود‎ dorood) or AS-Salatu alan-nabi (from Arabic: الصلاة على النبي‎) is an invocation which Muslims make by saying specific phrases to compliment the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The Islamic view is to say durood whenever a Muslim reads, speaks or hears the name of Muhammad. Durood, which is a kind of prayer and is mentioned in hadith as well as in Qur’an, are also recited in the form of Wazifa.
Wikipedia

It is extraordinarily inappropriate for Obama to begin his Nowruz statement to Iranians with an Islamic greeting. Not everyone in Iran is a traditional Muslim. There are Bahai, Zoroastrians, Sufi, Christians, and people of other beliefs, who are often oppressed.

“Dorood” is not the word normally used by Iranians to greet each other. “Salam” (Peace), or “Salam aleikum”(Peace be with you) are used instead. There is something very strange about “Dorood”, which Obama’s writers either pulled from a dictionary or are using with some kind of a religious slant. It adds to the whole statement being way off the mark as a goodwill message.

Onama’s statement is not a genuine greeting or expression of goodwill. Consider the combined effect of his use of a weird religious salutation: “Dorood”; the timing of his travel to Israel where he stood by at a joint press conference while Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened military action against Iran; and his own repeating (in Israel) of his mantra, “All options are on the table,” which in code amounts to a threat to use military force against Iran in violation of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter.

It is a bit like poking your fingers in someone’s eyes, on the one day in the year when he or she and his or her family and relatives from around the world are paying close attention to what you have to say.

Sadly, Obama’s 2013 “Statement on Nowruz” represents yet another episode of incompetence in foreign policy from “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”, the Obamians.

The Trenchant Observer

Is Obama losing Egypt?

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, a cunning tactician in an unflenching quest to establish a Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist dictatorship in Egypt, must have grasped the essential softness of American policy in the Middle East during his talks with Israel and the U.S. to reach a cease-fire agreement in Gaza. Immediately after the success of the cease-fire talks, for which he received great praise from the Hillary Clinton and the U.S. for the role he played, he seized the moment by launching his and the Muslim Brotherhood’s coup d’etat, issuing his infamous “constitutional decree” on November 22.

Washington needed Morsi to conclude the truce between Hamas and Israel when an invasion of Gaza  by Israeli forces seemed imminent.

The U.S. needed and needs Egypt’s support to keep the entire 1979 Camp David peace treaty from coming unraveled. This gives Morsi great leverage.

And, judging from Obama’s silence and the anodyne statements issuing from Washington, America is willing to look the other way as Morsi executes a coup d’etat on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

To be sure, it will take Morsi and the Brotherhood a little time to fully and formally consolidate their power and control over all the institutions of the Egyptian state. But the draft constitution when approved will give them the constitutional architecture necessary to achieve their goals.

In all of this, the President of the United States has been been quiet, maintaining a deafening silence in the face of Morsi’s coup d’etat.

The situation calls out for him to make a clear and outspoken demand for Morsi to restore the rule of law, or risk losing $1.5 billion per year in military assistance, and another $4.8 billion IMF standby loan agreement–not yet formally approved.  Neither should be extended to a new Egyptian dictator, ruling under an authoritarian constitution instead of a modern constitution–based on the separation of powers and the rule of law–to chart the course of a new democracy in Egypt.

Barack Obama is losing Egypt.

It is the character of the Egyptian state, and whether it is governed by the rule of law, that will ultimately provide Israel with the best guarantee that Egypt will be a trustworthy parrner for peace in the coming years and decades.

Moreover, Congress will not continue to fund at $1.5 billion per year the military of an Islamic dictatorship in Egypt.

By not speaking out now for the rule of law in Egypt, Obama is betting that “making nice” with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood will best secure U.S. national interests.

He is likely to be sorely disappointed. In four years, the Democrats could well be vulnerable to the charge that Obama “lost” Egypt to an authoritarian and potentially totalitarian Islamic dictatorship, like that in Iran.

But this is merely from the electoral point of view. What is actually at stake is of much greater significance to the national interests of the United States and the West, and other countries in the region.

Is Obama losing Egypt?

What is Obama doing to prevent Egypt from becoming an Islamic dictatorship, like Iran?  That is the question of the hour.

The Trenchant Observer