Posts Tagged ‘John McCain’

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

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
–Lord Acton (1834-1902)

A remarkable photo of John Brennan at his Senate testimony on February 7, 2013, shows him wearing yellow and black plastic bands on his right wrist.

What are they, and what do they signify? Was he sending secret messages to certain people regarding his testimony? It is hard to know, but his appearance with those two hospital-like wrist-bands at his testimony was exceedingly strange.

Is he a member of the Knights of Malta, and was he signalling them something?

In the meantime, Senator John McCain has indicated that until he gets better answers about Benghazi and Brennan’s knowledge of CIA harsh interrogation techniques, he may place a “hold” on his nomination.

John McCain is distinguished in one particular respect, which gives him a unique perspective and great moral authority: he is the only U.S. Senator who has actually been tortured (in seven years of captivity in Vietnam).

See the photograph of Brennan (Alex Wong/Getty Images) and the story about McCain’s possible hold in:

Karen DeYoung, “McCain renews threat to hold up Brennan confirmation to CIA post,” Washington Post, February 24, 2013 (07:49 PM EST).

There was one notable attempt at humor during the February 7 confirmation hearing:

SENATOR BURR: Thank you, Chairman.

I’m going to try to be brief, because I’ve noticed you’re on
your fourth glass of water, and I don’t want to be accused
of waterboarding you.

(Laughter.)

How members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence can laugh at such an obscene joke surpasses understanding.

Torture is no laughing matter. Their laughter shows they are uncomfortable with torture. Their use of euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “EITs” shields them from grappling, on an emotional and psychological level, with the terror they are referring to.

Worth noting in connection with international law and drone strikes are the following written question from the Chairman and answer by John Brennan:

[Committee Chairman] Could you describe the geographical limits on the Administration’s conduct drone strikes?

[John Brennan]As I noted in my speech at Harvard Law School in September 2011, and as the Attorney General stated publicly in March, we do not view our authority to use military force against al-Qa’ida and associated forces as being limited to “hot” battlefields like Afghanistan. Al-Qa’ida and its associates have in the recent past directed several attacks against us from countries other than Afghanistan. The Government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from these attacks, and, thus, as the Attorney General has noted, “neither Congress nor our federal courts has limited the geographic scope of our ability to use force to the current conflict in Afghanistan.”

This does not mean, however, that we use military force whenever or wherever we want. International legal principles, such as respect for another nation’s sovereignty, constrain our ability to act unilaterally. Using force in another country is consistent with these international legal principles if conducted, for example, with the consent of the relevant nation – or if or when other governments are unwilling or unable to deal effectively with a threat to the United States. (emphasis added)

–U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Open Hearing: Nomination of John O. Brennan to be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency,” February 7, 2013, Responses to Posthearing Questions.

The material on the Committee’s website now includes the following:

Opening Statement
Responses to Questionnaire for Completion by Presidential Nominees
Responses to Additional Prehearing Questions
Responses to Posthearing Questions
Transcript
Archived Video

How can independent international lawyers form judgments about the legality of specific drone attacks when their very occurrence is officially held as a secret, and the legal interpretations of international law governing the use of force the Obama administration advances to justify their legality are also held in secret, both in terms of general authorization and in terms of authorized use in the specific targeted killing under examination?

How can any credence be given to such assertions of legality under international law when the legal justifications are themselves held in secret, from the Congress, from the American public, and from independent international legal experts outside the government in foreign countries, in foreign governments, and indeed in international tribunals?

The effectiveness of international law depends on the obligation of states to offer legal justifications for their actions. When the right of self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter is invoked, there is a specific requirement that they report actions taken in self-defense to the Security Council.

Here, the U.S. government does not acknowledge it is the author of drone strikes. It does not offer public legal justifications for its targeted killing activities, either under domestic or international law. It does not report such actions to the U.N. Security Council as specifically required by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

The government claims the right to execute U.S. and other citizens on the basis of secret legal memoranda and in the total absence of any public legal justifications for specific targeted executions.

John Brennan is the author of that policy under President Obama, and has served as its principal coordinator and implementer for the last four years.

To the extent these targeted executions cannot be justified by international law, they constitute assassinations and probably war crimes.

In the absence of public justifications of such actions, they cannot be viewed as legitimate under international law, which by its very nature requires public justifications of public actions permitting reactions by leading international scholars, other countries, and international tribunals.

Any claim of legality under international law based on secret operations and secret legal memoranda is by definition illegitimate and lacking in any persuasive force whatsoever.

The Trenchant Observer

Lies, Spies and Politics: The Incredible Evolution of the Benghazi “Talking Points” Narrative–Part II

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Some enterprising jounalist should go back and prepare a compilation that lists the different versions of what happened to the talking points, citing all that is known about and by each source speaking on background, or on the record, and the publication in which the version appeared.

An example of the misleading information being supplied to Congress and to the public is provided by the following excerpt from the Christian Sciene Monitor regarding meetings today (November 27) of Susan Rice and CIA Acting Director Michael Morell with Republican Senators :

…Republican senators said the meeting with Rice and Morell left them with more concerns than before. In a statement McCain, Graham and Ayotte said there was now more confusion about who had made changes in the talking points before they were given to Rice.

Morell told the senators during the meeting that the FBI had removed references to al Qaeda from the talking points “and did so to prevent compromising an ongoing criminal investigation” of the attack on the U.S. mission, the statement by McCain, Graham and Ayotte said.

“However, at approximately 4:00 this afternoon, CIA officials contacted us and indicated that Acting Director Morell misspoke in our earlier meeting. The CIA now says that it deleted the al-Qaeda references, not the FBI. They were unable to give a reason as to why,” the statement said (emphasis added).

The initial draft of the talking points written by the CIA referred to “attacks” carried out by “extremists with ties to al Qaeda.” However by the time Rice received them, “attacks” had changed to “demonstrations” and “with ties to al Qaeda” had been deleted, multiple U.S. sources have said.

A U.S. intelligence official said the CIA changed the reference to al Qaeda for “several valid intelligence and investigatory reasons.”

Among the reasons cited were that “the information about individuals linked to al Qaeda was derived from classified sources, and could not be corroborated at the unclassified level; the links were tenuous and therefore it made sense to be cautious before naming perpetrators; finally, no one wanted to prejudice a criminal investigation in its earliest stages.”

U.S. intelligence officials have denied that there was any intent to misinform. The White House has denied making the edits in the talking points, and had no further comment on the subject after the meeting.

–Tabassum Zakaria and Susan Cornwell (Reuters),”Controversy over Susan Rice’s Benghazi comments continues,” Christian Science Monitor, November 27, 2012.

Conclusions

The Observer’s conclusion, having followed the matter of the talking points rather closely, is that the intelligence agencies and the White House have been blowing smoke and using mirrors to hopelessly confuse the public with deliberately misleading or false versions given to different reporters by different background sources since the Benghazi talking points became a hot issue.

On the issue of whether Susan Rice misrepresented the facts known by the administration and by her regarding the nature of the attacks on the Benghazi mission and annex, it appears clear that she was handed deliberately misleading unclassified talking points that downplayed the al-Qaeda ties of the attackers, that she from her own intelligence briefings must have been aware of these ties, and that she deliberately and misleadingly stressed the spontaneous nature of the attacks and the fact they were carried out by individuals or groups of armed individuals (and not, by inference, by organizaed militias or jihadist forces).

She may have been trying, inartfully, to conceal the classified intelligence she had been instructed not to reveal.

But is is clear that she was sent to the five Sunday morning talk shows by the White House, for what we must assume was a particular purpose. That purpose it appears, until evidence to the contrary is made public, was to defuse the explosive issue of the failures at Benghazi and to minimize the impact of the Benghazi fiasco on President Obama’s prospects in the election. One way to do this was to downplay the al-Qaeda and terrorist ties of the attackers. In addition, an important goal must have been to draw attention away from the CIA black operation that was being carried out in Benghazi.

In saying what she said on the Sunday talk shows, there now can be little doubt that she was doing exactly what President Obama wanted her to do. She was and is a loyal, perhaps the closest and most loyal, foreign policy aide to President Obama, having been his primary advisor on foreign policy during the 2008 campaign, and by all reports maintaining a very close relationship with him since.

It seems clear that what Susan Rice said on the Sunday morning talk shows was exactly what President Obama and his campaign wanted her to say.

For that, she deserves credit, and if nominated to be Secretary of State one of her greatest qualifications will be that she has an extremely close relationship with the president, who can count on her to precisely carry out his instructions.

So, it appears that Obama and the Obama campaign did downplay the terrorism and al-Qaeda ties of those who attacked the mission and annex in Benghazi, and that they did so in part for quite natural political reasons, and also to distract attention from the true nature of the CIA’s activities in Benghazi.

So what?

Obama has now been reelected. So, where do we go from here?

It is important that all of the facts regarding the Benghazi attacks be made public as soon as possible, and not relegated to the eventual reports on what happened at Benghazi, which will undoubtedly be wrapped in legalese and, if the evolution of the Benghazi talking points offers any clue, will artfully obfuscate the most important points in disupute.

It is also important that President Obama be held accountable for any misrepresentations to the American people he may be responsible for. He needs to stop being so clever, and as David Ignatius has recommended in an illuminating article on “the Covert Commander in Chief”, come out from the shadows and lead the nation in the open, in the sunlight.

See David Ignatius, “The covert commander in chief,” Washington Post, September 10, 2011.

See also The Trenchant Observer, “U.S. Covert Action in Syria?—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #40 (May 22),” May 22, 2012.

We must assume that Obama has been directing the Benghazi CIA operation, and the administration’s response to the attacks on the Benghazi mission and annex on September 11. If this assumption is correct, Susan Rice’s appearances on September 16 on the Sunday talk shows can be viewed as the successful execution of the President’s instructions, to achieve his objectives.

The closing paragraphs of David Ignatius’ op-ed piece lay out the challenge which now faces the president if he is to have a successful second term:

Perhaps Obama’s comfort level with his intelligence role helps explain why he has done other parts of the job less well. He likes making decisions in private, where he has the undiluted authority of the commander in chief. He likes information, as raw and pertinent as possible, and he gets impatient listening to windy political debates. He likes action, especially when he doesn’t leave fingerprints.

What this president dislikes — and does poorly — is political bargaining. He’s as bad a dealmaker as, let’s say, George Smiley would be. If the rote political parts of his job sometimes seem uninteresting to him, maybe that’s because they seem trivial compared to the secret activities that he directs each morning. If only economic policy could be executed as coolly and cleanly as a Predator shot.

There is a seduction to the secret world, which for generations has charmed presidents and their advisers. It’s easier pulling the levers in the dark, playing the keys of what a CIA official once called the “mighty Wurlitzer” of covert action. Politics is a much messier process — out in the open, making deals with bullies and blowhards. But that’s the part of the job that Obama must learn to master if he wants another term.

On this anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, America is lucky to have a president who is adept at intelligence. But it needs, as well, a leader who can take the country out of the shadows and into the light.

Beyond the politics of the 2012 presidential campaign, when we get to the bottom of the Benghazi affair what we are likely to find is a covert operation that involved supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, and which for some as yet unknown reason became the object of vicious armed attacks by one or more militias or other groups with ties to al Qaeda.  Tragically, the Benghazi fiasco resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

There is much to be learned from the multiple failures which occurred in Benghazi. To get to the bottom of things, however, President Obama and his admnistration need to stop blowing smoke and using mirrors in providing spurious information to reporters and the American people.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #68 (July 25)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

The article reproduced below, and the earlier articles it cites, address the issue of the legal justifications that might be advanced to support the supply of arms to the insurgents in Syria, or to support military intervention to halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, whether by establishing a no-fly zone or a humanitarian corridor or more direct military engagement. These legal justifications are suggestive of the type of justifications that the governments engaged in such actions ought to provide. Obviously, their international lawyers can develop the definitive legal defenses in considerably more detail. But they should provide public legal justifications for their actions, instead of hiding behind a cloak of secrecy and covert operations, as the U.S. does with its program of targeted executions.

For additional background on international law and humanitarian intervention, see

V.S. Mani, “Humanitarian Intervention Today”, Recueil des Cours / Collected Courses, Volume 313 (2005), Académie de Droit International de la Haye / Hague Academy of International Law (Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 2005). The “Recueil des Cours” is available in one or more libraries in most of the countries in the world.

First published on April 8, 2012

The futility of the 6-point peace plan of Kofi Annan and the Security Council should now be clear for even the most willfully obtuse to see. Al-Assad has introduced on Sunday new conditions for compliance with the peace plan’s requirements for a ceasefire. As anyone who has closely followed developments in Syria over the last six months already knew, al-Assad will say or agree to anything, but he will never comply with any agreements that require him to halt the killing of the unarmed civilian opposition, or to comply with the laws of war in fighting armed insurgents.

The alternatives have been cogently presented by Senator John McCain in his speech on the Senate floor on March 5. His analysis is relevant not only to American decision makers and politicians, but also to all governments which want to bring the killing in Syria to a prompt halt.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Republican Senator John McCain Urges U.S. Military Attacks to Halt Atrocities in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #3 (March 5),”
March 5, 2012

The time has come for humanitarian military action to halt the killing.

The Supply of Weapons

The supply of weapons to the opposition can arguably be justified under international law as a measure undertaken to to provide target populations the means to defend themselves when the government in power not only fails to comply with its obligations under “the responsibility to protect” resolution of the Security Council (Resolution 1674), but is itself actively engaged in the commission of the very war crimes and crimes against humanity that “the responsibility to protect” is is established to guard against.

The furnishing of arms to such populations should be conditional, a provisional measure to protect the civilian populations against crimes against humanity and the armed opposition against war crimes, until such time as the U.N. Security Council can act effectively to safeguard these populations.

Military Action by a State or Group of States to Halt the Commission of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

Direct humanitarian intervention by a state or group of states may also be required. Such action against al-Assad’s military, after all other recourses have failed, should be undertaken as a provisional measure to ensure that “the responsibility to protect” is implemented within a state engaged in the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity–in direct contravention of its responsiblities under international law.

On the possible legal justifications for such actions, see the following articles and the sources named in them:

The Trenchant Observer, “Limited military action to halt crimes against humanity: A new template to halt terror in Syria, and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #18 (March 28),” March 28, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “U.N. Commission Report on Crimes Against Humanity in Syria; Military Action; Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention in Syria and International Law
Friday,” February 24, 2012.

Nikolai Krylov, Humanitarian Intervention: Pros and Cons, 17 Loy. L.A. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 365 (1995). Available at: http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/ilr/vol17/iss2/3.

The Trenchant Observer, “Military Intervention to establish “no-kill zones” and humanitarian corridors—Syria Update #9,” February 24, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

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For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer on this topic, and others, 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.

Immunity or safe-conduct for al-Assad? Can Kofi Annan fail? Conference before cease-fire?—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #56 (June 23)

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

A lot of wasted time and diplomatic effort could be saved if the world’s leaders insisted on their top international lawyers sitting in on critical decisions affecting foreign policy and national security.

The latest example is provided by the floating of the idea of the United Kingdom giving Bashar al-Assad a grant of immunity from prosecution (“clemency”) for the crimes he has committed–and is committing today–against the Syrian people, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights.

See David Usborne and Alastair Beach (Mexico City), “Assad could be offered new clemency deal,” The Independent, June 21, 2012.

Patrick Wintour (political editor), “Assad may be offered clemency by Britain and US if he joins peace talks: Initiative comes after Cameron and Obama received encouragement from Putin during G20 talks in Mexico,” The Guardian, June 20, 2012.

According to The Guardian,

Britain and America are willing to offer the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, safe passage – and even clemency – as part of a diplomatic push to convene a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva on political transition in Syria.

The initiative comes after David Cameron and Barack Obama received encouragement from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in separate bilateral talks at the G20 in Mexico.

…Britain is willing to discuss giving clemency to Assad if it would allow a transitional conference to be launched. He could even be offered safe passage to attend the conference.

During talks at the G20, British and American officials were convinced Putin was not wedded to Assad remaining in power indefinitely, although even this limited concession is disputed in Moscow.

On the basis of these discussions, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will now seek to persuade the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to change the format of his plans to construct a contact group on Syria, and instead host a conference using the transition on Yemen as the model.

Participants would include representatives of the Syrian government, leading figures in the opposition, the five permanent members of the UN security council and key figures in the region, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Russia has been pressing for Iran to be able to attend.

The meeting, under Annan’s chairmanship, would be held by the end of the month with an objective of establishing a broader-based government leading to elections in 18 months time.

A Small Problem: The U.N. Convention Against Torture

The United Kingdom, the U.S. and Switzerland are all parties to the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the Convention on Torture”).

The Convention defines “torture” as follows:

Article 1
(1) For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity….

Article 2 establishes:
(2) No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Article 4 provides:
(1) Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.
(2) Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.

Finally, and of particular relevance here, Article 5 establishes:
(1) Each State Party shall take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over the offences referred to in article 4 in the following cases:
(i) When the offences are committed in any territory under its jurisdiction or on board a ship or aircraft registered in that State;
(ii) When the alleged offender is a national of that State;
(iii) When the victim was a national of that State if that State considers it appropriate
(2) Each State Party shall likewise take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over such offences in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him pursuant to article 8 to any of the States mentioned in Paragraph 1 of this article.

Al-Assad’s pervasive use of torture is well-documented.

While the United States is quite accustomed to not prosecuting individuals involved in violations of the Torture Convention, the same cannot be said for the United Kingdom and Switzerland (the site of the proposed conference), who do not share the Obama administration’s disdain for international law. In the case of the U.S., a number of officials directly involved in the Bush torture policy have not been prosecuted, in violation of Article 5(2) of the Convention. These include, notably, John Brennan, President Obama’s direct assistant in selecting targets (and advisor on “just war theory”) in decisions regarding targeted executions.

In a word, the idea of granting safe passage and even clemency to Bashar al-Assad, to enable him to attend a conference in Geneva being arranged by Kofi Annan, is a total non-starter.

It would be the height of folly to begin an attempt to resolve the Syria question by committing violations of the U.N. Convention on Torture.

Obama and Cameron would know this if they were listening to their top international lawyers. The fact that Obama isn’t is not very surprising. But the fact that the British Prime Minister is apparently similarly unadvised is, in the context of British politics, somewhat shocking.

These leaders should do their homework before they start leaking to the press about the latest bright idea they have had.

For that matter, they might also bear in mind, in seeking to emulate “the Yemen model”, that Yemen itself is a party to the Convention on Torture and that, further, Saleh’s amnesty in Yemen is not only highly dubious under international law, but also not likely to stand up over time, as precedents in other countries such as Argentina and Chile suggest. Russia is also a party to the Convention on Torture.

Hiding Behind the Kofi Annan Smokescreen

As for the idea of organizing a conference under Kofi Annan’s leadership, the effort is just a continuation of the 6-point peace plan and the smokescreen the U.S., the U.K. and others have thrown up to give the impression they are doing something to stop the killing in Syria, when they are not–at least not publicly.

Kofi Annan and the Security Council’s adoption of his six-point peace plan, and the subsequent establishment of the UNSMIS monitoring mission in Syria, have been a total disaster. Nothing has been achieved, while thousands more have died and the country hurtles toward an all-out sectarian civil war as a direct result of the time that has been lost.

It is interesting to try to identify the indicators that would constitute a failure of the Kofi Annan plan, of his failure as a mediator, or of the failure of his latest effort to keep control of the action (acting on Russia’s behalf, many would say) by creating a “contact group” or organizing a political transition conference.

If these indicators or parameters of failure cannot be identified, we must necessarily conclude that the Kofi Annan plan is a plan that cannot fail, that Kofi Annan is a mediator who cannot fail, and that his next act, whether a “contact group” or a conference in Geneva, cannot fail either.

Who could oppose a peace plan that cannot fail, and a mediator who cannot fail? How, indeed, could anyone oppose a conference in Geneva that cannot fail?

Of course, one’s perspective could influence one’s answer. Unfortunately, those who have died and who will die in Syria as a result of the peace plan that cannot fail, the mediator who cannot fail, and the peace conference in Geneva that cannot fail, cannot speak. So, we cannot really know what they would have to say.

But we can use our imaginations.

It is as if one were living in and directly experiencing the war crimes and crimes against humanity of Adolf Hitler during the Third Reich, in 1943, and at the same time calling for a peace conference in Switzerland with representatives of all the participants in Germany and the leading outside powers to reach an agreement on the future of Germany.

It will not work, and much time will be lost.  The proposal plays directly into the hands of al-Assad, who can drag out the negotiations forever as he continues his atrocities. Similarly, it plays directly into the hands of the Russians, who seem to be able to keep the Americans and the British on the hook by continually dangling in front of their eyes the illusion that someday, somehow, Russia might go along with a Security Council resolution with some teeth in it.

If the U.S., NATO, the Arab countries and the other civilized countries of the world have not yet learned that any agreement signed by al-Assad would not be worth the paper it was written on, they have taken historical stupidity to a new height.

As the head of the editorial page of  the Daily Star, Michael Young, wrote on February 23, 2012, some months and many thousands of lives ago, the policy of the U.S. in Syria is “pathetic”.

It consists of cynically pretending there is a community of interests with respect to Syria among Russia, China and Iran, on the one hand, and the United States, NATO, the Arab countries and rest of the civilized world, on the other, while unbridled barbarism continues to unfold before our eyes.

To be sure, in the shadows (but leaked to the press), the United States is now actively assisting and coordinating the provision of arms to the rebels in Syria, together with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries including Turkey.

This covert policy is being pursued without any public legal justification, which as we have suggested in previous articles is readily available. Whatever relative weaknesses such a legal justification might have, they would pale in comparison with the defects in the U.S. legal justification for the use of drones in Somalia and Yemen, in general, and for their use in “signature strikes” against unknown individuals, in particular.

Will the U.S. strategy of overtly supporting Kofi Annan and his hopeless plans while at the same time coordinating the supply of weapons to the insurgents in Syria help President Obama get past the finish line of the November elections? Or will it lead to Syria blowing up, a powerful Republican challenge to Obama on foreign policy, and his losing the election? Republican candidate Mitt Romney has been relying on kind of a Team B for foreign policy advice up until now. Once the party’s foreign policy heavyweights, from Henry Kissinger to Condi Rice, enter into the fray, joining John McCain, a formidable challenge to Obama could arise. Stay tuned.

You don’t negotiate a cease-fire or an armistice at a peace conference. The idea of trying to do so is absolutely wrong-headed, as wrong-headed as trying to use 300 unarmed peace monitors to force al-Assad to stop the killing.

The assumption that you can negotiate with al-Assad, and that if he agreed to any settlement it would mean anything, is contradicted by every piece of evidence that we have.

The whole idea of Kofi Annan and a conference in Geneva, or a “contact group”, is just one more installment in the U.S. foreign policy fiasco in Syria brought to you by President Obama, “the covert commander-in-chief”, and his foreign policy juggernaut, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.

Somehow, the word “pathetic” seems too weak.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Obama, the presidential elections, Syria and Iran—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #51 (June 12)

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

More Opinion on Obama, drones, the elections, Syria and Iran

(1) Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Syrian intervention is justifiable, and just,” The Washington Post, June 8, 2012. The author is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University and former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She was the State Department’s director of policy planning from January 2009 to January 2011.

Slaughter pinpoints the key fact that military intervention would have as its goal bringing a halt to the killing, not necessarily regime change. She writes,

Henry Kissinger recently argued against intervention in Syria [“The perils of intervention in Syria,” Sunday Opinion, June 3] on the grounds that it would imperil the foundation of world order. His analysis was based on a straw man, one put forward by the Russian and Chinese governments, that outside intervention would seek to “bring about regime change.”

The point of an intervention in Syria would be to stop the killing — to force Bashar al-Assad and his government to meet the demands of the Syrian people with reforms rather than guns. If the killing stopped, it is not clear what shape the political process would adopt, how many millions would take to the streets or whom different factions would support. The majority of Syrians would almost certainly demand that Assad leave office, but by the ballot box or a negotiated political settlement that would leave the Syrian state — in the sense of bureaucracy, the army, the courts — largely intact.

(2) David Meyers, “Inaction in Syria means a nuclear Iran more likely,”The Jerusalem Post, June 11, 2012 (23:16 h).

Meyers writes:

For more than a year, the international community has dithered and delayed action to stop the bloodshed in Syria, and there is no end in sight.

But the biggest beneficiary of the world’s inaction lies next door in Iran.

The Iranian regime has seen a world community unwilling and unable to stop a ruthless dictator from killing his own people. And Iran’s leaders have surely calculated that the world will never act to stop them from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

(The writer is a former White House staffer who is pursuing a PhD in political science.)

(3) Frida Ghitis, “Obama’s re-election delaying action on Syria?” CNN, June 11, 2012 (updated 8:57 p.m. EDT)

(4) Michael Boyle “Obama’s drone wars and the normalisation of extrajudicial murder; Executive privilege has seduced the president into a reckless ‘kill first, ask questions later’ policy that explodes the US constitution,” The Guardian, June 11, 2012.

(5) Michael Bohm, “Putin Has a Responsibility to Protect Syrians,” The Moscow Times, June 7, 2012 (opinion).

Bohm writes:

What Putin’s position on humanitarian intervention fails to recognize is that the global, collective responsibility to prevent the mass killing of civilians by government forces ­— a concept that was developed after the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust — provides a fundamental UN framework for global order and security.

Thus, the gross abuse of human rights committed by Syria’s government troops and security forces cannot be dismissed as an “internal matter” for Syrian President Bashar Assad to sort out himself, as the Kremlin maintains. It has now become an international issue by definition.

In any case, Russia needs to change its fundamental ideological position opposing UN-­sanctioned humanitarian interventions, or what the Kremlin scornfully calls “Western neointerventionism.” Russia needs to join the post-World War II era by rejecting its primitive, cynical notion of “sovereign democracy” — not only within its borders but for other countries as well.

Most of the world’s nations have adopted the Responsibility to Protect norm as a guiding principle for global order and security. It is time for Russia to take this responsibility as well.

(6) John McCain, “McCain on Syria: ‘How many more have to die?’” Tucson Sentinel, June 7, 2012.

Analysis

1. The Kofi Annan 6-point peace plan was a fiasco from its conception, as pointed out here at the time. Annan had the chutzpa to state, in an interview after the meetings at the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council on Syria on June 7, that the 6-point plan had not necessarily failed, but rather that its implementation had failed. Annan’s mission has failed. He should be removed from the deliberations.

Annan has all the formulaic solutions in the U.N. quiver of arrows to draw upon with his imagination and dogged determination to stay at the center of efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria. These words are familiar: “road map”, “contact group”, etc.  They haven’t actually led to the successful conclusion of any negotiations, but rather stand for interminable negotiations leaving nothing resolved (e.g., Israel-Palestine negotiations, Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea’s nuclear program).  They will not lead to a resolution of the Syrian conflict.

Ban Ki-moon should either resign or assume responsibility for being Secretary General of the United Nations himself. We have seen far too much of Kofi Annan, and his disastrous 6-point plan which has cost over three months of time and many thousands of lives in Syria, with absolutely nothing to show for the effort. Absolutely nothing.

What the Secretary General and the Security Council need to do now is to end the delegation of their solemn duties to Annan, and assume those duties directly themselves.

2. Those Security Council members who suppport action in Syria (everyone but China and Russia) should now draft and bring to a prompt vote in public session a resolution under Chapter VII of the Charter which:

a) Establishes jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over the crimes against humanity and war crimes that have been and are being committed in Syria, giving effect to the affirmations in earlier resolutions calling for the accountability of those responsible for these crimes; and

b) Establishes the United Nations Supervisory Mission in Syria with a new and stronger mandate, and provision for an expansion of its numbers in the future, with an immediate increase to 1,000 observers. If the Mission does not already have its own armed security personnel and armored vehicles for the protection of its members, authorization of such additional personnel and equipment should be included.

The resolution should, after a short period for consultations, be put to a public vote. The Russians and the Chinese should not be allowed to water down the resolution.

If Russia and China will not vote for even these mild steps, given the carnage in Syria which is accelerating every day, let them them cast their vetoes in the full view of the world, their own populations, and history.

Even if China and/or Russia vetoes the resolution, we would be no worse off than we are now, while the air would have been cleared for fresh thinking and prompt action to bring the atrocities in Syria to a halt.

The Trenchant Observer

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

Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #24 (April 8)

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

The futility of the 6-point peace plan of Kofi Annan and the Security Council should now be clear for even the most willfully obtuse to see. Al-Assad has introduced on Sunday new conditions for compliance with the peace plan’s requirements for a ceasefire. As anyone who has closely followed developments in Syria over the last six months already knew, al-Assad will say or agree to anything, but he will never comply with any agreements that require him to halt the killing of the unarmed civilian opposition, or to comply with the laws of war in fighting armed insurgents.

See Ian Black Middle East Editor), “Syria peace plan doubt as Assad refuses to meet deadline for troop withdrawal; Damascus wants written guarantees that rebels will lay down their arms before it will proceed with Kofi Annan-brokered deal,” The Guardian, April 8, 2012 (13.36 EDT)

Today, as he has made clear he will not comply with the Security Council deadline of Tuesday, April 10, for the government to cease operations and to withdraw from cities and town, the civilized world faces anew the question of what is to be done.

The alternatives have been cogently presented by Senator John McCain in his speech on the Senate floor on March 5. His analysis is relevant not only to American decision makers and politicians, but also to all governments which want to bring the killing in Syria to a prompt halt.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Republican Senator John McCain Urges U.S. Military Attacks to Halt Atrocities in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #3 (March 5),”
March 5, 2012

The time has come for humanitarian military action to halt the killing.

The Supply of Weapons

The supply of weapons to the opposition can arguably be justified under international law as a measure undertaken to to provide target populations the means to defend themselves when the government in power not only fails to comply with its obligations under “the responsibility to protect” resolution of the Security Council (Resolution 1674), but is itself actively engaged in the commission of the very war crimes and crimes against humanity that “the responsibility to protect” is is established to guard against.

The furnishing of arms to such populations should be conditional, a provisional measure to protect the civilian populations against crimes against humanity and the armed opposition against war crimes, until such time as the U.N. Security Council can act effectively to safeguard these populations.

Military Action by a State or Group of States to Halt the Commission of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

Direct humanitarian intervention by a state or group of states may also be required. Such action against al-Assad’s military, after all other recourses have failed, should be undertaken as a provisional measure to ensure that “the responsibility to protect” is implemented within a state engaged in the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity–in direct contravention of its responsiblities under international law.

On the possible legal justifications for such actions, see the following articles and the sources named in them:

The Trenchant Observer, “Limited military action to halt crimes against humanity: A new template to halt terror in Syria, and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #18 (March 28),” March 28, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “U.N. Commission Report on Crimes Against Humanity in Syria; Military Action; Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention in Syria and International Law
Friday,” February 24, 2012.

Nikolai Krylov, Humanitarian Intervention: Pros and Cons, 17 Loy. L.A. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 365 (1995). Available at: http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/ilr/vol17/iss2/3.

The Trenchant Observer, “Military Intervention to establish “no-kill zones” and humanitarian corridors—Syria Update #9,” February 24, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

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For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer on this topic, and others, 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.

Putin’s victory: Another Security Council “presidential statement”, and ferocious attacks on the ground—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #23 (April 7)

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

The 6-point Kofi Annan peace plan contained in the March 21, 2012 Security Council “Presidential Statement” is fatally flawed.

The plan by its design meets Russian demands to play for time and to prevent other states from taking actions on the ground that might actually bring the killing to a halt. This is exactly what has occurred since the plan was first announced.

It provides a smokescreen for cowardly inaction by the West and the Arab states and the international community in the face of the wanton and ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a wide scale.

It has led–at least until now–to the victory of Vladimir Putin, Russia, Iran, and China over the West, the Arab countries, Turkey, and other civilized countries. This victory represents the triumph of the darkest elements of represssion and 20th century history over the 21st century values of the U.N. Charter, the human rights movement, and the struggle for transitions to democracy throughout the world. The impact of this defeat, if not reversed, will be felt in every country on the planet where citizens are struggling to achieve respect for fundamental human rights and a democratic future.

Latest News Reports and Opinion

The Sydney Morning Post reports on the death toll in Syria on Saturday,

More than 100 people have been reported killed across Syria in a single day, 74 of them civilians, as regime forces pressed a protest crackdown three days ahead of a deadline to cease fire and pull back.

At least 40 civilians died ‘‘in bombardment and shooting on the town of Latamna,’’ in Hama province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based monitoring group said civilians were killed as well in Tibet al-Imam, also in Hama, and another 16 in the neighbouring province of Homs, where Rastan town was bombed, in Idlib to the northwest, and Aleppo in north Syria.

In escalating clashes, 16 rebels and 17 members of the security forces were also killed nationwide, it said, adding 13 bodies were found in Deir Balaa district of Homs and 10 extracted from rubble in Hreitan, Aleppo province.

The Observatory said the deaths came after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces launched an overnight assault on Latamna and clashed with members of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

–Sydney Morning Post, “Syria violence escalates ahead of deadline,” April 8, 2012.

El País reports that the bodies of 13 persons whose hands had been tied and who had allegedly been executed were found in Homs on Saturday. A video was provided by activists. Over 100 people were killed on Saturday, the paper reports.

–Ana Carbajosa (Jerusalén), “El régimen sirio tiñe de sangre el país a tres días de la tregua; La represión gubernamental deja casi un centenar de muertos según los rebeldes; Annan asegura que Siria aplicará el alto el fuego a partir del 10 de abril, El País, 7 abril 2012 (16:53 CET).

Defectors from the Syrian army have been interviewed by McClatchy Newspapers, in Turkey, providing eyewitness accounts of orders and actions to kill civilians, and of the execution of soldiers who refused to execute those orders. The story also details the commission of war crimes where in one case some 30 civilians were lined up and shot.

One of the most detailed accounts came from a former soldier who identified himself as Master Sgt. Maxim Kawa, a pseudonym he adopted to protect his family, still in Syria.

Kawa, who said he was 26, said he was based in Homs with the Syrian special forces, an elite unit that was deployed repeatedly in the heartland of the uprising to suppress civilian protesters starting last May. Kawa said the unit’s mission was to protect and clear the way for one of Syria’s 16 security services to seize civilian resisters, but that his unit’s members also were ordered to execute civilians. This they did until something snapped, and top officers were sent in to give them a two-day “re-education” course.

Kawa said the unit mounted repeated assaults on civilian protesters in Baba Amr, a part of Homs that the army retook in February after 26 days of artillery bombardment, in the towns of Rastan, about 12 miles from Homs, and Tel Kalakh, on Syria’s border with Lebanon.

Kawa’s unit occupied Rastan for eight days last May, losing one soldier to an armed local. “Our officers told us that we must take revenge for our friends,” Kawa said. “They pushed us to kill civilians.”

He said his group of about 50 soldiers dragged 30 men out of their houses, tied their hands behind their backs and took them to the town’s main street.
“We put them against a wall and shot them,” he said.

–Roy Gutman, “In rare interviews, Syrian ex-soldiers talk of killing civilians,” McClatchy Newspapers, April 2, 2012.

For a gripping account of the Syrian army’s assault on and terror in Taftanaz, including a description of the rebel fighters’ actions and the battle for the town, see

Anand Gopal “Survivors tell of bloody aftermath to fight in Taftanaz, Syria,” McClatchy Newspapers, April 6, 2012.

Der Spiegel reports Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as saying that he will await the ceasefire implementation by the Tuesday morning deadline, but that if it does not take place Turkey will take “measures”. These measures are understood to include the establishment of humanitarian protection zones inside Syria’s territory. Der Spiegel also reports on actions on the ground, including the deaths of 40 people when the Syrian army stormed the village of Latamneh in central Hama province. It also reports on activists’ accounts of attacks in Homs, and on the rebel-held neighborhoods of Rastan, Deir Baalabeh, and Kusair.

–”Erdogan droht Assad-Regime mit “Schritten; Türkischer Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Drohgebärde Richtung Damaskus; Ruhig will der türkische Premier Erdogan auf die bevorstehende Waffenruhe in Syrien warten. Sollte die Gewalt nach Verstreichen der Frist jedoch andauern, droht er dem Regime in Damaskus mit “Schritten”. Noch scheint kein Ende des Blutvergießens in Sicht: Allein am Samstag starben 100 Menschen,” Der Spiegel, 7 April 2012.

Le Figaro reports that at least 74 civilians were killed on Saturday, and a total of 120 persons, with a majority of the civilians being killed in bombardments of Latamna (Latamneh) in the region of Hama, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

–”Flambée de violence en Syrie à quelques jours de la trêve,” Le Figaro, 7 avril 2012 (mis à jour à 21:43 h).

U.N. Security Council Statement of April 5, 2012

On April 5, 2012, the U.N. Security Council issued a new “Presidential Statement” urging Syria to comply with the ceasefire provisions in Kofi Annan 6-point peace plan by Tuesday, April 10, 2012. The text (UN Doc. S/PRST/2012/10) follows:

Statement by the President of the Security Council

At the 6746th meeting of the Security Council, held on 5 April 2012, in connection with the Council’s consideration of the item entitled “The situation in the Middle East”, the President of the Council made the following statement on behalf of the Council:

“The Security Council recalls its Presidential Statements of 3 August 2011 and 21 March 2012 and its Press Statement of 1 March 2012.

“The Security Council reaffirms its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter.

“The Security Council expresses its appreciation for the 2 April 2012 briefing of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan. The Security Council notes that the Syrian government committed on 25 March 2012 to implement the Envoy’s six-point proposal.

“The Security Council calls upon the Syrian government to implement urgently and visibly its commitments, as it agreed to do in its communication to the Envoy of 1 April, to (a) cease troop movements towards population centres, (b) cease all use of heavy weapons in such centres, and (c) begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres, and to fulfil these in their entirety by no later than 10 April 2012.

“The Security Council calls upon all parties, including the opposition, to cease armed violence in all its forms within 48 hours of the implementation in their entirety by the Syrian government of measures (a), (b), (c) above. The Security Council further calls upon the opposition to engage with the Envoy in this regard.

“The Security Council underscores the importance of an effective and credible United Nations supervision mechanism in Syria to monitor a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties and relevant aspects of the Envoy’s six-point proposal. The Security Council requests the Secretary-General to provide proposals for such a mechanism as soon as appropriate, after consultations with the government of Syria. The Security Council stands ready to consider these proposals and to authorise an effective and impartial supervision mechanism upon implementation of a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties.

“The Security Council underscores the central importance of a peaceful political settlement to the Syrian crisis and reiterates its call for the urgent, comprehensive, and immediate implementation of all aspects of the Envoy’s six-point proposal. The Security Council reiterates its full support for the Envoy’s six-point proposal aimed at bringing an immediate end to all violence and human rights violations, securing humanitarian access and facilitating a Syrian-led political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations, ethnicities or beliefs,
including through commencing a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition.

“The Security Council reiterates its call for the Syrian authorities to allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all populations in need of assistance, in accordance with international law and guiding principles of humanitarian assistance. The Security Council calls upon all parties in Syria, in particular the Syrian authorities, to cooperate fully with the United Nations and relevant humanitarian organizations to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance. To this end, the Security Council calls on all parties to immediately implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause as called for in the Envoy’s six-point proposal.

“The Security Council requests the Envoy to update the Council on the cessation of violence in accordance with the above timeline, and progress towards implementation of his six-point proposal in its entirety. In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate.”

Analysis

U.N. Security Council “Presidential Statements” have no legal force. In the case of Syria, they seem to be largely useless exercises in rhetoric. Their usefullness is limited to the role they can play in developing a consensus among the permanent members of the Security Council which might then be converted into legally binding action by the Security Council through adoption of a resolution.

“Presidential statements” can also be used by Russia (and China) to create the illusion of movement and agreement where in fact none exists. The March 21 statement has had this effect. This latest statement on April 5 may serve the Russian’s interests by gaining more time for al-Assad to wipe out the opposition. Anyone who has any illusions about Russia being moved by humanitarian considerations in Syria has not been following developments in that country on the ground for the last six months.

To recapitulate:

The 6-point Kofi Annan peace plan contained in the March 21, 2012 Security Council “Presidential Statement” it is fatally flawed.

The plan by its design meets Russian demands to play for time and to prevent other states from taking actions on the ground that might actually bring the killing to a halt. This is exactly what has occurred since the plan was first announced.

It provides a smokescreen for cowardly inaction by the West and the Arab states and the international community in the face of the wanton and ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a wide scale.

It has led–at least until now–to the victory of Vladimir Putin, Russia, Iran, and China over the West, the Arab countries, Turkey, and other civilized countries in the world. This victory represents the triumph of the darkest elements of represssion and 20th century history over the 21st century values of the U.N. Charter, the human rights movement, and the struggle for transitions to democracy throughout the world. The impact of this defeat, if not reversed, will be felt in every country on the planet where citizens are struggling to achieve respect for fundamental human rights and a democratic future.

The idea that a “Syrian-led” process of political negotiation could lead to a peaceful transition in Syria has become ludicrous, in view of developments on the ground.

Any peace process must be led by the international community–not “Syrian led” which in practice puts all the cards in al-Assad’s hands.

Bashar al-Assad, the author of countless war crimes and crimes against humanity, must go.

The nations of the world need to intervene to stop the killing, first, and then to organize an orderly transition to follow al-Assad’s departure. The alternatives have been laid out very cogently by Senator McCain in his speech on the floor of the Senate on March 5, 2012.

President Obama, if he cannot lead, needs to get out of the way. He is standing squarely on the wrong side of history.

The Trenchant Observer

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Annan fails in Damascus as Syrian army continues its onslaught—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #11 (March 11)

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Predictably, Kofi Annan was rebuffed by Bashar al-Asad in talks in Damascus on March 10-11.  Inexplicably, Annan declared following his talks in Damascus that there exist grounds for “optimism”.

As the fighting continues in and around Idlib and in other parts of the country, it is difficult to see Annan’s mission as anything other than a smokescreen to obfuscate the abject failure of outside powers to intervene militarily to stop the killing.   In the judgment of Senator John McCain and many others, only such intervention can stop the Syrian military from their current slaughter of civilians as they seek to repress all opposition to the government.  Bashar al-Assad has labeled all of his opposition as “terrorists” and affirmed he will not negotiate with them. The Syrian opposition also rejects negotiations.

Annan’s grounds for optimism are hard to discern, if it refers to anything more than his continuing his mission–as Syria with Russian support proceeds with its rampage against civilians in towns where both unarmed and armed opposition have taken hold. By failing to establish a ceasefire as the only topic for discussion, Annan has in effect offered the Syrian Dictator and his Russian and Iranian backers  more time to “finish the job” of wiping out all opposition within the country through the use of terror and the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On the diplomatic front, the foreign ministers of Russia, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany are due to meet for a Security Council meeting in New York on Monday (March 12), where Syria will undoubtedly be a principal topic of discussion.

For current developments on the ground, as well as the latest diplomatic moves, see:

Patrick J. McDonnell (reporting from Beirut), “Kofi Annan meets with Syria President Bashar Assad; “As tanks reportedly attack rebels in Idlib, the former U.N. chief holds talks in a bid to head off what world leaders fear could become a full-fledged civil war,” Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2012.

Lourival Sant’Anna (enviado especial), “Do lado turco da fronteira, rebeldes tramam o fim de Assad; Opositores sírios preparam-se para combater um inimigo determinado e mais forte,” O Estado de São Paulo, 10 de março de 2012 (17:42 h).

Enric González (Mokaibli, Líbano), “Siria se ha convertido en una cárcel; Menos de 30.000 civiles han logrado escapar del país; El control sobre la vigilancia de las familias de los oficiales impide la desintegración del Ejército,” El País, 10 de marzo de 2012 (21:40 CET).

Assocated Press (Beirut), “Kofi Annan leaves Syria after talks with Assad; Former UN secretary general says he offered Syrian president concrete proposals ‘which will have a real impact on the ground,’” The Guardian, March 11, 2012 (14:19 EDT). Article details diplomatic developments, including meeting in New York on March 12 with foreign ministers of U.S., U.K. Germany, and Russia.

Peter Beaumont, “Syria in turmoil: Assad launches fresh shelling of civilian housesKofi Annan’s ceasefire mission falters as the tanks roll in to besiege the city of Idlib,” The Guardian, March 10, 2012 (11.01 EST).

Jean-Jacques Mevel, “Syrie : les Occidentaux craignent l’enlisement,” Le Figaro, le 11 mars 2012 (21:34 h).

(Le Figaro), “Syrie : “l’armée poursuit son offensive, Annan «optimiste»,” Le Figaro, le 11 mars 2012, (acualisé à 17:39 h).

One final thought: For 60 years the Arab world has viewed developments in the Middle East primarily through the template or prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue. In 2011, an alternative narrative developed, which offers the possibility that in the future events in the region will be viewed through a lens that emphasizes human rights and the rule of law.

The response of the United States and other key Western countries to the ongoing terror in Syria may well have a determinative impact on the template through which the Arab world views the West in the future. This is ultimately what is at stake, in addition to our own sense of who we are and the kind of world in which we want to live.

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.
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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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Tanks roll in Idlib as Kofi Annan is rebuffed—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #10 (March 10)

Saturday, March 10th, 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.
–The Trenchant Observer, “The Daily Star: “We procrastinate”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #9 (March 9), March 9, 2012

The latest news reports from the region reveal that in his meeting with Special U.N. Envoy Kofi Annan on Saturday, March 10, Bashar al-Assad has in effect rejected Annan’s and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s call for an immediate ceasefire, first by the Syrian government to be followed by the armed opposition. Annan hopes to meet with opposition leaders on the ground in Syria on Saturday evening, and to meet once again with Bashar al-Assad on Sunday before leaving Syria for further meetings in the region. Annan will meet with oppositon leaders in exile, including leaders of the Syrian National Council, after he has left Syria.

See

“Assad empfängt Annan mit noch mehr Blutvergießen,” Der Siegel, den 10. März 2012.

This is an excellent article on latest developments both on the ground and on the diplomatic front. It also contains a video report including footage of Annan meeting with Bashar al-Assad, and 17 photos. Der Spiegel articles in German are frequently published in the English edition (http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/), usually after a delay of several days. Readers should check back at the English web site periodically to see if the article cited here has been published in English.

Kareem Fahim, “No Talks With Syria Opposition, Assad Tells U.N. Envoy,” New York Times, March 10, 2010.

Le Monde/avec AFP, “Syrie: l’armée prend d’assaut la ville rebelle d’Idleb,” Le Monde, le 10 mars 2012 (18h55 h)

The Arab League and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov issued on Saturday a call for a new peace plan in Syria, which according to some accounts contained the following points:

In the end, the Arab League and Lavrov agreed on five points that could serve as the basis for a future U.N. Security Council resolution: an immediate cease-fire, a clause preventing foreign intervention, assurances about humanitarian aid and an endorsement of Annan’s mission.
The League’s backing down on previous demands for Assad to leave power appeared aimed at securing Russian support for a new resolution.
“Its not a perfect world,” League chief Nabil Elaraby said.
–Associated Press, “Syria assaults opposition as diplomacy staggers,” U.S. News and World Report, March 10, 2012.

However, the full text of the resolution, which is not widely available in English or other Western European languages on the web, should be made public and widely disseminated, so that independent observers can draw their own conclusions regarding what the resolution said about opposing outside intervention. The quote above may be based Lavrov’s statements. Prompt clarification is needed.

See also:

(Reuters/Beirut), “Assad rebuffs Annan as his troops hit Idlib,” Gulf Times, March 11, 2012.

Yasmine Saleh and Edmund Blair (Reuters/Africa), “UPDATE 3-Arabs urge Russia to back Syria peace plan,” Reuters/Africa, March 10, 2012 (4:06pm GMT).

TV5Monde/AFP (Damascus), “Syrie: assaut militaire sur Idleb, une nouvelle rencontre Annan-Assad dimanche,” le 10 mars 2012 (21:51 h).

Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung, “Syria’s Bashar al-Assad firmly in control, U.S. intelligence officials say,” Washington Post, March 9, 2012.

***

The Washington Post’s coverage of events in Syria over the last two days (March 9 and 10) has been appalling, with only a report on March 9 quoting administration intelligence officials on how hard it would be to intervene militarily in Syria, which the latter view as firmly under al Assad’s control, and on March 10 only a short wire story on the momentous events underway in Syria. It appears that they have no one on the scene covering the story. U.S. coverage of foreign events has been growing weaker over recent years, but the idea that the Post could do so poorly in reporting on an issue of such importance is disheartening indeed. See The Trenchant Observer, “Our Dimming Vision of World Affairs”, January 2, 2010.

In contrast to the plan described in the reported March 10 Arab League statement, it will be recalled that the November 2, 2011 peace plan adopted by the Arab League provided for the following:

CAIRO: Syria has agreed to an Arab League plan to end the country’s crisis, in particular pledging to end repression of protests during which, according to the United Nations, more than 3,000 people have been killed since mid-March.

Following are the main points of the Arab plan:
1: – Complete halt to the violence, whatever its origin, to protect Syrian civilians.
2: – Release of people detained as a result of the recent events.
3: – Withdrawal of every type of military presence from towns and residential districts.
4: – Allow concerned organizations from the Arab League, Arab and international media to move freely throughout Syria and find out the reality of the situation.

According to the text of the plan, “after tangible progress is achieved by the Syrian government in applying the terms of the four preceding points,” the Arab ministerial committee will have contacts and consult with the government and various Syrian opposition bodies. The aim of these will be “to prepare a conference of national dialogue within two weeks.”
The plan does not stipulate the exact date for the military withdrawal nor when the two-week period should begin.
Arab diplomats say that Damascus wants the talks to take place in Syria, something the opposition categorically refuses.
The Arab League has suggested that initially the talks take place in Cairo.

–The Daily Star (Beirut), November 3, 2011.

In four months, estimates of the number killed in Syria have risen from 3,000 to 8,000 or 8,500. That is, while diplomats talked, and al-Assad proceeded with his murderous repression, some 5,000 or more people have died. That is the “collateral damage” which has resulted from inaction by the international community, what we like to think of as “the civilized world”.

As military leaders in Washington argue to Congress that any air attacks such as those called for by Senator John McCain on March 5 would involve the infliction of significant collateral damage and civilian casualties, they should bear in mind the collateral damage that inaction has already caused, and will certainly cause in the future until al-Assad is stopped.

The text of Senator John McCain’s speech of March 5, 2012 on the floor of the Senate can be found on his Senate web site here.

McCain’s speech is closely reasoned, and makes a very compelling case for immediate military intervention led by the U.S. to bring al-Assad’s ongoing of war crimes and crimes against humanity to a prompt halt. It is must reading.

As the interminable diplomatic dance proceeds, let us all keep our eyes fixed firmly on what is actually happening on the ground, as thousands of people are being slaughtered for the crime of insisting on their exercise of fundamental human rights.

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

Friday, March 9th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the latest reports, see

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter/trenchantobserv

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

***

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

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