Posts Tagged ‘Lavrov’

America’s shame: By-passing Europe to meet with Lavrov before NATO foreign ministers meeting aimed at stiffening response to Russian aggression in Ukraine

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

It has taken a day of reflection to fully grasp America’s perfidious betrayal of Europe in hastily agreeing to bilateral talks on Sunday with Russia, on the eve of a EU summit.

Obama is no longer, if he ever was, a leader of the Free World who could be trusted to not go behind the backs of his alliance partners to cut a side deal with Russia.

He demonstrated this by selling out the Syrian resistance, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states when he cut a deal with Russia for the withdrawal of chemical weapons from Syria.

Now, as Europe gathers for a NATO Foreign ministers meeting at which responses to Russian aggression In the Ukraine are to be discussed, Obama has undercut the common position of the U.S. and Europe vis-a-vis Russia by agreeing to bilateral talks with Russia to defuse the Ukrainian crisis.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops gathered on the border of the Ukraine, and Putin threatening to send them into the eastern Ukraine and/or Moldova, Obama has agreed to hold bilateral talks with Russia, which at this moment has seized and annexed the Ukraine in violation of the most fundamental prohibitions of the Unied Nations Charter.

Merely talking to Russia sends a powerful signal to Putin: His aggression has paid off, and further aggression promises to pay off more. He can send troops into other countries, and the Americans will still jump at any opportunity to discuss his further demands–at the end of the barrel of a gun.

When the U.S. and Europe should be implementing permanent sanctions against Russia for what it has already done, a pacifist Obama pleads with Russia not to commit further acts of aggression.

The minimal sanctions which should be imposed now, and not lifted until the Russian seizure and annexation of the Crimea has been reversed, include a total ban on doing business with any company or finanial institution which conducts business in the Crimea.

This measure should stay in place for 50 years, if necessary, until Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine is reversed.

50 years Is about how long it took to reverse the Soviet aggression and annexation of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Russia will not agree to that, some say. Who could naively expect an aggressor, with armies on the march, to agree to anything except its further demands?

Such a measure, and others, however, are needed now to communicate forcefully to Putin and his band of war criminals (it is an international crime to launch a war of aggression) that the military takeover of the Crimea will not stand.

For a broader view of the current crisis with Russia, see

Joschka Fischer, “Europa, bleibe hart,”Suddeutscher Zeitung, 30. marz 2014.

Die EU muss anerkennen, dass sie nicht nur eine Wirtschaftsunion, sondern auch ein machtpolitischer Akteur ist. Wenn sie Putin jetzt nachgibt, dient sie nicht dem Frieden. Dann ermutigt sie Russlands Präsidenten, den nächsten Schritt zu tun.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Fear of Provoking the Aggressor: Obama, Putin, and the West

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Washington’s difidence in responding to the Ukraine’s request for military equipment, out of fear of provoking Russia to engage in further military aggression in the Ukraine (or elsewhere), reveals how deeply pacificist beliefs have permeated from the top into U.S. military and civilian leadership circles. Or, alternatively, it has demonstrated how effective a pacificist President in the U.S. has been in checking the normal upward flow of analysis, options, and proposals from military and civilian leaders.

The absence of Secretary of State John Kerry from the inner group of decision makers in Washington has been remarkable, suggesting he has been relegated to a preipheral role of flying all around the world and meeting with leaders, without having a seat at the dining room table where major decisions are made. One consequence of his absence is that the analyses and options developed by the State Department have no powerful defender at the White House. This kind of influence cannot be exercised by teleconference.

So, after the military seizure of the Crimea by Russia, what does it tell us that Obama is so concerned about provoking the Russian aggressor that he won’t even send military equipment to the Ukraine in response to its urgent request, which has been placed “under study”?

To the Observer, it suggests that Obama has been cowed by Putin in terms of taking actions beyond the mild targeted economic sanctions so far imposed by Europe and the U.S.–aimed at less than three dozen individuals and one bank.

Obama solves problems with beautifully crafted torrents of words. Putin seizes opportunities by stealth, lies and the decisive movement of troops and tanks.

It’s clear now that the sanctions imposed by the West have been “too little, too late”. If so-called “stage three” sanctions (real trade and financial sanctions directed against Russia itself) had been imposed immediately following the Russian military seizure of the Crimea, it is possible that Putin might have hesitated before proceeding to annex the peninsula.

For that matter, maybe Putin has already decided to intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine, and to use military force to prevent Ukriane’s movement toward integration into the European Union.

Thus, for the moment, like Nevellie Chamberlain and Èdouard Daladier at Munich in September 1938, the U.S. appears to feel there is no alternative other than to cower before the aggresor.

At that point, of course, the aggressor has already won half the battle, which turns decisively on the will and determination of his opponents to stand up against further acts of aggression, through effective means.

With Obama now willing to have his Secretary of State meet with the Russian foreign minister to seek agreements that will forestall further Russian aggression–while rolling back its military seizure of the Ukraine is off the table, we can see clearly how a pacificst president continues to lead his nation down the road of appeasement.

See Anne Gearan, “U.S. seeks detente with Russia over Ukraine with Kerry, Lavrov to meet in Paris,” The Washington Post, March 29, 2014.

The sad truth is that Obama and his foreign policy team are not capable of leading the West — alone — in the current crisis with Russia, following the latter’s seizure and annexation of the Crimea.

To meet bilaterally with Russia at this time, on these implicit terms, reflects Obama’s pacificism and constitutes a total act of further appeasement. Putin astutely has tried to peel off the U.S. from Europe, two days before NATO foreign ministers meet to decide upon a stronger response to Russia’s aggression. Obama, clueless, plays right into Putin’s attempt to divide the Western alliance.

The U.S. should meet with Russia, if at all, only if it is joined by representatives from EU and NATO governments, and then only if the restoration of the status quo ante prior to the Russian military takeover of Crimea is on the table for discussion.

We have seen how ready Obama is to sell out his allies, particularly in the case of the agreement in Geneva with Russia to remove chemical weapons from Syria. That agreement let Obama off the hook in terms of military strikes against Syria after the latter’s use of chemical weapons. But it also sold out the Syrian resistance and the strongest allies of the United States in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia.

See “The Leopard and the Impala: Putin astutely plays Obama for a chump,” The Trenchant Observer, September 12, 2013.

Europeans and other NATO members, to safeguard their own interests and those of the West, should insist that they participate fully in any discussions involving Russia and the United States.

The pacifist mind-set which reigns in Washington is completely revealed by the agreement to hold bilateral talks between Kerry and Lavrov on Sunday. The move starkly undercuts the actions German Chancellor Angela Merkel and foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are taking to develop a strong European consensus to opppose Russian aggression.

Obama seems far too ready to let stand the Russian military aggression and takeover of the Crimea, and get back to business as usual.

He is quite prepared to negotiate with the aggressor over whether Russia will commit further acts of aggression, under continued Russian military threats represented by tens of thousands of troops menacingly poised on the border with the Ukraine.

The moral bankruptcy of Barack Obama and the Obama administration has never been more fully on view.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Obama, Putin and Syria: Commentary

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Roger Cohen, “An Anchorless World,” New York Times, September 12, 2013.

Laure Mandevill, “Syrie : Obama sort de la crise affaibli face à Poutine,” Le Figaro, le 15 septembre 2013.

Tomas Avenarius, Kairo (Kommentar), “Abkommen zu Syrien: Tausche Senfgas gegen Machterhalt,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 15. September 2013.

“Der Plan zur Vernichtung der syrischen Chemiewaffen wird als diplomatische Meisterleistung beklatscht. Es gibt dem Diktator Assad aber auch Zeit, die Rebellion niederzuschlagen – die Aufständischen werden der russisch-amerikanischen Großmachtpolitik geopfert. Dieser Verrat wäre nur auf eine Weise zu rechtfertigen.”

The Trenchant Observer

The Leopard and the Impala: Putin astutely plays Obama for a chump

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

We can’t know for sure what the outcome will be with respect to the Russian proposal to put chemical weapons in Syria under international control and eventually to destroy them.

But I have a sinking feeling in my stomach, as al-Assad argues that Israel will have to give up its chemical and nuclear weapons and Russia cuts down a French proposal for a strong Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, adding that it doesn’t think anything more will be necessary than a (legally meaningless) Security Council “Presidential Statement” taking note of Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The “international control” that would be exercised under the ordinary terms of the Chemical Weapons Treaty would give al-Assad infinite opportunities to quibble with the inspectors, while his armies continue to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against his people.

Several observations are in order:

1. Obama has shown through his vacillating and weak-kneed “pivots” on Syria that he doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to pull the trigger on planned military action against Syria.

His character is weak. The world now knows this. The consequences to our national security are likely to be grave.

2. Obama has also shown that he is not a stalwart ally or leader, and instead is one who doesn’t hesitate to pull the rug out from under those whose help he has enlisted. A powerful example of this was offered by his decision to undercut Turkey and others who were planning military action a year ago, deciding instead “to work through the Russians”.

In this last week, we have seen multiple examples of how he undercuts members of his own team, e.g., after John Kerry made a strong case for military action and then Obama gave it the “soft-sell” in what was almost a casual manner. Or, following Samantha Power’s strong words regarding the perfidious role the Russians have played in the Security Council, when Obama made a 180 degree turn on a dime and ignored all of that, looking instead to the Russians to lead the effort to get Syria to give up their chemical weapons.

3. The president has also shown that he is the ultimate loner, deciding without consulting anyone else to submit a request for authorization for military action against Syria to the Congress.

It was a moment when he might have pulled the trigger. He flinched. Now his fleet that was on station in the Mediterranean, according to DEBKAfile, has dispersed.

Pulling the trigger in public, as opposed to pulling the trigger in the black shadows of the basement of the White House during a drone strike operation, turns out to be incredibly difficult for the president.

The Russian plan if fully implemented would solve the problem of chemical weapons in Syria. But it would also legitimize al-Assad’s hold on power, potentially at the cost of an undertaking to forswear the use of force against Syria no matter what happens there.

Just as he pulled the rug out from under the Turks a year ago, Obama is willing to pull the rug out from under the Syrian opposition forces we have been encouraging, in word if not in deed, for the last two years. Nor has Obama publicly supported the French who were preparing to present a strong draft Security Council resolution on Tuesday.

However abhorrent their support for and complicity in the crimes against humanity and the war crimes Bashar al-Assad and his regime have committed against the Syrian people, including through the use of chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013, it is hard not to appreciate on a technical level the cold-blooded effectiveness with which Sergei Lavrov and Vladimir Putin have sized up Obama, and successfully played him for a chump.

Nonetheless, their bad faith is manifest from the simple fact that Putin continues to insist the attack at Ghouta was by rebel forces, contrary to all available evidence and without producing a shred of evidence himself for that baleful proposition.

The only way a chemical weapons ban in Syria would make any sense would be if it were imposed by the Security Council on Syria through a binding resolution adopted under the authority of Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.

Even then, it would not make sense unless it opened the way to further collaboration with the Russians in an urgent effort to establish a ceasefire at the earliest opportunity.

Otherwise, the U.S. will have handed Putin and al-Assad an enormous military and diplomatic victory. Having forestalled a palpable risk of military action by the United States against Syria, they could now play the old delay and divide game where any solution depends on al-Assad’s agreement to this or that provision of this or that agreement. The impeteus for military action by Obama will have passed, after his powerful demonstration of weak resolve when the cards were in his hands.

One further point is that Obama’s failure to offer any detailed legal justification for military action against Syria has made it almost impossible for him to build a coalition and a base of support outside the circle of the oldest friends of the United States in Europe and the Gulf, and undoubtedly has also hurt him on Capitol Hill.

So, we can conclude that Obama is not likely to use force against Syria, even under the most compelling of circumstances.

His argument for military action against Syria is divorced from a cogent strategic rationale, while he shows that despite the gassing of over 1400 civilians in Ghouta on August 21, 2013, he remains determined not to try to shift the balance in Syria. Nothing in his policy towards Syria has changed; only the chemical weapons issue has grabbed his attention, and he appears willing to sell out the Syrian opposition and the Gulf states in order to pursue a solution to “his Syrian problem” by “working through the Russians”.

For the moment, he is left with his Russian friends, and what they might deign to do to help him extricate himself from the utter fiasco he has created in the last two years, and the last month in particular, in Syria–and politically back in the United States.

It is bad enough to have a president who is an incompetent foreign policy leader. That misfortune is infinitely compounded when that president is a control freak, and insists on making every foreign policy call himself.

Given his incompetence and that of his White House team, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”, the best we Americans can hope for is that through some kind of miracle Obama will relinquish tight control over foreign policy and allow his Secretary of State, who seems eminently qualified for the job, to take the lead. The president’s job would be to back him up.

But of course we live in a world of infinite possibilities, where elephants can fly. Maybe there will be a deal for al-Assad to surrender his chemical weapons, under the terms of a strong Security Council resolution.

Maybe Obama will find the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the Russians when they don’t play nice.

Maybe Obama will remember America’s friends in the Gulf, and how they are likely to react to a U.S. betrayal of the Syrian opposition.

Maybe the Republicans and Democrats in Congress will grasp the disastrous fiasco in Syria the United States has fallen into in the last month, and decide to provide the bipartisan support the president may need to act effectively in the current situation.

One can hope for the best, and hope to be surprised in a positive sense. Maybe elephants can fly.

The Trenchant Observer

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.


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

Islamabad, Kabul, Moscow, Damascus and Washington: The cumulative impact of “rookie” errors—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #52 (June 16)

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

The lack of strategic thinking and stumbling execution of Obama’s foreign policy “juggernaut”–“the gang who couldn’t shoot strait” has led to a complicated, deteriorating and increasingly dangerous situation with respect to Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

President Obama and his foreign policy team have demonstrated two great weaknesses in his first 3 1/2 years in office. Both relate to the connectedness of things.

The first and most pervasive weakness has been Obama’s lack of appreciation of international law and and its impact on perceptions of legitimacy among foreign populations and governments, and the many ways in which it influences government behavior. As a result he has failed to use it effectively where it might support U.S. interests, and failed to understand that the reactions of other states to U.S. policies and actions may be strongly affected by international law.

Because of his willful ignorance of international law, Obama has blindly pursued his use of drones for targeted killings even when and where legal justification for their use is most dubious.  Moreover, Obama has made a number of rookie mistakes.

One need only think of the Abbottabad raid that killed Bin Laden, and U.S. officials boasting of the fact that it was undertaken without the Pakistani government’s knowledge or permission, to grasp the point.

See Gardiner Harris (New Delhi), “In New Delhi, Panetta Defends Drone Strikes in Pakistan, New York Times, June 6, 2012.

Harris reported the following remarks:

Leon E. Panetta, the United States defense secretary, brushed aside concerns on Wednesday that drone strikes against leaders of Al Qaeda in Pakistan violate that country’s sovereignty.

“We have made clear to the Pakistanis that the United States of America is going to defend ourselves against those who attack us,” Mr. Panetta said. “This is not just about protecting the United States. It’s also about protecting Pakistan. And we have made it very clear that we are going to continue to defend ourselves.”

On Monday, a Central Intelligence Agency drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal belt killed Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, American officials said. Such strikes have infuriated Pakistani officials, who have demanded that they end. But the Obama administration considers them a highly effective tool in the battle against Al Qaeda.

Mr. Panetta’s remarks on Wednesday, delivered during a question-and-answer session following a speech he gave here at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, demonstrate yet again how strained the relationship between Islamabad and Washington has become.

He chuckled along with his audience about Pakistan’s lack of warning before the United States killed Osama bin Laden in a raid last year near a huge Pakistani Army base. “They didn’t know about our operation,” Mr. Panetta said to laughter. “That was the whole idea.”

Panetta, a staunch proponent of the drone strikes–many of which he personally authorized during his time as Director of the CIA, has become an increasingly outspoken member of “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.

The second weakness has been a pattern of reactive, ad hoc foreign policy decision making where the administration appears to see only the immediate crisis in front of it, and seeks solutions which fail to take into consideration their impact on other, related issues. It is almost as if, at the highest levels, they don’t see the connections.

Over time, these weaknesses have produced an accumulation of short-sighted and “rookie” decisions which have compounded the difficulties facing the president. As a result, Obama faces a series of problems where the options are now quite limited due to earlier mistakes.

For example, because of the sharp deterioration in U.S. relations with Pakistan, the United States is now dependent on Russia in significant measure for supply routes to Afghanistan. These will also be needed for the withdrawal of men and equipment in the next two years.

Sour relations with Pakistan limit America’s ability to influence developments in that country, which is of far greater strategic importance to the United States than Afghanistan. They also undermine a key requirement for a relatively secure withdrawal from Afghanistan by the U.S. and its allies, which is Pakistani cooperation in limiting cross-border actions by the Afghan Taliban and related groups, such as the Haqqani network.

There is also evidence of “rookie” pride inhibiting the improvement of relations with Pakistan. Reliable reports suggest that one reason the U.S. withdrew a negotiating team that had been in Pakistan trying to secure the reopening of supply routes to Afghanistan was that he U.S. refused to apologize for an incident in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by mistake. The U.S. is only willing to express “regret”.


Oliver Carmichal, “US tells Pakistan to ‘bite the bullet’ over Nato supply routes; A senior US government official has said that Pakistan’s government should “bite the bullet” and reopen supply routes to Nato forces in Afghanistan,” The Telegraph, June 12, 2012.

David S. Cloud and Alex Rodriguez, “Defense Secretary Panetta’s Pakistan comments complicate talks; After Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s harsh criticism of Pakistan over militant attacks, talks to reopen NATO supply routes into Afghanistan have stalled,” Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2012.

Eric Schmitt and Declan Walsh, “U.S. Takes Step Toward Exit in Pakistan Talks,: New York Times, June 11, 2012.

On another front, Washington’s paralysis in the face of the ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria has not only allowed that crisis to erupt into flames in a civil war, but has also weakened the credibility of the United States in the region generally, and in Iran in particular.

Obama’s foreign policy regarding Syria has been vacillating, and in the end pusillanimous, as Washington has caved in to each and every Russian threat. The latest threat, hardly subtle, was Dimitri Medvedev’s reference to the risk of nuclear war in the region if a state’s sovereignty was not respected.

The United States has not responded to that threat, pretending that it did not occur. Such a failure to react is downright dangerous, and it may further feed perceptions in Moscow that Obama is a pushover.

Obama’s meeting with Putin at the upcoming G-20 conference is particularly portentous.  After Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser, flew to Moscow and met with Putin, the latter canceled his appearance at the G-8 summit held at Camp David on May 18-19.  Judging from his behavior on Syria, Putin does not seem to have a lot of respect for Obama and his foreign policy team.

This should not be too surprising, as Russia has outmaneuvered the United States at every turn of the Syria crisis. Most notable, perhaps, was the Russian surprise appearance at a meeting of the Arab League at which they secured Arab League approval (or acquiescence) in a five-point peace plan which included a ban on outside intervention. The U.S. seems to have been taken by surprise, though it is always possible that they were aware and supported the initiative–which, if true, would reveal an even higher level of incompetence.

One can only be somewhat apprehensive at the prospect of the Obama and Putin meeting next week.  Obama needs to be wise, and lay the basis for a full U.S.-Russian bilateral meeting in the near future.  Above all, he now needs to give unfledging support to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul, who he undercut by sending Donilon to meet with Putin.

See Miriam Elder (Modcow), “Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Moscow, victim of Kremlin ‘Twitter war'; Russian state launches volley of tweets criticising ambassador’s ‘unprofessional’ speech to students on US-Russia relations,” The Guardian, May 29, 2012.

The issue of Iran’s enrichment program, which continues despite setbacks caused in part by acts of cyber-warfare causing centrifuges to explode and other computer problems, has not been resolved, and much time has been lost. The United States will need the firm support of Russia in the ongoing multilateral talks with Iran. This means Russia has further leverage over the United States on the Syrian issue.

The fact that Russia, China and Iran are on the same side of the Syrian question should be a major cause of concern to Obama, but there is little or no evidence that the administration understands the risks involved here. “Driving from the back seat,” Syria is allowed to drift into more and more intense fighting and destruction, with a sharpening of the conflict between the U.S. and Russia which points toward an inevitable collision. This is a matter of grave concern because we are talking about the two most heavily armed nuclear weapons states on the planet.

Russia is now sending weapons and equipment to Syria to enable the Syrians to strengthen their air defense systems, apparently in a bid to forestall any foreign military intervention.

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s sending missiles to Cuba in 1962, to forestall any U.S. invasion. Were the Russians to introduce medium-range nuclear weapons into Syria, the West would be faced with an acute crisis–without John F. Kennedy, the Captain of PT-109, and the Ex-Com led by Bobby Kennedy to assist in navigating the perilous waters.

The Obama administration is, in the end, embarked on a foreign policy which is reactive, inattentive to realities on the ground, and seemingly oblivious to the moves of other players in these various games, such as Putin and Lavrov. U.S. support for Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan, which was fatally flawed and played into the hands of the Syrians and the Russians from day one, provides cogent evidence of this proposition.

Indeed, jettisoning democratic values and the outrage and action called for by al-Assad’s atrocities, Obama’s foreign-policy juggernaut has given us a peculiar kind of “Realism”, one which ignores the realities on the ground.  This Realism has led to interminably weighing theoretical risks of this or that course of action, particularly of action that might actually halt the killing, while completely ignoring the risks of drift and paralysis and the likely consequences of failing to act decisvely in pursuit of a stategy which advances American national interests.  These include, incidentally, projecting and defending America’s deepest values.

Agonizing over the risks of collateral damage if military intervention were employed, these “Obama realists” ignored or greatly undervalued the risk that over 10,000 people would be killed while they temporized. The risk turned into reality, with estimates now reaching 14,000 dead.

Syria demands the full attention of the president and his foreign policy team. We are navigating perilous waters.

President Obama would be well-advised to revamp his national security team on an urgent basis, bringing back into service seasoned professionals with years of experience in the field, in order to temper the intellectual formulations and lack of strategic focus of his current advisers.

The president needs to greatly strenghten his foreign policy team, now.

The Trenchant Observer

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A Future Foretold: On the ground, al-Assad continues attacks—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #22 (April 4)

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Latest News Reports and Opinion
(Check back for updates.)

Al Jazeera reports that 58 civilian and 18 soldiers were killed in Syria on Tuesday (April 3), according to the opposition sources:

Syrian forces have attacked several opposition bastions despite a ceasefire pledge, according to activist reports, as Russia said the opposition would never defeat President Bashar al-Assad’s army even if “armed to the teeth”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops began shelling several towns and villages early on Wednesday.

“From the Turkish border in the northeast to Daraa in the south, military operations are ongoing,” Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based group, told the AFP news agency.

“Tanks are still shelling or storming towns and villages before going back to their bases.”

The opposition group said 58 civilians and 18 soldiers were killed on Tuesday in assaults taking place even as Assad pledged to implement by April 10 a peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

–“Syria violence rages despite peace pledge; Activist reports of shelling, tank assaults and dozens killed, despite government’s pledge to begin withdrawing forces,” Al Jazeera, April 4, 2012.

Meanwhile, a glimpse into Russia’s real motivations is provided by the following report:

AFP (Moscow), “Syria rebels will never defeat Assad’s army: Russia; Russia stepped up its backing of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday by warning the West that the rebels would never be able to defeat his army even if “armed to the teeth,” Dawn, April 4, 2012.

AFP reports at least 41 people have been killed in Syria on Wednesday (April 4). AFP, “La répression fait 41 nouvelles victimes en Syrie; En dépit des promesses de Damas, le plan élaboré par Kofi Annan n’est toujours pas mis en application,” Le Point, 4 avril 2012 (19:37 h).

The Trenchant Observer

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.

Russia’s calculations, al-Assad and civil war: Syria Update #1

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Michael Young, the prominent columnist of The Daily Star in Beirut, provides an insightful inventory of considerations Russia may have in mind in defending the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, not only in the Security Council but also–and significantly–with ongoing munitions deliveries. He writes,

The Russians may sense that they’re backing a lame horse in Assad, and an indication of this was Lavrov’s statement in Australia this week. He noted, “We are not friends or allies of President Assad. We never said that Assad remaining in power is a precondition for regulating the situation. We said something else – we said that the decision should be made by Syrians, by the Syrians themselves.”

The argument that Russia hopes to protect its stake in a future Syria is unconvincing. By holding on to Bashar Assad so stubbornly, despite the killing, the Russians are ensuring that a post-Assad government will impose retribution. Nor does there appear to be bargaining yet between the Russian government and the Syrian opposition that would persuade Russia to drop Assad if it gained satisfaction.

Yet another Russian argument against approving the Arab plan to remove Assad from office is that this might provoke a Syrian civil war. Are the Russians watching the same channel as the rest of us? Syria, precisely because of the homicidal policies of its leader, is heading inexorably toward civil war. The single way to derail such an outcome – and the opportunities are diminishing daily – is to make it apparent to Assad and his acolytes that there is Arab and international unanimity, Russia included, behind –their departure.

–Michael Young, “From Russia, for Bashar’s eyes only,” The Daily Star (Lebanon), February 02, 2012

The Trenchant Observer

See also earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, including:

Monumental miscalculation? Russia’s strategic interests in Syria and its defense of the al-Assad regime”
February 2, 2012

Syria: The Human Cost of Delay
January 18, 2012

Qatar’s leader suggests sending troops to Syria
January 14, 2012

Government Terror in Syria—Putin, Al Assad, and Security Council Referral to the ICC
December 31, 2011

REPRISE: Syria and the Shame of the World, November 19th, 2011 (originally published on August 20, 2011)