Posts Tagged ‘Lebanon’

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

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first strikes were on May 3-4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

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

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Introduction to the REPRISE (May 7, 2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published May 27, 2012

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

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

***
–Webster’s New Worl Dictionary

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Obama, administration officials said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the first betrayals on Syria was with Turkey:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

Will the raging fire in Syria reach the cedars of Lebanon?—Obama’s Debacle in Syira — Update #77 (August 24)

Friday, August 24th, 2012

If you’ve ever attended a conference at the Commodore Hotel or walked near the American University in West Beirut, or had a drink at a lively bar or eaten lunch in Ashrafiieh, in East Beirut, you may have some sense of the charms of Lebanon and its capital city. If you’ve driven around Beirut and seen the way the center of the city near the Green Line has been rebuilt following the long civil war (1975-1990), or witnessed the variety of religious beliefs represented in the dress of women at one of the busy shopping malls, and seen how despite their differences Lebanese seem to manage getting along with each other, you may have some idea of their achievement in building a country with a working democracy and a strong civil society, after a devastating civil war, in a place where the tectonic plates of Islamic and Christian civilizations come together.

And if you’ve ever studied a little bit of Lebanon’s history, from the development of the alphabet at Byblos and the Phoenicians to the Romans and the Crusaders to the present, and particularly since the landing of U.S. marines in 1958 to stabilize the existing order and the sudden withdrawal of U.S. marines on a separate mission, following the deaths of 241 American marines and 58 French servicemen from a truck bombing at their headquarters in Beirut in 1983, you may have some sense of the delicate balance of forces at play in Lebanon, and the careful efforts of the Lebanese themselves to avoid a return to civil war. Nor do they wish to return to the enforced peace which existed under Syrian occupation until the Syrians were forced to withdraw following the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005. The Syrian withdrawal resulted from what came to be known as “the Cedar Revolution”, led by forces now known as “the March 14 Alliance” (not to be confused with their opponents, the “the March 8 Alliance”).

The government, representing a finely-balanced equilibrium between opposing alliances, seems perennially on the verge of collapse. Before the Arab Spring reached Syria and exploded into civil war as a result of Bashar al-Assad’s use of terror in attempting to suppress it, a huge issue which threatened political stability in the country was whether the government would pay its share of the expenses of the international Special Tribunal for Lebanon set up by the United Nations to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the Hariri assassination. This became a burning issue when it became known that the Tribunal was planning to issue, and then issued, indictments against members of Hezbollah for their involvement in the Hariri assassination. Somehow, through a number of crises, the Lebanese were able to work out a solution to this problem. Lebanon paid its share of the Tribunal’s budget without Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, bringing down the government or even seizing control of Beirut’s southern suburbs (and other parts of the city) and the southern part of the country, in addition to the Bekaa Valley, which through his actions he had threatened to do in the past. Somehow, Lebanon muddled through.

Culturally, Lebanon has played a very special role in the Arab imagination, a fact reflected in many Egyptian films, as a romantic and holiday destination. It is also known as a place of personal and intellectual freedom where individuals of different nationalities and political, religious and ethnic backgrounds can come together, in order to meet, exchange ideas, negotiate, and enjoy the vibrant music and cultural scene. Lebanon’s cultural life is now broadcast through the Arab world by satellite television channels including LBC.

The love songs and melodies of Farouz, perhaps the best known singer in the Middle East in the last 50 years, are known throughout the Arab world and beyond.

Yet the toll of the Lebanese Civil War on the people of Lebanon was horrendous.

Now, the carefully constructed peace and political balance in Lebanon, built on the ruins of that war, is in great danger of being rendered by the raging forces of the civil war in Syria, which has recently spilled over into Tripoli and northern Lebanon. Moreover, the former Lebanese Minister of Information, Michel Samaha, has been arrested with explosives on charges he brought explosives into Lebanon with the intent of bombing crowds and assassinating Sunni leaders supportive of the Free Syrian Army, in coordination with Syrian intelligence officials.

See

Misbah al-Ali and Antoine Amrieh, “Tripoli trapped in Syria quagmire,” The Daily Star, August 25, 2012 (12:48 a.m.).

“Syria spillover clashes escalate in Lebanon; Killing of Sunni leader by sniper fire reignites violence that has left 17 people dead in Tripoli over last five days,” Al Jazeera, August 24, 2012.

Damien Cave, “Syrian War Plays Out Along a Street in Lebanon,” New York Times, August 23, 2012.

Damian Cave, “Syria Seen as Trying to Roil Lebanon,” New York Times, August 21, 2012.

Victor Kotsev, “Assad opens regional Pandora’s box,” Asia Times (online), August 25, 2012.

Donna Abu-Nasr, “Foiled Lebanon Bomb Plot Raises Concern of Spread
from Syria,” Bloomberg, August 20, 2012.

This spill-over has been largely due to the passivity of the West and the Arab countries and the civilized nations of the world, in the face of Russian and Chinese blocking actions in the U.N. Security Council.  The West and their allies have shown an appalling lack of resolve in standing up to the terror in Syria orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, with material and political support from Russia, Iran and China.

If the West and the Arab countries and Turkey had intervened early with the calibrated use of military force to halt al-Assad’s atrocities, would the civil war have reached its current dimensions or intensity?

Revealingly, Dimitri Simes, a well-known Russian expert, stated on the PBS Newshour on June 13, 2012, that he had just had a number of conversations in Moscow with key officials, and had come away with the clear impression that if the West and the Arab countries were to intervene with military force, the Russians would not be happy and would complain loudly, but in the end would be prepared to accept the fact of the intervention.

DIMITRI SIMES:

Let me say, however, again something Michele Dunne said which I find quite interesting, and I don’t know whether she had it in mind, but perhaps she did, namely, that nobody said we’re not entitled to act without U.N. Security Council blessing. And as one official in Moscow put it to me, well, look, if the United States feels very strongly that force has to be used and is determined to act, let the United States and NATO do it without U.N. Security Council blessing, the way it has happened in the case of Kosovo, the way it has happened in Iraq.

The Russians obviously would criticize that. They wouldn’t want a decision which doesn’t give a role to the U.N. Security Council. But if that is the only way to resolve the situation, I think they would be prepared to live with that.

–PBS Newshour, June 13, 2012.

Even if Simes’ assessment was accurate at the time, the Russian position has since evolved sharply to one of direct confrontation with the West.

The civil war in Syria is like a large and growing forest fire which outsiders have decided to allow to grow in intensity and extension, hoping that it will burn itself out before it consumes their homes and livestock and other precious goods.

But the fire has shown no signs of burning itself out. On the contrary, every day it seems to find new and endless supplies of dry underbrush and dry wood to feed its fury.

This fire could spread to Lebanon very easily. Some of its flames have already lapped across the borders. The only questions are whether the fire marshals, who have up till now been steadily explaining why they cannot intervene without knowing which way the fire will go and ultimately who will dominate the ruins it leaves behind, will call in the fire brigades to halt its advance, and if so when.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com

www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For links to other articles on Afghanistan by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then type in “Afghanistan” in the search box.

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

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

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

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

***
–Webster’s New Worl Dictionary

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Obama, administration officials said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the first betrayals on Syria was with Turkey:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

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

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

Syrian fighting spills over into Lebanon, threatening stability there—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #42 (May 24)

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

[developing story--check back for updates)

Latest News and Opinion
 
Victor Kotsev, “Syria and Lebanon stare into the abyss,” Asia Times Online, May 24, 2012. (comprehensive overview and analysis)

Dominic Evans (Reuters/Beirut), “Syria violence shakes Lebanon’s fragile stability; Gunmen clash in deadly street battles, protesters block roads with burning tires and opposition politicians demand the prime minister’s downfall, denouncing the army as an agent of a foreign power,” May 23, 2012 (9:26am EDT).

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. Covert Action in Syria?—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #40 (May 22)

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

The “Covert Commander in Chief” and America’s real policy toward Syria

Indeed, as pointed out in our previous article, statements from Obama and his administration at the G-8 summit at Camp David do appear clueless. Could “the smartest person in the room” really be so dumb?

Or could it be that he is simply being deliberately opaque, hiding something from view, and being just a little bit too clever to pull it off?

There have been reports in recent weeks of the U.S. facilitating the efforts of certain Gulf countries to arm the opposition in Syria. Obama may in fact be conducting key aspects of U.S. foreign policy by covert means, while presenting a different narrative to the country and to foreign leaders.

See

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, “US Helps Gulf States Arm Syrian Rebels: Report; The US is coordinating with Saudi Arabia and Qatar in arming Syrian rebels. Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood also is involved,” Israel National News, May 16, 2012.

Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly, “Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination, Washington Post, May 15, 2012.

These articles tell us what the administration wants us to know. They are based in large part on background information from government officials. Obama does tend to “spill the beans” on covert operations when he feels great pride in their achievements.

Could the U.S. be doing more to supply weapons to the Syrian opposition than coordinating the actions of the arms suppliers and the arms recipients? The CIA certainly has the experience. One need only recall the covert war against the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, to cite one example.

The implications of such a development, if it is happening, would be highly significant. The problem would come not from supplying the rebels, but from doing so covertly while presenting a different narrative to the world.

Singing the praises of the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan while at the same time assisting in supplying arms to the rebels would involve, at a fundamental level, betraying all those who take the United States at its word. This could have a significant impact in the future when the United States seeks to bolster or forge new alliances to support important foreign policy objectives.

The Commander in Chief as Covert Operator

As David Ignatius has pointed out, the president is drawn to the allure of covert action. His most trusted cabinet members are linked to the CIA. The Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, is the previous CIA Director. The current CIA director, David Petraeus, is the former commander in Iraq and was the commander in Afghanistan before moving to his present position.

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

Ignatius’ observes,

Obama is the commander in chief as covert operator. The flag-waving “mission accomplished” speeches of his predecessor aren’t Obama’s thing; even his public reaction to the death of bin Laden was relatively subdued. Watching Obama, the reticent, elusive man whose dual identity is chronicled in “Dreams From My Father,” you can’t help wondering if he has an affinity for the secret world. He is opaque, sometimes maddeningly so, in the way of an intelligence agent.

He concludes as follows:

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 (emphasis added).

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 (emphasis added). 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.

Analysis

This is all very confusing. If such covert action is underway, Obama’s greatest blind spot (common to virtually all spooks)–a fundamental failure to grasp the importance and impact of international law–could come back to haunt him in Syria.

A lot of governments could react with outrage to the U.S. conducting a covert policy to overthrow al-Assad–without justifying it under international law, on the one hand, while publicly supporting the anodyne 6-point peace plan adopted by the Security Council, on the other.

What is America’s covert policy toward the al-Assad regime? That is the question. And, of course, the answer is secret.

Whatever the current U.S. dysfunctional approach to Syria may be, we need to keep in clear view what the situation demands for the killing and other abuses to stop, and for the United States to emerge with its reputation and credibility intact.

What is required in Syria is military intervention to halt al-Assad, accompanied by a strong justification under international law.

To facilitate such action, the UNSMIS mandate should not be extended past its present 90-day term.  The observers currently in Syria should immediately be ordered to stand down, before they or their leaders or a significant number of them are killed by IEDs, RPGs, or other instruments of war. They are at great risk, as the recent attacks on them have demonstrated.

We should bear in mind the tragic fate of Sérgio Vieira de Mello (a potential future Secretary General) and some 20 other members of the U.N. Mission in Bagdad who were killed by bombs on August 19, 2003. The Mission was not adequately protected. The bombing not only had tragic consequences, but also led to a precipitate withdrawal of the United Nations from Iraq.

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 consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here.

Obama clueless on Syria? G-8 endorses UN peace plan—Obama’s Debacle in Syria—Update #39 (May 21)

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Latest News Reports and Opinion

Clashes over the weekend following the killing of two Sunni clerics at a roadblock in Tripoli, under ambiguous circumstances, have raised again the real posibility of Lebanon being drawn into the civil conflict in Syria.

See

Neil MacFarquhar, “Syrian Unrest Prompts Gun Battles in Lebanon,” New York Times, May 21, 2012.

Alice Fordham, “Beirut tense after violent clashes linked to Syrian unrest,” The Washington Post, May 21, 2012.

Obama asserts G-8 in agreement on Syria

President Obama appeared in his public comments at the G-8 summit at Camp David this weekend to be seriously out of touch with reality on the ground in Syria. Reuters reports,

Camp David–President Barack Obama told G8 leaders meeting at Camp David that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave power, and pointed to Yemen as a model of how political transition could work there, the White House said on Saturday.

The Group of Eight leaders, in a statement summing up their discussions, urged all parties in Syria to adhere to their commitments under a joint U.N.-Arab League peace plan “including immediately ceasing all violence so as to enable a Syrian-led, inclusive political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system.”

The G8 statement said the leaders welcomed the deployment of the U.N. mission “and urge all parties, in particular the Syrian government, to fully cooperate with the mission. We strongly condemn recent terrorist attacks in Syria.”

Obama brought up Yemen as an example of a leader departing power peacefully and ushering in a democratic process, Rhodes said. “Our point was that we need to see political transition under way that brings real change to Syria,” he said.

Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled the poor Gulf nation for 33 years and was unseated after an uprising last year that split the country’s armed forces into warring factions.

Saleh was granted immunity from prosecution over the killing of protesters as part of power transfer deal that eased him out of office….

–Jeff Mason, “U.S. tells G8 Syria’s Assad must go, cites Yemen as model, Rueters, May 21, 2012.

These statements sound like they came from a goup that has been asleep for the last six months, and just woke up.

As for the Yemeni model, one should bear in mind that it is now viewed by many as the number one state harboring al Qaeda. Just today, over 90 people were killed as the result of a massive bomb explosion. It should also be borne in mind that Saleh killed hundreds of demonstrators, not the thousands al-Assad has murdered. The number of opposition members who would support a Yemeni-style transition, which would leave countless war criminals in place with impunity, could probably be counted on the fingers of a single hand.

Russians Satisfied

The Russians were satisfied with the results of the G-8 summit.

Global leaders demonstrated consensus on all issues discussed at the G8 summit in Camp David. A statement to this effect was made by Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as he spoke to a Voice of Russia correspondent during the news conference after the summit.

“This summit became my fifth,” the Prime Minister said. “Compared to the previous ones, it was informative and problem-free. We held substantial discussions in which all participants readily took part, and there was little, if any, controversy between delegations, or separate leaders.”

The participants in the summit reached consensus on Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Members of the G8 were unanimous that the Syrian government and all parties involved in the conflict should immediately secure the implementation of all requirements of a peace plan proposed by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The Russian delegation made it clear that the Declaration on Syria was fully in conformity with the position of Moscow (emphasis added).

–Garibov Konstantin, “G-8: unanimity in spite of problems – Medvedev,” The Voice of Russia (radio), May 21, 2012 (14:47 Moscow Time).

The Russians’ triumph on Syria at Camp David came on the heals of a veiled threat by Dimitri Medvedev, now Prime Minister, that armed intervention in Syria could lead to nuclear war.

TEHRAN – Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned on Thursday that military action against sovereign states could lead to a regional nuclear war, starkly voicing Moscow’s opposition to Western intervention ahead of a G8 summit at which Syria and Iran will be discussed, Reuters reported.

The 38th G8 summit is to be held in Camp David, Maryland, from May 18 to 19.

“Hasty military operations in foreign states usually bring radicals to power,” Medvedev, president for four years until Vladimir Putin’s inauguration on May 7, told a conference in St. Petersburg in remarks posted on the government’s website.

“At some point such actions which undermine state sovereignty may lead to a full-scale regional war, even, although I do not want to frighten anyone, with the use of nuclear weapons,” Medvedev said.

“Everyone should bear this in mind,” he added.

–”Medvedev warns against a nuclear war in Mideast,” Tehran Times, May 18, 2012 (May 19 print edition).

Analysis

President Obama–at least in public–is talking about a Yemen-style transition in Syria, which presumably would include a guarantee that al-Assad and his henchmen would not be prosecuted for their crimes.

He believes a political transition is necessary in Syria, with al-Assad leaving power. He has said this before.

He and the G-8 have endorsed the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan and the UNSMIS observer mission.

Obama–in his public declarations–appears clueless as to how the al-Assad regime might be induced to permit such a transition, or for that matter to cease their crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave violations of human rights (such as those detailed by the Committee Against Torture Report).

Clueless, or so it would appear.

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.
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How to find news reports from around the world
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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

***

Passivity in the Face of Terror in Syria, Threats of War in Iran — Obama’s Debacle in Syria—Update #2 (March 3, 2012)

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.

A Hard Truth:  Obama is a Weak Leader on Foreign Policy

The truth is hard to accept:  President Obama is a very weak leader on foreign policy issues.

This is a painful admission, because like many others the Trenchant Observer had high hopes and expectations for Obama when he assumed office in January, 2009.  He is still far and away superior to any of the candidates in the Republican primaries who could potentially challenge him for the presidency in 2012.

But he stumbled badly in Libya, and was saved only by the intitiative of France and England which led to him getting involved, “leading from the rear.”  America’s “leading from the rear” resulted in great delay before military action was taken, and consequently the loss of many civilian lives in Libya.

Now, he is stumbling badly again–in Syria.  Nicholas Sarkozy is consumed by the first-round presidential elections soon to be held in France, and has declared that France will only act militarily pursuant to Security Council authorization. David Cameron is unable to assume the mantle of leadership on his own. 

So, in effect, following the Russian and Chinese vetoes of a mild U.N. Security Council resolution on February 4–which explicitly ruled out the use of force–and a General Assembly resolution on February 16 which harshly condemned the widespread commission of grave human rights abuses by the Syrian government.

China and Russia have burned their bridges in the Middle East, probably for a generation. Both have shamelessly vetoed the Security Council resolution on February 4 endorsing in part the Arab League’s peace plan–which ruled out the use of force. Both voted against a General Assembly Resolution on Frebruary 16 condemning al-Assad’s continuing butchery in Syria, and calling for its immediate halt. Amazingly, both China and Russia also voted against a Human Rights Council resolution on March 1 which concdemned the killing and called for access for humanitarian relief.

Now, on March 4, China proposes something very similar to what the February 4 Security Council provided for. Unfortunately, thousands have died since then, the butchery continues, and measures short of the authorization of military force or its use are unlikely to stop Bashar al-Assad’s raging commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

In a word, no forceful action has been taken to stop the killing in Syria, and none is yet in sight. Obama’s actions have been marked by their passivity, and by his absolute failure to deal in a serious way with the ongoing carnage on the ground in Syria. As in Libya, he has been a commander in chief notable primarily for his absence from the center of decision-making during a crisis of great importance to the United States and the world. He has not assumed the mantle of leadership, and even reportedly vetoed this last week proposals from within hhis administration for the use of force.

The World–Leaderless and Helpless Before the Ongoing Terror in Syria

The world stands leaderless and helpess before the ongoing terror and commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes by Bashar al-Assad and his government in Syria.

This week the U.N. official in charge of humanitarian assistance was refused entry to Syria.  Al-Assad refuses to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent to enter Homs with humanitarian assistance and to remove the wounded.  Having been promised access, they now begin their third day of waiting.  Bombardments of Homs and other cities and towns continue.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has been reduced to an almost tragic figure, pleading publicly with Al-Assad to allow humanitarian aid in and to stop the killing. It is almost as if he expects that the Syrian Dictator might be swayed by appeals to reason and to humanitarian considerations–at this point in time, after all such previous appeals have failed spectacularly.

Leaders from civilized nations and their populations have trouble believing that true evil exists.  They need to grasp that it does exist, now, in Syria.  Hitler existed.  Stalin existed.  They were real.  So is Al-Assad.

Ban Ki-Moon recently made a horrendous mistake when he appointed Kofi Annan to mediate the dispute in Syria, in effect to “mediate” the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  How you can even negotiate with such a murderer without bringing to bear credible threats of the use of force is beyond the Observer’s understanding.  The idea of mediating the commission of such crimes is a fundamentally flawed concept, and how it ever got out of the Secretary General’s office defies comprehension. It was an act born of desperation, a desperate ploy, it would seem.

In the event, as was to be expected, Kofi Annan has not even been able to get into to Syria to meet with al-Assad, who continues his commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Homs and elsewhere in the country.

It is a sad spectacle, when the world community faces the commission of such horrendous crimes without a leader, helpless.

Obama’s Dangerous Drift and Lack of Leadership on Syria and also on Israel and Iran

Obama should be that leader, but he seems driven only by factors that might affect his re-election in October.  Instead of leading efforts to mobilize effective action against al-Assad, including military action if required, he is on the stump giving political speeches, even if they aren’t called that, fighting to win the daily news cycle as if he were in the last two weeks of the presidential campaign in October.

The world is leaderless, and Obama is stumbling on Syria, and also on Israel and Iran.

His talk of “all options are on the table” with respect to Iran has now become an oft-repeated mantra, whose force has become so weakened that the president himself feels constrained to assure the world that he is “not bluffing”.  Once you have to tell people you are not bluffing, your credibility is already on very weak ground indeed.

His foreign policy attention is riveted on Netanyahu’s visit to the Washington next week, where the Israeli Prime Minister will meet with Obama and also with the leading Israeli lobby in the country. Netanyahu and Israel do have an impact on the elction, through their impact on American supporters and political contributors. That’s one reason why Obama is paying such close attention.

Yet the one nagging problem, far from the lights and noise of the political arena, remains. That problem is that Syria, and Israel and Iran are part of the real world, outside of U.S. electoral politics and the 24-hour news cycle in the U.S. Obama’s decisions will have far-reaching impacts on what happens on the ground in each of these countries, wholly aside from whatever impact they might have on the American presidential elections.

Obama’s Blind Spot: International Law

Obama seems to have it exactly backwards in terms of principle, talking of the option of Israel–with U.S. acquiescence or assistance–attacking Iran to put their nuclear weapons program out of business, at least for a while.

Under international law, there is no basis whatsoever for a military attack on Iran in the absence of Security Council authorization. To argue that Israel is acting in self-defense would stretch that concept (contained in Article 2(4) and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter) far past the breaking point.

Moreover, U.S. military assistance to Israel generally contains the condition that the weapons may only be used for self-defense. No argument that an attack on Iran was justified by self-defense could be made with a straight face, without completely eliminating the meaning of that term in domestic legislation (which applies to military assistance to many countries), not to speak of its lack of foundation under international law and the U.N. Charter.

At the same time, Obama should be aware that the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iran is a party contains a withdrawal clause that Iran might well invoke in order to withdraw from the NPT after an armed attack by Israel (with or without the acquiescence or support of the United States).

Article X(1) of the NPT provides:

Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.

–For a short but insightful discussion of the withdrawal clause and its history, see Jenny Nielsen and John Simpson, “The NPT Withdrawal Clause and its Negotiating History,” in Mountbatten Centre for International Studies, MCICS NPT Review Issue (2004).

In sharp contrast, military action to relieve civilian populations from attacks by tanks, anti-aircraft guns and artillery in Syria, and the blocking of humanitarian relief, could probably be justified under international law, even without the authorization of the Security Council. This  in effect was the position taken by the United States with the support of NATO and other countries when it bombed Serbia in 1999, to bring to a halt the crimes against humanity being committed in Kosovo.

In short, international law would arguably permit military action in Syria under the present extraordinary conditions that exist there, whereas an Israeli armed attack on Iran to halt its nuclear program would be a flagrant violation of the U.N. Charter, international law, and U.S. domestic legal restrictions on the use by Israel of weapons purchased from the U.S. or with U.S. funds.  Moreover, an attack on Iran might well lead to Iranian withdrawal from the NPT, making resolution over the longer term of the Iranian nuclear question even more problematic. 

The Consequences of Drift and Inaction in Syria, Israel, and Iran

Obama’s drift and lack of leadership are, in view of the foregoing, extremely consequential.  By not leading the international community in efforts to halt al-Assad, by force if necessary, in accordance with international law, and by verbally allowing the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran, in a manner which could actually lead the Israelis to think they might have a green light, he is in a position to cause an extraordinary reversal of fortunes for the United States, and a much broader war in the Middle East.  Obama’s lack of strategic sense also makes it hard for him to see how opposing al-Assad could have the additional benefit of weakening Iran’s reach into Syria, Gaza (with Hamas) and Lebanon (with Hezbollah). 

Al-Assad’s butchery could continue, while Israel attacks Iran, igniting a regional conflict. At that point it would not only be China and Russia excercising their vetoes in the Security Council to protect al-Assad and gain time for him to finish wiping out his opponents, but also the United States invoking its veto to avoid condemnation and action against Israel and the U.S. under Chapter VII of the Charter, for violation of the prohibition against the threat or use of force contained in Article 2 (4) of the U.N. Charter–the most important norm in the Charter.  Come to think of it, President Obama might usefully reread that language, particularly the part about the “threat..of the use of force”.

Obama has paid little attention to international law.  This is evident, to cite but a few examples, from his failure to apply the provisions of the Convention Against Torture to prosecute those responsible for crafting and implementing the Bush torture policy, in his support of targeted killings and failure to prosecute those responsible for extraordinary renderings, and finally through his adoption of an expansive military doctrine and practice of using drones to execute individuals put on a targets list.  The latter has even included U.S. citizens, and the targeting of unknown individuals who meet certain “parameters” that indicate they belong to the Taliban, Al Queda or other terrorist groups.

He did not use the words “international law” in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, on December 10, 2009.  We can now see, much better than we could at the time, how extremely significant that omission was.

Obama and administration officials speak of ”red lines” when they are telling other governments what actions might provoke a military response.  Foreign officials have even begun to use the term of ”red lines”.  This is the way states communicated with each other in the 19th century.  Obama doesn’t use the language, grammar and vocabulary of international law, which has evolved  into a highly developed form of precise communication built on the legitimacy and acceptance of the principles involved.  He should. 

As the Butchery Continues in Syria and Israel Threatens to Attack Iran, What is to be Done?

What is to be done?P

Leadership of the world must come from somewhere, if chaos is to be avoided. Preferably that leadership should come from the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

But if it doesn’t, if Obama falters, other states or groups of states must come forward, not only to lead military action in Syria if required to halt the killing, but also to prevent an Israeli attack–with or without U.S. backing–on Iran.

International peace and security hang in the balance.

The Trenchant Observer

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