Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

REPRISE: The language of actions—Russia, the Ukraine, and the response of the West

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

In looking at the response of the West and other civilized countries to the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17, in all proability by pro-Russian “separatists” with air defense systems and training and possibly crews furnishd by Russia, one is struck by the West’s continued reliance on appeals to Putin and his entourage counched in reason, and the absence of concrete actions to influence his behavior.

This approach of pacifism and appeasement in responding to Russian aggression is now quite familiar to those who have followed the Ukrainian crisis since February.

It has failed utterly, and the results are clear to see: invasion and annexation of the Crimea, invasion by irregular forces of the eastern Ukraine, an increasing flow of arms, fighters, and advanced weapons systems across the border into the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, in particular, and in recent weeks the use of surface to air missiles to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft. All evidence suggests that the downing of Flight MH17 was part of a continuation of this pattern, but one involving a critcal mistake insofar as the identity of the aircraft was concerned

These Russian actions have taken place precisely during the (extended) month the EU and the U.S. threatened to impose serious sectorial economic sanctions on Russia if it did not comply with specific demands that Russia cease its support for the “separatists” (including a halt to arms shipments and the dispatch of personnel), as well as the return of captured border posts to Ukrainian control.

These demands Vladimir Putin openly flouted, and neither the EU nor the U.S, did anything to carry out their threats to impose sectorial sanctions, as Russia not only failed to accede to their demands but intensified its interventionist activities.

The U.S. did hit key Russian companies with some sanctions, but these were limited to denying intermediate and long-term financing to the companies, while allowing financing operations up to 90 days and ordinary business with the companies to continue. No assets were frozen.

The approach of the West continues to be to threaten Putin in order to influence his future behavior, despite the overwhelming evidence that this approach has not worked–and will never work so long as serious sanctions for current and past behavior are not imposed.

What is needed, what has been needed all along, are serious actions and not words.

The following article, first published over three months ago, makes the essential points.

Nothing has changed, other than to add three months of empty threats by the West, and to add to the list of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians killed, now tragically joined by the names of innocent victims on Flight MH17 from Malaysia, the Netherlands, and other countries.

All of this has hapened as the result of Russian aggression, and the utter failure of the West and other civilized countries to do anything meaningful that might stop it and reverse its effects.

*****

“The language of actions: Russia, the Ukraine, and the response of the West,” The Trenchant Observer, April 10, 2014.

First published on April 10, 2014

According to NATO, Russia has 35,000 to 40,000 combat-ready troops on its border with the Ukraine, which could be launched into action on as little as 12 hours.

See:

“UKRAINE: Russische Soldaten laut Nato sofort einsatzbereit; Die Nato spricht von ungewöhnlichen Vorgängen an der russisch-ukrainischen Grenze; Daus westliche Militärbündnis zählt bis zu 40.000 Soldaten in dem Grenzgebiet,” Die Zeit, 10. April 2014 (17:28 Uhr).

“UKRAINE: Nato fürchtet russischen Einmarsch in die Ukraine; Russische Truppen sind an der ukrainischen Grenze stationiert; In wenigen Tagen könnten sie laut Nato alle Ziele im Nachbarland erreichen; Die Lage sei besorgniserregend,” Die Zeit, 2. April 2014 (16:04 Uhr).

These are Russian actions which deserve urgent attention.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reassured Secretary of State John Kerry and others in the West that Russia will respect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. These are Russian words, the same ones he used days before the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reassured German Chancellor Merkel that Russian troops would be withdrawn from the border. These are Russian words. The troops have not been withdrawn.

We should not place any trust in these words, which come from known liars. We should not trust either Putin or Lavrov, or anything either of them says. They have been telling blatant lies as part of the Russian propaganda campaign, and have lied directly both to John Kerry and to Angela Merkel.

As the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the Ukraine prepare to meet on April 17, Western leaders and everyone else needs to understand that the only language of genuine communication between Russia and the West is now the language of actions. Consequently, they should go to the meeting with new actions that have already been taken, and which they can use to communicate with the Russians.

Russian Actions

So far, Russian actions include:

1) The invasion and annexation of the Crimea;

2) The infiltration of agents provacateurs into the eastern Ukraine to foment disturbances;

3) Demands that the Ukraine meet Russian demands for Ukrainian constitutional reforms granting greater regional autonomy to Russian-speaking regions, backed by the palpable threat of military intervention represented by invasion-ready military forces on the border;

4) An increase in gas prices to some $100.00 above market prices, on top of an increase that wipes out the concessionary price established in international agreements which extended Russia’s lease on naval facilities in Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based.

In addition, Russia has demanded payment of an additional $11 billion dollars as repayment for concessionary price discounts since the lease agreements were signed in 2010, on the theory that since the Ukraine is part of Russia these lease agreements and concessionary gas price agreements are void; and

5) Russia has now demanded payment one month in advance for future gas deliveries to the Ukraine, and threatens to halt deliveries if payment is not made.

Western Actions

So far, Western Actions have included:

1) The imposition of targeted sanctions on less than three dozen individuals from Russia, the Crimea, and the Ukraine, and one Russian bank;

2) Development of lists of additional or “stage-three” sanctions which might be imposed (e.g., if Russia invades the eastern Ukraine), including trade, financial and other sanctions which could have a very serious impact on Russia (as well as Western countries);

2) The commitment of financial assistance to the Ukraine from the EU, the U.S. ($1 billion), and the International Monetary Fund ($15 billion, contingent on financial reforms in Ukraine);

3) Deployment of additional surveillance and fighter aircraft to NATO members Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia; and

4) The scheduling of additional NATO military maneuvers in eastern NATO member states; and

5) The dispatch of 100 OSCE observers to the Ukraine, which German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is now pushing to increase to 500 observers, in compliance with an earlier OSCE decision to which Russia agreed.

Absence of Strategy and Sanctions to Compel Russia to Return the Crimea

The West has failed to adopt any sanctions or other measures designed to force Russia to undo its invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

Ominously, officials in both the U.S. and the EU, have hinted they might be prepared to continue doing business with Russia so long as it doesn’t commit further aggression by invading the eastern Ukraine, leaving it in possession of the Crimea with little more than verbal and diplomatic protests from the West.

The loudest “action” by the West with respect to undoing the invasion and annexation of the Crimea has been a failure to act. The “slap on the wrist” measures of the first- and second-round sanctions cannot be taken seriously as measures to produce a rollback.

The West has failed to adopt the extremely obvious economic sanction of prohibiting financial or other business transactions with any company operating in or doing business with the Crimea (corrected).

Actions Going Forward

Decision makers in the diplomats’ meeting with the Russians on April 17 need to communicate with Russia in the language of actions, not merely the verbal formulations of diplomacy, which insofar as Russia is concerned have neglible effect. All the diplomatic words and entreaties, and telephone calls to Putin and Lavrov, do not appear to have affected the language of actions which Russia is speaking.

Russia speaks in actions from a strong position, having invaded and annexed part of another country, in open violation of the most fundamental norms of the U.N. Charter, international law, and the postwar political, economic, and legal order.

Will the West’s responses, in the language of actions, be up to the task of halting and rolling back Russian aggression, and its ill-gotten gains?

If we connect the dots, and take noteu of the fact that Japan has in the last day reversed its policy of reducing its plutonium stocks–whether by coincidence or not–we can glimpse in an instant how critical the answer to the preceding question may be.

See Hiroko Tabuchi, “Japan Pushes Plan to Stockpile Plutonium, Despite Proliferation Risks,” New York Times, April 9, 2014.

Helene Cooper and Martin Fackle, “U.S. Response to Crimea Worries Japan’s Leaders,” New York Times, April 5, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Putin the aggressor, and the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Developing

One man, President Vladimir Putin, and one country, the Russian Federation, are responsible for launching an invasion of the Crimea and its annexation, and the invasion by special operations and irregular forces of the eastern Ukraine, particularly in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and the territory in between.

As the Ukrainian armed forces have tightened their noose around the so-called “pro-Russian separatists” (actually led by Russian citizens who are either current or former military intelligence officers), Russia has dramatically increased its directed flow of Russian “volunteers” (recruited and dispatched by Russia) across the border into the Ukraine.

In coordinated large-scale military operations, Ukrainian border posts and control centers have been attacked and/or taken over by “separatist” forces, throwing the border wide open. These forces appear to have included Russian special operations and irregular troops.

After the fall of Sloviansk to the Ukrainian armed forces and the retreat of the “separatists” to the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia has supplied pro-Russian forces with growing numbers of heavy weapons including tanks and increasingly sophisticated air-defense systems. The latter have been used in recent weeks to shoot down Ukrainian aircraft, including a transport plane whose downing led to the loss some 41 lives. Only days ago, another plane was shot down. A Ukrainian jet was also shot down by a missile which may have been launched in Russia.

Vladimir Putin, who launched his war of aggression and annexation in blatant violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter and its absolute prohibition of “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence” of any state, is morally and legally responsible for actions taken in the war he launched and which he continues to coordinate in the eastern Ukraine.

His efforts to maintain “plausible deniability” as he engages in the new Russian form of “stealth warfare” (e.g., “little green men” in the Crimea, subsequently acknowledged to be Russian special forces), are transparent and in vain in terms of shielding him from political and legal responsibility.

Just as he and Russia are complicit and responsible under international law for supporting the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Bashar al-Assad and his regime in Syria, Putin is responsible for the actions of the military and irregular forces he has launched against the eastern Ukraine in what is an ongoing and intensifying invasion and war of aggression.

Nor should we forget the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Putin and Russia in Chechnya.

He is a presumptive war criminal. A cold-blooded killer.

For the taking of a human life outside the framework of domestic and international law–which provides for self-defense and punishment-with-due-process exceptions–is, in legal and moral terms, simply murder.

Only an international or domestic court can make the authoritative finding that Putin is legally guilty of war crimes. One can only hope that some day, perhaps in the distant future, such proceedings will be held. In the meantime, we can draw our own conclusions from the evidence that is available. Certainly he deserves to be tried as an accused war criminal.

The next time Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, or Barack Obama sits down for dinner and a glass of wine with Vladimir Putin, they should have present in their mind that they are looking into the cold blue eyes and expressionless face of a presumptive war criminal responsible for the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of human beings.

We don’t know what specific orders and chain of command was responsible for the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17. However, it is worth noting that Putin has often responded to increased sanctions with an escalation (e.g., annexation of the Crimea), and increased “targeted sanctions” were imposed by the U.S. and the EU only a few days ago.

It is hard to imagine that “separatist” forces in the Ukraine, or even Russian forces operating within Russia, would be shooting down Ukrainian aircraft or presumed Ukrainian planes without Putin’s knowledge and assent.

In that sense, at a minimum, Putin’s fingerprints are on the trigger that fired the missile that downed Malaysian Flight MH17.

See

(1) Review and Outlook (Opinion), “The Downing of MH17; Putin is the one leader who quickly assigned blame for the disaster,” Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2014.

(2) Carsten Luther, “FLUG MH17: Dieser Abschuss verändert alles, Die Zeit, 18. Juli 2014.

“Indizien deuten darauf hin: Von Russland unterstützte Separatisten haben das Passagierflugzeug in der Ukraine abgeschossen. Der Konflikt erreicht damit eine neue Stufe.”

(3) Anne Applebaum, “The Malaysia Airlines crash is the end of Russia’s fairy tale,” Washington Post, July 18, 2014 (2:57 PM).

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Putin’s de facto partners: EU members—-and their further responses to ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Developing

See

Andreas Umland (Gastbeitrag), “Der Westen muss die Ukraine retten, Die Zeit, 16. Juli 2014.

“Russlands Vorgehen gegen die Ukraine stellt die internationale Ordnung und das Wertesystem der EU infrage. Der Westen muss endlich angemessen auf den Konflikt reagieren.”

At this juncture, as the EU is poised to impose a few mild additional “sanctions” on Russia for its continuing invasion of the eastern Ukraine, in addition to its invasion and annexation of the Crimes, one must simply ask whether the EU has become, in effect if not intent, a silent enabling partner of Vladimir Putin as he continues Russia’s aggression in the eastern Ukraine.

Putin is succeeding in achieving his objective of destabilizing the Ukraine, and promises to use all of the weapons at his command–from supplying the “separatists” (launched under Russia’s coordination and control), to economic pressures, to war propaganda–to keep the country off balance and to prevent it from consolidating a democratic government which will eventually join the EU, and potentially even NATO if Ukrainians deem that step necessary for their defense and NATO agrees to take them in.

Following the perfidy of François Hollande in breaking Putin’s isolation by inviting him to the 70th anniversary celebrations of the D-Day invasion on June 6, his invitation to Putin to visit Paris for a state dinner at the Elysée Palace, and his simultaneous announcement that France would deliver two Mistral-class warships to Russia beginning in the fall, over strenuous objections by the U.S. and other NATO countries, Angela Merkel of Germany, Barack Obama, and other Western leaders stumbled over each other to meet with Putin, the president of Russia and commander of an ongoing invasion of a European country.

Frequent telephone calls between Merkel, Hollande, Putin and Obama, and meetings on the sidelines of the Normandy celebrations, other international conferences and even the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro on July 13, further restored Putin’s acceptance and respectability as a man you could do business with–without worrying about his invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and Russia’s ongoing invasion of the eastern Ukraine and use of economic weapons to destabilize that country.

Putin has offered the EU, NATO and the West a fig leaf behind which they can hide their pacifism and appeasement, by not overtly invading the eastern Ukraine with regular Russian troops (at least until now). He also has offered verbal concessions (when necessary to defuse pressure for real sanctions), but without implementing them on the ground.

The “sanctions” that the EU and the U.S. have imposed are not really sanctions in the classical sense, but rather targeted measures of reprisal aimed at a very limited number of individuals and companies. This allows Europe and the U.S. to announce “further sanctions” against Russia when in fact no serious sanctions, in the classical sense of the term, are being imposed.

The net effect of these “targeted sanctions”, and the continuing meetings and telephone calls with Putin, has been to enable Putin and Russia to continue their aggression in a process in which the united will of the West is progressively broken while the road of appeasement leading back to business as usual is increasingly accepted and followed.

No one in the West in a high leadersip position seems to have a strategic understanding of what is going on, and how these developments are undermining the strength and deterrent force of fundamental principles of international law and the U.N. Charter which are essential for the maintenance of international peace and security, including the prohibition of “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence” of any state (U.N. Charter Article 2 paragraph 4).

The consequences of the failure of the EU, NATO and the U.S. to repel Russian aggression have been thrown into stark relief since July 13, as Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa hold their annual “BRICS” summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, without any one of them speaking out on Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine. Putin also visited Cuba, where agreement was reached to reopen Russia’s listening post at Lourdes (closed in 2001), as well as Nicaragua and Argentina, where he signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. Everywhere he was warmly received.

Looking at all of these developments, one can see that the U.S., NATO, the EU, and their allies have suffered a far-reaching geopolitical and strategic defeat because of their failure to respond effectively to Russian aggression in the Ukraine, in addition to their failure to engage in forceful diplomacy with Brazil, India, China, and South Africa. The latter all abstained in the vote on U.N. General Assembly resolution (A/RES/68/262) adopted on March 27, 2014 condemning the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea. Many African countries followed South Africa’s lead.

Looking at this broad picture as a whole, one can see clearly that the EU and the U.S. have in effect acted as silent partners with Putin and Russia in the latter’s aggression against the Ukraine. Succumbing to the temptations of appeasement in the face of Russian aggression and threats of further aggression, they have in fact emboldened Putin. Nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than after the invasion of the Crimea, when they responded with a slap on the wrist, in the form of the mildest of “targeted sanctions” aimed at only a few individuals. Shortly thereafter, undeterred, Russia annexed the Crimea.

By not responding effectively, the West has become the co-dependent enabler of Vladimir Putin and Russia in their ongoing aggression against the Ukraine. In Europe and the United States, appeasement and pacifism have triumphed when they were face-to-face with the mighty Russian Bear.

Indeed, Europe and the United States have become Putin’s silent partners, his co-dependent enablers, as he proceeds to tear down the fundamental principles of international law and the U.N. Charter which prohibit the threat or use of force across international frontiers. “Co-dependent” on the bully who abuses them, they also remain silent on Putin’s violations of fundamental human rights in Russia itself.

The fact that Putin has succeeded in breaking out of his isolation, and is even welcomed by the BRICS countries, Argentina, and others in Latin America and beyond, should serve as a loud wake-up call to the West and the community of states dedicated to the rule of law on both the international and the domestic planes.

It is time for Putin’s silent partners in aggression to end their co-dependent relationship with him and Russia.

It is time for them to understand the broader consequences of continuing Russian aggression.

It is time for them to act to bolster the deterrent effect of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the threat or use of force by imposing real, “third-stage” sanctions aimed at restoring the status quo ante existing prior to Russia’s invasion of the Crimea.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Brazil, Russia and the Crimea: BRICS grouping serves interests of two greatest authoritarian states, as three great democracies ignore aggression

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Developing

If you want to understand why the future of the international political and legal order is fraught with uncertainty, consider Brazil’s position on the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

The so-called “BRICS”, a term originally developed by foreign investors to identify the largest emerging economies, have met in Brazil and agreed to establish an investment bank which some of them fancy might come to rival the IMF. The group is comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

This group is a monumental credit to the cynical opportunism of the two greatest authoritarian states in the world, and their ability to take advantage of the naivete and vain nationalism of three of the world’s great democracies in the developing world.

The grouping has already paid dividends to the authoritarians, with the abstention of Brazil, India, and South Africa in the vote on the General Assembly resolution condemning–in the absolute mildest of terms–the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

The calculus of the authoritarians is clear: gain access to greater trade and commercial benefits while at the same time building support among Brazil, India and South Africa to abstain or not object to military aggression and violation of human rights.

The calculation on the side of India has a strategic dimension: to foster ties with Russia which has traditionally served as a counterweight to China and Pakistan, while at the same also building ties to China. Having itself invaded and annexed the Portuguese enclave of Goa in 1961, India may also not be in the best position to criticize Russia for the invasion and annexation of the Crimea. Worsening relations with the United States may also be playing a role, following the extraordinarily ill-considered and inept arrest in the U.S. of an Indian consular official last year in a case involving her former housekeeper.

As for Brazil, which already enjoys strong trade relationships with China, it is hard to understand what advantages its leaders hope to gain through the “BRICS” grouping, other than to thumb their noses at the United States, which has angered government officials by its spying activities. These caused President Dilma Roussef to cancel a state visit to Washington last fall, and are a continuing source of anger against the U.S.

Why Brazil would turn its head the other way in view of China’s and Russia’s human rights violations, particularly given Brazil’s own history in this regard and the fact that Rousseff was herself directly affected, defies logic.

Similarly, given the fact that Brazil fought in Europe alongside the Allies to defeat Hitler and German aggression and annexation of foreign territories, it is difficult to understand why Brazil now would find itself in the position of explaining to the world why it cannot take a position on as simple a question as Russian aggression in the Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea. The reasons given by the Itamaraty (foreign ministry) officials cited by Clovis Rossi in his column in the Folha de São Paulo today (see below) amount to no more than a pathetic parroting of Russian propaganda.

Brazil should be careful, however, as the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has just concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with Argentina during his visit to Buenos Aires. Given the deteriorating international situation and the likelihood of further nuclear proliferation, starting with Iran, the possibility of a renewed nuclear arms race between Argentina and Brazil cannot entirely be ruled out.

It is a terrible shame that Brazil, India, and South Africa have failed to stand solidly on the side of those defending the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter, including the prohibition of the threat or use of force, in order to pursue the chimera of solidarity with the world’s two greatest authoritarian states.

The United States has failed utterly in managing its alliance relationships in Latin America, as the actions of Brazil reveal. It hasn’t done so well in managing its alliance relationships with Europe and the NATO countries either, as demonstrated by French President François Hollande’s breaking the isolation of Putin by inviting him to the 70th anniversary celebration of the Normandy invasion, then a state dinner at the Elysée Palace (meeting Barack Obama earlier in the evening at a restaurant), and at the same time announcing that France would complete the sale of two Mistral-class warships to Russia beginning in the fall, over the strenuous objections of the U.S. and several other NATO countries. Russian sailors are already training in France to learn how to operate the vessels, one of which is to be named “The Sevastopol” and both of which will presumably be based in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.

For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has effectively blocked the imposition of third-stage sanctions against Russia, however earnestly and with whatever peremptory deadlines threats of their adoption may have been made.

The failure of the EU and of the U.S. to follow through on serious sanctions against Russia, as it continues its “stealth invasion” (with less and less stealth), has also done little to underline the importance of fundamental U.N. Charter principles and the need to uphold them, in particular by imposing serious and permanent sanctions against Russia for its annexation of the Crimea.

But this is no excuse for India, South Africa, and Brazil. By their actions and statements, they have demonstrated that they are not ready to play leading roles in the building and maintenance of international peace and security. To reach that level, they will need to move beyond reacting to the U.S. and Europe, and themselves assume, independently, responsibility for the building and protection of international society. This they can never do by ignoring grave violations of the U.N. Charter’s fundamental norms.

Brazil is to be congratulated for holding a magnificent and successful 2014 FIFA World Cup series.

That is no substitute, however, for taking ownership of its responsibilities as a great democracy to uphold international human rights and the prohibition of the threat or use of force across international frontiers.

See

Clóvis Rossi, “Dilma e os dois lados da Ucrânia,” Folha de São Paulo, 15 de julho 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Dare anyone say it? “We applaud the courage of the Ukrainian government and people in defending public order and the sovereignty and territorial independence of the Ukraine” — with latest news updates

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

In what may be a turning point in efforts to defend the country’s territorial integrity and repel Russia’s aggression and military intervention in the eastern Ukraine by special forces, intelligence operatives, and so-called Russian “volunteers” under their direction and control, Ukrainian forces have retaken Sloviansk and Kramatorsk and are pressing foreward with their “anti-terrorist” campaign. The so-called “separatists” withdrew first from Sloviansk to Kramatorsk, and then shortly thereafter from Kramatorsk to Donetsk.

See:

(1) Pilar Bonnet, “Los prorrusos acusan a Putin de traicionarles para mantener su poder; Los rebeldes creen que Rusia les abandona para evitar el conflicto con Occidente, El Pais, 6 de Julio 2014 (22:49 CEST).

(2) “Regierungstruppen wollen Donezk und Luhansk belagern
Die ukrainische Armee will die Städte Donezk und Luhansk blockieren und die Separatisten zur Kapitulation zwingen. Diese haben heftigen Widerstand angekündigt,” Die Zeit, 6. Juli 2014, 6. Juli 2014 (20:28 Uhr).

(3) Ukraine-Krise: Armee rückt auf Millionenstadt Donezk vor; Die Rebellenhochburg Slowjansk ist schon erobert – nun nähert sich das ukrainische Militär der Metropole Donezk. Dort halten sich prorussische Milizen zu Tausenden verschanzt. Es droht ein Belagerungszustand,” Der Spiegel, 6. Juli 2014 (17:48 Uhr).

(4) Le Monde avec AFP et Reuter, “Les forces ukrainiennes progressent vers Donetsk,” 6 Juillet 2014 (Mis à jour à 23h09)–avec carte / with map.

(5) Benoît Vitkine (Sloviansk, envoyé spécial), “Ukraine: le récit de la chute de Sloviansk, tournant de la guerre entre l’armée et les séparatistes,” Le Monde 06 Juillet 2014 (Mis à jour à 11h09)

(6) Alan Cullison (in Sloviansk) and Philip Shishkin (in Donetsk), “Ukrainian Government Troops Target Further Gains in East; Separatist Leaders Say Evacuation From Slovyansk Was Strategic,” Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2014 (Updated 11:51 a.m. ET).

(7) “A day in Sloviansk after liberation,” Kviv Post, July 6, 2014 (6:05 p.m.)(with photos).

REPRISE: Dare anyone say it? “We applaud the courage of the Ukrainian government and people in defending public order and the sovereignty and territorial independence of the Ukraine”

First published on May 3, 2014

In the face of Russian aggression, in the last few days the Ukrainian government has shown great courage in defending public order, and the territorial integrity, political independence and sovereignty of their nation.

Their courageous actions should make the authors of the cowardly responses of the West and the broader international community feel deeply ashamed. For the latter have merely paid lip service to the defense of freedom, human rights and international law, while engaging in a policy of pacifism and appeasement in the face of blatant Russian aggression.

Nor is the duty to act to uphold the U.N. Charter, international law, and the maintenance of international peace and security solely that of the United States and the West. The abstention by Brazil and other countries on the General Assembly resolution condemning the invasion and annexation of the Crimea, for example, will long remain as a black page in the histories of these countries.

The appeasement by the West and other countries is particularly clear with respect to the military invasion and annexation by Russia of the Crimea. These actions have upended the entire postwar international political and legal order. The demands of Western leaders for a restoration of the status quo ante in the Crimea have grown silent, while they have adopted no sanctions which can be realistically viewed as aimed at securing a reversal of the aggression and annexation.

In all communities, the force of law and its deterrent effect weakens when the community whose interests it protects do not act to uphold its norms.

Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, its attack on the eastern Ukraine through special operations forces and the organization, coordination and direction of pro-Russian militias and armed thugs–taking over public buildings and even towns by armed force, and its continuing threats of military intervention by massing combat-ready troops on the border poised to launch an invasion, have placed the entire postwar military, political and legal order in question in the greatest crisis of this nature since World War II.

Will anyone speak out in praise of the actions of the Ukrainian government, without which Russian aggression would triumph, and the rule of law and protection of the human rights of citizens in the eastern Ukraine would be lost?

Are Western leaders afraid to remind the world each time they speak that Russia has committed aggression in the Crimea and continues fresh acts of aggression in the eastern Ukraine?

Will they not only speak out in defense of international law and human rights, in defense of liberty and the rule of law, but also undertake immediate and concrete measures of a serious nature to come to the defense of the Kiev government and assist it in facing down Russian aggression?

Though Barack Obama and Angela Merkel and other world leaders seem oblivious to the fact, Ukrainian soldiers and security forces are today fighting to uphold the principles of the U.N. Charter and international law which guarantee their security and that of the citizens they represent.

If these leaders can grasp this point, might they not do more, through really significant actions, to aid the Ukraine in its defense of their common values of respect for international law and international human rights?

The future of their countries and of the international political and legal order are in their hands. If they are leaders, and not merely followers of ill-informed public opinions on critical foreign policy matters, can and will they lead?

The Trenchant Observer

Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine continues; Europe refuses serious sanctions; Only serious sanctions can stop Russia

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Developing

For background, see The Trenchant Observer, “The virus of nationalism and military aggression: Adolf Hitler in Vienna, March, 1938; Vladimir Putin in Sevastopol, May 9, 2014,” June 30, 2014.

The article includes video links to Vladimir Putin’s speech to a joint session of Russia’s parliament on March 18, 2014, and to Adolf Hitler’s speech upon his entry into Vienna in 1938, together with links to television programs from Walter Cronkite’s “The Seeds of War” series on the background to World War II.

Russia continues its aggression in the eastern Ukraine, while diplomatic discussions are to continue by Saturday on establishing a cease-fire which is observed by both sides, and other conditions to be met, including the return of border posts to the Ukraine. NATO Supreme Allied Commander Philip Breedlove offers a sobering assessment of what has actually been happening on the ground in the last month while diplomats and heads of state have been talking, negotiating, and essentially dithering. See Rosen, below.

Meanwhile, the iron will of the German Chancellor, and of the French President and other EU heads of state, has in effect foreclosed the imposition of serious, stage-three sanctions on Russia for its continuing aggression. This refusal helps account for the intense diplomacy underway to secure a real ceasefire and a cessation of the Russian invasion and occupation by special forces and others under their control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This diplomacy, if not backed by real sanctions, is not likely to succeed. Commercial interests, pacifism, and appeasement remain the leitmotifs of European actions and decisions. See the article in Die Zeit, below.

Stefan Kornelius of the Suddeutsche Zeitung, in a powerful commentary, explains why only serious sanctions can stop Russian aggression in the eastern Ukraine, and convince Putin that a Georgian style solution of frozen conflict is not possible in that country, both because of its size and because of its importance and ties to Europe. See his commentary, below.

The Ongoing Russian Invasion of the Eastern Ukraine

(1) James Rosen, “NATO chief to move forces from U.S. to Europe to respond to Russia in Ukraine,” McClatchy Washington Bureau, July 1, 2014.

Rosen quoted the U.S. Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Air Force General Philip M. Breedlove, as saying U.S. troops will be moved to Europe in October to help shore up the troops on rotation in the eastern NATO members bordering Russia.

Breedlove said Moscow has supplied pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine with tanks, armored personnel carriers, anti-aircraft artillery and other heavy weapons.

The four-star general, who assumed NATO command last year, said there’s “a very good likelihood” that the anti-aircraft artillery used to shoot down a Ukrainian transport plane June 14, killing all 42 people on board, came from Russia.

“(What) we see in training on the (Russian) side of the border is big equipment, tanks, (armored personnel carriers), anti-aircraft capability, and now we see those capabilities being used on the (Ukrainian) side of the border,” Breedlove said.

Asked how many Russian troops have massed on the Ukraine border, Breedlove responded that there are “seven-plus battalion task groups on the east side of that border,” which would be on the order of 5,000 troops.

The Refusal of the EU to Impose Serious Sanctions

(2) “UKRAINE-KRISE: EU scheut Wirtschaftssanktionen gegen Russland; Die Staats- und Regierungschefs der EU haben ihre Drohung nicht wahr gemacht: Russland muss vorerst keine schwerwiegenden Wirtschaftssanktionen fürchten,” Die Zeit, 1. Juli 2014 (Aktualisiert um 16:00 Uhr).

Only the Imposition of Serious Sanctions Can Move Russia

(3) Sefan Kornelius (Kommentar), “Krise in der Ukraine; Sanktionen sind der einzige Hebel,” Suddeutsche Zeitung, 2. Juli 2014.

Die vergangenen Tage haben es gezeigt: Die Zeit ist nicht reif für einen echten Waffenstillstand. Frieden in der Ukraine kann es nur geben, wenn das Spiel aus Propaganda und Unaufrichtigkeit ein Ende hat. Moskau muss akzeptieren, dass der Osten der Ukraine kein zweites Georgien ist.

Politisch wird sich dieser Krieg nur dann beenden lassen, wenn Russland das Spiel von Lug und Trug aufgibt und den Separatisten sowohl die militärische als auch die politische Basis für ihr Treiben entzieht. Dazu muss Russland einem Ziel glaubwürdig abschwören: Eine Zone dauerhafter Unruhe darf es in der Ostukraine nicht geben.

As for President Barack Obama and the United States, they are nowhere to be found. The U.S. is not even participating in the negotiations, at the foreign minister level, between Germany, France, Russia and the Ukraine. To be sure, given the Obama administration’s performance in the past, this could possibly be a good thing–despite what it says about the quality of current American leadership.

Ironically, the failure of the U.S. and the EU to carry through on their previous threats of serious sanctions has, if anything, emboldened Putin to undertake the brazen military interventionist activities of the last month.

The empty threats of the West seem to have caused him to call the West’s bluff, increasing and amplifying the intensity of his military aggression.

The failure to carry through with these threats, even now, risks further escalation of the conflict by Russia, including overt military intervention to protect ‘Russian people” who need not even be ethnic Russians.

“When I speak of Russians and Russian-speaking citizens,” Mr. Putin said, “I am referring to those people who consider themselves part of the broad Russian community. They may not necessarily be ethnic Russians, but they consider themselves Russian people.”

–See David M Herszenhorn, “Russia Demands New Cease-Fire in Ukraine as Foreign Ministers Seek Path to Peace, New York Time, July 2, 2014, quoting Putin.

The West has simply not bothered to effectively refute this outrageous and unfounded asserted justification under international law of a right to use military force to defend “Russian people”.

Historians will wonder at the fecklessness of today’s leaders in the West, and the lack of concern of leaders in other parts of the world, just as they wondered at the appeasement of Hitler by Britain’s Neville Chamberlain and France’s Edouard Daladier when they agreed to the Munich Pact in 1938, ceding the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to the Germans.

The Trenchant Observer

New EU Regulation prohibits Importation or financing of imports of goods from the Crimea

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

The EU has imposed a real sanction on Russia which prohibits the importation to the EU or by any EU national or company of goods from the Crimea, including Sevastopol, or the financing or insurance of such imports.

This is a real sanction with a real target, and is to be applauded as a first step.

The next step should be to bar all EU nationals and companies from doing business with, or financing business with, companies or individuals in the Crimea, or any businesses or individuals doing business or handling financial transactions with such individuals or companies, unless certified by the government in Kiev as meriting an exception under specific rules to be established.

The new Regulation (COUNCIL REGULATION (EU) No 692/2014) was adopted on June 23, and entered into force on June 25, 2014. The text can be found here.

Finally, the EU has adopted a real sanction, with real and powerful logic and principle behind it.

It is not enough, but it is a good start. It should serve as a model for the adoption by the U.S. and the EU of increasingly broad and painful sanctions against Russia for its invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and its ongoing aggression in the eastern Ukraine.

These sanctions should continue in force until the status quo ante is reestablished in the Crimea, with its return by Russia to the Ukraine, and until the Russian subversion and invasion of the eastern Ukraine is similarly halted and undone.

Eventually, Russia will also have to pay war reparations to the Ukraine. Conceivably these could come in the form of long-term gas price concessions.

The Trenchant Observer

American big business votes for appeasement with Russia; Interview with Prime Minister Taavi Roivas of Estonia

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Outrageous Lobbying for Appeasement of Russia by American Big Business

The National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plan to run an ad in leading newspapers on Thursday, lobbying against the imposition of tougher sanctions against Russia by the U.S. Technically, they may argue that the sanctions should not be tougher than those which may be adopted by the European Union.  But as the EU can act only by consensus of its 28 members, and never swiftly, their argument in essence is one against immediate, strong, sectorial sanctions and in favor of the pacifism and appeasement which have so far characterized the response of the West to Russian aggression in the Ukraine.

In doing so, they are acting to undermine the foreign policy of the United States, and President Obama’s threat of a month ago to impose third-stage or sectorial sanctions on Russia if Vladimir Putin did not cease his subversion and support for so-called “separatists” in the eastern Ukraine (which Putin brought into being, incidentally, after invading and annexing the Crimea). This, despite his verbal declarations designed to forestall the imposition of stronger sanctions, Putin has utterly failed to do.

In effect, big business, not content with its enormous influence over domestic legislation and the domestic implementation of laws, now wants to dictate to the president what is or is not in the national interest in the foreign policy arena.  In a word, if a policy serves the national security interests of the United States but hurts the business interests of members of the two groups placing the ads, deference should be given to the interests of big business.

Today, Peter Baker of the New York Times reported on the options under consideration by the Obama administration for adoption in response to Putin’s failure to meet the conditions laid down by the EU and the U.S. nearly a month ago. Regarding the incredibly brazen lobbying by the NAM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he wrote:

The drive for more sanctions comes as American businesses are growing more vocal in protesting the possibility that the United States may act on its own. While lobbying the White House and Congress quietly until now, leading business groups plan to start a wide advertising campaign voicing their concerns.

“With escalating global tensions, some U.S. policy makers are considering a course of sanctions that history shows hurts American interests,” reads an advertisement to be placed in major newspapers on Thursday. “We are concerned about actions that would harm American manufacturers and cost American jobs.”

The ad, signed by Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, and Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will be placed in The Financial Times, The Hill, The New York Times, Politico, Roll Call, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. A copy was provided on Tuesday by someone not directly affiliated with either sponsoring organization.

Linda Dempsey, the vice president for international economic affairs at the manufacturers association, would not discuss the ad campaign but said American businesses would be unduly harmed if Washington proceeded with sanctions that were not matched by Europe.

“Unilateral sanctions by the United States end up with other countries and their industries filling the void,” she said. “The harm and the real impact of those unilateral sanctions is on U.S. industries and U.S. workers. It’s not that we’re out of the market for a year or two. We could get out of the market for decades.”

See Peter Baker, “Doubting Putin, Obama Prepares to Add Pressure,” New York Times, June 24, 2014.

In Europe, big business is exercising similar pressures on the governments of François Hollande and Àngela Merkel, and others.

The pressure from two of the most important associations of large U.S. businesses is analogous to American big business placing ads in the major newspapers to leave or not leave Afghanistan, or to support or not support U.S. allies in Asia which are confronted with aggressive Chinese actions in disputed territorial waters in the East and South China Seas.

A more direct analogy would be that if China were to seize by force one or more islands currently administered by Japan, the lobbying organizations would place ads in the leading national papers urging the U.S. not to respond forcefully to the Chinese actions unless the EU were acting in lockstep with United States, because of the detrimental impact such unilateral action would have on U.S.-Chinese business interests, and the unfair advantage that would be given to European companies operating in China if the EU did not adopt the same or similar measures.

What this means, in practice, is that U.S. actions would be dictated by the weakest link in the 28-nation chain of EU member states.

How the United States could ever lead the Atlantic Alliance and other nations if it could never act on its own, independently of the actions of the EU, is a question that both defies explanation and points to the most urgent need of U.S. foreign policy at the present moment in relation to Russia and the Ukraine–to adopt strong, serious sanctions against Russia, unilaterally if necessary, and to lead the Atlantic Alliance in responding to Russian aggression.

These big business groups and their members should be forcefully reminded that they have a duty not to actively undermine the national security interests of the United States, so long as they benefit from the protection of its laws and diplomatic representations. They should not be permitted to do so without negative consequences.

Their current lobbying campaign is so disloyal and unpatriotic that every American should take careful note of the companies that are supporting actions in favor of appeasement, and modify their consumer and business decisions accordingly.

The fact of the matter is that, following the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea and in view of its continuing invasion and subversion of the eastern Ukraine, the U.S., Europe and the world face the most serious crisis of international law and institutions since 1945.

For U.S. big business to come in and presume to tell the president how the U.S. should act under these circumstances is simply unforgivable.  It should produce legislative consequences which require U.S. big business to shoulder a larger portion of the economic burden of defense and other expenses required to pay for the national security of the United States.

Interview with Prime Minister Taavi Roivas of Estonia

To get a clear-eyed view of the seriousness of the present situation with Russia as a result of its aggression against the Ukraine, read closely (using Google translator if necessary) today’s interview by Nicola Abé of Der Spiegel with Taavi Roivas, the Prime Minister of Estonia.

See Nicola Abé (Interview), “Estlands Premier Roivas: “Europa muss den Schlummermodus abschalten,” Der Spiegel, 25. Juni 2014 (19:10 Uhr)

Der estnische Ministerpräsident Taavi R  ivas fordert mehr Nato-Truppen im Baltikum. “Wir brauchen eine klare Abschreckungswirkung.”

Roivas stated forcefully that Europe must awake from its current state of slumber, and recognize the threat from Putin and Russia. Among other things, NATO should move its troops to the front-line states like the Baltic countries, where their presence might actually have a deterrent effect against any potential military action. It makes no sense to have them stationed in the middle of Europe in countries which were once front-line states, but are no more, he said.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
L’Observateur Incisif

Obama’s six crises and collapsing foreign policy: Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and China’s actions in the East and South China Seas

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Developing

President Barack Obama now faces six simultaneous crises, amid the collapsing edifice of his foreign policy. They are:

1. Russia and the Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of the eastern Ukraine continues, calling the West’s bluff that it would impose sectoral sanctions.

The fact that Russia is acting through special operations and irregular foces has no bearing on its responsibility under international law for these actions. They amount to an “armed attack” under the terms of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, creating a right self-defense on the part of the Ukraine, and a right of “collective self-defense” on the part of other states, up to and including the use of force, to repel the invasion.

Economic and other sanctions are similarly justifiable as measures of self-defense, and also as “countermeasures” in response to illegal intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

But where legal authority for action to stop the Russians is abundant and clear, the political will of the countries in the West to act effectively is almost non-existant. Instead, appeasement and a new form of “hybrid” pacifism have taken hold.

Putin knows his antagonists. As the one-month deadline for stopping support of the “separatists” in eastern Ukraine draws near, the EU and the U.S. are already backing down, talking now of further “targeted” sanctions–not sectoral sanctions. Today Obama added seven individuals to the list.

If there were any doubt in Putin’s mind about Obama’s decisiveness, the latter’s meek and temporizing responses to the advances of ISIS in Iraq should have put those doubts to rest.

Russia continues its invasion of eastern Ukraine, sending additional tanks and other equipment across the border right now.

Having concentrated control of foreign policy in the White House, President Obama does not have the decision making capacity to deal with multiple crises at the same time, or indeed the decisiveness to take timely and effective action in any one of them.

We have devoted great attention to Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and its ongoing invasion of the eastern Ukraine, because these actions and the pacifism and appeasement with which they have been met in the West directly threaten the collapse of the institutions and norms established to uphold the maintenance of international peace and security.

In the hierarchy of grave crises, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine remains the most serious, because it threatens to destroy or eviscerate the necessary tools of international law and institutions which are essential for the resolution of other crises, including those which are presently all raging at the same time.

When the question seems to be where to send the fire brigade, actually the more fundamental question is how can you keep the fire brigade functioning, and operating effectively?

See:

Brett Logiurato, “Ukraine Wants A Ceasefire — Russia Is Sending A Bunch Of Tanks Into Ukraine,” Business Insider, June 20, 2014 (1:16 p.m.).

To be continued…

2. Iraq

The armed forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured Mosul, and are driving south toward Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmurga forces have occupied Kirkuk. The tribes in the Sunni triangle are collaborating with ISIS. The newly elected Parliament is to convene and elect a new prime minister.

Iraq has requested the U.S. to conduct airstrikes against ISIS forces. Obama has disatched under 300 soldiers to help protect the U.S, Embassy, and also approximately 300 special forces troops and advisers to help the Iraqi military.

If the ISIS advance is not stopped, particularly toward Shiite shrines in the south, Iran may intervene militarily to defend the shrines and the al-Maliki Shiite government.

Tellingly, one of Obama’s first moves was to go to Congressional leaders to see what actions might be politically acceptable, instead of huddling with all of his top national security officials to decide what actions are required by the exigencies of the present military and political situation in Iraq.

3. Syria

Syria has been reported by the international chemical weapons agency, charged by the Security Council with overseeing Syria’s surrender and destruction of all of its chemical weapons, as having recently used chemical weapons (chlorine gas) against its population on a number of occasions.

Such actions would appear to cross Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons use. What is he going to do about it? His “red line” seems to have been written in the sand.

4. Afghanistan

The Afghan presidential run-off election on June 14 was, according to the leading candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, the subject of massive fraud in the eastern portions of the country, the traditional base of his opponent, Ashraf Ghani.

The actions the U.S. takes in the coming days may have a decisive impact on the transparency and outcome of the election. If a satisfactory way out of the present crisis is not found, the legitimacy of the new government and the prospects for its survival after U.S. forces withdraw in 2015 could be greatly diminished.

In thinking about Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers should keep one image firmly fixed in their minds: that of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers laying down their arms and fleeing from battle as ISIS forces approached in Mosul, and elsewhere.

A full-blwn crisis has erupted.

5. Iran

A settlement of the nuclear dispute with Iran is far from assured. The six-month interim agreement will expire on July 20. The talks could not bear fruit, raising again the possibility of a military strike by Israel against Iran’s buclear installations.

6. China and territorial claims in the South and East China Seas

In the last week China has begun moving oil rigs into disputed territorial waters. This is highly provocative, and has the potential to generate an arms race with its neighbors in the region, including Vietnam, Japan and Korea.

The U.S. needs to actively intervene in this crisis to ensure it does not lead to military incidents in the region, or an arms race. The ultimate risk is that Tokyo could be driven to deploy nuclear weapons. Few doubt that it has the capability to do so.

Can President Obama and his administration handle all of these crises simultaneously, and successfully?

We shall see, and very soon.

The Trenchant Observer

Distracted by Iraq and the World Cup: Pacifism and Appeasement continue to dictate West’s “non-response” to blatant Russian aggression in the eastern Ukraine (revised and updated June 18, 2014)

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Last Revised and Updated June 18, 2014

Distracted by Iraq and the World Cup, the leaders of the West seem to have forgotten about the Ukraine in general, and their earnest threat of “third-stage”, sectoral sanctions against Russia, in particular.

“Nothing New in the West” remains the order of the day as the U.S., and EU and NATO member countries remain gripped by pacifism and appeasement–and pure cowardice–in failing to respond in a serious manner to the ongoing Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine.

Russia continues its policy of blatant aggression against the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of the Ukraine. The West, as was the case in Syria, fights back with words and not deeds, with empty threats that have no credibility because they are never carried out. It is always “too little, too late”, as if a man who is knifed in the gut responds to his aggressor with a slap to the cheek.

Meanwhile, the international political and legal order is falling apart, from Europe to the Middle East.

The state of Iraq is crumbling, after tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers threw down their arms and fled from battle, with Sunni regions falling to the advancing forces of ISIS, an al-Qaeda-type organization. Iraqi Kurdish Peshmurga forces have moved into Kirkuk to fill the vacuum, further threatening the dismemberment of the country into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions.

With the West’s attention distracted by both the World Cup tournament in Brazil (Angela Merkel was in Brazil for Germany’s victory on Monday) and the rapid advance of the ISIS forces in Iraq, Putin and Russia continue to play their “double game” of saying one thing and doing another. In recent days, a column of Russian armor, including three tanks, has crossed the Russian border into the Ukraine. So-called “separatists” have used a surface-to-air MANPAD missile to bring down a Ukrainian military transport, causing the deaths of 49 Ukrainian solders.

A hot war is going on in the eastern Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin has demonstated once again his utterly perfidious character. He moves like a leopard around the Ukraine, waiting for the moment when the attention and unity of the West falters in order to attack and pounce upon his prey.

So long as Putin remains in power, the West will never be able to trust Russia again.

The United States has a clueless president, whose foreign policy currently consists almost entirely of words. His first response to any crisis is to issue a well-crafted statement. “All options are on the table,” he reflexively states, and he will consider the options that are brought to him by his national security team.

The options that are always all on the table, always seem to suffer a curious fate. After the doors are closed, a space in the floor opens up, the top of the table opens downward, and those options disappear into the void below, never to be seen again.

Without analyzing the situation, Obama announces that no American boots will be deployed on the ground in Iraq. Reluctantly, he sees himself pushed by his national security advisers to do something. The present circumstances are urgent, in view of the collapse of the Iraqi army and the advance of ISIS toward Baghdad, after taking Mosul.

Obama dithers. When he finally gets around to taking some action, it is usually too little and too late to be effective.

After Russia invaded the Crimea, the U.S. sent “non-lethal” military
aid to the Ukraine consisting of MRE rations (meals ready to eat). The first-round of targeted economic sanctions imposed on a small number of individual Russians was a bad joke.

All of the mistakes, shortcomings and failures of Obama’s foreign policy are now manifesting their consequences, like chickens coming home to roost.

Syria, Iraq and the Middle East are collapsing in front of our eyes. Russia is invading the eastern Ukraine, after invading and annexing the Crimea. Everywhere the United States is failing to lead, by not acting independently when this is urgently required–even with military force, if necessary–and by not effectively leading the Atlantic Alliance, including both NATO and the EU.

Obama’s foreign policy lies before us in a shambles, like a heap of shards of broken glass. His West Point speech of two weeks ago has already been overtaken by events.

Democrats with knowlege of foreign and defense policy are afraid to speak out publicly against the president, whether because they don’t want to hurt Democratic election prospects, hope for future posts or consulting work in government, don’t want to prejudice their positions within the organizations in which they work, or are simply apprehensive about taking strong stands against the government in the new surveillance state.

Some leading members of the foreign-policy elite seem themselves to be as clueless as Barack Obama. The president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard N. Haass, for example, suggested on the Charlie Rose program last night (June 13) that, to counter the growth and advances of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. should consider joining with Bashar al-Assad and Russia to attack the ISIS forces. Michael R. Gordon, the distinguished military affairs correspondent of the New York Times, had the presence of mind to point out that joining with a mass murderer like al-Assad would be inconsistent with American values, and not likely to engender support.

Without any discernible American strategy, and few key officials with any sense of history, foreign events appear to pop up out of nowhere and to take the Obama administration utterly by surprise.

Absent a policy anchored in enduring American and Western values, such as dedication to defending human rights and democracy and respect for international law, any policy or action seems possible, in a present which seems to have expanded almost infinitely, obliterating the past while encompassing all possibilities for present and future action.

What can be done?

1. Stage-three, sectoral sanctions should be immediately imposed by the United States against Russia, while the U.S. should lead in exercising real, intense pressure on EU countries to join in adopting similar sanctions.

This would necessarily include cancellation of France’s sale of two Mistral-class warships to be delivered to Russia in the fall. Training of Russian sailors, scheduled to begin shortly, should be canceled sine diem, and not reconsidered until after Russia disgorges the Crimea and returns it to the Ukraine.

2. NATO should announce the immediate deployment of additional ground troops to Poland, Romania and the Baltics, and move foward urgently, and loudly, in developing plans for the permanent stationing of large numbers of NATO troops in these countries.

3. Western leaders should immediately stop all telephone calls and meetings at the deputy foreign minister level or above with Russian leaders and officials. Telephone diplomacy has failed. It only enables Putin to discern differences between Western countries and devise actions that divide them, e.g., in order to defuse the threat of sectoral sanctions.

4. The U.S. and its allies should undertake military and other action in Iraq, immediately, in order both to halt the advance of ISIS forces toward Baghdad and to forestall Iranian military intervention in Iraq in the coming days.

5. While these steps are being taken, the U.S. should develop a real strategy, using all forms of American power, to both defeat ISIS and to secure a non-sectarian government in Iraq, as coalitions are formed to choose the next prime minister following the recent elections.

6. The U.S, should exercise its influence in Afghanistan as necessary to ensure that the vote count following the presidential run-off election today (June 14) is transparent, and not deprived of legitimacy by uncorrected corruption.

Indications of widespread fraud (denounced by Abdullah Abdullah) and Hamid Karzai’s control of the electoral commission raise the possibility that this last chance at gaining legitimacy may be lost. If it is, it should surprise no one if, within a few years, the Afghan army collapses just like the Iraqi army which ran from battle in Sunni areas of Iraq in recent days.

Will the president stop dithering and analyzing, and take the needed actions outlined above?

To do so would, in Secretary of State Madelaine Allbright’s memorable phrase, take some “cojones”.

That is precisely the element of U.S. foreign policy that has been missing. One can only hope that it can be found, and deployed.

The Trenchant Observer