Posts Tagged ‘State Department Legal Adviser’

Words do not make it so: John Kerry’s denial of America’s retreat from the world

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry has made a vigorous verbal argument at Davos that the U.S. is not in retreat around the world.

But words do not make it so. We all can make our own assessment of whether the United States has abandoned its historic role of leadership of the free nations of the world.

See Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (in Davos), John Kerry defends US foreign policy against accusations of ‘standing down’; US engagement ‘as broad and deep as at any point in history’,” The Guardian,24 January 2014 (13.36 EST).

Trainir and Eliot report,

In a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Kerry said the US expected Iran to deliver on its nuclear proliferation pledges, demanded the departure from power of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and urged the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach agreement on a two-nation settlement.

He also said that the US was working for an agreement to end the violence in Ukraine, prevent North Korea from getting nuclear weapons and to secure new transatlantic and transpacific trade deals.

“I must say, I’m perplexed by claims I occasionally hear that somehow America is disengaging from the world – this myth that America is pulling back, or giving up or standing down,” Kerry said. “In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. This misperception appears to be based on the simplistic assumption that our only tool of influence is our military, and that if we don’t have a huge troop presence or aren’t brandishing an immediate threat of force, we are somehow absent from the arena.”

He added: “The most bewildering version of this disengagement myth is about a supposed US retreat from the Middle East. You can’t find another country, not one country, as proactively engaged, or that is partnering with so many Middle Eastern countries as constructively as we are, on so many high-stake fronts.”

While it is true that Kerry and the U.S. are often publicly telling other leaders what they should do, and (as one should expect) are engaged in the Middle East and elsewhere in active diplomacy with a number of countries, it is hard to see any but the softest of edges to the uses of American power. When Bashar al-Assad was leading the wide-scale commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity is Syria, with active Russian support and the latter’s veto of any action by the Security Council, for example, Obama pushed for and approved legislation granting Russia most-favored-nation treatment.

The U.S. has withdrawn from Iraq with results that can be seen from Fallujah to Bagdad. It is withdrawing from Afghanistan, as the forces sent in the time-limited surge are coming home. Amazingly, there is now talk of withdrawing even any residual force before 2017, fully in lockstep with the U.S. electoral calendar.

Kerry deserves credit within the Obama administration for seeking practical solutions to the horrendous problems that seem to be exploding around the world.

But he is crippled by the fact that he has not put his own team into place at State, relying instead on Hillary Clinton’s holdovers while leaving a number of key positions unfilled. For example, the position of State Department Legal Adviser has gone vacant for over a year, something that has not happened at least since before World War Ii, if indeed it ever has.

The Legal Adviser is the primary official responsible for advising the president and other government officials on questions involving international law, and also for articulating the international legal positions of the U.S. to the nations of the world, international organizations, and other international actors. Once, the United States led the world in efforts to build new international legal regimes and institutions to solve the world’s emerging problems. Today, it has completely withdrawn from that role.

Kerry exemplifies the Obama administration’s attempts to solve all the world’s problems with clever words, and by telling others what they should do.

To understand how the United States has withdrawn from the world, we need look no farther than Syria. Kerry said again today that Bashar al-Assad must go.

But in Syria, as in many countries of the world, mere words will not make it so.

The Trenchant Observer

Into the Abyss: Washington’s Fecklessness, Syria’s Fate—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #20 (March 30)

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Latest News Reports and Opinion

Reuters reports from Beirut,

(Reuters) – Syrian artillery hit parts of Homs city and at least 37 people were killed in clashes around Syria on Friday, opposition activists said, as peace envoy Kofi Annan told President Bashar al-Assad his forces must be first to cease fire and withdraw.
–Erika Solomon and Douglas Hamilton (Beirut), “Syrian army must pull back first under Annan plan, Reuters, March 30, 2012 (2:15pm EDT).

The Syria conflict and the United States’ failure to develop and execute an effective policy to deal with the atrocities in Syria is likely to spill over into international efforts to halt the development of a nuclear weapons capability in Iran, as suggested by Turkish Prime Minister’s reported statements to Khamanei in Tehran.

See Elad Benari. “Khamenei: Syria’s Anti-Israel, So We’ll Defend It; Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tells Turkish PM Erdogan: Iran will defend the Syrian regime due to its anti-Israeli stance, Arutz Sheva (7), March 30, 2012 (www.israelinationalnews.com).

The Telegraph provides an overview of the situation at the end of the day in London:

Ruth Sherlock (Beirut), “Syria activists lose hope that they will unseat Bashar al-Assad; Syrian activists were losing hope of unseating President Bashar al-Assad from power as regime troops continued to attack dwindling rebel strongholds, ignoring international demands for a ceasefire,” The Telegraph, March 30, 2012 (7:39PM BST).

Der Spiegel, which has consistently provided up-to-date and comprehensive reporting on events on the ground in Syria, describes the impact of “Annan’s deadly peace plan” including its fatal flaws and its effects on the ground:

See Ulrike Putz (Beirut), “Annans tödlicher Friedensplan; Syriens Rebellen toben, Experten sind entsetzt: Der Uno-Friedensplan von Kofi Annan bringt dem Assad-Regime vor allem jede Menge Zeit, um im Land weiter zu morden und zu foltern. Am Ende könnte der Diktator sogar im Amt bleiben – die Opposition will das mit Gewalt verhindern, ” 30 März 2012.

Regarding Obama’s posture toward Russia as revealed in Seoul, see Charles Krauthammer, “The ‘flexibility’ doctrine,” The Washington Post, March 29, 2012. Krauthammer quotes the audio picked up at the open microphone incident, as follows:

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it’s important for him [Vladimir Putin] to give me space. . . . This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
— Barack Obama to Dmitry Medvedev, open mike, March 26

Analysis

What can be added to what has been written before? See the Articles on Syria page.

Obama is determined not to get involved in Syria in an election year, “regardless of the consequences”.

He is not moved, not moved to action, by seeing thousands of Syrians killed by al-Assad’s forces, with dozens and sometimes hundreds of new victims added to the list each day.

He supported the Kofi Annan plan, which in effect prevented potential pressures on the ground against al-Assad, while providing a smokescreen behind which the United States could hide its feckless failure to act to halt the killing. Worse than that, the Annan plan thwarted the efforts of others–Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, in particular–from providing arms to Syrian citizens with which they could defend themselves against the onslaught of a modern army and state security apparatus, and from establishing a safety zone inside Syria to which they could retreat to escape the killing.

The response of the U.S. and others to events in Syria is worse than Srebrenice, because the events have unfolded in slow motion and the United States has had plenty of time to think, to react, and to act to stop the killing.

Now the world can draw its own conclusions about the current leadership of the United States, which as we have pointed out has a foreign policy without a moral core.

The saddest thing is that we can now also draw our conclusions about Barack Obama, and the kind of foreign policy “leader” he really is.

He has bungled our exit from Iraq, and further embroiled us in a hopeless war to uphold a corrupt dictator and political elite in Afghanistan, a narco-state.

He has also thrown international law to the wind as he pursues the defense of the United States by enhancing and using the capabilities of drones and special operations forces to simply kill our perceived enemies, throughout many countries in the world.

In doing so, with no vision of peace and no credibility in appealing for the support of the populations of allied countries to undertake joint endeavors based on shared moral values and principles, including those embodied in international law, he has given the world a prospect of endless war–without the moderating force of law.

He is who he is.

And we are who we are. In the United States, we have a vote in the upcoming presidential elections. For some of us, who find the domestic programs of the Democrats far more sensible than those put forward by Republican candidates in the presidential primaries, and who are gravely concerned about the future composition of the Supreme Court, the presidential elections in November, 2012 are shaping up to present a wrenching choice.

In the meantime, we–and the Syrians demonstrating and fighting for a democratic government which guarantees the protection of their fundamental human rights–must look elsewhere for leadership to halt the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other grave violations of human rights in Syria.

The Trenchant Observer

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

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

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

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Latest News and Opinion on Syria

Dominic Evans (Beirut), “Assad says foreign aid to rebels must stop under peace plan,” Reuters, March 29, 2012 (8:54 pm BST).

Adrian Blomfeld, “Syria: Bashar al-Assad raises questions over commitment to peace deal; President Bashar al-Assad has raised questions over his commitment to a UN-backed initiative he agreed to just days ago by demanding that Syria’s rebels disarm before a peace deal can be reached, The Telegraph, March 29, 2012 (8:01 pm BST).

Der Spiegel reports that 29 people were killed on Thursday, mostly in Homs, Idlib and in the suburbs of Damaskus.

–Christoph Sydow, “Assad ignoriert Annans Friedensplan; Mit sechs Punkten zum Frieden: Uno und Arabische Liga setzen auf Kofi Annans Lösungsplan, der den Machtkampf in Syrien befrieden soll. Doch das Regime in Damaskus setzt bislang keine der Forderungen um. Assad spielt auf Zeit – und hofft weiter auf die fehlende Entschlossenheit des Westens,” Der Spiegel, den 31. März 2012. This article also contains a summary of the six-point U.N. peace plan of Kofi Annan, in German.

Tony Badran, “Passivity and incoherence on Syria,” NOW Lebanon (blog), March 29, 2012.

Tony Badran, “US tells Turkey to back off Syria,” NOW Lebanon (blog), March 22, 2012.

Opinion: Marc Ginsberg

Marc Ginsberg, former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco has condemned recent U.S. policy on Syria, highlighting similarities with the Clinton White House’s handling of atrocities in the Balkans up until the massacre of 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenice in July, 1995.

Flash forward 17 years later, and in this second year of Syria’s so-called Arab Spring bloodbath it’s déjà vu all over again at 1600 Penn. While Syria is not Srebrenica, there are eerie similarities in how this Obama team is hopelessly caught up in a Bosnian-style policy vacuum circa 1995, characterized by an excessively domineering election campaign apparatus that inexorably trumps national security considerations. That is a dangerous recipe when coupled with the absence of any long-term strategy in Syria.

Why is the White House on such a slippery slope that it claims it is determined to avoid?

Tracing the policy of the White House over the last year, Ginsburg notes that Obama and his team reacted to Syrian atrocities like “kryptonite”, stressed unsubstantiated fears about what would come after Assad as a reason for inaction, and coupled repeated calls for Assad to go with a failure to impose consequences on al-Assad. Consistently, the White House political operation’s desire to keep Syria out of the election trumped national security considerations.

Shockingly, Ginsberg relates how the U.S. enlisted Turkish support for certain options, and then cut the ground out from under the Turks by telling them that Obama “preferred going through the Russians” to secure peace by supporting the U.N. peace initiative led by Kofi Annan.

(A)s more reports of atrocities trickled out of Syria last summer, the U.S. began subcontracting U.S. policy to Turkey in the expectation that greater coordination with Ankara would create more multilateral support against the regime. At the time, this made eminent sense. Ankara, faced with a growing humanitarian refugee crisis on its Syrian border, and furious with its failed investment in the Assad regime, picked up the mantle. There were bilateral talks of buffer zones and humanitarian corridors and, perhaps non-lethal support to the nascent Free Syrian Army.

But as my able colleague Tony Badran reported in his blog in www.nowlebanon.com (confirming what I picked up during my recent visit to Turkey a few days ago), 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.

By unexpectedly dismissing Turkish/Arab League plans to create a buffer zone/or humanitarian corridor as well as organizing and providing non-lethal support to the Free Syrian Army, everything that Turkey thought was on the table with Washington appeared to fall off of it. It seemed to matter to no one in the White House that it had just pushed our Turkish colleagues over the cliff after we had jumped on their bandwagon.

(I)f the U.S. refuses to accede to new ideas from its “Syrian Friends” then, to coin its own phrase with respect to Assad, “it should get out of the way.”

–Amb. Marc Ginsberg, “Syria Is Obama’s Srebrenica,” Huffington Post (The Blog), March 28, 2012 .

Tony Badran’s March 22 article, listed above and cited by Ginsberg, provides further details on the change in U.S. position on Syria with regard to options under consideration by Turkey and the Gulf countries. Badran also explains Obama’s aversion to getting invoved, as follows:

The Obama administration’s reasoning is simple. It calculates, rather correctly, that such regional efforts will likely end up drawing the US in down the road, one way or another. President Obama wishes to nip in the bud any possibility of this happening in an election year. And so, such regional moves were opposed in order for the president not to be forced to take action he’s adamantly intent on avoiding, regardless of the consequences.

As a result, the administration has found itself in the surreal position of siding closer with Assad’s Russian ally and at cross-purposes with its own regional allies – and, most significantly, in contradiction with its own stated policy of regime change in Syria.
–Tony Badran, “US tells Turkey to back off Syria,” NOW Lebanon, March 22, 2012.

So, Obama seems to have pulled the rug out from under our allies, and decided to pursue peace in Syria instead by working with the Russians and supporting Kofi Annan’s ill-starred six-point peace program.

A Foreign Policy without a Moral Core

Obama’s actions toward Turkey and the Gulf countries in relation to Syria suggest that there is no moral core at the heart of Obama’s foreign policy.

It should also be noted that a close if unofficial advisor to Hillary Clinton–her husband, Bill Clinton–was himself the author of the U.S. policy that led to Srebrenice.

On Syria, the pattern of U.S. actions toward Iran in 2009, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya has been repeated. Absent Security Council authorization, Obama has been unwilling to act or to lead. Obama avoids confrontation like the plague.

Events drive policy, not the reverse.

The Obama administration has shown no moral outrage at Russia’s and China’s support of al-Assad and their working to provide him with more time to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian population to solidify his hold on power. Rather, it’s business as ususal.

With Russia actively supporting al-Assad through the provision of weapons, amunition and training by Russian advisors on the ground in Syria, President Obama had the callous temerity to sit down with Russian President Medvedev at the Seoul nuclear conference last week, in a most cordial manner, and to beseech him to understand that he, Obama, would be able to be more flexible on nuclear arms control negotiations after the November elections.

What was most revealing about the “open microphone” episode in Seoul was that Obama was pleading with the Russians to be understanding and to give him some space on the arms control issue. In short, he was proceeding from a psychological position of weakness, when he should have been insisting publicly that Russia stop its morally indefensible support of al-Assad’s commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

Obama seems to be laboring under the illusion that his “reset” of relations with Russia, particularly thorugh his personal relationship with Mededev, has been successful when, quite obviously, the contrary has been the case.

These developments can be understood only by recognizing that Obama when dealing with foreign policy issues thinks primarily in terms of electoral politics and his re-election in November. He delegates foreign policy to others. In fact, he appears much more animated and engaged emotionally on domestic issues. This is consistent with his lack of international interests prior to entering the White House.

For whatever reasons, in the foreign policy area there appear to be no moral values for which he will fight.

When you step back from the daily news and take a broad look at what Obama has done by supporting Kofi Annan’s U.N. peace initiative, and “preferring going through the Russians”, you can see the utter cynicism and lack of morality of the administration’s policy and actions.

What Obama has done, in a word, is to sell the Syrian opposition down the river. He has abandoned them. The highly probable result of pursuing the Annan plan is that great delay will follow before the fighting stops, if it does, and then probably only after thousands of additional lives have been lost.

The U.N. plan is nothing more than a shameless facade behind which the United States can try to hide, while it obstructs those who would otherwise act to halt the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria.

The logical outcome of the U.N. plan is that al-Assad will remain in power, with all the instruments of state terror at his command, to be used if and when and to the extent needed to maintain himself in power. Keeping him in power will ensure the Russians the continued operation of their naval base at Tartus, their listening post for the Middle East, and their arms contracts and other business relationships with the al-Assad regime.

One is reminded of the children’s story by Hans Christian Andersen entitled, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. See the translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Keiserens nye Klæder” by Jean Hersholt.

The Emperor in this case is President Barack Obama. The Emperor has no clothes.

Obama’s foreign policy has no moral core.

The Trenchant Observer

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

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer on this topic, and others, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page.

Obama’s New Year’s Resolutions for Foreign Policy in 2012

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

The Observer has been trying to get inside President Obama’s head for over two years. Recently, he may have succeeded, or had a very strange dream, in which the following was revealed:

Obama’s 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Foreign Policy in 2012

1. Ok, I will finally try to read through the impenetrable legalese of Philip Alston’s Report to the Human Rights Council on the legality under international law of U.S. drone attacks.

2. Admitting that public international law was not my favorite course in law school—in fact I can’t remember if I even took it—I will accept State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh’s longstanding offer to lead me in a weekly tutorial on the subject for, as Koh puts it, “as long as it takes for (me) to get it.”

3. I accept the challenge to deliver a speech based on a rewrite of my Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo which includes the themes of “a vision of peace” and “how to get there”.

4. To make my rewrite of the Oslo speech easy for everyone to understand, I will even stop avoiding the use of the words “international law”, which should be easier after (2), if not (1).

5. I will ask Ambassador Koh to explain to me in plain English what some of these European and European-influenced international lawyers keep referring to as “dédoublement fontionnel”, which I think has something to do with the idea that nations should try to build and strengthen international law, instead of just trying to see what they can get away with. I don’t really get the point, but maybe I’ll understand better if it is spelled out in English.

6. I agree that we don’t really want to be giving a lot of money to governments who murder outspoken journalists like Syed Saleem Shahzad. I think Admiral Mullen said something about this. Dexter Filkins made a pretty compelling case that the murder was ordered by the highest officials in the Pakistani military in his New Yorker article on September 19. (Letter From Islamabad: The Journalist and the Spies–The murder of a reporter who exposed Pakistan’s secrets. The New Yorker, September 19, 2011.)

There are even reports that the Pakistani Ambassador to Washington, until recently, fears for his life in Pakistan as a result of “memogate”. But, as Richard Holbrooke used to stress, we have to deal with the Pakistanis, unsavory as that may be. I will agree to cutting U.S. aid to the military there by one half—from $1.3 billion to $650 million. Once they’ve arrested and tried the general(s) allegedly responsible for the order to murder Syed Saleem Shahzad, the other half of the aid will be restored.

7. I will enlist the CIA, with Leon Paneta’s help if necessary, in a secret program aimed at persuading the top civilian and military officials involved in Bush’s torture program to retire. Attorney General Eric Holder has concluded that none of them except a few low-level types should be prosecuted for torture, but if he has new evidence and wants to take up the issue again, I’ll let him. If other parties to the Torture Convention arrest some of these officials while they are traveling abroad, and ask us if it is OK for them to try them themselves, I’ll let the Attorney General make the call.

8. Ok, guys, I will finally issue an executive order that confirms my interpretation of U.S. laws banning torture as banning all kinds of torture, as that term is defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

9. After completing (2) and (1), I will reconsider the position that U.S. citizens may be executed by drones or special commando operations without trial if they have been placed on a special targets list. I don’t really get the point about the fifth amendment language that “no citizen will be deprived of …life..without due process of law” and I don’t see how these guys can be given the right to an attorney, but I will commit to not invoking the “state secrets” doctrine to block further consideration of these issues by the courts.

10. Ok, while I think we already examined our strategy in Afghanistan in 2009, ad nauseum, I promise I will reread Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s memos from November, 2009, for whatever that’s worth.

The Trenchant Observer

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