Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

President Obama’s handlers: Ben Rhodes

Friday, April 5th, 2013

(developing story)

To those who complain that President Barack Obama doesn’t make foreign policy but instead makes speeches, the following article on one of Obama’s key foreign policy handlers is of particular interest:

See Mark Lander, “Worldly at 35, and Shaping Obama’s Voice,” New York Times, March 15, 2013.

Other Obama foreign policy handlers include Tom Donilon, The National Security Advisor.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Obama’s foreign policy juggernaut, including Tom Donilon, and the risks of hubris (updated), January 27, 2012.

With John Kerry, an experienced foreign policy expert, as Secretary of State, one of the questions facing President Obama in his second term is whether he will continue his emphasis on making speeches instead of foreign policy, or rather will revert to the more traditional form of foreign-policy making based on diplomatic reporting from U.S. diplomats around the world on the scene, flowing up through the bureaucracy to the Secretary of State, and from the Secretary of State to the President.  To be sure, the bureaucracy must be working well for the latter option to be attractive. 

Both of course, always occur. The question is which has priority, and which first shapes the president’s thinking on what is going on in the world and what the realistic options available to the country in formulating foreign policy and making foreign policy decisions actually are.  Moreover, good foreign policy tends to be based on the development of good strategy, which is more likely to come from foreign policy experts with field experience under their belts than from speechwriters.

Which come first in the president’s mind, making speeches, or making foreign policy and foreign policy decisions? 

What attention does he give to the development and implementation of foreign policy strategy, rather than merely responding to the pressures and circumstances of the moment?

Who is going to lead the foreign policy of the United States, John Kerry or Ben Rhodes?

The Trenchant Observer

Update: Torture, The STL in Lebanon, and Obama’s “Way Forward” in Afghanistan

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Today we introduce a new feature in The Trenchant Observer, an occasional column commenting on some of the more important events of the previous weeks in international affairs, as seen by the Observer.

This week’s stories include U.S. policy toward torture prosecutions, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and President Obama’s speech on “the way forward” in Afghanistan.

The United States’ Adoption of the “Due Obedience” Defense in Cases of Torture

This week the Justice Department announced that it would pursue investigations into two cases involving the deaths of detainees who were preseumably subjected to “harsh interrogation techniques” that went beyond the types of torture (as defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture) that were permitted under the George W. Bush Administration’s “legal guidance”on “harsh interrogation technicques”.

See Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt, “iU.S. Widens Inquiries Into 2 Jail Deaths,” New York Times, July 1, 2011

With that, the Justice department has ended its investigation into the broad class of cases that appear to qualify as cases involving the commission of torture under the terms of the Torture Convention, to which–it must always be stressed–the United States is a party.

By taking the position that it will not prosecute individuals for acts of torture if they were permitted under the legal guidance provided by their superiors in the Bush Administration, the United States has in effect accepted the “due obedience” argument rejected by the Nuremburg Tribunal in its trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II. This rejection of the “due obedience” defense is universally accepted in international law. It is expressly confirmed in the Torture Convention in Article 2 paragraph 3, which provides:

Article 2 (3). An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Other countries parties to the Torture Convention may now proceed to prosecute individuals suspected of committing torture found within their territory, without much concern that the U.S. will rquest their extradition for trial in the U.S., given the Justice Department’s position.

This signals a clear and final decision by the Obama administration not to pursue other cases of torture committed during the Bush administration.

It is significant for two reasons. First, it represents a final decision not to prosecute cases of torture by the state with primary jurisdiction, in violation of U.S. international legal obligations under the Torture Convention.

Second, it further opens the way for other states that are parties to the Torture Convention to prosecute U.S. officials for acts of torture they may have committed.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has now issued arrest warrants and delivered the same to the Government of Lebanon for it to carry out the arrests.

In an earlier article, published on March 3, 2011, The Observer wrote:

In Lebanon, Hezbollah withdrew in January from the unity government of Sa’ad Hariri, among thinly-veiled threats of civil war, if the government of Lebanon does not break ties with the U.N. International Tribunal for Lebanon, established by the Security Council to investigate and try those responsible for the assassination of Hariri’s father, Rafiq Hariri, in 2005. Hezbollah is militating against the United Nations Security Council, international law, and the tribunal established by the Security Council because, according to reports, it fears the Tribunal will issue indictments against Hezbollah members in the coming days or weeks.

The Tribunal itself has a statute which establishes due process of law for the hearing of the charges which may be brought by the Prosecutor of the Court. Hezbollah is arguing, if effect, that the Court is biased before any judicial proceedings against its members are initiated, and without regard to the fact that they will have a chance for a fair hearing, the questioning of evidence and of witnesses, in any proceedings that might be brought. With black shirts menacing and threatening to take physical control of West Beirut and large parts of the country, Hezbollah has positioned itself as an anti-democratic force opposed to the struggle for the rule of law within Lebanon, and one opposed to the United Nations, the Security Council and international law.

Outside parties have rushed to mediate. A Saudi-Syrian initiative has now been replaced by a Qatari-Turkish mediation effort. Democracy is in the balance.

What is at stake is the authority of the U.N. Security Council, the United Nations Charter, and international law. If Hezbollah can halt the cooperation of the government of Lebanon with the STL by threats of civil war and dividing the country in two, its success would not bode well for the future of the International Criminal Court or other international tribunals that might be established in the future to deal with issues such as the Hariri assassination or issues of transitional justice.

We will now see whether Hezbollah has changed it position, and is willing to turn away from its opposition to international law, the United Nations, and the authority of the Special Tribunan for Lebanon established by the Security Council.

Democracy and the rule of law in Lebanon hang in the balance.

Obama’s “Way Forward” in Afghanistan

Recently Ambassador Carl Eikenberry completed his term as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. He is being replaced by an extraordinarily skilled deplomat with deep experience in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

Eikenberry’s departure should not go unnoticed, however. A former head of the coalition forces in Afghanistan before becoming Ambassador in 2009, Eikenberry headed an able diplomatic team. In 2009, toward the conclusion of President Barack Obama’s much-touted review of Afghanistan policy, cables written by Eikenberry in November, 2009 were leaked to the press.

In those cables, Ekenberry, who had a deep knowledge of Afghanistan before assuming his post as Ambassador, set forth his thinking about President Hamid Karzai’s government, the narrow limitations of the Afghanistan policy review, and his own cautionary words about the risks of proceeding with the “surge” of over 30,000 U.S. troops without a broader review.

Today, his words seem prophetic, and read more like the history of the last two years than the risk assessment they were originally intended to be.

See The Observer’s previous columns on this subject:

Eikenberry Memos Place Spotlight on U.S. Dilemmas in Afghanistan
January 27th, 2010

Commentary on Eikenberry Cables, Intelligence on Afghanistan
January 28th, 2010

On June 22, 2011, President Obama delivered an important speech to the nation setting forth his thoughts and policies on “the way forward in Afghanistan.”

Adminral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated publicly that Obama’s new strategy of withdrawal represented more risk than he had originally been propared to accept. The military, including Petraeus, did not agree with what in all likelihood will represent an abandonment of the modified and limited counter-insurgency or COIN strategy Petraeus had led. Toby Harnden of The Telegraph reported, for example,

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, said: “Petraeus loses, Biden wins. And I respect the vice president, but I think that we have undercut a strategy that was working. I think the 10,000 troops leaving year is going to make this more difficult.”

The Pentagon fought a rearguard action to prevent the surge force ordered into Afghanistan by Mr Obama in December 2009 from being pulled out by early spring next year but the withdrawal plan announced by Mr Obama, which had initially been tabled as a “compromise” by Robert Gates, the defence secretary, was not supported by Gen Petraeus.

There were reports of heated discussions during the month before Mr Obama’s prime-time speech on Wednesday night.

White House officials, aware of the soaring costs of the war and its questionable progress could be a political liability in the 2012 election, are said to have clashed with Gen Petraeus, who argued that with more time he could repeat his success in Iraq.

Harnden reported further that Obama had rejected Petraeus’ proposal to move thousands of troops from the south to the east “in order to build a counter-insurgency campaign there.” Obama also overrode Petraeus’ request to keep some of the 33,000 troops to be withdrawn by this spring until 2013.

Two military officers with close ties to Petraeus told “National Journal” that Gen Petraeus disagreed with Mr Gates’s compromise proposal and had not endorsed Mr Obama’s drawdown plan.

–Toby Harnden, “Admiral Mike Mullen says withdrawal plan is a risk,” The Telegraph, June 23, 2010

To those who have followed developments in Afghanistan over the last five to eight years, including readers of The Trenchant Observer, there was nothing new in his speech.

Rather, the Observer’s appraisal of Obama’s approach to international affairs, offered in an analysis of his failed leadership in Libya, seems to describe his Afghan policy as well:

When one looks hard at the decisions he has made, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the president’s primary objective is “to manage” international conflicts and affairs, as domestic affairs, in a manner that will enable him to be reelected in 2012.

Reelection is probably a goal of almost all politicians. Certainly there are exceptions. Winston Churchill comes to mind. But with Presdent Obama, it appears to be the primary and overriding goal.

It is perhaps the prism through which the president’s actions can best be understood. In this sense, Obama’s current policy towards Libya seems to be succeeding.

For commentary on the president’s speech, see

Jennifer Rubin, “Liberals give thumbs down on Obama’s speech,” Washington Post, June 23, 2011

A “conditions based” withdrawal of 10,000 troops is meaningless. The “conditions based” withdrawal of additional troops from the surge will meet its test if and when one or more provinces fall to the Taliban.

A collapse of the Afghan government is not to be ruled out. It could come at a most unexpected moment. If it were to come before the presidential elections in 2012, it could have a decisive impact on their outcome.

The folly of following a strategy in foreign policy that is decisively determined by domestic political considerations is likely to have hard lessons to teach its authors.

The Trenchant Observer

www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

REPRISE (from March 26, 2010): Afghanistan U.N. SRSG de Mistura Describes U.N. Electoral Role; What Are Allied Forces Fighting For?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Originally Published March 26, 2010

In his first press conference, Staffan de Mistura, the new Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), described what he and the United Nations are doing to facilitate “credible and inclusive” National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010.

“Let’s be frank. We are not in Switzerland, we are in Afghanistan, so the elections are still likely to be imperfect, not perfect, but they need to be credible and inclusive for the sake of Afghans’ feelings that they are really part of it,” de Mistura told reporters.

Translation: We are going to try to make the National Assembly elections appear “credible”, although Hamid Karzai will control the outcome through his majority of three appointed Afghan members on the Electoral Complaints Commission. We are not going to raise a stink over his blatant rewriting of the electoral law in violation of the Constitution.

Before Karzai’s electoral coup, that law provided for a majority of three “internationals” on the ECC, in order to guarantee elections that were free and fair by internatiional standards. Such elections were in fact held in 2004 and 2005.

The idea behind this provision was that there would be at least a majority of international members who would be free from the influence and intimidation that Aghan members were likely to be subjected to.

The Afghan parliament approved this law. Karzai, in a sleight of hand, overrode the law with a decree issued in February while the National Assembly was in recess, which with twisted legal logic he now maintains cannot be overturned by the Assembly due to another constitutional provision that states the electoral law cannot be changed within a year before elections.

In other words, Karzai can change the law by decree but the National Assembly cannot overturn his decree-law by their own law because the Constitution forbids changes to the electoral law within a year prior to elections.

That defies constitutional logic.

A critical question is whether the goal of “credible” elections, as ultimately determined by an Electoral Complaints Commission appointed by Karzai, is good enough.

Is it good enough for the men and women from U.S. and allied forces, as well as Afghans, who have given their lives in the battle for a democratic state governed by law in Afghanistan? Is it good enough for those who fight today, including the Afghan army and police?

Such a state would protect the rights of women, among other things. The idea of negotiating a withdrawal in which the country is handed back to the control of the warlords is, after eight years of war, appalling.

What is going on here is that the United Nations and its representatives are speaking as if their task were simply to assist in the development of Afghan electoral institutions, without regard to the corruption of those institutions by Afghan officials at the very top of the power structure. They view their task as a technical one. The questions of fraud and the validity of the results are for the Afghans to decide.

Meanwhile, Allied soldiers fight and die, if not for a democratic future for the people of Afghanistan, then for what? To return the country, and the women of Afghanistan, to the power of the warlords throughout the country? To men like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar?

If free elections have been critical to the success to date in Iraq, why are they not critical in Afghanistan?

These are some of the questions the Observer can not get out of his head.

What do you think?

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.

Afghanistan: U.N. SRSG de Mistura Describes U.N. Electoral Role; What Are Allied Forces Fighting For?

Friday, March 26th, 2010

In his first press conference, Staffan de Mistura, the new Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), described what he and the United Nations are doing to facilitate “credible and inclusive” National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010.

“Let’s be frank. We are not in Switzerland, we are in Afghanistan, so the elections are still likely to be imperfect, not perfect, but they need to be credible and inclusive for the sake of Afghans’ feelings that they are really part of it,” de Mistura told reporters.

Translation: We are going to try to make the National Assembly elections appear “credible”, although Hamid Karzai will control the outcome through his majority of three appointed Afghan members on the Electoral Complaints Commission. We are not going to raise a stink over his blatant rewriting of the electoral law in violation of the Constitution.

Before Karzai’s electoral coup, that law provided for a majority of three “internationals” on the ECC, in order to guarantee elections that were free and fair by internatiional standards. Such elections were in fact held in 2004 and 2005.

The idea behind this provision was that there would be at least a majority of international members who would be free from the influence and intimidation that Aghan members were likely to be subjected to.

The Afghan parliament approved this law. Karzai, in a sleight of hand, overrode the law with a decree issued in February while the National Assembly was in recess, which with twisted legal logic he now maintains cannot be overturned by the Assembly due to another constitutional provision that states the electoral law cannot be changed within a year before elections.

In other words, Karzai can change the law by decree but the National Assembly cannot overturn his decree-law by their own law because the Constitution forbids changes to the electoral law within a year prior to elections.

That defies constitutional logic.

A critical question is whether the goal of “credible” elections, as ultimately determined by an Electoral Complaints Commission appointed by Karzai, is good enough.

Is it good enough for the men and women from U.S. and allied forces, as well as Afghans, who have given their lives in the battle for a democratic state governed by law in Afghanistan? Is it good enough for those who fight today, including the Afghan army and police?

Such a state would protect the rights of women, among other things. The idea of negotiating a withdrawal in which the country is handed back to the control of the warlords is, after eight years of war, appalling.

What is going on here is that the United Nations and its representatives are speaking as if their task were simply to assist in the development of Afghan electoral institutions, without regard to the corruption of those institutions by Afghan officials at the very top of the power structure. They view their task as a technical one. The questions of fraud and the validity of the results are for the Afghans to decide.

Meanwhile, Allied soldiers fight and die, if not for a democratic future for the people of Afghanistan, then for what? To return the country, and the women of Afghanistan, to the power of the warlords throughout the country? To men like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar?

If free elections have been critical to the success to date in Iraq, why are they not critical in Afghanistan?

These are some of the questions the Observer can not get out of his head.

What do you think?

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.