Posts Tagged ‘struggle for democracy in syria’

REPRISE: Hommage à Homs (actualisé / updated)

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

BEIRUT: Intense fighting in the central Syrian city of Homs has left 60 to 70 percent of a besieged rebel-held district damaged, destroyed or uninhabitable, activists said on Sunday.

The estimate from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights came nine days into an all-out army assault on the rebel-held Khaldiyeh and Old City neighbourhoods, which have been under siege for more than a year.

On Sunday, regime forces subjected insurgent areas of the city to fierce shelling, said the Observatory.

“Sixty to 70 percent of buildings in Khaldiyeh are either totally destroyed, partially destroyed, or unsuitable for habitation,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Homs is Syria’s third-largest city, and tens of thousands of its residents have fled the fighting.

On Sunday, government troops used mortars, rocket fire and heavy artillery to target rebel areas in the city, the Britain-based Observatory said.

On the edges of Khaldiyeh, fresh clashes broke out between rebels and troops and pro-regime militiamen, it added.

According to the United Nations, some 2,500 to 4,000 people are trapped in the besieged areas.

In Damascus, regime warplanes targeted Jubar in the east of the capital, while tanks hit Qaboon in the northeast, said the Observatory.

–AFP, “Two thirds of Syria’s Homs rebel area destroyed: activists, The Daily Star (Beirut), July 7, 2013 (6:01 PM).

The destruction of Hom’s continues.

With the world’s attention turned to the rapid and undeniably enthralling events in Egypt at the moment, Syria’s battlefields are being dangerously neglected by the media and those supposed friends of the revolution, which is allowing the regime to up the scale and intensity of its massacres across the country.

The fierceness of fighting in Syria has reached unprecedented levels. At the moment it is focused in the central city of Homs, the heartbeat of the revolution, which has been held by the rebels for two years. From the air and on the ground, the regime is trying with all its might to wrest back control of the city, capital of a strategically located province.

This week government forces also destroyed the city’s official records building, another apparent attempt to wipe out the city and its history.

The hypocrisy of the international community at this moment seems to know no limits. Aside from the loss of life on the ground, once things calm down in Egypt, and people again look to Syria, the superpowers may realize they have blood on their hands.

–Editorial, The Daily Star (Beirut), July 6, 2013.


REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III”
25 Février 2012

First published on February 25, 2012
REPRISE published on June 19,2012


Voir / See

BEYROUTH (Reuters) – L’opposition syrienne a accusé mardi l’armée gouvernementale d’intensifier ses bombardements sur les quartiers résidentiels de Homs et les autorités de Damas ont affirmé que les rebelles empêchaient l’évacuation de la population civile de cette ville du centre du pays.

Le chef de la mission de supervision des Nations unies en Syrie (Misnus), le général norvégien Robert Mood, a dit son inquiétude quant au sort des civils pris au piège dans la troisième ville du pays, encerclée par les soldats de Bachar al Assad et bombardée presque quotidiennement depuis le début du mois.

Des dizaines de milliers d’habitants ont déjà fui Homs ces derniers mois.

Samedi, l’Observatoire syrien des droits de l’homme (OSDH), une ONG basée en Grande-Bretagne, a déclaré qu’un millier de familles étaient prises au piège à Homs, sous le feu des troupes gouvernementales. Des dizaines de blessés sont en grand danger en raison du manque de soins, a ajouté l’OSDH.

Selon l’OSDH, les bombardements se poursuivaient mardi marin sur plusieurs quartiers de Homs et un soldat gouvernemental a été tué dans un affrontement.

–Dominic Evans (Beyrouth) et Guy Kerivel,” Poursuite des bombardements sur la ville syrienne de Homs,” Reuters, 19 juin 2012.


Dominic Evans, “Syrian forces bombard Homs before U.N. briefing,” The Daily Star, June 19, 2012 08:59 PM (updated: 9:00 PM).


25 Février 2012

REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III”
25 Février 2012


Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là
Et tu marchais souriante
Épanouie ravie ruisselante
Sous la pluie
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest
Et je t’ai croisée rue de Siam
Tu souriais
Et moi je souriais de même
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Toi que je ne connaissais pas
Toi qui ne me connaissais pas
Rappelle-toi quand même ce jour-là
N’oublie pas
Un homme sous un porche s’abritait
Et il a crié ton nom
Et tu as couru vers lui sous la pluie
Ruisselante ravie épanouie
Et tu t’es jetée dans ses bras
Rappelle-toi cela Barbara
Et ne m’en veux pas si je te tutoie
Je dis tu à tous ceux que j’aime
Même si je ne les ai vus qu’une seule fois
Je dis tu à tous ceux qui s’aiment
Même si je ne les connais pas
Rappelle-toi Barbara
N’oublie pas
Cette pluie sage et heureuse
Sur ton visage heureux
Sur cette ville heureuse
Cette pluie sur la mer
Sur l’arsenal
Sur le bateau d’Ouessant
Oh Barbara
Quelle connerie la guerre
Qu’es-tu devenue maintenant
Sous cette pluie de fer
De feu d’acier de sang
Et celui qui te serrait dans ses bras
Est-il mort disparu ou bien encore vivant
Oh Barbara
Il pleut sans cesse sur Brest
Comme il pleuvait avant
Mais ce n’est plus pareil et tout est abimé
C’est une pluie de deuil terrible et désolée
Ce n’est même plus l’orage
De fer d’acier de sang
Tout simplement des nuages
Qui crèvent comme des chiens
Des chiens qui disparaissent
Au fil de l’eau sur Brest
Et vont pourrir au loin
Au loin très loin de Brest
Dont il ne reste rien.

Jacques Prévert, Paroles(1946)

English translation

Remember Barbara
It was raining nonstop in Brest that day
and you walked smiling
artless delighted dripping wet
in the rain
Remember Barbara
It was raining nonstop in Brest
and I saw you on rue de Siam
You were smiling
and I smiled too
Remember Barbara
You whom I did not know
You who did not know me
Remember that day all the same
Don’t forget
A man was sheltering under a porch
and he called your name
and you ran toward him in the rain
Dripping water delighted artless
and you threw yourself in his arms
Remember that Barbara
and don’t be angry if I talk to you
I talk to all those I love
even if I’ve seen them only once
I talk to all those who love
even if I don’t know them
Remember Barbara
Don’t forget
that wise happy rain
on your happy face
in that happy town
That rain on the sea
on the arsenal
on the boat from Ouessant
Oh Barbara
What an idiot war
What has happened to you now
In this rain of iron
of fire of steel of blood
and the one who held you tight in his arms
is he dead vanished or maybe still alive
Oh Barbara
It is raining nonstop in Brest
as it rained before
But it’s not the same and everything is ruined
It’s a rain of mourning terrible and desolate
It’s not even a storm any more
of iron of steel of blood
Just simply clouds
that die like dogs
Dogs that disappear
along the water in Brest
and are going to rot far away
far far away from Brest
where there is nothing left.

–Jacques Prévert (1900-1977). The Breton city of Brest, France, where the poet saw Barbara, was the main German submarine base for the Atlantic during World War II. Brest was totally destroyed by bombing raids by the end of the war. Only three buildings were left standing.

Translation and text by Sedulia Scott.

Voire aussi

20th Century French Poetry: Narrated by Paul Mankin

“Barbara” chantée par Yves Montand

On se souvien aussi d’un poème de Paul Verlaine, ce qui suit:

Ariette III

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur?

O bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un coeur qui s’ennuie,
O le chant de la pluie!

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s’écoeure.
Quoi! nulle trahison?
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C’est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi,
Sans amour et sans haine,
Mon coeur a tant de peine!

–Paul Verlaine, Romances sans paroles, 1874

L’Observateur Incisif
(The Trenchant Observer)

REPRISE: Syrian military continues campaign to crush opposition in Saraqeb, Homs, al-Qusair and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #16 (March 24, updated March 25, 2012)

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Originally published March 25, 2012

Latest news reports

Oliver Holmes and Steve Gutterman (Beirut/Moscow), “Syrian forces on the offensive; Annan in Moscow,” Reuters, March 25, 2012 (10:14pm IST).

Syria: Local Residents Used as Human Shields; Reports of Residents Forced to March in Front of Soldiers in Idlib, Human Rights Watch, March 25, 2012.

Rami G. Khouri, “A new world order is born in Syria,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 24, 2012 (01:25 a.m.).

Khouri’s optimism regarding the U.N. initiative led by Kofi Annan is noteworthy, particularly in view of the earlier pessimism expressed by the Editorial Board of The Daily Star. On March 9, 2012, they wrote:

The scene around Syria overflows with talk. The world’s big players proffer big words, which amount to zero in their impact on the Syrian regime – if anything they are utilized in their propaganda campaign.

The international community is attempting to save face, and by doing so is exhibiting its hypocrisy in every step and every word. This is hypocrisy of the worst kind, not only uncovering the ulterior motives of the world powers, but also serving as an eye-opener as to the intentions of the small, medium and super powers. God help any downtrodden party who takes the words of those powers at their face value. In this, the international community’s reaction to the crisis in Syria should be a lesson for many nations that look to it for support.

In the meantime, help for Syria is still at square one and none of the steps currently being taken are going to eradicate the shame of the international community.

–Editorial, “We procrastinate,” The Daily Star, March 9, 2012.

While the Observer has the highest respect for Khouri and his judgment, the available evidence in the public domain suggests that the March 9 Editorial of The Daily Star is much closer to the mark than his March 24 column on “the birth of a new world order.”

Correction: Earlier versions of this article mistakenly atribributed this text to Rami G. Khouri, to whom we apologize for the error.

It is indeed a historical moment in which the international community is called upon to craft a new response to regimes in crisis that cling to power against the democratic demands of their populations by the use of terror and the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The response that is required, however, and which may yet emerge–if not in this crisis perhaps in the next–does not countenance long, drawn-out negotiations with a Dictator who continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against his population. It does not accept a scenario in which negotiations continue in diplomatic time, as thousands are killed in real time.

It does not accept a diplomatic dance that places the trump cards in the hands of authoritarian regimes complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in the hands of the Dictator committing those crimes.

It does not accept the “devil’s bargain” of negotiating with a war criminal the cessation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in exchange for his retaining power and the capability of using the instruments of state power to continue widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights, including the right of assembly, the rights to free speech, freedom of the press, and to receive and impart information and ideas, the right to life and physical integrity of the human person, and the right to due process and a fair trial by an independent judiciary.

Instead, the response that is required, for both moral and political reasons, is an insistence on the cessation of crimes angainst humanity and war crimes as a condition precedent to negotiations betwen the dictatorial regime, its democratic opposition, and the international community. Limited military actions to halt the ongoing commission of such crimes may form a part of this international response, with the approval of the Security Council whenever possible, but without it if Security Counil action is blocked by a veto and the atrocities and butchery continue.


Original Article (March 24, 2012)

Der Spiegel reports in some detail on Iran’s assistance to the al-Assad government in its war against the opposition.

See “Aufstand in Syrien: Teheran liefert Assad angeblich Waffen,” Der Spiegel, den 24 März 2012.

See also, “Hopeless Diplomacy: Syrian Regime Resembles Mafia Cartel; Hopes that diplomacy will force Syrian President Bashar Assad to back down seem misguided, given that his regime resembles a mafia cartel bent on defending its turf by any means. There is no turning back for Assad’s clan or the rebels — both sides know that would spell their doom,” Der Spiegel (English), March 19, 2012.

In Syria, al-Assad’s troops, assisted by non-uniformed men, continued their attacks on rebel strongholds and conducted roundups of civilians.

Associated Press, “Syrian forces shell towns and clash with rebels; dozens killed,” The Washington Post, March 24, 2012.

The website of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights provides updates in English here, and in Arabic here.

We should not forget what is going on in Syria on the ground, not for a single day.

The Trenchant Observer


–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.


How to find news reports from around the world
–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at


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

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Introduction to the REPRISE (May 7, 2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published May 27, 2012

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

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

–Webster’s New Worl Dictionary


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

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

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

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

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

President Obama, administration officials said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the first betrayals on Syria was with Turkey:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Responding to Atrocities in Syria: It’s Not Just About Al-Assad, It’s About Us—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #86 (September 18)

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Responding to Atrocities in Syria: It’s Not Just About Al-Assad, It’s About Us

Originally published March 6, 2012

I heard a boy in Syria on the BBC talking about what was going on there, a few days ago, and he said that ultimately the atrocities could not be stopped until people in other countries really cared about the suffering of the people in Homs, and elsewhere in Syria, and intervened to stop it.

It really comes down to that. Whether the leaders and populations of the countries of the civilized world care about al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sufficiently to stop it. That boy hit the nail on the head. It all boils down to whether we care. Enough.

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

But the leaders of the civilized world, such as they are, don’t care. Not enough to act, not enough to undertake the only action that might stop al-Assad, which is using military force to halt the killing.

Given the momentum and tempo of the murderous offensives underway, it is highly doubtful that even China and Russia, al-Assad’s accomplices in the commission of these crimes, could force Syria to stop the killing. Nor is it likely that a new Security Council resolution, even with the abstention or support of China and Russia, could stop the killing. Unless it authorized the use of military force, and even then delays in execution–such as those that occurred in Libya–could cost thousands of more lives.


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


It is difficult to sleep, here in the United States, knowing that dozens or hundreds of people are being murdered each day by Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers and security forces, during these same hours, in broad daylight in Syria. Men and boys are being rounded up in groups and taken away to be executed–or executed on the spot. Men are pulled from cars at checkpoints, and taken to be shot.

This is what General Franco’s forces did during the Civil War in Spain from 1936-1939. It is what Hitler’s officers and soldiers did throughout Europe in World War II, from September 1939 until they were stopped in May, 1945 by the combined military forces of the Allied Powers.

Not just men and boys, but also women and children are being killed every day in Syria by the indiscriminate shelling by tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons into apartment blocks and homes. Round-ups are underway, where individuals believed to be opponents of al-Assad, or who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who just happen to be Sunni instead of Alawite, are hunted down and either taken away to be tortured and/or shot, or have their throats slit by knives as they lay tied on the ground.

Hell has come to Syria.

A merciless slaughter and brutal repression are currently underway in Syria, each day as we try to sleep in the United States–a relentless, grinding slaughter, with horrors beyond all telling.

We know this. The world knows this. The world has first-hand testimony from witnesses, videos from cameras and smart phones, almost in real time. We have the U.N. Special Commission Report on Syria of February 22, 2012, which provides the details. News accounts bring us up to the present, with chilling accuracy.

The death toll has already surpassed the 7,000 men and boys massacred at Srebrenice, in 1995–as U.N. peacekeepers from the Netherlands, stationed in Srebrenice, stood by and did nothing to protect the population from the butchery of Slobodan Milosovic and Ratko Mladic.

It is some consolation that both were taken to The Hague, where Milosovic died while being tried, and where Mladic’s trial will commence in May. But their trials cannot bring back the men and boys who were slaughtered in Srebrenice on July 11, 1995.

And we, in the civilized world, swore that we would never let Srebrenice happen again.

One would think the Dutch would be out front on this one. But they aren’t.

To be sure, there have been other crimes against humanity, in Rwanda and Darfur, for example. And it is demonstrably true that we in the civilized world cannot stop all such crimes in all such places.

But in Syria, at the center of the lands and civilizations, going back four thousand years, which once formed part of the Roman Empire, close to Jerusalem and the heartland of the three religions of the The Book (Chirstianity, Judaism, and Islam), the civilized world could do something to stop this killing–if it had the courage and the will to do so.

Tragically, our leaders are too feckless to act. It would be difficult to take down the Syrian air defenses, our military leaders testify before Congress. The mililtary action would be difficult, and that is adduced as a reason not to undertake it. As if the Normandy invasion was not difficult. Or the Battle of Corregidor. Or taking down the Serbian air defenses in the bombing in Serbia in 1999 to stop the the ethnic cleansing by the Serbs in Kosovo.

Why is it hard to sleep?

Because I believe that President Obama has real-time intelligence on the details of the atrocities that are being committed, and may well be able to watch events in real-time from cameras on satellites and drones and other platforms (as he did when Bin Laden was taken down). I believe he knows exactly what is going on. And he is unwilling to lift a finger to do anything about it.

He has reportedly vetoed any military action, within the last week.

I support Obamacare, but I can’t support “Obama doesn’t care”.

I heard a boy in Syria on the BBC talking about what was going on there, a few days ago, and he said that ultimately the atrocities could not be stopped until people in other countries really cared about the suffering of the people in Homs, and elsewhere in Syria, and intervened to stop it.

It really comes down to that. Whether the leaders and populations of the countries of the civilized world care about al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sufficiently to stop it. That boy hit the nail on the head. It all boils down to whether we care. Enough.

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

But the leaders of the civilized world, such as they are, don’t care. Not enough to act, not enough to undertake the only action that might stop al-Assad, which is using military force to halt the killing.

Given the momentum and tempo of the murderous offensives underway, it is highly doubtful that even China and Russia, al-Assad’s accomplices in the commission of these crimes, could force Syria to stop the killing. Nor is it likely that a new Security Council resolution, even with the abstention or support of China and Russia, could stop the killing. Unless it authorized the use of military force, and even then delays in execution–such as those that occurred in Libya–could cost thousands of more lives.

That is why Kofi Annan’s U.N. mediation effort is so tragic. It is misbegotten on principle, and the principle is that we should not negotiate the cessation of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We should not negotiate with war criminals, except for the terms of their prompt exit from the scene.

It is ill-considered in that, wholly aside from the principle of the matter, Annan’s consultations will 1) give al-Assad control of the pace of the “mediation” efforts; and 2) lead to drawn-out diplomatic consultations that will give the Syrian Dictator the time he wants to commit more war crimes and crimes against humanity to wipe out his opponents, and their villages and towns.

Only mass amnesia at the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and other powers he may have consulted, could account for the failure to take into account the sad history of the Arab League’s negotiations with Syria over implementation of its November peace plan, and its experience in sending monitors to the country. Whatever al-Assad might agree to, would be utterly worthless, as he has zero credibility. And more time would be lost, to check on his compliance with any agreement, for diplomatic consultations as to what to do. More time for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the total destruction of neighborhoods and towns that have shown opposition or resistance.

Actually, there has been one notable exception to the general passivity of leaders in the civilized world. U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain had the courage to speak up on the floor of the Senate yesterday, March 5, and to call for air attacks on al-Assad’s forces to halt the killing and other atrocities. In the United States, his speech was reported in general, but the powerful and cogently reasoned arguments he presented, supporting his call for immediate military action, have as yet received little coverage in the United States. News coverage in Europe, in fact, may be better.

The speech is of fundamental importance for understanding the options that face us in Syria, and the consequences of inaction. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who is following developments in that country.

So why should all of this cause anyone to be troubled as he goes to sleep?

The crimes are eerily similar to the crimes for which the Nazi war criminals were prosecuted at Nuremberg.

We are doing nothing effective to stop al-Assad from continuing with his massacres. We know what is going on. We are gutless wonders.

So, what is going on in Syria is not only about al-Assad. It is also about us.

It is about the levels of barbarism we are willing to watch, in real time, close to Jerusalem and the heart of Europe and the Middle East, without lifting a finger.

We have no principles left which we believe are worth fighting for.

Afghanistan long since ceased to be about building democracy and the rule of law, even in incipient form, and there we fight only so we can get out without the Afghan government falling. Victory is not the goal, but “degrading the Taliban”, while we delude ourselves with thoughts of a negotiated settlement that would amount to something short of capitulation–over time–to the Taliban.

I doubt that Obama would have acted to bomb Serbia in order to halt the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, if it had occurred on his watch.

We have no leaders, and the world is adrift.

Civilized countries now accept the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

That is not right. And so it is with a troubled mind that I now seek sleep.

The Trenchant Observer

Die Zeit (Berlin): Military intervention in Syria is “absolutely essential”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #79 (August 27, 2012)

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Latest Press Reports and Commentary

(1) Die Zeit (Berlin) reported on August 27, in an article by Martin Gehlen, that military intervention in Syria is “absolutely essential” (unverzichtbar).

Syria is on the way to Hell. With or without the U.N. Security Council, whether they want to risk it or not: the international community in the foreseeable future will have to intervene.

Gehlen reports that each day more horrible crimes are committed, as the number of refugees exceeds the capacity of neighboring states to absorb them–30,000 crossed the border last week alone. Some two million refugees are fleeing, both inside and outside the country, while hundreds of thousands of families are trapped between the front lines.

But above all, Gehlen asserts, it is the stocks of chemical weapons that will require intervention, if al-Assad uses them in the civil war, or to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. They cannot just be left to themselves.

The international community will also have to provide food and shelter for the refugees, who can’t just go home as their homes have been destroyed, together with their schools and their hospitals.

In the meantime, Gehlen writes, the United States, Turkey and France are preparing, for the first time, to establish limited no-fly zones. The United States is bringing into position special forces for chemical weapons, and planning large-scale distribution of food and medicines. What is clear, he concludes, is that whatever responsibilities for Syria may come to the international community, they will be more comprehensive, last much longer, and be far more costly than the 7,587 NATO air-raids against Libya.

See Martin Gehlen “Militäreinsatz: Ein Eingreifen in Syrien ist unverzichtbar; Die Zahl der Flüchtlinge steigt, Kämpfe eskalieren, Chemiewaffen drohen in falsche Hände zu geraten; Der Westen wird sich einer Intervention in Syrien bald nicht mehr entziehen können, Die Zeit, 27 August 2012.

(2) Meanwhile, French President François Hollande has asserted that the use of chemical weapons by al-Assad would justify a military attack. He also stated that he would recognize an interim government in Syria, once it is formed.

Le Monde et agences, “Pour Hollande, l’emploi d’armes chimiques légitimerait une intervention en Syrie,” Le Monde, 27 août 2012 (mis à jour à 19h18).

Steven Erlanger, “France Urges Syrian Opposition to Form New Government,” Mew York Times, August 27, 2012.

(3) Last week, on August 23, the Pentagon ordered one of its aircraft carriers, the USS Stennis, previously scheduled to be deployed in the Pacific, to return to the Persian Gulf in view of the situation in Iran and also that in Syria. The early deployment cut short short home leaves.

Panetta cited Iran’s nuclear program and its threats to oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz as two concerns the Stennis strike group could counter in the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, which also includes Syria and Afghanistan.

U.S. attention on Syria is focused on providing humanitarian aid, monitoring chemical and biological weapon stockpiles, and offering non-lethal assistance to forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad, he said.

–Daniel Fineren(Dubai/Reuters), “U.S. sends aircraft carrier back to Gulf to face Iran, Syria; The U.S. Navy is cutting short home leave for the crew of one of its aircraft carriers and sending them back to the Middle East next week to counter any threat from Iran, according to the official Navy News Service,” Reuters, August 23, 2012.

(4) For insight into the thinking of Obama administration officials, see

Steven Lee Meyers and Scott Shane, “Risks of Syrian Intervention Limit Options for U.S., New York Times, August 21. 2012.

Meyers and Erlanger report,

The administration’s current policy involves intensifying diplomatic and economic pressure on Mr. Assad’s government through sanctions, offering humanitarian assistance to Syrians inside and outside the country, and providing $25 million in “nonlethal” help to Mr. Assad’s opponents, including more recently to members of the Free Syrian Army. That aid has paid for communication equipment to enable the armed and unarmed opposition to better coordinate their attacks and plans for taking power.

The administration has also ruled out providing arms to the rebels for broadly the same reason: more weapons, the officials say, would probably make the war only worse.

The idea that supplying more weapons for the rebels would make the war only worse, when they are being slaughtered by the instruments of war of a modern state including attack helicopters, jet fighters, artillery and tanks, while they themselves are running out of ammunition (as reported recently in Aleppo), is nothing short of obscene, revealing a callousness that is almost beyond belief.

That, however, is the policy of the American president, Barack Obama, and his foreign policy juggernaut, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight.”

The Trenchant Observer

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

Ban Ki-Moon’s unceremonious dismissal of General Robert Hood; SG on verge of disastrous appointment of successor to Kofi Annan—Obama’s debacle in Syria — Update #73 (August 10)

Friday, August 10th, 2012

The mediation mission of Kofi Annan has turned into a hydra-headed monster that the United States, France and the United Kingdom do not seem to have the courage to slay as it begins to rise up again, out of the the smoldering ashes of Kofi Annan’s total defeat, his total failure, as U.N.-Arab Joint Special Envoy.

The mediation mission of Kofi Annan directly served the interests of the Russians and the Bashar al-Assad regime itself, by endlessly proposing empty rhetorical solutions to the Syrian conflict, “castles in the sky” which were beautiful indeed and elicited universal approval, but which were not accompanied by any practical steps or path for their achievement in reality. It was, as we observed, as if the nations of the world became ectstatic over the fact that they had achieved complete unity, on the proposition that all points on a circle are equidistant from the center.

But “Kofi Annan’s triumph”, the mediation mission and its oversized staff and budget, has acquired life and the kind of blind bureaucratic momentum that keeps new offices and missions moving in the U.N. without the intervention of human thought.  It represents the creation of what amounts to a second secretary general’s office in Geneva charged with mediating in Syria, to be sure, but also keeping high-ranking diplomats employed, a total of some seventeen staff, at U.N. salary rates for an Undersecretary ($189,000 tax-free), two  Assistant Secretaries ($172,000 each, tax-free) and other U.N. diplomats of high rank to assist these principal figures.

A successor to Kofi Annan, and this mighty staff based on Geneva, would help ensure that the U.N. Special Envoy and his operation will remain at the center of international decision-making on Syria, sucking up the world’s media attention as it did when Annan was leading the operation, to the exclusion even of coverage of events on the ground.

It represents Russia’s attempt to get back in the game, after blocking all efforts at effective Security Council action. Without the Joint Special Envoy and his operation, and UNSMIS, the Russians become largely irrelevant as the locus of decision making shifts away from the Security Council–for at least so long as al-Assad’s butchery continues.

We have seen how the Joint Special Envoy’s enterprise was used to do the Russians’ bidding, and to set loose unaccountable U.N. diplomats on an endless quest to, among other things, maintain their own salaries and positions, even if that involved attempting to drag Iran into the existing mess.

Kofi Annan failed. Absolutely. His mediation mission produced nothing. Absolutely nothing. It dragged out the period of time in which the world’s nations stood by, paralyzed by false promises and false hopes. Thousands, certainly over 10,000, were killed in Syria as a result.

Kofi Annan’s mission achieved one key objective for the Russians: it succeeded in forestalling any forceful military action by outside countries that might have actually brought al-Assad’s atrocities to a halt.

The mission was premised on the assumption that if Bashar al-Assad were to agree to a peace plan, or to anything for that matter, that agreement would have some value, that it would mean something. However, even in February, it was already quite clear from the failed Arab League peace mission in 2011 that this assumption was utterly flawed.

Kofi Annan’s greatest and most shameful failure was that after it had become manifest that al-Assad would not honor the 6-point peace plan to which he had agreed, Annan did not report back to the Security Council on the failure of his mission. Instead, he continued to negotiate, to waste time, to blind the world community with the beauty of his “palaces in the sky”, while al-Assad continued to use his tanks, his artillery, and his army to massacre the civilian population of Syria. Kofi Annan constantly held out the hope of some agreement, as he negotiated with a war criminal who was committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against his people every day.

As if this shame were not enough, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon responded quickly to the Russian entreaties that a successor to Kofi Annan be named as soon as possible. The Russians pushed hard for this, while the Americans did not think clearly and did not strongly oppose this action, which today is reported to be imminent.

All of this is being done without any public discussion or analysis or apparent thought, other than to satisfy the demands of the Russians and the Chinese, whose interest in forestalling effective action by the Security Council–or by anyone else–has been demonstrated beyond the slightest doubt.

Ban Ki-Moon’s appointment of Kofi Annan as Joint Special Envoy was one of the greatest blunders in modern U.N. history. Now, this idea, which is based on the assumption that agreement with al-Assad on anything would have meaning, and the fundamentally flawed concept that it is OK to negotiate with a war criminal while he is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, is on the verge of a second incarnation with the appointment of a new Joint Special Envoy.

We have spoken before of the folly of subsuming the voices of the Arab countries in the person of a Joint U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy. There is absolutely no objective benefit to be derived by dragging the Arab League into this appointment, which only gives the Arab League an excuse for doing nothing. The Arab countries that make up the League of Arab States have a role to play through that organization, as well as outside of it. Their voices should not be stifled again with another appointment of a “Joint Special Envoy”.

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is turning out to be a disaster in his leadership on the Syrian issue. Not only did he initially appoint Kofi Annan, as the outcome of a secretive process the details of which were never made clear, but he also dismissed General Robert Hood unceremoniously at the end of the first 90 days of his contract as commander of UNSMIS. This he did without a word of thanks that reached the world’s attention. Nor did he explain why Hood was fired (technically, he didn’t offer Hood an extension of his contract, without explanation, which amounted to the same thing).

We speculated earlier about the possibility that Hood was replaced for standing up too energetically for the security of his monitors, and ordering them to stand down because of both security concerns and the impossibility of monitoring a non-existent truce. Hood’s replacement, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, suddenly appeared on the scene in Damascus on July 30 together with Hervé Ladsous, U.N. Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping, and promptly ordered patrols by the UNSMIS observers. He was never properly introduced, and details of his background and why he was chosen to replace Hood were never provided in a way that caught the attention of the world’s press.

See “In wake of field visit in Syria, head of UN observers voices concern over Aleppo,” UN News Centre, July 30, 2012.

Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, Press conference in Damascus, July 30, 2012, Prepared Statement.

See also Executive Summary, “Report of the Independent Panel on the Safety and Security of the UN Personnel in Iraq,” 20 October 2003

The manner in which Ban Ki-Moon replaced General Robert Hood as head of UNSMIS, in view of his distinguished and courageous service, was shameful and scandalous. The way the Secretary General is now proceeding to appoint a successor to Kofi Annan without public discussion, without an open discussion in the Security Council, is equally scandalous.

Why the Obama administration would go along with this move, which is so clearly contrary to its interests and those of all the countries which are willing to act to halt the atrocities in Syria, is just one more of the foreign policy mysteries of Barack Obama.

It seems that the U.S. foreign policy decision-making apparatus is shut down for the summer, and possibly until after the U.S. elections in November. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has become the Peer Gynt of modern diplomacy, traveling the world with her entourage of high state department officials, far from the centers of decision making where policies and actions are in fact decided. President Barack Obama is lost in the campaign, and appears to have little interest in or attention for anything else. Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, has in Clinton’s absence been pressed into service as a foreign policy spokesman for the administration, but not always with felicitous results. Tom Donilon, the National Security Adviser, is apparently holding down the fort, though even he was recently dispatched to Israel to carry Obama’s messages to Netanyahu. All in all, we are left with “the gang who couln’t shoot straight” as they continue their happy wandering through the unfocused foreign policy terrain of a president who is not minding the store.

Hillary Clinton has seized upon this time to see the many countries of the world, which is probably a much more pleasant place to be than to be in Washington, ignored.

If there remains a single foreign policy leader who is awake and alert, whether in Washington, Paris, or London, he or she should act with the utmost urgency to block any appointment of a successor to Annan, and to stop any continuation of his mission and the U.N. bureaucratic boondoggle of what amounts to a second secretary general’s office in Geneva to support it

The world has tried the Kofi Annan act, and experienced the massive loss of lives and the bitter disappointment and total defeat that it has brought.

We don’t need to go there again.

Anyone who thinks the Russians are acting out of any but the basest motives in seeking to resurrect this diplomatic instrument, which was so helpful to them over the last four months, should review with his colleagues the evidence that has accumulated over the last 17 months in relation to Syria.

The Trenchant Observer

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

REPRISE: Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #68 (July 25)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

The article reproduced below, and the earlier articles it cites, address the issue of the legal justifications that might be advanced to support the supply of arms to the insurgents in Syria, or to support military intervention to halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, whether by establishing a no-fly zone or a humanitarian corridor or more direct military engagement. These legal justifications are suggestive of the type of justifications that the governments engaged in such actions ought to provide. Obviously, their international lawyers can develop the definitive legal defenses in considerably more detail. But they should provide public legal justifications for their actions, instead of hiding behind a cloak of secrecy and covert operations, as the U.S. does with its program of targeted executions.

For additional background on international law and humanitarian intervention, see

V.S. Mani, “Humanitarian Intervention Today”, Recueil des Cours / Collected Courses, Volume 313 (2005), Académie de Droit International de la Haye / Hague Academy of International Law (Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 2005). The “Recueil des Cours” is available in one or more libraries in most of the countries in the world.

First published on April 8, 2012

The futility of the 6-point peace plan of Kofi Annan and the Security Council should now be clear for even the most willfully obtuse to see. Al-Assad has introduced on Sunday new conditions for compliance with the peace plan’s requirements for a ceasefire. As anyone who has closely followed developments in Syria over the last six months already knew, al-Assad will say or agree to anything, but he will never comply with any agreements that require him to halt the killing of the unarmed civilian opposition, or to comply with the laws of war in fighting armed insurgents.

The alternatives have been cogently presented by Senator John McCain in his speech on the Senate floor on March 5. His analysis is relevant not only to American decision makers and politicians, but also to all governments which want to bring the killing in Syria to a prompt halt.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Republican Senator John McCain Urges U.S. Military Attacks to Halt Atrocities in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #3 (March 5),”
March 5, 2012

The time has come for humanitarian military action to halt the killing.

The Supply of Weapons

The supply of weapons to the opposition can arguably be justified under international law as a measure undertaken to to provide target populations the means to defend themselves when the government in power not only fails to comply with its obligations under “the responsibility to protect” resolution of the Security Council (Resolution 1674), but is itself actively engaged in the commission of the very war crimes and crimes against humanity that “the responsibility to protect” is is established to guard against.

The furnishing of arms to such populations should be conditional, a provisional measure to protect the civilian populations against crimes against humanity and the armed opposition against war crimes, until such time as the U.N. Security Council can act effectively to safeguard these populations.

Military Action by a State or Group of States to Halt the Commission of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

Direct humanitarian intervention by a state or group of states may also be required. Such action against al-Assad’s military, after all other recourses have failed, should be undertaken as a provisional measure to ensure that “the responsibility to protect” is implemented within a state engaged in the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity–in direct contravention of its responsiblities under international law.

On the possible legal justifications for such actions, see the following articles and the sources named in them:

The Trenchant Observer, “Limited military action to halt crimes against humanity: A new template to halt terror in Syria, and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #18 (March 28),” March 28, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “U.N. Commission Report on Crimes Against Humanity in Syria; Military Action; Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention in Syria and International Law
Friday,” February 24, 2012.

Nikolai Krylov, Humanitarian Intervention: Pros and Cons, 17 Loy. L.A. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 365 (1995). Available at:

The Trenchant Observer, “Military Intervention to establish “no-kill zones” and humanitarian corridors—Syria Update #9,” February 24, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

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

REPRISE: “The League of Authoritarian States”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #65 (July 19)

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

REPRISE: “The League of Authoritarian States”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #50 (June 9)
First published June 9, 2012

Responses to events in Syria have etched in sharp relief the emergence of a new coalition of states, which might be termed “The League of Authoritarian States”.

Their Charter Members include Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba, in addition to Syria. Other states drifting within their orbit, or in and out of their orbit, include Uganda, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Where they have votes, they have consistently voted against U.N. resolutions addressing the crisis in Syria, including the Human Rights Council’s resolutions condemning the atrocities by the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and the Security Council draft resolution on Syria of February 4, 2012, which endorsed an Arab League peace plan, called for end to the crimes being committed, and promoted a peaceful transition. The February 4 draft resolution explicitly ruled out the use of force, and contained no economic sanctions. Still, it was vetoed in the Security Council by Russia and China, who had blocked all action by the Security Council since the demonstrations in Syria began in March, 2011.

By supporting Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan, the League’s members have diverted members of the international community from taking effective action to stop the killing in Syria. They now call for “an international conference” and a continuation of Kofi Annan’s “mediation” process to further delay or avoid any such action. In their hard-nosed diplomacy, Russia has even made a veiled threat of nuclear war in the region, to which President Obama and the West have not responded in any way.

The fact that Russia and China have a veto in the Security Council gives the League of Authoritarian States enormous leverage in shaping the Security Council’s responses to situations in countries, like Syria, where authoritarian regimes use terror to repress movements pressing for respect for human rights and transitions to democratic governments.

It remains to be seen how many other authoritarian states will now go on the record in supporting the League of Authoritarian States. There is a cost associated with repression, and the avowed intention of blocking any action to halt war crimes and crimes against humanity in any country where violent repression is the government’s response to demands for human rights and democracy.

The key Founding Members of the League, Russia and China, have made it clear where they stand. They will use their vetoes in the Security Council to block effective action by the international community to halt war crimes and crimes against humanity, and to water down any resolutions which are adopted (such as Resolutions 2042 and 2043). Moreover, their true intentions and bad faith are revealed in their propaganda, which mirrors that of Syrian officials and state-controlled media.

They justify their actions by reference to the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of any state, as guaranteed in the U.N. Charter.

They ignore, however, that in the 21st century “sovereignty” does not include the right to commit genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, or even the violation of other fundamental human rights. The growth and development of international law has led to treaties and state practice interpreting international law that limit the sovereignty of a nation to undertake acts such as those referred to above.

We no longer live in a world (if we ever did) in which, to pose a hypothetical example, Adolf Hitler could set up extermination camps inside of Germany and exterminate millions of German citizens, so long as he did not invade other countries. If he lived today, he would not have that right.

No Dictator, no authoritarian regime, has that right.

The battle is joined, between the international community which supports human rights and international law, including international criminal law, on the one hand, and the League of Authoritarian States, on the other, whose members believe a Dictator should have such a “right”, and who are willing to block the effective responses of the international community by vetoing resolutions in the Security Council.

The rest of the nations of the world are looking, at least in public, to a future in which fundamental human rights are observed and effectively protected throughout the world. That is the aim of the Responsibility to Protect Resolution (Resolution 1674) adopted by the Security Council in 2006. That is the purpose of the Human Rights Council and all of its work to uphold observance of international human rights protected in U.N. and other treaties, and under customary international law.

Undoubtedly other governments will join the League of Authoritarian States, in order to protect their own ability to use terror including war crimes and crimes against humanity to retain their hold on power.

However, the trend in recent years, has been toward a consolidation of the principles espoused by the United Nations Charter, international treaties, international law, and the organs of the U.N. such as the Human Rights Council.

The League of Authoritarian States is determined to buck that trend, and indeed to reverse it so that they will not have to face the possibility of intervention by the international community in their own “internal affairs” in the future.

The verdict is still out on which group will prevail. Much will depend on the willingness of members of the international community to act in cases such as Syria, even by the use of force if necessary. In extreme cases, willingness to act must extend to military action to halt atrocities, notwithstanding obstruction of effective Security Council action by a League member’s veto.

We live in a world of seven billion people. Through the internet, satellite channels, and mobile telephones, we are all connected now. We can all talk to each other now, today by video on Skype, and tomorrow on smart phones with video call capabilities.

The world has changed, and the speed of that change is accelerating.

Who will prevail, the League of Authoritarian States, or those members of the international community who aspire to a world governed by international law, including U.N. treaties and customary international law guaranteeing the observance of fundamental human rights? These not only prohibit genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture, but also protect rights such as freedom of the press and the right to participate in government.

The answer depends not on the United States or Europe or NATO or the Arab League alone. It depends of each of us, and what each of us does to shape the policies and actions of our own respective governments.

The outcome of the struggle is not determined. Whatever it is, it will decisively affect the course of history.

In that struggle, it will be important to bear in mind that one thing, however, has changed: We are all connected now.

The Trenchant Observer

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

If Russia vetoes a Security Council resolution on Syria, then what? — Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update # 64 (July 17)

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

We are at a potential decision point on Syria. A draft resolution presented by France, the U.K., the United States and Germany, extending the UNSMIS observer mission for 45 days and calling for sanctions under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter if al-Assad does not withdraw his heavy weapons from towns within ten days, appears headed for an up or down vote.

See Ruth Sherlock (Beirut) and Adrian Blomfield (Middle East Correspondent), “Syrian rebels launch campaign to ‘liberate’ Damascus; Syrian rebel commanders on Tuesday night claimed to have launched a military campaign to “liberate” Damascus as the city echoed to the sound of gunfire for a third day and fighting came close to the country’s parliament building,” The Telegraph, July 17, 2012.

Alex Spillius (Diplomatic Correspondent), “Syria United Nations vote delayed; A crucial vote on Syria at the United Nations has been delayed as Western countries make a last ditch bid to persuade Russia to threaten Bashar al-Assad with tough sanctions,” The Telegraph, July 17, 2012.

Russia has said it will block the resolution.

It may well do so, as President Putin proceeds to ride the Bashar al-Assad regime down to flaming defeat, helping to set a template in the Arab world in which Russians will be viewed as the enemies of the Arab Spring and all it stands for, for generations.

It is absolutely important that the sponsors of the resolution not back down, and not cave in to Russia’s demand for an extension of UNSMIS and Kofi Annan’s mission with no consequences for al-Assad if he displays continued defiance.

Over 10,000 people have been killed since Russia and China vetoed a relatively bland draft resolution on February 4, 2012. Weakening the current draft resolution to get Russia and China on board should not be done if they are only to board a still-sinking ship.

Another toothless resolution will, like the last five months of Security Council paralysis and illusions, serve no purpose other than allowing thousands more to die.

Should the Russians (one almost writes “Soviets”) veto the resolution, what should its proponents and supporters then do?

The Observer offers the following suggestions:

1.  Let UNMIS lapse.

It is not capable of providing widespread observation of what is going on in Syria, due to its limited numbers, the government’s ability to control its movements, and its inability to operate to monitor a truce when there is no truce but rather a raging civil war–when it has been targeted and fired upon repeatedly and subjected to the actions of hostile mobs orchestrated by al-Asad.

2.  Do not extend or expand Kofi Annan’s mandate as Joint Special Envoy.

The Arab League should speak to the members of the Security Council, the General Assembly, and the civilized nations of the world with its own voice.  It should not surrender its role in history, for another day, to Kofi Annan or anyone else.  The Arab states need a voice, and have much to bring to the table.  They cannot do this with Annan speaking for them.

The sooner Kofi Annan is shown the exit, the better.  His mega-personality and vainglorious view of himself sucks up all of the attention of the world’s media, drowning out other potentially constructive voices as well as those of witnesses to the atrocities al-Assad is committing–every day.

If his mission is to continue at all, it should be conditioned on his not speaking to the press or the media.

If it continues, his mission should be a silent one.  Let him mediate and report to the Security Council, without manipulating world opinion at every step of the way for the benefit, as it turns out, of the Russians and the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Let his efforts to build another bureaucratic empire in Geneva for himself, as a kind of second Secretary General’s office, lapse when the funding lapses, or sooner if a method can be found to halt this boondoggle.

Send Kofi Annan home.  His efforts as a mediator have produced nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

3.  Let attention turn away from the Security Council, where effective action is blocked by Russia.  Develop and pursue alternative strategies outside of the framework of the Security Council.

4.  Such alternate strategies should include, as a high priority, the formulation of an economic aid package, including humanitarian assistance, which the civilized countries of the world will provide to the people of Syria, once the leaders currently committing atrocities have been removed from the scene.

These leaders should be brought to justice, whether sooner or later–whether through a referral to the International Criminal Court, prosecution within Syria in the future, or through prosecution in individual countries exercising “universal jurisisdiction” over international crimes, in accordance with their own domestic legislation.

5.  A second alternate strategy would be to begin developing a “truth and reconciliation process” which may offer some prospect to soldiers and even officers that, in exchange for full cooperation with a “truth and reconciliation commission” and admission of their wrongful actions, they might be pardoned or receive lighter punishments than would otherwise be possible.

This effort (including both points 4 and 5) could be pursued within and with the support of the United Nations General Assembly. Detailed plans and sequences could be developed, with pledges of financial support from different countries–and other institutions. The idea would be to develop a concrete vision of the reconstruction of Syria, including sources of funding and specific measures to revive the economy. As this vision including the corresponding pledges of financial support takes shape, it is likely to become an attractive alternative to the al-Bashar regime, which promises only destruction and ruin.

It will be useful to shift the world’s attention, and that of those caught up in the struggle in Syria, to the future–to a future which lies on a path leading to atonement and reconciliation.

Somehow, some day, the Syria which Bashar al-Assad has done so much to destroy will have to be put back together, and rebuilt–both in material and in human terms  It is not too early to focus on this aspect–the construction of the future.

Thinking about the construction of the future, and taking concrete steps towards its realization, may in fact serve as critically important means of moving forward through and beyond the terrible present.

Of course, miltary action may at some point also be required, e.g. if al-Assad were to start using chemical weapons or other WMD–or to start selling such weapons to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It is also possible that once outside countries focus on the realities of Syria and its risks, instead of the illusions and castles in the sky generated by Kofi Annan, they may decide to use military force to halt the killing and to organize an orderly transition–with or without Security Council authorization.

The Trenchant Observer

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

REPRISE: Goals to guide the international community in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #62 (July 11)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Originally published May 29, 2012

With talk of orchestrating a Yemen-style transition in Syria through agreement between Russia and the United States, it may be useful to address the question of what the legitimate goals of the international community in Syria should be.

To start the discussion, the following goals are suggested:

1. Immediately halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity;

2. Ensure that any transitional regime fully respects the international “responsibility to protect” as set forth in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1674 (2006).

3. Establish an interim government committed to immediately respecting the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Syria, of all sects including Alawites, Christians and other minorities.

These fundamental human rights are set forth in the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, and further articulated in the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.N Convention Against Torture, and other international human rights treaties.

(The Security Council, through adoption of a mandatory resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, could provide that even those of these norms that have not become customary international law will be binding on Syria.)

4. Within this context of the interim government’s guarantee of respect for fundamental human rights, provide for the organization of political parties, the election of a constituent assembly to draft a constitution, and the subsequent holding of elections to a National Assembly followed by presidential elections to select a new, legitimate government to replace the interim transitional government.

5. Establish a Truth and Reconciliation process through which those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity will be held morally, and potentially legally, responsible for the crimes they have committed. This process could involve creation of a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with optional referral to domestic judicial authorities or to the International Criminal Court, depending on the whether the individual concerned cooperated fully with the Commission and acknowledged the crimes he or she may have committed. (The South African and Argentine models might be taken into account in designing the appropriate truth and reconciliation process.)

6. Establish a United Nations Authority in Syria with a mandate to assist Syria in developing mechanisms designed to ensure observance of “the responsibility to protect”, and with residual powers to ensure compliance with the goals set forth in paragraphs 1-5 above.

7. Establish a United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Syria for an interim period of 1-2 years to ensure the safety and security of all citizens of Syria, incuding in particular the members of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria.

Any discussion of a possible Yemen-style “solution” to the situation in Syria should be measured against the 21st century goals set forth above.

The outcome of the actual negotiated, transitional “solution” in Yemen is far from evident, with al-Qaeda operating through large portions of the country’s territory and a revival of earlier civil wars between diferent regions of the country remaining a realistic threat.

Moreover, Syria obviously represents an entirely different political and social reality than Yemen, with a recent history of barbarism on a wholly different order of magnitude than anything done by the Saleh regime in Yemen.

The goals of the international community do not include maintenance of Russian control of the port of Tartus, just as they do not include agreement with the U.S. that it can conduct drone strikes on targets in Syria. These issues can only be decided by the interim government and then the elected government of Syria.

Instead of giving al-Assad more time to commit atrocities against his opponents as diplomatic negotiations continue, and to help focus his mind and those of his inner circle on what is to come, it will be essential to develop and if necessary undertake vigorous military actions to halt the crimes referred to in paragraphs 1-3 of the list of suggested goals above.

These options should be developed–and if necessary exercised–even in the absence of Security Council authorization. Russia must not be allowed to use negotiations as a cover for supporting al-Assad’s continued commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is time for the international community to act on an urgent basis to halt the atrocities in Syria, and to commence the transitional process that will lead to a future government based on respect for fundamental human rights, implementation of the “responsibility to protect”, and the establishment of a process that will lead to a government that reflects the aspirations and desires of the Syrian people.

The Trenchant Observer

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