Posts Tagged ‘suriah’

America’s shame: By-passing Europe to meet with Lavrov before NATO foreign ministers meeting aimed at stiffening response to Russian aggression in Ukraine

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

It has taken a day of reflection to fully grasp America’s perfidious betrayal of Europe in hastily agreeing to bilateral talks on Sunday with Russia, on the eve of a EU summit.

Obama is no longer, if he ever was, a leader of the Free World who could be trusted to not go behind the backs of his alliance partners to cut a side deal with Russia.

He demonstrated this by selling out the Syrian resistance, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states when he cut a deal with Russia for the withdrawal of chemical weapons from Syria.

Now, as Europe gathers for a NATO Foreign ministers meeting at which responses to Russian aggression In the Ukraine are to be discussed, Obama has undercut the common position of the U.S. and Europe vis-a-vis Russia by agreeing to bilateral talks with Russia to defuse the Ukrainian crisis.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops gathered on the border of the Ukraine, and Putin threatening to send them into the eastern Ukraine and/or Moldova, Obama has agreed to hold bilateral talks with Russia, which at this moment has seized and annexed the Ukraine in violation of the most fundamental prohibitions of the Unied Nations Charter.

Merely talking to Russia sends a powerful signal to Putin: His aggression has paid off, and further aggression promises to pay off more. He can send troops into other countries, and the Americans will still jump at any opportunity to discuss his further demands–at the end of the barrel of a gun.

When the U.S. and Europe should be implementing permanent sanctions against Russia for what it has already done, a pacifist Obama pleads with Russia not to commit further acts of aggression.

The minimal sanctions which should be imposed now, and not lifted until the Russian seizure and annexation of the Crimea has been reversed, include a total ban on doing business with any company or finanial institution which conducts business in the Crimea.

This measure should stay in place for 50 years, if necessary, until Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine is reversed.

50 years Is about how long it took to reverse the Soviet aggression and annexation of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Russia will not agree to that, some say. Who could naively expect an aggressor, with armies on the march, to agree to anything except its further demands?

Such a measure, and others, however, are needed now to communicate forcefully to Putin and his band of war criminals (it is an international crime to launch a war of aggression) that the military takeover of the Crimea will not stand.

For a broader view of the current crisis with Russia, see

Joschka Fischer, “Europa, bleibe hart,”Suddeutscher Zeitung, 30. marz 2014.

Die EU muss anerkennen, dass sie nicht nur eine Wirtschaftsunion, sondern auch ein machtpolitischer Akteur ist. Wenn sie Putin jetzt nachgibt, dient sie nicht dem Frieden. Dann ermutigt sie Russlands Präsidenten, den nächsten Schritt zu tun.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Fear of Provoking the Aggressor: Obama, Putin, and the West

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Washington’s difidence in responding to the Ukraine’s request for military equipment, out of fear of provoking Russia to engage in further military aggression in the Ukraine (or elsewhere), reveals how deeply pacificist beliefs have permeated from the top into U.S. military and civilian leadership circles. Or, alternatively, it has demonstrated how effective a pacificist President in the U.S. has been in checking the normal upward flow of analysis, options, and proposals from military and civilian leaders.

The absence of Secretary of State John Kerry from the inner group of decision makers in Washington has been remarkable, suggesting he has been relegated to a preipheral role of flying all around the world and meeting with leaders, without having a seat at the dining room table where major decisions are made. One consequence of his absence is that the analyses and options developed by the State Department have no powerful defender at the White House. This kind of influence cannot be exercised by teleconference.

So, after the military seizure of the Crimea by Russia, what does it tell us that Obama is so concerned about provoking the Russian aggressor that he won’t even send military equipment to the Ukraine in response to its urgent request, which has been placed “under study”?

To the Observer, it suggests that Obama has been cowed by Putin in terms of taking actions beyond the mild targeted economic sanctions so far imposed by Europe and the U.S.–aimed at less than three dozen individuals and one bank.

Obama solves problems with beautifully crafted torrents of words. Putin seizes opportunities by stealth, lies and the decisive movement of troops and tanks.

It’s clear now that the sanctions imposed by the West have been “too little, too late”. If so-called “stage three” sanctions (real trade and financial sanctions directed against Russia itself) had been imposed immediately following the Russian military seizure of the Crimea, it is possible that Putin might have hesitated before proceeding to annex the peninsula.

For that matter, maybe Putin has already decided to intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine, and to use military force to prevent Ukriane’s movement toward integration into the European Union.

Thus, for the moment, like Nevellie Chamberlain and Èdouard Daladier at Munich in September 1938, the U.S. appears to feel there is no alternative other than to cower before the aggresor.

At that point, of course, the aggressor has already won half the battle, which turns decisively on the will and determination of his opponents to stand up against further acts of aggression, through effective means.

With Obama now willing to have his Secretary of State meet with the Russian foreign minister to seek agreements that will forestall further Russian aggression–while rolling back its military seizure of the Crimea is off the table, we can see clearly how a pacificst president continues to lead his nation down the road of appeasement.

See Anne Gearan, “U.S. seeks detente with Russia over Ukraine with Kerry, Lavrov to meet in Paris,” The Washington Post, March 29, 2014.

The sad truth is that Obama and his foreign policy team are not capable of leading the West — alone — in the current crisis with Russia, following the latter’s seizure and annexation of the Crimea.

To meet bilaterally with Russia at this time, on these implicit terms, reflects Obama’s pacificism and constitutes a total act of further appeasement. Putin astutely has tried to peel off the U.S. from Europe, two days before NATO foreign ministers meet to decide upon a stronger response to Russia’s aggression. Obama, clueless, plays right into Putin’s attempt to divide the Western alliance.

The U.S. should meet with Russia, if at all, only if it is joined by representatives from EU and NATO governments, and then only if the restoration of the status quo ante prior to the Russian military takeover of Crimea is on the table for discussion.

We have seen how ready Obama is to sell out his allies, particularly in the case of the agreement in Geneva with Russia to remove chemical weapons from Syria. That agreement let Obama off the hook in terms of military strikes against Syria after the latter’s use of chemical weapons. But it also sold out the Syrian resistance and the strongest allies of the United States in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia.

See “The Leopard and the Impala: Putin astutely plays Obama for a chump,” The Trenchant Observer, September 12, 2013.

Europeans and other NATO members, to safeguard their own interests and those of the West, should insist that they participate fully in any discussions involving Russia and the United States.

The pacifist mind-set which reigns in Washington is completely revealed by the agreement to hold bilateral talks between Kerry and Lavrov on Sunday. The move starkly undercuts the actions German Chancellor Angela Merkel and foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are taking to develop a strong European consensus to opppose Russian aggression.

Obama seems far too ready to let stand the Russian military aggression and takeover of the Crimea, and get back to business as usual.

He is quite prepared to negotiate with the aggressor over whether Russia will commit further acts of aggression, under continued Russian military threats represented by tens of thousands of troops menacingly poised on the border with the Ukraine.

The moral bankruptcy of Barack Obama and the Obama administration has never been more fully on view.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Disillisioned with Obama’s chemical weapons deal with the Russians, 12 Free Syrian Army groups form alliance with al-Nusra Front in Syria

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Twelve “moderate” groups previously aligned with the Free Syrian Army, have given up on Obama and the West, forming a new alliance with the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front in northern Syria. After Obama’s deal with Russia on chemical weapons, now on the verge of being backed by a relatively good Security Council Resolution—according to news reports—many insurgents have lost hope. They have declared that they will not participate in any Geneva II peace conference in Geneva.

They feel they have been sold out, have given up on Obama and the West, and have gone over to the other side–the al Nusra Front, which is comprised of al-Qaeda jihadists dedicated to imposing their fundamentalist version of the sharia (Islamic law) as the only law in the territory they control. The new groups have accepted this stipulation.

This development makes a negotiated peace settlement seem more distant than ever, unless Obama and the West can persuade Russia and Iran to curtail their military and financial support for the al-Assad regime.

Georges Malbrunot, “Syrie: des rebelles modérés rejoignent le camp des islamistes radicaux,” Le Figaro, le 26/09/2013 (à 13:46).

The Trenchant Observer

We are a bunch of curious people, that’s for sure, who care about the commission of evil in this world

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

We are a bunch of curious people, that’s for sure. We are that small minority, minuscule perhaps, who follow foreign policy and world events in great detail, day-in and day-out, with passion.

Where does that interest in other countries and people who live in foreign lands come from? A family relation or family origin, perhaps. Maybe we knew or know someone from a foreign country.

For some reason, whatever it might be, we care. We care about those people in foreign countries who we may not even know. Why?

Something must have happened in the neural circuits of our brains, or in the spiritual circuits of our souls. Maybe we took some religious or moral belief seriously, all too seriously, so that it opened up our hearts to what happened to others, or what was done to them, in these far-off places. Somehow, our defenses against feeling their pain and horror became breached.

This seems to be true for many of us. For whatever reason, we have opened ourselves up to feel the pain and suffering of the world. Perhaps somewhere in our brief journey through this life we saw evil, or were touched by evil–real evil.

We are that very curious group of people who care, at an emotional, spiritual and moral level, about the evil that is done to others in this world, through torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity, for example.

A Russian, Fyodor Dostoevsky, once wrote,

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness …
Crime and Punishment

Maybe he was right. But one need not be a great woman or a great man to be open to the pain of others in far-away lands. Nor need the feeling of sadness become dominant in one’s thinking and behavior.

For us, this curious bunch of people who follow world events, with passion and empathy, with “Mitgefühl or “Mitleid”, as a German might say, this curious group of people who care about others for reasons “de l’humanité”, as a Frenchman might say, or “por la humanidad” as a Spaniard might say, what happens in Syria matters.

We care. We care about the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, about the murder with chemical weapons by al-Assad of 1400 human beings in Ghouta, on August 21, 2013.

But in America, our leaders do not care, nor apparently do our countrymen, or enough of them. Not the way we do. Maybe nothing happened in the neural circuits of their brains, or in the spiritual circuits of their souls, like it did to us. Maybe they never had a genuine friend from an Arab-speaking country, an Arab-speaking friend. Maybe they can’t really see Syrian Arabs as human beings like us, the way we do.

All I know is that humanity has come to a terrible place, when leaders and peoples will not do what is required to halt the commission of evil on a massive scale.

Or even consider revoking most-favored-nation treatment for Russia, who stands strong in defense of, and in complicity with, the mass murderer and his crimes.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama, Putin and Syria: Commentary

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Roger Cohen, “An Anchorless World,” New York Times, September 12, 2013.

Laure Mandevill, “Syrie : Obama sort de la crise affaibli face à Poutine,” Le Figaro, le 15 septembre 2013.

Tomas Avenarius, Kairo (Kommentar), “Abkommen zu Syrien: Tausche Senfgas gegen Machterhalt,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 15. September 2013.

“Der Plan zur Vernichtung der syrischen Chemiewaffen wird als diplomatische Meisterleistung beklatscht. Es gibt dem Diktator Assad aber auch Zeit, die Rebellion niederzuschlagen – die Aufständischen werden der russisch-amerikanischen Großmachtpolitik geopfert. Dieser Verrat wäre nur auf eine Weise zu rechtfertigen.”

The Trenchant Observer

The Leopard and the Impala: Putin astutely plays Obama for a chump

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

We can’t know for sure what the outcome will be with respect to the Russian proposal to put chemical weapons in Syria under international control and eventually to destroy them.

But I have a sinking feeling in my stomach, as al-Assad argues that Israel will have to give up its chemical and nuclear weapons and Russia cuts down a French proposal for a strong Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, adding that it doesn’t think anything more will be necessary than a (legally meaningless) Security Council “Presidential Statement” taking note of Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The “international control” that would be exercised under the ordinary terms of the Chemical Weapons Treaty would give al-Assad infinite opportunities to quibble with the inspectors, while his armies continue to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against his people.

Several observations are in order:

1. Obama has shown through his vacillating and weak-kneed “pivots” on Syria that he doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to pull the trigger on planned military action against Syria.

His character is weak. The world now knows this. The consequences to our national security are likely to be grave.

2. Obama has also shown that he is not a stalwart ally or leader, and instead is one who doesn’t hesitate to pull the rug out from under those whose help he has enlisted. A powerful example of this was offered by his decision to undercut Turkey and others who were planning military action a year ago, deciding instead “to work through the Russians”.

In this last week, we have seen multiple examples of how he undercuts members of his own team, e.g., after John Kerry made a strong case for military action and then Obama gave it the “soft-sell” in what was almost a casual manner. Or, following Samantha Power’s strong words regarding the perfidious role the Russians have played in the Security Council, when Obama made a 180 degree turn on a dime and ignored all of that, looking instead to the Russians to lead the effort to get Syria to give up their chemical weapons.

3. The president has also shown that he is the ultimate loner, deciding without consulting anyone else to submit a request for authorization for military action against Syria to the Congress.

It was a moment when he might have pulled the trigger. He flinched. Now his fleet that was on station in the Mediterranean, according to DEBKAfile, has dispersed.

Pulling the trigger in public, as opposed to pulling the trigger in the black shadows of the basement of the White House during a drone strike operation, turns out to be incredibly difficult for the president.

The Russian plan if fully implemented would solve the problem of chemical weapons in Syria. But it would also legitimize al-Assad’s hold on power, potentially at the cost of an undertaking to forswear the use of force against Syria no matter what happens there.

Just as he pulled the rug out from under the Turks a year ago, Obama is willing to pull the rug out from under the Syrian opposition forces we have been encouraging, in word if not in deed, for the last two years. Nor has Obama publicly supported the French who were preparing to present a strong draft Security Council resolution on Tuesday.

However abhorrent their support for and complicity in the crimes against humanity and the war crimes Bashar al-Assad and his regime have committed against the Syrian people, including through the use of chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013, it is hard not to appreciate on a technical level the cold-blooded effectiveness with which Sergei Lavrov and Vladimir Putin have sized up Obama, and successfully played him for a chump.

Nonetheless, their bad faith is manifest from the simple fact that Putin continues to insist the attack at Ghouta was by rebel forces, contrary to all available evidence and without producing a shred of evidence himself for that baleful proposition.

The only way a chemical weapons ban in Syria would make any sense would be if it were imposed by the Security Council on Syria through a binding resolution adopted under the authority of Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.

Even then, it would not make sense unless it opened the way to further collaboration with the Russians in an urgent effort to establish a ceasefire at the earliest opportunity.

Otherwise, the U.S. will have handed Putin and al-Assad an enormous military and diplomatic victory. Having forestalled a palpable risk of military action by the United States against Syria, they could now play the old delay and divide game where any solution depends on al-Assad’s agreement to this or that provision of this or that agreement. The impeteus for military action by Obama will have passed, after his powerful demonstration of weak resolve when the cards were in his hands.

One further point is that Obama’s failure to offer any detailed legal justification for military action against Syria has made it almost impossible for him to build a coalition and a base of support outside the circle of the oldest friends of the United States in Europe and the Gulf, and undoubtedly has also hurt him on Capitol Hill.

So, we can conclude that Obama is not likely to use force against Syria, even under the most compelling of circumstances.

His argument for military action against Syria is divorced from a cogent strategic rationale, while he shows that despite the gassing of over 1400 civilians in Ghouta on August 21, 2013, he remains determined not to try to shift the balance in Syria. Nothing in his policy towards Syria has changed; only the chemical weapons issue has grabbed his attention, and he appears willing to sell out the Syrian opposition and the Gulf states in order to pursue a solution to “his Syrian problem” by “working through the Russians”.

For the moment, he is left with his Russian friends, and what they might deign to do to help him extricate himself from the utter fiasco he has created in the last two years, and the last month in particular, in Syria–and politically back in the United States.

It is bad enough to have a president who is an incompetent foreign policy leader. That misfortune is infinitely compounded when that president is a control freak, and insists on making every foreign policy call himself.

Given his incompetence and that of his White House team, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”, the best we Americans can hope for is that through some kind of miracle Obama will relinquish tight control over foreign policy and allow his Secretary of State, who seems eminently qualified for the job, to take the lead. The president’s job would be to back him up.

But of course we live in a world of infinite possibilities, where elephants can fly. Maybe there will be a deal for al-Assad to surrender his chemical weapons, under the terms of a strong Security Council resolution.

Maybe Obama will find the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the Russians when they don’t play nice.

Maybe Obama will remember America’s friends in the Gulf, and how they are likely to react to a U.S. betrayal of the Syrian opposition.

Maybe the Republicans and Democrats in Congress will grasp the disastrous fiasco in Syria the United States has fallen into in the last month, and decide to provide the bipartisan support the president may need to act effectively in the current situation.

One can hope for the best, and hope to be surprised in a positive sense. Maybe elephants can fly.

The Trenchant Observer

Commentary on Syria and the response of the West

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Latest News Reports and Commentary

Aus Deutschland

(1) Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), Obama spürt die Kraft der zwei Mahlsteine, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7. September 2013 (9:34 Uhr).

Die Völkergemeinschaft hat sich nach dem G-20-Gipfel in Sankt Petersburg ein erschreckendes Zeugnis ihrer Kraflosigkeit ausgestellt. Um Obama wird es dabei immer einsamer: Putin bleibt stur und auch zu Hause schlägt dem US-Präsidenten Widerstand entgegen. Dabei könnte ein Luftschlag zu einer Wende im Bürgerkrieg führen.

Über den Autor, die Redaktion schreibt das Folgendes:

Stefan Kornelius leitet seit 2000 das außenpolitische Ressort der Süddeutschen Zeitung. Zuvor arbeitete er als stellvertretender Leiter des Berliner Büros und berichtete während der Clinton-Präsidentschaft als Korrespondent aus Washington. Von 1991 bis 1996 war Kornelius als Korrespondent im Bonner Bundesbüro der SZ für die Berichterstattung über Verteidigung und sicherheitspolitische Themen sowie über die CDU zuständig. Kornelius absolvierte die Henri-Nannen-Journalistenschule und studierte an der Universität Bonn und der London School of Economics. Er ist Mitbegründer der Zeitschrift Medium Magazin./blockquote>

(2) Bernd Ulrich (Kommentar), “Syrien: Der Tiefpunkt von Merkels Kanzlerschaft; Ein ungeheurer Vorgang: Als einzige europäische Regierungschefin hat Merkel auf dem G-20-Gipfel Obama die Unterstützung seiner Syrien-Strategie verweigert,” Die Zeit, 6. September 2013 (21:44 Uhr).

Der scharfsinniger Beobachter
(The Trenchant Observer)

Europe’s cowardice, and the urgent need to build a coalition of NATO members for military action in Syria

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Developing story

Europe’s memory and that of its politicians has proved quite short when considering whether to support an American military response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria. There is, of course, the one notable exception of France–the one country in the world that has been prepared to act–and to lead others in acting–in support of its democratic ideals. It has done so magnificently, in Libya, in Mali, and is now prepared to step up to the plate in Syria.

But the rest of the countries of Europe? They have demonstrated no sense of their own responsibility for halting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons.

To be sure, until quite recently, President Obama had for over two years dragged his feet in resisting military and other action to halt Bashar al-Assad’s massive commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the situation has changed now, as the United States prepares to launch military strikes against Syria in response to their use of chemical weapons.

For the Europeans, except France, it’s business as usual: “Leave it to the Americans (and the American taxpayers) to provide for our international security.” David Cameron made an ill-prepared effort to get parliamentary approval in England, but appears to have given up–for essentially domestic political reasons–following an initial setback in the House of Commons.

Despite this reversal, Europeans and the United States together need to launch a strong diplomatic campaign among NATO members for their active support and participation in military action against Syria in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.

This is not about Barack Obama and the quality of his foreign policy leadership, which admittedly has been disappointing to date. Rather, it is about the response of the West and the civilized countries of the world to an existential threat to their deepest and most enduring values, and the great harm that will come to them if they fail to act now.

Syria is not America’s problem. It is the world’s problem, and engages the vital security interests of Europe even more than those of the United States.

Let’s consider for a moment a few countries in Europe, and what they owe the U.S. and the international community.

The United Kingdom

Britons should understand that military action against Syria is a difficult but absolutely essential task for not just this American president, but for the United States of America.

Twice in the last century America saved England and the democracies of Europe from tyranny.

When the United Kingdom moved to repel the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982, despite initial hesitations, Britain had no truer or more steadfast ally than the United States.

Cannot David Cameron rise above party politics and take his case again to the British people and the House of Commons? This time he might make a stronger case, and be organized enough to count on the participation of the 10 or so ministers who couldn’t be bothered to interrupt their summer vacations in order to participate in the last vote in the Commons, which failed by 13 votes.

Does the Labor Party really want to be responsible for ending Britain’s special relationship with the United States? Shouldn’t American diplomats be holding the most urgent of meetings with Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, as well as with Cameron, to help forge a non-partisan consensus in support of action by the West and other civilized nations to halt the war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria?


The United States and its allies liberated Italy from the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini during World War II. Many American families lost sons who died on the battlefields of Italy fighting to liberate that country from dictatorship, while Americans spent countless millions of dollars to assist Italy in emerging from the ruins of war and strengthening its fledgling democracy. Has Italy forgotten the historic debt it owes to the United States?

To its credit, Italy fought with the ISAF forces in Afghanistan. But was that the end of its efforts to assume its international responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace and security?

However unhappy Italy may be with its Afghan experience, or the CIA violating its territory to engage in a forced rendition of an accused terrorist to another country, the current issue of Syria must be considered on a deeper and more urgent level. This is not just another issue in the broad array of issues that constitute Italy’s relationship with America.

What is Italy’s response to the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the al-Assad regime in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons?


No country should have a stronger interest in halting the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including through the use of chemical weapons, than Germany. Germany under Adolf Hitler, it should not be forgotten, killed millions of Jews and others in its concentration camps through the use of poison gas during World War II, at places like Auschwitz.

How can Germany now turn its back on the gassing of civilian populations in Syria? Doesn’t Germany owe the world a special responsibility to be in the forefront of those nations willing to undertake effective military action to bring the commission of such atrocities to a halt?

The list could go on.

If Europe fails to act now, they will have no one to blame but themselves for the consequences.

The Trenchant Observer

Next Steps: Obama, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, must now take steps to deal with the Syrian crisis—ALL OF IT

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

The publication by the U.K. on August 29 of a summary of its legal justification for taking military action against Syria is a most welcome development. It also highlights the ad hoc and uncoordinated nature of President Barack Obama’s and his administration’s decision making on Syria.

Obama, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, said publicly yesterday that he had not yet decided whether to take military action against Syria–a declaration which seems disingenuous at best, particularly as David Cameron was going before the House of Commons to secure approval for undertaking such action.

Whether or not he has taken a decision to use military force, Obama has not articulated a clear diplomatic and military strategy regarding Syria within which the proposed military actions would make sense. Moreover, the details of such actions–however unwisely–have been and are being discussed widely and in detail by government officials in background conversations with reporters.

Obama is like a football player who, excited about playing in a championship game, forgot to bring his shoulder pads to the locker room. Now he needs to go back and get them and get fully suited up for the game.

Given the delays being caused by David Cameron’s difficulties in the House of Commons, Republican demands that Congress play a role, and the fact that it will take still some days before the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors depart Syria and come up with a preliminary report of their findings, Obama needs to carefully consider and take the following steps:

1. Think through a coherent strategy toward Syria;

2. Develop a narrow but cogent legal justification under international law for military actions that may be taken pursuant to that strategy;

3. Develop a broad and strong coalition among NATO allies and allies in the Arab countries and other civilized nations in the world that will support, and to the extent that can be achieved, participate in any military actions that might be taken;

4. Develop support for a U.N. Security Council Resolution which, even if vetoed by Russia and possibly China, will enlist the support of the remaining members of the Security Council;

5. Develop broad suport among the other countries of the world who might be persuaded to support such action by voting in favor of a General Assembly resolution; and

6. Secure the support of Republicans, Democrats, and the U.S. Congress for undertaking military action in Syria.

To achieve these objectives, the strength of the U.S. legal case for taking military action will be of vital importance.

And, it turns out that, contrary to what Obama may have thought before (operating in the covert world of secret actions), the U.S. can’t build a strong legal case for just any action, since the views of other countries as to what is permissible under international law are of decisive importance here.

To build a strong legal case, he will need to explain how the military action he and the “Coalition of the Willing” plan to undertake will contribute to halting al-Assad’s commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including but not limited to those involving the use of chemical weapons.

All of this will take some time. Time will work in Obama’s favor, if he has a strong case. Time will allow the members of the Security Council to get the U.N. inspectors’ preliminary report on whether chemical weapons were used in Syria last week. Time will help David Cameron in securing Labor Party support for U.K. military action in Syria. Time will allow for the diplomatic efforts that will be required to build a real international “Coalition of the Willing”, including NATO (and in particular NATO members such as Italy), and leading Arab states and other countries.

This process should be allowed to play out for another week or two, but not longer.

Then, when everything is set, the U.S. and its coalition partners should undertake appropriate military action at a time of their own choosing, employing military assets and strategems that have not been previously telegraphed to Bashar al-Assad and the band of war criminals who now run Syria.

If, in the interim, genuine Russian cooperation could be secured for, e.g., a Security Council resolution, under Chapter VII, mandating that Syria dismantle and surrender all of its chemical weapons stocks and programs, under U.N. supervision, then the equation might change.

Otherwise, what is outlined above is what is required. To be done successfully, Obama will have to stop sharing his internal thought processes with reporters and the public, and devote all of his and his administration’s energies to coming up with a viable strategy for Syria, a cogent legal defense of any military action, and the diplomacy necessary to develop support from U.S. allies and other civilized nations in the world.

Despite his best efforts to avoid dealing with what was going on in Syria for over two and a half years, Syria has caught up with Obama. Vital national security interests have become engaged. Now he will have to deal with it, all of it, not just the chemical weapons part or the fact that al-Assad crossed his “red line”.

The Trenchant Observer

For previous articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria Page, or click here.

U.K. publishes legal justification for taking military action in Syria (full text and link)

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

The Office of the Prime Minister published a summary of the U.K. government’s legal justification of the use on military force against Syria in response to the chemical weapons attacks last week, on August 29, 2013. The full text of the summary follows:

Chemical weapon use by Syrian regime: UK government legal position

Published 29 August 2013

This note sets out the UK government’s position regarding the legality of military action in Syria following the chemical weapons attack in Eastern Damascus on 21 August 2013.

The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is a serious crime of international concern, as a breach of the customary international law prohibition on use of chemical weapons, and amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity. However, the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention; the aim is to relieve humanitarian suffering by deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons.

The UK is seeking a resolution of the United Nations Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations which would condemn the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian authorities; demand that the Syrian authorities strictly observe their obligations under international law and previous Security Council resolutions, including ceasing all use of chemical weapons; and authorise member states, among other things, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians in Syria from the use of chemical weapons and prevent any future use of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons; and refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

If action in the Security Council is blocked, the UK would still be permitted under international law to take exceptional measures in order to alleviate the scale of the overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in Syria by deterring and disrupting the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. Such a legal basis is available, under the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, provided three conditions are met:

(i) there is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief;

(ii) it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved; and

(iii) the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need and must be strictly limited in time and scope to this aim (i.e. the minimum necessary to achieve that end and for no other purpose).

All three conditions would clearly be met in this case:
(i) The Syrian regime has been killing its people for two years, with reported deaths now over 100,000 and refugees at nearly 2 million. The large-scale use of chemical weapons by the regime in a heavily populated area on 21 August 2013 is a war crime and perhaps the most egregious single incident of the conflict. Given the Syrian regime’s pattern of use of chemical weapons over several months, it is likely that the regime will seek to use such weapons again. It is also likely to continue frustrating the efforts of the United Nations to establish exactly what has happened. Renewed attacks using chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would cause further suffering and loss of civilian lives, and would lead to displacement of the civilian population on a large scale and in hostile conditions.

(ii) Previous attempts by the UK and its international partners to secure a resolution of this conflict, end its associated humanitarian suffering and prevent the use of chemical weapons through meaningful action by the Security Council have been blocked over the last two years. If action in the Security Council is blocked again, no practicable alternative would remain to the use of force to deter and degrade the capacity for the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.

(iii) In these circumstances, and as an exceptional measure on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity, military intervention to strike specific targets with the aim of deterring and disrupting further such attacks would be necessary and proportionate and therefore legally justifiable. Such an intervention would be directed exclusively to averting a humanitarian catastrophe, and the minimum judged necessary for that purpose.

The preceding note, while falling short of a full legal justification, is a big step in the right direction.

The Trenchant Observer

For previous articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria Page, or click here.