Posts Tagged ‘Sydney Morning Herald’

Syrian army reportedly uses deadly gas on Khaldiyeh-Bayada frontline

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

The Syrian Observatory on Human Rights reported that

…Syrian troops have deployed bombs containing a deadly gas while fighting rebels in the central city of Homs.

”Activists in Homs say that six rebels died on Sunday night on the Khaldiyeh-Bayada frontline because they inhaled odourless gas and white smoke,” the observatory said. ”Gas spread in the area after regime troops threw bombs that gave off white smoke as soon as they hit the walls.”

The bombs were allegedly deployed during street clashes with the rebels. ”Those who inhaled the gas felt nauseous and suffered severe headaches. Some suffered fits.

”These are not chemical weapons, but we do not know whether they are internationally prohibited,” said the observatory’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman. ”Activists say it is the first time they have recorded these effects. They’re not conventional weapons.”

The observatory called on the Red Cross to urgently send a specialised medical team to Homs, several districts of which have been besieged by army forces for more than six months. The Local Co-ordination Committees also reported the use of ”bombs containing gases” in Homs.

”These gases lead to muscle relaxation, severe difficulty in breathing and the narrowing of the iris,” the committees, a grassroots network of activists, said.

Amateur video distributed online by the committees showed a man on a stretcher struggling to breathe as a doctor held an oxygen mask over his face.
”It’s definitely a poisonous gas, but we don’t know what type it is,” ha field doctor said. ”It is definitely not sarin.”

–Agence France-Presse, “Rebels kill Intelligence officer in ambusg as Army uses deadly gas on stronghold,” Sydney Morning Herald, December 26, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

Xi Jinping, China’s presumed next president, re-emerges after two-week disappearing act

Friday, September 14th, 2012

The leadership of China is passing through what is normally a choreographed ballet of renewal and change which occurs once every ten years. But this year, the choreography seems to have had a few unexpected steps, as the succession of a new generation of leaders to be headed by Xi Jinping has run into a few obstacles. Ian Johnson of the New York Times has reported that no dates have as yet been set for the Communist Party Congress, which was originally expected to be held in mid-October. He writes,

One reason for the delay, the experts say, is what now appears to have been a contentious meeting in early August at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, China. According to the official script, this was to have been the final big meeting before the congress of leaders from the party’s various factions: the military, big state enterprises, descendants of revolutionary families, leaders of critical Communist Party organizations and others. The details of the congress were to be finalized at Beidaihe and the dates announced later in August.

Instead, according to information that is slowly leaking out, the Beidaihe meeting and other sessions beforehand in Beijing were especially tense. “The atmosphere was very bad, and the struggles were very intense,” said a political analyst with connections to the party’s nerve center, the General Office.

–Ian Johnson, “Off-Script Scramble for Power in a Chinese Leader’s Absence,” New York Times, September 13, 2012.

Xi Jinping, the heir apparent to current President Hu Jintao, disappeared from public view two weeks ago, giving rise to a variety of rumors, from one that said he had hurt his back swimming to others that suggested he might have had a heart attack or a stroke.

Now, he has finally surfaced, putting in an appearance at the China Agricultural University Saturday morning for activities marking this year’s National Science Popularization Day.

See Xinhuanet, September 15, 2012 (with photos).

Before he reappeared, John Garnaut, the China correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote that Xi planned to crack down on the security apparatus, including the removal from the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the position with the security portfolio, as part of a downsizing of the group from nine to seven members. Much remains up in the air, however.

See John Garnaut, “Xi plans to crack down on security,” Sydney Morning Herald, September 15, 2012.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Moore of the The Daily Telegraph provides intriguing details of the possible causes of Xi Jinping’s two-week absence and the delay in announcing the dates for the Party Congress. From Beijing, he writes,

“At the Beidaihe meeting, no decisions were made but the old gang criticised Xi harshly, especially Qiao Shi and Song Ping,” said the former editor, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Both Mr Qiao, 87, and Mr Song, 95, are strong supporters of Hu Jintao, the outgoing president.

The elders allegedly accused Mr Xi of not sticking to the rules by meeting twice with members of the Central Military Commission, which controls the People’s Liberation Army, while Mr Hu was visiting Hong Kong in early July.

One meeting occurred in Mr Xi’s house and the other at the commission’s compound.

“They called him unreliable and even brought up the idea of significantly delaying the party congress,” said the source. “The fight was so harsh that Jiang Zemin [the former president] had to mediate.”

With Hu Jintao preparing to step down from power, and hand over to Mr Xi, he faces the uncertainty of whether his successor will continue his legacy, or turn against him, a perennial fear for a Chinese politician.

A new rift appears to have emerged between the two main factions in the Communist Party: the “red” princelings, the up-and-coming children of Communist Party heroes, and the technocrats.

Mr Xi is a princeling, while Mr Hu is a technocrat, although Mr Xi has been successful at bridging the divide. “Song Ping and the other elders are suspicious of Mr Xi and the other princelings because they are not obedient. They saw these princelings grow up and know the difference between them and Mr Hu and Wen Jiabao [China’s premier], who are more polite and less personally ambitious”.

The pressure on Mr Xi, who is the focus of the world’s attention as he tries to grasp his chance to be president, may explain his mysterious absence.

–Malcom Moore (Beijing) “Xi Jinping ‘under huge pressure’ from inside the Communist party; Xi Jinping, China’s president-in-waiting, who has not been seen in public for two weeks, was under intense pressure from within the Communist party before he disappeared, the Daily Telegraph has been told,” The Daily Telegraph, September 14, 2012 (7:45 p.m. BST).

The Chinese succession is of tremendous importance not only to the citizens of China, but also to the rest of the world. The choreography is not going as planned. Stay tuned.

The Trenchant Observer

What future for UNSMIS and for Kofi Annan? Russia pushes for more of the same, with an implied military threat to dissuade all from any other options—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #61 (July 11)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

For a long-time student of diplomatic history and international politics, it is painful to watch the amateurism of Barack Obama’s foreign policy and foreign policy team.

In the case of Syria, where the interests of Russia, China, Iran, and the al-Bashar regime stand in sharp opposition to the interests of the United States, Europe, NATO, and members of the Arab League, who oppose repression through the use of terror including war crimes and crimes against humanity, following Obama’s foreign policy actions over the last year has been painful indeed.

Russia and China have stood, together with Iran, in stalwart support of the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad, vetoing Security Council resolutions in October 2011 and on February 4, 2012.

Russia, with a very experienced foreign policy team lead by Sergei Lavrov, a veteran diplomat, has acted with great clarity of vision in pursuit of its goal of maintaining Bashar al-Assad in power and deflecting or neutralizing all efforts to bring force to bear in order to halt al-Assad’s terror. Under President Medvedev (with Putin as Prime Minister, but hardly in the background), and now under Putin as president again, Russia has been unwavering in seeking and achieving its objectives.

On the first level, Russia has simply blocked any Security Council resolution that might work to the disadvantage of al-Assad and his regime of war criminals. It has watered down the two resolutions (2042 and 2043) adopted by the Security Council on April 14, and 21, ensuring that the illusory peace plan and cease-fire that they promised were embodied in resolutions with no teeth–with no consequences for al-Assad for violating them. Similarly, it has blocked adoption of any resolution by the Security Council conferring jurisdiction on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

On the second level, Russia has brilliantly played the weakly-led states of the West and the Arab League for fools–knowing fools, perhaps, but fools nonetheless.

The Russians’ willing tool and instrument has been Kofi Annan, with his 6-point peace plan and mediation mission. Annan’s mediation effort, interestingly, was already well underway before it was informally endorsed by the Security Council in a Presidential Statement on March 21 (which itself had no legal force).

Resolution 2042 formally endorsed the plan on April 14, and authorized Kofi Annan and his mission to “mediate” resolution of the Syrian crisis with al-Assad, who continued to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity even as Annan sought to mediate their cessation.

Resolution 2043 was adopted by the Security Council on April 21, expanding an observer mission authorized on April 14 to a 300-member mission known as UNSMIS to observe the cease-fire called for in the 6-point plan and Resolution 2042.

Al-Assad never complied with any of the peace plan’s provisions, and following numerous incidents where its observers were fired upon and threatened by crowds, UNSMIS was forced to stand down, confining its observers basically to their hotels in Damascus.

At various key decision points throughout this saga, Russia has raised the possibility of military engagement with them if the U.S., NATO, and the Arab states intervened in Syria.

One such threat was extraordinary: President Medvedev explicitly raised the possibility of a nuclear war in the region if there were military intervention against a state in the region (definitely Syria, possibly Iran).

At each decision point, the United States–without acknowledging the threat–went along with what the Russians wanted.

Now we are approaching another important decision point, to decide whether the UNSMIS mission should be extended when its initial 90-day authorization expires on or about July 20, and whether Kofi Annan should be authorized to continue his mediation effort.  And, at precisely this moment, Russia has sent a group of warships including Russian soldiers to the Syrian port of Tartus, just in case anyone had forgotten the threat.

The UNSMIS mission and Kofi Annan’s mediation efforts clearly provide cover for al-Assad and his continuing efforts to exterminate his armed and unarmed opposition through the use of terror.

Russia and Iran, which Annan has tried to bring into the diplomatic muddle, and presumably China, strongly support both of these proposed actions.

Will the U.S., NATO, Europe and the Arab League blink again, and in effect accede to the Russian demand that al-Assad be given as much time as he needs to annihilate his opponents–without military opposition from those who would use military force, if necessary, to halt the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes?

Will the countries which support a transition toward democracy in Syria, and an immediate halt to al-Assad’s crimes have the clarity of vision and the guts to oppose the Russians, the Chinese, Iran, and the Syrian regime? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, see the following article which offers a profound analysis of how Syria has divided the world, into what we have dubbed “The League of Authoritarian States,” on the one hand, and those supporting democratic transitions in Syria and elsewhere, on the other.

Michael Ignatieff, “How Syria Divided the World,” NYRblog (New York Review of Books), July 11, 2012.

Russia, China, Iran, and Syria share one bedrock principle: they will use “all necessary measures” in order to repress domestic opposition in their own countries, and will support others who do so abroad. These measures include terror, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights. Importantly, this support now includes the veto by Russia or China of any Security Council resolution that would confer on the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction and a mandate to prosecute those responsible for such crimes.

The battle lines are clearly set. Whether Obama will wake up from his illusion of a “reset” of U.S.-Soviet relations with Medvedev, and now with Putin, is an open question.

Obama is also reported to have a dream of concluding, in his second term, a significant new START treaty with Russia that would dramatically reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. Given his fecklessness on Syria, and the consequences that are likely to flow from the policies and actions he has adopted, it may be doubtful that he could ever secure the two-thirds vote in the Senate needed for ratification of such a treaty. Having watched Obama being outmaneuvered by Putin in Syria, Republicans would likely be skeptical if not outright hostile to any arms control agreement concluded between the two.

Democrats in the United States have for decades had the reputation of being unwilling to use the military when necessary to protect national interests. Obama clearly seeks to overcome the image of Democrats as being weak on defense through his hard-line policies on civil liberties in the war on terror, and his use of targeted executions by drones and other covert means against those perceived as posing a threat to the United States.

Whether these policies will in fact overcome longstanding doubts about the Democrats being weak on defense, in the heat of an election campaign, is an open question.

Certainly, allowing the Russians to roll over the West and the Arab countries in defending Syria and al-Assad’s crimes, will not strengthen the Democrats’ reputation of being unwilling to use military force to stand up to the military challenges of our opponents in the world.

Obama risks being seen, once the voters focus on the issues and hear the Republicans’ arguments, as being all talk, and no action–no guts, no intestinal fortitude, no resolve to act to defend the nation’s vital interests.

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.

Putin’s victory: Another Security Council “presidential statement”, and ferocious attacks on the ground—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #23 (April 7)

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

The 6-point Kofi Annan peace plan contained in the March 21, 2012 Security Council “Presidential Statement” is fatally flawed.

The plan by its design meets Russian demands to play for time and to prevent other states from taking actions on the ground that might actually bring the killing to a halt. This is exactly what has occurred since the plan was first announced.

It provides a smokescreen for cowardly inaction by the West and the Arab states and the international community in the face of the wanton and ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a wide scale.

It has led–at least until now–to the victory of Vladimir Putin, Russia, Iran, and China over the West, the Arab countries, Turkey, and other civilized countries. This victory represents the triumph of the darkest elements of represssion and 20th century history over the 21st century values of the U.N. Charter, the human rights movement, and the struggle for transitions to democracy throughout the world. The impact of this defeat, if not reversed, will be felt in every country on the planet where citizens are struggling to achieve respect for fundamental human rights and a democratic future.

Latest News Reports and Opinion

The Sydney Morning Post reports on the death toll in Syria on Saturday,

More than 100 people have been reported killed across Syria in a single day, 74 of them civilians, as regime forces pressed a protest crackdown three days ahead of a deadline to cease fire and pull back.

At least 40 civilians died ‘‘in bombardment and shooting on the town of Latamna,’’ in Hama province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based monitoring group said civilians were killed as well in Tibet al-Imam, also in Hama, and another 16 in the neighbouring province of Homs, where Rastan town was bombed, in Idlib to the northwest, and Aleppo in north Syria.

In escalating clashes, 16 rebels and 17 members of the security forces were also killed nationwide, it said, adding 13 bodies were found in Deir Balaa district of Homs and 10 extracted from rubble in Hreitan, Aleppo province.

The Observatory said the deaths came after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces launched an overnight assault on Latamna and clashed with members of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

–Sydney Morning Post, “Syria violence escalates ahead of deadline,” April 8, 2012.

El País reports that the bodies of 13 persons whose hands had been tied and who had allegedly been executed were found in Homs on Saturday. A video was provided by activists. Over 100 people were killed on Saturday, the paper reports.

–Ana Carbajosa (Jerusalén), “El régimen sirio tiñe de sangre el país a tres días de la tregua; La represión gubernamental deja casi un centenar de muertos según los rebeldes; Annan asegura que Siria aplicará el alto el fuego a partir del 10 de abril, El País, 7 abril 2012 (16:53 CET).

Defectors from the Syrian army have been interviewed by McClatchy Newspapers, in Turkey, providing eyewitness accounts of orders and actions to kill civilians, and of the execution of soldiers who refused to execute those orders. The story also details the commission of war crimes where in one case some 30 civilians were lined up and shot.

One of the most detailed accounts came from a former soldier who identified himself as Master Sgt. Maxim Kawa, a pseudonym he adopted to protect his family, still in Syria.

Kawa, who said he was 26, said he was based in Homs with the Syrian special forces, an elite unit that was deployed repeatedly in the heartland of the uprising to suppress civilian protesters starting last May. Kawa said the unit’s mission was to protect and clear the way for one of Syria’s 16 security services to seize civilian resisters, but that his unit’s members also were ordered to execute civilians. This they did until something snapped, and top officers were sent in to give them a two-day “re-education” course.

Kawa said the unit mounted repeated assaults on civilian protesters in Baba Amr, a part of Homs that the army retook in February after 26 days of artillery bombardment, in the towns of Rastan, about 12 miles from Homs, and Tel Kalakh, on Syria’s border with Lebanon.

Kawa’s unit occupied Rastan for eight days last May, losing one soldier to an armed local. “Our officers told us that we must take revenge for our friends,” Kawa said. “They pushed us to kill civilians.”

He said his group of about 50 soldiers dragged 30 men out of their houses, tied their hands behind their backs and took them to the town’s main street.
“We put them against a wall and shot them,” he said.

–Roy Gutman, “In rare interviews, Syrian ex-soldiers talk of killing civilians,” McClatchy Newspapers, April 2, 2012.

For a gripping account of the Syrian army’s assault on and terror in Taftanaz, including a description of the rebel fighters’ actions and the battle for the town, see

Anand Gopal “Survivors tell of bloody aftermath to fight in Taftanaz, Syria,” McClatchy Newspapers, April 6, 2012.

Der Spiegel reports Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as saying that he will await the ceasefire implementation by the Tuesday morning deadline, but that if it does not take place Turkey will take “measures”. These measures are understood to include the establishment of humanitarian protection zones inside Syria’s territory. Der Spiegel also reports on actions on the ground, including the deaths of 40 people when the Syrian army stormed the village of Latamneh in central Hama province. It also reports on activists’ accounts of attacks in Homs, and on the rebel-held neighborhoods of Rastan, Deir Baalabeh, and Kusair.

–“Erdogan droht Assad-Regime mit “Schritten; Türkischer Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Drohgebärde Richtung Damaskus; Ruhig will der türkische Premier Erdogan auf die bevorstehende Waffenruhe in Syrien warten. Sollte die Gewalt nach Verstreichen der Frist jedoch andauern, droht er dem Regime in Damaskus mit “Schritten”. Noch scheint kein Ende des Blutvergießens in Sicht: Allein am Samstag starben 100 Menschen,” Der Spiegel, 7 April 2012.

Le Figaro reports that at least 74 civilians were killed on Saturday, and a total of 120 persons, with a majority of the civilians being killed in bombardments of Latamna (Latamneh) in the region of Hama, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

–“Flambée de violence en Syrie à quelques jours de la trêve,” Le Figaro, 7 avril 2012 (mis à jour à 21:43 h).

U.N. Security Council Statement of April 5, 2012

On April 5, 2012, the U.N. Security Council issued a new “Presidential Statement” urging Syria to comply with the ceasefire provisions in Kofi Annan 6-point peace plan by Tuesday, April 10, 2012. The text (UN Doc. S/PRST/2012/10) follows:

Statement by the President of the Security Council

At the 6746th meeting of the Security Council, held on 5 April 2012, in connection with the Council’s consideration of the item entitled “The situation in the Middle East”, the President of the Council made the following statement on behalf of the Council:

“The Security Council recalls its Presidential Statements of 3 August 2011 and 21 March 2012 and its Press Statement of 1 March 2012.

“The Security Council reaffirms its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter.

“The Security Council expresses its appreciation for the 2 April 2012 briefing of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan. The Security Council notes that the Syrian government committed on 25 March 2012 to implement the Envoy’s six-point proposal.

“The Security Council calls upon the Syrian government to implement urgently and visibly its commitments, as it agreed to do in its communication to the Envoy of 1 April, to (a) cease troop movements towards population centres, (b) cease all use of heavy weapons in such centres, and (c) begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres, and to fulfil these in their entirety by no later than 10 April 2012.

“The Security Council calls upon all parties, including the opposition, to cease armed violence in all its forms within 48 hours of the implementation in their entirety by the Syrian government of measures (a), (b), (c) above. The Security Council further calls upon the opposition to engage with the Envoy in this regard.

“The Security Council underscores the importance of an effective and credible United Nations supervision mechanism in Syria to monitor a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties and relevant aspects of the Envoy’s six-point proposal. The Security Council requests the Secretary-General to provide proposals for such a mechanism as soon as appropriate, after consultations with the government of Syria. The Security Council stands ready to consider these proposals and to authorise an effective and impartial supervision mechanism upon implementation of a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties.

“The Security Council underscores the central importance of a peaceful political settlement to the Syrian crisis and reiterates its call for the urgent, comprehensive, and immediate implementation of all aspects of the Envoy’s six-point proposal. The Security Council reiterates its full support for the Envoy’s six-point proposal aimed at bringing an immediate end to all violence and human rights violations, securing humanitarian access and facilitating a Syrian-led political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations, ethnicities or beliefs,
including through commencing a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition.

“The Security Council reiterates its call for the Syrian authorities to allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all populations in need of assistance, in accordance with international law and guiding principles of humanitarian assistance. The Security Council calls upon all parties in Syria, in particular the Syrian authorities, to cooperate fully with the United Nations and relevant humanitarian organizations to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance. To this end, the Security Council calls on all parties to immediately implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause as called for in the Envoy’s six-point proposal.

“The Security Council requests the Envoy to update the Council on the cessation of violence in accordance with the above timeline, and progress towards implementation of his six-point proposal in its entirety. In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate.”


U.N. Security Council “Presidential Statements” have no legal force. In the case of Syria, they seem to be largely useless exercises in rhetoric. Their usefullness is limited to the role they can play in developing a consensus among the permanent members of the Security Council which might then be converted into legally binding action by the Security Council through adoption of a resolution.

“Presidential statements” can also be used by Russia (and China) to create the illusion of movement and agreement where in fact none exists. The March 21 statement has had this effect. This latest statement on April 5 may serve the Russian’s interests by gaining more time for al-Assad to wipe out the opposition. Anyone who has any illusions about Russia being moved by humanitarian considerations in Syria has not been following developments in that country on the ground for the last six months.

To recapitulate:

The 6-point Kofi Annan peace plan contained in the March 21, 2012 Security Council “Presidential Statement” it is fatally flawed.

The plan by its design meets Russian demands to play for time and to prevent other states from taking actions on the ground that might actually bring the killing to a halt. This is exactly what has occurred since the plan was first announced.

It provides a smokescreen for cowardly inaction by the West and the Arab states and the international community in the face of the wanton and ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a wide scale.

It has led–at least until now–to the victory of Vladimir Putin, Russia, Iran, and China over the West, the Arab countries, Turkey, and other civilized countries in the world. This victory represents the triumph of the darkest elements of represssion and 20th century history over the 21st century values of the U.N. Charter, the human rights movement, and the struggle for transitions to democracy throughout the world. The impact of this defeat, if not reversed, will be felt in every country on the planet where citizens are struggling to achieve respect for fundamental human rights and a democratic future.

The idea that a “Syrian-led” process of political negotiation could lead to a peaceful transition in Syria has become ludicrous, in view of developments on the ground.

Any peace process must be led by the international community–not “Syrian led” which in practice puts all the cards in al-Assad’s hands.

Bashar al-Assad, the author of countless war crimes and crimes against humanity, must go.

The nations of the world need to intervene to stop the killing, first, and then to organize an orderly transition to follow al-Assad’s departure. The alternatives have been laid out very cogently by Senator McCain in his speech on the floor of the Senate on March 5, 2012.

President Obama, if he cannot lead, needs to get out of the way. He is standing squarely on the wrong side of history.

The Trenchant Observer

Beyond Despair: Obama’s Debacle in Syria—Update #12 (March 16)

Thursday, March 15th, 2012


It is easier now to understand how the European Powers and the United States looked the other way as Hitler executed all his opponents beginning in 1933-34, during the period known as the Gleichschaltung.

We have gained insight into what it was like in 1936 when the European Powers did not respond to Hitler’s militarization of the Rhineland, in flagrant violation of the Versailles Treaty concluded in 1919 after World War I.

We can understand better now how the French and the English did not oppose the German Anschluss (or annexation) of Austria in March 1938, or the occupation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia pursuant to the Munich Pact signed by Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain and Éduouard Daladier of France on September 29-30, 1938.  Interestingly, earlier England and France had urged Czechoslovakia to resort to “mediation” with Hitler once they had decided not to go to war, and to leave Czechoslovakia to fend for itself.

We can better grasp now how the world stood by in the days that followed, after Krystalnacht on November 9-10, 1938, the night of the anti-Jewish pogroms, when Jewish businesses and synagogues were attacked throughout Germany by the SS, and the civil authorities looked on without raising a finger. Wikipedia summarized the events as follows:

At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and a further 30,000 arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps.[2] Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers.[3] Over 1,000 synagogues were burned (95 in Vienna alone), and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged.[4][5]

Martin Gilbert writes that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from the foreign journalists working in Germany sent shock waves around the world.[3] The Times wrote at the time: “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”[6]

To be sure, our diplomats and foreign policy experts today don’t seem to study history (as history, as opposed to picking facts from history for case studies to illustrate theories) or diplomatic history, as they used to do–back in the days when when we had journalists like James Reston who also were deeply familiar with history.

They may not recall the famous quote by George de Santayana, who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (from “Life of Reason I”).

So, presumably in the absense of this sense of history, our leaders have been prepared to watch Russia and China support the butchery of al-Assad, blocking Security Council action since their February 4 vetoes of a Security Council resolution on Syria.  Our leaders have been prepared to watch Russia continue to furnish weapons and ammunition and other matérial to al-Assad to use in the commission of these crimes, and to watch Iran continue to advise al-Assad on how to use terror to crush his opposition as was done in Iran in 2009.  They have been prepared to support “mediation” of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity with the Syrian Dictator.

And now they are prepared to sit down with Putin and Hu Jintao and share toasts with them at the next G-20 meeting in June.

Today, bringing crimes against humanity and war crimes to a halt is just one among many competing national interests.

Perhaps our acceptance of torture under Bush, and our failure to fully repudiate it by prosecuting those responsible as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, have dulled our moral senses.

We live in a world where moral outrage is now hardly even felt, or if felt does not last for more than a day.

So, here we are. We now are living in “the day after” the world turned its back on Syria, and the Syrian Dictator was permitted to proceed with the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in repressing his civilian as well as armed opposition.

Even the sanctions imposed on Syria are kind of a joke. For example, the European Union has imposed a ban on the importation or sale of gold, jewelry, and other precious metals, or Syrian cental bank activities supporting such activities. They have imposed a ban on cargo aviation to European capitals.

They didn’t even have the resolve to ban all civil aviation. That would have hurt al-Assad directly, as it would have curtained his wife’s celebratory shopping in Paris as her husband commands the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity back home.

Barack Obama, and David Cameron, and even Nicholas Sarkozy have accepted a reality in which crimes against humanity and war crimes are committed on their doorstep, in the heart of the ancient lands that surround the Mediterranean, and they are not prepared to act militarily to halt this butchery.

They didn’t do anything effective, because it was too complicated.

Cynically, they used Ban Ki-Moon and the United Nations special representative to Syria, Kofi Annan, as their shield against criticism, and as an excuse for not acting.

They didn’t even insist on bringing a resolution referring the war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria to the International Criminal Court to a public debate and vote in the Security Council.

Obama shamelessly used his top military and defense leaders to argue to the Congress that military intervention was not being considered, because it was too complicated, when he had not even ordered the preparation of serious military options ready to be executed on short notice. The “all options are on the table” president took military options off the table in his “sailboat diplomacy” with al-Assad. God bless him, for he must have goodness in his heart, or so we want to believe. But he doesn’t have the guts to stand and fight, for anything. Not if he faces serious opposition. Not if it will involve direct confrontation.

This was the attitude of the Western powers last summer, when they didn’t want to look at what was going on in Syria.

It was then, and remains, the shame of the world.

But a curious thing happened last summer. The Syrian people didn’t give up. They may not give up this time either.

So, it is just one more chapter in Obama’s sad series of foreign policy debacles. Iran. Iraq. Afghanistan. Latin America (with Chavez in Venezuela, Correa in Ecuador, and Morales in Bolivia).

Notwithstanding the above, hope springs eternal in the human heart. No situation is totally hopeless.

There are a few hopeful signs on the horizon with respect to Syria. First, there is a report today that defections from the military in Syria are up.

See (AFP/Bloomberg), “Syria’s bloody isolation,” The Sydney Moring Herald, March 16, 2012 (1:26PM).

Second, there is a report that the establishment of humanitarian corrridors and safe areas is still under consideration, at least by some observers.

See Benedetta Berti, “To help Syria, apply a mix of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power”; Sanctions and isolation of the Assad regime are simply allowing massacres to continue in Syria. Yet the world resists an all-out military intervention in Syria. A third option is to apply a mix of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power to relieve the suffering there,” The Christian Science Monitor (opinion), March 15, 2012.

Meanwhile, we need to not turn our glance away, but rather to follow closely, day by day, the details of the hell the Syrian Dictator is inflicting on his people–the dozens and sometimes hundreds who are dying every day, in utter defiance of every rule of civilization and international law.

And if the ICC has not yet been invested by the Security Council with jurisdiction over the crimes being committed in Syria, perhaps at least there is one country–somewhere–that might initiate judicial proceedings against Bashar al-Assad, his brother and other accomplices to these atrocities, in exercise of the universal jurisdiction against such crimes that is permitted under international law to be exercised by individual states, provided their domestic legislation so permits.

It is a sad moment when we look in the mirror and see who we really are, as a nation, as an alliance.

Obama’s restless attention will turn to something else.  But the world, and history, will not forget.

The Trenchant Observer

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