Posts Tagged ‘syria’

Update on Putin and Syria

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Update: Cut-off of provision of electricity to the Crimea, and the downing of a Russian plane by Turkey on November 24, 2015

Two events have now pushed relations with Putin to a dangerous edge.

The first is sabotage by Ukrainian activists of the high tension electrical network in the Ukraine which supplies rhe Crimea with some 75-80% of its electrical power. The Crimea is cut off from electricity and has largely gone dark, a dramatic fact widely reported on Russian television and in the Russian media.


“Crimeans Putting On Brave Faces, But Frustration Mounting Over Blackout,” RFE/RL, November 25, 2015.

The second is the shooting down by a Turkish aircraft of a Russian military aircraft attacking the positions of “moderate” anti-Assad insurgents close to the border with Turkey, after the Russian aircraft entered Turkish airspace, according to Turkey.

Any attack by Russian forces on Turkish territory in response could potentially trigger the collective self-defense obligations contained in Article 5 of the NATO treay. Turkey is a member.

The moment is extremely perilous, because based on his past actions Putin can be expected to react to these events in a sharp and potentially dangerous manner. NATO and the West need to prepare, now, a forceful but calibrated response to any action Putin might take in response to these two events

All leaders should now focus on de-escalating the military tensions between Turkey and NATO forces, on the one hand, and Russian forces on the other.

Otherwise, the world could easily stumble into an escalating military confrontation between Russia and NATO, which would have the potential of leading to nuclear war.

This would be wildly irrational, of course.

As was the onset of the First World War in 1914.

Mistakes, unintended consequences of organizational routines, and pure accidents can have a decisive impact on world events.

It is folly to have the air forces of Russia, the United States, and other countries conducting bombing operations in Syria under a non-unified command. The mere idea of successfully “deconflicting” air missions conducted by Russia and other countries is based on an illusion of precision that does not exist in the real world.

Instead of continuing this dangerous pattern over Syria, the United States, the West, Turkey and the Arab states need to stop trying to paper over the hard conflicts which exist between Russia, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran, on the one hand, and the United States, France, Arab forces, and Turkey, on the other.

The goal of Western policy should be to halt Russian attacks on “moderate” insurgents who are challenging al-Assad. This involves a direct clash between Russian and Western interests. The West has enormous economic powers at its command to use in dealing with Putin. It should use them, to secure a change on the ground, while avoiding endless negotiations with al-Assad and Russia aimed at achieving the wholly illusory goal of a “negotiated solution” to the Syrian conflict.

Negotiations without a change in Russian policy on the ground in Syria–not in verbal formulations, but in actions–will only help Russia as it seeks to destroy the “moderate” insurgents who threaten al-Assad, while helping him to consolidate his hold on power in the area he controls.

Russia is complicit in the commission by al-Assad of crimes against humanity and war crimes on a massive scale, and is responsible itself under international law for the commission of these crimes. The U.S., the E.U. and other countries should impose strong economic sanctions against Russia until it ceases its complicity in the commission of these crimes. Such actions would be permissible as lawful countermeasures under international law.

In Syria, as in the Ukraine, the time has finally come for the United States and its allies to stand up to and to push back against Russia and Vladimir Putin.

The Trenchant Observer

Thinking clearly about Putin and Syria

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Barack Obama, John Kerry and other Western leaders should always bear in mind wiho Vladimir Putin is, and what he has done in the last four years with respect to Syria, the Crimea, the eastern Ukraine, and in challenging NATO at every turn. Nor should they forget his probable role in the assassination in Moscow of his leading opponent, Boris Nemtsov, on February 27, 2015.

They should never forget that Putin and Russia pose a direct challenge and continuing assault on the post-World War II international legal and security order, anchored by the United Nations Charter and its prohibition in Article 2 (4) of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

The United Nations Charter is the cornerstone of the framework of international law and institutions which govern relations between states.  They protect not only the territorial integrity of states but also guarantee the observance of fundamental human rights such as the right to life, the physical integrity of the human person, due process of law, free speech, and the right to participate in government.

Putin by his “annexation” of the Crimea and ongoing invasion and occupation of the eastern Ukraine stands in opposition to all of that.

Since Russia’s and China’s veto of a mild U.N. Security Council resolution on February 4, 2012, Russia has played a dirty game in Syria.

Russia has done everything it could to support Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime, which has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale. These crimes, which are ongoing, have resulted in the deaths of 250,000 to 300,000 Syrians, displaced millions of refugees, and helped to create the space in which ISIS has been allowed to grow and thrive.

The massive war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by al-Assad, with Russia’s complicity and support, have constituted an important element in the appeal of ISIS which has drawn tens of thousands of suporters from around the world to join its cause.

The U.N. peace process in Syria, which followed the Arab League’s 2011 peace process, was first headed by Kofi Annan in 2012, and subsequently led to two Geneva peace conferences.  It has served principally to provide Western countries with a pretext for not using force to bring al-Assad’s atrocities to an end, and Russia with a diplomatic vehicle to maintain him in power.

The idea of a negotiated solution to the multi-sided civil war in Syria is a pure illusion, under current circumstances.  This is the case even more so now than when Kofi Annan offered his “castles in the sky”, which  succeeded only in forestalling any significant use of force by the West to halt al-Assad’s atrocities.

“There can be no military solution in Syria, only a negotiated outcome” has been the mantra of those unwillng to take effective action against al-Assad. It worked for the Russians up until recently, when the growing threat of ISIS became manifest with the seizure of Ramadi and Mosul in Iraq, and most recently with deadly attacks on foreign soil and against a Russian airliner in Paris, Beirut, and on the Sinai peninsula.

Francois Hollande now seeks to build an international military coalition against ISIS with the Russians, following the November 13 bombings in Paris.

This is the same Hollande who was ready to sell NATO down the river with his insistence on the sale of two Mistral-class warships to Russia even after Russian “annexation” of the Crimea and in the face of its ongoing invasion of the eastern Ukraine.

It is the same Francois Hollande who with Angela Merkel negotiated a deal with Putin in October, in the so-called “Normandy format”, which removed the December 31, 2015 deadline for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters from the eastern Ukraine which had been established under the terms of the Minsk II Agreement of February 12, 2015.

There is of course already a coalition against ISIS, but one which Barack Obama has not led effectively in carrying out urgent military actions.

Hollande, at least, is trying to lead a coalition of states willing to take forceful military action. The extent to which he is playing the Russian game and/or is a dupe of Putin must be carefully and constantly analyzed, however, given his obvious interest in the lifting of EU sanctions against Russia.  In any event, Hollande will have to coordinate with the Americans.

Washington and NATO, for their part, should be extremely wary of any close cooperation with the Russians. Putin’s goal is to maintain Bashar al-Assad in power and to block any military actions against his regime by holding out illusions of “a political solution”.  At the same time, he seeks to undermine Western solidarity for upholding the economic sanctions imposed against Russia in response to its seizure of the Crimea and its ongoing invasion of the eastern Ukraine.

The West does not need Russia to take down ISIS. They don’t need Russia to secure “a political solution” in Syria, because such a solution is a pure illusion, and will remain one until facts on the ground have changed, including an end to Russia’s support of al-Assad and its attacks on non-ISIS insurgents seeking to overthrow him.

Above all, the West must resolutely resist any temptation to enter into an agreement with Putin that would lead toward a lifting of sanctions against Russia in exchange for Russian “cooperation” in resolving the Syrian conflict.

The Trenchant Observer

Putin’s playing “chicken” in Syria and the risk of escalation to nuclear war

Thursday, October 8th, 2015


With reports of Russian aircraft having forced American planes to change course in order to avoid a collision, the risks of escalation in Syria to nuclear war have suddenly become quite palpable.


Bürgerkrieg in Syrien Syrien: US-Jet muss ausweichen; Über Syrien sind sich Kampfflugzeuge aus Russland und Amerika so nah gekommen, dass die US-Maschine ausweichen musste. Offiziell ist von “mindestens einem Zwischenfall” die Rede,” Der Spiegel, 8. Oktober 2015 (10:14 Uhr).

There is nothing more dangerous than the leader of a nuclear power like Russia, Vladimir Putin, having determined that his adversary, Barack Obama, is a wimp. But unfortunately, this seems to have occurred. Moreover, the perception is not limited to Putin or Russia.

Russian warplanes have also recently entered Turkish airspace, from which they were escorted by Turkish planes. Turkey is a member of NATO, and an armed attack on Turkey under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty is to be treated as an armed attack on all members, requiring military actions in collective self-defense.

Could Russia with its incursion into Turkish airspace have been testing NATO’s readiness to apply Article 5? The answer to this question has obvious implications for the security of the Baltic members of NATO, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all former territories of the Soviet Union.


“Putin’s power in the Kremlin and his dangerous nuclear and other threats,” The Trenchant Observer, March 26, 2015, reproduced below.

“Russia was prepared for nuclear showdown with West during Crimea takeover, Putin asserts in film,” The Trenchant Observer, March 15, 2015.

“Strategy beyond the Ukraine: It’s time to start thinking about the risks of nuclear war with Russia, and of appeasement,” The Trenchant Observer, February 8, 2015.

“The Elephant in the Room: Reflections on the nuclear deterrent and the Ukraine,” The Trenchant Observer, December 1, 2014.


“REPRISE: Putin’s power in the Kremlin and his dangerous nuclear and other threats,” The Trenchant Observer, March 26, 2015, reproduced below.

For a particularly incisive analysis of Vladimir Putin and the threat he represents, see

Eric Morse, “The deadly chaos behind Putyin’s mysterious acts,” The Globe and Mail, March 24 2015 (2:02 PM EDT).

Eric Morse is co-chair of security studies at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto.

Vladimir Putin has become the most dangerous man in the world.

With direct control over Russia’s nuclear weapons, unchecked by the collective leadership represented by the Politburo in Soviet times, engaged in dismantling the arms control security architecture built up since the Cuban Mssile Crisis in October, 1962, brandishing nuclear threats in an increasingly open manner, Vladimir Putin appears to be subject to no internal controls within Russia.

Engaging in highly provocative military probes of NATO airspace, conducting large-scale military maneuvers on an almost continuing basis, and articulating a vision of military conquest and annexation with increasing boldness, Putin is acting in dangerous ways which could result in a incident leading to an escalating military conflict with NATO countries.

Especially significant has been his endorsement, little commented on in the Western media, of the Molotov-von Ribbentrop pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.  That agreement, concluded on August 23, 1939, included not only a non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, but also the division andoccupation of Poland by the two countries and the takeover by the Soviet Union of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as parts of Finland and Romania.  A week later, on August 23, 1939, World War II began with the German inasion of Poland.

At the same time, the Boris Nemtsov assassination on February 27, 2015 has highlighted the ties between Vladimir Putin and the Chechen leader, Ramsan Kadyrov, who has at his command some 15,000-20,000 Chechen fighters, who constitute  a kind of personal militia operating outside of the regular security structures within Russia. Among the “volunteers” and regular forces which entered the eastern Ukraine from Russia were many such Chechen fighters.

The West is left with the urgent challenge of figuring out how to deal effectively with the most dangerous man on the planet, and then resolutely implementing the actions that are required.

In the Ukraine, appeasement has not worked.

Even the adoption in September of  tough economic sanctions did not stop Putin and his puppets from conquering more territory in the Donbas and threatening to take Mariupol in violation of the Minsk Protocol and ceasefire agreed on September 5. Now, following the recognition of those gains and the weakening of other provisions in the original Minsk Protocol in the Minsk II agreement signed on February 12, the credible threat of sending “lethal” arms to the Ukraine, and of further sanctions including exclusion from the SWIFT international payments system, may be helping to restrain Putin from moving at this time on Mariupol. That port city would give separatist-controlled territories in the Donbas an outlet to the sea, and its conquest would constitute an important advance toward establishing a land bridge to the Crimea.

But Putin can bide his time, waiting for disunity within the EU, NATO, or Europe and the U.S., before making his next strategic move.

Putin manifestly has been and will continue to be engaged in an all-out campaign to challenge and weaken NATO and the EU, executed relentlessly, 24/7, on many different fronts.

What seems clear is that he is steering Russia on a path that could lead to a nuclear confrontation with the West. Were that to occur, without any internal checks on Putin’s behavior, and in the absence of the confidence-building measures and arms control restraints which have existed until the very recent past, the situation could become even more dangerous than that which existed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

NATO and the West can no longer ignore the Russian threat to their security, responding lethargically while seeking refuge in illusions that with Putin anything resembling a return to “business as usual” is possible.

Rather, a long-term strategy of containment of Russia must be adopted, and quickly implemented. Only then (whether before or after Putin has passed from the scene) might there be any chance of Russia returning to the international community of civilized nations which seek to guarantee their security within the framework of the Unied Nations Charter and respect for international law.

That strategy of containment should eschew further appeasement but include renewed efforts to shore up the arms control measures achieved in the past, and joint efforts with Russia to secure new agreements that might reduce the risk of nuclear war, whether accidental or resulting from deliberate actions.


See also the following article quoting a Canadian minister, Chris Alexander, who in addition to accurately pointing out that Putin is behaving like a terrorist, also alludes to the origins of the Ukraine crisis as lying in the responses of the U.S. and other countries to events in Syria. This is a key point, as readers who have followed Russian actions in Syria and reactions from the West are probably already aware.

David Pugliese (Postmedia News), “Putin is behaving like a terrorist’: Cabinet minister’s speech on Ukraine sparks social media battle with Russia,” National Post, March 25, 2015 (Updated 3:50 PM ET)

The Trenchant Observer

Kerry and Obama’s strategy on Syria: Work through the Russians and thow a “Hail Mary” pass on negotiations

Sunday, September 20th, 2015


MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT, “Russian Buildup in Syria Raises Questions on Role,” New York Times, September 19, 2015.

Stefan Braun, Berlin, und Nicolas Richter, Washington, “Syrien-Konflikt: Kerry und Steinmeier hoffen auf Putin; Gibt es doch noch eine diplomatische Lösung des Syrien-Konflikts? Ein Angebot aus Moskau klingt für die USA und Europa vielversprechend. Aber welches Ziel verfolgt Russlands Präsident Wladimir Putin wirklich?” Suddeutscher Zeitung, 21. September 2015 (06:14 Uhr).

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have no strategy for dealing with the Syrian crisis, and as we pointed out a few days ago are basically clueless.

See “Russia and the U.S. flying missions in Syrian airspace — Failed U.S. Policies lead to dangerous situation as Russia makes strategic military move into Syria,” The Trenchant Observer, September 18, 2015.

Gordon and Schmitt describe this disastrous situation in Kerry’s own words

“We need to get to the negotiation,” Mr. Kerry said at a joint news conference with (British Foreign Secretary Philip) Hammond. “That’s what we’re looking for, and we hope Russia and Iran, other countries with influence, will help to bring that about, because that’s what’s preventing this crisis from ending.”

Right now, Assad has refused to have a serious discussion,” Mr. Kerry added, “and Russia has refused to help bring him to the table in order to do that.”

Kerry focuses on the issue of Assad’s departure, as if that would bring the hell that the conflicts in Syria have become to a resolution. His suggestion is basically similar to that which led to the U.N. Geneva II Conference on Syria in January, 2014, which produced absolutely no results, not even an agreement to keep talking.

What will be needed to resolve the Syrian crisis goes far beyond Assad’s departure. Something like a U.N. Authority for Syria will eventually have to be established under Security Council auspices in order to bring any kind of peace to that country.

The fact that Kerry entertains the idea of negotiating with Russia and al-Assad ignores the fact that any agreement with al-Assad would be utterly meaningless given his track record, and an agreement with Russia would not be worth much more, given Putin’s own record of backing al Assad’s broken promises in Syria and breaking his own in the Ukraine.

Gordon and Schmitt report,

Kerry and Hammond “emphasized that Mr. Assad could not remain in power if there was to be a durable solution to the conflict, but they said that the timing of his departure during a political transition in Syria would be a matter of negotiation.

“It doesn’t have to be on Day 1 or Month 1,” Mr. Kerry said. “There is a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can best be achieved.”

The policy, if you can call it that, is to “work through the Russians” and to throw a “Hail Mary pass” on negotiations, hoping that through some divine intervention negotiations might lead to a solution to the conflict, when there is virtually no evidence to suggest that might happen.

That’s where John Kerry and Barack Obama are on Syria. Out of the game, entertaining phantasies and completely ignoring the events in the country over the last four years.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE–Syria: Russia and Iran complicit under International Law in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Late News—-

See MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT, “U.S. Moves to Block Russian Military Buildup in Syria,” New York Times, September 8, 2015.

Vladimir Putin is now engaged in extremely dangerous brinksmanship in Syria, apparently introducing Russian troops and special operations forces to bolster the collapsing Bashar al-Assad regime—in a war theater in which U.S. and allied air forces and NATO member Turkey have become militarily active.

Vladimir Putin, the veteran chess master, has moved a big piece on the international chessboard, as European leaders are overwhelmed by the waves of refugees and immigrants now roaming through their territories, while EU sanctions against Russia for its invasions of the Ukraine must be renewed by July 15, with the formal written approval of all 28 governments, or they will lapse. Even a lapse of a few days could have huge and unforeseen consequences.

This is a wonderful playing field for Mr. Putin, but one in which miscalculation, accident or the unexpected could hurtle the nuclear superpowers into a direct and escalating conflict with the potential for nuclear war.

Putin seems convinced he can out outbluff Barack Obama in any nuclear showdown. This could lead to dangerous miscalculations in dealing with an American government whose strategic nuclear decisions could be taken not by a vacillating President Obama acting alone, but rather by a united national security team including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the country’s military leaders, acting in concert with the president.

At such a juncture, it is useful to recall that Russia is complicit under international law for the past and ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime and its supporters.


REPRISE:  Syria: Russia and Iran complicit under International Law in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” The Trenchant Observer, June 16, 2013.

Sergei Lavrov argues that Russia has to supply modern weapons systems to Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria in accordance with contracts that have already been signed, and warns the West and the Arab countries that any military action such as establishing a no-fly zone in Syria (without U.N. Security Council authorization), would violate international law.

Staff and Agencies, “Syria no-fly zone would violate international law, says Russia; Comments by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov underline G8 challenge faced by US in trying to gain support for intervention,” The Guardian, June 15, 2013 (07:11 EDT).

However, as Lavrov makes this argument, one central fact must be kept foremost in mind:

Under International Law, Russia and Iran are themselves complicit in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria. The Russians have knowingly supplied weapons, training and personnel to assist al-Assad’s forces in the commission of such crimes. Both Russia and Iran have helped finance the continuing commission, with their own ongoing advice and participation, of these crimes.

Consequently, they themselves are guilty of the commission of these crimes.

On the relevant international law on complicity in the commission of international crimes, see

Helmut Philipp Aust, Complicity and the Law of State Responsibility, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). Introductory front matter for the book, including a table of contents, is found here.

For a summary of Aust’s book, see Michael Byers, Book Review of Helmut Philipp Aust, Complicity and the Law of State Responsibility, in 23 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW (EJIL), pp. 583–589 (2012). The full text of the book review is found here.

For an earlier (1996) treatment of the subject, see Bernard Graefrath, “Complicity in the Law of International Responsibility,” 1996 REVUE BELGE DE DROIT INTERNATIONAL, No. 2, pp. 370-381. The full text of the article can be found here.

In view of the above, when Barack Obama and the other G-8 leaders sit down with Vladimir Putin at the G-8 meeting in Belfast on Monday, June 17, they should all bear in mind that they are in the presence of a Russian president who is responsible for Russian aid and assistance to al-Assad’s regime in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that as a result Russia itself is guilty of committing these crimes.

Putin and Russia cannot cynically argue that they are allowed to assist al-Assad in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, incurring international responsibility, while under international law the West and the Arab states can do nothing to help protect their victims.

That is not where international law is, today, in 2013.

For an idea of the crimes they are supporting, see the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, articles 1, 7 & 8, which largely represent a codification of existing customary international law relating to these international crimes. The text of the Statute of the ICC is found here.

It goes without saying that the commission of all international crimes in Syria must be stopped, including those committed by the insurgents.

The Trenchant Observer

Not indexed by Google, Again — Obama’s cold-blooded Realpolitik and the Iran deal

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Six days have passed and Google has still not indexed the following article:

“The cold-blooded REALPOLITIK of the American president: Obama’s intellectual calculations in foreign policy, and his heart as cold as stone,” The Trenchant Observer, July 31, 2015.

Even Startpage, which does not filter results or track you cannot be relied on, since it uses Google results.

To find the latest articles indexed in real time, use instead of Google or Startpage.


Do you care if your New York Times is delivered the day it’s published, or a week later? Google now doesn’t even deliver a week later.


“Not indexed by Google — Censorship by another name: Obama and the Iran nuclear deal,” July 20, 2015

Google represents a totalitarian instrument of thought control. It must be strictly regulated by the law of all democratic countries, those subject to Regulations adopted bt the European Commission.

The Trenchant Observer

The cold-blooded REALPOLITIK of the American president: Obama’s intellectual calculations in foreign policy, and his heart as cold as stone

Friday, July 31st, 2015


Obama seems to have opposed stronger action in Syria and in opposing Russian aggression in the Ukraine out of some demented belief that he is smarter than everyone else, and it is OK to stand aside and watch 250,000 people die in Syria, if that is necessary to “work through the Russians” to take a larger chess piece by making the nuclear deal with Iran. Or to adopt what was in effect a policy of appeasement against Russia as they invaded and “annexed” the Crimea, and invaded — and have hung on to — the eastern Ukraine, in order to gain Russian support for the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran.

Richard Spencer of The Telegraph has summarized what appears to be Obama’s highly intellectual policy towards Syria.


Richard Spencer (Middle East Editor, “Barack Obama does not want to defeat Isil – yet; For American foreign policy, winning the war against Isil quickly would be pointless and potentially disastrous” The Telegraph, July 31, 2015 (8:00 p.m. BST).

See also the articles by David Ignatius cited earlier here.

In Ethiopia this week, Obama hardly pressed the country’s leaders on their human rights violations. The U.S. has given priority to fighting terrorism, and seems willing to look away from seeing human rights violations in Africa.


Sharon L. Fawcett, “Obama’s heartbreaking words in Addis Ababa: It only took eight words for Barack Obama to break the hearts of millions of Ethiopians. Alemayehu Mariam was one of them,” Righting It: Writing to champion human RIGHTS, August 6, 2015.

Fawcett writes, “Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ethiopia to address the African Union. While there, on July 27th, he took part in a press conference with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. When asked by a Fox News journalist about his “obvious concerns about human rights…in Ethiopia,” Obama paused, looked down, and stated that he was “mindful of Ethiopia’s history,” then followed up with his view of Ethiopia’s recent elections: “the elections put forward a democratically elected government.” Fawcett goes on to refute any assertion that the government was democratically elected, citing Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and U.S. State Department reports on human rights in the country.

See also,

“Words and Deeds: Obama’s Defense of Democracy in Africa, 2011,” The Trenchant Observer, August 1, 2011.

“Obama and Democracy in Africa, 2011,” The Trenchant Observer, July 16, 2011.

Obama wants to foster entrepreneurial activity in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, without taking on the hard repression that exists in so many countries, which will have a decisive impact on who the new entrepreneurs are.

The need to support human rights defenders and to strengthen civil society is obliterated by the stong emphasis on business and weak positions (and actions) on human rights.  African countries need not only to grow, but also to distribute both old and new income beyond narrow elites.

The message is clear: The U.S. is willing, even eager, to work with dictators in Africa on security and economic issues, regardless of their records on human rights.

This is consistent with Obama’s call to Putin to thank him for his support on the Iran nuclear deal, as if it could not have been achieved without it.

No one asks, “Why didn’t Putin call Obama to thank him for his support in securing the nuclear deal?” That, howver, is a fair and even an essential question.

The president gives lip service to human rights and civil society. But as we’ve learned, we must watch carefully what he actually does, not merely what he says. We need to track carefully how much money the U.S. puts into foreign assistance in Africa to support those fighting dictatorships and for the rule of law.

To ignore human rights in Africa, in deeds if not in words, is to follow a false path, and it is sad to see Obama continue down it.

Think only of what has been going on in Egypt, and how silent the U.S. administration has been in the face of horrendous abuses.

The Trenchant Observer

Not indexed by Google — Censorship by another name: Obama and the Iran nuclear deal

Monday, July 20th, 2015

A number of articles of a controversial nature have not been indexed by Google in real time. The latest is the following article, which points out that while the P5+1 nuclear deal is a signal achievement for Barack Obama, it appears to have come at an exhorbitant cost:   1)  a U.S. failure to intervene in Syria in 2012 and thereafter, and 2) a failure to strongly oppose Russian invasion of thr Crimea in February, 2014, and of the eastern Ukraine beginning in April, 2014.


“The Iran nuclear deal: Has Barack Obama earned his Nobel Peace Prize? (Revised August 18),” The Trenchant Observer, July 16, 2015.

To that can be added America’s apparent tacit acceptance of the annexation of the Crimea in exchange for its support on the the Iranian nuclear deal.


“Russian annexation of the Crimea: “A criminal violation of international law” for Merkel in Moscow, but not worth mentioning for Kerry in Sochi,” The Trenchant Observer, May 13, 2015.

The article on Iran and the nuclear deal with Iran was immediately indexed by Ixquick, but has not yet been indexed by Google.

Perhaps the most egregious case of Google censorship by not indexing occurred with an article on the presumptive role of Vladimir Putin in the assassination of Russia’s leading opposition figure, Boris Nemtsov, on February 27, 2015


“Not indexed by Google Update: Putin and Nemtsov,” The Trenchant Observer, March 18, 2015.


The following observations, made by the Observer in the March 18 article above, remain valid and pertinent to the latest case of “non-indexing by Google”:

The ability of Google and other search engines to index a blog article or web page gives them powers equivalent to those of a totalitarian instrument of thought control.

The latest article by The Trenchant Observer not indexed in real time, and therefore invisible to most readers on the internet, is the following:

“After disappearing act, Vladimir Putin remains prime suspect in Nemtsov assassination, The Trenchant Observer, March 17, 2015 1:46 MDT.

The fact that Google is in effect censoring the blog by not indexing it in a timely fashion reveals the incredible power Google has achieved to affect the public discourse in many countries, including the United States. We now know that Google has cooperated with the NSA in violating Americans’ privacy rights, and that it cooperates with foreign governments in filtering content.

Several important points need to be stressed.

The technology created by Google and its dominant market position in the search industry has resulted in the existance of a totalitarian instrument with incredible power to shape political discussion by not indexing certain pages, or not doing so in real time. It systematically filters out the content of foreign newspapers, and news articles with which your previous searches indicate you would not agree.

It is like a newspaper distributor which has absolute power to unilaterally decide if you will get the New York Times the day it is published, or next week, or maybe a week after a critical debate in Congress–or even after the elections.

It is absolutely clear that “net neutrality” must be maintained to protect the free and timely exchange of ideas and opinions in a democratic state, with one exception: web pages of blogs and other pages containing commentary and comment or analysis of current events must be given priority over all other traffic.

And it is equally clear that the Congress must enact legislation that regulates the use of what is in effect a totalitarian instrument of thought control. The governments in the U.S. and the European Union should be monitoring Google’s cooperation with authoritarian regimes to filter the free expression of ideas, and also its filtering in the U.S. and Europe.

The power of Google is far too great to be left to the unchecked discretion of a company which gathers and sells the personal information of its users in a manner which would permit a totalitarian dossier about every user in every country to be created.

Google’s motto of “Do no evil” is in urgent need of goverment regulation and enforcement, in the U.S, Europe, and other democracies in the world.


“Not Indexed by Google: An Update (January 6, 2015)”, The Trenchant Observer, December 9, 2014 (updated January 6, 2015).


Given the power of Google to affect public debate, Congress should establish a legal framework that guarantees that all political opininion is immediately indexed and made available on the Internet to readers around the world.

The Trenchant Observer

The Iran nuclear deal: Has Barack Obama earned his Nobel Peace Prize? (Revised August 18)

Thursday, July 16th, 2015


Roger Cohen, “The Door to Iran Opens,” New York Times, July 16, 2015.

David Ignatius, “After the nuclear deal, how to contain Iran’s meddling in the Middle East,” Washington Post, July 16, 2015.

David Ignatius, “After a well-crafted deal, the question is: Will Iran behave?” Washington Post, July 14, 2015.

Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger, “Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen With Time,” New York Times, July 14, 2015.

Thomas Erdbrink, “Ayatollah Khamenei, Backing Iran Negotiators, Endorses Nuclear Deal,” New York Times, July 18, 2015.

A Good Agreement, Considering the Alternatives

President Barack Obama has attained his greatest foreign policy achievement since entering office with the successful conclusion of the P5+1 talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, and the signing of an agreement that will make it extremely unlikely that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon within the next 10-15 years.

The deal is done. It is exceedingly unlikely that Republicans in the Senate and House will succeed in their attempts to block the agreement from taking effect, in the United States.

President Obama and the other Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council can lift the U.N. santions in accordance with the terms of the agreement, and are expected to do so.

Republicans have little to gain from trying to block implementation of what is, after all, the best deal that could be negotiated between the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, U.K., U.S., Germany) and Iran, a country that has been viewed as an enemy of the United States.

Critics will find a number of points on which, negotiating with themselves, they would have come up with stronger provisions.

However, this was the best deal that could be achieved, after years of hard and intricate negotiations and the slow accretion of trust that made it possible.

It is a very good deal, particularly when one reflects on the fact that the alternatives were (1) Iran proceeding to develop nuclear weapons; or (2) a war with Iran entailing frighteningly uncertain consequences, and a likelihood that Iran would develop nuclear weapons in any event.

A number of countries, such as Japan, Germany, Brazil and South Africa, which have the technology to develop nuclear weapons, have nonetheless decided instead to honor their obligations under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or in Latin America the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco.

The present agreement will greatly increase the likelihood that Iran will follow a similar course, even after 10 or 15 years.

In international politics, as in life, nothing is absolutely certain. Certainty in the arms control context is an illusion, one that embodies the principle that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.

We need to look to previous battles over arms control agreements, and the cogent arguments that were advanced to secure their approval, to avoid the error of demanding certainty when verification of compliance with specific terms of highly complex and technical agreements provides a high probability of observance of the agreement’s essential terms.

“Worst-case secaros” could lead us to reject good agreements. We should avoid this pitfall.

The agreement is a good one.

Obama should still rally the nation and the world to support the agreement, in order to enhance its implementation and long-term compliance with its provisions.

The Question of Ends and Means

If one were to think only of the achievement of the Iran nuclear deal, one might conclude that President Obama has now earned the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 2009.

However, one must also consider the means that were used to secure the end.

According to David Ignatius and others, Obama held back from intervening more forcefully in Syria and to oppose Russian aggression in the Ukraine because he didn’t want to derail the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

A deal with Iran has been Obama’s overriding foreign-policy goal since Inauguration Day, when he declared his desire to engage adversaries on a basis of “mutual interest and mutual respect.” He has paid a heavy cost to protect his Iran peacemaking, sidestepping confrontation with Iranian proxies in Syria and Russia in Ukraine, in part because he saw the Iran deal as a higher priority. Obama explained his logic Tuesday morning: “Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.” Historians will have to judge whether he has gained more than he lost.

–David Ignatius, “After a well-crafted deal, the question is: Will Iran behave?” Washington Post, July 14, 2015.

The cost has been over 220,000 killed in Syria (as of January, 2015), the enormous growth of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and beyond (feeding terrorist attacks in the West), over 6,000 killed in the eastern Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion and the war started there by Russian special operations forces, and virtual silence in the face of continued Russian military occupation of the Crimea, which remains under international law sovereign territory of the Ukraine.

Raison d’Etat or Staatsrason (“Reason of State”) that would justfy such acquiescence in the commission in Syria of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, and the appeasement of Russia following its invasion of the Crimea and then the eastern Ukraine, represents an appalling application of the principle that “the end justifies the means”.

In considering whether Obama has finally earned his Nobel Peace Prize by concluding the Iran nuclear agreement, these considerations must also be taken into account.

The agreement is a signal achievement. But we, and historians, must also consider how it was achieved.

The Trenchant Observer

U.S. strategy and leadership needed: The Middle East and other countries hurtle into the Vortex

Friday, March 27th, 2015

On some days, the news is so disturbing that you want to take a broader view of what is going on in a region, or the world.

The Middle East appears to be convulsed by civil war and situations that could lead to further civil and international conflict. At times it seems that everyone has forgotten about international law. States don’t bother to offer legal justifications for their actions, or sometimes even admit they are responsible for them.

Chaos in the Middle East

Shiite Houthis backed by Iran are taking over Yemen, provoking military responses from Sunni Arab states.

Did anyone offer a legal justification for the actions of the Sunni military coalition?

Barack Obama’s statements several years ago that we should pursue a “Yemen-like” solution to the Syrian civil war don’t look so good today.

Libya has become a failed state, ruled now by violence and near anarchy.

U.S. bombers join in Iraqi government attacks on ISIS in Tikrit, as Iranian-led Shiite militias engaged in the battle for the city stand down or adopt ambiguous postures. The United States is now participating directly in the confict with ISIS in Iraq, in what seems to be an open-ended commitment.

This may be required in order to counter Iranian influence in Iraq, but has not yet been the subject of much public debate in the United Stares.

Israeli-Palestinian relations are at their lowest point since the Second Intifada, following Banjamin Netanyahu’s scurrilous playing of the race card in the last days before the recent elections to the Knesset. After warning right-wing voters that the Israeli Arabs were turning out in droves for the elections, Netanyahu has lost all respect as a leader of Israel.

In the days before the elections, Netanyahu also promised right-wing voters that there would never be a Palestinian state so long as he remained in office. That sounded the death knell for the two-state solution, at least for now.

There are no negotiations underway, and it is hard to see how they can be restarted so long as Netanyahu remains prime minister.

Relations with the Obama administration are at an all-time low, putting the U.S. automatic veto against any U.N. Security Council resolution adverse to Israel into play.

Charlie Rose interviews Bashar al-Assad, giving a megaphone–once again–to a mass murderer guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria on a massive scale, where over 220,000 have been killed. With blood dripping from his hands, al-Assad wants to make a deal with the West to fight the Islamic State group or ISIS, leaving his regime and him in power.

In his diffidence to al-Assad, Rose refers to dropping barrel bombs and other war crimes and crimes against humanity as “actions that others look down on” or words to that effect.

Regarding Rose’s shameful interview with al-Assad in September, 2013, on the eve on an expected vote in Congress authorizing Obama to use military force against Syria–following the use of chemical weapons by Syria at Ghouta on August 21, 2013–see

See “CBS News and PBS: Network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and PBS, give al-Assad megaphone for propaganda to oppose Obama—ON MONDAY!,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2013.

The Islamic State group, the al-Nusra front, the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, Western-backed so-called “moderate” rebels, and who knows who else mix it up in the meat grinder of Syria.

Threats Beyond the Middle East

An unsteady truce holds in the eastern Ukraine. Putin sits poised like a leopard, waiting for the West to be distracted and/or show disunity before he strikes at Mariupol and continues building his strategic land bridge to the Crimea.

The Greek prime minister suggests, on the eve of his trip to Moscow, that Greece may veto the renewal of EU sanctions against Russia when they come up for renewal later this year.

Putin is driven by a need to continually engage the West in conflict, in order to distract his population from their sinking economy and worsening living conditions. He also seems to be on the path of delusions of grandeur, as he would be the leader who restored the Russian Empire and its sphere of influence.

See John Simpson, “Vladimir Putin is fighting for political survival – by provoking unrest in Ukraine, New Statesman, March 30, 2015 (9:44 a.m)

Writing from Sevastapol, the BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson explains how Russia’s premiere is stalling. His Crimean coup is an attempt to distract the west.

No one refers to international law.

Endless war, including war between Sunni states and Iran, is highly possible.

Once the genie of a broad Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East is out of the bottle, who could contain it again?

In Washington, as in Europe and the Middle East, leaders are needed to deal with these situations effectively, pursuant to a coherent strategy. Yet such leaders are hard to find.

Into the Vortex we all go.

The Trenchant Observer