Posts Tagged ‘the world is adrift’

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

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

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

Originally published March 6, 2012

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

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

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hell has come to Syria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is it hard to sleep?

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

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

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

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

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

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have no leaders, and the world is adrift.

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Grave errors, repeated? The United States, France, the U.K. and Kofi Annan’s successor; Latest developments on UNSMIS, Joint Special Envoy—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #76 (August 16) Revised 20:00 GMT

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Updated August 16 at 20:00 GMT

Latest Developments:
- U.N. Security Council allows UNSMIS mission to end on August 19
- Russia pushes hard to continue mission of Joint Special Envoy, convoking meeting on August 17 of Syria Action Group (from Geneva conference convoked by Kofi Annan and held on June 30).
- Statements by Security Council President Gérard Araud (France) and Vitaly I. Churkin (Russian Federation) at Media Stakeout following August 16 Security Council meeting (video)
- Daily Star editorial on distraction of naming successor to Kofi Annan
- Sources report Brahimi has accepted appointment as Joint Special Envoy

See

Editorial, “Poor substitute,” The Daily Star, August 11, 2012.

“Algeria’s Brahimi agrees to be new Syria mediator-sources,” The Daily Star, August 16, 2012 (09:59 PM).

SC President, Gérard Araud (France) on Syria – Security Council Media Stakeout (16 August 2012)16 Aug 2012 – Press Statement and informal comments to the media by H. E. Mr. Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of August 2012 on the situation in Syria.

Vitaly I. Churkin (Russian Federation) on Syria – Security Council media Stakeout (16 August 2012)
16 Aug 2012 – Informal comments to the media by H.E. Mr. Vitaly I. Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation on the situation in Syria.

Edmund Mullet on Syria – Security Council Media Stakeout (16 August 2012)
16 Aug 2012 – Informal comments to the media by the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmund Mullet on the situation in Syria.

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The United States, France and Great Britain: Fatuity as Foreign Policy

Syria shows us how the world is adrift.

The leaders of the three Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council not supporting the Syrian government’s atrocities, the defenders of freedom in the world, as it were, are on vacation or otherwise out to lunch. Some, such as Obama, checked out a long time ago.

No one in the foreign offices of these three countries with the power of decision could have paid close attention to the events that have occurred in Syria and in the capitals of the five permanent members of the Council, and logically and in good faith support a new mission by a new special envoy to mediate or negotiate (or ingratiate himself toward) a solution to the Syrian crisis.

All of the diplomatic camouflage deployed by Russia and China has now been stripped away. The reasons they adduce for their actions are specious, dishonest arguments demonstrably lacking in candor and persuasive force.

What Russia and China stand for is the right of any government to wipe out its opposition, as Vladimir Putin did in Chechnya, and as China stands ready to do in Tibet, or with the Uigurs. They stand for the right of a dictatorship to annihilate its opponents, even when these begin by peaceful means, through the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes. They stand for the proposition that a dictatorship has the right to bomb hospitals, and to use artillery and other heavy weapons, and even jet fighters to bombard civilian neighborhoods without discrimination between  military and civilian targets, or even with the full intention to kill or massacre civilians.

They each stand for the continuing right of any (friendly) dictatorship to undertake the brutal crimes against humanity and war crimes which each in its own history has itself committed in the past.

Here is the critical point: Both Russia and China argue not only that they had the right to commit these crimes in the past, but that they have a continuing right to repeat such crimes in the future, if necessary, without the international community having any right to intervene–even with economic sanctions–to halt such crimes.

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For other articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page, here.
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But what of the countries whose histories and whose constitutions say they stand for liberty, and which have fought wars in defense of that liberty, including World War II?

Where do they stand?

Well, they don’t stand. They are on vacation. It is not a matter of convincing them by logic that they should intervene to halt al-Assad’s atrocities. It is simply that they don’t care.

They don’t care enough to pay attention.

They weren’t awake when Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov showed up with Kofi Annan at the meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on March 10 and somehow secured their acquiescence in a five-point plan which included a ban or foreign military intervention to stop the killing, which then became Kofi Annan’s 6-point plan.

They weren’t awake to observe how Kofi Annan’s mission played into the hands of the Russians and al-Assad’s regime in Damascus, among other reasons because it put all the cards in the hands of the Dictator and his Russian and Chinese backers, and imposed no costs for dithering and interminable delays while he killed thousands of his citizens.

And now, after the total, complete, absolute failure of Kofi Annan’s mission and the 6-point peace plan, they stand poised to “go along” with Ban Ki-Moon’s appointment of a “replacement” for Kofi Annan following his resignation.

They are not paying attention to the fact that the term of Kofi Annan’s mandate ends in August, and that Ban Ki-Moon by pliantly acceding to the pressures from Russia and China to quickly appoint a successor to Annan is by a sleight-of-hand finessing the more fundamental question of whether a new special envoy should be appointed at all.

By this slight-of-hand, Ban Ki-Moon is serving the interests of the Russians and the Chinese, with Kofi Annan in the background orchestrating things, including the selection of his successor as joint special envoy who he himself picked.

Logically, one would examine the record of Kofi Annan and the reasons he failed to end the civil war in Syria. Then one would ask whether the factors which caused him to fail, and indeed which caused his mission to be doomed from inception, still obtain.

Then, and importantly, a Security Council resolution would be adopted setting out the terms of reference for the new special envoy.  The idea being tossed around the Security Council that a presidential statement would be sufficient is legally deficient. If a new special envoy is to have a mission that goes to the very heart of the council’s responsibility to maintain international peace and security, it must surely be authorized by a resolution of the Security Council.

The Council cannot delegate its responsibilities by a non-binding “presidential statement”, but rather can do so only by a resolution adopted in accordance with the U.N. Charter.

The issuance of “presidential statements” on Syria by the Security Council during the last year has only served to confuse and misrepresent to the public that something has been done when, legally speaking, no action has been taken. This pattern should not be repeated here.

Only after these steps would the envoy actually be appointed, in the event the process advanced this far.

Are we to believe that Lakhdar Brahimi or whoever may be named as the new special envoy will halt the fighting in Syria, when none of the external factors have changed, e.g., the Russians and the Chinese remain intransigently opposed to any reasonable, effective action by the Security Council such as that proposed in draft security council resolution S/2012/538?

Are we to believe that anything Bashar al-Assad agrees to will have any meaning, any significance whatsoever, in view of his very recent track record?

What, precisely, could we expect any new special envoy to achieve, other than to distract the attention of the world from al-Assad’s ongoing atrocities on the ground, as Kofi Annan did, focusing the media attention of the world on the UN special envoy and whatever proposals he comes up with, and whatever the Russians say they will accept, or won’t accept, or whatever Bashar al-Assad says he will accept, or won’t accept?

Haven’t the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and France learned anything from the fiasco of Kofi Annan’s mission, at a cost of over 10,000 Syrian lives?

Is it conscionable, after this abysmal failure, to repeat the same basic mistake again?

The mistake involves negotiating with Bashar al-Assad while he is committing crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The mistake involves negotiating with the Syrian Dictator, when we know beyond any doubt that his agreement to any provision would be utterly worthless.

Further efforts at mediation will cost time, and thousands of more Syrian lives.  Do we have the moral right to contribute to the loss of those lives, by throwing a rope to a Dictator whose government may be crumbling, as the former prime minister of Syria, who recently defected, has asserted?

The last 17 months have taken place.  The events during this period are now historical facts.  Upwards of 20,000 civilians have been killed in Syria, in large part due to the inaction of the United States, France and the United Kingdom, and their allies and friends. These are facts. Those who have died cannot be brought back.

Is it morally defensible, or defensible on the international political plane, to offer as an excuse for going along with Ban Ki-Moon’s appointment of a successor to Kofi Annan–a successor selected and recommended by Kofi Annan himself!–the fact that they are on vacation, or didn’t have time to pay attention?

History will be the judge, and the judgment is likely to be very harsh indeed.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

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 handcorner 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.

Lack of Moral Courage at the Highest Levels—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #7 (March 8)

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

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

President Obama’s response to the terror and crimes against humanity underway in Syria, and that of his national security team and military leadership, bespeak a lack of moral courage at the highest levels.

It appears that Obama, as the Observer has noted for some time, can only be moved by the arguments of electoral politics, by factors that might affect his bid for reelection to the presidency in November, 2012.

This itself is an enormously sad statement. But it is the duty of the best journalists, and others including academics who write about public affairs–particularly those who live in free societies–to speak truth to power.

U.S. policy towards Syria has been described by Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Daily Star in Beirut, where citizens have direct experience living under Syrian occupation and a birds-eye view of current developments in neighboring Syria, as “pathetic”.

It is difficult to conclude otherwise.

What words other than “lack of moral courage” (or even “moral cowardice”) can be used to accurately describe decisions regarding Syria by the highest leaders of the U.S. government to not develop robust military options that are available to the president for immediate execution?  At least up until now, when Senator McCain’s call for air attacks on Syrian forces raises the spectre of Syria becoming an issue in the fall elections.

How might one characterize decisions by the U.S. to not lead a drive within NATO to develop contingency plans for military intervention in Syria, to not move military assets to the Eastern Mediterranean, or to have U.S. military leaders publicly declare that military intervention is not an option?

Or to have our military leaders tell Congress that military intervention in Syria would be difficult, too hard, to tell Congress the U.S. could not intervene militarily until it knows more about the people who are being slaughtered in Syria, understands exactly what the costs would be, and knows what the outcome would be?

It appears that we now have a military leadership that will not act in any situation unless they know what it will cost and what the outcome will be. That is the military that fights the Taliban with drones, with executions of targets placed on “kill lists”, which seeks to ensure the security of the United States by deploying these same methods through the Middle East and Southwest Asia and the northern parts of Africa.

With these methods the casualties are known, for the drone operators working the night shift somewhere in the United States–or maybe even closer to the field of combat–do not have to risk their lives to fight their war. They can kill the enemy with no personal risk, by remote control.

To be sure, others do risk their lives, and they deserve the highest praise for their valor and courage in fighting for the objectives the U.S. political leadership has set for them. Even the drone operators in the employ of the U.S. military deserve our deep respect, for their work is certainly not risk-free in a psychological sense, as many may subsequently suffer deep psychological problems as a result of their work.

But now the country that would attack Iran, if it doesn’t halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons, offers to Congress as an excuse for inaction in Syria the fact that the country’s air defenses may be five times more difficult to take down than Libya’s were.

No comparison is made with Serbia, where the U.S. military performed admirably in defeating the air defenses of the Milosovic regime as it was committing crimes against humanity in Kosovo.

Have we forgotten also that the United States posseses an awesome arsenal of cruise missiles, which could undoubtedly give al-Assad a wake-up call if there were a firm commitment in the White House to stop the killing in Syria?

The latest arguments, just leaked to the press in the last few days, revolve around Syria’s possession of chemical and perhaps biological weapons. We don’t really know if there is any more substance to this argument than there was in 2003 when WMD was the rationale for taking down Sadam Hussein’s air defenses and invading Iraq. (Incidentally, the U.S. performed rather impressively in taking down Iraq’s air defenses.)

Moreover, this argument ignores the impact in Syria that active military intervention by the U.S. and coalition partners would be likely to have within the Syrian government and military leadership circles.

WMD may represent a risk, but does that mean than military action is forestalled? How is such an argument likely to affect Iran in deciding whether or not to acquire a nuclear weapons capability or nuclear weapons?

So, now that Senator McCain has called for military intervention with air strikes, the president begins to develop military options for dealing with Syria.

Unfortunately, we are now faced with a disastrous situation due to the U.S. administration’s presumed support of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s decision to name Kofi Annan as a mediator on behalf on the U.N. and the Arab League, to mediate the cessation of the crimes against humanity and war crimes that are underway. Annan, who as former Secretary General cannot be viewed as lacking in self-esteem, has laid claim to being the mediator of the only mediation process with al-Assad and his murderous regime.

Now, today, Annan spoke out loudly against any military intervention.

One can hardly imagine developments more favorable to al-Assad. Kofi Annan and his mediation effort–for as long as it continues–function as a shield against military attack, dividing the leaders of the civilized world. It gives al-Assad control over the pace of the mediation efforts, and even if he reached an agreement–as he did with the Arab League in the fall–there would be further delay to ascertain whether or to what extent he had complied with it, and diplomatic consultations to determine how to react to violations, and what to do next.

During all of this time, the Syrian Dictator would be able to continue the commission of mass atrocities and the use of all the tools of a modern police state to hunt down each and every one of his opponents, and to summarily dispense with them.

Annan’s mission should be halted if it doesn’t produce a cessation of the killing by al-Assad’s forces within the next seven days. Such a cessation of hostilities should be its first and only aim, until the killing stops.

The U.S. response to events in Syria has been cynical and craven, and is indeed in Michael Young’s words “pathetic”.

Now, because Obama seems only able to respond to arguments with potential electoral impact, what is needed is some moral courage on the part of Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House.

It is time for them to speak out, loudly, to the President, to the American people, and to the world.

There may be leaders in the Democratic Party who abhor the lack of moral courage that has been evidenced to date on Syria, who will speak out, and who may even launch a challenge–within the Democratic Party or in a third party–to Obama’s reelection as president.

That would involve electoral logic. It could potentially move President Obama to act. It appears that nothing else will.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
twitter.com/trenchantobserv

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