Posts Tagged ‘U.S.’

Putin resumes fighting near Mariupol

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

UPDATE–Latest News (August 12, 2015)


Pierre Vaux, “Ukraine’s Cold War Hot as Combat Explodes in the Last 24 Hours,” The Daily Beast, August 12, 2015.

“UKRAINE: EU sieht OSZE-Mission in Gefahr; Ein Brandanschlag auf Fahrzeuge, Mitarbeiter im Kreuzfeuer: OSZE-Beobachter in der Ukraine sind zunehmend bedroht. Die EU spricht von einer Eskalation des Konflikts, ” Die Zeit, 12. August 2015 (04:49 Uhr).

The Donbas puppets of Vladimir Putin are 100% dependent on Russia for their survival. Russian regular troops as well as irregular troops have been in the Ukraine for over a year, and have played a decisive role in key battles with the Ukrainian military. There can be little doubt that the puppets act, and weave and bob, in response to the movements of the wires by which they are suspended. And there can be little doubt that Vladimir Putin is the puppeteer who controls those wires, and who moves the figures attached to them.

Now Putin and his puppets have resumed fighting near Mariupol, the strategic port city that controls the path and potential land bridge to the Crimea, which under international law remains sovereign territory of the Ukraine under Russian military occupation.

At the same time, four OSCE vehicles were set on fire in Donetzk in front of the observers’ hotel and across the street from the building that serves as the headquarters of the leader of the local parliament, Andrei Purgin.

The tactic is right out of the playbook in the Syrian conflict, when Bashar al-Assad was presumably responsible for the crowds that harrassed and the shootings at U.N. observers which ultimately led first to their withdrawal to their hotel, then the replacement of their commander who sought to keep them safe, and finally their withdrawal from Syria. Russia, as al-Assad’s strongest backer, was intimately familiar with these events.

The strategy is simple: If you don’t want international observers reporting on events, attack them, fire on them, until their mission becomes so dangerous to the individual observers that it must be stopped.


Pilar Bonet (Moscú), “La escalada bélica en Ucrania amenaza los pactos de Minsk; La situación en el frente entre las tropas de Kiev y los insurgentes de Donetsk se deteriora, El Pais, 10 de Agosto 2015 (22:38 CEST).

“Trotz Waffenruhe: Ukraine meldet heftige Kämpfe nahe Mariupol; Seit Februar gilt in der Ukraine eine Waffenruhe, eingehalten wird sie selten: Die prorussischen Rebellen sollen heftige Angriffe gegen Regierungstruppen gestartet haben. Kiew meldet einen erfolgreichen Gegenschlag,” Der Spiegel, 10. August 2015 (19;25 Uhr).

NATO and the West need to keep a watchful eye on developments around Mariupol, and with the EU be prepared to act if Putin tries to take the city.

In the meantime, NATO and the U.S. should proceed with quickly supplying more lethal weapons and training to the Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

Greek debt and the stategy of Europe, NATO, and the U.S. to “contain” the militarism and aggression of Russia

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

UPDATE II July 12, 2015, 6:00 p.m. EDT)

The ghost of Versailles hangs over the Greek debt negotiations in Brussels this evening.

In 1919, with Germany defeated after World War I, the delegates to the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 imposed draconian reparations requirements on a prostate Germany. This became known as the “Dolchstoss” or knife in the back which helped propel Adolf Hitler to power 14 years later, in 1933.

The hardline governments engaged in the final debt package negotiations with Greece, led by Germany, are seeking to impose humiliating conditions on Greece even after Alexis Tsipras met most of their previous demands on Thursday night.

In doing so, they are repeating the same mistake they made the week the negotiations broke down and Tsipras called a snap referendum on July 5, by imposing new and harsher conditions.

By their actions they are poisoning the future of Greek politics and Greece’s relations with the Euro Zone and even the EU itself.

There may still be time for the heads of state meeting tonight in Brussels to pull back from the edge, show magnaminity, and back off from the program of extreme humiliation which the finance ministers seem to support.

Foreign ministries should be involved in these decisions. Frank-Walter Steinmeier should be at Angela Merkel’s side, and not just Wolfgang Schäuble.

A constructive path forward must be found, putting aside any personal desires for vengeance or vindication, or to teach Tsipras a lesson.

If the EU leaders fail, Vladimir Putin and other extremists will reap the benefits of decisions that are disastrous for Europe and the West in geopolitical terms.

The Trenchant Observer

UPDATE (July 12, 2:30 p.m. EDT)

Hardliners and technocrats appear to have dominated the EU finance ministers’ discussions on whether to accept Tsipras’ Thursday night proposal as a basis for formal negotiations.

Now only the Eurozone heads of government and heads of state can save Greece from an exit from the Euro (“Grexit”).


(1) Kevin Hagen und Christina Hebel, “+++ Newsblog zur Krise +++: Euro-Minister erwägen Grexit (aber nur in Klammern); Die Eurofinanzminister schreiben in einem Dokument, es gebe die Möglichkeit einer griechischen Euro-Auszeit. Allerdings steht der Absatz nur in Klammern – denn die Gruppe ist sich nicht einig. Alle Entwicklungen im Newsblog, Der Spiegel, 12. Juli 2015.

(2) Draft(?) Statement of the EU finance ministers, July 12, 2015 (16:00 CET).

The conditions are so harsh they seem designed to cause Greece to choke, or have been designed in a matter utterly oblivious of the realities of Greek politics.

For example, to tell Greece it has to adopt a new Code of Civil Procedure within three days is utterly humiliating to Greece, and will generate the opposition of lawyers and others from all parties. No international group or organization can dictate such a measure to a sovereign country.

Unless the heads of government and heads of state intervene forcefully to reject these conditions, with a view to the geostrategic realities in Europe, they will hurl Greece — and themselves — into the abyss.

These decisions require the inputs of foreign ministers, who should be called to Brussels.

Statecraft of a high order is now required.


Original article


Bruce Ackerman, “Germany’s Failure of Vision,” New York Times, July 9, 2015 (Op-Ed).

Today the finance ministers of the Euro Zone met in Brussels to consider whether Greece’s debt proposal sumbitted Thursday evening forms a sufficient basis to permit the opening of formal negotiations for a third Greek bailout program. The meeting adjourned without any decicision, and is to reconvene on Sunday at 11:00 a,m. The leaders of the 19 Euro Zone countries are to meet in the afternoon, and then the heads of government of all 28 EU member states are to meet at 6:00 p.m. to decide on the Greek proposal, and on humanitarian assistance to Greece in the event it is rejected. Such a rejection would in all likelihood cause a de facto Greek exit (or”Grexit”) from the Euro Zone as early as Monday.

Late news reports suggest the finance ministers are split down the middle on whether to agree to the Greek proposal.

Following the European press for the last few weeks, one is struck by the absence of geopolitical and strategic considerations from the debates, which have proceeded as if the question of what to do with the Greek debt question were purely a matter for finance ministers and those involved in European economic matters.

Let us recall that EU sanctions against Russia will have to be renewed in January, 2016, that this can be achieved only with the affirmative vote or acquiescence of all 28 EU member states, and that a very large element of uncertainty as to the Greek vote will be introduced if Greece is forced to exit the Euro Zone leading to a further collapse of its economy.

Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA have embarked on a disastrous course of playing a game of “chicken” with Greece’s creditors in Europe and the IMF. They have dstroyed the trust that is sessential for Europe and Greece to work together to resolve the debt crisis.

They have acted as untrustworthy partners in the Euro Zone. If other countries acted as Greece, neither the Euro Zone nor the EU could function or even continue to exist.

The Tsipras government, even with French technical help, presented a request that was wildly short of what the IMF estimates Greece will need to survive the current crisis.

The Greek government does not appear to be technically very competent.

So, what should Europe do?

First, they must ignore the personal insults, lack of trustworthiness, and incompetence of the Greek officials.

Second, they should follow France’s example of helping the Greeks on a technical level to develop realistic plans for resolving the crisis. This they were doing before the plebiscite. Now they should resume.

Third, they should seek to build a partnership with the Greek people and help the Tsipras government (or the one that follows it) to devise and implement necessary structural reforms, while creating scenarios that give hope to the Greek people that they will return to growth and emerge from the current crisis.

If the Greeks do not cooperate in implementing such an approach, Greece must then be allowed to exit from the Euro Zone, in an orderly fashion.

Right now, above all, Europe’s leaders and the IMF should look at the map of Europe, consider that Russian troops occupy the Crimea and are in the eastern Ukraine, and act decisively to defend the southern flank of Europe.

For they are engaged not only in financial and economic decisions, but also in geopolitical decisions of the highest order.

The Trenchant Observer

International law and the use of military force against groups in Syria

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Preliminary draft – developing

There is considerable confusion over the legality under international law of taking military action against groups and targets in Syria.

This has led some governments participating in the coalition against the so-called Islamic State (or ISIS, ISIL, or Da’eesh) to support military action within Iraq but not within Syria.

It should be helpful to clarify the different legal authorities under international law under which military force may be used in Syria.

These break down into three broad categories:

(1) Action againsr ISIL in Syria may be taken in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter “in the case of an armed attack”. ISIL has launched and is currently engaged in such an armed attack.

If Iraq issues a request for military assistance in repelling that attack, other states may use force that is necessary and proprtional to defending against the attack.

Collective self-defense is a valid justification for U.S. and allied air strikes and land action against ISIL in Syria.

With respect to Kobane, in particular, given the scale of the attack on Iraq and in response to a request from that country for assistance in collective self-defense, Turkey would be justified under international law in sending ground forces into Syria to attack ISIL forces and to repel the attack on that border city.

(2) The second justification for using military force in Syria, whether against ISIL or the Bashar al-Assad regime itself, would be to halt he commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a broad scale, until such time as the U.N. Security Council can take effective action to halt the commission of these crimes.

The justification is somewhat novel under international law, but it is submitted makes eminent good sense if narrowly drafted within the framework of the Security Council’s duty to implement the “responsibility to protect” resolution adopted in 2006.


(1) “The U.N. Charter, International Law, and Legal Justifications for Military Intervention in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #83,” The Trenchant Observer, September 1, 2012.

(2) “Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #24,” The Trenchant Observer, April 8, 2012.

In the case of ISIL, this would be a second legal justification, in addition to that of collective self-defense.

In the case of the al-Assad government, which has not committed an “armed attack” against Iraq, this would constitute the main legal justification for taking military action against Syria.

As set forth in considerable detail in previous articles on the legality of humanitarian intervention in Syria to halt al-Assad’s atrocities, the objective of such military intervention should be to halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad government, under extraordinary circumstances and then only until the Security Council can take effective action.

Whatever objections Russia may have at one time been prepared to make to such an argument, resting on an overly mechanistic interpretation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter, it is hardly now in a position to make in view of its invasions of the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine.

(3) The third category of actions involve taking military action within Syria against jihadist or al-Qaeda related groups which have not been involved in an armed attack against Iraq or, arguably, even the large-scale commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Here, the weakness of the international legal arguments used by the U.S. to justify drone attacks and other uses of force outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan war theater comes fully into view.

The U.S. argument turns essentially on assertions that the war against jihadists is global in nature with the result that the war theater is also global, and that certain interptetations by the U.S. of the laws of war or humanitarian law are (1) valid within the framework of humanitarian law itself; and (2) take precedence over the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political indedendence of any state contained in article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, which is universally recognized as a kind of “super” or mandatory law (jus cogens), from which there can be no derogation.

The legal arguments used to support this third category of military actions within Syria are widely disputed outside the U.S. government, and do not appear to be supported by a wide number and variety of states.

That is why the recent U.S. air attacks on the Khorasan group, an al-Qaeda cell deemed to be particularly dangerous, at the same time the U.S. attacked ISIL targets in Syria, created much confusion, particularly in the absence of a detailed written legal justification for either kind of attack.

What was provided was a letter to the U.N. Security Council justifying the attacks both as collective self-defense and in the case of the attack on the Khorasan group as individual self-defense by the U.S.

The latter justification consisted in the mere statement of a conclusion, and failed to address the three self-defense requirements of immediacy, necessity, and proportionality.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited.

The April 17 Geneva meeting on the Ukraine: Aggressor and appeasers on the road to Munich II

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

As Russia, the U.S., the EU and Ukraine meet on April 17 in Geneva, it is useful to consider previous analysis and the latest commentary from Germany and the United States.

Essentially, Russia has already committed an “armed attack” against the eastern Ukraine by sending in forces and agents under its control who have conducted armed takeovers of government buildings in a number of cities, particularly in the Donetsk region. This is a flagrant violation of the prohibition against the threat or use of force contained in the bedrock principle of the U.N. Charter, expressed in Article 2 paragraph 4. It is no exaggeration to state that the entire postwar international military and security order rests on observance of this principle, and its vigorous defense whenever it is violated.

This is the second major Russian violation of the principle in the Ukraine, following the invasion of the Crimea and its annexation in March.

A third, ongoing violation of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter consists in massing 40,000 combat-rady troops on the border with Ukraine, threatening invasion if the Kremlin’s conditions are not met.

The West and the international community have failed to respond with really serious economic sanctions, and as we write seem prepared to accept the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea. Leaders who support the actions that have led to this state of affairs have not thought matters through.

There is still one sanction whose logical basis is absolutely clear, and which the U.S. and the EU should still impose now:

A total ban on financial transactions and doing business with any entity in the Crimea, or with any non-Crimean company or entity engaged in financial tranansactions or doing business with such Crimean companies or entities. This should be a permanent sanction, to be lifted only when the annexation has been undone and the situation returned to the status quo ante.

The sad truth is that the West is now led by a generation of leaders who have little memory of Nazi Germany’s and the Soviet Union’s depredations in the 20th century. They have succumbed to a deeply-rooted pacifism and readiness to accept appeasement in response to aggression.

On April 17, they will sit down with the aggressor to essentially beg the aggressor to halt its offensive activities in the eastern Ukraine, while there seems to be little evidence that they will demand a return of the Crimea to the Ukriane and a withdrawal of Russian forces to the level at which they were in the status quo ante, before the invasion.

These Western leaders are unaccustomed to dealing with diplomats and presidents like Lavrov and Putin who repeatedly and shamefacedly tell blatant lies, orchestrate propaganda campaigns full of lies aimed at inciting civil strife and rebellion in the Ukraine, and launch Russian aggression by “stealth” with “little green men”, who are heavily armed and are in fact either Russian soldiers or directed and controlled by Russian soldiers, or both.

They couldn’t believe the true evil and atrocities they saw in Syria, involving the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale–with active Russian support, and were unable to formulate actions that would do anything to stop them. Russia learned from this experience.

There is no more reason to expect any progress in Geneva on April 17 than there was to expect any progress at the Geneva II conference on Syria last June, where all hopes proved to be illusory.

The pacifist leaders of the West who are prepared to accept the annexation of the Crimea and the takeover of regions of the Eastern Ukriane by Soviet military aggression, have already traveled well down the road to total appeasement of Putin and the Russian bear.

What the world will look like after that, nobody knows.

For background, see the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

(1) Russia threatens further aggression against the Ukraine: The response of the West has been a bad joke; Putin must be stopped, April 8, 2014.

(2) The language of actions: Russia, the Ukraine, and the response of the West
April 10, 2014.

(3) Munich II: The meeting in Geneva between the U.S., the EU, the Ukraine and Russia, April 11, 2014.

(4) Kiev caves in to Russian military threats, offering far-reaching concessions in eastern Ukraine; Pacifism and appeasement grip Wasington and Europe; First signs of Russian military intervention appear, as troops on border are poised to strike, April 12, 2014.

(5) Ukraine: U.N. Security Council meeting, latest news reports, and opinion (with link to April 13 Security Council meeting webcast), April 13, 2014. Excerpts:

We should not be fooled by the faux outrage of Russia and its calling of an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council today, Sunday, April 13.

Everyone knows who the fox in the chicken coop is, and no one is fooled by the fox’s loud complaints that it is being attacked by the chickens.

While the statements made tonight in the Security Council were informative, they should not distract our attention from what is taking place on the ground, and the actions we need to take to effectively counter ongoing Russian aggression.

For these actions the United States should immediately impose broad and deep sanctions against Russia itself, not merely 38 targeted individuals and two companies (a Russian bank, and the seized gas company of the Crimea). As soon as they can reach agreement, the 28 states of the EU should adopt similar sanctions.

A good start would be an immediate ban on all financial transactions involving the Crimea or companies doing business in the Crimea, and all financial transactions or doing buiness with any companies that are engaged in such activities.

In the forthcoming meeting in Geneva on April 17 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the U.S., the EU, and the Ukraine should begin the discussions with an absolute demand for Russia to undo the annexation of the Crimea and to return the situation to the status quo ante existing prior to the Russian invasion.

Latest Commentary from Germany and the United States

(1) Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), “Moskau als Choreograf der Krise: Putins Druck auf die Ukraine ist übermächtig,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 16. April 2014.

Es gibt nur einen Weg, eine Katastrophe in der Ukraine abzuwenden: Russlands Präsident Putin muss die Übergriffe seiner Spezialeinheiten und Agenten stoppen und den militärischen Druck von der Grenze nehmen. Die Indizien für den subversiven Einfluss Moskaus sind erdrückend. Die Ukraine soll keine Chance haben.

(2) Florian Eder (Straßburg), “Schwerwiegendste Krise in Europa seit 1945; Moskau, Kiew, die EU und die USA verhandeln am Donnerstag in Genf über eine friedliche Lösung der Ukraine-Krise; Russland rüstet propagandistisch weiter auf; Die Atmosphäre ist frostig,” Die Welt 16. April 2014.

(3) Olexander Motsyk, “Ukraine deserves international support in stopping Russian aggression, Washington Post, April 16, 2014 (5:23 p.m.). Motsyk is Ukraineś Ambassador to the U.S.

(4) David Ignatius, “The cost of Putin’s adventurism in Ukraine, Washington Post, April 15, 2014.

Ignatius reports on the current thinking of U.S. Analyst in Chief, Professor Barack Obama.

(5) Daniel Henninger, “Cold War 2.0, the Videogame: Obama’s uninterest in Ukraine forgets history,” Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2014 (7:13 p.m. ET).

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Ukraine: U.N. Security Council meeting, latest news reports, and opinion (with link to April 13 Security Council meeting webcast)

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Check back for updates

We should not be fooled by the faux outrage of Russia and its calling of an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council today, Sunday, April 13.

Everyone knows who the fox in the chicken coop is, and no one is fooled by the fox’s loud complaints that it is being attacked by the chickens.

While the statements made tonight in the Security Council were informative, they should not distract our attention from what is taking place on the ground, and the actions we need to take to effectively counter ongoing Russian aggression.

Latest News Reports

For news on the latest devopments in and relating to the Ukraine, see:

(1) U.N.Security Council Meeting on the Situation in the Ukraine, U.N. News Centre, Webcast, April 13, 2014. The video of the webcast is found here.

U.N. Security Council Press Release, 7154th Meeting, u.N. Doc. SC/11351, April 13, 2013.


The press release, which summarizes the meeting including the comments of different delegations, if found here (English).

(2) News Reports and Opinion

Agencias/Donetsk/Moscú, “Kiev lanza una operación antiterrorista a gran escala para desalojar a los rebeldes; El presidente ucranio exige a los prorrusos que se rindan antes de las ocho de la mañana del lunes; Moscú endosa a Occidente la responsabilidad de evitar una guerra civil en el país,” El Pais, 13 Abril 2014 (20:25 CET).

Pilar Bonet (Slaviansk), “Kiev moviliza al Ejército para aplastar la rebelión prorrusa en el este; El presidente ucranio exige a los rebeldes que se rindan antes de las ocho de la mañana del lunes; “Depende de Occidente evitar una guerra civil en el país”, dice el Ministerio de Exteriores ruso,” El Pais, 13 Abril 2014 (22:13 CET).

Matthew Kaminski (Opinion), “The West Leaves Ukraine to Putin; As Russian special forces invade the country’s east, Kiev’s leaders feel betrayed by the EU and America, Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2014 (7:00 p.m. ET).

Commentary by The Observer

The U.S. and Europe continue to issue threats to Russia of further sanctions if it doesn’t stop its bad behavior.

These threats, which have not been backed by meaningful actions–real, hard-hitting sanctions, have had no effect on Russian leaders, and in fact seem to goad them on to further bad deeds, precisely because they are viewed as signs of weakness, as empty threats that will not be backed up, like Barck Obama’s red line on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Washington is deliberating and speaking to itself, but also to Europe, NATO and Russia, in a language of fine intellectual distinctions and reasoned discourse. As in Syria, the strongest actions it is taking amount to little more than words.

Meanwhile, Russia is speaking the language of military force and actions on the ground.

Threats of future sanctions will only gain credibility if heavy sanctions are imposed, now, for Russia’s past and on-going behavior.

The specific actions that should be heavily sanctioned, today, are:

1) Russian military aggression, invasion and takeover of the Crimea, territory of the sovereign state of Ukraine;

2) Russian annexation of the Crimea;

2) Russian infiltration of “black” military forces and other agents into the eastern Ukraine, where they have provoked and indeed directly instigated civil strife including the armed takeover of government buildings; and

4) Russia’s ongoing threat of the further use of force against the Ukraine, having mobilized 40,000-80,000 troops for an invasion, with some 40,000 poised on the border ready for an immediate strike.

For these actions the United States should immediately impose broad and deep sanctions against Russia itself, not merely 38 targeted individuals and two companies (a Russian bank, and the seized gas company of the Crimea). As soon as they can reach agreement, the 28 states of the EU should adopt similar sanctions.

A good start would be an immediate ban on all financial transactions involving the Crimea or companies doing business in the Crimea, and all financial transactions or doing buiness with any companies that are engaged in such activities.

In the forthcoming meeting in Geneva on April 17 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the U.S., the EU, and the Ukraine should begin the discussions with an absolute demand for Russia to undo the annexation of the Ukraine and to return the situation to the status quo ante existing prior to the Russian invasion.

Second, the U.S. and the EU should inform Russia of the stiff sanctions it will have put into effect this week in response to the acts of aggression described above.

Third, the U.S. and the EU should announce the curtailment of high-level discussions with Russia pending the withdrawal of Russian forces from the border and Russian “covert” intervention in the eastern Ukraine. Instead, the West should focus on developing and implementing actions that respond to and are aimed at halting and undoing the effects of Russian aggression.

Are the leaders of the West up to these tasks?

We shall see.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

U.S. should revoke MFN status and impose sanctions on Putin and Moscow if Russia intervenes in Ukraine

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


There are troubling signs that Vladimir Putin may order a military intervention in Ukraine. The propaganda from Moscow is so shrill and Putin’s understanding of Russia’s long term interests so dim, that it is actually conceivable that he would iintervene militarily in Ukraine.

Should he do so, his actions would sow Ukrainian enmity for generations.

The civilized world, including the European Union and the United States, could not let any such military intervention go unpunished. European and American sanctions against Russia would be likely to ensue quickly.

In the 21st century, authoritarian governments betting that steel and blood will open the path to the future are likely to be surprised by the power of ideas of freedom harnassed to the computing and networking power of peer-based communities, in which knowledge of events can no longer be suppressed, and leaks in electronic curtains inevitably grow in exponential fashion.

Military intervention in the Ukraine is the one thing Putin could do that could greatly hasten the speed with which the Maidan comes to Red Square.

Yet as Russian policies in Syria amply demonstrate, Putin is fully capable of making extraordinarily self-defeating decisions and policies. Russia’s “brand” is already severely tarnished by Syria. If Russia intervenes in Ukraine, the positive memories and gains in international prestige from the Sochi Winter Olympic Games could easily be replaced by memories of Stalin’s crimes, of Soviet tanks in East Germany in 1953, in Budapest in 1956, in Prague in 1968, in Kabul in 1980, and of Russian intervention in Georgia in 2008.

The results of Putin’s miscalculation in Syria is clear. From Syria, the new cradle of religious warriors, Putin and Russia will feel the “blowback” and baleful consequences of their support for al-Assad for years to come, in the Caucasus and beyond.

If Putin miscalculates again, if the Russians intervene in Ukraine, they can forget any illusions they might have had about being seen as a “normal” country by the civilized world. Where they once might have moved toward closer ties with Europe, they would now be seen as authoritarians antagonistic to European values and ideals.

They can also forget their recently-acquired MFN status with the U.S., and expect trade sanctions that may last even longer than did the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

The Trenchant Observer

Karzai moves to get U.S. to guarantee his hold on power after 2014 elections

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Hamid Karzai, the green-caped magician, has for over 12 years successfully entangled the U.S., ISAF countries, and other international actors in a continuing saga of graft and corruption, in a narco-state run by criminal enterprises with the active participation of government officials, and with the outsiders financing the whole enterprise and defending it with the blood of their soldiers. Time and time again these corrupt criminal enterprises, financed by U.S. taxpayers among others, have undermined any chances for democratic forces to take root in Afghanistan.

The major risk points for the warlords who run Afghanistan’s “kleptocracy” are the periodic elections to the national assembly and for the presidency that he Constitution requires to be held.

In 2009 Karzai emerged victorious from the massive electoral fraud of the first round election, with the help of the U.S. who apparently persuaded Abdullah Abdullah, who would have faced Karzai in a second-round run-off, to withdraw from the race.

Now Karzai has hit upon the brilliant scheme of delaying signature of the status-of-forces agreement with the U.S. and other countries until after the upcoming presidential elections to be held on April 5, 2014. By this stroke of genius, if the West allows it to stand, Karzai will have guaranteed the U.S. and other Western countries’ acquiescence in whatever level of fraud may be required to ensure his hand-picked successor is elected.


Steve Kerry, “Kerry Opposes Afghan Delay on Security Deal,” New York Times, November 22, 2013.

Azam Ahmed, “Karzai Says He’ll Wait to Sign Security Pact With U.S. Until Next Year,” New York Times, November 21, 2013.

If they complain about fraud, no status-of-forces agreement will enter into effect. Consequently, Karzai will have enormous leverage.

Because it believes a contingent of U.S. and other ISAF forces should remain, through 2024, the U.S. will in effect become the guarantor of Karzai’s next round of fraudulent elections.

Absolutely brilliant.

Among tHe alternative scenarios would be to dump Karzai and push really hard for free and fair elections in April, which could return a leader not beholden to or a puppet of Karzai. Someone like Abdullah Abdullah, who made eminent good sense and spoke like a real democrat during the 2009 campaign. This would require overcoming resistance from the CIA, which has had many high government officials in Afghanistan on its payroll, and which (it would not be surprising to learn some day) may have or have had had a similar relation with Karzai himself at some point in the past.

Another alternative would be for the U.S. Congress to immediately pass a law providing that no U.S. funds can be spent in Afghanistan after January 1, 2015 if the status of forces agreement does not come into force by January 1, 2014.

But, in the end, the American people will ask more fundamental questions, such as why U.S. taxpayers should pay one more cent, or their soldiers expend one more drop of blood, to keep Karzai and his cronies in power in “Corrupt-istan” (in Dexter Filkins’ memorable phrase).

Why not rebuild Detroit instead?

Why not, in fact, initiate a rapid withdrawal of all U.S. and ISAF forces from Afghanistan beginning January 1, 2014, regardless of what ruse or ploy the green-caped magician comes up with next?

These are some of the questions the American people will be asking.

The Trenchant Observer

Iran, Syria, and the nuclear question

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

(Developing story)

Iran is within reach of achieving an expansion of its influence through solidifying an arc of Shia states or Shia-led states reaching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterrean Sea. Iran, Iraq, Syria under Alawite rule, and a Lebanese state where Hezbollah is the largest party, has its own well-trained and well-armed militia and blocking or veto power over the actions of the government, represent a formidable challenge to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which have significant Shia populations subject to the pull of Iranian influence.

Despite the obvious benefit of removing chemical weapons from Syria and greatly resducing the chances they might fall into the wrong hands, the chemical weapons deal does not signal an advance for U.S. interests in the region, for it leaves al-Assad in power and increasingly dependent on Iranian economic and military support (including troops and commanders), with Hezbollah providing battle-hardened troops from Lebanon to support al-Assad militarily, particularly in decisive battles.

Proponents of a much-touted potential nuclear deal with Iran need to keep these broader considerations in mind. A nuclear deal that doesn’t address the Syrian question or that leaves Iranian nuclear weapons break-out capabilities intact, could prove to be an illusory achievement. In particular, an accord that would allow work on the Awak heavy water reactor to continue during an initial six-month “freeze” on Iran’s nuclear program is viewed by experts as allowing Iran to continue its advance toward achieving a nuclear weapons capability while sanctions are loosened.

Moreover, we must ask what made Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei suddenly become willing to settle the nuclear issue with the group of P5+1, immediately following Obama’s military back-down on Syria and what must have appeared in Tehran as lack of resolve to use military power.

For recent commentary, see:

(1) Jackson Diehl, “John Kerry’s Middle East dream world,” Washinton Post, November 10, 2013.

(2) Raniah Salloum, “Teherans Mann für Syrien: Irans gefährlichster General,” Der Spiegel, 10 November 2013 (17:34 Uhr).

Er ist Teherans Mann für heikle Missionen im Ausland: Kassim Soleimani, Chef der Eliteeinheit al-Kuds. In Afghanistan und im Irak hat er den Amerikanern bereits schwer zu schaffen gemacht. Jetzt soll er Irans Einfluss in Syrien retten.

(3) Julian Borger, “Iran nuclear programme deal in danger of unravelling; US negotiator leaves talks to reassure Israeli prime minister after France sinks bid to seal temporary agreement,” The Guardian, November 10, 2013.

(4) Julian Borger, “Last-minute rethink stalled deal on nuclear Iran; Details have emerged of how talks with Tehran in Geneva broke up at 11th hour after France and US took a robust stance,” The Guardian, November 11, 2013 (13.06 EST).

The Trenchant Observer

Israel attacks Sudan in flagrant violation of international law; U.S. does nothing

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

(Developing story)

Israel has bombed a munitions factory in Sudan, in flagrant violation of international law, and the United States is silent. Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter sets forth the most important rule of international law, as follows,

(insert text)

Article 51 of the U.N. Charter establishes,

(insert text)

The International Court of Justice has confirmed, in the case of Nicaragua v. the United States (1986), that the supply of weapons, absent direction and control, does not constitute an “armed attack” justifying the use of of force in exercise of the right of self defense.

The attack follows Mitt Romney’s assertion that America will always have Israel’s back, and won’t allow daylight to pass between Israel and the U.S. and their positions.

There is no need to be cute regarding the fact that Israel was the author of the attack. Among the countries that had a possiblle motive for the attack, only Israel (or the U.S.) has the ability to block out communications an hour before the attack and then to hit a target with pinpoint accuracy. The visit of the emir of Qatar to Hamas-controlled Gaza days before the attack suggests a possible motive. In any event, Israeli officials speaking on background were pretty clear in intimating that Israel was responsible for the bombing, which the Israeli government has not denied.

The failure of the international community to respond to this “stealth attack” will encourage Israel and other counties to feel as if they can use force against other countries with impunity.

The attack fits within a pattern by which the U.S. has used force against “the territorial intefrity and political independence” of other states through its drone attacks in countries far-removed from the Afghanistan war theater, under secret conditions and a vague claim that the attacks are justified as self-defense. This claim is based on an international law argument that would never withstand scrutiny by independent international lawyers or tribunals outside the United States.

The attack on Sudan must be viewed as a case of testing the waters to gage potential reactions to a future attack on Iran, which both Israel and the United States are threatening to carry out if Iran does not abandon or limit by agreement its uranium recycling progam.

If the world does not react to the Sudan attack, the road will be open for an attack on Iran.

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.