Posts Tagged ‘U.S.’

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.

UKRAINE SITUATION ‘MORE COMBUSTIBLE THAN EVER’, ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENERAL WARNS SECURITY COUNCIL, CALLING FOR ACTION TO DE-ESCALATE CRISIS

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

developing

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.

See

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 Guarian, 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

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Obama-Putin meeting at G-20 in Mexico (video of joint press conference and transcript of related news conference)—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #55 (June 19)

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Updated September 9, 2012

Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin held a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Baja California, Mexico. A video of the joint press conference (with consecutive interpretation) which they held afterwards is found on YouTube here. The White House video is found here. A transcript of the joint press conference is found here.

The transcript of a separate news conference in which Ben Rhodes (Deputy National Security Advisor to the President for Strategic Communications), Lael Brainard (Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs), and Mike McFaul (U.S. Ambassador to Russia) participated is found here.  The latter makes for interesting reading.

There wasn’t much evidence of substantive agreement on Syria at the meeting, but it sounds like the two leaders had a chance to have a full discussion of how each of them sees the Syria question, within the framework of what Rhodes and McFaul see as a broad U.S.-Russian relationship that is moving in a positive direction.

A number of questions from journalists focused on the body language between the two presidents during their joint news conference, including the fact that they were not looking at each other that much.

The Observer would make two observations. First, after what was undoubtedly a very intense conversation of two hours’s duration, both leaders appeared a bit tense and somewhat tired.

Second, the fact they weren’t in eye contact that much may be partly the result of the fact that they were speaking to each other through interpreters, using consecutive interpretation. In these situations, there is a natural tendency to look at the interpreter as if one were speaking to him, which in a sense is true. (Obama did this, Putin did not.) Only the most skilled of diplomats and others accustomed to using interpreters have mastered the skill of looking at their interlocutor while speaking, and while listening as the other person or his interpreter speaks.

Obama doesn’t seem to have mastered this skill.  He could work on it, and  probably improve his communication with foreign leaders if he makes significant progress.

Putin looked at Obama when he spoke, but without staring.  Putin knows English. Obama was fixing his gaze quite intently on Putin as the latter spoke.  When Obama spoke, he spoke to the interpreter or looked in front of himself, not at Putin.  This produced something of a disconnect with Putin.  There may have been some important cultural differences in the nature of eye contact at play.

Also, Obama gave Putin a friendly little pat on the back as they said goodbye.  This is the president’s style.  How Putin reacted, if at all, is unknown.

It’s difficult to read, but it is also possible that Obama was a bit angry during the course of the press conference.

Still, their body language did not appear to be overtly hostile. At the end of the meeting, you can see a flash of a genuine smile from Putin as they shake hands and discuss future bilateral summits.

UPDATE (September 9, 2012)

For a more expert opinion on Obama’s and Putin’s body language in the press conference, see Dr. G. Jack Brown, “Body Language Success– Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 1889: Vladimir Putin & Barack Obama at the G-20,” June 18, 2012.

Dr. Brown misses the point about the use of interpreters affecting the eye contact of Obama with Putin, presumably due to less experience, but he accurately analyzes the meaning and impact of Obama’s characteristic pat on the arm or back.

See also Jeff Tompson, “Beyond Words–The science and fun of nonverbal communication: Presidents Obama & Putin: Body Language Recap; Lots of nonverbal communication provided by each to decode,” Psychology Today, June 18, 2012.

With repect to progress on the substance of the Syria question, not much was to be seen at their joint press conference or to be read in the transcript of the press conference Rhodes and McFaul led afterwards.

But at least they talked, and listened to each other, and agreed to keep talking. Given Obama’s prior decisions not to consider military intervention in Syria, this was perhaps all that could be reasonably expected at this meeting. In this sense, a non-confrontational meeting may be counted as a success, and may have helped to lay the basis for more constructive meetings in the future. We won’t know until reliable accounts appear of what actually happened in their private meeting.

Obama is obviously trying to frame Syria within the broader context of U.S.-Russian relations in general. That is an intelligent approach.

Whether it is sufficient to halt the civil war in Syria is a separate question.

The Trenchant Observer

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After G-8 “agreement on Syria”, the fighting continues—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #41 (May 23) REVISED

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

G-8 Camp David Final Communique: Statement on Syria

1. We, the Leaders of the Group of Eight, met at Camp David on May 18 and 19, 2012 to address major global economic and political challenges.

31. We remain appalled by the loss of life, humanitarian crisis, and serious and widespread human rights abuses in Syria. The Syrian government and all parties must immediately and fully adhere to commitments to implement the six-point plan of UN and Arab League Joint Special Envoy (JSE) Kofi Annan, including immediately ceasing all violence so as to enable a Syrian-led, inclusive political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system. We support the efforts of JSE Annan and look forward to seeing his evaluation, during his forthcoming report to the UN Security Council, of the prospects for beginning this political transition process in the near-term. Use of force endangering the lives of civilians must cease. We call on the Syrian government to grant safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel to populations in need of assistance in accordance with international law. We welcome the deployment of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, and urge all parties, in particular the Syrian government, to fully cooperate with the mission. We strongly condemn recent terrorist attacks in Syria. We remain deeply concerned about the threat to regional peace and security and humanitarian despair caused by the crisis and remain resolved to consider further UN measures as appropriate.

–Camp David Declaration, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, May 19, 2012.

For quotes from President Obama at the G-8 summit relating to Syria, Russian statements affirming their position had been adopted, and commentary, see

The Trenchant Observer, “Obama clueless on Syria? G-8 endorses UN 6-point peace plan—Obama’s Debacle in Syria—Update #39 (May 21),” May 21, 2012.

Latest New Reports and Opinion

Syrian forces have resumed their attack on Rastan. AFP reports,

Soldiers were trying to overrun Rastan for the second time in 10 days, with shells crashing into the town at the rate of “one a minute” at one stage, according to the Britain-based watchdog.

An activist told AFP that Free Syrian Army fighters were defending Rastan’s entrances but that “regime forces are being strengthened with new deployments,” including from the elite Republican Guard.

“Electricity has been cut off in Rastan, and water tanks have been shelled,” said activist Abu Rawan. “There is also a severe lack of food because the market is closed and we can’t bring food in from nearby villages.”

Hours later, the activist said the army assault eased when a team of UN observers entered Rastan.

“The situation is calm now because the UN monitors have arrived” having heard the shelling, Abu Rawan told AFP, adding, however, “God protect us when they leave.”

On May 14, 23 soldiers were killed in a failed assault on the town, which straddles the main highway linking the capital to the north and where rebels regrouped from the battered city of Homs.

More than 12,600 people have been killed in the bloodshed, nearly 1,500 of them since a UN-backed truce took effect April 12, according to Observatory figures.

–AFP, “Syria assails rebel town, admits sanctions hurting,” The Daily Star, May 23, 2012 (09:52 PM).

On Tuesday, May 22, in al-Busaira, Syrian police forces fired into a crowd of several hundred people who had gathered to meet with the U.N. monitors, as the latter looked on. According to opposition reports, at least two people were killed.

Unter den Augen von UNO-Beobachtern sollen syrische Polizisten in eine Menschenmenge geschossen und zwei Personen getötet haben. Ein Vertreter der Opposition berichtete am Dienstag, in al-Busaira in der ost-syrischen Provinz Deir al-Zor seien Hunderte begeisterte Menschen aus ihren Häusern gestürmt, um die UNO-Beobachter zu begrüßen. “Binnen Minutenfrist gerieten sie ins Feuer”, sagte der Sprecher der überwiegend aus Deserteuren gebildeten Freien Syrischen Armee (FSA). Andere Informanten aus der Opposition sagten, die Regierungstruppen hätten mit Flugabwehrraketen in die Stadt geschossen.

–”Syrien: Bürger vor Augen von UN-Beobachtern getötet?; Syrische Sicherheitskräfte sollen in eine Menschenmenge geschossen haben, die die UNO-Beobachter begrüßen wollte,” Die Presse (Die Presse.com / Wien), 22 Mai 2012.

On Monday, May 21, some 38 people were killed in the fighting in Syria, according to opposition sources. These included 22 soldiers, 11 rebels, and 5 civilians.

“Fast 40 Menschen sterben bei Gefechten; Seit Mitte April herrscht in Syrien Waffenstillstand, doch die Gewalt bricht immer wieder aus: Am Montag wurden erneut viele Menschen getötet, Kriegsgerät soll zerstört worden sein. Uno-Generalsekretär Ban sieht die internationalen Friedensbemühungen an einem “kritischen Punkt”, Der Spiegel, 21 Mai 2012.

For an incisive overview of the current situation, stressing the need for urgent action including potentially military action, see Itamar Rabinovich, “The Anarchy Factor in Syria,” ISN Blog (ETH, Zurich), 23 May 2012.

Analysis

The theoretical U.N. ceasefire “agreed to” as part of the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan was never observed by al-Assad. It seems now that the rebels have resumed their attacks in earnest. Meanwhile, a third element–linked to al-Qaeda–appears to have entered the fray.

The situation is no longer “spinning out of control”. It is out of control. Whether the U.S., Europe and the Arab countries can act quickly enough to stem the tide is an open question.

Judging from the statements at the G-8 summit at Camp David, these key countries are still asleep. Whether there is more than meets the eye, beneath the surface, remains to be seen.

Publicly, the G-8 and NATO are obviously not paying attention and working hard to come up with new solutions. Such solutions would probably involve the credible threat or actual use of military force.

The Trenchant Observer

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Commitments Obama Needs from Brazil

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

President Obama will travel to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador in the next week.

Hopeully his trip to Brazil will be better prepared than his trip to China last fall, which produced few tangible results and may have ended up exarcerbating relationships between the two countries.

Assuming he and his delegation are seriously prepared, Obama should seek to achieve the following objectives:

1. First, he should engage in hard-nosed discussions with Brazil in order to achieve a commitment from Brazil that it will not repeat its free-lancing on the issue of nuclear-proliferation in Iran. Last year Brazil negotiated a three-way deal with Turkey and Iran for the reprocessing of nuclear fuel from Iran, at a precise moment in which their negotiations undercut the negotiations then underway with the Group of 5 + 1.

2. Second, Obama should secure a commitment that any nuclear cooperation agreement betwen Brazil and Iran must be public, transparent, and safeguard the non-proliferation concerns and interests of the IAEA and the international community.

3. Third, Obama should secure a public reaffirmation that Brazil will comply with its 1988 Constitution and the principal international non-proliferation treaties, to which it is a party, and never seek a nuclear weapons capability. Such a reassurance is particularly iimportant in view of some of the statements made by high officials of the previous Lula government, and the fact that Brazil is moving quickly to implement and expand an autonomous nuclear enrichment capability.

4. Obama should seek a commitment from Brazil that it will not seek an expanded Securty Council seat which carries with it the power of the veto, which the current Permanent Members of the Security Council now have.

5. Finally, if and only if Brazil agrees not to seek a Secuirty Council seat which has the power of the veto, Obama should express U.S. support for Brazil to have a permanent seat on an expanded Security Council.

Actually, offering support for Security Council permanent seats on presidential trips abroad is a very poor way to approach the issue of Security Council reform, which if ever achieved will require the approval of its current peranent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Nonetheless, having made the mistake of offfering India support for a permanent seat on the Security Council during his trip to that country, Obama can at least correct part of his error by specifying that his support is for a Secuirty Council seat without a veto.

Given Brazil’s importance in Latin America, the countries of the developing world, and the world as a whole, offering such qualified support would definitely be appropriate.

Brazil is also a fascinating country and democracy, in which signficant reduction in poverty was achieved during Lula’s time in office. Obama’s visit offers an extraordinary opportunity for him to expand his consciousness of the world, and the importance of countries that are significant not because they are failing, but precisely because they are succeeding in the new economy of the 21st century.

The Trenchant Observer

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