Posts Tagged ‘war crimes’

We are a bunch of curious people, that’s for sure, who care about the commission of evil in this world

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

We are a bunch of curious people, that’s for sure. We are that small minority, minuscule perhaps, who follow foreign policy and world events in great detail, day-in and day-out, with passion.

Where does that interest in other countries and people who live in foreign lands come from? A family relation or family origin, perhaps. Maybe we knew or know someone from a foreign country.

For some reason, whatever it might be, we care. We care about those people in foreign countries who we may not even know. Why?

Something must have happened in the neural circuits of our brains, or in the spiritual circuits of our souls. Maybe we took some religious or moral belief seriously, all too seriously, so that it opened up our hearts to what happened to others, or what was done to them, in these far-off places. Somehow, our defenses against feeling their pain and horror became breached.

This seems to be true for many of us. For whatever reason, we have opened ourselves up to feel the pain and suffering of the world. Perhaps somewhere in our brief journey through this life we saw evil, or were touched by evil–real evil.

We are that very curious group of people who care, at an emotional, spiritual and moral level, about the evil that is done to others in this world, through torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity, for example.

A Russian, Fyodor Dostoevsky, once wrote,

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness …
Crime and Punishment

Maybe he was right. But one need not be a great woman or a great man to be open to the pain of others in far-away lands. Nor need the feeling of sadness become dominant in one’s thinking and behavior.

For us, this curious bunch of people who follow world events, with passion and empathy, with “Mitgefühl or “Mitleid”, as a German might say, this curious group of people who care about others for reasons “de l’humanité”, as a Frenchman might say, or “por la humanidad” as a Spaniard might say, what happens in Syria matters.

We care. We care about the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, about the murder with chemical weapons by al-Assad of 1400 human beings in Ghouta, on August 21, 2013.

But in America, our leaders do not care, nor apparently do our countrymen, or enough of them. Not the way we do. Maybe nothing happened in the neural circuits of their brains, or in the spiritual circuits of their souls, like it did to us. Maybe they never had a genuine friend from an Arab-speaking country, an Arab-speaking friend. Maybe they can’t really see Syrian Arabs as human beings like us, the way we do.

All I know is that humanity has come to a terrible place, when leaders and peoples will not do what is required to halt the commission of evil on a massive scale.

Or even consider revoking most-favored-nation treatment for Russia, who stands strong in defense of, and in complicity with, the mass murderer and his crimes.

The Trenchant Observer

Commentary on Syria and the response of the West

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Latest News Reports and Commentary

Aus Deutschland

(1) Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), Obama spürt die Kraft der zwei Mahlsteine, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7. September 2013 (9:34 Uhr).

Die Völkergemeinschaft hat sich nach dem G-20-Gipfel in Sankt Petersburg ein erschreckendes Zeugnis ihrer Kraflosigkeit ausgestellt. Um Obama wird es dabei immer einsamer: Putin bleibt stur und auch zu Hause schlägt dem US-Präsidenten Widerstand entgegen. Dabei könnte ein Luftschlag zu einer Wende im Bürgerkrieg führen.

Über den Autor, die Redaktion schreibt das Folgendes:

Stefan Kornelius leitet seit 2000 das außenpolitische Ressort der Süddeutschen Zeitung. Zuvor arbeitete er als stellvertretender Leiter des Berliner Büros und berichtete während der Clinton-Präsidentschaft als Korrespondent aus Washington. Von 1991 bis 1996 war Kornelius als Korrespondent im Bonner Bundesbüro der SZ für die Berichterstattung über Verteidigung und sicherheitspolitische Themen sowie über die CDU zuständig. Kornelius absolvierte die Henri-Nannen-Journalistenschule und studierte an der Universität Bonn und der London School of Economics. Er ist Mitbegründer der Zeitschrift Medium Magazin./blockquote>

(2) Bernd Ulrich (Kommentar), “Syrien: Der Tiefpunkt von Merkels Kanzlerschaft; Ein ungeheurer Vorgang: Als einzige europäische Regierungschefin hat Merkel auf dem G-20-Gipfel Obama die Unterstützung seiner Syrien-Strategie verweigert,” Die Zeit, 6. September 2013 (21:44 Uhr).

Der scharfsinniger Beobachter
(The Trenchant Observer)

Fine intellectual distinctions involving the use of force are likely to fail in Syria

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Developing story

News reports suggest President Obama is tailoring military action against Syria to achieve the goal of deterring Bashar al-Assad from ever using chemical weapons again in the future, following what the Americans, the British and the French view as their certain use by al-Assad’s forces last week.

This strategy is flawed, for several reasons.

First, it seeks to establish a false hierarchy of legal prohibitions, according to which the use of chemical weapons justifies a military response but the widespread commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian people does not.

No such distinction or hierarchy of norms and legal justifications exists under international law.

Moreover, the very attempt to draw such a distinction tends to establish a “safe harbor” for despotic regimes to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity without fear of military reaction by the civilized nations of the world, so long as they do not use chemical weapons. For this reason, such a strategy would represent an extremely bad precedent.

Second, the illusion that such fine distinctions will deter future behavior is based on what is known as “the rational actor fallacy”, the assumption that the army and security forces of Syria will respond to the dictates of a single rational mind as outside factors change the calculus of costs and benefits in that unitary mind. This assumption is highly dubious even now, and is likely to become even weaker should the Syrian state move toward collapse or implosion in the future.

Third, such a military strategy does not solve the problem of the large number of chemical weapons that exist in Syria, and the risks of their falling into the hands of al-Qaeda affiliates or other terrorist groups, including Hezbollah.

Finally, such a limited set of strategic objectives is not likely to bring al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity to a halt, or to bring those responsible for the commission of such crimes to justice.

One is reminded of President Obama’s drawing the distinction between “degrading” the Taliban, as opposed to achieving victory over the Taliban, in Afghanistan. In the real world, such fine intellectual distinctions tend to get lost.

What is needed in Syria is military action to bring to a halt the commission of all war crimes and crimes against humanity, not merely those committed with chemical weapons.

What is at stake goes far beyond the American president enforcing his own arbitrary “red line”. It involves whether the civilized nations of the world will finally act effectively to safeguard their most fundamental values–the prohibitions against war crimes and crimes against humanity, codified in the Nuremberg Principles (1950) and in the Statute of Rome of the International Criminal Court.

If not now, when?

The Trenchant Observer

For previous articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria Page, or click here.

New strategy and accompanying military action needed in Syria; Justification under International Law

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

President Barack Obama’s strategy for dealing with Syria has demonstrably failed.

That strategy consisted mainly in looking the other way, providing fitful and ineffectual covert support, and actively blocking the efforts of others to mount some form of military action that might have brought the widespread commission by the al-Assad regime of war crimes and crimes against humanity to a halt. These have now culminated in the use of chemical weapons by al-Assad on a large scale against his own people.

The covert action has had minimal results, involving coordination of the supply of arms by Qatar and Saudi Arabia to the insurgents, apparently with the assistance of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The results of this policy, as long predicted here and by knowledgeable experts, has been a brutal civil war in Syria whose death toll now exceeds 100,000, according to the latest U.N. update.  However, the number is  growing by hundreds if not thousands every week, and likely to be much higher than even this appalling number.

Military action to stop the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime in Syria has been needed for a long time, but now must be undertaken by the West and allied Arab countries in order to avoid an exploding regional conflict between Shi’a and Sunni militias and regimes, on the one hand, and to prevent Syria from becoming the first chemical weapons battleground since the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), if not since World War I, with the concomitant acquisition of chemical WMD by al-Qaeda affiliated and other terrorists groups, on the other.

The options available to the West and the Arab states, following two and a half years of dithering and blocking actions by the Obama administration, are not enviable.

Nonetheless, what is needed is a military and diplomatic strategy that will produce results and outcomes that safeguard the vital interests of the West, the Arab countries, and other civilized nations in the world.

Before considering that strategy, it will be useful to highlight mistakes that have been made and which must not be repeated.

First, the illusion of a negotiated agreement with Bashar al-Assad should be discarded at the outset. Al-Assad has not kept a single agreement with the international community, from the Arab League peace plan of November 2, 2011, to the agreements reached with Kofi Annan regarding the cessation of hostilities in the first half of 2012. Moreover, al-Assad has proven, time and time again, that he is a master of playing off different countries one against the other, with promises of this or that, or negotiations on this or that to get his approval, all coming to naught.

The lesson is clear: The new strategy should not seek al-Assad’s agreement to any kind of peace agreement short of an agreement to hand administration of the country over to a NATO or United Nations Authority under the protection of a NATO-led or United Nations Peacekeeping Force, in a manner similar to the establishment of IFOR under the agreements reached with Slobodan Milosovich of Serbia and the leaders of Bosnia and Croatia by Richard Holbrooke and the United States in Dayton, Ohio on November 21, 1995.

Second, with over a year and a half of experience with the Russians following their and the Chinese veto of a mild U.N. Resolution on February 4, 2012, the West and the Arab states should not waste their efforts on negotiating anything with the Russians in the Security Council which does not include:

1) the immediate authorization of the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria; and

2) immediate steps for the implementation of a binding cease-fire in Syria,  which is obligatory on Syria with or without its consent under the terms of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.

The use of military force should be aimed at securing these objectives, not the agreement of al-Assad to this or that proposal. Above all, no negotiation of the final political and military arrangements should be undertaken before a cease-fire takes effect. The disastrous precedent of Kofi Annan and the U.N. seeking to negotiate elements of the outcome with al-Assad in exchange for his cessation of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity should not be repeated. Ever.

The military campaign against al-Assad’s government and its ongoing atrocities should be pressed until the commission of these crimes ceases, and a NATO-led or U.N. force and accompanying International Authority for Syria are established and put in place.

The military actions required to achieve the above strategic objectives should be publicly justified under international law, along the lines suggested here in earlier articles, as temporary measures of protection undertaken to protect the population of Syria against the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity and their effects. The justification should be very narrowly tailored to the facts of the Syrian case, as suggested previously here.

On justifications under international law for military intervention in Syria, see the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

Syrian Options: The White House’s sophomoric understanding of International Law, June 14, 2013.

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

Continuing massacres in Syria, at Daraya and elsewhere; legal justification for military intervention — Obama’s Debacle in Syria —Update #78 (August 26), August 26, 2012

REPRISE: Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria— Update #68 (July 25), July 25, 2012

Military Intervention to establish “no-kill zones” and humanitarian corridors—Syria Update #9 (February 25), February 24, 2012

Military action without clear strategic objectives will not be effective. The sooner the West comes to grip with these harsh realities, the better the outcome will be.

When a strategy has failed, spectacularly, the most important thing is that it not be pursued further, and that it be abandoned as an approach to the solution of the conflict.

Military action is now urgently required. But it should be undertaken as a means for securing the goals of an effective strategy, not just to satisfy the demands of the press or other countries to take some action in response to the massacre of Syrian citizens by the use of chemical weapons on a large scale.

The Trenchant Observer

For previous articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria Page, or click here.

REPRISE: Hommage à Homs (actualisé / updated)

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

BEIRUT: Intense fighting in the central Syrian city of Homs has left 60 to 70 percent of a besieged rebel-held district damaged, destroyed or uninhabitable, activists said on Sunday.

The estimate from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights came nine days into an all-out army assault on the rebel-held Khaldiyeh and Old City neighbourhoods, which have been under siege for more than a year.

On Sunday, regime forces subjected insurgent areas of the city to fierce shelling, said the Observatory.

“Sixty to 70 percent of buildings in Khaldiyeh are either totally destroyed, partially destroyed, or unsuitable for habitation,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Homs is Syria’s third-largest city, and tens of thousands of its residents have fled the fighting.

On Sunday, government troops used mortars, rocket fire and heavy artillery to target rebel areas in the city, the Britain-based Observatory said.

On the edges of Khaldiyeh, fresh clashes broke out between rebels and troops and pro-regime militiamen, it added.

According to the United Nations, some 2,500 to 4,000 people are trapped in the besieged areas.

In Damascus, regime warplanes targeted Jubar in the east of the capital, while tanks hit Qaboon in the northeast, said the Observatory.

–AFP, “Two thirds of Syria’s Homs rebel area destroyed: activists, The Daily Star (Beirut), July 7, 2013 (6:01 PM).

The destruction of Hom’s continues.

With the world’s attention turned to the rapid and undeniably enthralling events in Egypt at the moment, Syria’s battlefields are being dangerously neglected by the media and those supposed friends of the revolution, which is allowing the regime to up the scale and intensity of its massacres across the country.

The fierceness of fighting in Syria has reached unprecedented levels. At the moment it is focused in the central city of Homs, the heartbeat of the revolution, which has been held by the rebels for two years. From the air and on the ground, the regime is trying with all its might to wrest back control of the city, capital of a strategically located province.

This week government forces also destroyed the city’s official records building, another apparent attempt to wipe out the city and its history.

The hypocrisy of the international community at this moment seems to know no limits. Aside from the loss of life on the ground, once things calm down in Egypt, and people again look to Syria, the superpowers may realize they have blood on their hands.

–Editorial, The Daily Star (Beirut), July 6, 2013.


REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III”
25 Février 2012

First published on February 25, 2012
REPRISE published on June 19,2012


Voir / See

BEYROUTH (Reuters) – L’opposition syrienne a accusé mardi l’armée gouvernementale d’intensifier ses bombardements sur les quartiers résidentiels de Homs et les autorités de Damas ont affirmé que les rebelles empêchaient l’évacuation de la population civile de cette ville du centre du pays.

Le chef de la mission de supervision des Nations unies en Syrie (Misnus), le général norvégien Robert Mood, a dit son inquiétude quant au sort des civils pris au piège dans la troisième ville du pays, encerclée par les soldats de Bachar al Assad et bombardée presque quotidiennement depuis le début du mois.

Des dizaines de milliers d’habitants ont déjà fui Homs ces derniers mois.

Samedi, l’Observatoire syrien des droits de l’homme (OSDH), une ONG basée en Grande-Bretagne, a déclaré qu’un millier de familles étaient prises au piège à Homs, sous le feu des troupes gouvernementales. Des dizaines de blessés sont en grand danger en raison du manque de soins, a ajouté l’OSDH.

Selon l’OSDH, les bombardements se poursuivaient mardi marin sur plusieurs quartiers de Homs et un soldat gouvernemental a été tué dans un affrontement.

–Dominic Evans (Beyrouth) et Guy Kerivel,” Poursuite des bombardements sur la ville syrienne de Homs,” Reuters, 19 juin 2012.


Dominic Evans, “Syrian forces bombard Homs before U.N. briefing,” The Daily Star, June 19, 2012 08:59 PM (updated: 9:00 PM).


25 Février 2012

REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III”
25 Février 2012


Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là
Et tu marchais souriante
Épanouie ravie ruisselante
Sous la pluie
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest
Et je t’ai croisée rue de Siam
Tu souriais
Et moi je souriais de même
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Toi que je ne connaissais pas
Toi qui ne me connaissais pas
Rappelle-toi quand même ce jour-là
N’oublie pas
Un homme sous un porche s’abritait
Et il a crié ton nom
Et tu as couru vers lui sous la pluie
Ruisselante ravie épanouie
Et tu t’es jetée dans ses bras
Rappelle-toi cela Barbara
Et ne m’en veux pas si je te tutoie
Je dis tu à tous ceux que j’aime
Même si je ne les ai vus qu’une seule fois
Je dis tu à tous ceux qui s’aiment
Même si je ne les connais pas
Rappelle-toi Barbara
N’oublie pas
Cette pluie sage et heureuse
Sur ton visage heureux
Sur cette ville heureuse
Cette pluie sur la mer
Sur l’arsenal
Sur le bateau d’Ouessant
Oh Barbara
Quelle connerie la guerre
Qu’es-tu devenue maintenant
Sous cette pluie de fer
De feu d’acier de sang
Et celui qui te serrait dans ses bras
Est-il mort disparu ou bien encore vivant
Oh Barbara
Il pleut sans cesse sur Brest
Comme il pleuvait avant
Mais ce n’est plus pareil et tout est abimé
C’est une pluie de deuil terrible et désolée
Ce n’est même plus l’orage
De fer d’acier de sang
Tout simplement des nuages
Qui crèvent comme des chiens
Des chiens qui disparaissent
Au fil de l’eau sur Brest
Et vont pourrir au loin
Au loin très loin de Brest
Dont il ne reste rien.

Jacques Prévert, Paroles(1946)

English translation

Remember Barbara
It was raining nonstop in Brest that day
and you walked smiling
artless delighted dripping wet
in the rain
Remember Barbara
It was raining nonstop in Brest
and I saw you on rue de Siam
You were smiling
and I smiled too
Remember Barbara
You whom I did not know
You who did not know me
Remember that day all the same
Don’t forget
A man was sheltering under a porch
and he called your name
and you ran toward him in the rain
Dripping water delighted artless
and you threw yourself in his arms
Remember that Barbara
and don’t be angry if I talk to you
I talk to all those I love
even if I’ve seen them only once
I talk to all those who love
even if I don’t know them
Remember Barbara
Don’t forget
that wise happy rain
on your happy face
in that happy town
That rain on the sea
on the arsenal
on the boat from Ouessant
Oh Barbara
What an idiot war
What has happened to you now
In this rain of iron
of fire of steel of blood
and the one who held you tight in his arms
is he dead vanished or maybe still alive
Oh Barbara
It is raining nonstop in Brest
as it rained before
But it’s not the same and everything is ruined
It’s a rain of mourning terrible and desolate
It’s not even a storm any more
of iron of steel of blood
Just simply clouds
that die like dogs
Dogs that disappear
along the water in Brest
and are going to rot far away
far far away from Brest
where there is nothing left.

–Jacques Prévert (1900-1977). The Breton city of Brest, France, where the poet saw Barbara, was the main German submarine base for the Atlantic during World War II. Brest was totally destroyed by bombing raids by the end of the war. Only three buildings were left standing.

Translation and text by Sedulia Scott.

Voire aussi

20th Century French Poetry: Narrated by Paul Mankin

“Barbara” chantée par Yves Montand

On se souvien aussi d’un poème de Paul Verlaine, ce qui suit:

Ariette III

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur?

O bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un coeur qui s’ennuie,
O le chant de la pluie!

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s’écoeure.
Quoi! nulle trahison?
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C’est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi,
Sans amour et sans haine,
Mon coeur a tant de peine!

–Paul Verlaine, Romances sans paroles, 1874

L’Observateur Incisif
(The Trenchant Observer)

International human rights in retreat, as Iran, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia gain the upper hand

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

It has been a hard couple of years for advocates of international human rights, and respect for international law of which they form a part. Since the hopes of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran, and the Arab Spring beginning in Tunisia in February, 2011, the struggle for democracy and the rule of law in the Middle East, and elsewhere, has suffered grievous setbacks.

We can only imagine what Europe would be like today had Serbia and Milosovic and Karadzic not been stopped, eventually by the use of military force when that was ultimately required. Actually, long after it was required, when the U.S. and NATO got around to it.

Now we must imagine a future in which Iran, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia, with their ally in the League of Authoritarian States, China, stand triumphant.

One can try to imagine what Europe would have been like had Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich been left standing after World War II.  Jean Monnet’s dream of a united Europe would have been unthinkable, for example.

So, after World War II, we had the vision of international peace and security which was embodied in the United Nations Charter. For 65 years we pursued the goals set forth in the Charter, without ever admitting they were beyond our reach.

But now, as the Middle East is swept into a vortex that is every bit as dangerous as the Balkans in the summer of 1914, that dream of a world made up of democracies governed by the rule of law, and nation states continuously developing treaties and legal institutions in order to achieve in concrete form the goal of peace, appears to be receding.

The dream, after all, can only survive so long as it is shared by the leaders of the world and their peoples.

Now, however, the enemies of that dream — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Russia, and China (which include the core members of the League of Authoritarian States) — are fighting successfully to replace its hopes with the guns and missiles and bombs and knives of the repression which they represent.

The rest of the world, including those countries which have or aspire to attain democracy and the rule of law, appear to be asleep.

Meanwhile, Iran is defeating the allies of the United States in a hot war in Syria, as Russia resumes its former role of being the ultimate friend of despotic states. The war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by al-Assad and his allies in Syria do not move the Kremlin, which has itself done worse in recent times in Chechnya, not to speak of its atrocities in the 20th century. China is sending troops to participate in the U.N. force in Mali, which is a welcome sign, but will not budge on its support of Russia on Syria.

If that were not enough, the head of the African Union on the 50th anniversary of its founding has accused the International Criminal Court of hunting Africans out of racist motives, notwithstanding the fact that the new head prosecutor of the court is from The Gambia. Together the dictators and autocrats of Africa have taken a stand against the ICC’s prosecution of the newly elected President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity.

So, we can forget all that talk about “the responsibility to protect”, as darker days lie before us in a world where Bashar al-Assad stands triumphant, Vladimir Putin (“the executioner of the Caucasus”) stands triumphant, and the clouds of looming war blacken the skies in which our future hopes might otherwise reside.

The leaders of the West of today, and Barack Obama first among them, will long be remembered as having faced the moment of truth in the struggle between the forces of freedom and those of darkness–who are supporting and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, firing artillery and tanks and bombs on innocent civilian populations—and having shrugged their shoulders and walked away from the battle.

This has been going on now for over two years.

We are witnessing a whole generation of Neville Chamberlains and Éduouard Daladiers in action, with not a single Winston Churchill to be found.

Who does President Obama remind you of more, Winston Churchill or Neville Chamberlain?

Syria does not concern them. Just as Germany and Japan did not concern the democratic nations of the world in 1936 or 1938, and just as the raging civil war in Spain in the 1930’s did not concern them, in which Fascist Germany and Fascist Italy supported Franco’s forces against the Republican armies, while the democracies of Europe hid behind their purported obligations of neutrality.

Iran and Russia appear to have taken the measure of Barack Obama and the resolve of the West, and decided as a result to back al-Assad to the hilt. Iran must now be highly confident that neither the United States nor Israel will engage in any military action that could inflict damage sufficient to halt their onward march toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

For the moment, Iran and Hezbollah and al-Assad and the Russians are winning in Syria, and beyond.

The Trenchant Observer

The risks of playing the Russians’ diplomatic game: Putin, al-Assad, and their willing dupe–Barack Obama

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Unless the military balance shifts, talk of diplomacy is little more than an excuse to ignore atrocities and red lines. The choice is not between diplomacy and greater U.S. involvement. Without the latter, the former will fail.
–Trudy Rubin, “What Russia gave Kerry on Syria: Very little,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 12, 2013 (3:01 a.m.)

To watch U.S. and Russian diplomatic efforts regarding Syria, one is tempted to view developments related to Obama’s decision to “work through the Russians” one more time, just as the U.S. did this time last year, as a kind of historical “instant replay”.

Unfortunately, what is occurring now is immensely more serious than what happened last year. History has not stood still. The situation in Syria is infinitely worse than it was a year ago, bad as it was then.

What many perceived as the risks of U.S. inaction, of the U.S. not leading at all, not even from the rear, have in large degree materialized.

The risk that extremists allied with Al-Queda might assume a commanding position among the insurgents has materialized in the form of the al-Nusra Front and other groups.

The risk that the conflict might spill over into other countries and become a regional conflict is increasingly being realized, as Hezbollah militia members fight alongside al-Assad’s Syrian army forces in al-Qusair, exerting such extraordinary pressure on Lebanon that the latter could itself explode in civil war within the next year.

Iran, perhaps emboldened by Obama’s failure to back his word regarding the “red line” of chemical weapons with actions when that line was crossed, now have trainers in Syria, and are very much engaged in the conflict, providing arms, intelligence, and advice.

A year ago it was argued that the U.S. should intervene in part because that would cause a severe setback to Iran. The opposite has occurred. U.S. passivity and inaction have handed Iran a victory, and emboldened it in its support of the al-Assad regime. Indeed, Hesbollah, which is highly dependent on Iran, may have sent its fighters to Syria at the Iranians’ request. It is hard to discern a thread of logic that would justify such an action within the Lebanese political context.

The risks of Israel, the U.S. and Russia getting drawn into the conflict have also increased, and begun to materialize.

On May 3-5, Israel conducted air strikes within Syria which were reportedly aimed at destroying a shipment of Fateh-110 missiles, which are medium-range advanced guided missiles capable of hitting targets at a range of up to 300 kilometers.

The first strikes were on May 3-4.

See Syrian media reports Israeli rocket fire targets military research center; Western intelligence sources confirm, say targets were Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles,” Haaretz, May 4, 2013 (10:48 PM).

President Obama argued that the air strikes (if they occurred) were justified. Haaretz reported,

Obama, in an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo as part of a three-day Latin America tour that ended in Costa Rica, would not comment on whether the strikes had in fact taken place.

“I’ll let the Israeli government confirm or deny whatever strikes that they’ve taken,” he said.

But Obama, who visited Israel in March, made clear such strikes would be justified.

“What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon,” he said. (emphasis added)

–Reuters, “Obama: Israel has the right to guard against Hezbollah arms transfer; Syrian media reports Israeli rocket fire targets military research center; Western intelligence sources confirm, say targets were Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles,
Haaretz, May 4, 2013 (10:48 PM).

Subsequent to Obama’s statement, Israel unleashed a second attack within Syria reportedly aimed at destroying the missiles.

See Gili Cohen, Amos Harel and Reuters, “Israel overnight strike targeted Iranian missile shipment meant for Hezbollah’; Only a few days after an alleged Israeli strike, Syrian media reports Israeli rocket fire targeted a military research center; Western intel sources confirm Syrian reports, say targets were Iranian Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles,” Haaretz, May.05, 2013 (8:13 AM).

Worth noting in passing is the fact that the U.N. Charter and international law do not permit anonymous attacks on another country for which no legal justification is given. Moreover, Obama’s argument, for the Israelis, stretches the right of self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter far beyond the breaking point, as that right in international law is limited to situations where an armed attack “occurs”.

Russia has been reported as shipping ground to sea missiles to Syria (known as “Yakhonts”), and as being on the verge of shipping a new, more sophisticated air defense system and missiles (known as S-300) to Syria.


Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “Russia Sends More Advanced Missiles to Aid Assad in Syria.” New York Times, May 16, 2013.

With Israel bombing arms shipments destined for Hezbollah within the territory of Syria, Russia delivering ground to sea missiles to the al-Assad regime, and Russia threatening to ship S-300 advanced missile defense systems to Syria, the risk of a direct confrontation bwtween Israel, Russia and/or the United States is substantial.

Wars often happen by accident, it may be useful to recall.

The other risk of playing the Russians’ diplomatic game in 2013, like the U.S. did in 2012, is that another 50,000 people, or more, may be killed in the coming year.

This, however, appears to be the least of the considerations being taken into account in Washington.

Russia is pushing the peace conference and negotiations with Bashar al-Assad because it limits the ability of the U.S. and other countries who oppose him to mount any kind of military action that might actually shift the balance against al-Assad and help bring the fighting and his commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity to a halt.

The Russians now appear to have decided to engage in a more direct confrontation with the United States, introducing substantial military assets for Syria into the mix. They, like the Iranians, may be starting to think that al-Assad can murder his way out of the current situation, and retain his hold on power. This has always been al-Assad’s preferred–and perhaps only–solution.

With Hesbollah and Israel directly entering the fray, the risks of playing the Russians’ diplomatic game, which provides Obama with diplomatic cover for his continuing inaction, are becoming very great indeed–and potentially explosive.

The Trenchant Observer

Nibia Zabalzagaray and the long arc of justice

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

UPDATE – January 5, 2015

(1) “EL OFICIAL CUMPLÍA UNA PENA DE 28 AÑOS POR EL CASO SABALSAGARAY: Falleció el general retirado Miguel Dalmao;
El general Miguel Dalmao falleció ayer en el CTI del Hospital Militar, donde se encontraba internado aquejado por varias dolencias cardíacas y respiratorias,” El Pais (Montevideo), 30 de diciembre 2014.

(2) EFE, “Muere Miguel Dalmao, general uruguayo condenado por crímenes en la dictadura,” La Vanguardia (Montevideo), 29 de diciembre 2014.

The original article, below, was published on May 9, 2013.

“(T)he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear. Let us bear it–bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace. Let us go out this morning with that determination. And I have not lost faith. I’m not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967.

The Case of Nibia Zabalsagaray (Sabalsagaray)

Uruguayan General Miguel Dalmao has been found guilty of the murder of Nibia Sabalsagaray in 1974.

See Associated Press (Buenos Aires, “Uruguayan general found guilty of junta’s 1974 murder of communist; General Miguel Dalmao convicted of murder of professor and activist Nibia Sabalsagaray during Uruguay’s military dictatorship,” The Guardian, May 9, 2013. (16.36 EDT)

See also:

“Uruguay Supreme Court annuls amnesty law, as accountability continues in Latin America, on international law, policy, practice, November 3, 2010 (with picture of Nibia Sabalsagaray).

I remember Nibia Sabalsagaray, or rather her case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)–or the Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), as it is known in Spanish. The IACHR is the human rights organ of the Organization of American States, established pursuant to both the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights (in force since 1978).

Although much litigation has ensued, including decisions by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and several decisions by the Uruguayan Supreme Court on what amounted to an amnesty law, the original decision of the IACHR, issued four years after the facts, is worth recalling in detail.

The 1978 Decision on Case 1870 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Text of the Commission’s decision in Case No. 1870 (Nibia Zabalsagaray) follows:

Case 1870



In a communication dated August 22, 1974, the following was denounced:

A young woman, a 20-year-old student and professor, NIBIA ZABALZAGARAY, (was) killed as a result of tortures inflicted at the Police Station at Señaleros, located in the El Peñarol neighborhood of Montevideo.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in a note dated October 8, 1974, transmitted the pertinent parts of the denunciation to the Government of Uruguay and requested that it provide the appropriate information;

The Government, in a note date May 23, 1975, requested a ninety-day extension in order to provide the information requested;

The Commission, in a note dated June 12, 1975, granted a thirty-day extension to the Government, which elapsed on July 12, 1975;

The Government of Uruguay, in a note dated July 12, 1975, reported the following to the Commission:

I – The death of Miss Nibia Zabalzagaray

The individual in question was detained on July 29, 1974 and within 24 hours of her detention she committed suicide in her cell.

The competent judicial organ intervened, ordering an opinion from the forensic physician. His reports states: ‘asphyxiation by suspension’ (hanging) as the cause of death.

The intervening Judge, in the absence of proof of any illegality, closed the proceedings on August 2, 1974.

The claimant, in a communication dated July 8, 1975, provided additional information to the Commission, the pertinent parts of which appear below:

NIBIA ZABALZAGARAY – professor of literature, single, 24 years of age.

The individual was detained, tortured and killed, all within a period of 10 hours, on Saturday, June 29, 1974.

At 1:30 a.m., three men dressed in military uniforms and two civilians appeared at her room at the Campomar Home for Workers’ Children in Montevideo (she was a native of the Department of Colonia). They interrogated her as to her political convictions and left with her at 3:00 a.m. and refused to reveal their identity and the place to which they were taking her.

Ten hours later, those in charge of the residence received a phone call informing them that Nibia Zabalzagaray had died and that they should inform some member of the family so that the latter might claim her body at the Military Hospital. Her uncles appeared there and were informed that Nibia was dead on arrival at the Hospital, and that her personal effects and her clothing (she was nude) should be claimed at the barracks of the Engineers Battalion No 5 and Transmissions Service (Camino Casavalle, Montevideo).

The death certificate, issued by Dr José Alejandro Mautone, attributed the death to suicide by hanging.

The relatives were denied the necessary authorization to conduct another autopsy. The corpse, however, underwent an external examination by experts, the results of which contradicted the official ruling.

The true cause of her death is asphyxiation through application of the torture known as the “dry submarine” (application of a plastic bag on the head, thereby preventing breathing) or cardiac arrest under torture.

No judicial action was taken as a result of the death of Nibia Zabalzagaray. No official received any military disciplinary punishment.

The Commission, in a note date October 24, 1975, forwarded to the Government of Uruguay the pertinent parts of the additional information provided by the claimant, and requested that the Government provide the following information:

b) A copy of the legal record and actions taken during the proceedings that were closed by the intervening judge on August 2, 1974, ‘in the absence of proof of any illegality,’ as stated in the corresponding part of the note from Your Excellency’s Government of July 12 of this year.

c) A copy of the autopsy on the corpse of Miss Nibia Zabalzagaray.

The Government of Uruguay, in a note dated May 18, 1976, refused to provide the information specified in the foregoing paragraph;

To date, the Government of Uruguay has still not provided the Commission either a copy of the actions taken during the proceedings or a copy of the autopsy on the corpse of Miss Nibia Zabalzagaray; and

From the information provided by the Government itself, it is concluded that no other proceeding or internal remedy is pending decision,


1. To declare that all available information leads to the presumption that the cause of death of Miss Nibia Zabalzagaray, who was arrested by authorities and died ten hours after her arrest while in the custody of authorities, was a consequence of acts of violence she experienced during her detention.

2. To point out to the Government of Uruguay that the events denounced constitute a serious violation of the right to life (Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man).

3. To recommend to the Government: a) that it order a thorough and impartial investigation to determine the true cause of the death denounced and, in accordance with Uruguayan laws, punish the individual or individuals responsible, should it be proven that a murder has been committed; b) that it advise the Commission of the measures taken to implement the recommendations contained in the above section within a period of no more than thirty days.

4. To forward this resolution to the Government of Uruguay and to claimants.

5. To include this resolution in its Annual Report to the General Assembly of the Organization (Article 9 (bis), c, iii of the Statute) if the Government has not advised the Commission of the measures it has taken to conduct the investigation recommended under operative paragraph 3 within a thirty-day period.

Adopted at meeting Nº 559th, January 30, 1978 (45th Session) and forwarded to the Government of Uruguay on February 21, 1978.

–Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Decision on Case 1870, January 20, 1978
–The Spanish text is found here.

While President Jimmy Carter signed the Ameican Convention on Human Rights in 1978, it has never been ratified by the United States.

Syria and the Long Arc of Justice

40 years is a long time to wait for justice, but at least it gives Bashar al-Assad and the leaders of Syria something to look forward to in their old age. Moreover, as the indictments and trials of Slobodan Milosovich, Radovan Karadzich, and Ratko Mladich suggest, things are changing. Al-Assad and his henchmen may not have to wait so long.

The Trenchant Observer

60,000 killed in Syria—REPRISE II: The Olympic Games, and the Battle for Aleppo, Begin—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #91 (January 2, 2013)

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Barbarism in a Leaderless World

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights now estimates there have been “59,648 individuals reported killed in Syria between 15 March 2011 and 30 November 2012.” This number may in fact be well short of the actual number as tens of thousands of people are reported to have disappeared with no word as to their fates.

See United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Data analysis suggests over 60,000 people killed in Syria conflict: Pillay,” United Nations Human Rights, January 2, 2012. See Megan Price, Jeff Klingner, and Patrick Ball, “Preliminary Statistical Analysis of Documentation of Killings in the Syrian Arab Republic,” The Benetech Human Rights Program, 2 January 2013, here.

At such a juncture it is appropriate to reprise the article whose text appears below, yet again. See also Jacques Prévert’s poem “Barabara”, in The Trenchant Observer, “REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III” —Obama’s Debacle in Syria— Update #53 (June 19)

Originally published July 28, 2012

The Opening of the XXX Olympic Games

It was a poignant moment, as world leaders gathered in London last night (July 27) for the opening of the XXX Olympic Games, with the performance of an extraordinary spectacle, in which at one point five Olympic rings appeared suspended in the heavens over the Olympic Stadium. Over a billion people were said to have watched the opening ceremonies on television.

Here, in the very heart of the democratic civilizations of Europe, the Olympic ideal shone brightly.

In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were preceded by a “Sacred Truce” among the warring city-states, in which athletes were guaranteed safe passage to and from the games, and all fighting was to be halted for a period of one month. This period was eventually extended to allow the athletes and visitors to return home.

The games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD, when they were abolished by the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. The ancient Olympic Games lasted for 1170 years. The Modern Olympic Games were initiated in 1896, and have been held every four years or more often since then except for 1916, 1940 and 1944.

–“Brief History of the Olympic Games,” NOSTOS (Hellenic Information Society, UK).

Importantly, the Olympic Games today stand as a symbol for humanity’s goal of one day achieving universal peace. The alternative, it seems, is either the goal of endless war, or the resignation that goes with the sense of helplessness we feel when we reject the goal of peace.

The Battle for Aleppo, and the Response of the World

Meanwhile, in Aleppo in Syria, a country where the international community and the Security Council have been unable to reach agreement to act effectively to halt the atrocities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the portents of death and destruction were all too palpable yesterday and today, as the regime’s troops, tanks, artillery, helicopters and war planes began a concerted assault on the lightly armed rebels of the Syrian Liberation Army, in what a pro-Assad Damascus newspaper termed “the Mother of all Battles”.

Today, on Saturday, July 28, the battle was joined in earnest.

For news of recent developments on the ground in Syria, see

Luke Harding (in Anadan, on the Aleppo front line), “Syrian rebels near Aleppo: ‘We are besieging Assad’s army’; Regime forces have been pulverising rebel-held districts using artillery and helicopter gunships. But the rebels are upbeat,” The Guardian, July 28, 2012 (11:35 EDT).

Damien McElroy (in Aleppo), “Badly armed rebels face tanks as Syria’s mother of all battles begins,” The Telegraph, July 28, 2012 (6:57PM BST).

Álvaro de Cózar (Special Correspondent in Marea), “El Ejército sirio avanza para tomar Alepo; Las tropas de El Asad atacan con bombas y tanques los barrios en manos rebeldes; Las líneas de teléfono y el suministro de energía han sido cortados, El País, 28 Julio 2012 (23:45 CET).

Kareem Fahim and Ellen Barry, “Syrian Military Intensifies Assault on Rebels in Aleppo,” New York Times, July 28, 2012

Unfortunately, Americans accessing the Internet do not find it easy to gain a sense of what is actually taking place on the ground, due to “The Filter Bubble” which prevents most U.S. observers on the Internet from seeing the search results for newspapers outside of their own country (including, e.g., British and other newspapers which have correspondents on the ground in Syria).  To get around The Filter Bubble, see the directions in the bottom right-hand column on the right on our Home Page, or go here.

Thus, as the world turns its attention to the joyful spectacle of athletes from countries throughout the world competing on the basis of individual merit, as humanity comes together for its quadrennial celebration of the richness and diversity of the human family, the people in Aleppo and in Syria are left to face the absolute terror and barbarism of the Bashar al-Assad regime, alone.

Russia and China, along with the Syrian regime, are clearly to blame for this state of affairs, and populations who follow international affairs throughout the world are aware of the role they have have played in thwarting effective U.N. Security Council action. Memories of how they have backed the murderous regime of al-Assad are likely to be long indeed in the Middle East, and also in the democracies of the world.

The United States and other Western countries warn of an impending massacre in Aleppo, as if anyone but they themselves could save the day.

It is a new role for Americans: Eyewitness News reporters without an inkling of any sense of moral responsibility that might lead them to act. In this role, they are following the lead of their president.

The Americans, the Europeans, top U.N. officials and others loudly deplore the lamentable state of affairs in Syria in general, and the unfolding of the “mother of all battles” in Aleppo, in particular.

Leaderless, they stand helpless and paralyzed before the terror and barbarism of al-Assad.

They provide countless declarations of moral outrage, and call for the nations of the world to increase their “pressure” on the al-Assad regime.

The “pressure” of which they speak is a “pressure” of words, of plaintive moral appeals directed to war criminals whose moral depravity is beyond dispute. Or perhaps the “pressure” may even consist of voluntary economic sanctions, imposed by different countries outside the framework of the U.N. Security Council, whose impact is uncertain and in any event will take much time.

Neither words nor economic sanctions, however, will stop al-Assad’s armies.

These leaders are at once appalled by the terror, the barbarism, the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity before their very eyes, and caught in their own moral cowardice, impotent, helpless, with verbal reproaches the only weapons they have the courage to wield. Paralyzed by their own cowardice, they will not act—not effectively, not in time to save the thousands of additional deaths that the grinding gears of war portend to claim, and of which they so earnestly warn.

Enough with Words!

These leaders can all do the world one big favor:  Stop denouncing al-Assad’s atrocities, at least until they are willing to do something really effective to bring them to a halt.

With their moral energies thus freed, they can pay close attention to the facts on the ground, to what is actually happening to thousands of human beings in the maw of war, and then they can seek quiet solace in their churches, their synagogues, their mosques, and the other spiritual refuges in which they must, as individual human beings, come to terms with what they have seen, and what they have not done.

Enough with words!

Enough with the self-absolving declarations these leaders offer to the world, and to themselves, so they can sleep at night, knowing they were present at Srebrenice, present at Auschwitz, present in Rwanda, over a very long period of time, and did nothing.

President Theodore Roosevelt, Recipient of the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, on Words and Deeds

As for President Obama, who reportedly likes to think of himself as emulating the great American presidents, the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, recipient of the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, come to mind. Roosevelt declared:

“International Peace”

We must ever bear in mind that the great end in view is righteousness, justice as between man and man, nation and nation, the chance to lead our lives on a somewhat higher level, with a broader spirit of brotherly goodwill one for another. Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.

Moreover, and above all, let us remember that words count only when they give expression to deeds, or are to be translated into them (emphasis added). The leaders of the Red Terror2 prattled of peace while they steeped their hands in the blood of the innocent; and many a tyrant has called it peace when he has scourged honest protest into silence. Our words must be judged by our deeds; and in striving for a lofty ideal we must use practical methods; and if we cannot attain all at one leap, we must advance towards it step by step, reasonably content so long as we do actually make some progress in the right direction.

[Footnote] 2. The “Terror” is a term characterizing the conduct of power in revolutionary France by the second committee of Public Safety (September, 1793-July, 1794), sometimes identified as the “Red Terror” to distinguish it from the short-lived “White Terror”, which was an effort by the Royalists in 1795 to destroy the Revolution.

–Theodore Roosevelt, 1907 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, delivered May 5, 1910.

President Obama and the other leaders of the world would do well to take these words to heart, today, and every day hereafter until they find the courage to take effective action to halt the barbarism and the terror in Syria.

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.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Coup d’Etat in Egypt; William Butler Yeats and “The Second Coming”

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

With the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent coup d’etat in Egypt, following on other measures it has taken in the last year, a dark pall has fallen over the Middle East.

A historic failure of U.S. leadership has not been the only cause, but it has left the advocates of modernity and democracy without a champion.

It is tragic that President Obama and the United States have not spoken out strongly, unequivocally, for restoration of the rule of law in Egypt.

Historians will have to sort out the causes of the decline of the influence of the West in the Middle East in the last few years, but surely American disinterest and unwillingness to get involved–in solving the Palestinian issue, or dealing with the barbarism of Bashar al-Assad in Syria–will weigh heavily in their accounts. With the United States in retreat since at least March of 2011, the region has been falling into anarchy and the hands of Islamic parties which, collectively, could potentially lead to the establishment of Islamic dictatorships throughout the region. Egypt is of extraordinary significance, for it is the cultural capital of the Arab world.

We are currently witnessing what happened in Iran–as it is actually happening, day by day, in Egypt.

The democratic promise of the Arab Spring, including the overthrow of tyrannical regimes in Tunisia and Libya, has not engendered the financial and other support from the West and other countries that might have helped sustain it, something like a Marshall plan for the New Democracies of the Middle East.

As the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi have just executed a coup d’etat in Egypt, the West—including the United States—stands leaderless, paralyzed, unable to react or to attempt to influence the rush of events in that country.

The United States and the West could consider blocking a $4.8 billion standby loan agreement between the IMF and Egypt, for example, if Morsi does not rescind his constitutional decree and the Brotherhood’s headlong race toward adoption of a constitution without the support of non-Islamic parties. But no one in Washington seems to be paying attention or to be thinking that fast.

Students of history may recall that Adolph Hitler came to power through free elections, but moved swiftly to control or eliminate potential opponents through a process known as the em>Gleichschaltung), or forced coordination.

Above all, the failure of the United States to openly lead a coalition to halt Bashar al-Assad’s atrocities in Syria has resulted in a loss of respect and influence in the region, while producing a covert program of supplying arms to the Syrian rebels through deeply conservative regimes whose interests seem to lie not in democracy, but in defeating Shia’s and empowering conservative and Islamist Sunni militias.

The cumulative policy failures and ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving that country in conditions whose dire consequences are likely to be felt, if not immediately at least in the not-too-distant future; and the strategic failure in Iraq to achieve the administration’s central goal of a status of forces agreement–when the U.S. had leverage–and the resultant withdrawal of all U.S. forces leaving the gains from that war to unravel, have given the impression that the West is in retreat, contributing to a sense of impending doom.

Hamas celebrates victory as a result of the Egyptian-brokered truce agreement following its bombardment of Israel with rockets and Israel’s response, while Palestine is granted U.N. Observer status at the U.N., an implicit recognition of a Palestinian state achieved not through negotiation with the Israelis, but through negotiations in the corridors of the U.N.

Everywhere, supporters of democracy and modernity seem to be suffering a sharp decline in fortunes and influence. Unwilling to take a stand for their values in Syria, U.S. and Western supporters should perhaps not be too surprised now as those values are pushed aside.

The Benghazi fiasco is emblematic of the failure of U.S. policy in the region. Its significance is that, like a wartime flare on a dark night, it illuminates the administration’s policy failures throughout the Middle East, how they are connected, and how their consequences are all coming together as they did in Benghazi on the night of September 11, 2012.

The situation is ominous. One is reminded of the “The Second Coming”, William Butler Yeats’ celebrated poem written after World War I, which reads as follows:

The Second Coming (published 1921)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats

The Trenchant Observer