The Ukraine War, May 3, 2023: The relentless application of reason and law to the facts

The articles published in The Trenchant Observer and in the Trenchant Observations newsletter on Substack represent the relentless application of logic and international law to the facts.

Readers who have been reading these articles for some time should by now have a good understanding of the issues related to U.S. and NATO policy making vis-à-vis the Ukraine.

These articles invite you to take a position, either agreeing with or disagreeing with the conclusions and recommendations in the articles. I ask those who disagree with my analysis, in particular, to state why. Few take me up on this invitation. But sometimes readers do. I try to respond. Such criticisms help me strengthen the argument, and sometimes draw different conclusions. The whole idea is to provoke reasoned discussion based on the facts and the law, and the political factors which may affect some decisions, such as whether or not to indict Donald Trump, or whether or not to supply F-16’s and ATACMS long-range artillery rockets to Ukraine.
International law offers a wise course to follow in any international situation or conflict, if you want to follow reason, because it is the product of reason applied over many years and even centuries.

The illusion, I guess, is that men and governments can be persuaded to follow reason and international law. But reason by itself is not enough. It does not contain within itself, except in the most extreme cases, the motivation to act to defend the values embodied in fundamental norms of international law or law in general.

It is law itself, international law itself, that can contain such a strong moral force that it can lead individual officials and nations to act in defense of the core values its most fundamental norms represent. Obviously, not all law is fundamental, just as a speeding violation is not the same as a murder. But with reason, and the tools of law itself, it is not difficult to understand which norms are of overriding importance. International law generally represents the long-term interests of the acting state.
Now I want to share with readers some personal opinions with which you may or may not agree. I ask only that you consider them using the power of cool reason and analysis.

A sense of inevitability has settled over the land, and it is all that I can do to keep from being sucked down into the vortex of inevitability myself.

Reason can guide us, but only if we can hear its gentle voice and overcome our personal passions and emotions to heed its call.

In the affairs of men, reason does not always hold sway.

Our politics is poisoned, and our democracy hangs in the balance as the Republican Party, captured by Donald Trump and the blind followers of his authoritarian cult has turned into an extremely dangerous fascist movement in the heart of our society and our democracy.

Logic would have dictated that the Justice Department prosecute Donald Trump and his accomplices for the crimes he and they appear to have committed.

But Joe Biden and Merrick Garland decided not to prosecute Trump and the high-level officials who joined him in his attempt to overthrow the election and the Constitution, and Trump’s many other apparent crimes.

That decision to grant Trump impunity has allowed Trump’s fascist cult to continue and to thrive to an extent which endangers our democracy. Tens of millions of Americans are following the fascist Leader of the Republican Party, whose leaders have by and large abandoned all sense of fair play by democratic rules, and who have challenged the rule of law itself.

So, as in a Greek tragedy, events march forward as few people seem aware of the risks ahead, particularly the risk of Trump winning the 2024 presidential election.

The Democrats could put forward a stronger ticket than Biden and Kamala Harris, but each little piece of this great Greek tragedy seems to be inevitable. Harris is a weak V.P. candidate, but because of the identity politics within the Democratic Party which led to her original selection in 2020, her candidacy as Biden’s running mate seems inevitable.
Her candidacy though bBearing potentially disastrous consequences seems inevitable.

Biden’s own determination to cling to power, at an age when prudence would suggest he not try to defy history and tempt nature and serve until he is weeks shy of his 86th birthday, makes his nomination and candidacy seem inevitable. He has a lock on the nomination because no Democrats have been willing to stand up to him or even question his policies, not even his catastrophic decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, or his administration’s decision not to prosecute Trump in a timely manner.

A cold-eyed assessment of Biden’s management of the run-up and course of the Ukraine War would reveal several great flaws in his decisions. But in the overheated atmosphere of Washington today Democrats won’t criticize one of their own, and the Republicans are so divided among themselves that they are able to craft a constructive critique of his policies and decisions. Serious Congressional oversight–however needed–has not proved possible.

It all just seems so inevitable, and it is leading inevitably to the horrendous possibility that America could elect a fascist president in 2024.

Of course, that may not happen, and it is probably unlikely that it will happen. But if the odds are only 30% or 40%, shouldn’t we all be alarmed and manning the barricades to defend our democracy?

Of course, we should. But we aren’t.

The parallel with Germany in 1932 is extraordinary.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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