Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The chemical arms "norm"

Few people have noticed it, but Obama pulled a rather clumsy legalistic trick when he talked about the "norm" that chemical arms should not be used.

The 1925 Geneva Protocol forbids the use of chemical arms in wars between states. However, it does not forbid their use in civil wars. Neither does it forbid their use once the other side has used them.

This became a problem in 1988 when Saddam attacked Halabja with chemical arms. In a reaction a new and much stricter treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, was adopted in 1993. But while Assad signed the Geneva Protocol he never signed the convention.

So Obama had a problem with his red line as Assad didn't violate any treaty if he had used chemical arms. One because it doesn't forbid using them in a civil war, the other because he hadn't signed it. Of course Obama could have resorted to more general treaties about human rights and protection of civilians in a war, but that would make his red line statement specifically about chemical arms look a bit weird.

Obama's solution was to claim that so many countries have adopted the Convention that it has become the international "norm".

It is a rather ugly construction. It raises also the question whether it can be applied more broadly. The US has a bit of a habit to be the only country that doesn't sign some treaties. Should we hold them to those treaties anyway because they become the "norm"?

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Obama meets the limits of bullying

Thanks to his bullying tactics, stressing the horror of a chemical attack and raising questions about America's credibility if it doesn't react to the alleged chemical attack in Syria no one in Congress any more dares publicly to raise questions about the lack of evidence. They would be painted by Obama's propaganda as not caring about US credibility and not caring about the victims of chemical attacks.

However, these Congress men still face the dilemma that attacking Syria will likely kill hundreds of Syrians and might well draw the US into a war. And they are perfectly aware both that the present lack of evidence would be insufficient to explain support for their decision - specially if things might go wrong. And they can also see that the same fluffy arguments could also be used to push them towards further involvement.

Does Obama also want to attack ISIS/Al Nusra?

This blogpost claims so. It states:

Another hot news from Arabic Facebook. Here is the summary
U.S. missile attack will damage not only Assad troops but also opposition forces! According to source in the Turkish General Staff, during the second phase of the operation in Syria, U.S. missiles will vanish militant training centres of “Al-Nusra Front” and “Islamic State of Iraq and Shama”. The U.S. will also destroy the control centres of the main radical opposition groups and this way the problem of Islamic extremists in Syria will be solved.


In another article I read that one Al Nusra unit had arrested someone for placing transponders that could make them a target for US bombings.

5 September 2013: Syrian Islamists believe they will be targets of US air strikes: Jihadists move personnel and weaponry ahead of expected intervention

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The role of prince Bandar in the Syrian uprising

Recently the Wall Street Journal published an article (A Veteran Saudi Power Player Works To Build Support to Topple Assad) in which it claims that the Saudi prince Bandar only recently got involved in the Syrian uprising when he became head of Saudi intelligence. Several others have copied this claim.

As far as I can see this is wrong. Bandar was named from the very beginning as the mover behind the Syrian uprising. So it seems that Bandar's promotion is rather an indication how much importance the Saudi king Abdullah attached to getting rid of Assad. Two articles stand out in this respect: US, Israeli, Saudi involvement in Syrian uprising and Media sources reveal details of a conspiracy by Bandar Bin Sultan and Feltman to "destroy" Syria. The author of the first article is Haytham Manna, a prominent Syrian opposition activist.

The link to the latter article is now dead. However, here you can find a copy. It is also discussed and quoted in its entirety in one of the Stratfor Wikileaks files.