Focal Points Blog

Tragedy in Tunisia, Part 1: Perfect Storm of Islamist Extremist Indoctrination and Lax Security

The Bardo Museum, site of the jihadi attack in Tunis. (Photo: Richard Mortel / Flickr)

The Bardo Museum, site of the jihadi attack in Tunis. (Photo: Richard Mortel / Flickr)

“He couldn’t hurt a bird.”

Well maybe “he” couldn’t. After all, a mother knows her son. But over what appears to be a short period of less than a year, he changed, didn’t he? And then he could, and did…and it wasn’t birds he hurt but people he killed. Thus spoke Yassine Al-Abidi’s mother shortly after her son, who had participated in the mass murder of foreign tourists, had died in a shoot-out with Tunisian security forces at the Bardo Museum in Tunis on March 18, one of the entire Mediterranean basin’s most important museums, the second only to the Egyptian Museum on the African continent. Who knows? Perhaps her characterization is on the mark, or was, until something obviously in the young man snapped. How else to account for the murderous rampage that followed resulting in the deaths of so many, Al-Abidi’s included?
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Greece’s Golden Dawn: Fascists at the Gate

Golden Dawn is tied to wealthy shipping owners, the National Intelligence Service, and municipal police departments. Pictured: far-right (excuse pun), Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos G. Michaloliakos. (Photo: JailGoldenDawn)

Golden Dawn is tied to wealthy shipping owners, the National Intelligence Service, and municipal police departments. Pictured: far-right (excuse pun), Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos G. Michaloliakos. (Photo: JailGoldenDawn)

This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and TheNation.com

When some 70 members of the neo-Nazi organization Golden Dawn go on trial sometime this spring, there will be more than street thugs and fascist ideologues in the docket, but a tangled web of influence that is likely to engulf Greece’s police, national security agency, wealthy oligarchs, and mainstream political parties. While Golden Dawn—with its holocaust denial, its swastikas, and Hitler salutes—makes it look like it inhabits the fringe, in fact the organization has roots deep in the heart of Greece’s political culture

Which is precisely what makes it so dangerous.
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Like Iran, South Africa Resists U.S. Nuclear Oversight

Though it ended its nuclear weapons program in 1989, South Africa still has a quarter ton of highly enriched uranium. Pictured: South African government building. (Photo: Sweggs / Flickr Common)

Though it ended its nuclear weapons program in 1989, South Africa still has a quarter ton of highly enriched uranium. Pictured: South African government building. (Photo: Sweggs / Flickr Common)

At the Center of Public Integrity on nuclear materials, Douglas Birch has written a two-part series on nuclear security in South Africa. In the first, titled “South Africa rebuffs repeated U.S. demands that it relinquish its nuclear explosives,” co-authored with R. Jeffrey Smith, they write about the quarter ton of highly enriched uranium that South Africa still retains decades after ending its nuclear-weapons program in 1989. U.S. officials fear that it could be stolen and fashioned into a terrorist bomb. 
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Republicans’ Ham-Fisted Attempt to Sabotage Nuke Deal Plays Into Iran’s Hands

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator. (Photo: Samuel Kubani / AFP / Flickr Commons)

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator. (Photo: Samuel Kubani / AFP / Flickr Commons)

As instructed by Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, Iran’s nuclear negotiators, writes Ali Vaez in a post at Reuters titled How the Senate Republicans’ letter gave Iran a boost in nuclear talks, “are trying to tie up all ambiguities in the agreement to ensure that no aspect will be open to interpretation.” Read mis-interpretation.

Moreover, just as Washington insists on a role for the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor Iran’s implementation of its commitments, Tehran insists on establishing a mechanism to monitor Washington’s performance on sanctions relief.

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Eric Schlosser of “Command and Control” Fame Honors Plowshares and Dorothy Day

Inside an ICBM silo. (Photo: Matt Blaze / Flickr Commons)

Inside an ICBM silo. (Photo: Matt Blaze / Flickr Commons)

With his book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, Eric Schlosser, who previously wrote Fast Food Nation, has arguably done more to bring nuclear weapons to the forefront of the consciousness of Americans than anyone since President Obama with his 2009 Prague speech, in which he announced his commitment (since misplaced under a White House sofa or somewhere) to a world without nuclear weapons. Still, it was an unexpected surprise to find a piece by Schlosser in the March 12 New Yorker titled Break-in at Y-12 that chronicled the history of the anti-nukes Plowshares movement, as well as profiling Dorothy Day.
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Germany’s Selective Memory About Greece’s Debt

he profile of Golden Dawn in Greece, pictured here demonstrating in 2012, is eerily similar to that of the German National Socialist (Nazi) Party in its early years. (Photo: Steve Jurvetson / Wikimedia Commons)

The profile of Golden Dawn in Greece, pictured here demonstrating in 2012, is eerily similar to that of the German National Socialist (Nazi) Party in its early years. (Photo: Steve Jurvetson / Wikimedia Commons)

Memory is selective and therein lays an explanation for some of the deep animosity between Berlin and Athens in the current debt crisis that has shaken the European Union (EU) to its foundations.

For German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, “memory” goes back to 2007 when Greece was caught up in the worldwide financial conflagration touched off by American and European speculators. Berlin was a major donor in the 240 billion Euro “bailout”—89 percent of which went to pay off the gambling debts of German, French, Dutch and British banks. Schauble wants that debt repaid.

Millions of Greeks are concerned about unpaid debts as well, although their memories stretch back a little further.
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From Hubris to Humiliation: the Republicans’ Letter to Iran

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), who wrote the now infamous letter to Iran. (Caricature: DonkeyHotey / Flickr Commons)

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), who wrote the now infamous letter to Iran. (Caricature: DonkeyHotey / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from Leon’s Op-Ed.

Remarkable!

There could be no clearer demonstration of the destructive psychology of “American exceptionalism” than the way the negotiations with Iran are being viewed.

Of course, the most egregious attitude, defiant of constitutional precedent and contemptuous of international law, is in the letter of almost the entire GOP Senate majority to the Iranian government. What the GOP ignores completely, the media treats as an occasional footnote: France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain (the UN Security Council +1) are vital participants in the negotiations and any hoped for agreement. They too, not just Obama, would be wiped away by “the stroke of a pen” with which the outlaw Senators promise to trash any agreement.

From hubris to humiliation, the Senators had to be enlightened by the Iranian foreign minister. He suggested that they misread and defied US constitutional proscriptions about the conduct of foreign policy. No surprise that they also had to be informed about international law. Apparently it doesn’t exist for them: war is the preferable alternative to diplomacy and international cooperation.

Meanwhile Democrats, including more than a few who have gone along with efforts to sabotage the Iran negotiations, are offended by the brazen partisan behavior of Netanyahu, Boehner and now the GOP Senators. It’s time to see this issue as far beyond petty politics. It’s a matter of war or peace, one battle in the existential fight for the future.

The Gulf Cooperation Council Clueless About New Security Measures

Lately, the Gulf Cooperation Council has been brainstorming security solutions. Pictured: a hill town in Yemen. (Photo: Charles Roffey / Flickr Commons)

Lately, the Gulf Cooperation Council has been brainstorming security solutions. Pictured: a hill town in Yemen. (Photo: Charles Roffey / Flickr Commons)

For quite some time now, countries at the centre of the world — Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and even Lebanon for that matter — have had their share of troubles and disturbances. Be it the Arab Spring or militant insurgency, the overall atmosphere in most countries of the region has been turbulent, to say the least.

However, right next to these countries, the Gulf states, in spite of all their internal and external problems, have enjoyed relative comfort. Partly due to the fact that the natives of Gulf tend to prefer political stability over chaos, and partly on account of the cash reserves that oil and hydrocarbons keep generating, the Gulf states have, by and large, kept insurgency and instability away from their respective territories.
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Republican Senators’ Letter to Iran Has Some Invoking the T Word

It’s astonishing that U.S. senators would try to pull the rug out from a presidency in the midst of sensitive negotiations with another state. (Photo: Mike Myers / Flickr Commons)

It’s astonishing that U.S. senators would try to pull the rug out from a presidency in the midst of sensitive negotiations with another state. (Photo: Mike Myers / Flickr Commons)

As you have no doubt heard by now, 47 Republican senators wrote an open letter directed at Iran’s leadership. Its main message:

We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. … The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of an agreement at any time.

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It’s Not That Gen. Petraeus’s Punishment Is Too Lenient, But That Others’ Is Too Heavy

Gen. Petraeus’s likely punishment contrasts dramatically with that of Richard Kim and John Kiriakou. (Photo: Michael Ruhl, Talk Radio News Service / Flickr Commons)

Gen. Petraeus’s likely punishment contrasts dramatically with that of Richard Kim and John Kiriakou. (Photo: Michael Ruhl, Talk Radio News Service / Flickr Commons)

Retired four-star general and former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, as you have no doubt heard, pled guilty to lending classified journals to his biographer and, briefly, paramour, Paula Broadwell. He will most likely receive two years of probation and a $40,000 fine.

As stated in the federal district court case against, Petraeus “entered into various agreements into the United States regarding the protection and proper handling of classified information.” While commander of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, he kept notebooks dramatically called in the filing “black books,” which contained “classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes, and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and [the defendant’s discussions] with the President of the United States of America.” They also contained “Top Secret/SCI and code word information.”
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