Focal Points Blog

U.S. Needs to Think Twice Before Reprising the Cold War

Spurred by tensions over Ukraine, President Obama announced plans to add $3.4 billion to this year’s military budget request for Europe. (Photo: Public domain)

Spurred by tensions over Ukraine, President Obama announced plans to add $3.4 billion to this year’s military budget request for Europe. (Photo: Public domain)

Not long after World War II, newspaper maps began showing Eastern Europe entirely colored in red, and political cartoons showed the red spreading across western Europe. Those who remembered those days were bound to have flashbacks last week. On February 2, President Obama announced plans to add $3.4 billion to this year’s military budget request for Europe, more than quadrupling the $789 million currently budgeted for Europe. According to the New York Times, the West will eventually spend a whopping $40 billion on building up Ukraine’s defenses against  possible threats from Russia.

Administration officials said the decision reflects “a new situation, where Russia has become a more difficult actor.” That situation apparently consists of Russia’s annexation of Crimea two years ago, and its support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. Both regions had longstanding ties to Russia, including a common language. There is no evidence that Russia intends to invade others of its neighbors, yet the same fear mongering that once prompted warnings of the Soviet Union’s intent to take over all of Europe has returned. Ukraine is seemingly the first line of defense.
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Latest Round of Syrian Peace Talks Stumbles Out of the Blocks

Thanks to Russia, Assad isn’t going anywhere. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

Thanks to Russia, Assad isn’t going anywhere. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

Yet again the Syrian conflict has taken the front pages of the western media outlet with the announcement that another UN-sponsored Syrian peace talk is underway in Geneva. The latest round, which began last Friday in Geneva, is an attempt to bring a number of groups to the negotiating table that have nothing in common. The so called the Syrian opposition group, which is supported by the Saudis, Qataris, Turks and other regressive regimes in the region, have indicated that they intend to boycott this round of discussion as well unless their demands are met prior to negotiation despite US’s insistence that they should participate with no condition. Mike Whitney, in his latest piece in Counterpunch, used the situation in eastern Oregon to assess the rationality of these demands under the current circumstance. He explained:

To appreciate how ridiculous these demands are, one would have to imagine a similar scenario taking place in the United States. Let’s say, for example, that Ammon Bundy, the crackpot leader of the armed militia that seized the federal wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon, demanded that the FBI and all other federal agents vamoose while the UN convened negotiations between his representatives and the Obama administration for the establishment of a transitional government that would remove Obama from power after 18 months while rewriting the constitution so it better reflected the far-right political and religious convictions of Bundy and his gaggle of ne’er-do-well followers.

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The Evil Genie U.S. Let Out of Bottle in Iraq Continues His Rampage

U.S. soldiers at the Hands of Victory monument in Baghdad, 2003. (Photo: Wikipedia)

U.S. soldiers at the Hands of Victory monument in Baghdad, 2003. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The word “genie” comes from the Arab jinni. As every child knows, it describes a creature that, when summoned, fulfills your wishes. Doesn’t it seem like the United States played a cruel trick when it further westernized the concept of jinni by uncorking a bottle in Iraq and bidding the unleashed genie to effect regime change. Unfortunately, the genie, given its head by the United States,  had its own ideas and subsequently lit the region on fire.

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The Original Sin That Stained Putin

Few remember the Russian apartment bombings of 1999. (Photo: www.kremlin.ru / Wikimedia Commons)

Few remember the Russian apartment bombings of 1999. (Photo: www.kremlin.ru / Wikimedia Commons)

In September 1999, apartment buildings in Moscow, as well as Buynaksk, and Volgodonsk killed almost 300 people and injured 1,000 more. Supposedly, the work of Chechnyan terrorists, they not only paved the way to the Second Chechen War for Russia, but ushered a security-minded candidate, Vladimir Putin, into the presidency. It wasn’t long, though, before the specter of the Russian intelligence service massacring its own people raised its ugly head.
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Nuclear Deterrence: Giving Common Sense a Bad Name

Nuclear deterrence is more likely to lead to nuclear war than prevent it. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

Nuclear deterrence is more likely to lead to nuclear war than prevent it.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

Our views on nuclear weapons run the gauntlet from guarantor of our national security to theater of the absurd. Those partial to the former paint nuclear weapons as not a weapons system, but a threat that’s not even brandished, but sits on the shelf: “our nuclear deterrent.” To most, the concept of deterrence makes perfect sense. Even a child instinctively understands the basic principle: you need something to brandish in a bully’s face to make him back off.
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Still Lots to Choke on About HRC’s 2002 AUMF Vote

Hillary Clinton was also, and may continue to be, in favor of executive action. (Photo: Marc Nozell / Flickr)

Hillary Clinton was also, and may continue to be, in favor of executive action. (Photo: Marc Nozell / Flickr)

There was something for everyone — Democrats and progressives in general — to dislike about Hillary Clinton’s 2002 vote for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq. Conventional wisdom holds that it was an exercise in political opportunism and that, like many in Congress, including a number of Democrats, she had no intention of bucking the post-9/11 tenor of the times. For progressives, her willingness to reap the benefits of supporting a popular president while putting both the United States and the Middle East at almost certain risk of war for reasons obscure to most of us was the kiss of death.
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Hillary Clinton’s Foreign-Policy Experience Is Like a Bad Trip

The term “experienced” carries no value judgment with it: It can be good or bad. (Photo: Zimbio)

The term “experienced” carries no value judgment with it: It can be good or bad. (Photo: Zimbio)

It has become conventional wisdom to label Bernie Sanders weak and Hillary Clinton strong on foreign policy. Yet, besides Ms. Clinton’s characteristically cautious tenure as secretary of state, in the foreign-policy arena she is mainly known for her 2002 vote for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq. In the process of outlining the reasons Clinton supporters excuse that vote at Foreign Policy in Focus, Stephen Zunes provides crucial insights about what that vote revealed about Clinton.
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When Robots Commit War Crimes

The use of robots in combat will be accompanied by a lengthy learning curve — and, likely, many civilian casualties. (Pictured: Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) / popsci.com)

The use of robots in combat will be accompanied by a lengthy learning curve — and, likely, many civilian casualties. (Pictured: Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) / popsci.com)

The use of robots in war present a variety of problems, such as who has authority over them and who is accountable for them. As they’re programmed to act of their own volition, those issues are only accentuated. In April 2015, at the Independent, Chris Green writes about a report issued by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.
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We May Look Back at the Islamic State as a Time When Islamic Extremism Was Under Control

Jihadism itself has a stronger hold on the hearts and minds of budding Islamic extremists around the world than just the Islamic State. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Jihadism itself has a stronger hold on the hearts and minds of budding Islamic extremists around the world than just the Islamic State. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In December 2015, Iraq’s army, supported by Shi’a militias and the United States and Iran (working separately on twin tracks) routed Islamic State forces from Ramadi, Iraq. “Despite these territorial losses,” writes Andrew Bowen in the National Interest on December 29 of last year, “ISIL’s worldwide presence is arguably growing.” For example:

1) In Bangladesh, ISIL claimed responsibility for a recent attack on mosque.

2) While Egypt’s civil aviation authorities ruled that the crash of the Russian commercial jet was an accident instead of a terrorist attack, ISIL’s presence in the Sinai continues to bedevil Egypt’s security services.

3) In Afghanistan, ISIL’s presence is becoming a deepening reality as the security situation in the state continues to deteriorate.

4) Yemen is a further front for ISIL where it’s actively competing with AQAP for recruits.

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Burkina Faso Terrorist Attack May Not Have Been Organized by Islamic Extremists

Pictured: The Grand Marché in Koudougou, Burkina Faso. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Pictured: The Grand Marché in Koudougou, Burkina Faso. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

1.

As elsewhere, they come in, seemingly from nowhere, guns blazing, killing everyone in sight before, in turn, most of them too are mowed down by the domestic security forces that are poorly trained for this particular kind of warfare. “They” are Islamic militants, this time associated with Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).(1) Thirty people were killed and 56 more were wounded in the January 18th attack which lasted 15 hours before it ended. Three of the attackers were killed but it appears that another three escaped.

All indications to date are that this attack was not organized by elements within the country but from outside terrorist groups based further north, in S. Libya, N. Mali and S. Algeria. While there might be some militant fundamentalism in Burkina Faso, it is of a quite limited nature. There has been  no campaign among Islamic elements for more political or religious space as ethnic relations in the country are not so polarized as elsewhere – that in and of itself is a national  accomplishment. While some of the motives will be discussed below, the essence of this attack was to create an atmosphere of fear in Burkina Faso, which then France (and US) can use to beef up their military security presence in the country and tighten their ties with the country’s military/security force.
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