Focal Points Blog

Iran Deal Undermines Rationale for Missile Defense

Missile defense is as much of a boondoggle as it was during the days of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars.” Pictured: the Phased Array Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (Photo: Wikipedia)

Missile defense is as much of a boondoggle as it was during the days of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars.” Pictured: the Phased Array Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (Photo: Wikipedia)

North Korea’s ramped-up recent nuclear-weapon and rocket tests have spurred the United States and South Korea to agree to U.S. missile defense sites in South Korea. This comes on the heels of the completion of a U.S. missile defense site in Romania, originally intended to protect against missiles with nuclear warheads from Iran.
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Socialists Rain on Spain

The domination of the Spanish government by two parties has been replaced by regional and anti-austerity parties like Podemos. (Photo: Vicente José Nadal Asensio / Flickr Commons)

The domination of the Spanish government by two parties has been replaced by regional and anti-austerity parties like Podemos. (Photo: Vicente José Nadal Asensio / Flickr Commons)

The effort by Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, to form a government on March 2 brings to mind the story of the hunter who goes into the forest with one bullet in his rifle. Seeing a deer on his right and a boar on his left, he shoots in the middle.

Sanchez’s search for a viable coalition partner began when the ruling right-wing Popular Party (PP) took a pounding in Spain’s Dec. 20 election, dropping 63 seats and losing its majority. Voters, angered by years of savage austerity that drove poverty and unemployment rates to among the highest in Europe, voted PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy out and anti-austerity parties in, although leaving the PP as the largest single party in the parliament.
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The Islamic State’s Obvious Next Step: Arming Its Drones

The Islamic State could surpass Al Qaeda and 9/11 by mounting a mass drone attack in the United States. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State could surpass Al Qaeda and 9/11 by mounting a mass drone attack in the United States. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

We recently posted about fears that, one day, the Islamic State might mount a dirty (radiological) bomb attack. The recent loss (and subsequent location) of radioactive material in Basra, Iraq sparked concerns that the Islamic State may yet get its hands on some.

The Islamic State has been degraded recently by U.S.-led coalition articles. But it may still be capable of upgrading its attacks on the West. In a recent article at the Daily Beast, Clive Irving writes about an, if not low-, medium-tech and cost-effective threat that is far from outside the realm of possibility for the Islamic State. He interviews Chris Abbott, the executive director of a think tank called Open Briefing which believes that “ISIS has already recognized the opportunity provided by off-the-shelf drone technology in its planning of attacks on Western cities.” It is already using drones in Syria and Iraq for surveillance.
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Irish Shillelagh Austerity

Ireland’s election drove a big spike into the austerity policies of the “troika”—the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. (Photo: eBay)

Ireland’s election drove a big spike into the austerity policies of the “troika”—the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. (Photo: eBay)

Note: A shillelagh is a blackthorn walking stick that the Irish use for whacking things they don’t like.

If there is one thing clear after Ireland’s recent election, it is that people no longer buy the myth that austerity is the path to economic salvation. It is the same message that Greeks, Portuguese and Spaniards delivered to their elites over the past year: the prophets of tough love, regressive taxes, and massive social services cutbacks should update their resumes and consider a different profession than politics.

Ireland is a small country but the Feb. 26 election drove a big spike into the policies of the “troika”—the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund—that have blitzed economies across the continent and made chronic unemployment and growing economic inequality a continuing source of malaise.
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Inflammatory Rhetoric? Islamic State Has Nothing on India’s Far Right

India’s President Narendra Modi is a member of the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

India’s President Narendra Modi is a member of the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

For those reeling at the ever-increasing xenophobia of many American conservatives (foremost among them, Donald Trump), for those saddened by the rise of nationalist and nativist movements in Europe that are openly anti-Muslim … we present the face of anti-Islam in India. Reports the Indian Express:

Speaker after speaker urged Hindus to “corner Muslims and destroy the demons (rakshas)”, while declaring that “all preparations” had been made to effect “badla (revenge)” before the 13th-day death rituals for Mahaur. “Human skulls would be offered to his martyrdom,” VHP district secretary Ashok Lavania, who has been jailed earlier for assaults on Muslims, said.

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Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia Probably Not Looking So Good to Hillary Clinton Now

Selling weapons to Saudi Arabia is bad enough, but celebrating it is even worse. (Photo: Zimbio)

Selling weapons to Saudi Arabia is bad enough, but celebrating it is even worse. (Photo: Zimbio)

Saudi airstrikes on Yemen, which have killed more than 2,800 civilians thus far and, incidentally, devastated three Doctors Without Borders facilities, are led by F-15s made by Boeing. The Intercept posted a short, discomfiting article by Lee Fang, in which he writes:

A few years earlier, as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton made weapons transfer to the Saudi government a “top priority,” according to her closest military aide.

And now, newly released emails show that her aides kept her well-informed of the approval process for a $29.4 billion sale in 2011 of up to 84 advanced F-15SA fighters, manufactured by Boeing, along with upgrades to the pre-existing Saudi fleet of 70 F-15 aircraft and munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance, and logistics.

The deal was finalized on Christmas Eve 2011. Afterward, Jake Sullivan, then Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and now a senior policy adviser on her presidential campaign, sent her a celebratory email string topped with the chipper message: “FYI — good news.”

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It’s Not Only the U.S. That Israel Resents

Many Israeli politicians admire Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr Commons)

Many Israeli politicians admire Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr Commons)

Israel is becoming more and more of an authoritarian state, in the mold of Russia or China. In an article in the London Review of Books titled Israel’s Putinisation, Adam Shatz writes:

Israeli politicians have made no secret of their admiration for Putin, a tough, ruthless leader whose resolve – and preference for military solutions – stands in sharp contrast to the caution and indecision of Barack Obama. Putin is also, in Israeli eyes, refreshingly indifferent to human rights. As relations with the Obama administration have cooled … Israel has increasingly turned to Russia, as well as to China, from which it now imports more than it does from the US.

… Writing in 2003, at a time of high Euro-optimism, Tony Judt described Israel as a ‘characteristically late 19th-century separatist project’ in ‘a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers and international law … Israel, in short, is an anachronism.’ Today, it is Judt’s cheerfully Hegelian description of ‘a world that has moved on’ that seems out of step with the neo-tribal spirit of the times. Israel does not seem like such an outlier in a world reshaped by the drive towards ethnic and religious separatism, the militarised policing of frontiers, and the emergence of authoritarian populist governments.

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Military Victories Are Counterproductive If They Leave a Political Vacuum

 The Iraqi army was only able to recapture Ramadi with the help of heavy American bombing, leaving the city became a barren landscape. (Photo: Media World Bulletin)


The Iraqi army was only able to recapture Ramadi with the help of heavy American bombing, leaving the city became a barren landscape. (Photo: Media World Bulletin)

After World War II the Allies refrained from either punishing Germany and Japan, or letting those shattered countries recover as best they could. Instead the Americans helped restore their former enemies’ economies so they could begin to rebuild. The generous U.S. aid that poured into Western Europe under the Marshall plan turned the region into a lucrative market for American consumer goods and provided reliable allies against the Soviet Union. The Germans in turn acknowledged the damage they had done under the Nazis and paid restitution to the survivors.

Similarly, the American occupation of Japan under Douglas MacArthur was wisely  aimed at rebuilding a country whose cities had been turned to ashes by U.S. bombing. Again the result was to turn a wartime enemy into a friendly and potentially powerful ally against Communist China. Meanwhile, Japan was to remain demilitarized for the foreseeable future.
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Tunisia on Fire (Part 1)

If not for repeated intervention by its youth, civil rights organizations, and labor unions, Tunisia would be in even worse shape than it already is. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr)

If not for repeated intervention by its youth, civil rights organizations, and labor unions, Tunisia would be in even worse shape than it already is. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

1.

Five years after the onset of the sociopolitical explosion, “the Arab Spring,” Tunisia, the country where it began, is bogged down in a deepening socio-economic crisis, lack of political vision (this despite a highly educated, sophisticated and politically savvy population) and an ongoing guerrilla war against Islamic radicals in the western and southern regions of the country that the government has not been able to extinguish, nor even bring under control. Although put forth as a kind of poster child for what might be considered the one “Arab Spring success story,” in fact, Tunisia is a country where disillusionment at successive governments’ paralysis to address the crisis runs deep. If not for the repeated intervention of Tunisia’s civil society – its youth, civil rights organizations, labor unions – to push the government to act, the situation would most probably be even worse that it currently is.
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Happy Ending to Lost Radioactive Material Story Doesn’t Dispel Concerns About Islamic State WMD

The Islamic State may one day buy or steal radioactive material and turn it into a radiological dirty bomb. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

The Islamic State may one day buy or steal radioactive material and turn it into a radiological dirty bomb. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

In November 2015, potent radioactive material was stolen from a U.S. oilfield services company storage facility near Basra, Iraq. Reuters reports:

Iraq is searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year, according to an environment ministry document and seven security, environmental and provincial officials who fear it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.

…  The material is classed as a Category 2 radioactive source by the IAEA, meaning that if not managed properly it could cause permanent injury to a person in close proximity to it for minutes or hours, and could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days.

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