Focal Points Blog

U.S. and Saudi Arabia: A Loveless Marriage

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Obama

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Obama

Cross-posted from OtherWords.

Among the would-be therapists of the foreign policy world, the alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia is a textbook case of a “loveless marriage.”

Though the values of the two states are at odds, or so the thinking goes, the great democracy and the absolute monarchy are bound together by mutual interest in the stability of the Persian Gulf, home to almost half of the world’s proven oil and natural gas reserves.

Defenders of this coupling argue that Saudi transgressions—human rights violations, sectarian rhetoric, funding of radical Islamist groups — should be forgiven for the sake of long-term happiness. This strategy amounts to a “never go to bed angry” diplomacy theory.
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German Activism: Bridging the East-West Divide

Eva Quistorp

Eva Quistorp

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the West European peace and environmental movement reached out, tentatively at first and then more vigorously, to the dissident groups in Eastern Europe. Nowhere was this more evident than in West Germany. The Green Party, established in 1979, integrated the peace and environmental agendas and cultivated links with the emerging independent peace movement in East Germany. Much later, in 1993, the German Greens and the East German citizens movements created a political alliance that continues today. Alliance 90/The Greens currently occupy 10 percent of the seats in the Bundestag.

Eva Quistorp, a co-founder of the German Greens, was a driving force behind the east-west dialogue. She visited Prague in 1968 and later worked with members of Charter 77 and Solidarity. In 1980, she co-founded Women for Peace, which had chapters on both side of the east-west divide. She also co-founded European Nuclear Disarmament (END), which aspired to be pan-European and rid both sides of the continent of nuclear weapons.
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Scientists Support Seymour Hersh

Tom Stoddart Collection

On April 15, we wrote about the controversy sparked by Seymour Hersh’s latest article in the London Review of Books, The Red Line and the Rat Line. As in his earlier LRB article, Whose Sarin?, he maintains that the Obama administration knew that the extremist Islamist rebel group, al-Nusra, possessed chemical weapons capabilities and mounted the attack on Damascus suburb Ghouta which spurred President Obama to take the United States to the brink of mounting a massive attack on Syria. Of course, at the last minute he elected to seek the approval of Congress first and then Russian Prime Minister Putin saw Secretary of State John Kerry’s offer to refrain from attacking Syria if it liquidated its chemical weapons and raised it.

Compounding the controversy, Hersh also maintained that Turkey helped al-Nusra with the attack on Ghouta to implicate Syria in a false flag operation and lure the West into attacking Syria.
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Seymour Hersh Draws Even More Criticism at LRB Than at New Yorker

Free Syrian Army fighters

The London Review of Books has again published venerable journalist Seymour Hersh’s latest piece, The Red Line and the Rat Line. Before exploring the controversy swirling around it, let’s briefly address a question that may have occurred to you. Why doesn’t the New Yorker  publish Hersh anymore? After his first LRB piece in December of 2013 about the use of chemical gas in Syria titled Whose sarin?, Michael Calderone of the Huffington Post wrote:

Hersh is a freelancer, but he’s best known these days for his work in The New Yorker, where he helped break the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. While Hersh is not a New Yorker staff writer, it was notable that his 5,500-word investigative piece landed in the London Review of Books, a London literary and intellectual magazine, rather than the publication with which he’s most closely associated.
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An Open Letter to Aung San Suu Kyi

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Aung San Suu Kyi

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Aung San Suu Kyi

Respected Ms Aung San Suu Kyi,

Thanks to the internet, I have the luxury of putting together this open letter for you (though of course, a busy Nobel Laureate such as yourself must be having better things to do than reading this letter).

Last month, at the third Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), you met the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. Both of you discussed various issues, such as the importance of providing micro-loans to rural women and the need to restrict the trafficking of meth pills in the region. It was good to hear that steps were being taken for the betterment of the entire region.

However, something was missing. Yes, the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. Did you forget about them? Of course you did! You are a busy lady, after all!
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Tripping on the Czech Jewish Fantastic: From the Golem to Kafka to Daniel Kumermann

Daniel Kumermann

Daniel Kumermann

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

We met in 1990 at the oldest active Jewish synagogue in Europe, the Old-New Synagogue in Prague. Daniel Kumermann gave me a brief tour of the 13th-century structure, along with the adjacent cemetery. The synagogue is one of the few remaining structures of the old Jewish quarter, a place rich in tales of the fantastic, from the golem of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel to the stories of Franz Kafka, who was born and raised in the area.

Kumermann fit right into this tradition of fantastic stories. He had been a teenager when he learned that his father was Jewish, and later he himself converted to Orthodox Judaism. He had written his master’s thesis on American comic books. As a signatory of Charter 77, he’d been forced to work as a window-washer, the same occupation as the protagonist in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He collected gum wrappers. He was about to be the subject of a New Yorker profile.
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Is U.S. Nuclear Energy or Isn’t It Dependent on Russian Enriched Uranium? (Part 2)

Uranium Enrichment

Read Part 1 of the series, too.

There is little danger that U.S. energy security could be affected by a cut-off of Russian enriched uranium, and thus little reason to be concerned about a potential retaliatory action if the U.S. imposed sanctions against the Russian energy sector.

In recent years, the U.S. nuclear power fleet has indeed relied on an influx of Russian uranium, through a program called Megatons to Megawatts in which highly enriched uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons has been downblended – - mostly in Tennessee — to low-enriched uranium suitable for use in nuclear reactors. In 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (August 28, 2013), this program accounted for 13% of the enriched uranium purchased by U.S. reactor operators. Because of contracts signed in prior years, the amount of Russian uranium actually used in U.S. reactors was higher.
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Is U.S. Nuclear Energy or Isn’t It Dependent on Russian Enriched Uranium? (Part 1)

Russian Nuclear Energy

On March 26, we ran a blog post by Sufyan bin Uzayr subtitled: “The U.S., hooked on Russian enriched uranium, is in no position to impose long-term sanctions on Russia.” In other words, collateral damage from sanctions might include an end to Russia supplying the United States with enriched uranium. Bin Uzayr had linked to an article on the U.S. Energy Administration Information website that begins:

Owners and operators of U.S. commercial nuclear power reactors buy uranium in various forms as well as enrichment services from other countries. U.S. nuclear plants purchased 58 million pounds of uranium in 2012 from both domestic and foreign suppliers; 83% of this total was of foreign origin.
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Why Did the Palestinian-Israeli Negotiations Collapse?

Diplomats extraordinaire Kim Jong Un and Dennis Rodman

Diplomats extraordinaire Kim Jong Un and Dennis Rodman

Rivers of commentary and analysis will flow on every conceivable media platform over the coming days, featuring experts, “Arabists,” politicians and other pundits. They will spend hours grinding their way around one essential question: Why did the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations collapse?

Well, there are several answers to this question:

The first reason, and the one directly responsible for the current crisis, is that the Israelis reneged on their obligation to release Arab prisoners from Israeli prisons on March 28. This was part of the agreement that launched the current process eight months ago. The Israelis were supposed to release Palestinian prisoners in four installments; they carried out three installments and reneged on the last installment.
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A Tortured Twist on Ethics

Guantanamo

Yosef Brody is a clinical psychologist and president-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

George Orwell wisely observed that our understanding of the past, and the meaning associated with it, directly influences the future. And as the unprecedented public feud between the CIA and Congress makes clear, there are still significant aspects of our recent history of state-sponsored torture that need examination before we put this national disgrace behind us.

Important questions remain unresolved about the U.S. torture program in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And the four-year, $40 million Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture is unlikely to provide sufficient answers, even if it’s ever declassified and released.
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