Focal Points Blog

Yemen: Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam

The war on Yemen has left thousands dead and created hundreds of thousands exiles. Pictured: Yemen capital Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

The war on Yemen has left thousands dead and created hundreds of thousands exiles. Pictured: Yemen capital Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

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And then there is Yemen where a ragtag coalition – hardly worth the name – of Saudi-paid mercenaries is trying unsuccessfully to crush a rebellion and democratic movement (inaccurately referred to as a Houthi-ethnic revolt) in order to restore “their man,” Abd-Rabbuh orted against that country, this despite the fact that a major U.S.-supported war continues to devastate the country.1 Unless using Democracy Now!Truthdig, or Foreign Policy In Focus as main news sources, it is unlikely that people within the United States even know there is a war going on, to say nothing of the whys and hows, or where Yemen is even located.

Peace talks between warring factions in Yemen that collapsed a month ago, are scheduled to resume in a couple of days in Switzerland. They will coincide with a week’s ceasefire between the warring parties more than likely to be put in place at the same time. As a part of the ceasefire, Saudi Arabia has agreed to temporarily suspend its bombing campaign. While statistics vary as to casualty rates (with sources friendly to the Saudis claiming 2,500 dead, an Australian source gives a much larger, 6,000 figure) often missing from the picture is that war has already created 200,000 refugees, people who have fled the fighting which has engulfed essentially the whole nation. In the political vacuum created by the war, Al Qaeda has strengthened its position in the country’s southern regions.
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An End to the Right’s Reign In Spain?

Spain’s woes began with the American banking crisis of 2007-08, which crashed Spain’s vast real estate bubble and threatened to bring down its financial system. Pictured: Plaza Mayor, Madrid. (Photo: Rick Ligthelm / Flickr Commons)

Spain’s woes began with the American banking crisis of 2007-08, which crashed Spain’s vast real estate bubble and threatened to bring down its financial system. Pictured: Plaza Mayor, Madrid. (Photo: Rick Ligthelm / Flickr Commons)

“Volatile” seems to be the adjective of choice for pollsters going into the Dec. 20 Spanish elections, a balloting that will likely not only change the face of politics in the European Union’s (EU) fifth largest economy, but one that will have reverberations throughout the 28-nation organization. Long dominated by two parties—the right-wing People’s Party (PP) and the center-left Socialist Workers Party—the political landscape has atomized over the past two years. “For the first time in general elections in Spain,” says Manuel Mostaza Barros of Sigma Dos poll, “we have four parties polling above 15 percent when it comes to voter intentions.”

What levers [AB1]  those voters pull is very much up for grabs. Polls indicate that 41 percent of the electorate has yet to make up their minds. But whatever party ends up on top, it will have to go into a coalition, thus ending the reign of the two-party system that has dominated the country since the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
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Will Scarcity Lead to Anarchy in China as Robert Kaplan Maintains?

Chinese demand, such as for Senegal’s peanuts, fuels the developing world’s prosperity. (Photo: Japan Times)

Chinese demand, such as for Senegal’s peanuts, fuels the developing world’s prosperity. (Photo: Japan Times)

Renowned American journalist Robert D. Kaplan warned the West that, in the light of the quick deterioration of the arable land quality in interior China due to “deforestation, loss of topsoil and salinization”, when China’s population has reached “1.54 billion by 2025”, large-scale population movements from villages to cities would be “leading to a crime rate surge like the one in Africa and to growing regional disparities and conflicts in a land … as in Africa” [Note 1]. It is obviously more worrisome than the mainstream economists’ concern that China is unable to bypass the ‘middle income trap’ [Note 2].

Alongside this ‘middle income trap’ as a watershed between the rich and the poor, Kaplan highlighted “a bifurcated world” between the West and the Rest. “Part of the globe is inhabited by Hegel’s and Fukuyama’s Last Man, healthy, well fed, and pampered by technology. The other, larger, part is inhabited by Hobbes’ First Man, condemned to a life that is ‘poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.” Since “95 percent of the population increase will be in the poorest regions of the world”, “the revenge of the poor” would strike the civilized and advanced West. “Future wars will be those of communal survival, aggravated or, in many cases, caused by environmental scarcity” [Note 3].
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When the Left Turned Its Back on Nuclear Disarmament

Dr. Benjamin Spock was the head of SANE when it fractured over whether to continue focusing on nuclear war or ending the Vietnam War. (Photo: Thomas R. Koeniges / Public domain)

Dr. Benjamin Spock was the head of SANE when it fractured over whether to continue focusing on nuclear war or ending the Vietnam War. (Photo: Thomas R. Koeniges / Public domain)

Long periods of general public apathy about reducing the threat of nuclear weapons via nuclear disarmament, such as the one we’ve been living through since the Nuclear Freeze movement, are not new to the United States. Writes Paul Boyer in a March 1984 article in the Journal of American History titled From Activism to Apathy: The American People and Nuclear Weapons, 1963-1980, nuclear activism also experienced a long drought in the years before the Nuclear Freeze movement. The situation parallels today. Boyer writes:

The most reassuring answer would be that the complacency was justified-that the nuclear threat diminished in those years.

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Jabhat al-Nusra a Greater Threat to Syria Than Islamic State

Unlike the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra actually strikes the Assad regime. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra actually strikes the Assad regime. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

There’s no shortage of players acting in bad — or at least, questionable — faith in Syria. First, of course, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad; then the Islamic State — choose your poison. On another level, Russia, the United States, and France.

At the National Interest, Daniel DePetris writes about a player too often overlooked.

… with all of the concentration on the Islamic State, another highly significant and dangerous terrorist organization is operating largely under the radar: Jabhat al-Nusra [which] shares the same … interpretation of Islam as ISIL, despises any and all sectarian groups outside of Syria’s majority Sunni community and has engaged in the same kind of atrocities [as the Islamic State].

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Ratcheting Up the War on the Islamic State

Terrifying thought: If the Islamic State is dismantled, will it be replaced by an even more destructive entity? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Terrifying thought: If the Islamic State is dismantled, will it be replaced by an even more destructive entity? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Pentagon’s announcement on December 1 that the U.S. Special Operations force in Iraq would be expanded did not say how many more troops would be sent. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said only, “There will be more.” There are already 3,500 U.S. soldiers in Iraq assigned to train the Iraqi army attempting to drive ISIS from the Iraqi territory it has captured. According to Carter, the additional troops will conduct raids aimed at capturing or killing ISIS leaders in Iraq, analyze intelligence, identify targets, and work with Iraq’s special forces.

They will also join with Kurdish and Iraqi troops in carrying out raids in Syria. “I think you can expect to see a slow ramp-up of American forces in Iraq and perhaps even in Syria,” a Pentagon official said. U.S. has been bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria for several months with no significant effect.
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Crash of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 a Tragicomedy of Errors

Cost-cutting measures may have been responsible for the crash of AirAsia flight QZ8501. Pictured: an AirAsia Airbus A320-216 like the one that crashed. (Photo: Kentaro Lemoto)

Last December, AirAsia flight QZ8501 crashed into the Java Sea killing 155 passengers and seven crew members. Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Commission has finally determined the causes. In the Guardian, Kate Lamb explains that an electrical interruption to the Rudder Travel Limiter (RTL), “happened three times in the space of thirteen minutes, eventually causing the autopilot to disengage.” Thus the co-pilot was at the controls. That’s when the problems begun to compound. Lamb:

According to information gleaned from two black boxes and a cockpit recording, the pilot instructed the co-pilot to “pull down”, an order that was taken literally, sending the plane soaring up to 38,000 feet, at a rate of 20,000 feet per second.

“[The pilot] said, ‘Pull down, pull down.’ But when you pull down [the gear controls] the plane goes up. To make the plane go down you need to push, so this order was confusing,” said accident investigator Nurcahyo Utomo.

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The Russian Bomber Shot Down by Turkey: Challenging the Accepted Narrative (Part 1)

 Russian will likely put an end to Turkey President Erdogan’s goal of toppling Syria’s Assad regime. Pictured: a SU-24 Russian bomber. (Photo: Wikipedia)


Russian will likely put an end to Turkey President Erdogan’s goal of toppling Syria’s Assad regime. Pictured: a SU-24 Russian bomber. (Photo: Wikipedia)

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A few days ago the western media broadcasted a report — with something approaching glee and pomposity — on how a U.S.-made Turkish Air Force jet shut down a Russian SU-24 fighter jet in “self-defense.” The widely distributed — and generally accepted — official narratives used to support this position went as follows:

The incident occurred very near to the Turkish border with Syria, in Turkish territory, close to where Turkey’s Hatay and Syria’s Latakia Province meet in a region of wooded, mountainous terrain. According to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France, Hatay province was part of Syria in the original French mandate but was annexed by Turkish President Ataturk in 1939. Syria has never relinquished its claim to the province. At its widest point the province is approximately only 35 miles wide.
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Paris Attacks Widen Gap Between Germany and the Rest of the West

Berlin is committed to dismissing the West-vs-Rest theme. Pictured: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Photo: European Council / Flickr Commons)

Berlin is committed to dismissing the West-vs-Rest theme. Pictured: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Photo: European Council / Flickr Commons)

Although the ISIL is a convenient common enemy, the Paris attacks have widened the “deep rift within the Western world” and worsened the clash among the “Western Civilizations” themselves over the “inclusion of ‘the other’” which were highlighted in Diana Pinto’s article at Project Syndicate [Note 1].

Such a divide can be noted in some commentaries on the leading American journals. The latest, though not yet the last, straw added to the camel’s back is James Poulos’ Nov 18 Foreign Policy essay “France is at war … with Germany” which calls for regaining control over Europe back from Germany. If it is deemed as some sort of echo to John Vinocur’s “Germany turns against the West on Russia” in the Wall Street Journal [Note 2], then there is no surprise that the “United States did not just tap chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone but also eavesdropped on several of her ministers” [Note 3].
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Portugal: The Left Takes Charge

Portugal is the victim of the great 2008 international banking crisis, which saw speculators drove up the price of borrowing beyond what the country’s small economy could manage. (Photo: Matthew Shugart / Flickr Commons)

Portugal is the victim of the great 2008 international banking crisis, which saw speculators drove up the price of borrowing beyond what the country’s small economy could manage. Pictured: Portugal’s parliament building. (Photo: Matthew Shugart / Flickr Commons)

After several weeks of political brinkmanship, Portugal’s right-wing president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, finally backed off from his refusal to appoint the leader of a victorious left coalition as prime minister and accept the outcome of the Oct. 4 national elections. Silva’s stand-down has ushered in an interesting coalition that may have continent-wide ramifications.

Portugal’s elections saw three left parties—the Socialist Party, the Left Bloc, and the Communist/Green Alliance take 62 percent of the vote and end the right-wing Forward Portugal Party’s majority in the 230-seat parliament. Forward Portugal is made up of the Social Democratic Party and the Popular Party.
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