Focal Points Blog

Will Russia Turn Its Full Fury on the Islamic State?

Russia may turn its attention from rebels fighting the Assad regime to the Islamic State. (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr Commons)

Russia may turn its attention from rebels fighting the Assad regime to the Islamic State. (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr Commons)

If such a tragic event as the crash of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268, the likely result of a bomb on the plane, can be said to have one, a sampling of U.S. intelligence personnel see a silver lining.

Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef at the Daily Beast write:

Now, six U.S. intelligence and military officials told The Daily Beast that they hoped an ISIS attack on Russian civilians would force Putin to finally take the gloves off and attack the group, which the U.S. has been trying to dislodge from Iraq and Syria for more than a year, without success.

“Now maybe they will start attacking [ISIS],” one senior defense official smugly wondered last week. “And stop helping them,” referring to ISIS gains in Aleppo that came, in part, because the group took advantage of Russian strikes on other rebels and militant outfits.

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The Middle East: The Only Way Forward Is Unification

Meanwhile, the post-Ottoman regional order, as envisioned by the Western powers, has collapsed. Pictured: map of the Ottoman Empire. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, the post-Ottoman regional order, as envisioned by the Western powers, has collapsed. Pictured: map of the Ottoman Empire. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Ever since World War I, if there is one region of the world that has been in constant turmoil, it is the Middle East (or West Asia, whichever way you like to call it). European imperialism, post-colonial despotism or neo-colonialism — there are many reasons that can be held responsible for the plight of the Middle East. I discussed the historical factors responsible for the ongoing strife in the Middle East in an earlier article.

A century has passed since the First World War, and while the rest of the world has moved on, the Middle East still continues to be in trouble, with a new issue arising every other day. As painful as it might be, the fact remains that the Middle East still has a long way to go, and the region has, so far, not risen from the ashes of the First World War.

What lies ahead for the Middle Eastern people and countries?
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Constructive Conflict Applications in Obama’s Foreign Policies

(Source: The Official White House Photostream / Flickr)

President Obama’s foreign policy is characterized by minimizing U.S. resort to violence, narrowing targets and drawing upon multilateral support. (Source: The Official White House Photostream / Flickr)

President Barack Obama’s foreign policies have had important successes that demonstrate creative applications of the increasingly recognized constructive conflict approach. However, Obama is widely attacked as if he were responsible for the many ongoing terribly destructive foreign conflicts. Criticisms of Obama’s administration have usually come from the political right in the United States and others committed to opposing Obama. They attack him for being naïve and insufficiently tough. Even analysts sympathetic to Obama’s foreign policies are sometimes critical of his failure to rely more on coercion and military force.

Indeed, Obama appears to minimize U.S. resort to violence, while narrowing the targets and drawing upon multilateral support. In addition, he has used diplomacy to restructure conflicts and taken into account how adversaries view a conflict so as to maximize the effectiveness of non-coercive inducements. These qualities are central in the constructive conflict approach, which synthesizes conflict resolution and peace studies, fields contributing empirically grounded knowledge about ways to reduce destructive conflicts. Indeed, Obama has had notable foreign policy successes by acting in accord with the constructive conflict approach.   Furthermore, some seeming failures might well have been averted, not by more militancy, but by more prompt and consistent use of constructive conflict strategies.
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Little-Known UN Provision Could Solve Syria

bashar-al-assad-syrian-civil-war

The UN actually has a provision for placing a state that’s threatened by internal forces under the trusteeship of a designated state. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

I know it’s already appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus, but a recommendation by Don Kraus, the Chief Executive Officer of Citizens for Global Solutions, for peace in Syria are so fresh and unique that it deserves to be tossed into the progressive media echo chamber. Kraus writes:

The Syrian conflict threatens the peace and security of the entire world. Perhaps it’s time to use the UN for its founding purpose: to end the scourge of war. The other 192 UN member states, including Assad’s allies Russia and Iran, should suspend Syria’s UN membership, which can be done under Article 5 of the UN Charter.

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Insights Into the Resistance Movement in Turkey (First in a Series)

Blatant disrespect by the AKP government for the victims of the recent Ankara bombing show that a sanctioned societal and psychological war as well as military conflict was taking place against the Kurdish movement. (Photo: Kesk)

Blatant disrespect by the AKP government for the victims of the recent Ankara bombing show that a sanctioned societal and psychological war as well as military conflict was taking place against the Kurdish movement. (Photo: Kesk)

As a student of international relations and journalist, I spent a week in Istanbul and Ankara interviewing those I consider activists in a resistance movement in Turkey. What happened to turn them against their government? What did they think of the Kurdish movement and its guerrilla forces? This was originally intended to be a dispassionate research trip, however, it was impossible for me to be apolitical once war began to rage in Northern Kurdistan. Already biased toward the left-leaning People’s Democracy Party (HDP) and Kurdish rights, I found myself becoming a member of this resistance after the bombing in Ankara—the worst mass murder in modern Turkey—due in large part to the chilling response of the governing party and its supporters.
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Portugal’s Democracy Crisis

Despite a left majority in the parliament, Portugal’s President Aníbal Cavaco Silva reappointed the right-wing alliance’s leader, Pedro Coelho, as prime minister. (Photo: © European Union 2013 — European Parliament / Flickr Commons)

Despite a left majority in the parliament, Portugal’s President Aníbal Cavaco Silva reappointed the right-wing alliance’s leader, Pedro Coelho, as prime minister. (Photo: © European Union 2013 — European Parliament / Flickr Commons)

Within a week, Europe will face one of the most serious challenges to democracy it has seen in many decades. On Nov. 10 Portugal’s minority right-wing government will likely lose a vote of confidence, initiating a series of events that will determine whether voters in the European Union (EU) still have the right to a government of their own choosing.

The crisis was set off by the Oct. 4 elections that saw the right-wing Forward Portugal coalition, which has overseen austerity policies that have driven 20 percent of the population below the poverty line, lose its majority in the parliament to three parties on the left: the Socialist Party, the Left Bloc, and a Communist/Green alliance.
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U.S. Air Force Using Putin to Justify Trillion-Dollar Bomber

The cost of the new Long Range Strategic Bomber is staggering. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

The cost of the new Long Range Strategic Bomber is staggering. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

The US Air Force just awarded a contract for its new bomber to Northrop Grumman. The price tag for what it calls the Long Range Strategic Bomber (LRS)? As Charles Tiefer writes at Forbes: “The contract is for $800 million per plane – or $80 billion for the whole fleet.” Northop had already designed and built the B-2 Stealth bomber. Another reason it got the contract, writes Alexander Cohen for the Center for Public Integrity:

Lobbyists and officials at Northrop Grumman have spent years greasing the wheels on Capitol Hill to ensure congressional support for the program and for the firm’s central role in it.

… Congress has given the program $2 billion so far, starting in fiscal 2011. That year, the House Armed Services Committee, then chaired by Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., even added $100 million more than the $197 million the Air Force requested for new bomber work for the 2012 fiscal year.

The company, through its political action committees and via its employees, contributed $4.6 million to the campaigns and leadership PACs of 224 lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees.

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U.S. and Saudi Arabia: A Toxic Alliance

Walking with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is intent on reducing Iran’s influence in the Middle East. (Photo: U.S. Dept. of State)

Walking with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is intent on reducing Iran’s influence in the Middle East. (Photo: U.S. Dept. of State)

The good news this week was that Iran was included in the international conference in Vienna aimed at achieving a ceasefire in Syria. The bad news was that the conference ended without agreement, and with the participants firmly divided. As a consequence, there is no end in sight to a war that has lasted 4 years, killed a quarter of a million people, and driven 11 million into exile.

What began as a peaceful protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that provoked a harsh response by Assad’s security forces, has since evolved into an international conflict. Participants include rebels supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf emirates who are seeking to oust Assad, and the Syrian army, backed by Russia and Iran. President Obama’s recent decision to send in 50 Special Forces troops to Syria as “advisers” to the rebels, and his pledge of an additional $100 million in aid, set the United States firmly in the camp of Saudi Arabia and the emirates.
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Did Hillary Clinton Delegate Too Much as Secretary of State?

Which is worse: micro-managing or a hands-off policy? Pictured: Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. (Photo: Zimbio)

Which is worse: micro-managing or a hands-off policy? Pictured: Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. (Photo: Zimbio)

Conventional wisdom has it that Hillary Clinton, unlike her husband, is not a natural campaigner. An apparently guarded person, she needs to be reminded to open up and let the public get to know her. Beyond that, though, any character issues on her part are seldom spoken or written about. On October 28, Politico Magazine posted an article by Michael Hirsh titled What Benghazi says about how Hillary Clinton leads. He writes:

Now that Hillary Clinton has her inevitability groove back, not least because last week’s Benghazi hearing left her looking, if anything, more presidential (as even a few frustrated Republicans admitted), maybe it’s time to ask what the whole imbroglio says about her management style. Perhaps we should ask one question that wasn’t asked on Capitol Hill: What does her performance on Libya tell us about the kind of president she would be?

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In Foreign Policy, Nature May Love a Vacuum

In foreign policy, the adage “Nature abhors a vacuum” should be turned on its head. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

In foreign policy, the adage “Nature abhors a vacuum” should be turned on its head. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

Some think that President Obama’s refusal to mount commit boots on the ground in Syria against the Islamic State (or the Assad regime, for that matter) has left a vacuum into which Russia (as well as Iran) have inserted themselves. As in “Nature abhors a vacuum.” In an article at the National Interest, Paul Pillar writes about how dangerous cliched metaphors — such as dominoes, or the current favorite that he cites, vacuum — are when used in relation to foreign policy.
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