Focal Points Blog

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)

1.

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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Top U.S. Officials Caved on Hiroshima as Well as H-bomb

Not only did Russia respond to American development of the H-bomb by developing its own, so did other countries. Pictured: British thermonuclear bomb test. (Photo: RAF)

Not only did Russia respond to American development of the H-bomb by developing its own, so did other countries. Pictured: British thermonuclear bomb test. (Photo: RAF)

Increasingly it looks as if the nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not critical to Japan’s surrender in World War II. Revisionist history is slowly becoming conventional wisdom. It seems as if the Japanese command, inured to all the bombing it had already received by the United States before Hiroshima and Nagasaki was, instead, prompted to surrender because Russia invaded Manchuria, China, not far from Japan.

Controversy has also arisen about exactly what the United States hoped to accomplish by dropping nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The conventional wisdom is that it was to summarily bring the curtain down on the Japanese war effort,  thus sparing vast numbers of allied soldiers whose lives would have been lost in the other alternative, invading Japan.
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Islamic State’s Terrorist Acts Threaten State It’s Creating

Is the Islamic State terrorists or a state? All we can say for sure is that it’s got a group death wish. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

Is the Islamic State terrorists or a state? All we can say for sure is that it’s got a group death wish. Pictured: government building in Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

The Islamic State wasted no time in turning the territories it conquered into an actual state, especially Raqqa, Syria, it’s de facto capital. Writes Michael Weiss at the Daily Beast:

ISIS likes a tidy state and maintains one courtesy of the Diwan al-Khadamat, or Office of Services. … Here, too, the bureaucracy is impressive. Diwan al-Khadamat includes a sanitation department, a parks department, a building licensing department, and an electric utility.

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Assad the Cornerstone That Must Be Removed Before the Edifice of the Islamic State Collapses

Pictured: a Russian Tu-160 Blackjack, one of the planes Russia is using to bomb the Islamic State. (Photo: Poder Aereo)

Pictured: a Russian Tu-160 Blackjack, one of the planes Russia is using to bomb the Islamic State. (Photo: Poder Aereo)

When Russia sent jets and fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, it wasn’t principally targeting the Islamic State, but the other rebel forces. Thus, it seemed counterproductive on the part of the Islamic State to plant a bomb on Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 and re-direct the bulk of Russia’s attention to it. In fact, the Islamic State bit off way more than it could chew. At the Daily Beast, David Axe reported:

The Russian air force just pulled off one of the biggest and most complex heavy bomber missions in modern history—sending no fewer than 25 Backfire, Bear, and Blackjack bombers on a coordinated, long-range air raid against alleged ISIS forces in Syria.

The Tuesday mission, which launched under the cover of darkness from a base in Ossetia in southern Russia, signaled a significant escalation of Moscow’s air war in Syria—and heralded the rebirth of Russian heavy bomber squadrons that once had withered from a lack of funding.

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Paris Attacks Spur Hillary Clinton to Distance Herself from President Obama

Hillary Clinton is distancing herself from President Obama’s policy of containing the Islamic State. (Photo: Joe Crimmings / Flickr Commons)

Hillary Clinton is distancing herself from President Obama’s policy of containing the Islamic State. (Photo: Joe Crimmings / Flickr Commons)

The last time the candidate of the party that occupied the presidency sought to succeed the president, he steered clear of the latter’s foreign policy. To wit, Mitt Romney kept George W. Bush and his invasion of Iraq at arms length. Conversely, Hillary Clinton has been only too happy to identify herself with President Obama’s foreign policy, in which she was instrumental as his first secretary of state. But no longer, writes Amy Chozick in the New York Times.
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Insights Into the Resistance Movement in Turkey (Second in a Series)

Turkish authorities could have investigated suspects in the July 20 suicide bombing in the Kurdish town of Suruç, but instead allowed them to remain free and commit the Ankara bombing, the worst terror attack in modern Turkey. Pictured: victims of the Ankara bombing. (Photo: Kesk)

Turkish authorities could have investigated suspects in the July 20 suicide bombing in the Kurdish town of Suruç, but instead allowed them to remain free and commit the Ankara bombing, the worst terror attack in modern Turkey. Pictured: victims of the Ankara bombing. (Photo: Kesk)

Levels of Resistance

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. 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.

After the Ankara bombing, a statement by the People’s Democracy Party (HDP) co-chairs, Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdag—it is an HDP rule that both a man and a woman serve together—called for the “international community who stand in solidarity, to extend their condolences directly to the peoples of Turkey—not to the state representatives who are politically and administratively responsible from the massacre.” Privy as I was to the ruling elite’s smirking complicity in the fiery extermination of innocents, when President Obama called President Erdogan to offer our American condolences, I wanted to vomit. Another nausea-inducing development was the November 1 parliamentary election that saw Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) violently regain sole custody of the government in Turkey, after five months without it. President Obama called with congratulations, but at least he waited eight days—perhaps recognizing the polarized, war-filled Turkey the AKP left in the election’s wake.
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