Focal Points Blog

U.S. Still Friends With Gulf States Despite Sunni Slaughter of Shia

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

You may have heard that the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant  has seized control of a large part of Fallujah, Iraq. Meanwhile, in Northern Syria, Isis, as it’s known, is not only ostensibly fighting with President Assad’s regime but others also opposed to it: the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front. In fact, BBC reports,  a member of  National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces said, “Isis is an extension of the Assad regime.”

Also, you may have heard that in December, al-Nusra and Jaysh al-Islamd, a division of the Islamic Front, massacred between 20 and 100 Alawites, Druze, Christians, and Shiites in Adra, Syria, complete with beheadings and the attendant necrophilia we’ve all grown to know and love with Sunni Islamist extremists, according to Russian journalists.
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More Sanctions on Iran = Uranium Enriched to a Higher Grade

Ratcheting up the Rhetoric on Iran

(David Holt / Flickr)

In light of how much it has invested in uranium enrichment, it’s unrealistic to expect Iran to abandon the process. At the National Interest, Colin Kahl explains.

Given the significant financial investment—estimated to be at least $100 billion—and political capital the regime has expended to master uranium enrichment, the supreme leader will not agree to completely dismantle Iran’s program as many in Congress demand. … If Khamenei senses [President] Rouhani and [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Zarif are headed in that direction, he will likely pull the rug out from under continued negotiations, regardless of U.S. threats to escalate the pressure further.
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To Washington, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan Has Gone Off the Reservation

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen

The current corruption crisis zeroing in on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan has all the elements of one of his country’s famous soap operas that tens of millions of people all over the Middle East tune in to each day: bribes, shoe boxes filled with millions in cash, and dark whispers of foreign conspiracies.

As prosecutors began arresting leading government officials and businessmen, the Prime Minister claims that some foreign “ambassadors are engaging in provocative actions,” singling out U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone. The international press has largely dismissed Erdogan’s charges as a combination of paranoia and desperation, but might the man have a point?
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Is Assad Really a Master Strategist?

Assad

With recent events in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad seems to have pulled off two coups. In November, NBC’s Richard Engel described the more obvious of the two.

In exchange for destroying the poison gas and the factories that make it – a process that’s almost impossible to verify — there would be no U.S. military strike. Assad would get to stay in power and continue his war with “conventional weapons,” including artillery and Scud missile attacks on civilian areas, napalm dropped on schools, and starving the opposition into submission. Even more shocking is that Assad has weathered the crisis appearing to the world as reasonable, rational and ready to compromise.  
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Beta Testing Drones on Unwitting Subjects

Predator_and_Hellfire

In a moving testimony at the Guardian, Heather Linebaugh, a former drone analyst for the United States, writes:

“Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them a few questions. I’d start with: ‘How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?’ And: ‘How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?’”
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Hungary’s Relative Income Equality Hides Other Inequities

Robert Braun, chairman of Hungary's  New Economics Foundation

Robert Braun, chairman of Hungary’s New Economics Foundation

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

If you look just at the statistics, Hungary seems to be doing pretty well, inequality-wise. The country experienced a significant spike in poverty and household inequality after the political changes of 1989-90. But since then, its rate of inequality has remained around the European average. It moved from Scandinavian levels of inequality (according to the Gini coefficient) to a situation comparable to, say, France. Moreover, according to at least one estimate, significant government redistribution efforts have been responsible for this trend.

But these statistics obscure a couple important facts. Particularly after the financial crisis of 2008, the poorest segments of the population were hit hardest in terms of loan repayments. “Indebted households in the lowest income quintile pay a higher share of their income as debt repayment, and they are also more likely to be in arrears with their repayments because of financial difficulties,” according to one article on income inequality in Hungary.
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Pakistan Allows China to Use Karachi as Lab Rats in Nuclear-Energy Experiment

Karachi. Wikimedia Commons

Karachi. Wikimedia Commons

As if Karachi didn’t have enough problems. Already, it’s “far and away the world’s most dangerous megacity,” writes Taimur Khan in Foreign Policy. Due, in large part to Sunni attacks on Shiites, its homicide rate is “25 percent higher than any other major city.” Now it’s broken ground on two new nuclear power plants. All together now: What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, even more than you think and for a reason outside the bounds of nuclear energy’s attendant risks.
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Foreign Policy Thin-Sliced (12/26)

Image Wikimedia Commons

Image Wikimedia Commons

More Affection? When Was There Any?

“There’s now more appreciation and even some nostalgia for [George W. Bush’s] resolve, the clarity of his convictions; things that were sometimes seen as liability when he was in office are now looked at with more affection,” said William C. Inboden, a former aide and the executive director of the Clements Center on History, Strategy and Statecraft at the University of Texas, Austin.  [Emphasis added.]

As Bush Settles Into Dallas, Golf Tees and Family Time Now Trump Politics, Peter Baker, the New York Times
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Is South Sudan a Failed State?

 South Sudan President Salva Kiir. Image Wikimedia Commons


South Sudan President Salva Kiir. Image Wikimedia Commons

Back in July 2011, after a long civil war, South Sudan split from Sudan to become an independent country. However, even though statehood was achieved and a new country was born, the efforts to transform South Sudan into a proper nation-state seem to have come to a standstill.

Is South Sudan a failed state? Even worse, is the country almost on the brink of collapse? In this article, I shall attempt to answer these questions.
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U.S. Determined to Re-freeze Thaw in Relations With Iran

Arak large

Iran’s Arak heavy-water facility

It was only supposed to be Iran’s uranium enrichment progress that was frozen after talks with Iran last month. But now, acting in bad faith by violating the spirit of the Geneva deal between the G5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran, the United States seems to be doing its level best to re-freeze the recent thaw in relations between the G5+1 and Iran. If you’ll bear with me for a final sub-Arctic-temperature metaphor, the United States has frozen the assets of (reports the Jerusalem Post) “companies and individuals engaged in transactions on behalf of other companies that the United States previously designated under the sanctions.”

Now is as good a time as any to ask what Americans ― from “low-information voters” to those who follow the news ― think the problem is between Iran and the West. Speaking in the broadest terms, many are under the impression that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Moving up one level of awareness, others believe that, at present, Iran is not building nuclear weapons, but that it must be stopped from enriching uranium lest it one day divert it to nuclear weapons.
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