Focal Points Blog

The 7 Most Incisive Comments About the Iran Nuclear Deal

The Iran nuclear deal not only opened the door to improved relations with Iran, but to an outpouring of keen observations. Pictured: Chief nuclear negotiators U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo: Yahoo News)

The Iran nuclear deal not only opened the door to improved relations with Iran, but to an outpouring of keen observations. Pictured: Chief nuclear negotiators U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo: Yahoo News)

We shall start with a headline which, for me, sums up all the excruciating years of accusations, pre-negotiations, and negotiations, as well as the deal itself (which, as I observed yesterday, has no name, but which, I’ve since learned, goes by the singularly undistinctive name Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

Iran Won the Vienna Accords By Agreeing to Stop What It Never Was Doing

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Do Saudi Citizens Prefer the Islamic State to the House of Saud?

Saudi citizens may be questioning whether the House of Saud is qualified to be the guardian of holy cities Mecca and Medina. Pictured: King Saud Mosque in Jeddah. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Saudi citizens may be questioning whether the House of Saud is qualified to be the guardian of holy cities Mecca and Medina. Pictured: King Saud Mosque in Jeddah. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In a New York Review of Books review of an illuminating new book, Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, by Abdel Bari Atwan, Malise Ruthven cites a poll that seems to show that Saudi citizens might prefer to be ruled by the Islamic State instead of the House of Saud.

In an online poll conducted in July 2014, a formidable 92 percent of Saudi citizens agreed that ISIS “conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law.”

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Iran Nuclear Deal an “Act of Appeasement,” Raves Representative Republican

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, has something to celebrate. (Photo: Samuel Kubani / AFP / Flickr Commons)

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, has something to celebrate. (Photo: Samuel Kubani / AFP / Flickr Commons)

A part of me thinks that the Iran nuclear deal, finally concluded last night, is much ado about nothing. After all, Iran doesn’t have a nuclear-weapons program and doesn’t seem to have done any research toward that end since 2003 as nuclear powers the United States, Russia, and China continue to upgrade their systems. While the fear of Iran developing nuclear weapons was hyped, nevertheless the deal is important because it begins the process of relieving Iran of sanctions. With regards to which, reports the Guardian:

Once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has taken steps to shrink its programme, UN, US and EU sanctions will be lifted.

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Why Exactly Is the U.S. at War in Yemen?

Yemen is a battleground, the site of what aid organizations say is a human catastrophe. Pictured: Old Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

Yemen is a battleground, the site of what aid organizations say is a human catastrophe. Pictured: Old Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

The United States is currently waging war in six Middle East countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. America’s participation in these wars may include training the local army, using drones to attack suspected terrorists, providing weapons and logistical support to one side side or the other, or sending in American combat troops — sometimes all of the above. None of the countries in which the U.S.military is involved poses a threat to our national security, least of all Yemen.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has to import most of its food and other essentials, and only about half the population is literate. Yemen’s chief asset is the city of Aden, which lies on the Gulf of Aden south of Saudi Arabia and across from Somalia. It is, or was was until recently, a strategic port, one of the  best in the world. Aden was for many years under the control of British Petroleum, Inc., which turned it over to the Yemeni government in 1977.
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German Kettle Calls Greek Pot Black

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the Eurozone’s chief austerity enforcer. (Photo: European Council / Flickr Commons)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the Eurozone’s chief austerity enforcer. (Photo: European Council / Flickr Commons)

We will leave it to better economic minds than ours to determine the extent to which the Greek government capitulated to the European Union. But, the tremendous strides in humanity that German has taken since World War II aside, let’s take a moment to examine the hypocrisy the German government has demonstrated during the Greek debt crisis. The Nation posted An Open Letter From Thomas Piketty to Angela Merkel, which called for — in vain, apparently — “a humane rethink of the punitive and failed program of austerity of recent years and to agree to a major reduction of Greece’s debts in conjunction with much needed reforms in Greece.”
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Ripped From Hillary’s Emails: French Plot to Overthrow Gaddafi and Help Itself to Libya’s Oil

“Philosopher“ Bernard Henri-Levy (aka, BHL) worked undercover as a journalist to engineer the deal with Libya, thus paving the way for yet more journalists to be accused of being spies. (Photo: Itzik Edri / Wikimedia Commons)

“Philosopher“ Bernard Henri-Levy (aka, BHL) worked undercover as a journalist to engineer the deal with Libya, thus paving the way for yet more journalists to be accused of being spies. (Photo: Itzik Edri / Wikimedia Commons)

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

The Congressional harrying of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over emails concerning the 2012 death of an American Ambassador and three staff members in Benghazi, Libya, has become a sort of running joke, with Republicans claiming “cover-up” and Democrats dismissing the whole matter as nothing more than election year politics. But there is indeed a story embedded in the emails, one that is deeply damning of American and French actions in the Libyan civil war, from secretly funding the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi, to the willingness to use journalism as a cover for covert action.

The latest round of emails came to light June 22 in a fit of Republican pique over Clinton’s prevarications concerning whether she solicited intelligence from her advisor, journalist and former aide to President Bill Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal. If most newspaper readers rolled their eyes at this point and decided to check out the ball scores, one can hardly blame them.

But that would be a big mistake.
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Will Use of Surface-to-Air Missiles by Islamic State Lure U.S. Into Wider War?

The United States needs to be wary of being lured into a wider war with the Islamic State, which appears to be shooting down Iraqi Army helicopters with weapons such as this. (Photo: U.S. Army / Flickr Commons)

The United States needs to be wary of being lured into a wider war with the Islamic State, which appears to be shooting down Iraqi Army helicopters with weapons such as this. (Photo: U.S. Army / Flickr Commons)

In October of last year, in the New York Times, Kirk Semple and Eric Schmitt  reported on Islamic State videos showing Islamic State forces shooting down Iraqi Army helicopters with shoulder-launched missiles, also known as Manpads (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems). They then speculated that allied airstrikes “will bring out more proof of the jihadists’ antiaircraft abilities.”
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The Mutual Benefits of Exaggerating the Soviet Union’s Nuclear Weapons

During the Cold War, the United States tried to convince its public it didn’t have enough nuclear weapons, while Russia, which had fewer, tried to convince its public that it had enough. Pictured: Russian intercontinental ballistic missile. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

During the Cold War, the United States tried to convince its public it didn’t have enough nuclear weapons, while Russia, which had fewer, tried to convince its public that it had enough. Pictured: Russian intercontinental ballistic missile. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

Nuclear weapons rival free-market economics for generating far-fetched and convoluted lines of thought. Here’s an example from a book I’m rereading (and with a much greater appreciation of its importance): the third edition of Lawrence Freedman’s The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). Regarding the Cold War (emphasis added):

If it came to nuclear war the Russians did consider, as an article of faith, that their society was better suited to cope with a nuclear war than capitalist societies. They also took practical steps to improve their civil defences, though much of this took the form of reassurances to the population that atomic war could be survived if sensible precautions were taken. There was, however, an important cultural point that needs to be borne in mind when considering the pronouncements of Soviet and American commentators when assessing the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and each other. There has always been an element of reassurance in Soviet pronouncements on the state of the strategic balance, a function perhaps of the inferior position from which the Soviet Union began the nuclear age and the consequent desire to avoid defeatism (and the generally optimistic tone about all thing encouraged by the prevailing ideology). The Americans, because of a sense of declining superiority, erred in the opposite direction, stressing the gains being made by the Soviet Union. Often a motive could be found in the desire to encourage a more determined national effort in the arms race. It was quite possible for the Americans to offer gloomy assessments of a decisive tilt in the balance toward the Soviet Union, have it confirmed by Soviet leaders, and yet still be wrong. As will be seen, this is precisely what happened in the late 1950s.

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The Beach Massacre in Tunisia: Seifeddine Rezgui’s Last Break Dance

The seaside resort of Sousse, the latest site of Islamist extremist violence in Tunisia. (Photo: Damian Entwhistle / Flickr Commons)

The seaside resort of Sousse, the latest site of Islamist extremist violence in Tunisia. (Photo: Damian Entwhistle / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

The idea that Tunisia represents something of an Arab Spring success story  in contrast to the turmoil experienced elsewhere in the Middle East, has been an integral part of the Western media narrative about the region. Yet, from the outset, the post-Ben Ali Tunisian transformation has been a bumpy and frankly, fragile affair in many ways. True enough, the Ben Ali repressive yoke has been lifted. That much has changed for the better. However, the recent massacre of foreign tourists in Sousse underlines many of the thorny structural problems that remain. I mention this, by the way, as one who has confidence – boarding on faith – in the Tunisian people’s ability to overcome these difficulties in the long run.  — RJP

A number of themes have converged to make Tunisia more of a target of terrorist attacks from ISIS-like radicals than in the past, much of it blowback from the NATO attack on Libya that brought an end to Khadaffi’s rule.
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A Death Knell for the North Korea Regime

Governments, such as that of North Korea, based on terror against their own people, have a planned obsolescence. Pictured: the Arirang mass games. (Photo:  Stephan / Flickr Commons )

Governments, such as that of North Korea, based on terror against their own people, have a planned obsolescence. Pictured: the Arirang mass games. (Photo: Stephan / Flickr Commons )

At the National Interest, Jamie Metzl, who has served on the National Security Council, writes of North Korea:

… those predicting its imminent collapse have continually been proven wrong. But today, the North Korean madness may well be nearing its endgame. I predict it will be gone within a decade.

Metzl writes that North Korea’s continued existence is contingent upon exercising a reign of terror over its own people, its possession of nuclear weapons, and improving its economy. He doesn’t actually spell out how subjugating its people will lead to its destruction except to note that

Economic reform … cannot work in North Korea without political reform. Greater access to information and freer movement of people and goods are essential underpinnings of a reforming economy. These same reforms would also undermine the legitimacy of the regime.

As for how its nuclear-weapons program will work against it, Metzl writes:

The further development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, however, will ultimately put it at odds with China, its essential benefactor. …  China will rightly come to perceive the North’s nuclear program as being designed primarily to limit Beijing’s influence over Pyongyang. This will likely prove unacceptable to the Chinese, who will be forced to increase economic pressure on North Korea by reducing aid.

Meanwhile, the reforms required for a healthy economy would

… force it to choose between shutting down economic reform to maintain totalitarian control or allowing the spark of political change to ignite that will, over time, become inextinguishable.

… With no logical path forward, the DPRK government will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, as we may already be seeing in the recent wave of high-level executions.

No one wishes the chaos that accompanies a change in political systems on North Korea. We will leave it to someone with more knowledge of the region to make the case that said chaos is preferable to the status quo.

 

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