Focal Points Blog

Greece: Echoes of Battles Past

Can Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (pictured) repeat the Greek army’s success of 480 B.C.E. at Salamis and best what looks like another unbeatable foe? (Photo: Subversive Interview / Wikimedia Commons)

Can Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (pictured) repeat the Greek army’s success of 480 B.C.E. at Salamis and best what looks like another unbeatable foe? (Photo: Subversive Interview / Wikimedia Commons)

The recent negotiations between Greece and the European Union (EU) bring to mind Themistocles, a man who knew when to retreat and when to fight. The year was 480 BC and Xerxes I—“the king with half the east at heel”—was marching on Greece with a massive army accompanied by an enormous fleet. Against the invasion stood a small Greek army, led by Leonidas of Sparta, and an equally outnumbered navy, commanded by the Athenian, Themistocles.

It didn’t look good for the Greeks in August 480 BC. The Persian army was at least 10 times the size of the Greek force, and Themistocles was outnumbered almost three to one. It didn’t look good for Syriza in 2015: not a single EU member supported the Greek call for easing the debt crisis and ending the punishing austerity regime that has shattered the country’s economy and impoverished many of its people.
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Netanyahu’s Fears — and What Really Matters

The process of real negotiations, especially with a diversity of states, runs counter to Netanyahu’s formula for sustaining and expanding the occupation. (Photo: IsraelinUSA / Flickr Commons)

The process of real negotiations, especially with a diversity of states, runs counter to Netanyahu’s formula for sustaining and expanding the occupation. (Photo: IsraelinUSA / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from Leon’s Op-Ed.

The battle over whether the Iran negotiations go forward or are forced to fail is bigger than the terms of any “deal.” An agreement won’t decide any of the great issues of our time, but it bears on which way the world will turn in this century.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and Iran are at the table negotiating a difficult issue. Sadly, that’s a rare phenomenon in a world torn by chaotic violence, wars, big power rivalries, and fears of worse to come. Negotiations and cooperation could be viewed as a sign of hope, one small step toward coming together on humanity’s most unavoidable challenges: climate change and the threat of nuclear war.
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U.S. and Iran’s Two-Track War Against the Islamic State

Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, was observed drinking tea on the front lines of the war with the Islamic State. (Photo: BBC)

Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, was observed drinking tea on the front lines of the war with the Islamic State. (Photo: BBC)

President Obama is loath to commit troops on the ground to halt and roll back the progress of the Islamic State. Instead, writes the Helene Cooper in the New York Times, he “is becoming increasingly dependent on Iranian fighters as he tries to contain the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria.” At least until the United States is able to bring Iraq’s armed forces up to speed (don’t hold your breath). Though “American officials have said the United States is not coordinating with Iran, one of its fiercest global foes, in the fight against a common enemy.”
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Boulder, Colorado Boy Makes Media Splash as Islamist Extremist Blogger in Istanbul

Arab Spring protest in Paris, 2011. (Photo: Gwenael Piaser / Flickr)

Arab Spring protest in Paris, 2011. (Photo: Gwenael Piaser / Flickr)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

Boulder Colorado

Gotta love it and I do — although it’s kind of an American Disney World: mountains, Boulder Creek that I used to tube down on hot summer days 45 years ago with my friend Michael Neuschatz, one of the best public libraries anywhere and, of course, the University of Colorado with its library and (to my tastes anyhow) its stunning location. There’s also the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center — one of the few locally grown and subsidized independent peace centers in the country, founded by, among others, LeRoy Moore who remains, now in his early 80s, one of the foremost authorities on the nuclear arms race, nuclear weapons, etc. and David Barsamian, founder of Alternative Radio, with worldwide listener-ship. Then there is the Boulder Farmers’ Market — admittedly a bit pricey — but still, one of the better places to get locally grown organic food in the state, one of the founders of which was one Lowell Fey, my father-in-law. In an attempt to lower its carbon emissions, Boulder is also leading the country as a municipality intent on buying back, re-introducing into the public sphere its energy company from XCel Energy.
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Caldicott Nuclear Disarmament Conference Frightening, But Inspiring

Due to, among other things, modernization, nuclear disarmament has receded further on the horizon than ever. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons)

Due to, among other things, modernization, nuclear disarmament has receded further on the horizon than ever. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons)

The Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction is the cheerful title of a symposium that Dr. Helen Caldicott hosted this past weekend at the Academy of Medicine in New York City. In truth, the dynamics that could generate  nuclear extinction are pretty simple: leaders of nuclear powers, such as the United States and Russia, failing to acknowledge how the gap between a nascent stand-off (such as Ukraine) and nuclear war, however reassuring it might seem, can close quickly. Or any number of accidents, as documented by Eric Schlosser in his book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, could repeat themselves and our luck could run out. Meanwhile, looming in the background like an understudy on the world stage is nuclear terrorism.

That said, Dr. Caldicott assembled a heady mix of activists and experts that resulted in an energizing event far removed from the stereotype of an academic conference. Below are some of the highlights, replete with incongruities, and the responses they evoked in me. First, allow me to say what a privilege it was to witness Dr. Caldicott, who moderated the first day, in action.
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Caldicott Disarmament Conference a Voice in the Wilderness

Dr. Helen Caldicott remains a leading light in the disarmament movement. (Photo: Paul Rifkin / Flickr Commons)

Dr. Helen Caldicott remains a leading light in the disarmament movement. (Photo: Paul Rifkin / Flickr Commons)

Apologies for a lapse in posting. I spent the weekend at a symposium organized by Dr. Helen Caldicott cheerfully titled The Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction. In both speakers and audience, it was a mix of education and activism. I was hoping to have a post prepared about the highlights today, but I’m still backed up; hope to have it done by tomorrow a.m. In the meantime here’s a placeholder for the post — one of the “takeaways” (a word I usually don’t use) from the event:

It’s sadly ironic, but lower yields (explosive power) and decreased arsenals are proving as great a threat as the high-yield weapons and enormous arsenals of yore (the ’60s).

Why? Because they’re key ingredients of a recipe for an enduring nuclear-weapons program.

More tomorrow.

Threat Islamic State Poses to West Pales in Comparison to Threat It Poses to Other Muslims

A government building in the Islamic State’s de facto capital Raqqa, Syria. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

A government building in the Islamic State’s de facto capital Raqqa, Syria. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

At Foreign Policy, James Traub says he found post-9/11 talk of world war beteen “Islamofascism” and the West hyperbolic. With the rise of the Islamic State, however, he writes, “Suddenly, however, the metaphor of world war does not seem so hyperbolic.” The Islamic State is conducting “a war inside a non-Western civilization that has overtaken and consumed the West.” In fact

The “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria represents a very serious threat to the West, but it is an existential challenge to the Islamic regimes in the region.

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Submarines, Long Thought the Solution to Sea Warfare, Suddenly Look Dated

The future of submarines may be as underwater aircraft carriers. Pictured: the Brirish battleship the HMS Dreadnought. (Photo: U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command)

The future of submarines may be as underwater aircraft carriers. Pictured: the Brirish battleship the HMS Dreadnought. (Photo: U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command)

It seems like only yesterday that American battleships were declared obsolete (though some still exist) because they were sitting ducks, required too much personnel, and their shells were unguided. As well, aircraft carriers suffer from the first two shortcomings. The consensus was that the future of sea warfare was submarines with their stealth, mobility, and guided missiles.

Now, submarines, writes Harry Kazianis at the National Interest, may be destined for the same fate. How could that happen so fast?
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How Much Does a Nuclear Weapon Actually Cost?

One third of the Energy Department's budget is allocated to nuclear weapons. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons)

One third of the Energy Department’s budget is allocated to nuclear weapons. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons)

The controversial, so-called fifth generation fighter, the F-35, still in development, is slated to cost from $114 to $142 million per unit in the early stages of production. The B-2 Spirit Stealth bomber costs a min-boggling $2.2 billion. It’s capable of carrying 40,000 pounds of bombs, including nuclear.

You seldom hear the cost of one nuclear weapon itemized, perhaps because it’s difficult to do. But in his new Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists column, the Institute of Policy Study’s own Robert Alvarez attempts to do just that. 
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Church and State in Poland

Catholic intellectual Michael Luczewski. (Photo: John Feffer)

Catholic intellectual Michael Luczewski. (Photo: John Feffer)

Poland has one of the stricter laws on abortion in Europe. Abortion is illegal except if the life of the mother is at risk, the fetus has a major defect, or the pregnancy is the result of a confirmed rape. Poland, Ireland, and Malta are the only countries in Europe that do not allow abortion on request. All three countries are also predominantly Catholic (95 percent for Malta, 91 percent for Poland, 84 percent for Ireland).

The Catholic Church is an important and powerful institution in Poland, and the abortion law is just one of the areas of social policy where it exerts influence. As a Catholic intellectual, Michal Luczewski is happy that the Church has this influence. “Poland is the only case where we overturned a very liberal abortion law that made abortion legal for everyone who used it,” he told me in an interview in Warsaw in August 2013. “We were able to overturn it and now it really works. We did research last year. More young people favor the ‘restrictive’ law — for me it’s not restrictive — than oppose it. The Church worked top down in passing the law, but in the long run it worked well with the masses.”
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