Focal Points Blog

Like Bush With Iraq, President Obama Seeks Coalition to Fight Islamic State

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

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

Were they not addicted to barbarism and conquest, I personally would have no objection to letting the Islamic State rule the parts of Syria and Iraq it now occupies. IS could show those countries a thing or two about governing. At Abu Dhabi’s the National, Maryam Karouny reports:

In the cities and towns across north-east Syria, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of daily life.

The group known for its beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions provides electricity and water, pays salaries, controls traffic, and runs nearly everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques.

While its merciless battlefield tactics and its imposition of its austere vision of Islamic law have won the group headlines, residents say much of its power lies in its efficient and often deeply pragmatic ability to govern.

Syria’s eastern province of Raqqa provides the best illustration of their methods. Members hold up the province as an example of life under the Islamic “caliphate” they hope will one day stretch from China to Europe.

In the provincial capital, a dust-blown city that was home to about a quarter of a million people before Syria’s three-year-old war began, the group leaves almost no institution or public service outside of its control.

“Let us be honest, they are doing massive institutional work. It is impressive,” one activist from Raqqa who now lives in a border town in Turkey said.

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Japan Still Hobbled by Racism and Militarism

The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where the souls of Japan’s war dead — war criminals included— are enshrined. (Photo: Hajime Nagahata / Flickr)

The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where the souls of Japan’s war dead — war criminals included— are enshrined. (Photo: Hajime Nagahata / Flickr)

Cross-posted from The Narrow Corner.

I spent a total of about three years in Japan, including a recent stint in Tokyo. As such, I think I’m in a position to offer some comments about the reality of life there, beyond the stereotype of bullet trains, neon signs, girls in weird clothes and workaholic ‘salarymen’. Here’s an honest take on the place.

Japan faces two monumental problems. First, the country will, sooner or later, find itself in the grip of an economic crisis. Its debt level is staggering, dwarfing that of supposed economic basket cases like Greece or Portugal. Indeed, it is the world’s biggest debtor, its public debt reaching 226 percent of GDP in 2013, according to the CIA. So far as I can see, there is no realistic way that this money can be paid off. Even worse, the debt mountain is just going to keep expanding. This is due to the shrinking and ageing Japanese population, a deep-rooted suspicion of immigrants, and Japan’s vulnerability to natural disasters.
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Is Israel’s Nuclear Weapons Program Based on Deterrence?

For nuclear deterrence to work, other states need to know what they’re supposed to be deterred by. (Photo: WikiMedia)

For nuclear deterrence to work, other states need to know what they’re supposed to be deterred by. (Photo: WikiMedia)

“Newly declassified documents reveal how U.S. agreed to Israel’s nuclear program” reads the title of an article at Haaretz. Author Amir Oren writes:

The Obama administration this week declassified papers, after 45 years of top-secret status, documenting contacts between Jerusalem and Washington over American agreement to the existence of an Israeli nuclear option.

… The documents outline how the American administration worked ahead of the meeting between President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Golda Meir at the White House in September 1969, as officials came to terms with a three-part Israeli refusal – to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty; to agree to American inspection of the Dimona nuclear facility; and to condition delivery of fighter jets on Israel’s agreement to give up nuclear weaponry in exchange for strategic ground-to-ground Jericho missiles “capable of reaching the Arab capitals” although “not all the Arab capitals.”

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Ceausescu’s Architectural Apocalypse

The changes to Ceausescu that made to Romania’s infrastructure were a reflection of his outsized ego. (Photo: John Feffer)

The changes to Ceausescu that made to Romania’s infrastructure were a reflection of his outsized ego. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Nicolae Ceausescu was not exactly a team player. He adopted the title conducator – literally, the leader – and constructed his own personality cult. He defied the Warsaw Pact by refusing to allow Romania to participate in the Soviet-led 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. He preferred to pick up leadership tips from Beijing and Pyongyang – where Mao and Kim Il Sung offered larger-than-life examples — than from the apparatchiks of Moscow. He cultivated court poets who sang his praises and arranged for the endless republication of his own pedestrian contributions to Marxism.

Ceausescu didn’t stop at politics and culture. He wanted to transform the very physical structure of the country. He planned to wipe out what he considered non-viable villages and consolidate the countryside into larger collectivized units. He also reshaped the urban centers of Romania’s major cities so that, among other things, there would be a large central square and a balcony from which he could address his throngs of admirers. It was one of his most enduring – and disturbing – legacies.
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Five Ways the U.S. Enabled the Islamic State

Image on wall of Islamic State head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, beneficiary of misconceived U.S. policies. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr)

Image on wall of Islamic State head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, beneficiary of misconceived U.S. policies. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr)

In fulfilling the terrorists’ dream — transforming into a state with an army — ISIS, now the Islamic State, has become the stuff of nightmares for much of the Middle East and the West. I almost wrote that it had become “the worst nightmare,” but I’ll reserve that for when it obtains nuclear weapons. (Wait — what?)

But, to some extent, the Islamic State is a product of the United States.
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How Wide Does President Obama’s “Range of Options” on the Islamic State Extend?

The United States would be better off ceding leadership in halting the Islamic State to another country. (Photo: Ottoman Imperial Archive / Flickr)

The United States would be better off ceding leadership in halting the Islamic State to another country. (Photo: Ottoman Imperial Archive / Flickr)

President Obama has assigned Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey the task of preparing a “range of options,” as he said in a press conference, for dealing with the Islamic State. On August 29, Politico Magazine asked a military and experts for which option(s) they would choose.
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AFRICOM-Lite: The Obama Administration’s Security Governance Initiative for Africa

SGI continues the failed AFRICOM tradition of giving Africans a greater role in supporting foreign corporate penetration of their continent as if it were in their own interest. (Photo: USAFRICOM / Flickr)

SGI continues the failed AFRICOM tradition of giving Africans a greater role in supporting foreign corporate penetration of their continent as if it were in their own interest. (Photo: USAFRICOM / Flickr)

While the media attention in the United States is riveted on the Israeli war against Gaza, on the ISIS offensive in Iraq and Syria, accomplished for the most part with guerrillas trained by U.S. allies (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel), and the ongoing attempts to consolidate the neoliberal hold on the Ukraine in the name of “democracy,” some other global developments have gone largely unnoticed.

Among them is the August 6, 2014 announcement of a new Obama Administration “initiative” for Africa. Actually there are two: the so-called “Security Governance Initiative for Africa” (SGI) on the one hand and “the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, called A-PREP for short, on the other. Old wine in new bottles?…or old wine in old bottles slightly polished up?
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Almost as Surprising as Islamic State’s Explosive Growth: Its Baath Military Leadership

Top members of the Islamic State met at the U.S. detention center Camp Bucca in Iraq. (Photo: demostene35 / Flickr)

Top members of the Islamic State met at the U.S. detention center Camp Bucca in Iraq. (Photo: demostene35 / Flickr)

At the New York Times, Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt report that Islamic State (which the Times still calls ISIS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago.” They continue:

He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.

They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.

The pedigree of its leadership … helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army. … it fights more like an army than most insurgent groups, holding territory and coordinating operations across large areas.

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The Smiling Face of the Islamic State

Raqqa, Syria is the Islamic State’s center of operations. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr)

Raqqa, Syria is the Islamic State’s center of operations. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr)

No doubt because it expects the caliphate it declared to extend beyond Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) recently changed its name to just the Islamic State (IS). Never mind that Iran is already the Islamic Republic: presumably IS hopes to one day over-run Iran and either drive out or murder its Shia population. Of course, that will never happen. In fact, Iran is mounting a military offensive against IS. At the Daily Beast, Eli Lake reports:
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Did the U.S. Capitalize on the Murder of Pakistani Journalist Shahzad?

 

(Photo: ISAF Media / Flicker)

Bruce Reidel said: “After the Abbottabad raid, the Pakistanis were under enormous pressure to show that they were serious about Al Qaeda.” (Photo: ISAF Media / Flickr)

While on vacation, the editor is re-running old posts that have retained their timeliness.

It’s been a little over three years since intrepid Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad died on May 30, 2011. 

Not everyone found the reporting of the late Pakistani investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad one hundred percent credible. But that may have just been a function of how incredulous they were at the extent to which he was able to insinuate himself with al Qaeda and the Taliban.

One of his most impressive contacts was long-time militant Ilyas Kashmiri, who fought in the Kashmir until President Musharraf wound down fighting there. Kashmiri then moved to Pakistan’s tribal areas and turned on the state, once trying to assassinate Musharraf and later named as a mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
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