Focal Points Blog

Our Unjust Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Have Blinded Us to a Real Threat

U.S. motives for Iraq were so hidden that we no longer trust our leaders to wage a just war. (Photo: PEO Soldier / Flickr)

U.S. motives for Iraq were so hidden that we no longer trust our leaders to wage a just war. (Photo: PEO Soldier / Flickr)

A sports or entertainment columnist that we read on a regular basis often becomes a trusted voice to us. When he or she turns to different subjects, especially politics and world affairs, the columnist is in a unique position to reach a readership not interested in those subjects or who may be under the spell of hard-right personalities. In recent years, noted sportswriter Mike Lupica has been writing such columns for the New York Daily News. Recently, whether you agree with him or not, Lupica shares an arresting insight.
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Foreign Policy, Lord Palmerston, and Appendectomies

As British foreign secretary and prime minister in the early nineteenth century, Lord Palmerston oversaw a period of great change. (Photo: Hulton Archive)

As British foreign secretary and prime minister in the early nineteenth century, Lord Palmerston oversaw a period of great change. (Photo: Hulton Archive)

Thinking about U.S. foreign policy these days brings to mind a line from songwriter/comedian Tom Lehrer: if you are feeling like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis you have good reason.

1)  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is creating a Rapid Reaction Force to challenge Russian “aggression” in Ukraine, and the U.S., the European Union, and Russia are lobbing sanctions at each other that have thrown Europe back into a recession. Russian planes are buzzing U.S. and Canadian warships in the Black Sea.

2)  The U.S. is bombing Iraq and Syria in an effort to halt the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while at the same time supporting insurgents trying to overthrow the Assad regime in Damascus, the pool from which ISIL was created.

3)  After 13 years of war, Afghanistan is the verge of a civil war over the last presidential election, while the Taliban have stepped up their attacks on the Afghan military and civil authorities.

4)  Libya has essentially dissolved as a country, but not without supplying insurgents in central Africa and Nigeria with greatly enhanced firepower.

5)  The U.S. encouraged the Japanese government to bypass Article 9 of Japan’s peace constitution that restricted deploying its military outside of Japan. Washington also committed the U.S. to support Tokyo in the event of a clash with China over the ownership of a handful of islands in the East China Sea. American, Japanese and Chinese warships and military aircraft have been playing chicken with one another in the East and South China seas.
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People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Complain About Violations of the INF Treaty

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signing the INF Treaty in 1987. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia)

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signing the INF Treaty in 1987. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia)

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in order to halt the arms race in missiles with which the United States and NATO could strike the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union could strike Europe. Recently, the United States had been complaining that Russia was in violation of the treaty. Then in late July the United States went on the record with that accusation and, as Greg Thielmann reports at Arms Control NOW, accused Russia of testing an intermediate-range cruise missile.

The Russia action at issue could conceivably have been a technical violation, such as the use of a ground-launched cruise missile launcher for a sea-launched cruise missile flight-test, or a flight-test range overage, infringing on the 500 km range limit for treaty-permitted systems. The military significance of such actions would be less weighty than a blatant step toward development of a system similar to [those banned in the treaty].

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How Putin Could Defeat NATO With Nukes

Vladimir Putin. (Photo: Monika Flueckiger / Flickr)

Vladimir Putin. (Photo: Monika Flueckiger / Flickr)

Though untranslated, an article by an anti-Putin Russian scientist has garnered much attention for its views on whether Vladimir Putin might resort to the use of nuclear weapons in a war with NATO. Yes, you heard that right. Andrei Piontkovsky is described at Foreign Policy by Jeffrey Tayler as a “former executive director of the Strategic Studies Center in Moscow and a political commentator for the BBC World Service.” He speculates on a conventional war with NATO, which “would not go well. Given NATO’s superior armed forces and Russia’s comparative economic, scientific, and technological weaknesses, a conventional campaign would, Piontkovsky concludes, end with Russia’s defeat.” What’s the alternative? Putin has “only one option: a nuclear attack.”
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The Islamic State Provides the U.S. With a Chance to Rethink Its Default Position on Airstrikes

Bombs and missiles tend to strengthen, not weaken, the resolve of those in targeted areas. (Photo: USMC Lance Corporal James J. Vooris / Flickr)

Bombs and missiles tend to strengthen, not weaken, the resolve of those in targeted areas. (Photo: USMC Lance Corporal James J. Vooris / Flickr)

The latest execution by the Islamic State of another non-combatant, aid worker David Haines, is yet another example of how Islamist extremists blur the distinctions between civilians and combatants. Of course it’s tough to condemn them on that count because the United States, especially via drone strikes, has been a trendsetter in that regard. Nevertheless, the sadism implicit in beheading ― whatever happened to the good old days when slicing someone’s neck sufficed? ― threatens to make us all react like New York Post columnist Ralph Peters when interviewed by Fox News:

“You whack those suckers, and you keep whacking them and you scorch the earth and then you plow over and then you scorch it again.”

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Ebola Dwarfed as Threat to Africa by Malaria and HIV/AIDS

What makes these diseases so tragic is that effective treatments that could bring the mortality rate down to near zero already exist. (Photo: Gates Foundation / Flickr)

What makes these diseases so tragic is that effective treatments that could bring the mortality rate down to near zero already exist. (Photo: Gates Foundation / Flickr)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

In the South Korean movie The Host, the American military pours formaldehyde into the Han River and inadvertently creates a monster. This freak of nature not only goes on a murderous rampage but also is the host of a deadly virus. The movie, inspired by a real-life incident of contamination, is a cautionary tale of the consequences of tampering with the environment.

At first glance, the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa would seem to have nothing to do with such ecological issues. The plague, which has claimed the lives of more than 1,400 people in the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, most likely came from an infected fruit bat that bit a toddler in a remote area of eastern Guinea in December 2013. The disease spread quickly from there to urban locations and then across borders. Beginning this summer, it has dominated the headlines. In August, it very nearly overshadowed the summit of African leaders that took place in Washington, DC.
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Fight Against Islamic State More Notable for What It Isn’t Than for What It Is

The heavy-handed approach we used to fight Al Qaeda turned out to be a recruiting drive for the Islamic State. (Photo: Flickr)

The heavy-handed approach we used to fight Al Qaeda turned out to be a recruiting drive for the Islamic State. (Photo: Flickr)

In the New York Times, Eric Schmitt, Michael Gordon and Helene Cooper report:

The Obama administration is preparing to carry out a campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that may take three years to complete, requiring a sustained effort that could last until after President Obama has left office, according to senior administration officials.

The first phase, an air campaign with nearly 145 airstrikes in the past month, is already underway to protect ethnic and religious minorities and American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel, and their facilities, as well as to begin rolling back ISIS gains in northern and western Iraq.

The next phase, which would begin sometime after Iraq forms a more inclusive government, scheduled this week, is expected to involve an intensified effort to train, advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters and possibly members of Sunni tribes.

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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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