Focal Points Blog

Are the U.S. and Russia Forming 5 New States in the Middle-East?

The Russian air strikes in Syria mean that Moscow is attempting to grab as much land as possible on Assad’s behalf. Pictured: Russia’s Sukhoi Su-25 deployed to Syria. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Russian air strikes in Syria mean that Moscow is attempting to grab as much land as possible on Assad’s behalf. Pictured: Russia’s Sukhoi Su-25 deployed to Syria. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Mideast map-redrawing ‘Act One’ has begun. Ba’athist/Alawite Syria, Sunni Syria, Kurdistan, Sunni Iraq and Shi’a Iraq are the first batch of new ‘states’ to be formed as the Obama Administration has finally accepted Russia’s role in preserving a Ba’athist Syrian state for the Alawis — the religious sect who makes up about 12% of Syria’s population and remains “loyal to the (Assad) regime even as the economy deteriorates” [Note 1].

Without some sort of compromise beforehand, it is common diplomatic sense that the Obama-Putin private meeting on September 29 could not have crystallized. The picture turned clear when Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “standing shoulder to shoulder somewhere in the United Nations building” on September 30, announced their common vision of resolving Syria’s war through “political process”, thus sealing “an American stamp of legitimacy on Russia’s Syria intervention” [Note 2].

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An Inevitable Triumvirate: Syria, Russia, and Iran

Iranian troops are converging on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. (Photo: Michal Unolt / Flickr Commons)

Iranian troops are converging on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. (Photo: Michal Unolt / Flickr Commons)

Not only has Russia come to the aid of Syria (if you consider the Assad regime Syria) mostly via airstrikes, but now Iran has declared itself all in with Syria. It has sent thousands of troops to Syria to join forces with President Assad in an attempt to take back rebel-held Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city. The Independent reports:

Several Iranian politicians, led by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy commission, arrived in Damascus for talks with President Assad and his advisers.

Speaking on Iranian state television as he landed in the Syrian capital, Mr Boroujerdi hailed the impact of the Russian air strikes. “The international coalition led by America has failed in the fight against terrorism. The cooperation between Syria, Iraq, Iran and Russia has been positive and successful,” he said.

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Career Kiss of Death: Asking Why Iran Has to Be Our Enemy

Accepting that Iran is an enemy is a prerequisite to a career in U.S. foreign service. Pictured: Chief nuclear negotiators U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo: Yahoo News)

Accepting that Iran is an enemy is a prerequisite to a career in U.S. foreign service. Pictured: Chief nuclear negotiators U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo: Yahoo News)

In an eye-opening article for Foreign Policy in Focus entitled Why Doesn’t the Foreign Policy Establishment Take World Peace Seriously?, Didier Jacobs writes of U.S.-Iran relations that the U.S. “foreign policy establishment is susceptible to groupthink.”

Very few people in the establishment challenge the threat to use force if Iran reneges on the [nuclear] deal. No one questions whether Iran should be considered an enemy in the first place.

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Jason Rezaian Guilty … of Loving Iran Too Much

Jason Rezaian pushed his luck with Tehran by remaining in Iran. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

Jason Rezaian pushed his luck with Tehran by remaining in Iran. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who is California born and holds dual citizenship in the United States and Iran, was convicted by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court of spying. In the New Yorker, Amy Davidson once reported: “His writing about Iran had been marked by cultural generosity and care.” In June I posted:

Recently my wife and I were watching an old episode of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown in which, after years of trying, he managed to gain entry into Iran.

… At one point Bourdain conducted a lengthy interview with an Iran-American journalist for the Washington Post and his Iranian wife. They were both clearly in love with Iran. Wait, I thought, is that…? Yes, as Bourdain explained in a postscript at the end of the show, Jason Rezaian had since been arrested, along with his wife.

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Is the Refugee Crisis Really a Crisis?

Europe and the United States are paralyzed by the prospect of accepting more refugees than they are used to. (Photo: Noborder Network / Flickr Commons)

Europe and the United States are paralyzed by the prospect of accepting more refugees than they are used to. (Photo: Noborder Network / Flickr Commons)

In an article in the New York Review of Books titled The Terrible Flight from the Killing, Hugh Eakin chronicles perhaps better than any journalist thus far the refugee crisis in Europe. It seems to be overwhelming for the European states asked to provide refugees asylum. But, in reality, it may be a case in which two cliches actually apply:

One, it’s a matter of perception.

Two, in every crisis an opportunity.
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Will 3-D-Printers Produce Nuclear Weapons One Day?

3-D printed guns — and one day, perhaps, WMDs — raise serious civil liberties issues. (Photo: PopularMechanics.com)

3-D printed guns — and one day, perhaps, WMDs — raise serious civil liberties issues. (Photo: PopularMechanics.com)

As you have no doubt heard, 3-D printers can now produce guns. The specter of them producing nuclear, as well as chemical and biological weapons has also been raised. At Reason.com, J.D. Tucille quotes a Sept. 6 op-ed in the Washington Post by Daniel C. Tirone and James Gilley, in which they write that “technology is a bigger obstacle to reducing future gun deaths than either the National Rifle Association or differing interpretations of the Second Amendment.” In fact:

Within a few years, the greatest challenge to the government’s ability to control firearms will be advances in additive manufacturing, popularly known as “3-D printing.”

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Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1.000

The Parliament of Portugal. (Photo: Simon Collison)

The Parliament of Portugal. (Photo: Simon Collison)

In spite of a well-financed scare campaign, and a not very subtle effort by the European Union (EU) to load the dice in the Oct. 4 Portuguese elections, the ruling right-wing Forward Portugal coalition lost its majority in the parliament, Left parties garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, and the austerity policies that have paralyzed the country for four years took a major hit.

Along with last month’s Greek election, it was two in a row for the European Left.
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Seizure of Kunduz Another Sign of Taliban’s Inevitability

Watch out what you wish for, Taliban: You may soon have a state to govern with all that entails. (Photo: Newsweek)

Watch out what you wish for, Taliban: You may soon have a state to govern with all that entails. (Photo: Newsweek)

The Taliban seizure of provincial capital Kunduz, writes Joseph Goldstein in the New York Times, “was a shocking victory.” But, it “hardly happened overnight.”

Signs of a determined and innovative Taliban campaign in the north, and Kunduz in particular, could be seen some two years ago.

… Timed to the American withdrawal, a steady influx of insurgent fighters, a series of probing and patient territory grabs, and a hearts-and-minds campaign that took advantage of resentment of the government eventually delivered the Taliban’s biggest prize of the war.

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Kunduz Begs Question of Why U.S. Is in Afghanistan

The Afghanistan government has failed to focus on issues of chief concern to the Afghan people, such as the economy, security, and efficiency. (Photo: David Axe / Flickr Commons)

The Afghanistan government has failed to focus on issues of chief concern to the Afghan people, such as the economy, security, and efficiency. (Photo: David Axe / Flickr Commons)

The fall of the Afghan city of Kunduz, a major regional center, to the Taliban may turn out to be temporary, but it was nevertheless a stunning defeat  for the Afghan army. “Fall” is the operative word. It took only 500 Taliban fighters to capture the city from an American-trained force of more than 7,000 Afghan soldiers who had put up little defense before retreating.

The episode makes all the more urgent the need to ask what purpose is served by continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. The loss of Kunduz did not come as a surprise. Corruption and incompetence have long plagued both the Afghan army and the government. Soldiers complain of lack of leadership and say their commanders sell their ammunition and other supplies and pocket the money. In some areas the desertion rate is 50 percent.
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The Iran Policy Oversight Act of 2015

U.S. sale of bunker-busters to Israel would make the U.S. even more complicit with Israel in its concept of regional security.(Photo: Wikipedia)

U.S. sale of bunker-busters to Israel would make the U.S. even more complicit with Israel in its concept of regional security.(Photo: Wikipedia)

The Iran deal: what the Obama Administration giveth, Congress (tries to) taketh away?

In the aftermath of Congress’s failure to sabotage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the agreement negotiated between six countries, the EU and Iran to limit the Iranian nuclear energy program in return for lifting sanctions – the Obama Administration, along with its partners in the agreement, have pushed ahead to implement it. But is this a case of “What the Obama Administration giveth, the Congress taketh away?” At the behest of neoconservatives, AIPAC, Christians United For Israel, some in Congress, however, including some original Democratic supporters of JCPOA, are actively working to undermine the very same agreement.
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