Focal Points Blog

Ukraine Still Can’t Escape Long Arm of Russia

Ukraine President Yanukovych and Russian President Putin. Image Wikimedia Commons

Ukraine President Yanukovych and Russian President Putin. Image Wikimedia Commons

Calling the scene in Independence Square, Kiev, “apocalyptic,” Andrew Higgins and Andrew Kramer of the New York Times reported on the demonstrations yesterday, during which 25 demonstrators were killed by the Ukrainian riot police, known as the Berkut. They write that what “began as a peaceful protest in late November against” Ukraine President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s “decision to spurn a trade deal with Europe and tilt toward Russia became on Tuesday a pyre of violent chaos.”
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Obama Seeks to Avoid “Clash of Civilizations” Between China and the West

President Obama and China’s former President Hu Jintao.

President Obama and China’s former President Hu Jintao.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Foreign Policy in Focus.

On the next day after President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union (SOTU) 2014, which did not mention anything about the tension in East Asia, not even the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Tokyo-based The Diplomat published an article to ask whether Obama “has abandoned the Pivot to Asia”1:

 … he couldn’t make room for even a sentence in his speech … his neglect of these issues … brings the rebalance to Asia into question.2

While the disappointment and frustration within the hawkish camp are understandable, Obama’s silence on East Asia as well as two exact same headlines with respect to the SOTU in Army Times and Navy Times — “Obama emphasizes diplomacy to strengthen security” — indicate that the incumbent master of the White House has made a wise move to prevent a disastrous “clash of civilizations.”3   In his renowned 1997 book of the same name, Samuel P. Huntington sees the states in “the West” as a civilization group sharing among themselves such core values as democracy, pluralism, individualism, rule of law and Christianity; some other civilizations, such as the Muslim and the Chinese, however, do not appreciate these values and tend to resist them.4
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Jordanian Lawmaker Who Sought Reform Accused of Spying for U.S.

Mustafa Harmaneh

Mustafa Harmaneh

When Jordanian lawmaker Mustafa Hamarneh said last week that “Jordanian tribes should not be politically mobilized to advance political agendas” or to be “used in the public space other than being part of the social fabric and a social institution,” it caused a firestorm of protests and attacks that accused him of being “an American agent and a spy” and “wanting to destroy the Jordanian tribes and eventually destroy the Jordanian state itself.” His statements concerning the Jordanian tribes were made in the context of what has become known in Jordan as the “Mubadarah” or the initiative to create a system of  checks and balances between lawmakers and the government.

Speaking to him over the phone in Amman, Hamarneh told me that he is leading a group of 25 lawmakers in the Parliament to work on issues of education, small business, higher education, civil society development and political agendas. He said that he is trying to create a political environment whereby lawmakers can monitor the government agendas and work to make it better and more effective. His initiative is thus bypassing the political blocks within the Jordanian parliament that were created to do the same thing, but have become “dysfunctional” and are “not working” he told me.
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Military Humanitarian Intervention: the Shock Doctrine Applied to Syria

Syria

(Note: Rob Prince teaches at the Korbel School of International Studies. Although tangentially, he has been associated with the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies and has participated in a number of its public forums, including on the Syrian crisis. Compelled to respond to the February 11, 2014 op-ed in the New York Times by colleagues, Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, he critiques their arguments and makes alternative suggestions for ending the Syrian impasse.)

At a moment when the only viable path open to resolving the Syrian conflict lies in a negotiated settlement between the Assad government and the legitimate opposition, two colleagues at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies, Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel of the Center for Middle East Studies, have put forth an emotional and poorly conceived call for military intervention to resolve the escalating humanitarian crisis there.

Using logic tinted with Cold War reasoning (blaming the Russians is bit out of fashion) and poor examples (Somalia — 1993?) to bolster their arguments, they put forth their ideas on the subject in an op-ed, in the New York Times on February 11 titled “Use Force To Save Starving Syrians.” In a one-sided appeal, they place the blame for the Syrian human debacle almost entirely at the feet of the Assad government for virtually all of the violence.
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Countering Sexism in East Germany

Tatjana Bohm

Tatjana Bohm

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

In March 1990, just after the first and only democratic elections in East Germany, I visited the House of Democracy in East Berlin. In this building on Friedrichstrasse, at a prime location near Unter den Linden and the luxurious Grand Hotel, were located all of the major civic initiatives that had ushered democracy into the country. “Ushered” is the operative word here, for these groups did not play a prominent role in the ensuing drama of the elections. The primary coalition of these groups – Alliance 90 – received less than 3 percent of the vote. The Independent Women’s Association (UFV) teamed up with the Green Party and captured only 2 percent, which translated into eight seats in the parliament.

When I talked to Petra Wunderlich of the UFV on that day in March in 1990, she was not happy about the electoral turnout or the fact that the Green Party alliance partner had grabbed all eight parliamentary seats. Under East Germany’s Communist-era constitution, women enjoyed the same rights as men. Childcare was widely available, and abortion was not restricted. But the society remained traditionally patriarchal in many respects. It was hard not to see the marginalizing of the UFV in this context.
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What Nobody Is Saying About the Cheating Missileers

Nuclear Missile Silo

Robert Burns of the Associated Press has been the point man on the ongoing story of the U.S. nuclear launch force’s shortcomings. In one recent development, “missileers” at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana are alleged to have cheated on a proficiency exam. Subsequently, reports Global Security Newswire, about half of them

… have had their launch certifications taken away and been pulled off alert duty.… Of the more than 90 launch officers currently implicated in the cheating scandal, 40 missileers were believed directly involved in the misconduct, which involved sharing exam answers by text message. Others allegedly tolerated or facilitated the incidents.
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Riding the U.S.-Iran Nuclear Rollercoaster

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who received his PhD at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies, from which Ibrahim Kazerooni also received his PhD and where Rob Prince teaches. Image WikiMedia Commons

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who received his PhD at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies, from which Ibrahim Kazerooni also received his PhD and where Rob Prince teaches. Image WikiMedia Commons

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The recent information on a short-term agreement in the Iranian nuclear issue is welcomed news that presents unique and unprecedented opportunities for all parties involved. The least we can hope at this stage is that there is an encouraging shift in the United State’s approach to the Iranian nuclear issue from the rigid ideological to a more realistic position. President Barack Obama’s commitment to veto any Congressional legislation that might intensify sanctions against Iran in the next six months is a refreshing development that helps add momentum to the success of these negotiations.

A brief history of how this saga began would be helpful in understanding the positions taken by all parties in these long and arduous negotiations.
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Ever Wonder Exactly Why the U.S. Keeps Israel’s Nuclear Secret?

Dimona nuclear reactor, 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons

Dimona nuclear reactor, 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons

In a piece titled The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal at the Guardian, Julian Borger writes about how Israel began its nuclear-weapons program.

The list of nations that secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or who turned a blind eye to its theft [more on that down-post ― RW], include today’s staunchest campaigners against proliferation: the US, France, Germany, Britain and even Norway.

Nor did Israel later have much in the way of

… qualms about proliferating nuclear weapons knowhow and materials, giving South Africa’s apartheid regime help in developing its own bomb in the 1970s in return for 600 tons of yellowcake.
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The Iran Nuclear Intelligence Well Was Poisoned From the Start

Arak nuclear facility. Image Wikimedia Commons

Arak nuclear facility. Image Wikimedia Commons

The sources of enmity between Iran and the United States are legion. In 1953, when Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh (also spelled Mossadegh) sought to make Iran a democracy and nationalize the oil industry, which was owned by British corporations, the United States helped plan and execute a coup. Then, in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter allowed the just-deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment, Iranian revolutionaries took U.S. embassy staff hostage. But, after 9/11, in a gesture of good will, Iran collected hundreds of Arabs who crossed the border from Afghanistan, deported them, and supplied copies of their passports to the United States. Iran also provided assistance overthrowing the Taliban and establishing the Karzai government in Afghanistan.
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Countering Boycott Calls With Anti-Semitism Accusations: a Sure Way to Lose the Argument

Israeli settlement in Har Homa. Image Wikimedia Commons

Israeli settlement in Har Homa. Image Wikimedia Commons

Israel is a small country, but it captures a disproportionately large chunk of almost every news broadcast, anywhere around the world. People tend to have passionate views about Israel, and Jews.

One increasingly prominent expression of people’s views about Israel is the growing chorus of advocates of various forms of boycotts against Israel, to make it pay a price for its military occupation of the West Bank, and its continuing siege on the Gaza Strip. Governments, financial, academic and commercial institutions and organizations advocate and practice a variety of boycotts against Israel, its companies, and its academic, financial and governmental institutions.

Some of those calling for boycotts against Israel are anti-Semites; most of them, however, are decidedly not. In fact, many of these protesters want to see an Israel that thrives and succeeds, and their calls for boycotts stem from desperation at seeing the country they care about act in ways that they consider immoral.
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