Focal Points Blog

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Is Due for a Reality Check

 

ISIS

After taking over Fallujah in January and, last week, unsuccessfully storming a second Iraqi city, Samarra, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or the Levant) stunned Iraq and the world by seizing Mosul and its surroundings. Its forces then occupied part of the oil refinery town of Baiji and are moving toward Baghdad. In the New York Times, Suadad Al-Salhy and Alan Cowell write:

With the rapid advances of the past two days, the insurgents have widened the zone under their control and now threaten the region around the capital. Mr. Maliki’s weak central government is struggling to mount a defense, a problem made markedly more dangerous by the defections of hundreds of trained soldiers, and the loss of their vehicles, uniforms and weapons.

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If Sgt. Bergdahl Deserted, Maybe the Military’s Afghan Strategy Was to Blame

 

AfghanistanBergdahl

In the New York Times, Richard Oppel and Eric Schmitt report that much has been written about Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl since his release “suggesting that he was a misfit soldier in something of a misfit platoon that stumbled through its first months in Afghanistan and might have made it too easy for him to walk away, as his fellow soldiers say he did.”
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U.S. Troops’ Brusque Bergdahl Hand-off Hurts Taliban’s Feelings

 

Taliban

If you watch the video of the Taliban handing off Bowe Bergdahl to American troops, you may have been surprised to see a couple of them shaking hands with the Americans and even waving goodbye. In fact they wanted more: to schmooze. In the New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg reports:

When Sergeant Bergdahl “saw his American helicopter, he was very happy and wanted to rush toward them,” one Taliban member said in the video.

But once on the ground, the Americans, to the dismay of the Taliban, proved uninterested in any pomp. They rushed through the encounter and did not stop to talk or exchange polite greetings, as is customary in Afghanistan, even during hostage releases. The narrator complained that they had managed to shake hands with only two of the Americans.

… “We wanted to convey some messages to them via the interpreter, but they didn’t spend much time with us,” said the Taliban fighter, speculating that perhaps the Americans were too frightened to linger. “They even didn’t let us shake hands with the soldier and say goodbye, and they behaved in a very simple way,” the fighter said.

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Sy Hersh Still Under Attack for Blaming Syrian Rebels for Sarin Attack

 

Syria Sarin

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, sociologist Muhammad Idrees Ahmad takes Seymour Hersh to task for his article The Red Line and the Rat Line in April London Review of Books. Generating even more controversy than he usually does, Hersh, revered and reviled in equal measures, fleshes out the premise that, aided by Turkey, the al-Nusra Front — not the Assad regime — was responsible for the August 2013 sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. (Can you imagine something like that happening in — if you live in one — your suburb?)

Ahmad accuses Hersh of relaying “a cock-and-bull story invented by an interested party and forego[ing] corroboration.” He states that, when the attack occurred,

… employing a weapon that the [Assad] regime was known to possess, using a delivery mechanism peculiar to its arsenal, in a place the regime was known to target, and against people the regime was known to loathe, it was not unreasonable to assume regime responsibility. This conclusion was corroborated by first responders, UN investigators, human rights organizations, and independent analysts.

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Let Us Return! Can the World Cup Be a Tool for Chagossian Social Justice?

 

Image Indiegogo

Image Indiegogo

One week from now in Brazil, 32 nations will start play in the world’s most popular sporting event, the World Cup. While the likes of Argentina, Germany, Mexico, England, and the USA go head to head, one national team won’t be there.

The Chagos Islands national team isn’t eligible for the World Cup because Chagos — a tiny archipelago in the Indian Ocean — isn’t a recognized nation. Its players can’t even live in the land they represent on the field because they are a people that have been living in exile for more than 40 years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. and British governments forcibly removed the entire population while building a major U.S. military base on the Chagossians’ island Diego Garcia. The two governments deported the people 1,200 miles away, leaving them in exile with nothing.
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Cultivating Empathy in Hungary

Julieta Nagy Navarro

Julieta Nagy Navarro

When it comes to people expressing trust in others, Hungary ranks rather low. In 2011, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a ranking that put Hungary 24th out of 30 countries. Hungary’s ranking – 47 percent of the population expressed high trust in others – put it at nearly half the rate of Denmark (89 percent). It was also one of the few countries where mistrust had grown over the polling period. Other East-Central European countries did equally poorly: Slovakia and Poland (47 percent), Slovenia (53 percent), Czech Republic (56 percent).

“There is a lot of mistrust here,” Julieta Nagy Navarro told me. “And that’s a response to a particular attitude: I must grab whatever I can for myself.”
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The Solution to South Sudan’s Problems? Sudan

 

South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit

South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit

In spite of the recent peace deal, the conflict in South Sudan seems to be far from over. Almost all the regional and international players that are involved in the peace process have their own agenda to pursue, and this has left the South Sudanese people highly vulnerable.

Amidst all this conflict, Sudan has managed to keep quiet. However, the time has come for Sudan to be proactive and play a bigger role in the current conflict in South Sudan. In all likelihood, only Sudan can pave the path towards sustainable peace in South Sudan.
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The Search for Bergdahl Was the U.S. Military at Its Best

 

U.S. Soldiers Continue Patrols Outside FOB Shank In Afghanistan

Some of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers, report Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper, and Charlie Savage in the New York Times, are filled with resentment about diverting their resources to searching for Bergdahl after he deserted. Meanwhile, the right wing is doing its level best to turn the trade for Bergdahl into another Benghazi. (No doubt, though, they’re frustrated because they can’t link it to possible Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as they did with Benghazi.) The Times team reports (emphasis added):

“Yes, I’m angry,” Joshua Cornelison, a former medic in Sergeant Bergdahl’s platoon, said in an interview on Monday arranged by Republican strategists. “Everything that we did in those days was to advance the search for Bergdahl. If we were doing some mission and there was a reliable report that Bergdahl was somewhere, our orders were that we were to quit that mission and follow that report.”

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Will Taliban Freed in the Bergdahl Trade Come Back to Haunt U.S. Soldiers?

 

Taliban

In the New York Times, Eric Schmitt and Charlie Savage report on the exchange of five Taliban who had been imprisoned at Guantánamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a prisoner of the Afghan Taliban since 2008.

The five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo, including two senior militant commanders said to be linked to operations that killed American and allied troops as well as implicated in murdering thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan, were flown from Cuba in the custody of officials from Qatar, who will accompany them back to that Persian Gulf state.

Less than enthusiastic about the deal, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, made the traditional case.
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It’s Always Been Too Easy to Justify Civilian Casualties

 

NormanConquest

In a recent post I asked how Boko Haram justified the depths of depravity to which it descends. It includes not only kidnapping schoolgirls, but mass-murdering civilians and perhaps even cannibalism. Its leader Abubakar Shekau’s reply, as reported by Adam Nossiter and David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times mirrors a justification sometimes used by other Islamist militants: “the sole purpose of its violence was to demonstrate the incapacity of the Nigerian state.”
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