Focal Points Blog

Historic Sites Fill a Variety of the Islamic State’s Needs, None of Them Good

The Islamic State alternately destroys and loots historic sites. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State alternately destroys and loots historic sites. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The beheading by the Islamic State of “Mr. Palmyra,” Khalid al-Asaad, the retired chief of antiquities for historic Syrian site, Palmyra was the latest insult to both the citizens and the cultural heritage of the territory it conquers. It should be noted that it’s thought that Asaad was first tortured, but apparently refused to reveal the whereabouts of certain antiquities that the Islamic State sought.

Asaad’s execution follows on the heels of two historic tombs in Palmyra that the Islamic State blew up in June. To the Islamic State, historic sites serve three functions.
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The Islamic State Succeeds Despite Breaking All the Rules of Insurgency

Current Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seems to have done all he can to surpass the viciousness of his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.(Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Current Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seems to have done all he can to surpass the viciousness of his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

In a New York Review of Books review titled The Mystery of ISIS, the anonymous author (described by the editors as a former official of a NATO country who has “wide experience in the Middle East”) describes how the Islamic State established itself and continued to grow against all the odds. The author doesn’t even begin to explain its success: he/she is just portraying the paradox of it in all its bloody glory.
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Finally, Science Beginning to Prove Torture Doesn’t Work

Successful interrogation requires craft and empathy, not brute force. Pictured: Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. (Photo: Shane McCoy / Wikipedia)

Successful interrogation requires craft and empathy, not brute force. Pictured: Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. (Photo: Shane McCoy / Wikipedia)

For a long time those opposed to torture, specifically when it’s conducted in recent years by the CIA and U.S. military on terrorism suspects, have maintained that — never mind the extent to which it undermines U.S. claims to moral leadership (though I’m afraid that horse left the barn long ago) — torture doesn’t work. But, until now, there’s been a lack of sufficient research or science to back up those claims.
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U.S. Military Campaign Against the Islamic State: If It Looks Like a War

Like many terrorist organizations, the Islamic State may become a legitimate state one day. Pictured: Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the Islamic State. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

The U.S. is waging war on the Islamic State without a renewed AUMF. Pictured: the Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa, Syria. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

Many of us (myself, for instance) are unaware of the extent of U.S. military operations against the Islamic State. Turns out, writes Robert Golan-Vilella at the National Interest, the coalition has mounted nearly 6,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, with 3,300 U.S. troops deployed to Iraq. But…

Congress has yet to vote to authorize this war. Instead, the White House has argued that the Islamic State is covered under the terms of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

At an event at the libertarian Cato Institute, Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia)

… blasted his colleagues in Congress for their passivity and for their failure to vote on a new authorization thus far. Yet it’s the executive branch’s conduct that deserves particular attention. The United States began its operations against the Islamic State last August. The White House, as noted above, has maintained that it already has the legal authority to wage this conflict under the 2001 AUMF (and under the 2002 AUMF that authorized the Iraq War). It sent its proposed draft text for an AUMF against the Islamic State to Congress this February—six months after the operation had already started—and has not made any significant effort to try to win its passage. The Obama administration has stated repeatedly that it would welcome a vote in Congress to express support for the ongoing mission. But it has been equally clear that it doesn’t see a new congressional authorization as necessary, and that Operation Inherent Resolve will go on whether Congress votes for it or not.

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East-Central Europe’s Goldilocks Generation

Krastev, Ivan JohnFeffer.com

Ivan Krastev is a political theorist and commentator on the post-Soviet era. (Photo: JohnFeffer.com)

 

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

If you were of a certain age and with certain skills, the changes that took place in 1989 in East-Central Europe created an enormous world of opportunity. Those young enough to change with the times could suddenly rise to the heights of politics and business. And if you spoke English – or were willing to learn it very quickly – you could become an intermediary with the West and enter an entirely different world of possibility.

Some people were too old to take advantage of the changes. They couldn’t retool, couldn’t pick up the necessary language and computer skills. As for those who were very young at the time of the changes – and everyone born afterwards — they took the new world as a given. They didn’t realize how lucky there were.
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Finland Still Walks a Fine Line Between Defying and Placating Russia

Finland shares a long border with Russia. Pictured: the Imatra, Finland border crossing. (Photo: Alexey Ivanov / Flickr Commons)

Finland shares a long border with Russia. Pictured: the Imatra, Finland border crossing. (Photo: Alexey Ivanov / Flickr Commons)

To many, Finland is another of Scandinavia’s coddled welfare states. Or more accurately, one where a large government combines with the free market to make the state more egalitarian, humanitarian, and prosperous. Finland is also a state whose sovereignty is under a continual state of stress. That, of course, is due to its long border with Russia, with which its had a fraught relationship. Recall how fiercely Finland battled the Russian invasion in World War II.
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Pakistan Beginning to Renounce Its Volatile Ways

Despite all its problems, Pakistan is one of the most scenic countries on earth. (Photo: Zerega / Flickr Commons)

Despite all its problems, Pakistan is one of the most scenic countries on earth. (Photo: Zerega / Flickr Commons)

Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan are, arguably, the most strife-torn states in the world, but Pakistan is considered by many to be the most volatile, a powder keg of a state poised to blow sky high. To review: it has an ever-expanding nuclear weapons program and refuses to renounce “no first use.” That is, it doesn’t view the program as strictly a deterrent as all other nuclear states, except North Korea, do but as an offensive weapon (for possible use against India with its much larger army).

Also, Pakistan has allowed Islamist militants, supposedly to be utilized in Afghanistan to act as a buffer against India, to flourish on its own soil, where it also wreaks havoc in addition to in Afghanistan and occasionally in India. Both could lead to nuclear war with India, a war which would not only devastate the region, but, with the ensuing nuclear winter, have dire implications for the whole world.
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What if, Faced With Nuclear War, We Surrendered?

Surrendering to a nuclear adversary doesn’t necessarily mean laying down our arms.  (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)

Surrendering to a nuclear adversary doesn’t necessarily mean laying down our arms. (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)

Most people are aware that, in the event nuclear deterrence fails, the ensuing nuclear war, whether controlled or all-out, will result in a level of death and devastation to both sides that lends new meaning to the term Pyrrhic victory. But, what if, threatened by an imminent nuclear attack, a nation such as the United States, surrenders instead?

In his 1986 book, Nuclear War: the Moral Dimension, James Child writes:

One of the most disarmingly simple responses to the catastrophic character of nuclear war and the logical puzzle of the Dilemma of Nuclear Weapons is simply, “Why not surrender?” … Surrender could be defined as eschewing violent resistance (or, at least, nuclear resistance) and putting our fate in the hands of an armed adversary who appears willing to use nuclear weapons.

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Never Mind China, Time to Pivot to India

It’s tough to imagine how increasing its population will benefit India. (Photo: LiveMint)

It’s tough to imagine how increasing its population will benefit India. (Photo: LiveMint)

In just seven years, India is expected to surpass China in population. At the National Interest, Gordon Chang writes:

No country will contribute more to global population growth between now and 2050. And the Indian state will continue to grow well into the second half of the century. India, according to the UN, will peak in 2068, when it will be home to 1.75 billion souls. That year, China is projected to have 541 million fewer people.

China will also be behind where it counts, workers. India’s workforce—people aged 15 to 59—will overtake China’s within a decade. By mid-century, there will be 1.05 billion Indians of working age, 375 million more than the Chinese in the same age group.

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Poland and Solidarity: the Disappointment of a Dream Fulfilled

Many citizens of Poland  dreamed of the day when the Communist regime would fall, but the reality couldn’t meet their expectations. Pictured: one-time Solidarity activist Jan Litynski. (Photo: John Feffer)

Many citizens of Poland dreamed of the day when the Communist regime would fall, but the reality couldn’t meet their expectations. Pictured: one-time Solidarity activist Jan Litynski. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

“May your dreams come true” is purportedly an ancient Chinese curse. Although it is probably apocryphal – just as the Chinese never say “may you live in interesting times” — the phrase does contain an element of truth. It is often the longing and anticipation that we crave, not the realization of our hopes. Nothing can possibly compare to the fulfillment we imagine.

Many Poles dreamed of the day when the Communist regime would fall. But even after the semi-free elections of June 4, 1989, in which Solidarity-affiliated candidates won nearly all the contested seats, few anticipated that their dreams would come true so quickly.
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