Focal Points Blog

Iran Parliament Seeks Right of Approval on Nuke Deal

The Iran parliament seeks to throw obstacles in the path of President Hassan Rowhani’s nuclear negotiations with the West. Pictured: the Iran parliament building. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Iran parliament seeks to throw obstacles in the path of President Hassan Rowhani’s nuclear negotiations with the West. Pictured: the Iran parliament building. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

With the deadline of June 30 fast approaching on Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the West, its parliament, reports Agence France Press, has passed a bill that requires President Rowhani “to safeguard the country’s ‘nuclear rights and achievements,’ despite talks with global powers on curbing the Islamic republic’s disputed atomic program.” It also stipulates that the parliament approve a nuclear deal.

Rowhani’s spokesman, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, said: “This bill contradicts article 176 of the constitution. The issue of negotiations is in the sphere of the Supreme National Security Council… not the government or the parliament.”

Read More

Smolensk and the Deficit of Trust in Polish Society

Tomasz Kazmierczak, who teaches social work and studies community development, is concerned with the deficit of trust in Polish society, which he traces back to feudalism. (Photo: John Feffer)

Tomasz Kazmierczak, who teaches social work and studies community development, is concerned with the deficit of trust in Polish society, which he traces back to feudalism. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

On April 10, 2010, Polish President Lech Kaczynski traveled with his entourage to Russia to attend a commemoration of the Katyn massacre. In 1940, the Soviet NKVD murdered 22,000 Polish army officers, police, and intellectuals in the Katyn forest and then pinned the blame on the Nazis. In 1990, the Soviet Union finally admitted its guilt in the matter. Twenty years later, the Poles and the Russians were to have a historic meeting to commemorate the massacre. But on the morning that the Polish delegation was to arrive, the weather was terrible. The plane crashed on its descent to the airport near Smolensk, killing all on board.

Despite evidence of pilot error, any number of conspiracy theories became popular in Poland. There was a bomb on board. The Russians held up the plane because they didn’t want the Poles to participate in the commemoration. The Russians wanted to assassinate Kaczynski. Some conspiracy theorists even speculated that the Russians produced artificial fog to cause the crash. The official Russian and Polish investigations, though differing on some details, both attributed the crash to pilot error. Still, some conspiracy theories remain popular.
Read More

Yes, Hacking Into Our Nuclear Command and Control Could Actually Happen

Silos housing nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles are better equipped to handle a nuclear attack on them than hackers. (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)

Silos housing nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles are better equipped to handle a nuclear attack on them than hackers. (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)

In a piece at the San Francisco Chronicle, Ploughshares Fund head Joe Cirincione asks What happens when our nuclear arsenal is hacked? Wait, what?

In fact, you’re right to be shocked. Cirincione reports that former head of STRATCOM (which includes U.S. nuclear weapons) retired Gen. James Cartwright told the audience at what he describes as the annual Ploughshares Fund gala that “our nuclear missiles could be hacked — launched and detonated without authorization.”

Read More

Al Qaeda Airs Sour Grapes About Islamic State

Al Qaeda (its forces pictured) seems to have been elbowed aside by the Islamic State. (Photo: TPPN.com)

Al Qaeda (its forces pictured) seems to have been elbowed aside by the Islamic State. (Photo: TPPN.com)

In a Guardian article on June 10, the team of Qaida Shiv Malik, Ali Younes, Spencer Ackerman, Mustafa Khalili chronicle how How Isis crippled al-Qaida. They focus on al Qaeda ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and his friend Abu Qatada, another radical cleric, both of whom are ardent critics of the Islamic State. Due to their affiliation with al Qaeda, it’s obviously a little difficult to feel sorry for them.

The list of Isis’s crimes that have offended Maqdisi and Abu Qatada is long. They include creating division within the wider jihadi movement, publicly snubbing Zawahiri and establishing a caliphate to which Isis demands every other jihadi swear fealty or face death. For more than a year both say they have worked behind the scenes, negotiating with Isis – including with Baghdadi himself – to bring the group back into the al-Qaida fold, to no avail. “Isis don’t respect anyone. They are ruining the wider jihadi movement and are against the whole ummah [Muslim nation],” Abu Qatada said.

… Both men are particularly appalled, they said, by the way Isis has used their scholarship to cloak its savagery in ideological legitimacy, to gain recruits and justify its battle with al-Qaida and its affiliates. “Isis took all our religious works,” Maqdisi said. “They took it from us – it’s all our writings, they are all our books, our thoughts.” Now, Abu Qatada said, “they don’t respect anyone”.

Read More

Pope Francis: Moving the Mountain or Taking Baby Steps?

Pope Francis’s comments on global warming are much anticipated. (Photo: Raffaele Esposito / Flickr Commons)

Pope Francis’s comments on global warming are much anticipated. (Photo: Raffaele Esposito / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank. 

Popes…and Reforming the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is again stirring.

Among many of my Catholic friends, a sense of hope is replacing decades of resignation. They now cling to Pope Francis’ every word, looking forward to what the pontiff will say next. Although ideologically distinct from them, I have found myself working with and living next to Catholics all my life, especially those who have been associated with The Catholic Worker, Sisters of Loretto, and some elements among present and former Jesuits. At times we have struggled to find the common ground…and have often succeeded. Of course, it should come as no surprise that I find myself working more closely with those critical of, or trying to reform the institution. They are a serious, dedicated lot of present and former priests and nuns, some who refer to themselves as “reformed Catholics.”
Read More

Stephen Walt’s Call to Adopt a Containment Policy Toward the Islamic State

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)

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 United States committed to establishing a base in Iraq’s Anbar province this week and sending 400 American troops to train Iraq’s poor excuse of an army in order to re-take Ramadi back from the Islamic State. The Iraqi military that should have been, or at least its leadership (given its walking papers by the infamous Paul Bremer), has emerged as the spearhead of the Islamic State’s forces.

In addition, the Pentagon announced Thursday that since August 2014 the United States has spent over $2.7 billion (or $9 million per day) fighting the Islamic State.
Read More

Gaspar Miklos Tamas: Hungary’s Boomerang Thinker

Gaspar Miklos Tamas’s political reversals can be chalked up to adaptations to changing circumstances. (Photo: Press SZO)

Gaspar Miklos Tamas’s political reversals can be chalked up to adaptations to changing circumstances. (Photo: Press SZO)

Many intellectuals in East-Central Europe have traveled considerable ideological distances over the decades. The most common trajectory has been from the Left to the Right, as former Marxists were born again after 1989 as liberals, neo-liberals, neo-conservatives, just plain conservatives, and ideologues even further to the Right.

Janos Kis in Hungary, who critiqued Marxism from the Left in the 1970s, became a prominent liberal in Hungary in the 1980s and 1990s. Mihailo Markovic, a member of the group of neo-Marxist philosophers known as Praxis, became a leading nationalist supporter of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. Former Polish United Workers’ Party member Boleslav Tejkowski swung over to the far Right to create the Polish National Party, which has been infamous for its extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism.
Read More

Deconstructing the Mainstream Narrative About the Saudi War on Yemen

Saudi Arabia has frequently been at war with Yemen since 1932. Pictured: Old Town Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

Saudi Arabia has frequently been at war with Yemen since 1932. Pictured: Old Town Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

The narrative being put forth in the U.S. media is that the current war in Yemen is a proxy war between the Saudis and Iran, and that the opposition in Yemen consists of a small religious minority, the Houthis, who have forced a “legitimate” government from power. Here is a considerably different assessment of the Yemen crisis which tries to bring the main themes of the crisis back into a more objective focus. 

1. Some Historical Considerations…

By now it has been close to three months that, with a green light from the US and a helping hand from a few Persian Gulf Emirates, Saudi Arabia attacked Yemen under the pretense of self-defense. We are now beginning to witness the fallout of Saudi aggression on its political structure. To have a better picture of what is going on in Yemen a brief recap of its relations with the Saudi monarchy is necessary. Although poorly appreciated by many, the fact remains that, historically, Saudi Arabia has been at war with its southern neighbor in one way or another, virtually non-stop since 1932.

The two countries have fought six wars so far. The most critical of these wars was Yemen’s 1962 war of independence. In September 1962, the Imam of North Yemen was overthrown in a popular coup led by Arab nationalists within the Yemeni military. Until then, 80 per cent of the population had lived as peasants under a feudal system of government, with control maintained by graft, a coercive tax system, and a policy of divide and rule. Once the uprising began, Nasser, the Egyptian president at the time, sent troops to bolster the new Republican government. Royalist forces supporting the deposed Imam fled to the hills and began a conservative insurgency backed by Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Early in 1963, working with the Saudis, Jordan and Israel, and with U.S. backing, Britain began covertly arming and supplying the Yemeni royalist forces against the new Yemen Republican government. A British mercenary operation was set up, funded by the Yemeni royalist foreign minister, the Saudi prince Sultan, the British Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense. British SAS volunteers were given temporary leave from official duties and French mercenaries were also recruited to the conservative cause. In early 1964, SAS forces undertook their first clandestine airdrop of arms and ammunition, with the discreet backing of MI6 and the CIA. UK Defense Secretary Peter Thorneycroft spoke of the need to organize ‘tribal revolts’ in the frontier areas and to initiate ‘deniable action … to sabotage [pro-Yemeni Republican] intelligence centers and kill personnel engaged in anti-British activities.’

Then and now, Saudis have always been paranoid of any Yemeni group or government that calls for real change and substantive democracy for themselves and the region. If we fast forward some forty some years to the more recent events we would see that despite the 1962 uprising, all the efforts were gradually quashed and Saudi regime was able to neutralize all the demands for a more representative kind of government by buying off Yemeni leaders over the time.

When the Arab Spring of 2011 burst forth, the democratic movement returned to the fore to once again challenge Yemen’s festering socioeconomic crisis. If, in the 1960s, the Saudis previously collaborated with British colonial power in tandem with the Israelis and Jordanians, in 2011, the Saudi present partner is the US administration and its policy of containment of real democratic movements in what it considers its sphere of influence. The two, the Saudis and the United States, have been diligently working together to frustrate all attempts by Yemeni people to change the dislocations that were present in their political system.

First the two partners in regional crime hoped to frustrate the movement for more meaningful change by offering Yemen a cosmetic face lift, replacing Abdullah Saleh, the president, with his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. This changed nothing. The socio-economic crisis, already severe, continued to deepen; the grievances of the Yemeni majority went unanswered. As a result, Hadi’s tenure, if one can call it that, could not last long. Hadi was removed. Once, the Yemeni opposition that by now had grown to five distinct groups,[1] rejected the Saudi American political arrangements and pushed for change, the bombing began.

Although the Western and U.S. media tried to distort the Yemeni realities by portraying the crisis in Yemen as between the Houthi minority and Hadi’s “legitimate” government, this scenario is so far from reality to be ludicrous. While the Houthis are actively involved in the democratic Yemeni opposition, they are not alone but a part of a broader oppositional coalition. Likewise, Hadi’s “legitimacy” has never been recognized by the Yemeni people as he was forced on them by combined U.S.-Saudi pressure.

  1. The Obama Doctrine…

The crisis in Yemen fits in neatly to the recently announced US regional and grand strategy which has come to be known as The Obama Doctrine. While sharing the essence of other doctrines before him on the US global dominance, this doctrine has made few tactical necessary adjustments. In his last visit to West Point Military Academy Obama outlined a more up to date US military policy for world domination. He indicated that due to the unpopularity of war in the US, the need for the US to assess the role of its military in dealing with future trouble area, the economic challenges that the current interventionist policy has caused, and the evolution in the dynamics of global threat, the current strategy of direct intervention that has been the hallmark of US foreign policy must be reformed to accommodate the current realities.

The consequence of this doctrine is a concrete shift in the parameters of US global dominance but not its core. Consequently, direct military intervention (covert or overt) that constituted the bedrock of other doctrines since WWI, is to be replaced with management from afar (remote control), regional allies are given a greater role in protecting US interests with the US providing the needed logistical support. To facilitate such a role and create a degree of legitimacy for such operation, regional alliances must be established.

Unfortunately, defenseless Yemen happened to be the chosen target for the implementation of the new doctrine, as was Iraq in 2003 for the Bush Doctrine. In the Yemeni case, the US gave the green light to the Saudi regime to lead the operation. With the assistance of few more repressive Persian Gulf emirates the regional alliance was complete and the show began.

However, it did not produce the desired result: to force the opposition to accept the Saudi puppet Hadi back to power. To the contrary, the country is more united today, angered by bombings that have left, as of now over 6,000 dead and injured, most of these, civilians. Furthermore the so-called regional alliance has essentially collapsed as neither Pakistan nor Egypt, both of whom the Saudis hoped would be their military partners, opted out even before the fighting began. Unfortunately for the Saudis, as happened previously, the people of Yemen have not capitulated to the Saudi bombing campaign.

As the Saudi aggression against Yemen went from bad to worse, the Omanis, their neighbors, offered a framework for peace talks between all the parties without preconditions. Previously the Saudis had insisted that any peace talks would have to include bring Hadi back to power. They have had to abandon this negotiating point. As a consequence the Saudis had to swallow whatever is left of their pride and accept the participation of Yemenis without preconditions.

The Obama Administration in Washington, finding itself yet involved in another escalating tizzy that could undermine its already flagging influence in the region, agreed to the Omani framework, thus creating more favorable conditions for negotiations to take place in Geneva. In this new political arrangement, there will be a place at the table for Yemen’s popular movement to partake in the preliminary negotiations and to express itss side of the story. Let us hope that these Geneva talks on Yemen will come up with a peaceful resolution to the Yemen crisis, one that the Saudis will have no alternative but to comply with and that would put an end to the current mayhem in Yemen. The current fiasco has already had the most serious ramifications, not just on the Saudi global image, but more critically on the political arrangement that has come to frame the Saudi power structure.

  1. The question of succession in al-Saud family 1920-1953

Historians claim that Ibn Saud, the first ruler of Arabian Peninsula in the post WWI era, first began to think of the question of succession around the late 1930s or early 1940s. Due to many polygamous marriages, which were done to strengthen his power among the biggest tribes, he had left nearly hundred children, sixty of whom were boys and they were all looking forward to few years at the top as the king of Saudi Arabia.

After few years of toying with the idea of leaving it open, he finally opted for what is called an agnatic seniority or horizontal succession system, which is a patrilineal principle where the order of succession to the throne rests on the exhaustion of one generation. This process was conceived in order to avoid conflict between his different male heirs. The next generation would come to power only after the males of the older generation have all died out. Agnatic seniority essentially excludes females of the dynasty and their descendants from the succession.

By the time Ibn Saud died in 1953, his older son, Saud, took over as the new king and all Ibn Saud’s many children accepted that they will have their share of power only if they waited and lived long enough, until the their seniors had departed this earth. The system was considered a “done deal” and all of Ibn Saud’s children began to enjoy their frivolous lives as they waited to fill their dead brother’s shoes so to speak.

For the eleven years of Saud’s reign, there were no serious threats to the system. However, as the palace war between King Saud and Crown Prince Faisal grew more heated in the early 1960s, King Saud let it be known that he was considering changing the line of succession from agnatic to primogeniture system in which the eldest male offspring inherits the wealth and position of power from his father and naming his eldest son Crown Prince. Primogeniture gives preference to a ruler’s oldest son, eliminating the other heirs from power. Such a change was deemed unacceptable to the rest of the royal family who well understood they were being iced out from power. At Faisal’s request, a palace coup ousted King Saud; Faisal took over the helm in late 1964, at the time avoiding what could have been a bloody power struggle within the royal family.

It is these family squabbles, ultimately to gain control of the mountain of wealth from Saudi oil and natural gas, that have, once again, resurfaced with a vengeance. One of the grave ramifications of the current fiasco in Yemen is the pressure that it has put on this system due to internal dissatisfaction with the war, which, despite the Western media claims to the contrary, the Saudis are badly losing. Only a few weeks ago the current ruler, Salman, dismissed his half-brother Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as the crown prince and replacing him with his nephew. (See this chart of the Saudi family tree.)

What happened a few weeks ago is an attempt by Salman to convert the horizontal into a vertical system or change the line of succession from agnatic to primogeniture with the intention of giving his son the whole pie, rather than just a piece, at the expense of the others. Is this the beginning of a crack in the whole political structure or finally we are beginning to see the slippery slope leading to Arabia without Sultans? Only time will tell.

______

[1] The five groups operating in Yemen are: Harakat Ansarollah (Houthies), Almo’tamar Al-Sha’bi (People’s Forum) lead by Abdollah Salih the former president, Tajamo’ al-Islah (Muslim Brotherhood’s chapter in Yemen, Qiwaa al-Hiras Al-Jonoobi (The Movement of Southern Forces) that demands the separation of the south Yemen, and groups supporting Hadi the Saudi appointed current president.

Turkey’s AKP Doomed by Poverty, Growing Inequality and Its War on Trade Unions

Turkey’s AKP party has left 50 percent of the population at or near the poverty line. Pictured: President Erdogan. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Turkey’s AKP party has left 50 percent of the population at or near the poverty line. Pictured: President Erdogan. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Among the many things behind the storm that staggered Turkey’s ruling party in last week’s elections, a disastrous foreign policy looms large. But a major factor behind the fall of the previously invincible Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a grassroots revolt against rising poverty, growing inequality and the AKP’s war on trade unions.

On the eve of the election, the government’s Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) found that 22.4 percent of Turkish households fell below the official poverty line of $1,626 a month for a family of four. The country’s largest trade union organization, TURK-IS, which uses a different formula for calculating poverty levels based on incomes below the minimum monthly wage—$118—argues that nearly 50 percent of the population is at, or near, the poverty line.
Read More

Saudi Arabia Fixated on Iran When Sunni Extremists Are Real Threat

Walking with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is intent on reducing Iran’s influence in the Middle East. (Photo: U.S. Dept. of State)

Walking with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is intent on reducing Iran’s influence in the Middle East. (Photo: U.S. Dept. of State)

Last week in Politico magazine, Gary Sick wrote about what he calls the “most dramatic shift in Saudi policy since at least World War II.” To wit:

The Saudi regime’s insistence on seeing threats to the Kingdom in fundamentally sectarian terms—Sunni vs. Shia—will put it increasingly at odds with its American patrons and could lead the Middle East into a conflict comparable to Europe’s Thirty Years War, a continent-wide civil war over religion that decimated an entire culture.

Read More

Page 24 of 223« First...10...2223242526...304050...Last »