Focal Points Blog

Is Diplomacy, Not War, Finally on the March in the Middle East?

President Obama speaking with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. Official White House photo by Pete Souza

President Obama speaking with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. Official White House photo by Pete Souza

The Middle East is normally a depressing topic of conversation with talk of ongoing wars, repressive governments, ethnic violence, and terrorist attacks. Yet two of the region’s most troublesome challenges (Syria and Iran) are on diplomatic tracks toward peaceful resolution (although success is far from assured in either of these cases).

In late August, President Obama was poised to “take military action against Syrian regime targets” in response to a violation of his ‘redline’ against the use of chemical weapons. Within two weeks, however, the President reversed course and announced his cautious support for a diplomatic campaign born of an apparent off-the-cuff remark by U.S. Secretary of State Kerry suggesting that strikes could hypothetically be averted if Syria would take the unimaginable step of eliminating its chemical weapons arsenal. International diplomacy quickly began to turn this ideal fictional scenario into reality. Today there are scores of international experts deployed inside Syria who are actively inventorying and destroying Syrian chemical weapons.  
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Increased American Military Presence May Undermine Good Governance Efforts in Africa

Gen. Odierno at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.  Wikimedia Commons

Gen. Odierno at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Wikimedia Commons

Last weekend, Kenya’s preeminent newspaper The Nation, reported that CCTV footage showed Kenyan soldiers looting during the terrorist attack in Westgate Mall. The “Shame of Soldiers Looting Westgate,” as The Nation dubbed the footage, may be allegorical for increased American military involvement in Africa.

How is America’s military presence in Africa shifting?

Former counter-terrorism director for Africa at the Defense Department Rudolph Atallah notes that though the original design for American military presence in Africa was a small footprint “ that has dramatically changed over time,” to the extent that “Africa is front and center now for the Pentagon.”
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Surveillance on Merkel’s Phone Demands a Scapegoat

NSA Director Keith Alexander

NSA Director Keith Alexander. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As you have no doubt heard by now, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was informed by German intelligence that her phone was subjected to American surveillance. Predictably she reacted badly and called President Obama himself to ream him out. At the New York Times, Alison Smale reported:

About an hour after the news broke in Berlin, Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, appeared before news media in Washington, reporting the Obama-Merkel phone call and saying that “the president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring, and will not monitor, the communications of the chancellor.”

Left unaddressed, as has been pointed out, was whether her phone was monitored in the past. But, never fear. Ms. Smale reports: “ARD, Germany’s premier state television channel said without naming its sources that the supposed monitoring had targeted Ms. Merkel’s official cellphone, not her private one.”
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The Expansion and Contraction of the Fourth Estate in East-Central Europe

Stanislav Holec

Stanislav Holec

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

When Communism collapsed in 1989 in East-Central Europe, many industries collapsed with it. Factories closed, workers were out of jobs, and economies shrank. But one sector of the economy grew: the media. Where there had once been a state monopoly, now there was pluralism. There was suddenly an explosion of reporting, commentary, TV debates.

All these new media outlets – newspapers, radio programs, TV stations – needed journalists. So, many young people switched jobs and became the new reporters. During my travels in 1990, I met many of these newly minted journalists. One of them was Stanislav Holec.

We met in London in March 1990, when he was part of a delegation of Czech journalists. He was new to the profession at that time, having enlisted in the ranks at the time of the Velvet Revolution. He’d gone to school to study engineering but had soon discovered that he was more interested in rock climbing and foreign travel. The revolution couldn’t have come along at a better time.
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Turkey and the Middle-East Realignment

Turkey. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Turkey. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The news broke less than three weeks ago, on October 3, that Turkey, a longtime, staunch NATO member, just broke an unwritten rule of that global military alliance: it has announced it is considering a major $3.2 billion arms purchase from China of an advanced missile defense systems. The announcement triggered something approaching a panic in NATO circles. A number of commentators argue that this is Turkey’s revenge, Turkey being dissatisfied with NATO’s refusal to engage more militarily in the Syrian conflict, and worse, the U.S. change of gears – or seeming one – from an attack mode to negotiating.

This is undoubtedly true to a certain extent, but other, weightier factors are most likely at play, among them a regional shift in U.S. Middle East policy – a shift, in the aftermath of the popularly supported Egyptian military coup away from supporting the Muslim Brotherhood towards once again, giving Saudi Arabia a freer hand in helping to implement Washington’s regional strategic objectives. Enhancing the Saudi role – which bodes ill for the region – entailed somewhat downgrading Turkey’s role and slighting Ankara, after having courted and encouraged them to play a more active role in the Arab World. All that blew up in Turkey – and Washington’s face – in the Syrian conflict.
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Social Control Not Just Aim of Drone Surveillance, But of Drone Strikes, Too

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In a Boston Review article titled The Sound of Terror: Phenomenology of a Drone Strike, Nasser Hussain attempts to

… provide a phenomenology of drone strikes, examining both how the world appears through the lens of a drone camera and the experience of the people on the ground. What is it like to watch a drone’s footage, or to wait below for it to strike? What does the drone’s camera capture, and what does it occlude?
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When It Comes to Nuclear Weapons, Austerity Has a Silver Lining

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“Omne trium perfectum” goes the Latin saying — “everything which comes in threes is perfect.” Let’s see: the spiritual perfection of the Holy Trinity, the cinematic perfection  of the Three Stooges, and … the nuclear triad. Those dubious that the Three Stooges help prove the rule are advised to reserve the bulk of their doubt for that third leg.
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Foreign Policy Thin-Sliced (10/17)

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Not Enough Stock Dividends From a Peace Dividend

In 2001, military spending, as a function of the over-all American economy, was, at six per cent, the lowest it had been since the Second World War. … In much the same way that the peace dividend expected with the Allied victory never came because of the Cold War … a peace dividend expected after the end of the Warsaw Pact, in 1991, came but didn’t last. Instead, after 9/11 the United States declared a “global war on terror.”

The Force: How much military is enough?, Jill Lepore, the New Yorker
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The Geo-political Reverberations of a Government Shutdown

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As political gridlock continues to grip Washington, the prospect of the United States defaulting on its debt looms ever more prominently on the horizon. Such an event – were it to occur – would have far-reaching consequences. Not only for the short-term interests of certain politicians or political parties, but for the greater geo-political stature of the United States.

The weakening of U.S. soft-power is already evident. As politicians wrangle with one another in the halls of Congress, rival powers are watching with concern and no doubt grim satisfaction as the United States takes the world economy to the edge of a cliff.
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Humanitarian Intervention: Destroying Nations to Save Them

Map Richard D. Vogel. Permission to copy

Map Richard D. Vogel. Permission to copy

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The fate of Iraq is a sideshow, the terrorist threat is a red herring, and the radical Islamist’s dream of a worldwide jihad against the west is a fantasy, but the attempt to revive Pax Americana is real.
Gwynne Dyer

The notion of “humanitarian intervention” by former imperialist and now neo-colonial powers is as old as the hills. One can trace such pretexts back far in modern history. Two examples, among many, suffice: the 1898 U.S. invasion of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines was done in the name of saving those peoples from the Spanish yoke. Hitler used it as the excuse to annex the Sudetenland regions of (then) Czechoslovakia to supposedly “save” the poor German residents of that country.
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