Focal Points Blog

Amir Hekmati: Moral Courage to Burn

Hekmati,Amir

Some background from CNN:

 [Amir] Hekmati joined the Marines in 2001 out of high school. He finished his service four years later as a decorated combat veteran with tours in Iraq.

Afterward, he translated Arabic as a contractor and helped train troops in cultural sensitivity.

Hekmati’s family said he had gone to Iran to visit his grandmother but was arrested in August 2011, accused by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry of working as a CIA agent.
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An African-American Perspective on U.S. Exceptionalism*

ObamaPutin

Cross-posted from AjamuBaraka.com.

In his recent op-ed in the New York Times, Vladimir Putin raised hackles among the talking-heads across the U.S. when he questioned the wisdom of President Obama’s evocation of the narcissistic idea of “American exceptionalism.” After all, the exceptionalism of the U.S. has never been a subject for reasoned discussion or debate in the media or elsewhere. Everyone knows that the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world and, therefore, has special privileges and responsibilities! Those privileges and responsibilities include not bothering with international law or processes when the government decides that the “world” (meaning itself and a few European nations and a couple of their client states) will take responsibility to enforce global order according to its own interpretations, values and needs.

The fact that many in the U.S. believe that those views, values and needs are neutral, impartial representations of the global community is on full display every night on the cable news channels where the state propagandists posing as journalists and the coterie of paid ex-military and U.S. intelligence consultants make impassioned arguments in favor of the U.S. waging war on Syria as a “punishment” for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
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Pull in the Welcome Mat — Sudan’s President Bashir Plans Trip to U.S.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Cross-posted from the United to End Genocide blog.

In a reprehensible move, Sudanese President and International Criminal Court indictee Omar al-Bashir applied for a United States visa to attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly next week.

If granted a visa, Bashir’s visit would be unprecedented and his first to the U.S. since warrants for his arrest were issued by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
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Referring Syria to ICC Could Lead to Peaceful Leadership Transition

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The international community might be headed in a positive new direction guided by peaceful proposals intended to address the violence in Syria. The question is whether the current option – that Assad hand over his chemical weapons – will be effective and timely. As with the intervention debate, the end goal of this option is unclear.

Fortunately, statements last week by President Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin strengthened the case for another peaceful solution with a clear objective to stem the violence in Syria –  a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC). If Putin’s government is serious about avoiding military intervention and President Obama is serious about punishing perpetrators of atrocity crimes, then the ICC presents a meaningful compromise. 
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Sadly, Assad May Be Syria’s Best Option

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Remember how innocently the Syrian rebellion began? In March 2011, as part of the Arab Spring which started in Tunisia, Syrians engaged in mostly peaceful demonstrations, though they did demand the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. Ironically, his heavy-handed response – shooting demonstrators – began a process that posed more of a threat to his regime than did the demonstrators. Especially when jihadists arrived from outside Syria to ostensibly help the armed Syrian resistance that rose up. In fact, they sought to capitalize on the crisis in Syria with their version of the shock doctrine – that is, exploiting a crisis for their own purposes.
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The Former Yugoslavia: Nationalist Passions v. Political Interests

Thompson, Mark

Mark Thompson, author of “A Paper House: The Ending of Yugoslavia.”

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia was a triumph of nationalist passions over political interests. If the latter had prevailed, the process would at least have proceeded peacefully, as was the case with Czechoslovakia. Instead, three wars took place one after the other, in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, along with NATO attacks on Serbia.

Some of those passions can still be glimpsed in the region – in divided Kosovo, in a Macedonia busy building statues to Alexander the Great. But the worst excesses have subsided.
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Obama Fumbles Syria Policy

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

President Obama announced in a speech to the nation on Tuesday night that he will delay a congressional vote on authorizing U.S. strikes on Syria. This comes in light of a Russian-brokered deal that has seen Syria commit to giving up its chemical weapons.

“It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps it commitments,” the president said. “But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.”
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Has Nuclear Disarmament Passed Its Sell-by Date?

BantheBomb

From the Partial Test-Ban and nuclear Non-Proliferation treaties through Reykjavík in the eighties to START I in 1991, arms control was beginning to look like it might corral nuclear proliferation by other countries and on our own soil. Instead, institutional blockades have slowed its pace while the nuclear-industrial complex has found a rhythm that it’s capable of keeping up for the long haul.

Worse, those of us advocating for disarmament can’t help but be prone to thoughts that we’re fighting yesterday’s fight. Some of us who advocate disarmament feel as if we’re viewed like figures from others eras who fought for unions, and women’s and civil rights. Those are battles perceived as long since won, however much those three causes remain under assault via attacks, respectively, on collective bargaining, abortion, and voter identification.
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Applying the Lebanese Template to Syria

Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, architect of the Taif Accord. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, architect of the Taif Accord. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Syria’s devastating civil war is unfortunately nothing new in the Levant. A similar civil war, in fact—marked by sectarianism, the involvement of foreign states, and the loss of tens of thousands of lives—ravaged Syria’s smaller neighbor Lebanon for over 15 years.

Like Syria today, Lebanon unraveled along sectarian lines. The pluralistic composition of the population—composed of Shias, Sunnis, Maronite Christians, Alawites, and many others—set the stage for a free-for-all conflict that nearly led to the disintegration of the country from 1975 to 1990. Massacres from one side followed massacres from another side, as foreign powers such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Iran frequently intervened and provided patronage to differing sides.

Indeed, the commonalities between Syria today and Lebanon just a few decades ago are so rife that a lay person could hardly be blamed for mixing them up.

Once thought to be an endless conflict without hope for a solution, Lebanon’s war eventually came to a peaceful end. How? Hint: it involved negotiations, not more bombs.
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Putin Could Steal That Nobel From Kerry

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

On Sept. 8, Secretary of State John Kerry made the offhanded suggestion that if Syrian President Bashar al Assad were to “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week,” the United States would call off its plans to launch missile strikes at Syria. Russia then offered a proposal to Syria, which it accepted, to submit its chemical weapons to international supervision under which they would eventually be destroyed. Acting Editor of Foreign Policy in Focus Peter Certo wrote: “John Kerry may have just accidentally earned himself a Nobel Peace Prize.”
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