Focal Points Blog

The Obama Administration’s Hollow Case for Striking Syria

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

For once, the views of the New York Times editorial board and Focal Points align perfectly. From an op-ed today:

Despite the pumped-up threats and quickening military preparations, President Obama has yet to make a convincing legal or strategic case for military action against Syria.

Where, the author asked,

… is the proof that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria carried out the attack?… If the Obama administration has such evidence, it should make it public immediately. Given America’s gross failure in Iraq — when the Bush administration went to war over nonexistent nuclear weapons — the standard of proof is now unquestionably higher. We are also eager to hear the conclusions of the United Nations inspectors who are in Syria taking samples from victims and interviewing witnesses. 
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Is Assad a Rational Actor?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

On Monday at Focal Points, I wrote about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad invoking logic to refute the charges that his government carried out chemical-weapon attacks. He pointed out in an interview with Izvestia reported on by the New York Times that

… government troops would have risked killing their own forces if they had used chemical weapons. “This contradicts elementary logic,” news reports quoted him as saying. It is “not us but our enemies who are using chemical weapons,” he said, referring to antigovernment rebels as “the terrorists.”

I wrote:

Bearing in mind that just because he invokes logic doesn’t necessarily mean Assad actually isn’t capable of acting irrationally. But, remember, the area subjected to clouds of poison gas was the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, also his home. Though I’m unfamiliar with drift patterns of poison gas, putting Damascus, himself, and his family in possible harm’s way would make him obstinate to the nth degree, not to mention self-destructive, on top of irrational. We’re talking about Hitler territory.
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Bomb What Exactly in Syria?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Some of us have wondered why Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would drop tear gas in the suburbs of the seat of his government and his own home, Damascus. After all, the wind could blow the gas into his backyard. Nor did it make sense in light of how calls for intervention had recently died down. As Assad himself pointed out in an interview with Izvestia reported on by the New York Times:

… government troops would have risked killing their own forces if they had used chemical weapons. “This contradicts elementary logic,” news reports quoted him as saying.

Nevertheless, today the New York Times reported:

In the coming days, officials said, the nation’s intelligence agencies will disclose information to bolster their case that chemical weapons were used by Mr. Assad’s forces. The information could include so-called signals intelligence — intercepted radio or telephone calls between Syrian military commanders.
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Syria: Assad’s Empty Gestures, Empty Threats

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Syrian President Assad insists that the apparent chemical-weapon attacks that have left upwards of 1,000 people dead in his country were committed by “terrorists,” as he calls the opposition. That’s his story and Russia and Syria are sticking to it.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that they were carried out “likely with high-level approval from the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to American and European security sources.”

But, as Assad himself points out in an interview with Izvestia reported on by the New York Times:

… government troops would have risked killing their own forces if they had used chemical weapons. “This contradicts elementary logic,” news reports quoted him as saying. It is “not us but our enemies who are using chemical weapons,” he said, referring to antigovernment rebels as “the terrorists.”

Bearing in mind that just because he invokes logic doesn’t necessarily mean Assad actually isn’t capable of acting irrationally. But remember the area subjected to clouds of poison gas was the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, also his home. Though I’m unfamiliar with drift patterns of poison gas, putting Damascus, himself, and his famly in possible harm’s way would make him obstinate to the nth degree, not to mention self-destructive, on top of irrational. We’re talking about Hitler territory.
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Foreign Policy Thin-Sliced (8/23/13)

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Egypt: A Peaceful State Rule by a Junta

“We have this thing about us, that the Egyptian Army is untouchable,” [a woman named] Israa said.

“So many want Egypt ruled with an iron grip,” she said. [But] “This is not us. … It’s not Egypt at all. We are not happy with death and blood.”

Working-Class Cairo Neighborhood Tries to Make Sense of a Brutal Day, Kareem Fahim, the New York Times
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If True, Does Assad Really Think WMD Use Is Okay With Russia?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Calls for intervention are rearing their ugly head again in light of charges that the Syrian military mounted a poison gas attack outside Damascus. (Syria’s capital and home to President Assad: gives new meaning to “fouling your nest,” aka “s****ing the bed.”) While the Syrian opposition and Western states are urging Syria to permit UN inspectors to examine the site, France is calling on states to respond “with force” if WMD use is verified.

We’ll spare you another round of the pros and cons of intervention. Meanwhile, the Security Council is meeting today and, in the unlikely event that Assad has finally gone too far for Russia, what options are available if Russia cooperates? Outside all-out RP2, I’ve heard that what’s being considered are sanctions on individual members of Iran’s government (raise your hand if you’re surprised that hasn’t yet been enacted) and a referral to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
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It Must Be Summer: Pakistan Shells India

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The latest round of border tensions along the Line of Control (LOC) separating India and Pakistan began with the ambush of 5 Indian soldiers earlier this month, which has now expanded to heavy exchange fire along the LOC and heightened tensions. Now the real question that is debated vigorously in the Indian media is why can’t and why has not India developed an adequate military response to the border ceasefire violations or pursued other military options. In some ways, this question is a red herring because India has indeed responded by returning fire along the border and sought to maintain the prevailing status quo on the border.

Motivations behind the Pakistani army’s decision to start shelling along the LOC in violation of 2003 ceasefire agreement are not entirely self-evident. Many theories are being floated in the Indian media to explain Pakistan’s violation of LOC. But one explanation stands out. Pakistani army began shelling in order to facilitate the cross-border intrusion of the dreaded jihadi groups such as Lakshar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Lashkar-eJhangvi (LeJ). Pakistani border forces have regularly have relied upon the strategy of lobbing mortar shells and small arms fire to facilitate infiltration of terror groups into Kashmir; this is an annual summer activity.
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Massive Retaliation by the Loser of a Nuclear War Takes Payback to Absurd Heights

ICBM

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Like a mirage, whenever it seems within reach nuclear disarmament recedes further into the distance. But, at least nuclear hawks no longer feel comfortable speaking on the record about nuclear “warfighting.” In fact, to keep the money flowing into the industry, they base one illusion – that nuclear weapons make us safer – on another: acting as if not only won’t they be used offensively, but defensively. In other words, the only function of “our nuclear deterrent” (as they invariably refer to the U.S. nuclear-weapons program) is to stand around and look threatening.

But it was only a few decades ago that commentators spoke more frankly of using them. Even though it was on the heels of the Nuclear Freeze movement, in the autumn 1987 issue of the Midwest Quarterly, Washington attorney James P. Scanlan addressed a national security concern slash ethical dilemma in an article titled Facing the Paradox of Deterrence (which I stumbled across while browsing JStor).

We must intend to retaliate in order to deter the Soviet Union from attacking us with nuclear weapons; but after the Soviet Union has unleashed a massive nuclear attack, there will no longer be any purpose in retaliating, at least no purpose sufficient to justify the substantial retaliation we must threaten in order to deter.
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Tunisia: Washington’s Grip Tightens

Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda party. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda party. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted from Open Democracy.

Part One

Two years ago it was a Tunisian uprising that triggered the events in Egypt which brought down Hosni Mubarek. Now it is the Egyptian mass movement – which in conjunction with that country’s military that is fanning the flames of opposition in Tunisia. Is Tunisia on the verge of imploding along ‘Egyptian-like’ lines?

There are parallels between the two situations of the two countries – most particularly, the pervasive collapse of confidence in the recently elected governments. Just as the Muslim Brotherhood failed to address the socio-economic crisis that swept it to power just a short year ago, so too, Ennahda – Tunisia’s version of the Brotherhood, for all practical purposes, has been singularly ineffective in addressing Tunisia’s woes.
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Foreign Policy Thin-Sliced (8/16/13)

Syria. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Syria. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Syrian Rebel-Force Futility

“If a regular Syrian comes and asks me what we have given him, I don’t know what to say,” Ahmed said.

Momentum Shifts in Syria, Bolstering Assad’s Position, Ben Hubbard, the New York Times
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