Focal Points Blog

Will Use of Surface-to-Air Missiles by Islamic State Lure U.S. Into Wider War?

The United States needs to be wary of being lured into a wider war with the Islamic State, which appears to be shooting down Iraqi Army helicopters with weapons such as this. (Photo: U.S. Army / Flickr Commons)

The United States needs to be wary of being lured into a wider war with the Islamic State, which appears to be shooting down Iraqi Army helicopters with weapons such as this. (Photo: U.S. Army / Flickr Commons)

In October of last year, in the New York Times, Kirk Semple and Eric Schmitt  reported on Islamic State videos showing Islamic State forces shooting down Iraqi Army helicopters with shoulder-launched missiles, also known as Manpads (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems). They then speculated that allied airstrikes “will bring out more proof of the jihadists’ antiaircraft abilities.”
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The Mutual Benefits of Exaggerating the Soviet Union’s Nuclear Weapons

During the Cold War, the United States tried to convince its public it didn’t have enough nuclear weapons, while Russia, which had fewer, tried to convince its public that it had enough. Pictured: Russian intercontinental ballistic missile. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

During the Cold War, the United States tried to convince its public it didn’t have enough nuclear weapons, while Russia, which had fewer, tried to convince its public that it had enough. Pictured: Russian intercontinental ballistic missile. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

Nuclear weapons rival free-market economics for generating far-fetched and convoluted lines of thought. Here’s an example from a book I’m rereading (and with a much greater appreciation of its importance): the third edition of Lawrence Freedman’s The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). Regarding the Cold War (emphasis added):

If it came to nuclear war the Russians did consider, as an article of faith, that their society was better suited to cope with a nuclear war than capitalist societies. They also took practical steps to improve their civil defences, though much of this took the form of reassurances to the population that atomic war could be survived if sensible precautions were taken. There was, however, an important cultural point that needs to be borne in mind when considering the pronouncements of Soviet and American commentators when assessing the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and each other. There has always been an element of reassurance in Soviet pronouncements on the state of the strategic balance, a function perhaps of the inferior position from which the Soviet Union began the nuclear age and the consequent desire to avoid defeatism (and the generally optimistic tone about all thing encouraged by the prevailing ideology). The Americans, because of a sense of declining superiority, erred in the opposite direction, stressing the gains being made by the Soviet Union. Often a motive could be found in the desire to encourage a more determined national effort in the arms race. It was quite possible for the Americans to offer gloomy assessments of a decisive tilt in the balance toward the Soviet Union, have it confirmed by Soviet leaders, and yet still be wrong. As will be seen, this is precisely what happened in the late 1950s.

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The Beach Massacre in Tunisia: Seifeddine Rezgui’s Last Break Dance

The seaside resort of Sousse, the latest site of Islamist extremist violence in Tunisia. (Photo: Damian Entwhistle / Flickr Commons)

The seaside resort of Sousse, the latest site of Islamist extremist violence in Tunisia. (Photo: Damian Entwhistle / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

The idea that Tunisia represents something of an Arab Spring success story  in contrast to the turmoil experienced elsewhere in the Middle East, has been an integral part of the Western media narrative about the region. Yet, from the outset, the post-Ben Ali Tunisian transformation has been a bumpy and frankly, fragile affair in many ways. True enough, the Ben Ali repressive yoke has been lifted. That much has changed for the better. However, the recent massacre of foreign tourists in Sousse underlines many of the thorny structural problems that remain. I mention this, by the way, as one who has confidence – boarding on faith – in the Tunisian people’s ability to overcome these difficulties in the long run.  — RJP

A number of themes have converged to make Tunisia more of a target of terrorist attacks from ISIS-like radicals than in the past, much of it blowback from the NATO attack on Libya that brought an end to Khadaffi’s rule.
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A Death Knell for the North Korea Regime

Governments, such as that of North Korea, based on terror against their own people, have a planned obsolescence. Pictured: the Arirang mass games. (Photo:  Stephan / Flickr Commons )

Governments, such as that of North Korea, based on terror against their own people, have a planned obsolescence. Pictured: the Arirang mass games. (Photo: Stephan / Flickr Commons )

At the National Interest, Jamie Metzl, who has served on the National Security Council, writes of North Korea:

… those predicting its imminent collapse have continually been proven wrong. But today, the North Korean madness may well be nearing its endgame. I predict it will be gone within a decade.

Metzl writes that North Korea’s continued existence is contingent upon exercising a reign of terror over its own people, its possession of nuclear weapons, and improving its economy. He doesn’t actually spell out how subjugating its people will lead to its destruction except to note that

Economic reform … cannot work in North Korea without political reform. Greater access to information and freer movement of people and goods are essential underpinnings of a reforming economy. These same reforms would also undermine the legitimacy of the regime.

As for how its nuclear-weapons program will work against it, Metzl writes:

The further development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, however, will ultimately put it at odds with China, its essential benefactor. …  China will rightly come to perceive the North’s nuclear program as being designed primarily to limit Beijing’s influence over Pyongyang. This will likely prove unacceptable to the Chinese, who will be forced to increase economic pressure on North Korea by reducing aid.

Meanwhile, the reforms required for a healthy economy would

… force it to choose between shutting down economic reform to maintain totalitarian control or allowing the spark of political change to ignite that will, over time, become inextinguishable.

… With no logical path forward, the DPRK government will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, as we may already be seeing in the recent wave of high-level executions.

No one wishes the chaos that accompanies a change in political systems on North Korea. We will leave it to someone with more knowledge of the region to make the case that said chaos is preferable to the status quo.

 

Nuclear Weapons Program Probably Not Among the Many Crimes of Assad

We should all be grateful that Syrian President Assad apparently never began a nuclear weapons program. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

We should all be grateful that Syrian President Assad apparently never began a nuclear weapons program. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

At LobeLog, former British ambassador to the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency Peter Jenkins casts doubt on the belief that the Syrian structure attacked by Israel in 2007 was a nuclear reactor intended to process plutonium for nuclear weapons.

What I wrote earlier this month about the reasons to doubt the wisdom of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board’s decision to find Syria non-compliant with its IAEA safeguards agreement led to contact with a retired senior inspector [who] is very familiar with the North Korean [model] which the Syrian reactor at Dair Alzour is said to have resembled.

Access to this specialized knowledge has driven me to the conclusion that there is a high degree of uncertainty as to whether the structure destroyed by an Israeli raid in September 2007 housed a nuclear reactor.

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“Pivot” to China Has U.S. Military Branches at Each Other’s Throats

A U.S. aircraft carrier, poised to parry China’s “anti-access/area denial” capabilities. (Photo: Dept. of Defense)

A U.S. aircraft carrier, poised to parry China’s “anti-access/area denial” capabilities. (Photo: Dept. of Defense)

Recently, at Foreign Policy in Focus, John Feffer reported:

“I’d say the war with China will probably take place in the next 10 years,” opined Professor Joseph Siracussa of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet James Lyons, along with security analyst Richard Fisher, had a pointed recommendation for the Obama administration: “Either it leads the way to a new ‘armed peace’ in this region, or China will soon commence a war for domination.”

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The State of Extremism in Romania

According to journalist Petru Clej (pictured), anti-Roma sentiment remains pervasive in Romania, and anti-Semitism is rising. (Photo: John Feffer)

According to journalist Petru Clej (pictured), anti-Roma sentiment remains pervasive in Romania, and anti-Semitism is rising. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Romania Mare (Greater Romania) was founded in 1990 first as a magazine and then as a political party by two former court poets of the Ceausescu era: Corneliu Vadim Tudor and Eugen Barbu. As its name suggests, the ultra-nationalist party has been dedicated to expanding the borders of Romania to encompass Moldova and parts of Ukraine. It has also combined anti-Semitism and anti-Roma sentiment with efforts to combat the political influence of ethnic Hungarians.

In the 2000, Romania Mare reached the apex of its popularity. In the parliamentary elections that year, the party came in second with approximately 20 percent of the vote. Even more surprising perhaps was the performance of the party’s leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who captured 28 percent in the presidential election. By 2008, however, Romania Mare was no longer pulling in enough votes for even a single seat in parliament. And Tudor, serving in the European parliament, had drifted to the margins.
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War With Iran Increasingly Unfeasible, Nuke Deal Only Option

an is surrounded with natural defenses from invaders, such as the Dasht-e Kavir desert region pictured. (Photo: Jeanne Menj / Flickr Commons)

an is surrounded with natural defenses from invaders, such as the Dasht-e Kavir desert region pictured. (Photo: Jeanne Menj / Flickr Commons)

As many experts have attested, bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities will only slow Iran’s efforts at processing nuclear fuel. In addition, it would only confirm Iran’s worst suspicions about the West and, very likely, harden any existing resolve some among its leadership might already have to develop nuclear weapons. (For the record, I don’t believe Iran is currently developing nuclear weapons.)

Meanwhile, those hawks who think the United States and other states we dupe into cooperating, could pull off an invasion and occupation of Iran should read Zachary Keck’s recent National Interest. To begin with, he writes, “this option is almost never proposed by any serious observer.” Why?
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What Purpose Do the Islamic State’s “Faces of Death” Videos Serve?

The Islamic State’s violent videos may be part of a coordinated attempt to prevent another Iraqi “Awakening.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State’s violent videos may be part of a coordinated attempt to prevent another Iraqi “Awakening.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday I wrote a Focal Points post about the increasing deviousness of the Islamic State’s forms of punishment. I quoted Tage Rai at Aeon, who wrote:

Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.

… In spite of widespread beliefs about its existence, sadism is so rare that it is not even an official psychiatric diagnosis. Its closest relative is psychopathy, but psychopathy is not characterised by malevolent joy at the suffering of others.

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Islamic State Turns Moral Relativity on Its Head Once and for All

A government building in Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the Islamic State, which uses punishment as a pretext for its forces to commit sadistic acts. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

A government building in Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the Islamic State, which uses punishment as a pretext for its forces to commit sadistic acts. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

The Islamic State continues to stretch the envelope of its own demented brand of creativity when torturing and killing prisoners, often designated as spies. After upping the ante on its trademark beheading, as well as stoning, by burning a Jordanian pilot to death, it recently released a video (unseen by me) in which it lowered five men in a cage into the pool of a luxury hotel in Nineveh, Iraq and drowned them, all while lovingly filming the entire act.

Also on the video, Islamic State forces locked men into a car, which they then blew up with a round from a grenade launcher. As if that’s not bad enough, the video also shows them linking five prisoners together with a live cable, which is then detonated, blowing up the prisoners.
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