Focal Points Blog

What if They Held a Wake and Nobody Came?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

It often occurs to me that the fellow who wrote the book some years back about learning everything worthwhile at his mother’s knee had a very good point about foreign policy. We are trained and brainwashed to believe, of course, that foreign policy is too complicated for us mere citizens, and that the President and his minions have much more information than we do and must and should be trusted to deploy it to confound our enemies abroad. “Liberal” information radio constantly re-emphasizes the point that we are incompetent to participate in foreign policy by employing think-tank pundits to field every question and comment and turn it back on the listener with some patronizing pronouncement or other. (For example, CALLER: Why should everybody be in a lather about Iran and a possible nuclear weapon someday, when Israel already has 200-300 of those, won’t admit it, and doesn’t abide by any international agreements on nuclear weapons? ANSWER:  Israel is a special case; it’s different; the President and the military and even Congress has special secret information about this; don’t worry your pretty head.)
Read More

Are War Crimes Too Grievous to Be Forgiven?

Joshua Milton Blahyi

Joshua Milton Blahyi

Many Christians believe that any sin they commit, no matter how great, will be forgiven if they repent. But, like the Second Amendment supposedly guaranteeing the right to bear arms, that may be one of those precepts that time has passed by. For example, if Hitler (his regime killed 11 million civilians), Stalin (six million), or Chiang Kai-Shek (30 million) were to repent before they died, in the face of hitherto unforeseen numbers (save for maybe Genghis Khan), the quality of God’s mercy would likely be strained to the breaking point.
Read More

Foreign Policy Thin-Sliced (11/1)

hassan-rouhani-moderate-nuclear-weapons-negotiations-general-assembly-obama

Hassan Rouhani (Wikimedia)

“Iranian regime may be too fragmented to come to a consensus”

“Anytime you see a statement coming out of the government, just remember there’s a rat’s nest of people fighting underneath the surface,” Kevan Harris, a sociologist at Princeton who has studied Iran extensively, told me. As [President] Rouhani tries to engage the West, he will have to contend with the hard-liners … who for more than a decade have defined their foreign policy as a covert war on the U.S. and Israel.

The Shadow Commander, Dexter Filkins, the New Yorker
Read More

Saudi Arabia’s Temper Tantrums and What They Mean for the U.S.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan

Prince Bandar bin Sultan

Saudi Arabia recently rejected a coveted seat on the U.N. Security Council it had campaigned for over two years to get. The sense of surprise in the policy analysis world has been palpable, with analysts scratching their heads trying to understand why the oil-rich monarchy would turn down one of the most prized seats in all international relations.

The Saudi rejection has been seen as especially shocking as it comes at a time when Saudi Arabia would have seemingly benefited immensely from being able to play an instrumental role in shaping international positions on Syria and Iran.
Read More

Europe’s Deadly Borders

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Because its members have managed not to mangle each other for a few decades, the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize last year. But all is not pacific in peaceful Europe.

If you look at Europe’s borders, it’s hard to conclude that Europe much cares about the lives of people who don’t belong to its exclusive club.

A few weeks ago, a small ship carrying some 500 people sunk at the borders of Europe off the island of Lampedusa, Italy. The tragedy claimed more than 300 lives. A subsequent tragedy a few days later cost at least 27 lives.
Read More

Forces Amassing to Undermine P5+1 Nuke Talks With Iran

hassan-rouhani-moderate-nuclear-weapons-negotiations-general-assembly-obama

Hassan Rouhani (Wikimedia)

As the U.S. and its allies prepare for another round of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, powerful and wealthy opponents—from the halls of Congress to Middle East capitols—are maneuvering to torpedo them. At stake is the real possibility of a war with consequences infinitely greater than the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

When the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany—the so-called P5+1—sit down with Iran’s negotiators in Geneva on Nov. 7, those talks will be shadowed by an alliance of hawkish U.S. Congress members, an influential Israeli lobby, and a new regional alliance that upends traditional foes and friends in the Middle East.

The fact that the first round of talks on Oct.15 was hailed by Iran and the P5+1 as “positive” has energized opponents of the negotiations, who are moving to block any attempts at softening international sanctions against Teheran, while at the same time pressing for a military solution to the conflict.
Read More

The Merkel Phone Tap: Obama as “Unilateral” in His Own Way as Bush?

German Chancellor Merkel and President Obama in happier times. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

German Chancellor Merkel and President Obama in happier times. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

While some would argue that the United States and its allies routinely spy each other, it’s one thing to bug the Germany embassy in Washington, but another to tap into the phone of the leader of the country, as well as other officials. As we recently posted, spying by the Obama administration on German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a “nadir of sorts for the United States, an utter embarrassment.” Furthermore, as McClatchy reported:

The German allegations came the same week as similar charges from France and Mexico and fast on the heels of angry allegations out of Brazil.

Adding insult to injury (McClatchy again)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama was “obviously aware” that privacy was an especially sensitive issue in Germany, given the history of the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police force. Merkel grew up in East Germany.
Read More

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.  
Read More

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.”
Read More

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.”
Read More

Page 28 of 184« First...1020...2627282930...405060...Last »