Focal Points Blog

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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Iran Parliament Seeks Right of Approval on Nuke Deal

The Iran parliament seeks to throw obstacles in the path of President Hassan Rowhani’s nuclear negotiations with the West. Pictured: the Iran parliament building. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Iran parliament seeks to throw obstacles in the path of President Hassan Rowhani’s nuclear negotiations with the West. Pictured: the Iran parliament building. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

With the deadline of June 30 fast approaching on Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the West, its parliament, reports Agence France Press, has passed a bill that requires President Rowhani “to safeguard the country’s ‘nuclear rights and achievements,’ despite talks with global powers on curbing the Islamic republic’s disputed atomic program.” It also stipulates that the parliament approve a nuclear deal.

Rowhani’s spokesman, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, said: “This bill contradicts article 176 of the constitution. The issue of negotiations is in the sphere of the Supreme National Security Council… not the government or the parliament.”

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Smolensk and the Deficit of Trust in Polish Society

Tomasz Kazmierczak, who teaches social work and studies community development, is concerned with the deficit of trust in Polish society, which he traces back to feudalism. (Photo: John Feffer)

Tomasz Kazmierczak, who teaches social work and studies community development, is concerned with the deficit of trust in Polish society, which he traces back to feudalism. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

On April 10, 2010, Polish President Lech Kaczynski traveled with his entourage to Russia to attend a commemoration of the Katyn massacre. In 1940, the Soviet NKVD murdered 22,000 Polish army officers, police, and intellectuals in the Katyn forest and then pinned the blame on the Nazis. In 1990, the Soviet Union finally admitted its guilt in the matter. Twenty years later, the Poles and the Russians were to have a historic meeting to commemorate the massacre. But on the morning that the Polish delegation was to arrive, the weather was terrible. The plane crashed on its descent to the airport near Smolensk, killing all on board.

Despite evidence of pilot error, any number of conspiracy theories became popular in Poland. There was a bomb on board. The Russians held up the plane because they didn’t want the Poles to participate in the commemoration. The Russians wanted to assassinate Kaczynski. Some conspiracy theorists even speculated that the Russians produced artificial fog to cause the crash. The official Russian and Polish investigations, though differing on some details, both attributed the crash to pilot error. Still, some conspiracy theories remain popular.
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Yes, Hacking Into Our Nuclear Command and Control Could Actually Happen

Silos housing nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles are better equipped to handle a nuclear attack on them than hackers. (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)

Silos housing nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles are better equipped to handle a nuclear attack on them than hackers. (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)

In a piece at the San Francisco Chronicle, Ploughshares Fund head Joe Cirincione asks What happens when our nuclear arsenal is hacked? Wait, what?

In fact, you’re right to be shocked. Cirincione reports that former head of STRATCOM (which includes U.S. nuclear weapons) retired Gen. James Cartwright told the audience at what he describes as the annual Ploughshares Fund gala that “our nuclear missiles could be hacked — launched and detonated without authorization.”

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Al Qaeda Airs Sour Grapes About Islamic State

Al Qaeda (its forces pictured) seems to have been elbowed aside by the Islamic State. (Photo: TPPN.com)

Al Qaeda (its forces pictured) seems to have been elbowed aside by the Islamic State. (Photo: TPPN.com)

In a Guardian article on June 10, the team of Qaida Shiv Malik, Ali Younes, Spencer Ackerman, Mustafa Khalili chronicle how How Isis crippled al-Qaida. They focus on al Qaeda ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and his friend Abu Qatada, another radical cleric, both of whom are ardent critics of the Islamic State. Due to their affiliation with al Qaeda, it’s obviously a little difficult to feel sorry for them.

The list of Isis’s crimes that have offended Maqdisi and Abu Qatada is long. They include creating division within the wider jihadi movement, publicly snubbing Zawahiri and establishing a caliphate to which Isis demands every other jihadi swear fealty or face death. For more than a year both say they have worked behind the scenes, negotiating with Isis – including with Baghdadi himself – to bring the group back into the al-Qaida fold, to no avail. “Isis don’t respect anyone. They are ruining the wider jihadi movement and are against the whole ummah [Muslim nation],” Abu Qatada said.

… Both men are particularly appalled, they said, by the way Isis has used their scholarship to cloak its savagery in ideological legitimacy, to gain recruits and justify its battle with al-Qaida and its affiliates. “Isis took all our religious works,” Maqdisi said. “They took it from us – it’s all our writings, they are all our books, our thoughts.” Now, Abu Qatada said, “they don’t respect anyone”.

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Pope Francis: Moving the Mountain or Taking Baby Steps?

Pope Francis’s comments on global warming are much anticipated. (Photo: Raffaele Esposito / Flickr Commons)

Pope Francis’s comments on global warming are much anticipated. (Photo: Raffaele Esposito / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank. 

Popes…and Reforming the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is again stirring.

Among many of my Catholic friends, a sense of hope is replacing decades of resignation. They now cling to Pope Francis’ every word, looking forward to what the pontiff will say next. Although ideologically distinct from them, I have found myself working with and living next to Catholics all my life, especially those who have been associated with The Catholic Worker, Sisters of Loretto, and some elements among present and former Jesuits. At times we have struggled to find the common ground…and have often succeeded. Of course, it should come as no surprise that I find myself working more closely with those critical of, or trying to reform the institution. They are a serious, dedicated lot of present and former priests and nuns, some who refer to themselves as “reformed Catholics.”
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Stephen Walt’s Call to Adopt a Containment Policy Toward the Islamic State

Like many terrorist organizations, the Islamic State may become a legitimate state one day. Pictured: Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the Islamic State. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

Like many terrorist organizations, the Islamic State may become a legitimate state one day. Pictured: Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the Islamic State. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

The United States committed to establishing a base in Iraq’s Anbar province this week and sending 400 American troops to train Iraq’s poor excuse of an army in order to re-take Ramadi back from the Islamic State. The Iraqi military that should have been, or at least its leadership (given its walking papers by the infamous Paul Bremer), has emerged as the spearhead of the Islamic State’s forces.

In addition, the Pentagon announced Thursday that since August 2014 the United States has spent over $2.7 billion (or $9 million per day) fighting the Islamic State.
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Gaspar Miklos Tamas: Hungary’s Boomerang Thinker

Gaspar Miklos Tamas’s political reversals can be chalked up to adaptations to changing circumstances. (Photo: Press SZO)

Gaspar Miklos Tamas’s political reversals can be chalked up to adaptations to changing circumstances. (Photo: Press SZO)

Many intellectuals in East-Central Europe have traveled considerable ideological distances over the decades. The most common trajectory has been from the Left to the Right, as former Marxists were born again after 1989 as liberals, neo-liberals, neo-conservatives, just plain conservatives, and ideologues even further to the Right.

Janos Kis in Hungary, who critiqued Marxism from the Left in the 1970s, became a prominent liberal in Hungary in the 1980s and 1990s. Mihailo Markovic, a member of the group of neo-Marxist philosophers known as Praxis, became a leading nationalist supporter of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. Former Polish United Workers’ Party member Boleslav Tejkowski swung over to the far Right to create the Polish National Party, which has been infamous for its extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism.
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