Focal Points Blog

The Khorasan Group Creation Myth

Is Al Qaeda, in the form of the Khorasan group, really back with a vengeance? (Photo: Flickr)

Is Al Qaeda, in the form of the Khorasan group, really back with a vengeance? (Photo: Flickr)

In a much-discussed article at First Look, Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain analyze how the Khorasan Group suddenly emerged as the terrorist organization du jour. No, it’s not that the news cycle is so short that the Islamic State is old news. Nor is it because the Islamic State is no longer a threat. Greenwald and Hussain write:

As the Obama Administration prepared to bomb Syria without congressional or U.N. authorization, it faced two problems. The first was the difficulty of sustaining public support for a new years-long war against ISIS, a group that clearly posed no imminent threat to the “homeland.” A second was the lack of legal justification for launching a new bombing campaign with no viable claim of self-defense or U.N. approval.

The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction of a brand new terror threat that was branded “The Khorasan Group.” After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat — too radical even for Al Qaeda! — administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.

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Factionalism and Totalitarianism Are the Scylla and Charybdis of the Arab World

Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah, does Arab unity no favors. (Photo: Olivier Pacteau / Flickr)

Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah, does Arab unity no favors. (Photo: Olivier Pacteau / Flickr)

At Asia Times Online, Ramzy Barzoud writes about the lack of what he calls Arab gallantry.

… millions protested for Gaza across the world in a collective global action unprecedented since the US war in Iraq in 2003. South American countries led the way, with some governments turning words into unparalleled action, not fearing Western media slander or US government reprisals. Few Arab countries even came close to what the majority Christian Latin American countries like Ecuador have done to show solidarity with Gaza.

. . . But the lack of reactions on Arab streets (perhaps Arab societies are too consumed fighting for their own honor and dignity?) and the near complete silence by many Arab governments as Israel savaged Gaza civilians, forces one to question present Arab gallantry altogether.

. . . Hardly shocking, although certainly dishonorable, some Arab journalists who stayed largely quiet as the Palestinian death toll in Gaza grew rapidly, went on a well-organized crusade. While they shed crocodile tears for Gaza’s children, they insisted that Gaza lost, strengthening Netanyahu’s desperate narrative that his war had achieved its objectives. The Gaza-didn’t-win line was repeated by many well-paid journalists and commentators as to defeat the prevailing notion that resistance was not futile. For them, it seems that Palestinians need to accept their role in the ongoing Arab drama of being perpetual victims, and nothing more.

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Scotland, Nationalism, and Freedom

What would have been the flag of independent Scotland, alongside the British flag (Photo: Lawrence Lew / Flickr)

What would have been the flag of independent Scotland, alongside the British flag (Photo: Lawrence Lew / Flickr)

Cross-posted from the Globe Monitor.

Scotland recently rejected freedom, and voted in favor of staying in the United Kingdom. Of course, this will not be the last time we hear from Scottish nationalism, and voices for self-determination and recognition will continue to be heard, until sovereignty is achieved and Scotland’s earns its rightful place among the nation-states of the world.

However, apart from setting a paradigm in self-determination for the rest of the world, the Scottish referendum also gave us a lesson in the ground realities of history and nationalism.
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President Obama’s Twisted Nuclear-Weapons Legacy

The new National Nuclear Security Administration plant in Kansas City. (Photo: NNSA)

The Obama administration’s nuclear policy was on the receiving end of a one-two punch from the New York Times. First, on September 22, in a piece titled U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms, William Broad and David Sanger wrote about a new nuclear manufacturing facility in Kansas City and upgrades to the Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, and Los Alamos national laboratories, as well as at the Pantex manufacturing facility (among others). It’s all “part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.” A useful infographic outlining the upgrades can be found five paragraphs into the Times article. 
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What Happened to Romania’s Irrecuperables?

Conditions are improving for Romanian orphans with mental and physical disabilities, but much still needs to be done. (Photo: Penny Kibble / Flickr)

Conditions are improving for Romanian orphans with mental and physical disabilities, but much still needs to be done. (Photo: Penny Kibble / Flickr)

In 1990, the issue that catapulted Romania into the headlines in the West, after the rise and fall of Ceausescu, was the country’s orphanages. Journalists and foreign health care workers were appalled to discover the condition of babies and children in the many state-run institutions in the country. During the Ceausescu era, abortions were difficult to obtain, and many families were simply too poor to handle another mouth to feed. The 700 orphanages scattered around the country were filled to bursting with 170,000 children.

Many of the children were healthy. Adoption agencies began to match children to eager parents abroad. In that first year, Romania sent 10,000 children abroad, and tens of thousands more before the Romanian government, citing corruption, imposed a moratorium in 2001.

But there were also many children that didn’t fit the profile that most adoptive parents wanted. These were the “irrecuperables,” the children with mental and physical disabilities who were warehoused in “hospitals.” Romanian authorities, both during and immediately after the Ceausescu era, had deemed these children beyond recuperation.
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The International Atomic Energy Agency Further Shreds Its Credibility

The IAEA visits Iran’s first nuclear-energy plant in Bushehr. (Photo: AEOI INRA / IAEA Imagebank)

The IAEA visits Iran’s first nuclear-energy plant in Bushehr. (Photo: AEOI INRA / IAEA Imagebank)

The United States and Iran seem to be moving, however haltingly, toward a nuclear deal. Iran continues — arguably, it’s in the right — to stonewall U.S. demands that it drastically reduce its enrichment program. In an effort to reach a new deal before the interim one expires on Nov. 24, Washington has proposed leaving Iran’s centrifuges in place but disconnected from uranium.

Meanwhile, in an article on Sept. 8 at BloombergBusinessweek, to which Dan Joyner linked at ArmsControlLaw, Jonathan Tirone writes that inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will not be tasked with making a decision about whether Iran tried to develop nuclear weapons.
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Obama Launches an Illegal War in Syria

obama-air-strikes-syria-isis

(Photo: U.S. Army / Flickr)

President Obama’s decision to bomb Syria stands in stark violation of international law, the UN Charter, and the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. It contradicts his own commitment, stated a year ago in the UN General Assembly, to reverse Washington’s “perpetual war footing.”

And it portends disaster for the people of Syria, the region, and much of the world.

The White House stated goal is to destroy the headquarters of the violent and extremist ISIS militia. But you can’t bomb extremism out of existence. The U.S. bombs do not fall on “extremism,” they are falling on Raqqah, a 2,000 year-old Syrian city with a population of more than a quarter of a million people – men, women and children who had no say in the take-over of their city by ISIS. The Pentagon is bombing targets like the post office and the governor’s compound, and the likelihood of large number of civilian casualties as well as devastation of the ancient city, is almost certain.

President Obama was right when he said there is no military solution to the ISIS crisis. Bombing Syria, without Congressional authorization, without United Nations approval, in direct opposition to the stated position of Syria’s government, will only make that crisis worse. It will give ISIS and its allies a new basis for recruitment, it will strengthen the repressive Syrian government, it will undermine Syria’s struggling non-violent opposition movement, and it will further tighten the links between ISIS supporters in Syria and in Iraq.

The bombing should stop immediately, and be replaced with a U.S. policy based on:

  • Supporting an intensive new UN-based diplomatic initiative involving all parties in the region
  • Opening direct talks with Iran and Russia based on shared opposition to ISIS – with Iran to jointly push for ending anti-Sunni sectarianism in the Iraqi government, and with Russia to work towards ending the multi-party civil war in Syria
  • Pressuring U.S. allies in the region to stop their governments and people from arming and facilitating the movement of ISIS fighters
  • Shifting the war funds to a massive increase in humanitarian assistance

India and China’s Pragmatism Challenge U.S. Superpower Status

In lieu of military might, China challenges the United States with its doctrine of “pragmatism,” as defined by the so-called China Model. (Photo: Khalidshou / Wikimedia Commons)

In lieu of military might, China challenges the United States with its doctrine of “pragmatism,” as defined by the so-called China Model. (Photo: Khalidshou / Wikimedia Commons)

When Narendra Modi greeted Xi Jinping with the idea of “INCH (India and China) towards MILES (Millennium of Exceptional Synergy)” [Note 1], the new age of “pragmatism”-based multi-polarity has taken another great step to replace the fading age of liberalism-based dominance by the United States.

In terms of military might, innovation capability, financial market leverage, natural resources endowment, and natural science progression, BRICS plus MIKT (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey) or CIVETS or “Next Eleven” altogether are no match with the USA. Yet, both analysts and ordinary people in the street can more or less sense that the U.S.-led unipolarity is under serious threat, especially from China.
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Missile Defense Isn’t the Only Weapons System That Undermines Nuclear Deterrence

It’s difficult to tell the difference between an incoming conventionally armed hypersonic missile and a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. (Photo: Lockheed)

It’s difficult to tell the difference between an incoming conventionally armed hypersonic missile and a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. (Photo: Lockheed)

You’ve heard of supersonic: 1.2 to five times the speed of sound. Hypersonic missiles, while not as fast as ballistic missiles, travels at five to 10 times the speed of sound. What exactly are they? At the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists, Mark Gubrud reports. (Emphasis added.)

Hypersonic missiles fall into two distinct categories. In what is known as a boost-glide weapon, the hypersonic vehicle is first “boosted” on a ballistic trajectory, using a conventional rocket. … it glides at hypersonic speed toward its final destination.

Hypersonic cruise missiles, on the other hand, typically are launched to high speed using a small rocket, and then, after dropping the rocket, are powered by a supersonic combustion ram jet, or scramjet, for flight at five times the speed of sound (some 3,800 miles per hour) or greater.

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Without Iran, a Coalition to Confront the Islamic State Is Doomed to Failure

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry opposes including Iran in the coalition aligned against the Islamic State. (Photo: Ralph Alswang / Flickr)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry opposes including Iran in the coalition aligned against the Islamic State. (Photo: Ralph Alswang / Flickr)

With the skills it has exhibited for governing (see In Raqqa, ISIL governs with fear and efficiency in the National), one can’t help but wonder if it might be a good idea to just let the Islamic State have its caliphate. Impossible, of course, because of the fear factor. In fact, its brutality is like a self-destruct button that mobilizes states to join forces against it. For example, as Graeme Wood wrote in the New Republic:

… any attack on a Western city would draw an immediate and devastating counterattack on Raqqa, and wouldn’t require the laborious fumigation of hundreds of mountain caves.

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