No, it’s not U.S. reluctance to go all in against Syria that has created a vacuum in its foreign policy for Russia to fill.
In foreign policy, the adage “Nature abhors a vacuum” should be turned on its head. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )
Some think that President Obama’s refusal to mount commit boots on the ground in Syria against the Islamic State (or the Assad regime, for that matter) has left a vacuum into which Russia (as well as Iran) have inserted themselves. As in “Nature abhors a vacuum.” In an article at the National Interest, Paul Pillar writes about how dangerous cliched metaphors — such as dominoes, or the current favorite that he cites, vacuum — are when used in relation to foreign policy.
Pakistan is beginning to make concessions on nuclear weapons and redirect some of its national security from India to Islamist militants.
At however glacial a pace, tensions are abating between India and Pakistan. Pictured: Lahore. (Photo: Michael Foley / Flickr)
Second only to North Korea — a distant second — Pakistan has long been regarded as the loose cannon of the nuclear-weapons club. Among other things:
- It developed nuclear weapons without signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
- It failed to prevent one of its leading scientists, Abdul Qadeer Khan, from creating a nuclear black market to sell nuclear know-how and equipment.
- It refuses to renounce a policy of possible first use, as almost all the other nuclear powers have.
- It continues to build up its arsenal.
- It’s developing tactical nuclear weapons (smaller, for actual battlefield use) to compensate for the greater numbers of India’s conventional forces.
- There’s an undercurrent of dread about the thought that Pakistan military can be infiltrated by Islamist extremists who might stage a takeover of one of its nuclear-weapons facilities.
A New York Times account is sympathetic to Seymour Hersh’s revisionist history about the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
The truth about how Osama bin Laden was located in Abbottabad may lie between the U.S. government’s account and Seymour Hersh’s. Pictured: bin Laden in his happy cave days. (Photo: The Telegraph)
On Oct. 15 at the New York Times, Jonathan Mahler revisited the government’s account of the Abbottabad raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. In the process, he demonstrated sympathy for Seymour Hersh’s famous or infamous (depending on your perspective) revisionist history in the London Review of Books. Mahler wrote:
The official narrative of the hunt for and killing of bin Laden at first seemed like a clear portrait, but in effect it was more like a composite sketch from multiple perspectives: the Pentagon, the White House and the C.I.A. And when you studied that sketch a little more closely, not everything looked quite right.
The American right is shelling out millions upon millions of dollars to counter the BDS movement.
Sheldon Adelson alone has contributed $50 million to stop the BDS movement. Pictured: Gideon Levy. (Photo: Hanay / Wikipedia)
The meshuggeneh offensive
If you’ve never seen a group of meshuggeneh pro-Israeli zealots – as self-righteous as they are ignorant, frequently wrong but never in doubt – try to disrupt a peace event that includes two Palestinians and an Israeli opposed to the Occupation, then, you’ve really missed something.
Recently I had a chance to experience just that. A few days ago, on October 19, the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and a local Westchester County, New York peace group, WESPAC, sponsored a program with Israeli journalist Gideon Levy and Palestinian researcher Suhail Khalilieh. Aleen Masoud, a young Palestinian musician played music and also made some comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some old friends I was visiting, involved with WESPAC, were going and invited me along. The meeting was covered by Jewish blogger Phillip Weiss, of Mondoweiss, who wrote a fine story on it, complete with video footage.(1)
Peace is for dreamers and supporting despotic regimes is SOP.
Supporting governments such as Egypt’s not only compromises our moral values, it’s unnecessary. Pictured: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. (Photo: Business Day Online)
I recently posted:
In an eye-opening article for Foreign Policy in Focus entitled Why Doesn’t the Foreign Policy Establishment Take World Peace Seriously?, Didier Jacobs writes of U.S.-Iran relations that the U.S. “foreign policy establishment is susceptible to groupthink.”
“Very few people in the establishment challenge the threat to use force if Iran reneges on the [nuclear] deal. No one questions whether Iran should be considered an enemy in the first place.”
The possession of nuclear weapons by a state — any state — violates the social contract.
By developing nuclear weapons, a state arguably puts its own citizens at more risk than if it hadn’t. (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)
American sometimes forget that we, the people, didn’t mandate the development of nuclear weapons — it was state-ordained. In December 2014, at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Kennette Benedict wrote:
While humanitarians in the United States urge intervention in Iraq and Syria to protect innocents from mass murder in the name of the responsibility to protect, the citizens of the United States live with a government that is unable—or unwilling—to protect them from the catastrophic harm of nuclear weapons. By threatening to use such bombs—a key part of the doctrine known as nuclear deterrence—without citizens’ active consent and in the face of near-certain retaliation, the US government has abrogated its responsibility to protect its own citizens. The social contract between citizen and government lies in shambles.
Ironically, alternative energy needs oil to replace oil.
Immediate needs for oil may outweigh long-term needs for oil such as establishing alternative energy. (Photo: Ed Suominen / Flickr Commons)
In February, at Resilience, Frank Kaminski reviewed The World After Cheap Oil by three Finnish energy analysts. The book ranges from the looming shock to an unprepared world to the climate crisis dependence on oil has helped foment to evaluating alternative energy sources. Kaminski singles out two unusual features of Peak Oil that the authors cover. First, the “energy trap.”
It can be summarized thus. Once world oil production begins to decline and the resource goes from being abundant to scarce, the oil that would be needed to reduce society’s dependence on oil is no longer available. This is because, as noted earlier, alternative energy sources sorely depend on oil just for their current production, not to mention the massive build-outs required to make them the dominant fuels. In a world of scarce oil, every ounce of it we possess will have to meet essential needs before those of alternative energy. The trap will become ever more acute the further we move along the depletion curve, since the sacrifice required to invest in renewables will have to come out of an ever-shrinking pie.
How is it that the Islamic State, with much of the world arrayed against it, endures?
The Islamic State capitalizes on its opposition. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Among the most obnoxious traits of the Islamic State is its ability to endure even though much of the world is arrayed against it. As Dominic Tierney at the Atlantic writes that the “acts of aggression and barbarism” perpetrated by the Islamic State “have mobilized a vast enemy coalition, which includes almost every regional power and virtually every great power (and notably the United States, often compared to the Roman Empire in its hegemonic strength). Yet, incredibly, this alliance seems incapable of rolling back the Islamic State. How can a group of insurgents declare war on humanity—and win?” After all:
By conventional logic, the militants’ strategy is reckless and even suicidal—the design of an apocalyptic cult with a death wish.
Gross National Happiness, which had its origins in Bhutan, has caught on with political scientists.
Arguably Gross National Happiness and the Gross National Product are engaged in a zero sum game. (Photo: Irina / Flickr Commons)
You have no doubt heard of the Gross National Happiness (GNH). Counterpoised against the Gross National Product (GNP), Bhutan hoped to reshape its economy along spiritual lines instead of capitalism’s growth ethos. But, just like the GNP, the GNH can be tracked and its existence justified by data. At the estimable British site Aeon, Benjamin Radcliff, an American political science professor, writes:
Economists, political scientists and other social scientists in the growing field of the political economy of wellbeing, or ‘happiness economics’, are using empirical rather than speculative methods to better understand what makes for satisfying lives.
… In reviewing the research in 2014, Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, a political scientist at Rutgers University-Camden in New Jersey, found that ‘societies led by leftist or liberal governments (also referred to as welfare states)’ have the highest levels of life satisfaction, controlling for other factors. Looking across countries, the more generous and universalistic the welfare state, the greater the level of human happiness, net of other factors.
Syrian military photographer Caesar, who documented the dead bodies, exhibited a moral courage beyond the ken of most of us.
It’s difficult to understand not only what drives a man like Assad to commit such atrocities, but why states like the U.S., Russia, and Iran would prop up a regime such as his. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)
You may recall the Syrian military photographer who, from 2011 to 2013, documented Syrian detainees tortured to death by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Known as Caesar, he passed them, via flash drives, to a friend who smuggled them out of the country. He then went into hiding, but journalist Garance le Caisne finally tracked him down (presumably outside Syria) for the Guardian.
Revisiting the torture, which is ongoing, from someone who witnessed its results first-hand reveal the sheer cynicism of states like Russia and Iran — not to mention the United States! — seeking to prop up Assad’s regime in the face of assaults by rebel groups, most notably the Islamic State. Assad is making his bid to be enshrined in the pantheon of most heinous individuals to have ever walked the planet (in the process implicating all those who help him).