Focal Points Blog

Jason Rezaian: Iran’s Nuclear Hostage?

From the warmth of its people to the oppression of its government, Iran is a nation of polarities. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

From the warmth of its people to the oppression of its government, Iran is a nation of polarities. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

Recently my wife and I were watching an old episode of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown in which, after years of trying, he managed to gain entry into Iran. As the show revealed, aside from the food (as heavily meat-based as any country’s), which he liked, Iran is a nation of huge dichotomies. Bourdain claimed the people were the most welcome he had ever met. But many Iranians filmed for the show, in interviews and in public spaces, seemed as if they were restraining themselves from demonstrating their love of life lest they catch of the Revolutionary Guard’s paramilitary basij forces.

At one point Bourdain conducted a lengthy interview with an Iran-American journalist for the Washington Post and his Iranian wife. They were both clearly in love with Iran. Wait, I thought, is that…? Yes, as Bourdain explained in a postscript at the end of the show, Jason Rezaian had since been arrested, along with his wife.
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Is U.S. More Selective in Air Strikes Against Islamic State Than Drone Strikes Elsewhere?

Nothing highlights the limits of air power more than when terrorist groups live among civilians. (Photo: AP / Flickr Commons)

Nothing highlights the limits of air power more than when terrorist groups live among civilians. (Photo: AP / Flickr Commons)

The United States and allied forces have sharply pulled in the reins on air strikes against the Islamic State. To give them the benefit of the doubt, that’s partly out of humanitarian concerns about killing civilians, but also because, as Eric Schmitt reports in the New York Times,

Killing such innocents could hand the militants a major propaganda coup and alienate both the local Sunni tribesmen, whose support is critical to ousting the militants, and Sunni Arab countries that are part of the American-led coalition.

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The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Goes Down in Flames

At this point, leadership in disarmament can only come from non-nuclear weapon states. Pictured: UN Swords Into Plowshares sculpture. (Photo: David Ohmer / Flickr Commons)

At this point, leadership in disarmament can only come from non-nuclear weapon states. Pictured: UN Swords Into Plowshares sculpture. (Photo: David Ohmer / Flickr Commons)

RevCon, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, held once every five years, came to an unsuccessful conclusion as, writes Dan Zak for the Washington Post.

… the United States and several of its allies rejected the conference’s final document, which was supposed to further the implementation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The main sticking point?

… international delegations squabbled over a long-sought goal of establishing a ban on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

… The United States and Britain refused to accept the establishment of an “arbitrary” deadline to hold a conference on a zone that would be free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, and Canada objected to a process that didn’t include Israel, which has not signed the treaty.

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For the Majority of Roma, Inclusion Is an Elusive Goal

Larry Olomoofe is the racism and xenophobia advisor for the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization of Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Warsaw.

Larry Olomoofe is the racism and xenophobia advisor for the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization of Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Warsaw. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Many European organizations, the Open Society Foundation among them, have put a great deal of money and energy into addressing the issue of Roma. Some progress has been made. Roma parliamentarians, business people, journalists, lawyers, and academics have for instance pushed for equal rights for the Roma minority in their respective countries. They are the visible sign that policies of inclusion have worked.

And yet, for the vast majority of Roma, inclusion remains a distant goal. More than 70 percent of Roma live in poverty, and at best only 29 percent graduate from secondary school.
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According to U.S., Islamic State May Not Be Worth a Strategy

The Islamic State’s strategy is as sophisticated as its tactics are primitive. Pictured: Recently conquered Palmyra. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State’s strategy is as sophisticated as its tactics are primitive. Pictured: Recently conquered Palmyra. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In an article for Politico titled Barack Obama Still Underestimates ISIL, J.M. Berger writes that, with the fall of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra and Syria to the Islamic State, Washington, including President Obama, has

… sought to recast the Islamic State’s victories as “tactical” setbacks. Variations on this line were trotted out by the Pentagon and other officials first, and reiterated by the President in an interview published Thursday, in response to a question about the loss of Ramadi: “No, I don’t think we’re losing. There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time, primarily because these are not Iraqi security forces that we have trained or reinforced.”

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America’s Forgotten Naval War With Iran

Iran Air Flight 655, shot down by the U.S.S. Vincennes. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Iran Air Flight 655, shot down by the U.S.S. Vincennes. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The United States has long grappled with fears (however unfounded) that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. But it wasn’t that long ago that the United States had its hands full with Iran’s conventional weapons, namely its navy (what there was of it, that is). It was, writes David Crist in an article for Politico Magazine titled What Obama Should Learn From Reagan’s War With Iran, “a chapter of history that most U.S. policymakers—and too many military officers—have long forgotten.”

President Barack Obama must have spent last week wondering if he’d stumbled back into the 1980s as he responded to new Iranian aggressions in the Strait of Hormuz and ordered the Navy’s 5th Fleet to escort ships transiting the Persian Gulf. The headlines could have been ripped right out of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when naval engagements with Iran became all-too commonplace.

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The Islamic State Needs to Be Stopped, But With Imagination, Not Intervention

One shudders to think of the Islamic State demolishing historical sites in Palmyra such as this amphitheater. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

One shudders to think of the Islamic State demolishing historical sites in Palmyra such as this amphitheater. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On May 21, I posted Seizures of Ramadi and Palmyra Suggest Islamic State, Despite Setbacks, Still on a Roll. On May 22, the author of a New York Times op-ed begged to disagree with those who hold that sentiment. In Calm Down. ISIS Isn’t Winning, Ahmed Ali writes:

The fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Sunday, and of the Syrian city of Palmyra on Wednesday, is a big gain for the Islamic State, but not an utter disaster, as many observers fear.

To Ali:

The attack on Ramadi was a sign of desperation, not strength … it wanted to give its adherents a psychological boost. … It took 16 months of continual clashes with tenacious Iraqi security forces and loyal Sunni tribes before the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, could take Ramadi.

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Making Green Cool Again in Hungary

Members of a green group in Hungary called Zofi: from left to right, Gabor Csillag, Julia Vass, and Gabor Csillag. (Photo: John Feffer)

Members of a green group in Hungary called Zofi: from left to right, Gabor Csillag, Julia Vass, and Gabor Csillag. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

It was certainly cool to be an environmentalist in Hungary in the 1980s. Demonstrations against the government’s plan to build a dam on the Danube drew lots of young people. Opposition to the Communist government, even in the more politically acceptable form that the incipient Green movement took, attracted the counter-culture, the dissidents, and the attention of the international community. In 1985, the leaders of that movement – the Danube Circle and Janos Vargha — won the Right Livelihood award, often dubbed the “alternative Nobel.”

But that was 30 years ago. The environmental movement in Hungary has aged considerably since then. Other issues became hip, young people were drawn to other movements, and Green organizations shrank.
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Seizures of Ramadi and Palmyra Suggest Islamic State, Despite Setbacks, Still on a Roll

One shudders to think of the Islamic State demolishing historical sites in Palmyra such as this amphitheater. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

One shudders to think of the Islamic State demolishing historical sites in Palmyra such as this amphitheater. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On Wednesday, Chairman of the Joint Chief Staffs Gen. Martin Dempsey tried to put lipstick on a pig when he framed the Islamic State’s seizure of Ramadi as a strategic retreat by Iraqi forces rather than a major loss.

“The ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) was not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi.”

Of course, the Islamic State doesn’t play fair, using suicide bombers, some in trucks carrying the explosive power of the truck bomb used by the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, in 1995.
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Dying to Get Into Europe (Pt. 2)

Migrants arriving on Lampedusa in the past. (Vito Manzari / Flickr Commons)

Migrants arriving on Lampedusa in the past. (Vito Manzari / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank. Also read Part 1.

1

For the second time in less than five years, European nations, backed by NATO are considering military intervention against Libya, this time to squash the illicit migrant passage across the Mediterranean. Having shattered the Libyan national political and social body through its 2011 NATO military intervention “for humanitarian” purposes, the European countries, once again, using a slightly different pretext, appear on the verge of performance, this time to counter the burgeoning flow of migrants from Libya’s shores across the Mediterranean to Europe. Having messed up royally in its Libyan policy once leaving the country essentially a shattered state, more and more, Europe appears to be building on its tradition of failure a second time. As in the past, this time, large portions of European public opinion are cheering them on.
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