Focal Points Blog

Confronted With Nuclear Launch, a President Can Fall Prey to Procedure

President John F. Kennedy was an outlier for his courage in the face of opposition during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Pictured: Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara during the crisis. (Photo: Wikipedia)

President John F. Kennedy was an outlier for his courage in the face of opposition during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Pictured: Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara during the crisis. (Photo: Wikipedia)

At Politico magazine, Bruce Blair addresses the hypothetical du jour: What if Donald Trump’s finger were on the nuclear button? Though less freaked out by the prospect than some others, he does exhibit concern. But, in the course of the article, Blair poses this question: “Would the next president” – whoever it is – “exercise independent judgment in a crisis, or would he or she get swept into the whirlpool of groupthink?”
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The Center Can’t Hold

The term “center” is in the eye of the beholder: To Tony Blair it’s much further right than it once was. (Photo: Matthew Yglesias / Flickr Commons)

The term “center” is in the eye of the beholder: To Tony Blair it’s much further right than it once was. (Photo: Matthew Yglesias / Flickr Commons)

Tony Blair, the former British “Labour” Prime Minister, has an Op Ed piece about the outcome of the Brexit vote the New York Times on June 26. He concludes (final sentence): “The center must hold.” What that means isn’t clear, and beyond that he has nothing to propose.

No surprise from the man whose view of “the center” was total partnering with George W. Bush in the disastrous wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Assad Regime Must Pay Reparations to Help With Costs of Refugee Crisis

Europe is making the refugee crisis into a bigger problem than it needs to be, but the Assad regime bears a larger part of the blame. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

Europe is making the refugee crisis into a bigger problem than it needs to be, but the Assad regime bears a larger part of the blame. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

Foreign Policy recently published an article by the outstanding journalist James Traub about Sweden’s state policy of admitting refugees. The title, The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth, is somewhat hyperbolic: Sweden isn’t dying, but it has reached its limit and the hearts of many have been hardened. Traub writes:

The Swedes responded because they could not accept that outcome. They had no special obligation to act; they did so because they believed it was right. … Then, as a consequence, they were inundated, forcing a step back from the moral precipice.

… Yet it need not have ended this way. If their neighbors [in the European Union] had pitched in, Sweden could have afforded the price of its remarkable generosity. At the Davos forum in January, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, said bluntly, “We are a continent of 500 million people; we could easily handle this task if we cooperated, if we met this as a union and not as individual member states.” But Europe did not cooperate.

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Brexit Vote: A Very British Affair

A deal David Cameron (pictured in a happier time) cut with his party came back to bite him – and the entire UK. (Photo: Crown Copyright / Flickr Commons)

A deal David Cameron (pictured in a happier time) cut with his party came back to bite him – and the entire UK. (Photo: Crown Copyright / Flickr Commons)

In the end, the Brexit — the vote on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union (EU) or be the first in the 29-member trade group to bail out — was a close-fought matter, but for all the sturm und drang about a pivotal moment for the EU, the June 23 referendum that saw the Brexit pass was a very British affair.

While the European Union is clearly in a crisis — countries weighed down with unpayable debt, economies virtually dead in the water, double-digit unemployment, and a rising chorus of opposition to the austerity policies of the EU authorities in Brussels — those were not the issues that brought the British people to the polls.
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FBI Overwhelmed by Terror Suspects

“They envy our freedom” no longer, if it ever did, explains why Islamic extremists seek to mount attacks against civilians in the United States. (Photo: CounterJihadNews)

“They envy our freedom” no longer, if it ever did, explains why Islamic extremists seek to mount attacks against civilians in the United States. (Photo: CounterJihadNews)

After 9/11, domestic spying became the law of the land with the Patriot Act, which granted the U.S. government the right to search citizens’ telephones, e-mail, and financial records without a court order. Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed the vastness of the surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency.

In spite of the powers granted it – and taken illegally – the United States has been unable to stop attacks by both the American far right and Islamist extremists (or those who use the latter as a pretext for an attack, such as Omar Mateen in the Orlando shooting). In Politico magazine, Garrett M. Graff explains.
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The Pentagon Plans for War on Many Fronts

Since both Russia and china possess nuclear weapons, a future war could be on a scale never before experienced. (Photo: the Diplomat)

Since both Russia and china possess nuclear weapons, a future war could be on a scale never before experienced. (Photo: the Diplomat)

It is often said that nations typically defend themselves by preparing for the last war. That is what the Pentagon seemed to be doing a few weeks ago in the California desert near Twentynine Palms. The exercise called for one group of Marines to fire live ammunition in order to back up another group of Marines that was attempting to retake a city built to resemble the Iraqi towns of Falluja or Ramadi. When the general in charge was asked what language the participants were speaking, he said “Arabic.”

U.S. military commanders are at the same time training troops for war with Russia or China, or in the worst case scenario, both. The Pentagon says it is preparing for “hybrid wars” that will involve armies, guerrillas, and cyber threats. A large navy will be necessary as well. According to Admiral John M. Richardson, “When you look at this return of great power competition, one of the things that we have to pay more attention to, think harder about, is not only power projection, which is what we’ve been doing, but also sea control.”
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How Much Blame Should Hillary Clinton Bear for Libya?

The biggest blot on Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of state – Libya – may have been a symptom of her stubbornness. (Photo: RedPepperCo.ug)

The biggest blot on Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of state – Libya – may have been a symptom of her stubbornness. (Photo: RedPepperCo.ug)

Can any credence given to a national security policy advisor to Donald Trump when it comes to Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy? Unlikely, we reflexively respond – at the least, we are sick of hearing about Benghazi. But what if he’s a retired navy rear admiral? And what if he was personally involved in negotiations for the abdication of Muammar Gaddafy? Before we hear out Charles R. Kubic at National Interest, here’s a synopsis at Counterpunch from Diana Johnstone.

As Secretary of State, [Ms. Clinton] blocked diplomacy that would have prevented or ended conflict, most notoriously concerning Libya, where even senior U.S. military officers were told to cut off their contacts with Gaddafi agents seeking a peaceful compromise.

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As if PTSD, CTE, and Moral Injury Weren’t Enough

The costs of war, in every way, have become prohibitive. Pictured: a Humvee destroyed in an attack. (Photo: Hoggard Films)

The costs of war, in every way, have become prohibitive. Pictured: a Humvee destroyed in an attack. (Photo: Hoggard Films)

Throughout history, it’s been obvious that soldiers returning home from war are changed men. From being silent to just “different,” soldiers have been suffering what’s been variously called, in the last 200 years, “soldier’s heart,” “shell shock,” “war neuroses,” and, more recently, post-traumatic stress syndrome. Sometimes, PTSD is a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a form of dementia caused by degenerative brain tissue and characterized by deep depression, failing memory, and rage.
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Jihad an Equal Opportunity Employer

Islamist extremists come in all shapes and sizes: middle-class, poor, happy, sad. (Photo: the Telegraph)

Islamist extremists come in all shapes and sizes: middle-class, poor, happy, sad. (Photo: the Telegraph)

“Could Mateen have been caught?” asks Michael Hirsch in Politico magazine of the Orlando mass shooting. “It’s unfair to expect that U.S. law enforcement can track and stop every would-be terrorist,” he writes.

But perhaps the toughest thing to explain about the worst mass shooting in U.S. history is how a man who was interviewed three times by the FBI ended up buying, unnoticed, an entire arsenal and then gunning down, unsurveilled, more than 100 people. He’d been on the FBI’s radar because he attended the same Florida mosque as a suicide bomber named Moner Abusalha, who had gone to Syria to blow up Syrian government soldiers in 2014, but Comey said [there were] no known “connections.”

… Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, says it’s “in the FBI’s DNA” to pursue such criminal links to terrorist groups and build a case in the way law enforcement traditionally does. … “There’s an overemphasis on operational links.”

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The Latest in Ethical Compromises and National Security Lapses From Hillary Clinton

It’s as if Ms. Clinton’s staff thought: “No one will notice. It’s only a nuclear weapons committee.” (Photo: Zimbio)

It’s as if Ms. Clinton’s staff thought: “No one will notice. It’s only a nuclear weapons committee.” (Photo: Zimbio)

Citizens United is a conservative nonprofit group that gained fame for winning the court case known by the same name. In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not limit independent political contributions by nonprofit corporations. However long, as a result of that decision, the name Citizens United will live on in infamy, it actually performed a public service recently.
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