Focal Points Blog

Foreign Policy Thin-Sliced (12/26)

Image Wikimedia Commons

Image Wikimedia Commons

More Affection? When Was There Any?

“There’s now more appreciation and even some nostalgia for [George W. Bush’s] resolve, the clarity of his convictions; things that were sometimes seen as liability when he was in office are now looked at with more affection,” said William C. Inboden, a former aide and the executive director of the Clements Center on History, Strategy and Statecraft at the University of Texas, Austin.  [Emphasis added.]

As Bush Settles Into Dallas, Golf Tees and Family Time Now Trump Politics, Peter Baker, the New York Times
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Is South Sudan a Failed State?

 South Sudan President Salva Kiir. Image Wikimedia Commons

South Sudan President Salva Kiir. Image Wikimedia Commons

Back in July 2011, after a long civil war, South Sudan split from Sudan to become an independent country. However, even though statehood was achieved and a new country was born, the efforts to transform South Sudan into a proper nation-state seem to have come to a standstill.

Is South Sudan a failed state? Even worse, is the country almost on the brink of collapse? In this article, I shall attempt to answer these questions.
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U.S. Determined to Re-freeze Thaw in Relations With Iran

Arak large

Iran’s Arak heavy-water facility

It was only supposed to be Iran’s uranium enrichment progress that was frozen after talks with Iran last month. But now, acting in bad faith by violating the spirit of the Geneva deal between the G5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran, the United States seems to be doing its level best to re-freeze the recent thaw in relations between the G5+1 and Iran. If you’ll bear with me for a final sub-Arctic-temperature metaphor, the United States has frozen the assets of (reports the Jerusalem Post) “companies and individuals engaged in transactions on behalf of other companies that the United States previously designated under the sanctions.”

Now is as good a time as any to ask what Americans ― from “low-information voters” to those who follow the news ― think the problem is between Iran and the West. Speaking in the broadest terms, many are under the impression that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Moving up one level of awareness, others believe that, at present, Iran is not building nuclear weapons, but that it must be stopped from enriching uranium lest it one day divert it to nuclear weapons.
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Tajikstan President Rahmon Brings Stability, But Not Prosperity

Emomali Rahmon, four-term president

Emomali Rahmon, four-term president of Tajikstan

Out of all the poor countries that emerged from the ashes of the erstwhile Soviet Union, Tajikistan stands alone as the poorest. While the papers surely talk about the rapid macroeconomic growth of the country, most of the ordinary Tajiks are yet to witness the brighter side of the economic progress.

Amidst such dismal scenario, back in November 2013, Tajikistan re-elected Emomali Rahmon as its leader, giving him a seven-year term at the office. Former chairman of a collective farm, Rahmon has been dominating the national politics ever since the country came into existence back in 1992 — he became the President in 1994, won for the second time in 1999, and then again in 2003 and 2006. It surely would have been a wonderful political resume had it not been for the absence of any serious political competition.

Question is, if there is rampant poverty in Tajikistan, why is everyone repeatedly giving one chance after another to Rahmon?
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Conn Hallinan’s 2013 “Are You Serious?” Awards

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, winner of the 2013 White Man’s Burden award. Image, Wikimedia Commons

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, winner of the 2013 White Man’s Burden award. Image, Wikimedia Commons

The Creative Solutions Award to the Third Battalion of the 41st U.S. Infantry Division for its innovative solution to halting sporadic attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Zhare District: it blew up a hill that the insurgents used as cover.

This tactic could potentially be a major job creator because there are lots of hills in Afghanistan. And after the U.S. Army blows them all up, it can take on those really big things: mountains.

Runner-up in this category is Col. Thomas W. Collins, for his inventive solution to explaining a sharp rise in Taliban attacks in 2013. The U.S. military published a detailed bar graps indicating insurgent attacks had declined by 7 percent, but, when the figure was challenged by the media, the Army switched to the mushroom strategy*: “We’re just not giving out statistics anymore,” Col. Collins told the Associated Press.
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The Fallacy of Nuclear Deterrence, Chapter 238

Nuclear Test for FPIF

I posted recently about a 1985 article in Political Psychology titled “Toward a Collective Psychopathology of the Nuclear Arms Competition” by John E. Mack, the American psychiatrist and Harvard Medical professor.* Another insight of his runs something like this.

To make “the intention to kill off the bulk of the population” of the enemy in nuclear war morally able, the enemy that’s “created” (or demonized, as we might call it today) by the acceptable, the United States must be ― drum roll, please ― “monstrous to a degree virtually not experienced among the peoples of the human race.” Whether or not deterrence worked in preventing another world war, it’s apparent that many in the Soviet Union perceived the United States as ready and able to launch a first strike as it had in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, as Mack writes
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In Mali, Conflict Continues a Year After the French-led Invasion



Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Tensions Revive in Kidal, Northern Mali

A mere nine months after a French-led military intervention supposedly stabilized the country, Mali is once again in turmoil. Despite Paris’ claims that all of its military would leave, more than likely the 1,000 remaining French military personnel in Mali are there for “an enduring mission.”

At the same time, at present,  momentum for another major French-led military intervention in the Central African Republic will result in more permanent French troops on the ground elsewhere in Africa, joining those already there in Chad and the Ivory Coast, just to name a few. A French re-militarization of Africa, under the well-worn pretext of humanitarian intervention, is in the making.
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Republicans Want It Both Ways With Treaties


In a new report for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Usha Sahay and Kingston Reif cite President Obama’s June 19 speech in Berlin. The President announced his intentions to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal an additional 1,000 or more warheads below the level required by the New START treaty. When he stated that these cuts could either be “pursued through formal agreements” ― treaties ― or “parallel voluntary measures,” 24 Republican senators immediately wrote him to the effect that “any further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should only be conducted through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.”
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Drones Trail a Whole Host of Dilemmas – Ethical and Otherwise – in Their Wake

DroneIn a recent column at Foreign Policy in Focus, Conn Hallinan used the image of Pandora’s box to illustrate the limitless outpouring of problems that drones present. Most of the concern over drones revolves around, abroad, the deaths of innocents (not to mention the dubious ethics and legality of assassinations anywhere), and, on the home front, surveillance. But, in a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article titled Which drone future will Americans choose?, Hugh Gusterson outlines issues often gone unnoticed.

For instance, no other state uses weaponized drones. (Currently, Gusterson explains, Britain and Israel are the only other states in possession of them.) Hasn’t it ever occurred to anyone that if states such as Russia and China develop or acquire them, they might use them as we do? Gusterson:

If they decide to use their own drones outside the boundaries of international law against people they brand “terrorists,” the United States will hardly be in a position to condemn them or counsel restraint.
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George Kennan’s Prescience About the Military-Industrial Complex

Kennan, George

In a 1985 article in Political Psychology, which I recently found while browsing JSTOR, John Kennan was quoted by author John E. Mack.* Kennan, the political scientist and diplomat whose ideas informed the U.S. policy of “containing” the Soviet Union wrote (in “Letter to an American,” the New Yorker, September 24, 1984):

The habit of spending from two to three hundred billions of dollars annually on preparations for an imagined war with Russia ― a habit reaching deeply into the lives and interests of millions of our citizens both in and out of the armed services, including industrial workers, labor-union officials, politicians, legislators, and middlemen: This habit has risen to the status of a vast addiction of American society, an addiction whose overcoming would encounter the most intense resistance and take years to accomplish even if the Soviet Union had in the meantime miraculously disappeared from the earth.
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