Focal Points Blog

Farewell to Marcos

The subcomandante formerly known as Marcos.

The subcomandante formerly known as Marcos.

Late last month, Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesperson of Mexico’s revolutionary Zapatista Movement, made his first public appearance since 2009.

In a lengthy speech, the man known as Marcos denied allegations that he is ill or dead. But he did make a major announcement: he no longer exists.

Finding the figure of Marcos to be a distraction from the goals of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), he explained that the character “was created and now its creators, the Zapatistas, are destroying it.”
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A Quick Resolution to the ISIS Offensive Not Likely



Kenneth Pollack is infamous for his 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. That doesn’t mean he’s incapable of producing valuable work today. Currently a senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Pollack wrote an Iraq Military Situation Report that appeared June 14. The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham — or Syria, or the Levant (take your pick) — he reminds us, “is only one piece (albeit the central piece) in a larger array of Sunni groups that are overwhelmingly Iraqi.” At first I thought he wrote “overwhelming Iraq,” but, apparently, not quite yet. Regarding that, though, Pollack writes:

What appears to be the most likely scenario at this point is that the rapid Sunni militant advance is likely to be stalemated at or north of Baghdad. They will probably continue to make some advances, but it seems unlikely that they will be able to overrun Baghdad and may not even make it to the capital.

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ISIS Atrocities, Real or Imagined, Only Guarantee Reprisal Will Be Merciless



The proposed Islamic Caliphate

Over the weekend the Sunni militants of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claim to have killed 1,700 Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit. Despite pictures they supplied, their claims could not be verified. “But with their claim,” write Rob Nordlund and Alyssa Rubin in the New York Times, “the Sunni militants were reveling in an atrocity that if confirmed would be the worst yet in the conflicts that roil the region, outstripping even the poison gas attack near Damascus last year.”

In an atmosphere where there were already fears that the militants’ sudden advance near the capital would prompt Shiite reprisal attacks against Sunni Arab civilians, the claims by ISIS were potentially explosive. And that is exactly the group’s stated intent: to stoke a return to all-out sectarian warfare that would bolster its attempts to carve out a Sunni Islamist caliphate that crosses borders through the region.

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ISIS: Common Enemy of Iran and the United States


 The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

The advance of ISIS into Baghdad is on hold at the moment in part due to resistance from the Iraqi military and Shia militias. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported:

An Iraqi general told reporters in Baghdad that the armed forces have “regained the initiative” in recent days and are confident that Baghdad is secure. As part of the effort to protect the capital, soldiers headed into the desert to dig a trench, according to footage broadcast on local television stations.

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Starting Out With Fidesz

Attila Ledenyi

Cross-posted from

It’s difficult to recapture the sheer ebullience that accompanied the official debut of Fidesz in Hungary. It was a movement of youth in a country that was starting over. It was quirky and full of memorable characters. People of widely ranging political sympathies – liberal, radical, alternative – were attracted to the new organization. Its lack of experience was deemed a strength in a country where experience was somehow compromised by association with the previous regime.

Fidesz started in March 1988 as the initiative of 37 university students. By its first anniversary, it had more than 3,000 members and 70 local chapters around Hungary. When it held its second congress in October 1989, Hungarian television devoted a one-hour summary every day to the conference. In the first free elections in 1990, Fidesz came in fifth and sent 21 MPs to parliament. By 1998, it was strong enough to form a government, but by that time the party had already swung over to the conservative side. It lasted for four years before being ousted by a Liberal-Socialist coalition. Still led by Viktor Orban, one of the movement’s founders, Fidesz returned to power in 2010 and just recently won the elections again in a landslide.
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The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Is Due for a Reality Check



After taking over Fallujah in January and, last week, unsuccessfully storming a second Iraqi city, Samarra, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or the Levant) stunned Iraq and the world by seizing Mosul and its surroundings. Its forces then occupied part of the oil refinery town of Baiji and are moving toward Baghdad. In the New York Times, Suadad Al-Salhy and Alan Cowell write:

With the rapid advances of the past two days, the insurgents have widened the zone under their control and now threaten the region around the capital. Mr. Maliki’s weak central government is struggling to mount a defense, a problem made markedly more dangerous by the defections of hundreds of trained soldiers, and the loss of their vehicles, uniforms and weapons.

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If Sgt. Bergdahl Deserted, Maybe the Military’s Afghan Strategy Was to Blame



In the New York Times, Richard Oppel and Eric Schmitt report that much has been written about Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl since his release “suggesting that he was a misfit soldier in something of a misfit platoon that stumbled through its first months in Afghanistan and might have made it too easy for him to walk away, as his fellow soldiers say he did.”
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U.S. Troops’ Brusque Bergdahl Hand-off Hurts Taliban’s Feelings



If you watch the video of the Taliban handing off Bowe Bergdahl to American troops, you may have been surprised to see a couple of them shaking hands with the Americans and even waving goodbye. In fact they wanted more: to schmooze. In the New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg reports:

When Sergeant Bergdahl “saw his American helicopter, he was very happy and wanted to rush toward them,” one Taliban member said in the video.

But once on the ground, the Americans, to the dismay of the Taliban, proved uninterested in any pomp. They rushed through the encounter and did not stop to talk or exchange polite greetings, as is customary in Afghanistan, even during hostage releases. The narrator complained that they had managed to shake hands with only two of the Americans.

… “We wanted to convey some messages to them via the interpreter, but they didn’t spend much time with us,” said the Taliban fighter, speculating that perhaps the Americans were too frightened to linger. “They even didn’t let us shake hands with the soldier and say goodbye, and they behaved in a very simple way,” the fighter said.

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Sy Hersh Still Under Attack for Blaming Syrian Rebels for Sarin Attack


Syria Sarin

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, sociologist Muhammad Idrees Ahmad takes Seymour Hersh to task for his article The Red Line and the Rat Line in April London Review of Books. Generating even more controversy than he usually does, Hersh, revered and reviled in equal measures, fleshes out the premise that, aided by Turkey, the al-Nusra Front — not the Assad regime — was responsible for the August 2013 sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. (Can you imagine something like that happening in — if you live in one — your suburb?)

Ahmad accuses Hersh of relaying “a cock-and-bull story invented by an interested party and forego[ing] corroboration.” He states that, when the attack occurred,

… employing a weapon that the [Assad] regime was known to possess, using a delivery mechanism peculiar to its arsenal, in a place the regime was known to target, and against people the regime was known to loathe, it was not unreasonable to assume regime responsibility. This conclusion was corroborated by first responders, UN investigators, human rights organizations, and independent analysts.

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Let Us Return! Can the World Cup Be a Tool for Chagossian Social Justice?


Image Indiegogo

Image Indiegogo

One week from now in Brazil, 32 nations will start play in the world’s most popular sporting event, the World Cup. While the likes of Argentina, Germany, Mexico, England, and the USA go head to head, one national team won’t be there.

The Chagos Islands national team isn’t eligible for the World Cup because Chagos — a tiny archipelago in the Indian Ocean — isn’t a recognized nation. Its players can’t even live in the land they represent on the field because they are a people that have been living in exile for more than 40 years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. and British governments forcibly removed the entire population while building a major U.S. military base on the Chagossians’ island Diego Garcia. The two governments deported the people 1,200 miles away, leaving them in exile with nothing.
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