Focal Points Blog

Uighur Unrest in Xinjiang Has Nothing to Do With “Terrorists”

UighurXinjiang, China’s largest and westernmost province, is home to over eight million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim ethnic minority. The Uighurs have lived uneasily alongside China’s Han majority for centuries, ever since the Qing dynasty seized control over Xinjiang—which lies above Tibet and shares borders with many Central Asian countries—in the 1700s. There are now just slightly more Uighurs in the province than Han Chinese, who have migrated en masse to Xinjiang in recent decades.

Four Julys ago, a spate of ethnic violence rocked Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang. Clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese killed nearly 200 people and injured over 1,000, according to official estimates. The 2009 riots were a culmination of decades of Uighur-directed religious repression and economic discrimination—as well as a serious indication of deteriorating Han-Uighur relations.
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All That Missile Defense Tests Prove Is That It’s a Lose-Lose Proposition

Missile DefenseYou’d think that after the dismal failures of previous tests, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) would wait to run another public test until it was more confident that it could be more successful. Perhaps in tacit acknowledgment that day would never come, on July 5 the MDA launched an missile from the Marshall Islands to act as a fox to the hound of an interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But, this model interceptor, part of a system ostensibly justified by the existence of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program, failed its third consecutive test.

Afterwards the MDA issued this press release (emphasis added):

Although a primary objective was the intercept of a long-range ballistic missile target launched from … the Marshall Islands, an intercept was not achieved. …Program officials will conduct an extensive review to determine the cause or causes of any anomalies which may have prevented a successful intercept.

At Reuters, Andrea Shalal-Esa reports on one “anomaly.”

A failed U.S. missile defense test last week may be linked to a faulty battery that prevented an interceptor from separating from the rest of the rocket. … Riki Ellison, chairman and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said preliminary findings into the missed intercept pointed to a failure of the final stage of the ground-based interceptor to separate, rather than a failure of the interceptor to detect, track or hit the target.
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Isn’t It Time Israel and Palestine Understood Each Other’s Dispute-Resolution Customs?

AbbasAbbas Calls For Terrorists’ Release Before Peace Talks,” reads a recent headline in an Israeli political blog. “Abbas … sees great opportunity in using the precondition of releasing terrorists as leverage for just beginning peace talks,” says the text.

The idea that Palestinians are presenting preconditions to negotiations is a prevalent view in Israel. Officials usually respond by stating that Israel is not going to give “presents” to Abbas just for joining the peace talks. For example, a recent article in a major Israeli online news outlet quotes “senior officials in Jerusalem” as saying, “Talks yes, gestures of goodwill no.”

Those of us familiar with Muslim/Arab customary justice practices see in Abbas’ “leverage” something else. A major part of a ubiquitous Muslim/Arab dispute resolution practice called sulha (settlement) calls for the perpetrator’s side to make a gesture towards the victim’s side using a ritualistic tool called atwa (token of good will). The standard practice, in case of a dispute among Arabs (Muslims, Christians, and Druze), is for the atwa to be extended through a symbolic amount of money, demonstrating the seriousness of the intentions of the perpetrator’s side as they enter the settlement negotiations. At the same time, accepting the atwa signals the victim’s side’s agreement to join the settlement process. This arrangement bonds both sides into a process designed to replace conflict with forgiveness and demands with a settlement.
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Cyberwar and Nuclear War: the Most Dangerous of All Conflations

CyberwarfareFormer counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke, famous for criticizing the Bush administration’s lax stance toward terrorism before 9/11, and former Clinton administration National Security Council official Steve Andreasen addressed the wisdom of responding to a cyber attack with nuclear weapons in a recent Washington Post op-ed. They wrote:

The Pentagon’s Defense Science Board concluded this year that China and Russia could develop capabilities to launch an “existential cyber attack” against the United States. … “While the manifestation of a nuclear and cyber attack are very different,” the board concluded, “in the end, the existential impact to the United States is the same.”

Yes, I know. How can you conflate the effects of a nuclear attack with that of a cyber attack, no matter how devastating? Clarke and Andreasen continue.

Because it will be impossible to fully defend our systems against existential cyberthreats, the board argued, the United States must be prepared to threaten the use of nuclear weapons to deter cyberattacks. 
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Egypt: The Deck Is Reshuffled (Pt. 1)

“Do you hear the people sing, singing a song of angry men, it is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.”Les Miserables

32 million Egyptians in the streets can’t all be wrong

EgyptDemonstrationThis time the Egyptian people did not wait 41 years to bring down what could be called the Sadat-Mubarak government. With a little help from their friends in the military, they did it in less than a year. Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government is history.

As in 2011 when their mass demonstrations forced out Hosni Mubarak, once again, in extraordinary numbers, the Egyptian people took to the streets of Cairo and virtually every other Egyptian city to protest the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of Mohamed Morsi. Two years ago, impressive enough at the time for sure, it was over a million people who converged on Cairo’s Tahir Square forcing Mubarak, a long-time key American partner in the Middle East, from power.

Two years later – a mere week ago – this time, an almost unbelievable 32 million – let’s write that out long-hand –32,000,000 Egyptians took to the streets demanding Morsi’s resignation and a change in government. To believe that Morsi could continue in his presidency after such a resounding public rejection borders on the delusional. It was over. The people had spoken and far more decisively than those 12 million who had voted for Morsi in Egypt’s national election. Other than the faithful of the Moslem Brotherhood and Qatari money, Morsi had completely lost his legitimacy in the eyes of the nation.
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From Egypt to Syria: Is the Gulf Cooperation Council the Tail That Wags the U.S. Dog?

For U.S. policy-makers, the annual allocation of 1.3 billion dollars provided to Egypt has been a vital tool for maintaining its sphere of influence with the Egyptian government.

GCCWhen I read that the Egyptian military had issued an ultimatum to the Morsi government to resolve the social crisis in the country or, by implication, it would step in to solve the crisis, it was not apparent to me why the U.S. would give the green light to a military coup with all of the complications that would entail for U.S. policy-makers.

Along with the social upheaval and increased instability that would be generated by ending the democratic process in the country, U.S. law requires an automatic suspension of aid to any country when state power is assumed as a result of a coup that disposes a democratically elected government.

And since President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had demonstrated their political allegiance to the U.S. and Anne Patterson, the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, giving clear support to Morsi just a few weeks ago, reversing course and taking on the headache of a military coup did not make sense to me.
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A New and Improved FPIF





This past week, as many of you have probably noticed, FPIF rolled out a brand-new redesigned website. We’re still in the process of transitioning a few things, but it’s my great pleasure to show you what we’ve done so far.

Foremost of all, we’ve modernized our front page to put FPIF content front and center. We’ve got a stylish new slideshow display to feature more timely articles, but we’ve also left more space to keep newer commentaries up front so they don’t disappear after a few days. And while preserving front-page space for our regular columnists, we’ve also carved out a new section for blog posts, which represent about half of FPIF’s output. The goal is to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

Just as importantly, we’ve streamlined our archiving of older pieces, making it easier to browse commentaries and blog posts by subject, region, tags, and author. And if you don’t see what you’re looking for right away, we have a brand new Google-based site search that outperforms our previous search function by a long shot.

I’m also excited to announce that FPIF is now fully compatible with mobile devices, which means our content should be readable and accessible no matter what your screen size.

Our new site design also comes with built-in features designed to enhance social media sharing and search engine results for FPIF articles, which I hope will bring our progressive perspective on global issues to more people than ever.

FPIF has always been at the forefront of foreign policy analysis in the 21st century, connecting writers and activists working to make the United States a more responsible global partner. I’m happy to say we finally have a website that looks the part.

Abbottabad Evidence of Pakistan’s ‘Governance Implosion Syndrome’?

The Abbottabad CommissionIn the wake of the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011, the Pakistani government formed what came to be known as the Abbottabad Commission. Its mission: to investigate two security lapses, one more embarrassing and indicative of incompetence than the other. One, how did U.S. forces violate Pakistan’s sovereignty with such impunity? Two, how did bin Laden manage to spend over a decade in Pakistan undetected?

In a report published July 9 by AlJazeera, Asad Hashim does an outstanding job of summarizing the leaked report. He writes:

During the course of its investigation, the Commission found “a shocking state of affairs”, where local governance had completely collapsed, as had the ability of the military, intelligence and security services to perform their jobs.

After reading Hashim’s account, one can’t help but conclude that local authorities were demoralized by how the army and ISI lorded it over them. That was illustrated by how they were elbowed aside after the raid at Abbottabad.  For its part, the ISI seemed to lose interest in searching for bin Laden both because it believed him dead and because, at a certain point, the United States discontinued sharing information about its search for him.
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Egypt: Islamist Style of Governing Should Be Familiar to Americans

New York Times columnist David Brooks was rightly taken to task for his July 4th column about the current upheavals in Egypt. Writing about what happens when groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood assume the leadership of a nation, he makes sense at first.

Muslim Brotherhood

President Eisenhower meets with representatives of the Muslim Brothers.

Democracy, the argument goes, will eventually calm extremism. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood may come into office with radical beliefs, but then they have to fix potholes and worry about credit ratings and popular opinion. Governing will make them more moderate.

But, as is his tendency – such a master of column-craft of the column, such a perverse mind – he can’t help himself and writes:

It has become clear — in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Gaza and elsewhere — that radical Islamists are incapable of running a modern government. … Islamists might be determined enough to run effective opposition movements and committed enough to provide street-level social services. But they lack the mental equipment to govern.

The fiendish deviousness of the 911 plot should have settled questions about the “mental equipment” of radical Islamists for all time. Also, Brooks should have swapped the offending phrase for the word “disposition” – it seems more in accord with the point he was making anyway. Instead, he proceeds to compound his offensiveness.

It’s no use lamenting Morsi’s bungling because incompetence is built into the intellectual DNA of radical Islam.

Then, just when you think he can’t go any lower, Brooks writes: “It’s not that Egypt” – by which he seems to mean the Muslim Brotherhood – “doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.”

Okay, we get it: radical Islamists suffer from “incompetence” and lack the “mental equipment” and “basic mental ingredients” to govern. Surely, in light of the Islamic world’s intellectual and cultural achievements over the centuries, an educated man such as Brooks isn’t suggesting that Arabs are an inferior race. But using a phrase like “the intellectual DNA” can’t help but sound like he’s invoking the specter of eugenics to make just that case.

To give the devil his due, Brooks makes one good point when he speaks about potholes and credit ratings. How exactly do Islamists intend to govern?

While I was reading Robert Dreyfuss’s Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan Books, 2006) shortly after it was published, this passage jumped off the page. Regarding the infusion of oil money into the Arab world he writes (emphasis added):

From 1974 onward, the Islamic banking system served as the financial backbone of the Islamic right [which] had long made clear that it preferred capitalism to atheistic communism. None of the important Islamist movements, from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to Pakistan’s Islamic Group to the Shite fundamentalists in Iraq, preached social and economic justice. Instead, they opposed state ownership, and social welfare programs.

Actually, the Muslim Brotherhood runs its own social welfare programs, apart from the government. Meanwhile, a couple of months after Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt in June 2012, Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution wrote:

The broad strokes of what the Brotherhood wants are relatively straightforward. …The first and most obvious priority is economic recovery and its various constituent parts: boosting employment, reducing income inequality, and combating corruption.

But reversing “the economy’s downward trend” is “not just an end but a means.” To what? Hamid again.

If the Brotherhood manages to, then Egyptians will be more willing to tolerate controversial interventions in the social and moral sphere (something which Turkish Islamists came to learn over time).

Equally as detrimental to democracy

… the Brotherhood will use its growing role in the economy to bind Egyptians to it through interlocking patron-client relationships. In this sense, penetrating the state machinery, including in education and the media through the Ministry of Information, helps the Brotherhood with its long game; further cementing the organization’s role in public life.

Throw in cronyism on top of love money and a theocratic state. Who does that remind you of? Oh, Republicans.

Speaking Openly in Serbia

Cross-posted from John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

Dragoslav Popovic, a lawyer who works on HIV and AIDS issues.

Dragoslav Popovic, a lawyer who works on HIV and AIDS issues.

The incidence of HIV/AIDS in Serbia is comparatively low: 0.1 percent of the population compared to 0.6 percent in the United States, 1 percent in Russia, and 25 percent in Swaziland. Nevertheless, those who live with the disease report that they are stigmatized, ostracized, and have difficulties gaining access to treatment. Some are fired from their jobs; others are kicked out of their families.

Dragoslav Popovic is a lawyer who has worked for quite a few years on HIV/AIDS issues. He reports that the situation has marginally improved for people with the disease.

“The public perception was worse than it is nowadays,” he told me in an interview in Belgrade last October. “Stigmatization and discrimination were common. From the point of view of treatment, it was even worse, because they had to pay for their treatments and nowadays it’s free. Not many people were in a position to afford that, so it was added stress for them. Even nowadays, when I’m doing consulting with them, they don’t even know their rights as a patient, such as the right to confidentiality. If you don’t confront the doctors and the medical staff, they’ll just continue to do what they’re doing. You have to stand up and tell them, ‘You’re not allowed to do that. That’s confidential information.’ So it’s better nowadays in terms of people speaking more openly, which is as important as making them stronger.”

Speaking openly has been a consistent theme in Dragoslav Popovic’s life, from his self-assertiveness in grade school to his political activism during his university days in the movement to oust Slobodan Milosevic. Speaking openly has also meant taking somewhat unorthodox positions, at least compared to other democracy activists. He has taken a dim view of the Hague Tribunal, and he views Kosovo as Serbian territory. But he has also taken strong stands against Serbian chauvinism and homophobia.

During our conversation, we talked about the assassination of Zoran Djindjic, the role of the Church in Serbia, and his attempts to change the minds of two of his friends, one a Serbian nationalist and the other a diehard follower of Milosevic’s party.

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