Focal Points Blog

Occupy Slovenia

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

Sara Pistotnik

Sara Pistotnik

The Occupy movement began in the United States – at a statue of a bull standing in the heart of Wall Street in New York City. It spread quite rapidly to other places around the country and around the world. In many locations, it built on or connected to pre-existing movements that had been working on questions of economic inequality for some time. But for many people, it was their introduction to activism.

In the United States, at least, the movement resisted both conventional leadership and conventional political program. It favored a more decentralized approach to both structure and content. It wasn’t that Occupy lacked a leader or a program. It had plenty of both. Indeed, to quote Walt Whitman, Occupy “contained multitudes.” And, like the poet, it sometimes contradicted itself. But Occupy never promised uniformity or consistency.

Perhaps the chief defect of Occupy had nothing to do with these purported weaknesses. It had to do with process. In many Occupy movements across the United States, the participants could only move forward on projects with the consensus of the group. In a relatively homogenous group, such as Quakers, consensus can be an effective tool for decision-making and group cohesion. But Occupy was far from homogenous. Even the “modified consensus” that some of the groups used, which required 90 percent approval on proposals, frequently came up against a minority bloc determined to dig in its heels.
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Egypt: Requiem for a Revolution that Never Was

Cross-posted from Counterpunch.

 “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
— Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

EgyptDemonstrationAs the military in Egypt consolidates its putsch against the leadership and political structures of the Muslim Brotherhood, it should be obvious that the initial narrative rationalizing intervention by the military as a necessary corrective to a “revolutionary process” has lost all credibility. Yet many liberals and radicals appear united in a fanciful reading of the events in Egypt that not only legitimizes the coup but characterizes the collection of small-minded state-capitalists thugs who make up the top officer corps of the military as part of the people and the revolutionary process.

From bourgeois intellectual hacks like Isabel Coleman to venerable Marxist materialists like Samir Amin, who implied that the Egyptian army was a neutral class force, the emotional response to seeing hundreds of thousands of people on the streets seems to have created a case of temporary insanity, or as Frantz Fanon refers to it as – cognitive dissonance. This can be the only explanation for the theoretical and rhetorical acrobatics many are engaged in to reconcile their beliefs in democratic rights and revolutionary transformation with what is occurring right before their eyes in Egypt.
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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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