Focal Points Blog

Our Savior, Iran

“Americans would feel much more comfortable in Tehran than in Riyadh,” writes Robert Kaplan. (Photo: Mohammadali F. / Flickr Commons)

“Americans would feel much more comfortable in Tehran than in Riyadh,” writes Robert Kaplan. (Photo: Mohammadali F. / Flickr Commons)

In an Atlantic article titled Warming to Iran, Robert Kaplan, the controversial author and commentator on global affairs, writes that “multiple necessities have been driving the United States and Iran toward a détente of sorts.” In fact

… the American-Iranian estrangement, which has gone on a decade longer than America’s estrangement from “Red China” did, is anomalous in international relations, given how many amoral geopolitical interests the two nations share.

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Is Pakistan Really Ready to Crack Down on Its Homegrown Taliban?

Coffins be readied in the Pakistan army school in Peshawar which was attacked by the Taliban. (Photo: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús / Flickr Commons)

Coffins be readied in the Pakistan army school in Peshawar which was attacked by the Taliban. (Photo: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús / Flickr Commons)

Even many of those who don’t normally follow world affairs couldn’t help but take notice of the Dec. 16, 2014 attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a public school for children of the military in Peshawar. The 132 children, as well as 13 adults, killed stood out from world news much as Boku Haram’s kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria did. As we in the United States saw with the Dec. 2012 Newtown school shooting, in which 20 children were killed, it’s only natural that the mass murder of children invokes outrage on an epic scale.
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Jesus: An Islamic Prophet

Islam respect for Jesus began during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad itself. (Photo: Lawrence Lew / Flickr Commons)

Islam respect for Jesus began during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad itself. (Photo: Lawrence Lew / Flickr Commons)

Every year in December, Christians all around the world celebrate Christmas, marking the birth of Jesus Christ. In fact, when it comes to venerating Christ, most Christians tend to go out of the way and claim ownership of Christ. In Christianity, Jesus is viewed as the Son of God, or God Incarnate of sorts.

However, there is another religion that pays equal, if not greater, respect to Jesus, albeit in a slightly different manner.
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A Future Ebola Outbreak in the Islamic State Should Not Be Cause for Western Gloating

One day, like all of us, the Islamic State may have to confront an outbreak of Ebola. (Photo: Center for Disease Control / Flickr Commons)

One day, like all of us, the Islamic State may have to confront an outbreak of Ebola. (Photo: Center for Disease Control / Flickr Commons)

Last week Al-Sabah, Iraq’s state newspaper, reported that terrorists from Africa had brought along with them Ebola, not to mention HIV/AIDS, to the Islamic State. In fact, two IS fighters were said to have contacted Ebola.

But the Independent reports:

Ahmed Rudaini, the [Iraq] health ministry’s spokesman dismissed the speculation.

He said the disease could not have been registered, as only the Central Laboratory of Public Health in Baghdad has the “diagnostic capabilities” to confirm cases of Ebola.

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Will a Falling Ruble and Declining Oil Prices Spell Doom for Russia?

Shrinking oil revenue and Western threats of sabctuibs have resulted in the Russian ruble’s sharp decline. Pictured: 100 rubles. (Photo: James Malone / Flickr)

Shrinking oil revenue and Western threats of sabctuibs have resulted in the Russian ruble’s sharp decline. Pictured: 100 rubles. (Photo: James Malone / Flickr)

As we enter the new year, the world economy, the energy sector to be more precise, lies in a dismal state. Back in June 2014, oil prices were at an all-time high. They have been slashed by nearly 40% since then. This rapid collapse of oil prices has had an adverse effect on various economies, such as that of Russia and Iran.

Russia, in particular, is having a bad outing — shrinking energy prices are followed by a rather crucial monetary crisis. The exchange rate of Russian ruble in relation to the American dollar has fallen by over 50% this year, and in the past week itself, Russian currency lost 17% of its value.

The question that now arises is: will the plummeting oil prices and a sinking currency spell doom for Russian plans of world energy domination?
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So Much for China’s Military Reticence

The Dongfeng-2 missile at the Chinese Military Museum in Beijing. (Photo: Reuters)

The Dongfeng-2 missile at the Chinese Military Museum in Beijing. (Photo: Reuters)

During its ascent to the title of the world’s number-one economy, China has been know for its projecting its rising power through economic means, not military. Also, while it possesses a nuclear weapons arsenal, it’s comparatively small (though to this author, one nuclear weapons is too large an arsenal), it’s been defined by its adherence to a first no-first-use policy, one to which the United States doesn’t commit.

But China’s hostility-averse posture seems to be changing. In October, the National Interest ran a chapter from a book by John Mearsheimer titled Can China Rise Peacefully?
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Conn Hallinan’s 2014 “Are You Serious?” Awards

Germany and its chancellor, Andrea Merkel, win the less-than-coveted Golden Scold Award. (Photo: Moritz Hager / World Economic Forum / Flickr Commons)

Germany and its chancellor, Andrea Merkel, win the less-than-coveted Golden Scold Award. (Photo: Moritz Hager / World Economic Forum / Flickr Commons)

Each year Conn Hallinan’s Dispatches From the Edge presents awards to individuals, companies and governments that make following the news a daily adventure. Here are the winners for 2014.

The Pandora’s Box Award to Israel and the U.S. for launching the world’s first cyber war and creating a monster in the process. In 2010 both countries secretly released the Stuxnet virus to disable Iran’s nuclear energy program, in the process crashing thousands of Teheran’s centrifuges.

According to a report by the security company Cylance, “Stuxnet was an eye-opening event for the Iranian authorities, exposing them to the world of physical destruction via electronic means. Retaliation for Stuxnet began almost immediately.”
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The Fetishism of Economic Growth

“Nobody has learned anything from the present crisis, which is much deeper than what economists say,” says Polish sociologist Ryszard Zoltaniecki. (Photo: John Feffer)

“Nobody has learned anything from the present crisis, which is much deeper than what economists say,” says Polish sociologist Ryszard Zoltaniecki. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Capitalism and Communism shared one important principle in common: an almost religious devotion to economic growth. If a Five Year Plan didn’t produce the expected “great leap forward,” Communist officials fudged the figures. If a capitalist economy dipped into recession, economists tried to put the best face on the resulting “creative destruction,” arguing that it would prepare the ground for even greater growth in the future. Both capitalists and Communists treated natural resources as mere inputs to create larger and larger outputs.

Communism has largely collapsed and the environmental movement has challenged the religion of growth at all costs, but the global economy continues to revolve around measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The international financial institutions are all committed to growth. Political leaders, if they can’t produce a rising arrow on the graphs, worry that voters will take their revenge at the polls. Consumers expect bigger and better (or smaller and faster) things to buy every season.
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Sounding the Alarm About the Islamic State Does Not Have to Be a Call to Arms

Islamic state de facto capital Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

Islamic state de facto capital Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

On Dec. 18, the Guardian published a report by a team of reporters, including Focal Points contributor Ali Younes, titled The race to save Peter Kassig, the American aid worker who the Islamic State captured and ultimately beheaded. The article is full of juicy details such as this about Islamist ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi:

On 18 October, Cohen and Abdel-Rahman flew from Kuwait to Jordan, and checked into the Four Seasons hotel in Amman. Two days later, they finally met Maqdisi, who arrived at the Four Seasons in his beat up ‘97 Hyundai. They set off for Maqdisi’s home, in a relatively poor neighbourhood 10 miles north of Amman. On the way, Maqdisi’s car broke down. Cursing and stuck in the middle of a traffic jam, Cohen said Maqdisi opened up the hood and started beating the engine with a wrench. Five minutes later they were off again.

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A Country Skating on Thin Ice, Tunisia Chooses a New President

The Hotel Medina in Tunis. (Photo: Rob Prince)

The Hotel Medina in Tunis. (Photo: Rob Prince)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

Tunisian Elections: An IMF Austerity Victory?

Beja Caid Essebsi was elected president of Tunisia in the country’s first free presidential elections since its 1956 independence. He won a clear majority, some 55% of the vote to Moncef Marzouki’s 45% in a run-off election with 60% of eligible voters going to the polls. Essebsi’s demonstrated an ability to play down his connection to the Ben Ali regime – in which he served and to amplify his connection to the country’s generally acknowledged founder and first president – Habib Bourguiba. Immediately after the results were finalized, both Washington and Paris expressed their satisfaction with the results.

The Obama Administration is hoping that now that the elections are over the political parties of the two candidates will join forces, creating a conservative political coalition that can push an IMF austerity program (in exchange for a loan) through the new parliament, the main foci of which are to pry open the country’s growing energy sector to foreign companies and to lift the subsidies on fuel and electricity. Essebsi might have won the popular vote, but one has to wonder if the real winner is not the IMF austerity program (which by the way both candidates supported – and didn’t talk much about during the campaign). Will the political alliance Washington and Paris are nudging the two conservative parties to forge come together? Will it be enough to ram through the IMF austerity program through the Tunisian legislature? Or will the popular movement be able to resist what amounts to as yet another all out offensive against their country by international capital?
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