Focal Points Blog

Islamic Extremism Is Nothing if Not Protean

Whack the mole of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda will pop up. Pictured: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Photo: Andres Pérez/ Flickr Commons)

Whack the mole of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda will pop up. Pictured: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Photo: Andres Pérez/ Flickr Commons)

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the tide has turned in the war against the Islamic State. In the New Yorker, Robin Wright reports:

The Islamic State has recently lost ground—about forty per cent of the territory it seized in Iraq in 2014 and about ten per cent of its holdings in Syria. “Daesh is on the defensive. The Iraqis have gained momentum,” [Col. Scott] Naumann said.

Read More

When Islam Polices Extremists

When Saudi Arabia funds Salafist mosques and schools, mainstream Muslims can become susceptible to jihadism. Pictured: Saudi-funded mosque in Pakistan. (Photo: Wikipedia)

When Saudi Arabia funds Salafist mosques and schools, mainstream Muslims can become susceptible to jihadism. Pictured: Saudi-funded mosque in Pakistan. (Photo: Wikipedia)

After terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, especially in the West, many call for Muslims to intensify their efforts to police their own religion and condemn the extremists. Actually, as you can imagine, to a certain extent that’s being done, though it doesn’t draw much media attention. (I broach the subject of the extent to which it isn’t at the end of the post.) Anyway, there are respectful ways for the West to call out to Islam.  
Read More

Where Is Gorbachev When You Need Him?

To Gorbachev, national security for Russia could only be achieved by cooperating with other nations, including the United States. Pictured: the Kremlin. (Photo: Larry Koester / Flickr Commons)

To Gorbachev, national security for Russia could only be achieved by cooperating with other nations, including the United States. Pictured: the Kremlin. (Photo: Larry Koester / Flickr Commons)

It’s odd how the name of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union (chairman, general secretary of the Communist party, and president) fails to be included in the list of great statesman of the twentieth century. Nor has anyone comparable appeared on the international scene in the twenty-first century.  In tandem with instituting glasnost and perestroika, he reduced the Communist party’s role in running the economy. Perhaps the chaos that followed explains the reluctance from giving him full credit for his accomplishments.
Read More

Terrorism: From the Irish Dynamite War to the Islamic State

How many Western leaders are honestly interested in terrorists’ motives? Pictured: bombing in the Irish Civil War. (Photo: Public Domain)

How many Western leaders are honestly interested in terrorists’ motives? Pictured: bombing in the Irish Civil War. (Photo: Public Domain)

The year 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Irish Easter Rebellion. Throughout the year I will try to revisit some of the lessons of Ireland’s struggle for freedom.

Bombs explode in a subway. The victims are everyday people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What follows is outrage: track down the perpetrators. The people who set off the bombs are monsters and inhuman fanatics, thunder the authorities.

But the year is not 2016, it is 1883 during the “Dynamite War” waged by mainly Irish-American members of the Fenians against the English occupation of Ireland. The Fenian Brotherhood was founded in 1848. The “War” targeted the underground, train stations, city halls, public plazas, and factories in London, Manchester, and Liverpool. The war spanned four years, and in the light of the current terrorist attacks in the Middle East and Europe, it is an instructive comparison.
Read More

Are Class Differences Between Muslims in Europe and U.S. Really Determining Factor in Terror Attacks?

Many Muslims in Europe share characteristics with Europe’s nationalists — and, in the U.S., supporters of Trump. (Photo: IBT Times)

Many Muslims in Europe share characteristics with Europe’s nationalists — and, in the U.S., supporters of Trump. (Photo: IBT Times)

At Politico magazine, Daniel Benjamin writes: “Since 9/11, the four largest attacks in Europe … have claimed at least 426 lives. In the United States, even with the Fort Hood shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing and San Bernardino, the total is 45.” In other words: “Western European Muslims are three times likelier to end up in ISIS than their American co-religionists.”
Read More

Gorbachev Was Just Too Far Out Front of the United States

Many still believe that the United States won the Cold War and that nuclear weapons were the reason why. Pictured: Mikhail Gorbachev. (Photo: Dgies / Flickr Commons)

Many still believe that the United States won the Cold War and that nuclear weapons were the reason why. Pictured: Mikhail Gorbachev. (Photo: Dgies / Flickr Commons)

Conventional thinking holds that nuclear deterrence helped the United States win the Cold War. Unfortunately, that may be doubly delusional. In their 1994 book We All Lost the Cold War (Princeton University Press), Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein write:

The conventional wisdom has two components. American military capability and resolve allegedly convinced Soviet leaders that aggression anywhere would meet unyielding opposition. Forty years of arms competition also brought the Soviet economy to the edge of collapse. The Reagan buildup and Star Wars, the argument goes, were the straws that broke the Soviet camel’s back. Moscow could not match the increased level of American defense spending and accordingly chose to end the Cold War.
Read More

Hillary Clinton Still Stuck in Time Warp About Israel

Hillary Clinton’s remarks before AIPAC sound like someone from the Bush administration.  (Photo: Marc Nozell /  Flickr Commons)

Hillary Clinton’s remarks before AIPAC sound like someone from the Bush administration. (Photo: Marc Nozell / Flickr Commons)

In her speech before AIPAC on March 21, Hillary Clinton sounded like the Obama administration had never happened:

“The United States and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever,” Clinton declared. “We must take our alliance to the next level,” she said, calling for “even more intense security and diplomatic cooperation” and demanding that the U.S. arm the Israeli military “with the most sophisticated defense technology.”

Read More

Cruz Tries to Have It Both Ways With His Foreign-Policy Advisors

Ted Cruz would allow Islamophobe Frank Gaffney into the henhouse. (Photo: Matt Johnson / Flickr)

Ted Cruz would allow Islamophobe Frank Gaffney into the henhouse. (Photo: Matt Johnson / Flickr)

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz announced his team of foreign-policy advisors on Thursday, March 17 by saying, “After two terms of a failed Obama-Clinton foreign policy, our allies are confused and frightened, and our enemies are looking for opportunities.”

Never mind our allies, Americans — at least those who follow foreign policy — are confused and frightened by his team. The list includes the infamous Frank Gaffney, a number of people less well-known, and neocon Elliot Abrams, who was an adviser to former President George W. Bush.
Read More

Progressives Whiffing on Talking Point About the Rich and Taxes

When the corporate rich don't pay their fair share of taxes, it leaves us more vulnerable to attack. (Photo: J. Stephen Conn / Flickr Commons)

When the corporate rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes, it leaves us more vulnerable to attack. (Photo: J. Stephen Conn / Flickr Commons)

Progressives are missing an obvious talking point regarding the rich, corporate and otherwise, and national security. You always hear that tax evasion by the rich could fund needs such as education and poverty in the United States. But another area is being shortchanged as well. I addressed this in a 2012 post titled Low Tax Rates for the Rich Harm Not Only the Economy, But Defense, which I present here, updated.
Read More

Just How Much Should Paul Bremer Be Blamed for the Rise of the Islamic State?

The blithe optimism demonstrated by the planners of the invasion of Iraq is still capable of taking one’s breath away. (Photo: Lisa M. Zunzanyika / Flickr Commons)

The blithe optimism demonstrated by the planners of the invasion of Iraq is still capable of taking one’s breath away. (Photo: Lisa M. Zunzanyika / Flickr Commons)

After George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer, the second Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (governor of the occupation, in other words), is often considered the man most responsible for the dissolution of civil society in Iraq and the rise of sectarian strife. In the Boston Globe, Neil Swidey (not behind a paywall, as with most of its articles) explores just how much responsibility Bremer, who he calls “at once well intentioned, infuriating, and tragic,” bears.
Read More

Page 7 of 225« First...56789...203040...Last »