Focal Points Blog

Does Syria See the U.S. as an Ally?

Syria’s Assad regime benefits from U.S. attacks on the Islamic State. (Photo: Michael Goodine / Flickr Commons)

Syria’s Assad regime benefits from U.S. attacks on the Islamic State. (Photo: Michael Goodine / Flickr Commons)

In Foreign Policy magazine, Noah Bonsey writes:

U.S. officials publicly acknowledge that the Syrian regime’s behavior — indeed its very nature — is a primary factor fueling the jihadis’ rise and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces continue to kill far more civilians (and rebels) than the Islamic State does. They also recognize that the role of mainstream rebels will be essential in reversing jihadi gains.

The U.S.-led coalition’s strikes have enabled the regime to reallocate assets to face mainstream rebels, whose defeat remains the regime’s top priority. Since strikes against the Islamic State began, regime forces have gained ground against mainstream rebels on key fronts in Hama province and in Aleppo city; in the case of the latter, they have done so against the very same rebel groups that are confronting the Islamic State in the nearby northern countryside.

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The Unspoken Winner of Tunisia’s Elections: Washington

In the Tunisian election, Ennahda won the interior regions and the South, Nidaa Tounes, Tunis and the North. (Photo: Rob Prince)

In the Tunisian election, Ennahda won the interior regions and the South, Nidaa Tounes, Tunis and the North. (Photo: Rob Prince)

(Washington needs the support of both Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes to push through its structural adjustment policies pressed on Tunisia in exchange for IMF loans these past few yearsThe main goals, the legal basis for which was apparently achieved in the last days of the country’s constituent assembly, have been to open up Tunisia’s soon to be developed energy sector to foreign investment, as usual on terms unfavorable to Tunisia, and to lift the subsidies on gasoline and electricity. As long as the two parties, that will dominate Tunisian politics in the coming period, cooperate on this, it is not important to Washington which one wins the presidency or dominates the Tunisian political landscape.)
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What Kind of Democracy Seeks to Destroy Democracy in Other Countries?

Democracy

Democracy: assembly required. (Photo: Sara / Flickr Commons)

“Democracy is the worse form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
― Winston Churchill

Churchill’s above statement provides a sweeping, and possibly one-sided picture, of democracy as a mixed blessing — a system with its boons and banes that just somehow works. Such a generic observation outlines, on one hand, that democracy is better than any other non-democratic system, and at the same time points out that it still is not the God-given mandate to all problems that this world is currently facing. Unfortunately, a good number of Americans tend to agree with the first interpretation of Churchill’s statement, but overlook the second one.
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Turnover of Obama’s SecDefs Eclipsed by Revolving Door of Reagan’s National Security Advisors

The Reagan administration employed a sorry succession of national security advisors. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration / WikiMedia Commons)

The Reagan administration employed a sorry succession of national security advisors. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration / WikiMedia Commons)

The departure of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense this week has provided Republicans with an opportunity to unload on President Barack Obama, a chance they’ve grabbed gleefully.

In a radio interview, hawkish Senator John McCain expressed sympathy with Hagel, blaming ‘that real tight circle inside the White House’ for ‘the incredible debacle that we’re in today throughout the world’.
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Why Exactly Was Chuck Hagel Forced Out as SecDef?

Chuck Hagel may have been a victim, but, like his predecessors, he failed to demonstrate the requisite vision the military needs for the future. (Photo: DoD / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Flickr Commons)

Chuck Hagel may have been a victim, but, like his predecessors, he failed to demonstrate the requisite vision the military needs for the future. (Photo: DoD / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Flickr Commons)

Was fired Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel simply a scapegoat for charges that the Obama presidency was slow to respond to the Islamic State and ebola? Perhaps an administration that hired him to wind down the Afghanistan War and cut Pentagon costs had reversed course and instead sought a secretary of defense to put the United States on war footing with the Islamic State.

Or as indicated by his confirmation hearings, was Hagel just too poor a spokesperson for the Pentagon?
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When Iran Nuclear Talks Resume, They Must Conclude Before New Congress

Former IAEA Director General Hans Blix fears a hawkish U.S. Congress. (Photo: Global Zero)

Former IAEA Director General Hans Blix fears a hawkish U.S. Congress. (Photo: Global Zero)

As you have no doubt heard, the United States has failed to reach a nuclear deal with Iran and talks are expected to resume next month. Reuters reports:

If the two sides reach a deal after a one-month adjournment, it would still be before the upcoming change in U.S. Congress, where hardline Republicans will dominate both houses in January. Hawkish U.S. lawmakers have threatened to push for new sanctions on Iran if there is no concrete progress in the talks.

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Loss of Manufacturing Jobs and Lack of Housing Policy Have Led to Homelessness in Hungary

“The structural roots of homelessness are very much similar in Hungary and in the United States,” says Hungarian activist Balint Misetics, pictured. (Photo: John Feffer)

“The structural roots of homelessness are very much similar in Hungary and in the United States,” says Hungarian activist Balint Misetics, pictured. (Photo: John Feffer)

During the Communist period in East-Central Europe, when people talked about “homelessness,” they were speaking of a spiritual or political condition – of being in exile from their country of origin or feeling homeless in their own country because of the presence of Soviet troops. At that time, there were few people living on the street. Everyone had to have an address. Homelessness did not officially exist.

Today it’s another matter. For many of the same reasons that homelessness increased in the United States in the 1980s, the phenomenon has intensified in East-Central Europe. In Hungary, for instance, there are around 30,000 homeless people, many of them in Budapest. People sleeping in the underground entrances to the subway or bundled under street arcades are a common sight.
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U.S. Has Almost as Much to Lose as Iran if Nuclear Deal Isn’t Reached

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, and US Secretary John Kerry during the E3/EU+3 talks with Iran on October 15. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, and US Secretary John Kerry during the E3/EU+3 talks with Iran on October 15. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

At Politico, Gary Sick writes that, if Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fails to capitulate to the demands of the United States and a nuclear deal isn’t reached, it would play into the hands of Iran’s hardliners. As well,

… the failure to reach a deal by Nov. 24 would in all likelihood have a second effect that would compound the problem: weakening the external leverage that the United States could bring to bear on Iran. The primary leverage that the U.S.-led side has brought to the table is the international sanctions regime that has limited Iran’s energy exports and choked off its access to international financial networks. But those are not U.N. sanctions; they rely primarily on Washington’s ability to persuade or pressure companies in countries whose governments do not endorse those sanctions to refrain from trade with or investment in Iran, under threat that noncompliance could result in their being shut out of the international banking system.

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Denying Veterans Benefits a Venerable Tradition

“The March to Valley Forge” by William Trego (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“The March to Valley Forge” by William Trego (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

One of the early memoirs by a low-ranking soldier ― and still one of the best ― is Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin, which was published in 1830. He was keenly aware that he was working in a genre that today is known as “people’s history.” One of his main concerns, aside from how poorly the Continental Army was equipped and fed, was what we call today benefits. Martin wrote:

When those who engaged to serve during the war enlisted, they were promised a hundred acres of land each, which was to be in their own or the adjoining states. When the country had drained the last drop of service it could screw out of the poor soldiers, they were turned adrift like old worn-out horses, and nothing said about land to pasture them upon. Congress did, indeed, appropriate lands under the denomination of “Soldiers’ lands,” in Ohio state, or some state, or a future state; but no care was taken that the soldiers should get them. No agents were appointed to see that the poor fellows ever got possession of their lands; no one ever took the least care about it, except a pack of speculators who were driving about the country like so many evil spirits, endeavoring to pluck the last feather from the soldiers. The soldiers were ignorant of the ways and means to obtain their bounty lands, and there was no one appointed to inform them. [Emphasis added.]

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Solving Nuclear Base Foul-ups and National Laboratory Mismanagement the Easy Way

A missile wing at Minot Air Force Base conducting a simulated launch of a Minuteman ICBM. (Photo: AF Global Strike / Flickr Commons)

A missile wing at Minot Air Force Base conducting a simulated launch of a Minuteman ICBM. (Photo: AF Global Strike / Flickr Commons)

“Today’s long-expected internal and external reviews of the Department of Defense (DoD) nuclear operations,” reads a Nov. 15 press release for the Los Alamos Study Group, “do not address the root causes of the operational lapses that plague DoD nuclear forces, the Los Alamos Study Group charges.”
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