Focal Points Blog

Kenya’s Sorrow and How the U.S. Fueled Al-Shabab in Somalia

Conspicuous by its absence from the mainstream U.S. media is an examination of the role the U.S. played in fueling Al-Shabab in Somalia. (Photo:  Abayomi Azikiwe / Flickr Commons)

Conspicuous by its absence from the mainstream U.S. media is an examination of the role the U.S. played in fueling Al-Shabab in Somalia. (Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe / Flickr Commons)

The systematic murder of 147 Kenyan university students by members of the Somalia-based Shabab organization on April 2 is raising an uncomfortable question: was the massacre an unintentional blowback from U.S. anti-terrorism strategy in the region? And were the killers forged by an ill-advised American-supported Ethiopian invasion that transformed the radical Islamic organization from a marginal player into a major force?
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Is Al Qaeda Waxing or Waning?

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri may be deferring to the Islamic State. (Photo: Andres Pérez/ Flickr Commons)

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri may be deferring to the Islamic State. (Photo: Andres Pérez/ Flickr Commons)

In Politico Magazine, David Gartenstein-Ross and Bridget Moreng make the surprising claim Al Qaeda Is Beating the Islamic State. They write that, though the Islamic State “still controls more overall than Al Qaeda—most prominently, Tikrit and the southern half of the Salah al-Din province. … [it] has lost territory during this period.” The “jihadist group that has won the most territory in the Arab world over the past six months is Al Qaeda.”
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Diplomacy Is the Only Plausible Solution to Syria and Yemen

Saudi Arabia is the de facto face of the Gulf. (Photo: Marviikad / Flickr Commons)

Saudi Arabia is the de facto face of the Gulf. (Photo: Marviikad / Flickr Commons)

When it comes to the Middle East, everything happens at a pace that is too fast to comprehend. Proxy wars, manipulations and unjustifiable violence — unfortunately, a region so blessed and so beautiful is nowadays mostly known for all the wrong things.

As of now, Iran-Arab relations are turning from bad to worse with sectarian rhetoric and regional rivalries resulting in a weird form of power struggle that will have many losers, and probably zero winners. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have entered into a stare-down in Yemen, and with nearly all the major states of the region taking sides, the flames of these tensions are reaching as far as Turkey and Pakistan. Add to it the fact that the recent nuclear deal between P5+1 and Iran can affect regional strife even further, and the chances of a zero sum game look even bleak.

At this point, one needs to wonder: what can be the possible solution for Middle East?
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Will Israel “Bounce the Rubble” in Gaza?

Not much for the IDF left to bomb in Gaza. (Photo: Andlun 1 / Flickr Commons)

Not much for the IDF left to bomb in Gaza. (Photo: Andlun 1 / Flickr Commons)

Winston Churchill said: “If you go on with this nuclear arms race, all you are going to do is make the rubble bounce.” By which he apparently meant that nuclear war would devastate everyone and everything so completely that, after a while, a blighted landscape itself is being bombed.

In an article in Foreign Policy titled Gaza Is a Tomb, Bel Trew provides us with a poignant image of homes bombed by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces):

People paint their names and phone numbers onto the concrete heaps, in case an aid agency bothers to turn up and start the reconstruction efforts.

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How Aggression Went From an Act of War to a Pathology

Viewing a state’s aggression as pathology incurred punishment, not the understanding one might expect. (Photo: Bettman / Corbis)

Viewing a state’s aggression as pathology incurred punishment, not the understanding one might expect. (Photo: Bettman / Corbis)

I’ve been re-reading Sir Lawrence Freedman’s landmark work The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (Third Edition) for a book I’m attempting to write about the rationalizations and counterintuitive strategies that inevitably attend a state’s development of nuclear weapons. (For his part, Freedman has written around 20 books.)

In the first part of The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, Freedman chronicles the rise of air power during the 20th century. He writes that, in the nineteenth century, the concept of aggression referred to a “‘military attack by the forces of a state against … another state.’” But, even before World War I, “the term had become pejorative, referring to a military attack that was not justified by law.”
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Providing Future Generations With a Voice at the Table

Future generations will wonder why we didn’t take their rights into consideration when failing to stop environmental wastelands from being created. (Photo: Raed Qutana / Flickr Commons)

Future generations will wonder why we didn’t take their rights into consideration when failing to stop environmental wastelands from being created. (Photo: Raed Qutana / Flickr Commons)

At Aeon magazine, in a piece titled Once and future sins, Stefan Klein and Stephen Cave ask, as the sub-head reads: “In 2115, when our descendants look back at our society, what will they condemn as our greatest moral failing?” In the course of identifying likely candidates they raise the issue of rights for future generations.
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Naypyidaw: Burma’s Potemkin Capital

Naypyidaw MAE:F : Flickr

There are few signs of life in Naypyidaw, the capital Burma built, in part, to thwart demonstrations against the government. (Photo: MAE/F / Flickr)

 

In the Guardian, Matt Kennard and Claire Provost write about Naypyidaw, the grand capital city that Burma’s military regime unveiled in 2005.

In recent years, the city’s bizarre urban plan and strange emptiness has become something of an international curiousity.

The effect is accentuated by its size. 
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Disarmament Activists Need to Keep an Eye on What Defense Would Replace Nuclear Weapons With

Early electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) system of the sort that might replace muclear weapons. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Early electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) system of the sort that might replace muclear weapons. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On April 8, I posted on one of Five Scenarios of Giving up on Nuclear Weapons created by Jamais Cascio at Reinventors, which describes its mission thusly: “Reinventors provides a new way to accelerate innovation and help solve complex challenges using the powerful new medium of interactive group video.”

The fourth scenario, titled “Sticks and Stones,” is especially disturbing. It’s easy to say “Watch out what you wish for?” about nuclear disarmament, because disarming, no matter how thoroughgoing the verification program, inevitably opens a window of national-security vulnerability, if only a crack. But “Watch out what you wish for?” has other implications as well. Cascio:

It’s important to recognize that, historically, the primary reason for relinquishing a form of military technology has been the introduction of a superior form.

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Can Citizen Journalism and New Media Salvage Disarmament From a Nuclear Weapons Accident?

Nuclear cloud Craig Myrans Flickr

The possibility of a nuclear weapons accident looms like a cloud, such as this mushroom-shaped one, over all of us. (Photo: Craig Myran / Flickr Commons)

 

How would the world react to the accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon? (Presumed accidental, that is: proving it wasn’t intentional would take some time.) At Reinventors, futurist contemplate Five Scenarios of Giving up on Nuclear Weapons. Scenario 1: Use/Near-Use is “The Jammu Disaster.”

Jamais Cascio writes:

This scenario uses the very real possibility of an apparent nuclear weapons accident as a catalyst to eliminate nuclear weapons. The disaster, in and of itself, would likely not be a sufficient provocation for such a substantial shift in policies around the world. The actual driver here is the overwhelming documentation of the event, from personal videos to cheap drones to data from the wearable health monitors on the victims.

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The Clash of Civil Persuasions

CIA meddling enabled Ayatollah Khomeini to target leftist dissidents in Iran and consolidate his rule. (Photo: David Holt / Flickr Commons)

CIA meddling enabled Ayatollah Khomeini to target leftist dissidents in Iran and consolidate his rule. (Photo: David Holt / Flickr Commons)

Many pundits interpret the troubling spread of ISIS as proof that a “clash of civilizations” is emerging between the traditionally liberal West and a bloc of illiberal Islamists. For instance, Arutz Sheva’s Tuvia Brodie argues that ISIS, as a ruthless Jihadist organization, “mocks our Western values” and “laughs at our belief in freedom and human rights.” The Christian Post’s Noah Beck avers that “Islamist groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah, all seek the destruction of Western values and civilization.” American Thinker‘s Alexander Grass lambastes the Muslim Brotherhood as “an organization of woman-beating church-burners” and contrasts a “Nazi-like Islamist ideology” with the United States’ “universal admiration for democratic liberty.”

When many of us point out that there are illiberal Westerners just like illiberal Islamists, we are often told to “stick to the issue” and to grapple with contemporary fundamentalist Islam qua fundamentalist Islam. So we shall. As it turns out, “sticking to the issue” does not vindicate Western governments; instead, it reminds us that leaders in the United States and Britain have spent decades nourishing the very brutal fundamentalists whose reign they now abhor.

Although the oft-cited connection between the CIA and the Afghan Mujahedeen is an important part of this story, it is not the only part. We must also consider, for instance, the intimate links between the West and the early Twelver Shiite government of Iran. Amidst ongoing Cold War tension in the early 1980s, the KGB’s Vladimir Kuzichkin deserted the USSR and disclosed the names of hundreds of Iranian Tudeh Party members to the CIA and MI6.  Thrilled, these Western intelligence agencies passed along the information to the Iranian state so that it could target leftist dissidents and consolidate Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule by the end of 1983.

So too did the West shore up Saddam Hussein, a non-Islamist whose human rights abuses nonetheless and justifiably offend the sensibilities of Enlightenment-inspired activists today. Presidential Envoy Donald Rumsfeld gladly met with the Iraqi despot during the Iran-Iraq War, supported American aid to the Hussein government, and personally informed Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz that the Reagan administration was willing to “do more” to facilitate Iraq’s onslaught against the Iranians. Two decades later, this same Donald Rumsfeld vehemently insisted on Hussein’s disarmament for “the stability of the world” and the “security of our people.” The Defense Secretary doth protest too much methinks.

As for the Muslim Brotherhood?  The West assisted that bunch of “woman-beating church-burners” also. Motivated by anti-Soviet paranoia, the United States backed the Jordanian and Saudi governments in the 1970s and 1980s as they funded the Muslim Brotherhood’s war against Syria’s Soviet-friendly Hafez Al-Assad. The results were catastrophic: Syrian infrastructure deteriorated, car bombs incinerated people, and communities split apart.In fact, the Muslim Brothers’ attacks were so horrid that Jordan’s King Hussein, a recipient of CIA aid and a Brotherhood patron, publicly showed contrition several years later for supporting this group of Islamist “outlaws.”

Even ISIS, the thugs whose macabre killings have recently provoked a vigorous Western backlash, is also a partial byproduct of Western governments’ military adventurism. By deposing Saddam Hussein in order to build a “free” Iraq, the West actually created a power vacuum of intractable pandemonium. After the US ended its direct occupation of the country, the feeble, American-backed Shiite government collapsed at the hands of ISIS militants who managed to seize many of Iraq’s American-supplied weapons. To make matters worse, weaponry that Western allies sent Syrian rebels in 2013 eventually made its way into ISIS’s arsenal, and many of the “moderate” soldiers whom pro-Western governments trained to fight Bashar Al-Assad eventually defected to ISIS.  So this geopolitical nightmare continues.

Although many Western military apparatchiks claim to speak for their countries, we should remember that they have no exclusive claim to the ethic of the West. Indeed, like other civilizations, “the West” is a multifarious, multi-religious, multi-ethnic entity of various moral perspectives, the most valuable of which come much less from bellicose warmongers than from thinkers before us who urged prudence in military affairs. Their sentiments endure in the writings and speeches of such luminaries as Edmund Burke, whose followers generally urged skepticism toward violent attempts to remodel the world via “abstract designs.” In some of his most astute moments, Burke observed that imperious leaders, often overconfident in their powers of reason, tend to destroy social cohesion and to spawn disability and torment in the societies they overrun.

Therefore, with multiple moral traditions conflicting all over the world, there is certainly an ideological “clash” in our midst, but it does not pit Islamists against the Western governments that have supported Islamism. It instead pits all those who put a premium on the security of person, who distrust violent attempts to force “benighted” people into “enlightenment,” who prize social harmony over unchecked military power against apologists for ceaseless war, pillaging and torture. Should we insist on the division of the world into temporary teams, let these moral teams be the ones that divide us, lest we war-weary citizens all over the world forgo an opportunity to collaborate in pursuit of a universal good.

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