Focal Points Blog

On Paper, Coalition Should Crush Islamic State

The Islamic State capitalizes on its opposition. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State capitalizes on its opposition. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Among the most obnoxious traits of the Islamic State is its ability to endure even though much of the world is arrayed against it. As Dominic Tierney at the Atlantic writes that the “acts of aggression and barbarism” perpetrated by the Islamic State “have mobilized a vast enemy coalition, which includes almost every regional power and virtually every great power (and notably the United States, often compared to the Roman Empire in its hegemonic strength). Yet, incredibly, this alliance seems incapable of rolling back the Islamic State. How can a group of insurgents declare war on humanity—and win?” After all:

In fact:

By conventional logic, the militants’ strategy is reckless and even suicidal—the design of an apocalyptic cult with a death wish.

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Gross National Happiness, Like the Gross National Product, Can Be Tracked by Data

Gross National Happiness Irina Flickr

Arguably Gross National Happiness and the Gross National Product are engaged in a zero sum game. (Photo: Irina / Flickr Commons)

 

You have no doubt heard of the Gross National Happiness (GNH). Counterpoised against the Gross National Product (GNP), Bhutan hoped to reshape its economy along spiritual lines instead of capitalism’s growth ethos. But, just like the GNP, the GNH can be tracked and its existence justified by data. At the estimable British site Aeon, Benjamin Radcliff, an American political science professor, writes:

Economists, political scientists and other social scientists in the growing field of the political economy of wellbeing, or ‘happiness economics’, are using empirical rather than speculative methods to better understand what makes for satisfying lives.

… In reviewing the research in 2014, Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, a political scientist at Rutgers University-Camden in New Jersey, found that ‘societies led by leftist or liberal governments (also referred to as welfare states)’ have the highest levels of life satisfaction, controlling for other factors. Looking across countries, the more generous and universalistic the welfare state, the greater the level of human happiness, net of other factors.

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Remembering Those Syrian Detainees Tortured to Death by the Assad Regime

It’s difficult to understand not only what drives a man like Assad to commit such atrocities, but why states like the U.S., Russia, and Iran would prop up a regime such as his. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

It’s difficult to understand not only what drives a man like Assad to commit such atrocities, but why states like the U.S., Russia, and Iran would prop up a regime such as his. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

You may recall the Syrian military photographer who, from 2011 to 2013, documented Syrian detainees tortured to death by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Known as Caesar, he passed them, via flash drives, to a friend who smuggled them out of the country. He then went into hiding, but journalist Garance le Caisne finally tracked him down (presumably outside Syria) for the Guardian.

Revisiting the torture, which is ongoing, from someone who witnessed its results first-hand reveal the sheer cynicism of states like Russia and Iran — not to mention the United States! — seeking to prop up Assad’s regime in the face of assaults by rebel groups, most notably the Islamic State. Assad is making his bid to be enshrined in the pantheon of most heinous individuals to have ever walked the planet (in the process implicating all those who help him).

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Turkey’s Election: A Plague Upon the House of Erdogan

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan’s grand plan for an all-powerful presidency — run by him — died at birth. Pictured: President Erdogan. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan’s grand plan for an all-powerful presidency — run by him — died at birth. Pictured: President Erdogan. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As Turkey gears up for one of the most important elections in its recent history, the country appears, as one analyst noted, to be coming apart at the “seams”:

  • Longstanding tensions with the country’s Kurdish population have broken out into open war.
  • A Kurdish-led left political party is under siege by right-wing nationalists and the terrorist organization, the Islamic Front.
  • Independent journalists have been attacked by mobs led by leading members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • Erdogan, his family, and leading figures in the AKP have been entangled in several major corruption schemes.
  • The economy has stalled, inflation is on the rise, unemployment is at a five year high, tourism is tanking, and the Turkish lira is plunging, driving up the national debt.

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Are the U.S. and Russia Forming 5 New States in the Middle-East?

The Russian air strikes in Syria mean that Moscow is attempting to grab as much land as possible on Assad’s behalf. Pictured: Russia’s Sukhoi Su-25 deployed to Syria. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Russian air strikes in Syria mean that Moscow is attempting to grab as much land as possible on Assad’s behalf. Pictured: Russia’s Sukhoi Su-25 deployed to Syria. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Mideast map-redrawing ‘Act One’ has begun. Ba’athist/Alawite Syria, Sunni Syria, Kurdistan, Sunni Iraq and Shi’a Iraq are the first batch of new ‘states’ to be formed as the Obama Administration has finally accepted Russia’s role in preserving a Ba’athist Syrian state for the Alawis — the religious sect who makes up about 12% of Syria’s population and remains “loyal to the (Assad) regime even as the economy deteriorates” [Note 1].

Without some sort of compromise beforehand, it is common diplomatic sense that the Obama-Putin private meeting on September 29 could not have crystallized. The picture turned clear when Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “standing shoulder to shoulder somewhere in the United Nations building” on September 30, announced their common vision of resolving Syria’s war through “political process”, thus sealing “an American stamp of legitimacy on Russia’s Syria intervention” [Note 2].

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An Inevitable Triumvirate: Syria, Russia, and Iran

Iranian troops are converging on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. (Photo: Michal Unolt / Flickr Commons)

Iranian troops are converging on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. (Photo: Michal Unolt / Flickr Commons)

Not only has Russia come to the aid of Syria (if you consider the Assad regime Syria) mostly via airstrikes, but now Iran has declared itself all in with Syria. It has sent thousands of troops to Syria to join forces with President Assad in an attempt to take back rebel-held Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city. The Independent reports:

Several Iranian politicians, led by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy commission, arrived in Damascus for talks with President Assad and his advisers.

Speaking on Iranian state television as he landed in the Syrian capital, Mr Boroujerdi hailed the impact of the Russian air strikes. “The international coalition led by America has failed in the fight against terrorism. The cooperation between Syria, Iraq, Iran and Russia has been positive and successful,” he said.

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Career Kiss of Death: Asking Why Iran Has to Be Our Enemy

Accepting that Iran is an enemy is a prerequisite to a career in U.S. foreign service. Pictured: Chief nuclear negotiators U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo: Yahoo News)

Accepting that Iran is an enemy is a prerequisite to a career in U.S. foreign service. Pictured: Chief nuclear negotiators U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo: Yahoo News)

In an eye-opening article for Foreign Policy in Focus entitled Why Doesn’t the Foreign Policy Establishment Take World Peace Seriously?, Didier Jacobs writes of U.S.-Iran relations that the U.S. “foreign policy establishment is susceptible to groupthink.”

Very few people in the establishment challenge the threat to use force if Iran reneges on the [nuclear] deal. No one questions whether Iran should be considered an enemy in the first place.

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Jason Rezaian Guilty … of Loving Iran Too Much

Jason Rezaian pushed his luck with Tehran by remaining in Iran. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

Jason Rezaian pushed his luck with Tehran by remaining in Iran. Pictured: the Holy Shrine of Abdulazim. (Photo: David Stanley / Flickr Commons)

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who is California born and holds dual citizenship in the United States and Iran, was convicted by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court of spying. In the New Yorker, Amy Davidson once reported: “His writing about Iran had been marked by cultural generosity and care.” In June I posted:

Recently my wife and I were watching an old episode of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown in which, after years of trying, he managed to gain entry into Iran.

… At one point Bourdain conducted a lengthy interview with an Iran-American journalist for the Washington Post and his Iranian wife. They were both clearly in love with Iran. Wait, I thought, is that…? Yes, as Bourdain explained in a postscript at the end of the show, Jason Rezaian had since been arrested, along with his wife.

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Is the Refugee Crisis Really a Crisis?

Europe and the United States are paralyzed by the prospect of accepting more refugees than they are used to. (Photo: Noborder Network / Flickr Commons)

Europe and the United States are paralyzed by the prospect of accepting more refugees than they are used to. (Photo: Noborder Network / Flickr Commons)

In an article in the New York Review of Books titled The Terrible Flight from the Killing, Hugh Eakin chronicles perhaps better than any journalist thus far the refugee crisis in Europe. It seems to be overwhelming for the European states asked to provide refugees asylum. But, in reality, it may be a case in which two cliches actually apply:

One, it’s a matter of perception.

Two, in every crisis an opportunity.
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Will 3-D-Printers Produce Nuclear Weapons One Day?

3-D printed guns — and one day, perhaps, WMDs — raise serious civil liberties issues. (Photo: PopularMechanics.com)

3-D printed guns — and one day, perhaps, WMDs — raise serious civil liberties issues. (Photo: PopularMechanics.com)

As you have no doubt heard, 3-D printers can now produce guns. The specter of them producing nuclear, as well as chemical and biological weapons has also been raised. At Reason.com, J.D. Tucille quotes a Sept. 6 op-ed in the Washington Post by Daniel C. Tirone and James Gilley, in which they write that “technology is a bigger obstacle to reducing future gun deaths than either the National Rifle Association or differing interpretations of the Second Amendment.” In fact:

Within a few years, the greatest challenge to the government’s ability to control firearms will be advances in additive manufacturing, popularly known as “3-D printing.”

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