Focal Points Blog

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.

In Zero-Sum Terms, the Iran Nuclear Deal a Huge Victory for Obama

Chief nuclear negotiators U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo: Yahoo News)

Chief nuclear negotiators U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. (Photo: Yahoo News)

Tehran never had a chance against the juggernaut of conventional wisdom erected and set in motion long ago by the U.S. and Israeli governments, along with the help of the media. It held that Iran was developing nuclear weapons when, in fact, any research, never mind construction, ended in 2003. By dwelling on what Iran may have done decades ago and falsely portraying its legal right to a nuclear-energy program as a threat, and then by sanctioning it heavily, the West kept Iran back on its heels. If you view foreign relations as a zero-sum game, the nuclear deal is a huge win for President Obama.
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Obama and the Iran Nuke Deal: Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

There have been and will be other days to criticize President Obama, but today he deserves praise. Pictured with Secretary of State John Kerry, chief U.S. negotiator of the Iran deal. (Photo: U.S. State Dept.)

There have been and will be other days to criticize President Obama, but today he deserves praise. Pictured with Secretary of State John Kerry, chief U.S. negotiator of the Iran deal. (Photo: U.S. State Dept.)

Cross-posted from Leon’s Op-Ed.

There have been and will be other days to criticize Obama. After all, he is Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most expansive military and imperial power. But today he deserves full praise and great respect. It is a monumental achievement to keep the US on track with other world powers and Iran toward peaceful resolution of differences rather than resort to war.

No President has encountered fiercer resistance from a hawkish chorus in Congress, including within his own party. The political winds in Washington and in Israel blow against any international agreement with Iran, against any change of course in US policy away from our failed reliance on military force.
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Islamophobia in the US: a Language (Arabic) Can’t Kill

New York City has decided to acknowledge Arabic holidays, but Islamophobia in the US, as well as the UK, remains prevalent. (Photo: John Sargent / Flickr Commons)

New York City has decided to acknowledge Arabic holidays, but Islamophobia in the US, as well as the UK, remains prevalent. (Photo: John Sargent / Flickr Commons)

On March 18, a student in Pine Bush High School near New York City recited the American Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. This was done as part of the school’s Foreign Language Week, which was conducted to celebrate the “many races, cultures and religions that make up [the US and the Pine Bush] School District.”

One would expect the multicultural and cosmopolitan American society to appreciate such gestures. However, the reactions to the recitation of the Pledge in Arabic spoke otherwise: the language in itself was described to be meant for terrorists, and associated with Islam. Such bigotry once again highlighted everything that is wrong with USA: xenophobia, racism, ignorance, violence and above all, Islamophobia.
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Putin Ensuring Authoritarian Governance With an Orderly Political Succession

Singapore founder Lee Kuan Yew established a system of succession that made his signature authoritarian style sustainable. (Photo:  Bloomberg)

Singapore founder Lee Kuan Yew established a system of succession that made his signature authoritarian style sustainable. (Photo: Bloomberg)

By the time Putin has accomplished what Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and China’s Deng Xiaoping did — setting up an orderly political succession system for nourishing authoritarian governance — the West has to re-calculate how they could cope with Russia and China simultaneously.

One of the seldom-mentioned masteries of Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015) [Note 1] is that after 31 years in service as the merciless founder and captain of Singapore, he had structured an intra-party succession system to make his signature steering style sustainable. Goh Chok Tong, hand-picked by Lee, took up the Prime Minister post in 1990 and did not deviate any one inch from Lee’s ideological contrivance during his 14-year tenure. For example, Goh made it crystal clear that Singapore should not be ashamed of “low rank for press freedom”. Although Singapore is a close ally of the United States, it was ranked the 150th out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index 2014 (Russia 148th, China 175th ), and the 152th out of 197 in Freedom House’s Global Press Freedom Rankings 2014 (Russia 176th , China 183th ) [Note 2]. 
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What if Nuclear War No Longer Resulted in Nuclear Winter?

Nuclear winter occurs when smoke from fires set by nuclear bombs rises to the upper atmosphere. (Photo: Josh Thoresen / Flickr Commons)

Nuclear winter occurs when smoke from fires set by nuclear bombs rises to the upper atmosphere. (Photo: Josh Thoresen / Flickr Commons)

Nuclear war, like a nuclear warhead, is actually multiple threats in one. Of the three greatest, the first is instantaneous — death and destruction from the blast — the second two, time-released: radiation and, later, nuclear winter.

Nuclear winter, as you may know, occurs when smoke from fires set by nuclear detonations (especially in cities, with their concentration of flammable material) rises to the upper atmosphere. The result, as American and Russian scientists learned in the early eighties, was that the atmosphere would heat up and the earth would cool. More specifically, the smoke burns nitrogen causing ozone depletion, which, even worse than causing skin cancer, interferes with photosynthesis, thus drastically lowers crop yields. Millions will starve (just another way that nuclear weapons give new meaning to the phrase “adding insult to injury”) — not to mention all those who may to a depression induced by the cold and the perpetual dirty gray clouds looming over them.
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Islamophobia in East-Central Europe

One example of Islamophobia was a demonstration in Warsaw against the construction of an Islamic cultural center that would also include a mosque. (Photo of a Warsaw mosque: John Feffer)

One example of Islamophobia was a demonstration in Warsaw against the construction of an Islamic cultural center that would also include a mosque. (Photo of a Warsaw mosque: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

It’s often said that anti-Semitism continues to exist in Poland even in the absence of a large Jewish community. The recent Polish film Aftermath , about a farmer who uncovers the terrible truth about his village’s treatment of its Jewish community during World War II, makes that point vividly and tragically.

The same can be said about Islamophobia. It too has taken root in countries in East-Central Europe where the Muslim populations are miniscule, like Poland and the Czech Republic. Anti-Islamic sentiment has also flourished in areas further south where the spread of the Ottoman Empire left sizable Muslim communities in Albania, former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Some of this Islamophobia is racism toward indigenous populations; some is xenophobia against immigrants.
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