Who is to Blame for the Rise of ISIS?

Territory controlled by ISIS as of this week (dark red), as well as the area they claim (light red). Wikipedia image by Spesh531

Territory controlled by ISIS as of this week (dark red), as well as the area they claim (light red). Wikipedia image by Spesh531

There are a lot of lessons that we can take from the alarming expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Surely it is a parable, but what is the lesson to be learned? Never end a war without leaving a substantial American footprint behind? Never funnel weapons to a rag-tag coalition of revolutionaries whose motivations may well be dubious? Never trust an Arab government to be able to handle things on its own? Never elect a pussy to be president of the United States?

I can think of nothing more fundamentally human than the desire to cast blame when something goes wrong, to reach for the simple explanation to a complex problem, or to ignore the long view in favor of the emotions of the moment. Beyond that, we prefer to direct our focus inward rather than outward; in other words, we are far more adept at analyzing something according to our understanding of the world than we are at comprehending how another person’s understanding might cause them to act. Because we live our lives at an increasingly rapid pace, we fail to appreciate how deeply rooted humanity remains, both from a historical and cultural standpoint. Continue reading

Iran Needs More Babies

Iran's families are getting smaller. Flickr photo by Adam Jones

Iran’s families are getting smaller. Flickr photo by Adam Jones

 

There are some things in Iran that are not in short supply. You need natural gas? No problem. Looking for some pistachios? They have you covered. Is your floor looking rather unadorned? They can give you a carpet with few rivals. And when it comes to women’s clothing, well, black is the new black.

Unfortunately, there are some items that are less common in Iran, or at least not as plentiful as they would prefer. Airplane parts would be one of them. International trade would be another. Surely some (but likely not all) would prefer that the country had a few more nuclear weapons. However, these deficits may all prove easier to overcome than the one that Iran’s government is currently campaigning against: a lack of babies. Continue reading

Iran’s Deal With The Devil

Iran and the United States finally reached an agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program, but it seems this time the devil is in the details.

Over the weekend, the U.S., its allies, and Iran managed to work out a deal in which some of the international sanctions Iran has been experiencing will be lifted in exchange for certain reductions in Iran’s nuclear development.  This is a six-month agreement that the Obama administration hopes will lead to a more permanent solution after further talks take place.  I know what you’re thinking: “What an amazing diplomatic breakthrough!”  Well…

“Last night is not a historic agreement – it’s a historic mistake.  It’s not made the world a safer place…This agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place,” argued Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.  Ok, so we’ll put him down as “still on the fence”: not surprising, since Netanyahu has never gotten along that well with President Obama.  He probably is just upset that Barack (the U.S. president, not Netanyahu’s Israeli political rival, Ehud Barak) is going to get all the glory for this one, right? Continue reading

Trouble in the Kingdom: Saudi Criticisms of U.S. Policy

800px-Arrival_ceremony_welcoming_King_Faisal_of_Saudi_Arabia_05-27-1971, National Archives Robert L Nudsen

Former Saudi King Faisal is greeted by President Richard Nixon at the White House in 1971. The U.S.-Saudi relationship is one of long standing. National Archives photo by Robert L. Nudsen

With Syria in flames and Iran continuing its nuclear development, two Saudi princes have grabbed headlines criticizing Obama administration policies in the Middle East. What does this mean for the future of the bilateral relationship?

In the Middle East, events seem to shift as often as the Arabian sands. Rulers rise and fall, wars come and go, and firm alliances are often hard to achieve. Thus, the longstanding relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has been one of the key driving forces in the region, an alliance based more on common interests than common ideals or ways of life.

The course of this relationship has not always run smooth. The presence of American troops and contractors on Saudi soil has been a source of consternation for those who frown on such things happening on holy Islamic land. The OPEC embargo in the 1970s revealed some distance between the two allies, while the Persian Gulf War opened the door for enhanced military cooperation in defense of the Kingdom and neighboring Kuwait. Another low was reached after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Continue reading

Obama Should Shake Rouhani’s Hand

Official Iranian government photo of President Hassan Rouhani

Official Iranian government photo of President Hassan Rouhani

Word on the street is that the White House is trying to decide whether or not to arrange a brief meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of this week’s annual parade of world leaders at the UN General Assembly.  Such a tête-à-tête is common at large international gatherings, but not when the two countries in question are Iran and the United States.  When it comes to this bilateral relationship, a simple handshake would be enough to grab headlines around the world.

American politicians have avoided shaking hands with their Iranian counterparts since 1979, not out of some odd “germophobic” impulse, but due to the official severing of diplomatic relations. This break technically occurred in 1980, although the situation had taken an immediate turn for the worse with the 1979 Iranian Revolution and hostage taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.  In the more than thirty years since that point, politicians in both countries have come and gone, but none have been able to satisfy the demands of the other side, and the icy relations have continued. Continue reading

The CIA Fesses Up…60 Years too Late

Landscape

President Truman and Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in happier times

Did you hear the big news?

No, not that Bradley Manning wants to undergo hormone therapy and prefers for us to refer to him/her as Chelsea Manning.  That’s a somewhat shocking and yet oddly predictable end to what has been a media circus of a military case.

No, not that Ben Affleck is set to play Batman in the next Superman movie.  Apparently, the two superheroes are going to face off against one another, which strikes me as odd for two reasons: 1) I thought they were both supposed to be good guys, and 2) We all know that Superman would win in an actual fight.  However, it makes sense that they couldn’t bring back Christian Bale because then they would have to admit to casting two British guys as America’s two greatest comic book icons. (Well, them and Aquaman…)

The big news that I am actually referring to is the CIA’s admission that it was behind a coup in 1953 that unseated the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh.  New details in a CIA document declassified under the Freedom of Information Act provide proof that the CIA helped to organize and carry out the operation through a combination of propaganda, bribery of Mossadegh’s supporters, inducing the population to riot, colluding with Iran’s security forces, and pressuring the Shah to dump the prime minister. Continue reading