Posts Tagged ‘Mid-East’

Quote note (#159)

Thomas Friedman doesn’t dig very deep, but he gets it 80-90% right (the title alone — whoever chose it — deserves to win some reality points):

Asian autocrats tended to be modernizers, like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who just died last week at 91 — and you see the results today: Singaporeans waiting in line for 10 hours to pay last respects to a man who vaulted them from nothing into the global middle class. Arab autocrats tended to be predators who used the conflict with Israel as a shiny object to distract their people from their own misgovernance. The result: Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq are now human development disaster areas.

— that’s the bread and butter, but here’s the jam:

Egypt may send troops to defeat the rebels in Yemen. If so, it would be the first case of a country where 25 percent of the population can’t read sending troops to rescue a country where the water comes through the tap 36 hours a month to quell a war where the main issue is the 7th century struggle over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad …

(Also grimly relevant.)

April 6, 2015admin 23 Comments »
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Things Fall Apart

Pax Americana is easy to laugh at, but so — no doubt — was Pax Britannica and even Pax Romana. Imperial order isn’t a tidy or pretty business. It was, however, something, and it’s very rapidly ceasing to be.

Powerful nonlinear dynamics are triggered at certain critical points of systemic transformation. The positive network effects that induced powers great and small to buy into a credible world order switch into reverse, with every defection making the value of continued adherence less convincing to everyone else. In Europe and East Asia the defection dominoes have yet to cascade, and the slow work of fundamental subversion proceeds at a misleadingly languid pace. In the Middle East, in sharp contrast, little remains of the preferred American status quo beyond a ghastly husk. It’s hard to see any way back.

America’s traditional regional lynch-pin allies — Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — are united (only) in alienation. The most important structural reason for this, beyond the inexorable decline of American global management capability, and coherent options for intervention, rumbles beneath the surface of this WSJ article. Everything the US is still trying to accomplish in the region is pushing it into deeper complicity with the Teheran regime — whether on the specific issue of the Iranian nuclear program, operations against ISIS, or involvement in Yemen — and this makes it an objective antagonist of the Sunni establishment. A deep Sunni reformation — in the most blood-drenched sense of the word — is unfolding in the region, and the US is simply incapable of aligning with it. Yet as conflict escalates, and polarization intensifies, even the most conservative Sunni players are driven into solidarity with revolutionary Jihadi radicalism. If an Iranian-orchestrated campaign, coordinated with Iraq’s Maliki regime*, Assad, and the Kurds, succeeds in crushing the ISIS Islamic State, it is a near certainty that the major Sunni powers will commit to its resurrection, or displacement, rather than concede to the triumph of a new Shia order in Mesopotamia. … Then Yemen happened.

A new Middle Eastern war scarcely raises an eyebrow outside the region today. The Islamic Vortex has passed the point of ignition, and the old order is beyond salvage. Among Western observers, impotence translates immediately into apathy, even when they notice a deluge of blood de-pinkering the world. The Battle for Saudi Arabia Begins, writes Fernandez — and there’s nothing at all that anybody can do about it.

* Only very roughly speaking (see comments).

ADDED: I should have guessed there was already a Things Fall Apart (I) here. Apologies for any subsequent confusion. (WordPress is entirely relaxed about non-unique post titles, but I’m going to try not to be.)

ADDED: Pax Americana is over.

ADDED: David Rothkopf combining some valuable analysis with disastrously misconceived recommendations.

March 27, 2015admin 34 Comments »
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Oil War

This contrarian argument, on the resilience of America’s shale industry in the face of the unfolding OPEC “price war”, is the pretext to host a discussion about a topic that is at once too huge to ignore, and too byzantine to elegantly comprehend. The most obvious complication — bypassed entirely by this article — is the harsher oil geopolitics, shaped by a Saudi-Russian proxy war over developments in the Middle East (and Russian backing of the Assad regime in Damascus, most particularly). I’m not expecting people here to be so ready to leave that aside.

Clearly, though, the attempt to strangle the new tight-oil industry in its cradle is a blatantly telegraphed dimension of the present Saudi oil-pricing strategy, and one conforming to a consistent pattern. If Mullaney’s figures can be trusted, things could get intense:

… data from the state of North Dakota says the average cost per barrel in America’s top oil-producing state is only $42 — to make a 10% return for rig owners. In McKenzie County, which boasts 72 of the state’s 188 oil rigs, the average production cost is just $30, the state says. Another 27 rigs are around $29.

If oil-price chicken is going to be exploring these depths, there’s going to be some exceptional pain among the world’s principal producers. Russia is being economically cornered in a way that is disturbingly reminiscent of policy towards Japan pre-WWII, when oil geopolitics was notoriously translated into military desperation. Venezuela will collapse. Iran is also under obvious pressure.

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December 4, 2014admin 47 Comments »
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‘To Beat ISIS, the Arab World Must Promote Political and Religious Reforms’, Rule Jebreal tells us. Picking on a writer for a headline is a mistake — who knows where it came from in the editorial process? — and, besides, this one employs (the exhortative) ‘must’ in its sole appropriate usage — as the completion of a hypothetical imperative. “If you want X, you must do Y” — that’s OK. (Y is a necessary condition for the accomplishment of X.) ‘Must’ is tolerable if it’s kept on a leash.

Once it slips the collar, ‘must’ reverts to its status as the most preposterous word in the English language, an instrument of sheer obfuscation. Watch it go:

The United States must review its policies across the Middle East. … It must take a stand against Riyadh’s promotion of exclusionary Wahhabism. […] … Likewise, pressure must be placed on Egypt to abandon its witch hunt of the Muslim Brotherhood. In undertaking an effective counter terrorism strategy, the United States must partner with the Arab states to undertake political reforms that ultimately lead to underwriting a social contract in which every group of the population are represented and protected. […] … If the United States and Iraqi government want to defeat ISIS, they must now ensure the inclusion and protection of Iraqi Sunnis, Kurds and Yazidis, along with the majority Shi’ites [this one is minimally OK]. […] … Eventually, a process of reconciliation must be initiated between Shi’ites and Sunnis. This centuries-old dispute is played out today in a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has produced a monster that threatens the national security of not only Middle Eastern nations, but also the United States. It must come to an end. […] … The Obama Administration must pursue a policy of severe sanctions against any and all countries that finance jihadist — even if they are our own allies. … What will ultimately turn the tide in the Middle East are groups that actively advocate for a democratic culture and its values around the Arab world. A campaign to promote these ideas on every level must begin, as part of the counterterrorism initiative launched by Kerry. [Emphases added.]

Must they, really? Will they? Can they?

It’s irritating to see moral fanaticism — betrayed by its distinctive combination of groundless certainty and communicative fervor — masquerading as realistic analysis. The disguise is only necessary because the prescription so exorbitantly exceeds the diagnosis, tripping eagerly into glassy-eyed deontological intellectual abandonment.

“The Middle East must stop being the Middle East, and America must help to make this happen.” It can’t, and it won’t, on both counts. The musty smell is simply annoying.

September 16, 2014admin 13 Comments »
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The Islamic Vortex (Note-1)

An executive summary of Ali Khedery’s open letter to President Obama: Face it, ISIS is your ally bro.

August 13, 2014admin 12 Comments »
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Quote notes (#100)

Adam Garfinkle on the profound pointlessness of international ambitions in the Middle East:

Iraq, and Libya have pretty much fallen to pieces, and Lebanon breathes whatever vapors Syria wafts its way. Egypt is an economic corpse that doesn’t know it’s dead and so won’t fall down. (For my ducats there is no better symbol of the Egyptian circumstance than Cairo’s City of the Dead — a vast cemetery full of countless squatters.) Jordan is suffering a multi-sourced nervous breakdown, complete with anti-Hashemite mobs. Algeria and Bahrain are armed camps, albeit for different reasons. Tunisia is a political weathervane that cannot control its borders. Morocco is fragile and faces a rising Berber challenge. Yemen is an armed mess. Sudan is a truncated basket case. Only great gobs of resource rents keep Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar afloat and seemingly quiescent. Oman may be the only Arab country that has managed to keep its balance, and it’s not a real state anyway — just a family with a flag.

This sad state of affairs is not the wayward result of the so-called Arab Spring. Not only does it long predate the Arab Spring, but all that misnamed and wildly misunderstood phenomenon wrought was to accelerate the ongoing decay of the highly unappealing authority relationships in these societies. It has disrupted the ugly and the unacceptable in different ways in different countries, since they’re all different. But with the possible exception of Tunisia (and the jury is still out), the results have not been any improvement on the status quo ante. Some state authorities have their backs up and are trying to be more oppressive than ever, while others are simply flailing.

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August 8, 2014admin 22 Comments »