Category Archives: U.S. Foreign Policy

Oil Weapon Redux: Saudi Oil Policy vs. Iranian Regional Policy vs. Ebola vs. Obama Sanctions……..

_9OJik4N_normal Sharqeya-Baneen-15    DennyCreek2

Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter   KuwaitCox2

There is new speculation about the ‘oil weapon’ in Arab media, in independent Arab media that is not owned by the Saudi or UAE or Qatari princes and potentates. This speculation has now also spilled into some Western media outlets. It claims that the Saudis, the usual crude oil ‘swing producers‘ of OPEC, are not playing their usual role these days. And they attribute this to regional strategic reasons.
The speculation is that the Saudis want to apply some economic pressure on their Iranian rivals (and perhaps on the Russians as well). Not the kind of direct crude type of economic pressure in the form of the blockades used by the Obama administration, but a more genteel ‘market’ type of pressure. If oil prices are low enough, this theory seems to go, then the Iranians will feel the economic pinch and reduce their support for Al Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and perhaps reduce their involvement in Iraq and other places.

The idea is not new: it was expressed by the Saudis after they lost out in Iraq a few years ago. At the time, some minion at the Saudi Embassy in Washington opined in American media (the Washington Post?) that his country can drown the market in oil and hurt the Iranians. I wrote then (presciently?) that this may be a delusion, that the Saudis themselves cannot afford very low oil prices, given population growth and emerging political pressures at home.
The reduction in oil prices also coincided with the initial Ebola panic which impacted the travel outlook and hence the demand for fuel.

As if responding to this policy, or speculation about it, the Iranians have just announced a huge offer of weapons for the Lebanese military (which is secular but represents the sectarian and confessional divisions within that country). They seem to be in a race with the Saudis (who earlier announced a conditional $3-4 billion of French weapons) and the Americans to arm the (so far multi-sectarian) Lebanese military.

Cheers
MHG 

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

1. Blame Game Saga from the Caliphate to the U.S. Congress………

_9OJik4N_normal Sharqeya-Baneen-15    DennyCreek2

Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter   KuwaitCox2

The Middle East Iraq-Syria blame game has gotten frantic in the past few months, since the fall of Mosul. Yet almost nobody in the region between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean is innocent of blame. First, the American stance:

  • American politicians have shifted the blame for the Iraqi mess to Iraqis themselves, which is fair enough but up to a point. Keep in mind that almost everybody else in the region is meddling in Iraqi affairs and should get some of the blame.
  • Over the past few months, American blame has focused on former prime minister Al Maliki. If only Al Maliki would/could do certain things, then everything would be fine in Iraq. Now he is out of his old office.
  • Americans also blame other Americans, a favorite political pastime. President Obama is handed the biggest share of the blame. Mainly for failing to keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond 2011, which is the date agreed to between Al Maliki and George W Bush.
  • Republicans especially prefer to blame Obama for the mess in Iraq, but in fairness they also blame him for everything else under the sun. Including possibly the Ebola epidemic as well as Benghazi, Benghazi. On the up side, they don’t blame him for global warming, because they don’t believe in it.
  • Democrats prefer to blame Al Assad, Al Maliki, and the Republican House of representatives.
  • Speaking of Benghazi, Hillary Clinton is edging toward blaming Obama as she weighs her options for 2016. She would rather not travel anywhere near the Middle East these days, not for another two years.
  • Jingoists like John McCain and his allies blame it all on the reluctance of the Obama administration to join the Syrian civil war. It is this ‘wussiness’, they assert, that has led to the emergence of the Wahhabi-Baathist Caliphate across the Iraqi-Syrian border.
  • Fox News blames the whole mess on the elections of 2008.
  • It looks like America is edging back into Iraq, kicking and screaming. Nobody wants to be seen between now and 2016 as punting on ISIS.
  • FYI: the U.S. Congress is punting on Iraq, since they refuse to vote on it before the 2014 elections. Before elections: Democrats are scared of voting for war, Republicans are terrified of being seen to vote ‘yes’ for anything that Obama supports. No Profiles of Courage there. Courage, courage, as Dan Rather used to shout inexplicably on TV .

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Remember When the Oil Weapon Was Blackmail and Evil?……….

_9OJik4N_normal Sharqeya-Baneen-15    DennyCreek2

Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter   KuwaitCox2

“Now time has abruptly run out. The Arabs, who control nearly 60% of the world’s proven deposits, are slowing down the flow. Through this strategy of squeeze, they hope to pressure the industrial nations into forcing Israel to make peace on terms favorable to the Arabs. Moreover, they are steadily intensifying their oil shakedown. Originally they planned to reduce production by at least 5% each month. Later they embargoed all oil shipments to the U.S. and The Netherlands, in punishment for their support of Israel. Last week, showing new unity and clout, ten Arab countries announced that production for November will be slashed a minimum of 25% below the September total of 20.5 million bbl. per day. Though there has been promising progress toward a lasting settlement in the Middle East, the Arabs vow that they will continue their cutbacks and embargoes until Israel withdraws behind its 1967 borders………….”

That was during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. The Arabs, at least the regimes and media, still claim that war was won. Initially the first round of the “Ramadan War” was won, but the military tide had turned decisively before the ceasefire that was engineered by the Nixon administration. But official celebrations and/or commemorations are held in Egypt every year on this occasion, sometime twice a year: once in October and again during the Islamic Hijri month of Ramadan (usually the two don’t coincide, although they did in 1973).
That Arab oil embargo of 1973 was widely denounced as blackmail and evil in Europe and North America. Looking back, the Arabs got a bum rap on that one: it is not the act of blackmail itself, but who does it that makes the difference. Something must have happened since then. Now it is the Western powers that impose oil and gas embargoes: against Russia, Iran, Syria, Iraq (in the past) and others who do not comply. Countries that break any Western embargo or blockade are punished, and embargoed themselves. And it is not blackmail anymore: it is cool now. It is considered as part of a wise clever strategy to “shake down” other countries, just as the Arabs were perceived as “shaking down” the West in 1973. The only difference is that the Western powers have the upper hand now, economically speaking. The shoe is on the other foot. Speaking of change………..
Not all blackmails, or shakedowns, are equal.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Can the US Save Saudi and UAE Nuts in Yemen and Syria?………..

_9OJik4N_normal Sharqeya-Baneen-15    DennyCreek2

Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter   KuwaitCox2

“The United States condemns ongoing hostile and aggressive actions against the Yemeni government and political targets and calls for all parties to implement all aspects of the Peace and National Partnership agreement, in particular the turning over of all medium and heavy weapons to the State…….We commend and support President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s efforts as he leads Yemen in implementing the Peace and National Partnership Agreement that builds on the GCC Initiative and National Dialogue Conference Outcomes…… The United States remains firmly committed to supporting President Hadi and all Yemenis in this endeavor and to our enduring partnership with the Yemeni government to counter the shared threat from al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula…………”

Imagine this impossible and unlikely alternative statement: “The United States condemns ongoing hostile and aggressive actions against the Syrian government and political targets……….”

But then again, there is an issue of serious electoral legitimacy here, Arab style. And there is the issue of keeping the focus on AQAP terrorists. General President Hadi (I wouldn’t add Al Zombie this time) won his GCC-arranged election by 99.8% of the vote, beating fellow Generalisimo Field Marshal Al Sisi who could only eke out 97+% of the scant Egyptian vote. They both beat Herr Doctor Bashar Al Assad, who received barely 88%, a resounding defeat by the standards of Arab leaders, be they dynastic or military or both. Still, none of them could match the victory margin of Kim Jong-Un or of some of the kings that litter our region.

Of course more blood, much more blood, has been shed in the international butchery that we now call the Syrian civil war. Which may explain the lower margin of, er, ‘victory’ in Damascus.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

ISIS Oil: About the Erdogan Trail………….

_9OJik4N_normal Sharqeya-Baneen-15    DennyCreek2

Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter   KuwaitCox2 

“U.S.-led coalition warplanes bombed oil installations and other facilities in territory controlled by Islamic State militants in eastern Syria on Friday, taking aim for a second consecutive day at a key source of financing that has swelled the extremist group’s coffers, activists said. The strikes hit two oil areas in Deir el-Zour province a day after the United States and its Arab allies pummeled a dozen makeshift oil producing facilities in the same area near Syria’s border with Iraq. The raids aim to cripple one of the militants’ primary sources of cash — black market oil sales that the U.S. says generate up to $2 million a day…………”

It is well to hit the oil wells they have occupied in Syria (and Iraq). But there is a cheaper more efficient way to throttle their oil revenues: a bomb-less way. How do they sell the oil? To whom do they sell the oil? More important: by which route is that oil shipped?

That last question, the route, is the gorilla in the war room. Dealing with it requires some neighborly cooperation from one particular country.There is no sea outlet for the oil since the terrorists don’t control any ports or even any coastal regions. Their only route seems to be through NATO member Turkey. Across the border into Turkey and into the markets. Get Mr. Erdogan to shut the ISIS oil route, if he can. Get him to be less vague, less vague and tentative, about his ties to the Jihadis in Syria (and by extension in Iraq). 

Unless there is another route I am not aware of through which the Caliphate petroleum is shipped.

Then there is that other money route, the one we know that leads “north” into Syria and Iraq.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Turkey and the Caliphate of IS: You Scratch my Back and……..

_9OJik4N_normal Sharqeya-Baneen-15    DennyCreek2

Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter   KuwaitCox2

“Turkey, however, did not join the 10 Arab countries that signed on to help build a coalition against IS at a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this past week, and has made it clear that it will not partake in military operations against IS. It is willing to provide humanitarian aid, and will in all likelihood offer clandestine support to U.S. efforts. The primary reason the Turks give for their reticence was their concern for the fate of 49 Turkish diplomatic and security personnel who were seized by IS when the group overran the Iraqi city of Mosul; they were released this past weekend. The hostage crisis was emblematic of all that has gone wrong for Turkey in Syria…………..”

Turkey bet on the Syrian rebels early on. In those heady early days of the Arab Uprisings of 2011, when they looked and sounded and smelled like an Arab Spring. Early on, the Turks started voicing support for the Syrian protests, then for the armed Syrian rebels. No doubt partly because they knew that a large portion of the protesters were Sunni fundamentalists of the kind Mr. Erdogan can be comfortable dealing with.

That was just before the nascent Syrian uprising was hijacked by Persian Gulf Wahhabi princes and their Salafi allies. Before it was bought with vast amounts of petroleum money flowing north from Saudi Arabia and Qatar and other places. Before it was quickly changed into a blatantly sectarian movement of hundreds of rival groups and gangs of Jihadis, quasi-Jihadis, and kidnappers fighting Assad and each other.
The Turkish government opened its borders to everyone who was heading into Syria to fight the Assad regime. Foreign volunteers from the Gulf, North Africa, and Europe flowed into Syria from the Turkish borders. As did weapons and money. If this Caliphate is selling Syrian (or Iraqi) oil, as some reports claim, then their only route for that would be through Turkey, with the cooperation of the authorities.
Meanwhile, the sources of volunteers and money for the Jihad were secure in their palaces in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Abu Dhabi. They were far away from the Syrian borders and hence felt shrapnel from the Syrian crisis, which they had converted into a sectarian civil war, would not touch them. They wanted to manage the Syrian war and shape its outcome to serve their interests even as starry eyed Western pundits waxed poetic about the war for democracy and freedom in Syria. Which is also what the Turks aimed for: to manage the Syrian war.

The Turks have been scratching the Jihadist backs for three years. Now ISIS have released the Turkish hostages from Mosul. No beheadings there, but then the Turkish hostages probably were all of the right religion and sect. Not surprising that the Turks are staying away from this new NATO campaign against the Caliphate, to the extent of refusing to “cooperate” with the air campaign.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Mr. Obama’s New Syrian Alibi: a Pig With Lipstick………

_9OJik4N_normal Sharqeya-Baneen-15    DennyCreek2

Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter   KuwaitCox2

Mr. Obama has now got his Arab alibi. He has got the Arab, actually GCC, cosmetics he thinks he needs to expand the war into Syria:

  • The rulers of tiny Bahrain, which need foreign mercenaries and Saudi troops to keep their own rebellious people at bay and repressed, are allegedly bombing the Hollywood Caliphate of ISIS.
  • The United Arab Emirates, a country so full of foreign military bases it looks like Persian Gulf Swiss cheese, is also doing likewise. No news yet if their Blackwater-modeled mercenary army of Colombians and Australians and other foreigners will be involved.
  • Ditto for the rulers of Qatar, who don’t have enough troops to fill two World Cup stadiums in 2022. Let alone wage war on anybody.
  • Apparently Saudi Arabia is also involved, somehow although it is not clear how and in what capacity are the oily slippery princes involved.

So, Mr. Obama has got his “Arab” alibi, his GCC fig leaf, although we all know the ‘real’ war will be American, with some French huffing and puffing. But at what price this GCC alibi? He must have promised a deeper American involvement in Syria, well beyond attacking the Wahhabi Jihadist cutthroats of ISIS. He must have promised something beyond ISIS and Al Qaeda: something like a repeat of NATO’s Libyan adventure in 2011. The results of which we are now enjoying from Tripoli to Benghazi. The temptation and the push by the Wahhabi camp for Mr. Obama to get deeper into the Syrian “civil war” will be strong.

Yes, there is something about cosmetics nagging at the back of my mind. I recall what Mr. Obama famously said during the 2008 campaign for president. Something about “a pig with lipstick is still a pig. Even if we call it a coalition.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

A Western Addiction to Sanctions? SWIFT-ing the Houthis of Yemen………

_9OJik4N_normal Sharqeya-Baneen-15    DennyCreek2

Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter   KuwaitCox2

“Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it…….” Newton’s First Law of Motion (one version)

“Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday accused the United States of being “obsessed” with sanctions against his country, on the eve of new bilateral talks on a nuclear deal……….”

Apparently imposing these financial sanctions (actually blockades) can become addictive. Anyone who does not know any better, and that probably includes me, might think that the Obama administration has become addicted to inflicting sanctions on other nations and entities and corporations and whatever and whoever catches its fancy in the wrong way. The U.S. Congress is an even more avid imposer of these sanctions, it leads the way: its hawkish threats scare and force the administration to be “proactive” in these matters.

Governments and despots (only a few of them) and peoples and groups and parties and unions and gangs and possibly bad musicians, probably even alumni associations are targeted. From East Asia through Russia and Iran and Lebanon and Syria and Africa and into the threatening little superpower of Cuba, after passing through the mighty empire of Venezuela. Even as the Iran+P5+1 talks were resuming this summer, some evil genius somewhere in Washington was churning out new plans for tightening the screws on the Iranians. Just to keep the mullahs on their toes, or maybe just to let the hotheads in Congress and Knesset know that they have nothing to worry about.

Yesterday, reports came out that the US (and possibly other Western powers) are considering imposing sanctions against the Houthis of Yemen. The Houthis? They are one of the many tribal/political/ethnic/religious factions that dot the Yemeni landscape. But they have nothing to do with Al Qaeda or any other Wahhabi terrorist groups: in fact they are their enemies. They have no goals beyond their own region of Yemen, so what would they be sanctioned for? Sanctioned for daring to protest against their fundamentalist military government and marching on the capital Sana’a. I would have thought the Western powers had their hands full trying to drone the Saudi-Yemeni Al-Qaeda (AQAP) out of existence (often taking a passel of innocent Yemeni civilians along as collateral damage). Or maybe someone in Washington got a persuasive call from someone with a golden telephone in Riyadh or Abu Dhabi.

Anyway, it is not clear how financial sanctions can affect the Houthis of the rugged territory of northern Yemen. As I recall from my past days of extensive travel, the economies of some remote regions are not very monetized, unlike Washington DC (not so many lobbyists with a lot of money hanging around Sanaa or Ouagadougou). These fellows are not known to fly to Las Vegas or Nice or even Dubai, or to own foreign property. Unlike the petroleum princes and potentates, they do not even frequent the diversion-filled joints of Beirut or Cairo or Bangkok. Unlike the Saudi princes, they never fly into the sin-filled cities of Morocco. So, they don’t have as much need for access to foreign exchange, be it dollars or euros or riyals.

Personally, sometimes I think they impose some of the sanctions jut because they can. The mechanisms and the people are in place, so there is some bureaucratic inertia involved, unless acted upon by an external force, as Isaac Newton taught us so long ago. There are no other world currencies that compete with the dollar, and no institution that can compete with SWIFT. SWIFTing a country or an organization is easy. But the Houthis?

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Myth of Arab Forces in Iraq and Syria: Organizing a Piss-Up in a Brewery………

_9OJik4N_normal Sharqeya-Baneen-15    DennyCreek2

Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter   KuwaitCox2

There has been a lot of talk lately about non-American boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Some of the senators during the Armed Forces Committee hearings earlier today, as well as on the media, have been mentioning “Arab forces” that would augment Iraqi forces and Syrian Wahhabi opposition forces.

I got some news for these senators and pundits. If the Iraqi people objected to extended American military presence in their country beyond 2011, do you really believe they would welcome suspected outside Arab forces? This is the age of sectarianism, initially packaged and promoted by several Arab regimes (and I don’t men Iraq and Syria here) as a divide-and-rule strategy. Wahhabi forces from sparsely-populated Saudi Arabia and UAE and Qatar and possibly politically Wahhabi-ized forces from Egypt? Given their history in Iraq and the grief they have caused the people over there with their export of terrorists and weapons and money? Not to mention these regimes’ historical disrespect for the Shi’a (Shi’ite) holy shrines. (Wahhabis have raided Karbala and Najaf in past centuries with the aim of destroying the shrines).

I got some more news for the same senators and pundits. The same objections apply to Syria. Can you imagine the Saudi army and the UAE and Qatari hired-mercenary armies facing the Syrian army and its Hezbollah allies (and possibly other violent allies)? Not to mention facing their own hardened fellow Wahhabi Jihadis who have moved to the dark side with ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Besides, my rule of thumb of war is against it: you can’t expect them to face these battle-toughened forces if they can’t even organize, militarily, a proverbial “piss-up in a brewery“. And we know these princes and potentates can’t organize that proverbial “piss up in a brewery“. Speaking militarily for now.

This myth of Arab forces inside Iraq and Syria needs to be put to rest. The whole idea is not even DOA: it is dead from before its ill-advised inception.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Mulling ISIS Supply Routes and Friedman’s Arab Taxis on a Pacific Northwest Trail………

_9OJik4N_normal Sharqeya-Baneen-15    DennyCreek2

Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter   KuwaitCox2One

I though I’d write a Friedman-esque (as in Thomas not Milton) post today. I am not starting it upon arrival at some Arab airport and a ride into town in a taxi driven by Abdu (in Cairo) or Abed (in Beirut) or Abul-Abed (in Amman). Funny, when Friedman goes to Beijing, the inscrutable Chinese taxi drivers (Abu Wong, et al) never share their local wisdom with him. Only Arabs do: blab and share their apparent wisdom with Western journalists.

No, I was thinking about that yesterday, Saturday. As we biked the twenty mile round trip along the Sammamish River Trail, past a couple of vintners joints and at least one hbrewery, towards the Burke-Gilman Trail. On an unusually cloudless warm morning of the Pacific Northwest. Here goes: 

I saw a retired general (USMC) state that ISIS controls the upper rivers (Euphrates and Tigris) and roads from Syria to resupply their forces in Iraq. Which made me wonder, as I pedaled along that peaceful bike trail:

  • Where do ISIS get these supplies and volunteers from Syria (as the general said)?  Why is Syria their main supply route into Iraq? And from where and how do these weapons and the money and volunteers flow into Syria then into Iraq? And how would increasing the supply of weapons to the useless Syrian opposition groups affect the flow of weapons to the ISIS Caliphate? Should we ask Turkey or Saudi Arabia or Qatar or Jordan about this? They certainly don’t flow from Cyprus (no, Israel is also an unlikely source).
  • From which Syrian (FSA, Ansar-Al-WTF, etc, etc) “relatively moderate” opposition groups and gangs did ISIS purchase some of these Western hostages (journalists and aid workers) that were so horribly beheaded on camera? And they were no doubt purchased from some of the other would-be liberators of Syria.

Before I had finished, er, mulling this last question, it was time for us to hydrate and turn around. Sort of like what happens when Thomas Friedman’s Arab taxi, driven by Abdu (in Cairo) or Abed (in Beirut) or Abul-Abed (in Amman), or Abu-Wong (in Beijing) drives up to the hotel entrance. Before he finishes sharing his strategic and cultural gems with us.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum