Monday Wake Up Call – September 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Rainy morning, Emerald Lake, Yoho NP British Columbia CN – 2019 photo by mrgoomba7

On September 14, explosions rocked the Saudi’s Khurais oilfield as well as the Abqaiq refinery, one of Saudi Arabia’s most vital petrochemical installations. Several hours later, the Houthis claimed that they had targeted both facilities with ten drones. In reality, it now seems that 17 drones or cruise missiles hit the Saudi plants.

There is a continuing debate on who launched the attack. Pompeo tweeted that it was the Iranians:

Perfect positioning by America’s First Diplomat!

While Pompeo says Iran did it, the Arms Control Wonk reports that the Houthis have both the technology and ability. The US, Israel and Iran also have the capability to conduct such an attack.

Saudi Arabia and the US will no doubt eventually figure out who owned the missiles used in the attack, but that won’t resolve the question of guilt, or complicity to everyone’s satisfaction. Some are saying that the Abqaiq oil field is too far from Yemen for them to be the culprit. Yet, the US supplied these photos of the damage, including an arrow helpfully pointing to north (it’s pointing left, while the shadows mean the sun is in the east):

The boxes showing damage mean the missiles came from the west, where Yemen is located. Iran is located to the Northeast, as are Israel and Iraq.

But please wait, and let Washington tell you what to believe.

The most important takeaway is that Saudi Arabia has no real defense against this kind of attack. In mid-June 2019, a cruise missile fired by the Houthis hit the terminal of Abha Airport in Southern Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 passengers.

The Saudis use two US air defense systems, the Patriot, and the Hawk missile systems. Both are deployed in Saudi’s northeast, facing the Persian Gulf. They do not provide defensive cover for the attacked oil refineries if the missile or drone is fired from the south or west:

The Patriots are useful against cruise or ballistic missiles. The Hawks are for aircraft. But no system could protect all of the Saudi’s oil field facilities if 17 missiles are fired at once.

Despite the hopes of DC’s Iran-hating Neocons, it is possible that the attack originated in Yemen. The Saudi war in Yemen was launched in 2015. It costs Saudi Arabia several billion dollars per month. The Saudi budget deficit again increased this year and is expected to reach 7% of its GDP.  They need much higher oil prices to help prosecute the Yemen war.

Also, Saudi Arabia is planning to sell a share of its state owned oil conglomerate, Aramco, which may be worth $2 Trillion. But who would buy a share of Aramco when its major installations are not secure, and has endured crippling attacks?

Assuming this attack isn’t a one-off, the Saudis probably will need a cease-fire or a peace deal with Yemen before it can sell Aramco shares for a decent price. It is likely that the Houthis will demand reparations payments from the Saudis in order to make peace.

The first Saudi attempts to negotiate happened two weeks ago. The Hill reports they asked the Trump administration to work out an agreement with the Houthis:

“The Trump administration is preparing to initiate negotiations with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in an effort to bring the four-year civil war in Yemen to an end….The effort is reportedly aimed at convincing Saudi Arabia to take part in secret talks with the rebels in Oman to help broker a cease-fire in the conflict, which has emerged as a front line in the regional proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.”

But it hasn’t led to anything.

Back in DC, we’re hearing that the US must have some response to the missile attacks.

Why?

America wasn’t attacked. We’re not even sure who carried out the attack, and there is at least a small probability that it was some disaffected group within Saudi Arabia itself.

We do not have a mutual security agreement with Saudi Arabia, although we are strategic partners.

Now the poor helpless Saudis will want their best friend Trump to attack Iran, much to the delight of Israel and the Neocons. And a refinery attack showing Saudi’s lack of defenses may get Trump off the dime.

How on God’s green earth is this in our national interest?

Trump and Pompeo are trying to position us on the Sunni side of a region-wide sectarian civil war. That would be a disaster for us and for all in the Middle East.

Wake up, America! Most who work in DC in any power capacity have been dreaming of war with Iran for decades. Yet, somehow they haven’t made it happen.

Let’s hope that continues.

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Donny and Bibi’s Folly

The Daily Escape:

Hyner View State Park, Hyner, PA – photo by Scott Hafer.

Maybe it’s early to have a full perspective on Trump’s decision to leave the Iran Nuclear Accord, but Wrongo is reminded of this quote from Benjamin Netanyahu, on September 12, 2002:

If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you it will have positive reverberations on the region.

He said this while he was pressing for the US to attack Iraq, who was an Israeli foe in 2002. Naturally, the results were far from positive for the region, and the outcome for the US was catastrophic in both financial and human costs.

Bibi has again been successful in urging another Republican president to start an adventure in the Middle East, this time, by backing out of the Iran deal. Once again, Bibi has set up an opportunity for the US to attack another Israeli foe. This decision is a truly consequential foreign-policy blunder.

Steven Walt in Foreign Policy:

It is important to understand what’s really going on here. Trump’s decision is not based on a desire to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb; if that were the case, it would make much more sense to stay firmly committed to the deal and eventually negotiate to make it permanent.

Walt says that this is what’s really going on:

Abandoning the JCPOA is based on the desire to “keep Iran in the penalty box” and prevent it from establishing normal relations with the outside world. This goal unites Israel, the hard-line wing of the Israel lobby…and hawks including National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and many others.

Walt says that the hawks’ great fear was that the US and its Middle East allies might eventually have to acknowledge Iran as a legitimate regional power.

The preferred strategy to keep Iran from becoming a regional power has been regime change. US neo-cons and others in the Middle East have pursued this for decades. The neo-cons see two possible routes to regime change. The first relies on ramping up economic pressure on Tehran in the hope that popular discontent will grow, and that the clerical regime will simply collapse. This is the same strategy that worked so well failed in Cuba. Since the Nuclear Accord would end the sanctions that were keeping Iran weak, it was reason enough for most Republicans and hawks to be against it.

The second option is to provoke Iran into restarting its nuclear program, which would give Washington the excuse to launch a preventive war. The Israelis and Saudis would be happy to watch the US and Iran fight. The thought is that a war would eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and inspire its people to rise up and overturn their leaders.

This scenario shows how little thought these people give to outcomes: If we bomb Iran, their first reaction will not be one of gratitude. Bibi will again be wrong, there will be no “positive reverberations”. Rather, it would trigger fervent Iranian nationalism and the regime would become more popular.

Leaving the deal is another spectacular “own goal” from the Trumpkinhead. They must be dancing in Moscow and Beijing, the two biggest winners of the Trump withdrawal.

Other winners include the Iranian far-right, who will say that Rouhani and the reformists were naive to trust that the Americans would honor any agreement, and the Iranian public should move to the right in the next parliamentary election.

Bibi and his government will now campaign on how every Israeli should be terrified at the prospect of returning Iran back toward the possibility of becoming a nuclear power, something Bibi has worked hard to bring about.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia get closer to a pretext for the direct military confrontation that they want, purchased with the blood of Americans, blood that the American neo-cons will be happy to spill. With friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies?

Ultimately, Iran will probably end up getting nukes. But, every other country also wants some atomic insurance. The hawks need to remember that nuclear fission and fusion are 75-year old technologies. Even North Korea, among the poorest countries on earth, has mastered it. The bar just isn’t that high.

So, nuclear proliferation has a natural tailwind, and destroying America’s credibility removes the last wisp of an obstacle to it.

 

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Trump Encourages War in the Middle East

The Daily Escape:

Nile River, Cairo, April 2017 photo by Amr Nabil

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”  Groucho Marx

How true Groucho, how true. There is a power play underway in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain all cut ties with Qatar:

Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed diplomatic and some commercial links with Qatar Monday, a dramatic move that exposed divides among US allies in the Middle East over policy toward Iran and the role of political Islam in the region.

This is a complex situation since the US’s primary air base (al-Udeid) for striking ISIS targets is based in Qatar. We have more than 10,000 people stationed there. When Trump was in Riyadh, he boasted that the US-Qatari relationship was “extremely good” and that he and the Emir would be discussing the purchase of “beautiful military equipment” made in the US.

That was just a few weeks ago. Yesterday, Our Orange Flake tweeted:

Just to be clear, Trump tweeted his support for a blockade of a country that hosts one of US’s largest military bases. He is trying to take credit for an avoidable and potentially dangerous regional crisis that may undermine our current effort to destroy ISIS, and might possibly even put Americans at risk.

It’s worth remembering that the first Gulf War originated in Saddam Hussein’s misinterpreting comments by the GW Bush administration as a green light to go into Kuwait.

Do the Saudi’s think Trump gave them a green light? Maybe. Today, Al Jazeera is reporting that the Saudis issued an ultimatum for Qatar to comply with 10 demands. These are the Saudi demands:

1. Immediately break diplomatic relations with Iran
2. Expel all Hamas members
3. Freeze bank accounts of Hamas members and stop dealing with them
4. Expel all Muslim Brotherhood members from Qatar
5. Expel anti-GCC elements
6. End support of “terrorist organizations”
7. Stop interfering in Egyptian affairs
8. Cease broadcasting the Al Jazeera news channel
9. Apologize to all Gulf governments for ‘abuses’ by Al Jazeera
10. Pledge not to carry out any actions that contradict the policies of the GCC and adhere to its charter.

If the list of demands as published are real, it’s hard to see how the Qatari’s can back down. For starters, Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest natural gas field. It is doubtful that Qatar will break diplomatic relations with their partner.

It looks like the Chinese and Russians are urging Qatar to make some concessions – no doubt they are prepared to do so, but in effect, that list requires unconditional surrender. That will be a bridge too far for Qatar. The pace at which this situation is unraveling is astounding: Turkey is fast-tracking a bill approving troop deployment in Qatar.

Will this situation go hot? If the Qataris don’t back down, then at best, this will lead to a massive disruption of LNG shipments. At worst, it could mean a regional war, aimed at regime change in Qatar.

If it were to go hot, the Qataris have no real military options. Their military is very small, and their outdated French Mirage fighters and older generation tanks are no match for what the Saudis have. Most of the Qatari soldiers are Pakistani mercenaries, who aren’t stupid. They do have very good air defense systems, which means the Saudi’s would most likely shoot from a distance, causing lots of collateral damage.

The biggest question is what will the friends of the Qataris do. The Chinese, Russians and Europeans will be urging compromise, but the Iranians (and the Turks) may be angry enough to try to confront Saudi Arabia.

And the Saudis are probably thinking that they need to take action before foreign troops can make landfall in Qatar. It is difficult to see how the Saudis back down, since they’ve just put everything on the line. And if Trump keeps tweeting support for the Saudis, that will keep emotions high.

This doesn’t look like it will end well.

Perhaps the Saudis are trying to goad Iran into closing the Straits of Hormuz. They (along with the Israelis and the Trump administration) have been spoiling for a fight with Iran, or to be more precise, spoiling for an excuse to drag Iran into a confrontation with the US.

The Saudis may be calculating that with Trump in charge, they finally have a chance to persuade the US to engage, assuming they can engineer the closing of the Straits as an excuse.

This shows how easily our regional clients can influence US policy when the leader of the free world has so few fixed positions.

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A Hundred-Year War

The Daily Escape:

Gouldian Finch, native to Australia – photo by Melinda Moore

(This post is an expansion of the ideas in Wrongo’s Memorial Day column)

Ms. Oh So Right suggested while we were in Europe that we stop calling it the “War on Terror” and begin calling it the “Hundred Year War.” Why? Because it seems that the Middle East has an unbreakable hold on us. Tom Friedman offers this take on the Trump doctrine:

The Trump doctrine is very simple: There are just four threats in the world: terrorists who will kill us, immigrants who will rape us or take our jobs, importers and exporters who will take our industries — and North Korea.

Last week, Trump took the decision to insert the US into what promises to be a never-ending war between the Sunni and the Shia for control of the ME. Rather than try to keep a balanced political position between these two religions, Trump has tilted America towards the Sunnis. This from Paul Mulshine:

The pivotal moment on his foreign trip came when Trump cuddled up to Saudi Arabia, a country he accused of “paying ISIS” back when he was campaigning for the presidency.

ISIS is of course, a Sunni group. So is al Qaeda. And Saudi Arabia is at the center of the Sunni universe.

There was a peaceful and democratic change of power in the ME while Trump was away. It was the re-election of Hassan Rouhani in Iran. In that contest, 41.2 million voters, or 73% of the Iranian electorate, turned out to vote. So who did Trump lash out at during his speech in Riyadh? Not Saudi Arabia, but Iran:

From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region…

This ignores the fact that Saudi Arabia funds more terror than does Iran, and it isn’t a democracy. This despite the fact that we share with the Iranians the goal of ousting ISIS from Syria. Yet, on May 18, US planes attacked a convoy of Syrian Army forces that included Iranian militias, and probably a few Russian advisers.

Back when Trump appointed Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, there was some hope that we might become more calculated in our involvement in the region. But both individuals seem to be hot to go to war with Iran. The fear is that the Trump administration will adopt the “on to Tehran” strategy the people around George W. Bush endorsed back when it seemed that Bush’s Iraq invasion had succeeded.

This is where we start getting into “Hundred Years’ War” territory. (The Hundred Years’ War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of England, against the House of Valois, rulers of France, over the succession of the French throne.)

This is why Wrongo thinks we must re-instate the draft. Let America debate about why Trump and the neo-cons think a war with Iran is a good idea. Let them explain to draft-age kids and their parents why American should get involved in a civil war between the Shia and the Sunni.

Why will this keep us safe?

Trump is embarking on a hard-line anti-Iranian journey, precisely when Iranians re-elected a moderate to lead their country. Trump risks making a mistake that would be similar to GW Bush’s. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein permitted the Iranian Shia majority to link up with the Iraqi Shia majority, thus giving the Iranians the first step towards creating the “Shia Crescent.”

If Trump takes an aggressive attitude toward Tehran, he’ll be playing into the hands of the Iranian hard-liners. Trump campaigned at least in part, on not repeating Bush’s ME mistakes. But now he is aligning himself with the Sunnis, who plan to keep the Syrian civil war going for at least another generation (25 years).

What happens then?

We’ll still have 58 years to figure it out.

Let’s close with a tune. Here are Todd Rundgren and Donald Fagan doing “Tin Foil Hat” from Todd’s new album “White Knight”. It’s a song about Donald Trump:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Takeaway Lyric:

He’s coming down the escalator

With a girl from east of here

He wants to make the country greater

We got nothing left to fear

 

Because the man in the tin foil hat

Is sitting on the throne tonight

It kinda feels like a coup d’état

But it’s gonna be great, tremendous, amazing and all that

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New OPEC Deal Puts Saudi Arabia On The Sidelines

The new OPEC deal to cut oil output, the Cartel’s first since 2008, gives OPEC what it wanted: higher oil prices. It was difficult for the Cartel to achieve an agreement. Russia, a major oil producer that isn’t even a member of OPEC, brokered a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran. From Oil Price:

The interventions ahead of Wednesday’s OPEC meeting came…from Putin, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani…According to Reuters, Putin’s role as intermediary between Riyadh and Tehran was pivotal, and is a “testament to the rising influence of Russia in the Middle East since its military intervention in the Syrian civil war just over a year ago.”

Prior OPEC meetings failed to deliver consensus, because nobody wanted to cut production. Tehran argued OPEC should not prevent it from restoring the output lost by years of Western sanctions, but the Saudis wouldn’t agree. The animosity between them didn’t help: Proxy wars in Syria and Yemen have exacerbated decades of tension between the Saudi Sunni kingdom and the Iranian Shi’ite Islamic republic.

The brokering started when Putin met Saudi’s Prince Mohammed on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in China. Both felt they could benefit from cooperating to push oil prices higher, and agreed to work together to cut excess production that had more than halved oil prices since 2014. Lower prices had created large budget deficits for both Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Financial pain made cooperation possible, despite the huge political differences between Russia and Saudi Arabia over the civil war in Syria. But Iran also had to agree. Prince Mohammed had repeatedly demanded that Iran participate in any production cuts. Saudi and Iranian OPEC negotiators had debated the point without compromise for months.

Putin stepped in: He established that the Saudis would shoulder the lion’s share of cuts, as long as Riyadh wasn’t seen as making concessions to Iran. A deal was possible if Iran didn’t celebrate a victory over the Saudis.

Reuters reports that a phone call between Putin and Iranian President Rouhani smoothed the way. After the call, Rouhani and oil minister Bijan Zanganeh went to Iran’s supreme leader for approval. During the meeting, leader Khamenei approved the deal. He also agreed that Iran wouldn’t take a victory lap once the deal was announced.

And so the deal got done. OPEC is trimming output by 1.2m barrels per day (bpd) starting January 1st.

The deal is contingent on securing the agreement of non-OPEC producers to lower production by 600,000m barrels per day. Russia says it will contribute half of that, 300,000 bpd. Iran was allowed to slightly boost its output, while Iraq slightly lowered theirs.

We’ll see if the deal holds, and/or, who cheats.

Pundits like to chalk up winners and losers in this type of deal. Since OPEC now accounts for less than half of all energy output in the world, it is a weakened cartel, dependent on the kindness of outsiders (like Russia) to hold together.

Saudi Arabia looks like the biggest loser. First, it cut production by 500,000 bpd. Second, it has presided over a momentous shift in global power, one that is as stunning as Brexit or Trump’s victory.

Saudi’s capitulation to Russia and Iran ends OPEC’s domination of the world’s energy market. The Saudis also made the US shale oil market more powerful in the global energy market, since US shale will produce more oil whenever oil prices are high. However, Saudi oil remains far cheaper to produce than American shale oil, since it requires far less energy to extract and refine.

Russia emerged as the biggest winner. Its economy did not buckle under the Saudi effort to drive oil prices down via increased production. Putin is now the indispensable power broker in the Middle East, something that was unthinkable even 12 months ago. The Syrian civil war will soon end with Russia winning, Assad staying in power, and Saudi Arabia as the regional loser.

And so, this year truly has seen the death of one world order, along with the birth of another. The US and Saudi now have very little to show for their 50+ year joint effort to dominate the Middle East. The EU looks far from stable as a force in Western Europe.

And Saudi Arabia has just become the third dinosaur to be felled by the asteroid called 2016.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 10, 2016

Quite the week. You thought that the Saudi/Iran blow-up would dominate the news, until North Korea’s claim of a Hydrogen Bomb test took over the front page, but then, global stock markets melted down, following China’s markets into the crapper. And for relief, we had the President’s Executive Order on Gunz, the Bundy Brigade in Oregon, and the presidential candidates.

Some Asian explosions look alike:

COW H Bomb

Trump’s idea on North Korea’s new toy:

COW Trump Strategy

Between Lil’ Kim and Trump, the Donald having his finger on the button is a LOT mo scary!

Obama’s tears were not the only ones last week:

COW TearsThe logical conclusion of 2nd Amendment Absolutism:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Bundy Brigade take over causes momentary outrage:

COW Bundys BoysSaudi Arabia vs. Iran: Make sure we have no skin in their game:

COW Saudi Iran issue

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If The Saudis Want to Fight Iran, the US Should Stand Back and Watch

According to breaking news, the Saudis severed ties with Iran after protesters in Tehran set fire to the Saudi embassy in riots over the execution by Saudi Arabia of the Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. The Saudis are leaning on the Gulf States to break relations with Iran also.

Remember that Iran is a Shiite nation while the Saudis are majority Sunni, as are the Gulfies.

We don’t know if the Saudi charges and verdict against al-Nimr were trumped-up, or if his execution was a deliberate provocation, but, why didn’t Iran do a better job of guarding the Saudi embassy? Wrongo’s first thoughts went back to the 444 days that the US embassy was held by Iran. Was there a better way for Iran to remind America of that historic black eye?

Was Iran dumb, or simply ready to flex their new, post-sanctions muscles against Saudi Arabia?

And what about the new king in Saudi Arabia? Are these executions more about internal House of Saud politicking rather than a direct message to Iran? Is it more important for the Boy Prince Saud to establish his anti-Shia cred with his opponents in the ruling family? A secondary effect may be to rile the Iranians, since the Boy Prince is currently losing his wars in Yemen and in Syria. Perhaps a provocative execution is just what he needs to shore up public support.

The Saudis have now accused Iran of supporting terrorism. At the same time, some US lawmakers want to move the goalposts and make recent Iranian missile firings an issue, even though those missiles were never were part of the deal between the US and Iran.

Expect to see these two issues – Iranian support of terrorism and the Iranian missiles – to be dominant themes in the GOP primaries in an effort to tarnish Obama and Clinton while hoping to stall implementation of the Iran Nuclear deal. The GOP posturing about the Saudi execution continued with Republican presidential hopefuls failing to condemn the executions, while highlighting the strong alliance between Washington and Riyadh on the Sunday bobble head shows.

The fun then went full Sharia with Ben Carson suggesting that the nuclear deal struck last July between Iran, the US and five other world powers pushed Saudi Arabia to violently repress its Shiite population:

The Saudis have been one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, and I think it’s unfortunate that we put them in the position we have by showing the support to Iran that we have with this foolish deal…There’s no reason for the Saudis to believe that we’re really on their side when we do things like that.

And when you hear a medical doctor making excuses for mass executions, you gotta just change channels. And since you know he is vehemently pro-life, you have to cringe while you do it.

Carly Fiorina dismissed Iran’s reaction to the death of the leading anti-government protester:

I take the Iranian condemnation with a huge grain of salt…This is a regime that tortures citizens routinely, that thinks nothing of executions, that still holds four Americans in jail. Saudi Arabia is our ally, despite the fact that they don’t always behave in a way that we condone…Iran is a real and present threat.

You’ve got to hand it to these GOP candidates. It’s nearly impossible to be on the wrong side of nearly every geopolitical issue, but these folks are actually nailing it!

Wahhabism is the state-sponsored form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabism throughout the Middle East is without question a greater threat to ME peace than Iran’s missiles.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia executed 158 people. They justify the executions as part of its strict interpretation of Sharia law. Punishing government protesters with death while citing Sharia law has led The New York Times editorial board to compare the kingdom’s judicial system to that of ISIS. Yet, unlike ISIS, Saudi Arabia currently sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council and, as both Fiorina and Carson noted, Saudi Arabia is considered a key US ally in the fight against the Assad regime in Syria.

Because of this, even our State Department did not fully condemn the Saudi executions, only voicing “concerns” over the practice. Here is empty suit spokesperson John Kirby:

We have previously expressed our concerns about the legal process in Saudi Arabia and have frequently raised these concerns at high levels of the Saudi Government…

Weasel words from the State Department.

We should see this as a time to re-balance our ME policy, and be less pro-Sunni.

We shouldn’t have a dog in this fight.

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