Category Archives: MidEast

Update on Iran sanctions


The boycott of Iran has been more successful than I had anticipated, with Iranian oil production and exports down significantly from a year ago.

Alternative estimates of Iranian oil production. Source: Early Warning.


And even stronger additional sanctions may soon be agreed upon. The measures appear to be having a significant effect on the Iranian economy, with the IMF reporting an inflation rate of 20-25% and some observers claiming the true figure could be as high as 70%. There are some signs of growing political opposition to the regime.

The goal of the sanctions is to try to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program. There was at least one indicator last week of some progress toward that goal, as statements from Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast seemed to signal a modest move forward in negotiations.

Of course, lower oil production from Iran has not been without cost for the oil-consuming countries. The combined effects of the loss in Iranian production and modest gains elsewhere have left total world oil production essentially flat since the start of the year.

Alternative estimates of world oil production. Source: Early Warning.


And where will this all end? Based on prices of Intrade contracts, bettors see a 12% chance of a U.S. and/or Israeli air strike against Iran before December 31, a 39% chance before June 30, and a 51% chance before December 31 of 2013.

Price in cents of promise to receive $1.00 in event of air strike before December 31, 2013. Source: Intrade.


Those same Intrade markets, by the way, put a 40% probability on Mitt Romney winning the presidential election.

Update on Iran sanctions
James Hamilton
Sun, 14 Oct 2012 14:50:12 GMT


The Libyan Consulate

Clearly this a tragic situation.

If Romney and other conservatives ultimately think that it is critical ultimately that we use force against some one in the Mid-East, at the least I think we should  try to make that response surgical and focused on those responsible.

The previous administration, or at least parts of it, I think basically believed that it was important to ‘show the Muslim world who was boss’ after the 9/11 of 2001.  To do so:  start and win a war against a Mid-Eastern country.  I’m not sure it mattered who, as long as we showed we were strong and not to be trifled with. 

Hence we attacked a nation nominally to disarm it of weapons it proved not to even have.  To a lot of those most critical of the Obama administration, I don’t think this mattered, we showed we were not to be messed with; the Muslims hate us and we need to show them they still have to fear us, and by God we did; or so the Bush administration hoped.  I’d  characterize that response as blunt with abundant collateral damage to innocent by standers that may have spawned a new generation of terrorists.

In fact, 9 years later, it isn’t clear to me that we’ve cowed our enemies and potential enemies given this tragic incident.  So has Obama’s charm offensive failed or the earlier attempt to intimidate the entire mid-east? 

I’m inclined to think this is at least partially blow-back from our use of force rather than failure by the Obama administration.  In the end we likely shouldn’t let this go unanswered, but I hope we at least make the response focused on bringing the actual perpetrators to justice, not just punishing Muslims and the Mid-East in general.  Whatever we do, I don’t think it should be an act in the emotions of the moment, or that exaggerates what force can accomplish.

Gaddafi – Qadhafi, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Chart Porn

via Gaddafi – Qadhafi, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.

You can laugh or you can cry, I choose to laugh

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America at Not-War – Obama’s Communication Gap
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Though I think of myself as kind of middle right, I will confess that I voted for Obama in 2008.

Why?  Mostly because I liked the fact that he had opposed the war in Iraq from the start, and at least by 2008 I thought that was the right place to have been.  McCain in contrast couldn’t really seem to get much past proclaiming the surge as a great success, without acknowledging the war had been a mistake in the first place.  In fact, he almost seemed to be itching for a fight with Russia over Georgia.

So, I thought sensible "no drama" Obama, whatever his other failings (like letting the congress turn the stimulus into a pork fest) wouldn’t use his commander in chief power to carelessly take us into war again.


I think Lewis Black nailed it on the Daily Show.  Why don’t we just elect Donald Trump.  What we need is a third world strongman.   Our system just doesn’t seem to bring us sensible good candidates. 

So if we’re gonna have bad presidents, let’s make them REALLY bad.

You gotta kill that bear now !

Assuming we are part of airstrikes against libya, we better realize in a little, means in all the way.  Ghaddafi is a monster.  That’s clear.  But honestly I felt we should stay out.  This was becoming somewhat painful as rebels are brutally attacked, and one thinks of what will happen to them if and when Ghaddafi regains control of all of Libya.

So why would we stay out?  We’re badly overextended militarily already, mostly in Muslim nations.  While we may help take down a monster here its not at all clear that the rebels in the end may not  behave a lot like him, especially in an area as tribal as Libya is.  The consequences of intervention are anything but clear.  In the end western intervention will certainly be used against those we support in the sense of calling them foreign puppets.  Finally what happens if we lose the stomach to see this through to a new government in Libya?

That will be disastrous in at least two ways.  We will have just made the libyan government (the bear) mad but not have killed it.    This may have blowback in a more bloody suppression of our allies, who will have the taint of foreign support.  Second, that angry bear may lash out with increased terrorist activity in Europe, and maybe even here in the US.

But the die is caste now.  I hope the President and the US public see this to a conclusion.

No Matter Who Leads It, Intervention in Libya Is Folly

No Matter Who Leads It, Intervention in Libya Is Folly
Daniel Larison
Thu, 17 Mar 2011 22:10:19 GMT

If the Security Council authorizes intervention in Libya, Obama deserves a significant share of the blame, and blame is the appropriate word. Years ago, I concluded that Obama’s instincts tended to favor military intervention overseas, which was why there was no U.S. intervention that Obama opposed except Iraq, but more recently I had started to think that I had emphasized this too much in the past. It seems that I was right the first time. I had started to think that the people in the administration couldn’t possibly be so dense as to become entangled in a Libyan civil war in any way, but clearly I overestimated them.

Outside military action in Libya is a bad mistake. If it is mainly European and Arab governments making that mistake, that relieves the U.S. of most of the burden, but it will still be folly. Even though it was carried out by a regional government, Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia to install the U.N.-approved government of Somalia has proved to be ruinous for Somalia and harmful to regional security. Military “solutions” to other states’ internal conflicts typically don’t solve those conflicts, but simply give them another dimension. The U.S. is still a moving force behind the resolution that will apparently authorize such action, and that makes us partly responsible for whatever comes next.

U.N. authorization gets around one of the technical legal objections to U.S. participation in yet another unnecessary war. It does not get around the fundamental problems that most Americans want no part of this war, it has nothing to do with the United States, and it is an inexcusable waste of limited resources that will strain the military even more. There must not be any U.S. involvement in military action against Libya unless Sen. Lugar’s conditions of a full debate and vote on a declaration of war are met. The American people are weary of endless warfare. If two-thirds of them no longer believe that the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting, which is arguably the only remotely justifiable war the U.S. has fought in the last twenty years, I fail to see how they will ever support the War for Sarkozy’s Bad Conscience (or perhaps it should more accurately be called the War for Sarkozy’s Desperate Damage Control).

Looking at the list of supporting governments on the Security Council, one will be hard-pressed to find any state other than the U.S, Britain, and France that wields significant political clout. It is telling that every other major and rising power currently on the Council is expected to abstain. Along with Russia and China, India, Brazil, and Germany are all expected to abstain, which is a remarkable vote of no-confidence from two major strategic allies of the U.S. and the leading democracy in Latin America. The success of going through the Security Council in this instance will simply encourage interventionists to push for military action in more situations than before in the hope that the Council will confer some measure of legitimacy on their latest obsession.

Update: As expected, UNSCR 1973 was just adopted 10-0 with five abstentions.

Second Update: Andrew Exum reacts to the news:

It really does seem like we are going to go to war with another country in the Arabic-speaking world. I should be thankful for the broad international coalition we have put together, but I mainly just have a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.


Geopolitical unrest and world oil markets


via Geopolitical unrest and world oil markets.

Different Perspective

Here are home pages for CNN, Foxnews, and MSNBC.  It seems like CNN is really trying to be less over the top and excited than either MSNBC or Fox.




A Journey: My Political Life by Tony Blair

I got interested in this book by watching an interview with Tony Blair on the Daily Show.  I was also interested in his defense of the Iraq, that I thought was a terrible mistake, but I am also willing to think I could be wrong.  The ultimate result of the Iraq war is likely to bad, but it is pure hubris on anyone’s part to be certain of anything about that war.  As a one time supporter with profound buyer’s regret, I can’t seem to get away from the subject.

So what did I learn?  Pretty much that as I said we don’t know what the consequences of the war will be.  He suggests that if we hadn’t dealt with Saddam in 2003 we would have just done so later.  He relates a number of stories of Iraqis, that leave no doubt about what a monster Saddam Hussein was. 

On the other hand he admits to every day asking given the bloodshed, the lack of WMD, the terrorism:  would he do it again?  Also, one gets the general sense that Britain, while ultimately supportive at great cost to Tony Blair of the US’ war, held out for more time and diplomacy than the Bush administration supported.  He also wanted a role for the UN in post war Iraq over the opposition of not surprisingly, Dick Cheney.

Overall he had more ambivalence about this than the Americans and likely more still now.   She sums this up pretty well with this story:

I still keep in my desk a letter from an Iraqi woman who came to see me before the war began.  She told me of the appalling torture and death her family had experienced having fallen foul of Saddam’s son.  She begged me to act.  After the fall of Saddam she returned to Iraq.  She was murdered by sectarians a few months later.  What would she say to me now?

He makes as good case for the war as you can make I think.  But even then his is far from sure.  The costs of that war are very clear, and its benefits uncertain at best.  I wish we hadn’t done it.

Though he considers himself a progressive, he spends a lot of time on post partisanship writing:

Defining where you stand by reference to the opposite of where the other person stands is not just childish, it is completely out of touch with where politics is today….the real risk-right or left-is that at the very moment when the public has lost its enthusiasm for traditional political divisions, the parties and their activists become more obsessed with them.

I’d like to think public discourse and politics should be more about building consensus or at least compromise that has at least willingness to tolerate.  These days it talked about more like war:  lets crush the opposition, they have nothing useful to say.

US Decline to Normalacy, and its need to accept being Ordinary

Good advice.  America has a proud history and has accomplished many great things.  Defeating fascism, ending slavery, creating a long lasting democracy.  But we need to face up to the fact that we’re only human just like every other damn nation.

From Crooked Timbers (edited and emphasis added)

There was another round of the more-or-less endless debate about the decline of the US …

As a public service, I’d like to bring an end to this tiresome debate by observing that the decline of the US from its 1945 position of global pre-eminence has already happened. The US is now a fairly typical advanced/developed country, distinguished primarily by its large population[1]. Precisely because the US is comparable to other advanced countries in many crucial respects, there is no reason to expect any further decline. [2]

In geopolitical terms, the US spends a lot more on its military than anyone else (in fact, more than everyone else put together) and (contrary to the beliefs of most Americans) hardly anything on development aid or other efforts at promoting global public goods. The amount of sustainable influence generated as a result appears pretty trivial. The number of places in the world where the US can directly determine, or even substantially influence, political outcomes is approximately zero…

On the other hand, it has to be conceded that the record of non-military aid and public good promotion is not exactly one of stellar success either. The fact is that the world is a complicated and intractable place, and running your own country is hard enough – the fact that international efforts work as well as they do is more surprising than the fact that so many fail…

The main implication of all this, for me, is that Americans should stop worrying about relative “decline”, “competitiveness” and so on, and start focusing on making the US a better place to live.

When we forget that and we become fixated with Amercian Exceptionalism, we do stupid things, such as:  trying to impose democracy at gun point.  We become drunk on the idea that we can always shape the world to our liking.  We feel we have the right to do so too.

We also become fearful about losing these powers we didn’t have, and shouldn’t want.  We can’t accept our ordinariness.  It’s a human failing I suppose, after all the Catholic church couldn’t accept that the Earth isn’t at the center of the solar system.  Science once believed that Earth was rarely struck by meteorites, that we were different than the Moon with its obvious evidence of impacts.

Accepting that we are ordinary doesn’t mean that we should never attempt the extraordinary sometimes.  But before we enter onto any extraordinary quest, we should think long and hard.  We’ve entered or slid into a lot of stupid quests since the end of the second world war. 

Vietnam was a war that if we had avoided, I don’t think you can argue anyone would have been worse off.   We’d have the same communist Vietnam and thousand would still be alive. 

Korea given the odious North may have been worth fighting, but if we hadn’t I wonder if a unified Korea wouldn’t include the nuclear capacity wielded by an insane family line as we do now. 

The first Gulf war was I think done right.  We worked with our allies.  We had a clear national interest at stake.  We had a clear and limited objective and a well though out plan to achieve it.

The Afghanistan war started well, but I think may have veered too much into nation building that may be beyond our grasp.

Iraq was and is a train wreak.  We had no clear interest.  We had no plan.  We have attempted something beyond our ability, and even if we could do it, its not clear we should.