Saturday, April 30, 2011

Libyian and Syrian Flags Of A Feather

Libyian and Syrian Flags Of A Feather

Earlier this week, a human rights group disclosed that over four hundred citizens of an autocratic country had been killed in government crackdowns. This is part of a wave of protests sweeping across the country in what is now called the “Arab Spring.” These demonstrations, which started as a demand for the lifting of a draconian emergency powers law that grants the government vast authority, have morphed into a broader demand for greater opportunities, rights, and freedoms. The government’s horrific and criminal actions, which include firing on civilians, the use of heavy weaponry, and attacking innocent citizens while they are asleep in their homes, have provoked condemnation from many nations and international organizations.

Reading the above description, you could be forgiven for thinking that I am describing a new wave of violence in Libya, the country on which the United States and NATO are currently waging a quasi-war in support of a rebel faction fighting to overthrow the leader Muammar Gadahfi. Instead, I am referring to the recent wave of protests, government crackdowns, and violence in Syria. Protestors have clashed with the Syrian government, which has responded by sending the army into cities where protests are centered and firing into civilian homes in the early hours of the morning. The response to these actions has been astounding. There have been no direct threats of intervention or of increasing sanctions already in place, just muted and generic condemnations from President Obama and the United States State Department.

While certainly not identical, these two situations are arguably similar enough that any country pursuing a rational and sustainable foreign policy should respond to them in a similar fashion. By rational, I mean a policy that serves the strategic and tactical needs of the country implementing the policy. By sustainable, I mean a policy that can be employed multiple times simultaneously without putting undue strain on those countries’ resources. That has not been the case. The United States issued powerful condemnations against Libya, worked for and supported a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the protection of civilians by force, launched massive air strikes and now drone strikes, and is sending material aid to rebel forces. Against Syria? To quote the administration, “condemning in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators.”

This is a shocking inconsistency in policy. The United States chose to respond in two completely different ways to similar situations in similarly repressive countries. These countries are both predominantly Muslim nations, with colonial pasts, and have autocratic and repressive dictators. In the past, they have committed horrific crimes against their people. While these countries are in different regions and have different internal dynamics, their similarities are strong enough to render the comparison valid.  This is evidence of a United States foreign policy that is confused and unsustainable. If our decision to become involved in Libya were correct and sustainable, we should have no qualms about implementing it again in Syria to stop the government from getting away with, quite literally, murder. If we are weary of the commitments, risks, and drain on our resources that Libya entails, then our decision to intervene in Libya was a mistake. We need to decide which path we want to take—right now we don’t have a consistent foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. We have hastily prepared ad hoc “solutions” to specific problems that are implemented without regard to the big picture of geopolitics or long-term costs.

There are, of course, arguments as to why Libya was a special case. It has oil, which increases its geopolitical value. The United States and Libya have a history of military engagement, and Qaddafi is a longtime enemy of the United States Libya’s proximity to Europe also galvanized the usually passive EU to put military options on the table, therefore giving greater support to those who wanted a military intervention. There are also special arguments for Syria. Syria endorses violence towards Israel and shares a border with Iraq. It is also a close ally and enabler of Iran and continues to meddle in Lebanon’s affairs and funnel money and arms to Hezbollah and Hamas.

All of this aside, I think this divide shows a fundamental problem with United States foreign policy. Currently, the United States does not have the resources it once did to launch international adventures. As a consequence, our foreign policy must be based on policies that are sustainable. Clearly, we can’t (and don’t) use Libyan-style air strikes against every dictator that attacks his people. Yet President Obama also wants to make our foreign policy moral. Allowing hundreds of innocent civilians to die in Syria is not ethically excusable at all. A foreign policy must be found that serves the interests of the United States by being smart and sustainable, as well as ethical. Right now, our policy does neither.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Here We Go Again In Misrata Libya

Libyan government forces tighten Misrata noose by euronews-en

Libyan government forces seeking to re-enter the embattled port city of Misrata Friday killed at least nine people and wounded 30 others, a doctor who is a member of the medical committee in the city said.

"There is an indiscriminate shelling now in Misrata," he said.

Four tanks from forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadahfi were shelling the city with rockets and mortars from the southwest, he said.

Rebel forces were engaging government forces at the gate in the Algeran district site, which is on the city outskirts, a Libyan dissident said.

Friday's attack came a day after shelling in Misrata killed 10 people, including two women and a 13-year-old girl, a spokesman for the rebels said.

Gadhafi forces had dismantled rocket launchers so they would escape detection by NATO forces, and then reassembled them in the city for use in attacking civilians, the spokesman said.

We have reports that Gadhafi troops are loading fish boats with weapons in Tripoli and may be coming to Misrata," he said.

Misrata, the third-largest city in the North African country, has been hemmed in on three sides by Gadhafi's forces. Though rebels said they had gained control of the city's center and had pushed government forces outside the city, they said Gadhafi's forces were continuing to attack Misrata with heavy weaponry.

A senior rebel member, Omar al-Jernazi, told CNN that rebels "took complete control" Friday of the Wazin area on the Tunisian-Libyan border after forcing 15 Gadahfi forces to flee to the Tunisian side.

Eight Gadahfi forces and one rebel soldier were wounded in the incident, he said.

After Gadahfi's forces entered, the Tunisian army allowed them to return with their weapons back into Libya via a separate border crossing, the rebel said.

Sporadic clashes were continuing, he said.

Meanwhile, thousands more Libyans fled to Tunisia, stirring further concerns about a humanitarian crisis there, according to Tunisia's state-run news agency TAP, which cited Tunisian security sources. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees set up more tents in the Remada refugee camp, it noted.

NATO is leading an international military operation in Libya that includes airstrikes targeting Gadhafi's military resources. It is operating under a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing any means necessary, with the exception of foreign occupation, to protect civilians.

Where's The Oil?

As I drive home from work these days, the thing I often hear on the radio is gasoline prices have changed, and unfortunately mostly upward. The price for regular gas had risen to nearly $4.00 per gallon from $3.00 in January. I wonder whether I should switch to riding a motorcycle to save more per fill-up, or stop driving altogather and use public transport.

Price Curve

After a relatively stable year in 2010, crude oil prices started to climb above U.S $90 per barrel late last year, following improved global economic growth prospects. Prices have continued to rise, accelerated by events in the Middle East and North Africa.

History reminds us that past oil shocks were all started in the Middle East, ranging from the Arab oil embargo of 1973, the Iranian revolution in 1978-79 and Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Higher oil prices and recessions often are highly correlated.

According to the April outlook from the US Energy Information Administration, Middle East and North African countries supplied about 30 million barrels per day in 2010, or more than one-third of the estimated total worldwide daily supply. Although Libya only produces about 2% of the total and the size of the supply disruption is small compared to past oil supply shocks, fears of political upheaval in other countries in the region, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, have already sent oil prices up almost 30% since early February.

The price of crude oil is expected to remain between $100 and $150 per barrel in 2011 and 2012. But if political and military events worsen, the price could top $150 in 2011 and $200 in 2012. These prices would destroy the fragile pace of the global recovery _ the IMF projects the world economy will grow 4.4% this year, down from 5% in 2010.

Are we entering another oil shock?

It is useful to look at the past episodes.

The first oil shock started in 1973. After Arab countries launched a massive attack on Israel in October 1973 and the US provided support to Israel, the Opec countries retaliated by reducing oil production and announced a total embargo on oil deliveries to the US, which later extended to Western Europe and Japan. This event tripled the price of oil from $4 per barrel to $12 per barrel, creating a wave of stagflation throughout the developed world.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

The second oil shock occurred in the wake of the Iranian Revolution and was sparked by the ousting of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The revolution disrupted oil supplies and the price of oil tripled to $36 a barrel. Almost everyone at the time predicted oil prices would continue to increase. On the contrary, after 1980, oil prices started a long-term decline, and prices fell back to $12.

Recently in 2008, the world oil markets again experienced extreme fluctuation (see graph above). Crude oil prices rose to almost $150 per barrel by the middle of the year, a result of tightening oil market conditions and speculative trading in the market, and later plunged to about $40 per barrel in December.

Oil prices are volatile because it is a commodity whose prices fluctuate depending on supply and demand as well as speculation.

I am not too worried about the persistent upside risks of oil prices. For a start, developed countries are much less vulnerable today compared to past oil shocks as they have significantly decreased the amount of oil used per unit of output. And although emerging economies tend to use more oil per unit of output than developed nations, oil usage has been falling, as industries have become more efficient and the service sector, which uses less energy, has become a larger part of the economy.

Any further increase in oil prices will also lead naturally to a slowdown in the global economy, especially if the political crisis in the Middle East and Africa spreads and disrupts oil supply. Oil rising above $150 per barrel could lead to another global recession, reducing oil demand and pushing down the price of oil.

If geopolitical risks do not worsen, a poor sovereign debt outlook and weak real estate markets in advanced economies will continue to weigh down oil's growth prospects, while emerging economies' overheating asset markets provide further downside risk to world growth. Consumers like myself and others would adjust to higher oil prices by consuming less.

The combination of these factors may not embody the whole truth about future oil prices, but should at least take away fears of the next oil shock.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Islamist Penetration of U.S. Government Investigated

In a letter sent yesterday to congressional leaders, the authors of a groundbreaking report entitled Shariah: The Threat to America called on the legislative branch to do something the executive branch seems determined not to undertake: A rigorous investigation of the extent to which the Muslim Brotherhood’s stealthy “civilization jihad” has gained access to and influence over the United States government, with grave implications for the national security.

The group known as “Team B II” includes experienced defense, intelligence and law enforcement practitioners – notably, former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey; Lieutenant Generals Harry E. Soyster and William G. Boykin, the former Defense Intelligence Agency Director and former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, respectively; former Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet Admiral James A. Lyons; and former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy.

Their letter provides a powerful rejoinder to the public address given by Attorney General Eric Holder. While General Holder insisted that his department, and presumably other government agencies, will continue their “outreach to all communities,” Team B II warned leaders on Capitol Hill:

There is evidence that, thanks to misbegotten official “outreach” efforts to self-appointed “leaders” of the Muslim community, Brotherhood influence operations have been highly successful in penetrating and interfering with our law enforcement, homeland defense, military and intelligence communities’ performance of their vital missions. If that is the case, the implications could not be more serious, and the need for corrective action could not be more acute.

Team B II’s letter cited recent revelations by one of its members, counterterrorism expert Patrick Poole, who published over the past fortnight a series of explosive quotes provided by an unnamed senior Justice Department official in the course of a six-hour interview. Particularly worrying is the allegation that a federal criminal prosecution of Muslim Brotherhood-associated individuals and organizations was “scuttled last year at the direction of top-level political appointees within the Department of Justice – and possibly even the White House.”

At issue is the intended second phase of prosecutions arising from the evidence introduced in the 2008 Holy Land Foundation trial – the largest terrorism funding trial in U.S. history. The first phase resulted in five convictions based substantially on Muslim Brotherhood documents that established the Brotherhood is explicitly engaged in a “civilization jihad” in the United States, a conspiracy to “destroy the Western civilization from within.” These documents also identified 29 prominent Muslim-American groups as “our organizations and organizations of our friends.” The planned second part of the Holy Land Foundation prosecution would have resulted in the indictment of some of those listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the first phase.

In a letter sent to General Holder last week, Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, confirmed the charges made by Mr. Poole’s source:

I have been reliably informed that the decision not to seek indictments of the Council on American Islamic Relations (“CAIR”) and its co-founder Omar Ahmad, the Islamic Society of North America (“ISNA”), and the North American Islamic Trust (“NAIT”), was usurped by high-ranking officials at Department of Justice headquarters over the vehement and stated objections of special agents and supervisors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Dallas, who had investigated and successfully prosecuted the Holy Land Foundation case. Their opposition to this decision raises serious doubt that the decision not to prosecute was a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

On the occasion of the release of the Team B II letter, co-author Frank J. Gaffney Jr., whose Center for Security Policy sponsored Shariah: The Threat to America, remarked:

The Attorney General’s efforts to deflect attention from apparently well-founded charges of official misconduct must not prevent Congress from engaging in an aggressive investigation of those charges and the larger context of Muslim Brotherhood activity in Washington and across America. It was heartening to hear Rep. Pete King declare last Sunday on Fox News that the House Homeland Security Committee and House Judiciary Committee may have to take further action to find out why the Justice Department dropped the terror finance prosecutions. We call on those and other congressional panels – on both sides of Capitol Hill – to take up as well and as a matter of the utmost urgency investigations of the nature and extent of the Brotherhood’s “civilization jihad” against our government, civil society and Constitution.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sunni-Shiite tensions rise in jumpy Persian Gulf


Bahrain's expulsion of a senior Iranian diplomat on charges he was linked to a spy ring smashed in Kuwait has sharply intensified tensions between the Islamic Republic and its Persian Gulf Arab neighbors in the strategic, oil-rich Persian Gulf.

It has also widened the growing and potentially explosive rift between Sunni Muslims and their centuries-old rivals of the Shiite sect at a time when the Middle East is consumed by political crises from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea.

At the same time, this swelling confrontation, largely conducted clandestinely through proxies, has ignited fears that the rivalry between these two gulf titans for domination of the region could erupt into a shooting war in a region that contains around one-quarter of the world's oil.

Bahrain's state media said Tuesday that Hujatullah Rahmani, second secretary at the Iranian Embassy, was declared persona non grata and ordered to leave within 72 hours. Tehran is expected to retaliate by booting out a Bahraini diplomat.

Relations between Manama and Tehran, which has long claimed Bahrain as Iranian territory, plummeted March 14 when Saudi Arabia sent 1,000 troops with tanks into Bahrain to help the 230-year-old al-Khalifa dynasty crush a pro-democracy uprising led by the island kingdom's Shiite majority.

On March 31, Kuwait expelled three Iranian diplomats after authorities uncovered what they said was an Iranian spy ring run by the clandestine arm of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Tehran expelled three Kuwaiti diplomats in retaliation. A Kuwait court had earlier condemned two Iranians and a Kuwait to death for espionage in that case.

Tehran denied that. But the Saudis, along with the other gulf Arab states, saw the Bahrain unrest as part of a covert exercise by Tehran to destabilize Shiite Iran's Sunni rivals amid the political turmoil sweeping the Arab world since January.

Bahrain's monarchy has long been a close Saudi ally. But Riyadh's main concern was that if the Shiites took over Bahrain, Tehran's next target would be Saudi Arabia's Shiite-dominated Eastern province, center of its oil industry, directly across the 16-mile causeway linking the states.

U.S. Navy 5th Fleet Battle Group

Bahrain is a key regional financial center and headquarters of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, a vital component of the U.S. military presence in the region and protector of the Sunni-ruled monarchies along the Persian Gulf's western shore.

Tehran warned Saudi Arabia, with whom it is locking horns in Syria and Lebanon, that it was "playing with fire" and risked being invaded itself if it persisted in throwing its weight around.

The Saudi intervention jolted relations with Washington, already strained as U.S. power in the region unraveled, creating doubts about the value of American protection.

Riyadh sees the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as leaving that country, historically a buffer against Persian expansionism, wide open to Iran's embrace.

That would provide a land bridge for invasion by Iran's vastly superior numbers, a bayonet pointed at Saudi Arabia that until Saddam Hussein was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 had been denied Tehran.

Invasion route from Iran into Sadi Arabia

The Saudis had been appalled, and frightened, at the way U.S. President Barack Obama had abandoned longtime U.S. ally President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to the mobs that forced him from power Feb. 11.

Since Iran making good on its thinly veiled threats to Saudi Arabia over Bahrain "is unlikely to happen anytime soon (given that the United States would not stand by and allow Iran to attack Saudi Arabia), this can be argued as being yet another hollow threat," the U.S.-based Stratfor think tank observed.

"A more nuanced examination of the situation, however, suggests that Tehran is not just simply engaging in bellicose rhetoric.

"Instead, Iran is trying to exploit Saudi fears. The Wahhabi kingdom fears instability (especially now when it is in the middle of a power transition at home and the region has been engulfed by popular turmoil).

"The clerical regime in Iran sees regional instability as a tool to advance its position in the Persian Gulf region," Stratfor noted.

"The Saudis are also not exactly comfortable with the idea of overt military alignment with the United States. The last time the Saudis entered into such a relationship with the Americans was during the 1991 Gulf War and it led to the rise of al-Qaida."

Saleh of Yemen Slow to Resign, Death Toll Mounts

Protest continued today in Yemen

Yemen's veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he supports "peaceful" and "constitutional" change as nine more people were killed Wednesday with no let up in protests demanding his ouster.

Four members of the security forces and a protester were killed in violence across the country's restive south, officials and medical sources said as anti-Saleh demonstrators vowed they will not stop their agitation.

"We are not against change as long as it is done by democratic and peaceful means, within the constitution, and with respect to the people's will," Saleh said Wednesday in a statement carried by the state news agency, Saba.

Saleh also accused his opponents of attempting a "coup against democracy and the constitution."

The embattled leader's comments came after the president and opposition agreed yesterday to sign a landmark deal in coming days for an orderly transition and end three months of unrest that has killed more than 135 people.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is brokering the transition deal, said their foreign ministers would meet in Riyadh on Sunday to work out the modalities of their plan for Yemen.

"Riyadh will host on Sunday an extraordinary meeting for the Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers to continue the procedures for the adoption of the GCC initiative," the Gulf Arab grouping said in a statement.

The six-nation GCC had proposed the formation of a government of national unity in Yemen, Saleh transferring power to his vice president, and an end to deadly protests rocking the impoverished country.

But the protesters rejected "any initiative from any party," in a statement late Tuesday.

"We are not concerned with any side that accepts the GCC initiative. We affirm to the world that we will continue to escalate our peaceful street protests until the regime falls and the aims of the revolt are achieved," the statement said.

Under the GCC initiative, the president would submit his resignation to parliament within 30 days, with a presidential election being held within two months.

However, a defiant Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years, has publicly insisted on sticking to the constitution in any transfer of power, even though the his General People's Congress party has said it accepts the GCC plan.

In the main southern city of Aden, two policemen and a protester were killed in a gunfight Wednesday, a security official and medics told AFP.

Medics said three protesters were also wounded in the fighting.

Separately in another southern province, Abyan, Al-Qaeda gunmen killed two soldiers and wounded three others on Wednesday, a security official told AFP.

Another security official said the network's militants have also seized two government buildings -- intelligence and a criminal investigations headquarters -- on Tuesday.

Abyan is considered a stronghold of Osama bin Laden's local jihadist network, AQAP.

Last month, at least 150 people were killed in a massive blast and fire at an ammunition plant looted by Al-Qaeda in Abyan.

Washington has expressed fears that Al-Qaeda could take advantage of a prolonged political crisis in Yemen.

The 69-year-old president has been a close US ally in Washington's fight against Al-Qaeda.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I'm calling it, Syria is lost

Syrian President Bashar Assad

When pro-democracy protesters began rallying a few weeks ago, Syrian President Bashar Assad set out to change their tune. He has succeeded, though not quite as I have hoped.

At the beginning, demonstrators wanted the longtime dictator to embrace political reform, and he made some gestures in that direction, such as lifting a 48-year-old state of emergency law. Now, they don't want him to embrace reform; they want him to leave.

The change of heart has come in response to the government's violent suppression of dissent, which has reportedly claimed more than 400 lives. Last Friday and Saturday, security forces opened fire on protesters in several cities, killing more than 100 people. Others have been arrested and tortured.

Outraged dissidents destroyed pictures of the president and smashed statues of his father, Hafez Assad, whose death in 2000 brought Bashar to power. Others chanted, "The people want the fall of the regime."

The regime has raised the stakes — and the risks to its survival. By killing so many, it has assured a procession of funerals that will be used as new occasions to dramatize the need for drastic political change. There have been news reports that some military units have refused to fire on demonstrators. Two members of parliament and a government-appointed Muslim cleric have resigned their posts in protest of the crackdown.

Assad's brutality has also spurred other nations to mobilize against him. The Obama administration indicated it may impose economic sanctions on Syria, and European countries will most likely follow suit. Leaders of France, Italy and Great Britain condemned the violence on Tuesday.

Assad is unlikely to flinch at diplomatic finger-wagging. He knows the West has its hands full enforcing a no-fly zone in the stalemated civil war in Libya. Syria already has plenty of experience with surviving economic sanctions. Its fate rests in the hands of its own persistent people.

Until now, the United States and its allies had tried to coax Assad to implement reform, hoping to avert violent upheaval in a strategically located country. But Assad has made such indulgence untenable.

After Bashar took over, he held out the hope of liberalization, but his modest reforms didn't last. When democratic hopes rolled over the Arab world this year, he couldn't bring himself to swim with the tide. His decision last week to lift the state of emergency, it appears, was merely an excuse to demand that opponents stop demonstrating, or else.

But his crackdown may do the regime more harm than good. As other governments in the region have found, brutality often does not stop demands for change. On the contrary, it expands their appeal, and gives proponents new motivation.

The turmoil evokes concern in neighboring countries, particularly Israel and Turkey, which fear Syria could descend into sectarian violence or fall to a radical Islamic revolution. Those worries can't be dismissed, if only because so much is unknown about the country. But nationalist feeling may be strong enough to prevent factional fighting, and there are few signs that Syrians yearn for fundamentalist rule.

The world has moved sharply toward democracy in recent decades, and the Arab world has begun to join the parade. It's up to Assad to decide if he wants to try to get in front or risk being trampled.

Saleh resignation deal will be signed on Wednesday

Protestors in yemen cellebrate resignation deal

See ya' around Bro

Yemen's government and opposition will sign on Wednesday a deal under which President Ali Abdullah Saleh would step down 30 days later.

Mr. Saleh's General People's Congress party and the opposition coalition, the Common Front, have both agreed to take part in a national unity government.

But correspondents say many people are angry the president will get immunity.

Earlier, a protester was killed when security forces opened fire in the southern city of Taiz, witnesses said.

A sniper on a rooftop shot a crowd of youths who had been demanding Mr. Saleh resign immediately, they added. Several others were wounded.

Troops also opened fire on protesters in the town of Beit al-Faqih, in the Red Sea province of al-Hudaida, residents told Reuters news agency.

More than 130 people have been killed by security forces and supporters of Mr. Saleh since the anti-government unrest began in January.

Yemen Vice President Abid Rabu Mansiur Hadi
 Opposition split

On Saturday, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) brokered a deal under which President Saleh would submit his resignation to parliament, and hand over power to his vice-president, 30 days after asking the opposition to name a prime minister to form a national unity government.

Mr. Saleh's agreement to step down would also be dependent on parliament passing legislation providing immunity from prosecution for the president, his family "and those who worked with him during his rule".

The General People's Congress immediately accepted the GCC proposal, while the Common Front agreed on Sunday only after its leaders had received "assurances" from the GCC, the US and Europe on the transfer of power.
Sultan al-Barakani

On Monday, the deputy secretary general of the GPC, Sultan al-Barakani, told AFP news agency: "We have received an invitation from Saudi Arabia to sign on Wednesday in Riyadh an agreement on the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative."

Mohammed Salem Basindwa, who led the Common Front's delegation to the talks hosted by the GCC, confirmed to the Associated Press that the agreement would be signed "within the next 24 hours".

The deal caused a serious split between the opposition coalition and the youths who have led the demonstrations across the country for months. They accuse the politicians breaking a promise to put Mr. Saleh on trial.

Some have also warned that allowing the president to stay on for another month could exacerbate the crisis in the Arab World's poorest state.

Monday, April 25, 2011

First come, first served for Libyan oil

International energy companies backing Libyan rebels will come out ahead in a post-Gadahfi environment, a Libyan energy adviser said.

The conflict in Libya, one of Africa's top oil producers, helped push oil prices to two-year highs. Libyan oil is trickling out of rebel ports, though the Libyan government said much of the production is shut by the war.

Libyan oil plays a dominant role in southern European markets. Italian company Eni said it was working with the rebels shortly after Rome recognized a transitional council as the legitimate leadership.

Youssef Rahim Sharif, an adviser to rebel-held Agoco oil company, was quoted by Voice of America as saying the rebel leadership will handle the energy sector after Gadahfi's regime has collapsed.

"We have all the technical staff -- all Libyans who will be able to run the oil industry and run it (well)," he said.

A post-Gadahfi Libya, he added, would work primarily with the international companies that supported the Libyan revolution.

"And these will be the ones who will be given the first benefits to be our partners in rebuilding Libya in the best way," he said.

Energy Experts Demand That Press Blame Obama For Gas Prices.

With gasoline prices nearly $1/gallon higher than they were a year ago, some media outlets -- echoing Republican politicians -- have sought to place the blame on the Obama administration's energy policies, pointing to the temporary ban on deep-water drilling (but not production) imposed for several months following the BP oil spill. It's an easy enough claim to make: Obama restricted oil drilling, and now prices are higher. The only problem is that no credible economists -- including those who favor expanded U.S. drilling -- will say this claim is valid.

But the Media Research Center is so certain of Obama's culpability that its Business and Media Institute produced a study criticizing network news outlets for failing to blame Obama's drilling policies while reporting on high gas prices. 

Brent Bozell

MRC president Brent Bozell appeared on Fox News to promote the study, saying that "drilling is down 13 percent in the last year. That is a huge, huge contributor to the problem that we have now of rising gas prices." He said "huge" twice, which is almost like providing support for his claim.

According to its website, the MRC's Business and Media Institute exists to give journalists "a helping hand to have an informed understanding of our nation's free enterprise system."

So how's that going?

The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. offshore oil production is expected to be 13 percent lower this year, in part due to the Gulf drilling moratorium. But just 32 percent of American oil comes from offshore sources, and total U.S. production of crude oil and liquid fuels in 2011 is expected to stay near 2010 levels, which were higher than any other year in the past decade. According to the Financial Times, private forecasters think total U.S. production will actually rise this year due to increases in onshore output.

More to the point, energy experts say that given the scale of the world oil market, any decrease in U.S. oil production resulting from the deep-water moratorium cannot be blamed for the high oil and gasoline prices that we're seeing.

For instance: It's Not Credible To Blame The Obama Administration's Drilling Policies For Today's High Prices." Michael Canes, a distinguished fellow at the Logistics Management Institute and former chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute, disagrees with Obama's drilling policies. Still, he said: "It's not credible to blame the Obama Administration's drilling policies for today's high prices because of the relative scales involved." He further stated that "world oil prices are determined in a market of around 85 million barrels per day of production and consumption, while the consequences of domestic drilling, particularly in the Gulf, likely would be more in the range of several hundred thousand to one million barrels per day, and most of that production would not occur for a number of years."
Severin Borenstein

 Moratorium Has had "A Miniscule Impact On The Price Of Oil." Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California Energy Institute and business professor at the Haas School of Business, said that "the economic value lost from reduced production is real, especially when the price is so high," adding, "BUT these numbers are very small relative to the world oil market and have a miniscule impact on the price of oil. The best estimates are generally that even a very short run output decline of 1% raises world oil prices by about 5%. Even that is probably overstated given the slack capacity that other producers have. So, the changes we're talking about here, probably are raising oil prices no more than 1%-2%, which is 2-5 cents at the pump."

Fadel Gheit

 "It Doesn't Even Move The Needle." Fadel Gheit, energy analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. told that "[o]only the na├»ve will think that" the deep-water moratorium "will have a direct impact." He added: "It doesn't even move the needle. Is 100,000 barrels (a day) going to make a difference? It's not. A cent or two per gallon? It might. But there are much bigger factors."

"The Loss Of A Small Amount Of Domestic Production Has Had A Minimal Effect On Gasoline Prices." Chris Lafakis, economist at Moody's Analytics, said: "If we take the EIA and Makenzie at their word, the effect of this lost production has been an increase in gasoline prices of anywhere from 3 to 5 cents per gallon." He added: "Given that gasoline prices have jumped by 68 cents per gallon just since late February (which is largely the result of turmoil in Libya), it is safe to say that the loss of a small amount of domestic production has had a minimal effect on gasoline prices compared to other factors such as the loss of oil and natural gas liquid production in the Middle East and North Africa, the depreciation of the U.S. dollar and the expansion of the oil supply uncertainty premium. You can call this last factor the rise in oil prices related to non-fundamental factors (fear of further unrest, speculation, financial demand)."

 "Americans Tend To Exaggerate The Price Effects Of Fluctuations In Domestic Production." Joseph Dukert, independent energy analyst and former president of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics, said in an email: "The dip in offshore production brought about by the partial moratorium will more likely be felt 8 to 10 years down the road because of the interruption to exploratory efforts as a result of uncertainty. Overall, though, Americans tend to exaggerate the price effects of fluctuations in domestic production in relation to the total amount of oil in global trade. On the larger stage, the perception of geopolitical risks is more important." Dukert added, "Over the next few years, decreases in demand for gasoline (whatever the reason for this possible factor) could also have greater impact -- a favorable one for consumers in that this would restrain pump-price increases."

It's A "Total Stretch" To Blame The Moratorium For Spike In Gasoline Prices. John Kingston, director of news at energy information firm Platts, stressed that all oil produced in the U.S. "goes into the great big world supply" where "nobody could hide" from events around the world that affect the price of gasoline. He said that while the U.S. can and should work to increase the global supply of oil, it's a "total stretch" to say that the deep-water moratorium has had a significant impact on gasoline prices. 

"Gasoline Prices At The Pump Would Be Higher Either Way." Lou Crandall, chief economist of Wrightson ICAP LLC, said: "Higher oil prices today are a global phenomenon, and the additional supply from increased drilling by the U.S. would not alter the global balance of supply and demand greatly. Gasoline prices at the pump would be higher either way. The only difference is that a somewhat larger share of the revenue would accrue to domestic interests (governmental and private) rather than to foreign suppliers."

 So there you have it: a purported media watchdog organization calling for news outlets to report a false talking point as fact.

How Will the U.S. Get Out of Libya?

Call it the Goldilocks military plan: Not too much, not too little, not too unilateral, not too American. The operation against Muammar Gadahfi's regime in Libya mirrors the moderate temperament of its architect, Barack Obama. But will it work in the rough realities of international politics? That's the question that will be tested in the weeks ahead as high-tech images of cruise missiles and predator drones hitting their targets give way to a mess on the ground in Libya.

President Obama has launched an operation that has two distinct qualities, one highly unusual and the other familiar. At its broadest, Obama's diplomacy has tried to redefine the exercise of American power. It is an effort at a distinctive form of multilateralism, deeper than anything any President has tried before. At the same time, Obama is proposing a limited military intervention for a problem in which U.S. interests are limited. That's something Presidents in the past have promised but mostly been unable to deliver as events on the ground forced them to escalate for fear of being humiliated. However wise his multilateral instincts, it is how Obama handles this latter problem that will determine the mission's success — and duration.

So far, Obama seems to have pleased almost no one. For those who had been urging military action from the start, Obama dithered and remains too cautious. For those wary of another open-ended U.S. commitment in the Muslim world, Obama suddenly turned from restraint and became reckless.

But more than anything else, what appears to have infuriated many American politicians is Obama's unwillingness to put the U.S. in the driver's seat. "We have a Spectator in Chief instead of a Commander in Chief," fumed Newt Gingrich. Senator Lindsey Graham criticized Obama for acting as if "leading the free world is an inconvenience." And Rick Santorum levied the ultimate insult, noting that the French — the French! — had been leading the charge.

They are right, in part: Obama does not want to be seen as the ringmaster. The diplomacy of the past few weeks has broken a tradition born in the Cold War. For decades, U.S. Presidents unilaterally identified crises, articulated responses, determined actions and then persuaded, bribed and threatened countries to join in the "collective action." The U.S. ran the show with little interference from others but paid all the prices and bore all the burdens. Countries that would benefit from a military intervention rarely stood up to request it. They didn't need to. America would act, and they could free-ride.

Take a recent example. In the spring of 2003, George W. Bush refused both to give international inspectors more time to do their work in Iraq and to try to get a fresh U.N. resolution through, each of which he saw as an obstacle to attacking Iraq as quickly as possible. The result was a war that was tainted from the start, without a single Muslim ally and with few major countries invested in success. When things started going badly, criticism mounted; the U.S. was left in virtual isolation and, as Iraqi casualties piled up, was painted as the enemy of Arabs around the world.

America has always done better in the role of the reluctant imperialist. The simple fact is that the world does not like its leading military power to be overly eager to intervene in foreign lands. In fact, until the Cold War, the U.S. had a very different image from European great powers precisely because it had few expansionist impulses. America entered World War I after three years of bloody fighting just in time to tip the balance. It entered World War II only after Japan attacked it and Hitler declared war. The U.S. had the capacity to be an imperial power but chose not to be one. Yet during the Cold War, Washington developed the habit of intervening early and often in far-flung places, worried about communist takeovers. As a result, America was seen in much of the Third World in the same light as the European colonial powers, forfeiting a crucial moral and political advantage.

In the Libyan crisis, the Obama Administration made clear from the start that it was not enthusiastic about military action and would support it only if it were requested by the Libyan opposition and the Arab League — and with Europe doing much of the heavy lifting. This led to a remarkable turn of events in which on March 12 the Arab League officially requested that the U.N. impose a no-fly zone over Libya. This shift has not gotten the attention it deserves. In the 66 years since its founding, the Arab League has served as a shield for dictators and rarely produced anything but windy rhetoric about Arab solidarity and Palestine. The idea that it would act against one of its members — and because of human-rights violations! — was unimaginable one month ago. Five days later, the U.N. Security Council passed resolutions authorizing action against Gaddafi's forces. France and Britain were positively itching for military action.

Friday, April 22, 2011

49 killed in deadliest day of Syria uprising

Bashar Assad'
 Syrian security forces fired bullets and tear gas Friday on pro-democracy demonstrations across the country, killing at least 49 people — including a young boy — in the bloodiest day of the uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime, witnesses and a human rights group said.

The protests, held every Friday, have become weekly bloodbaths as security forces try to crush the demonstrations. But the mounting death tolls have only served to invigorate a protest movement whose demands have snowballed from modest reforms to the downfall of the 40-year Assad dynasty.

More than 250 people have been killed over five weeks, human rights groups say.

"Bullets started flying over our heads like heavy rain," said one witness in Izraa, a southern village in Daraa province, and the same region where the uprising kicked off in mid-March.
Ammar Qurabi

Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria's National Organization for Human Rights, said the death toll had reached 49 and at least 20 people were missing.

The protest movement has been the gravest challenge against the autocratic regime led by Assad, who inherited power from his father 11 years ago in one of the most rigidly controlled countries in the Middle East.

The uprising in Syria takes its inspiration from the popular revolts sweeping the Arab world. But there are significant differences in Syria that make the protest movement there all the more unpredictable.

The country's military structure is a key difference — unlike the armies of Tunisia and Egypt, Syria's military and security apparatus will almost certainly stand by Assad, at least for the time being.

That means there could be darker days ahead as the uprising gains momentum, something that has implications far beyond Syria's borders. Damascus stands in the middle of the most combustible conflicts in region because of its web of allegiances, from Lebanon's Hezbollah and Shiite powerhouse Iran.

Protest in Damascus

On Friday, tens of thousands of people were protesting in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the central cities of Hama and Homs, Latakia and Banias on the coast, the northern cities of Raqqa and Idlib, the northeastern Kurdish region, and the southern province of Daraa.

As the protesters dispersed, the scope of the bloodshed began to emerge.

A video posted on the protest movement's main Facebook page showed a man carrying a bloodied boy near a building as another child could be heard weeping and shouting "My brother!"

Hospitals received scores of dead and gravely wounded.

Friday's witness accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria has expelled journalists and restricted access to trouble spots. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Assad has been trying to defuse the protests by launching a bloody crackdown along with a series of concessions, most recently lifting emergency laws that gave authorities almost boundless powers of surveillance and arrest.

He also has fulfilled a decades-old demand by granting citizenship to thousands among Syria's long-ostracized Kurdish minority, fired local officials, released detainees and formed a new government.

But many protesters said the concessions have come too late — and that Assad does not deserve the credit.

"The state of emergency was brought down, not lifted," prominent Syrian activist Suhair Atassi, who was arrested several times in the past, wrote on her Twitter page. "It is a victory as a result of demonstrations, protests and the blood of martyrs who called for Syria's freedom."

Thanks N.A.T.O: Rebels Re-claim Misurata

Armed Predator drone

Today Libyan rebels claimed that they have recaptured the center of the besieged western city of Misurata, partly thanks to surge in NATO airstrikes, and said they hoped deployment of U.S. armed Predator drones could help them drive Moammar Gaddafi’s forces out of the city completely.

John McCain

 Further east, in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the strongest congressional proponents of U.S. military intervention in Libya, made an unannounced visit to assess the situation for himself and called the rebels his heroes.

Rebels were buoyed by signs of progress in their military struggle against Gadahfi, seizing control of a border crossing with Tunisia near the country’s western mountains and, they said, reclaiming the center of Misurata.

Adm. Mike Mullen

 Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said coalition airstrikes have degraded Gadahfi’s ground forces by 30 to 40 percent but that the conflict nevertheless was “certainly moving towards a stalemate.”

In Misurata, though, the mood has lifted after weeks of increasingly desperate calls for more international help. Gadahfi’s forces seemed to be in disarray in Misurata, said Mohamed, a spokesman for the city council, who asked that his full name be withheld for safety reasons.

Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city 131 miles east of Tripoli, has resisted a Gadahfi counteroffensive for more than a month, becoming the last remaining rebel stronghold on Libya’s western Mediterranean coast.

“There is a general pattern of collapse everywhere,” Mohamed said, “According to our fighters, they [Gadahfi’s troops] seem to be acting like headless chickens, because their command and control has been disrupted by NATO.”
Libyan Resistance Fighters

Mohamed said rebels on Thursday cleared the last three buildings in central Misurata where government snipers had been operating, and he said the city was now “sniper free.”

The rebel account could not be independently verified, and Gadahfi’s government says it still controls 80 percent of the city. However, videos released by the rebels in Misurata showed their flags flying over pockmarked and charred high-rise buildings in the city, with fighters walking through streets strewn with glass and rubble, waving their hands in the air triumphantly and shouting Allahu Akbar (God is greatest).

Mohamed said the rebels had killed around 100 government soldiers in Misurata on Tuesday and scores since then. The rebels now control all of the city center and its main Tripoli Street, apart from a group of Gadahfi’s troops holding out in the main hospital who were surrounded and being asked to surrender, he said.

“I walked all the way down Tripoli Street myself this morning, all the way to the hospital,” he said. Mohamed and doctors in the city had expressed growing frustration with NATO in past week, but on Friday he said that if not for the alliance, Misurata would have been overrun a long time ago.

Libyan Rebel Flag Flies In Misurata

Mohamed said the rebels have secured the roads leading east and west of the city to prevent Gadahfi from sending in reinforcements but have not yet secured the road leading south to Bani Waled.

Residents in Misurata complain of water shortages and a lack of goods ranging from baby food to vegetables. They say electricity in the city has been cut off, forcing them to rely on generators. Thousands of stranded foreign migrant workers are awaiting evacuation in the port area.

There has also been intense fighting in the country’s remote western mountains in the past week, and rebels seized control of the border crossing to Tunisia nearest the area on Thursday. The government claimed that its military regained control of the border post later in the day, but witnesses said this was untrue, with the rebel flag still flying over the post on Friday.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

NATO's strategic incoherence is costing Libyan their lives

Libyan Rebels Protest N.A.T.O

Britain, France, and Italy took a step deeper into the Libyan civil war this week by announcing that they will send military advisers to aid the beleaguered rebels. The decision grabbed headlines, but it won’t do much to change the course of the fighting. 
British Foreign Secretary William Hague

British Foreign Secretary William Hague justified the decision to send military trainers by saying: “As the scale of the humanitarian crisis has grown, so has urgency of increasing our efforts to defend civilians against attack from Gadahfi forces.”

Washington has applauded its allies’ decision, but it is not following suit. The Obama administration is only offering the rebels $25 million in body armor, tents, uniforms, and other nonlethal equipment.

The British, French, and Italian decisions are a tacit admission that the prospects for ousting Muammar Gadahfi have dimmed. The rebels have failed in their effort to retake key Libyan towns. Meanwhile, the situation in Misurata, Libya’s third largest city, has grown increasingly grim as pro-Gadahfi forces continue to attack rebel positions.

But deciding to do something is not the same thing as deciding to do enough. The British, French, and Italians are offering far less than the breathless news headlines suggest. The number of advisers headed to Benghazi is small—a maximum of twenty British advisers and perhaps ten or so French and Italian advisers. These trainers will operate under strict limitations on what they can do.

Even if NATO flooded Libya with military trainers the military balance on the ground would not change any time soon. Crack fighting forces aren’t built over night. Just look at how long the United States has been at it trying to build the Afghan and Iraqi armies.

Advisers and assistance probably won’t make a difference in the long run either. Pro-Gadahfi forces are relatively well-armed and trained. They also have good reason to continue fighting: the reasonable fear that they will lose their privileges if not their lives if the rebels prevail.

So the most likely outcome is that the fighting in Libya will drag on for months.

Will the rising civilian death toll eventually spur NATO to send ground troops into Libya? Probably not. Libya is not Vietnam, where the introduction of a few military advisers in the late 1950s eventually grew into a commitment of half-a-million troops by the mid-1960s. Although Vice President Joe Biden insists that “the traffic [at home] can bear politically more in Libya,” the polls suggest otherwise. Neither Americans nor Europeans are eager to send their fellow citizens to fight, and possibly die, in Libya.

This highlights the fundamental strategic flaw in NATO’s military operations. Washington, Paris, and London decided that Gadahfi must go, but they are unwilling to pay the cost to make that happen. Libyan civilians, precisely the people the NATO mission is supposed to protect, are paying the price for this strategic incoherence.

Surprize: U.S. Congress to allocate $205 million for Iron Dome rocket interception system

The few days' lull in the south was broken on Friday by a Grad rocket fired from Gaza toward Israel on Friday. The rocket exploded in an open ground in Ashdod, causing no casualties or damage. Earlier reports of another rocket fired proved unfounded.

The Israel Defense Forces responded with an attack on two Hamas outposts, one in Gaza City and another in the Shanty refugee camp. Despite the rocket, IDF sources told Haaretz they believe relative quiet will be maintained in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the Israel Navy fired on a fishing boat that entered the no-sailing zone in the Gaza waters. The IDF believes Hamas and other organizations are using fishing boats to test the vigilance of patrolling navy ships and the reactions of the IDF.

Although the IDF regards Hamas as responsible for any rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, the army believes Friday's rocket was launched by one of the Islamist organizations in the Strip. The army hopes the attack over the weekend will restore a balance of deterrence, and does not believe Hamas will try to escalate the confrontation in the next few weeks. Other organizations may try to do it independently, the army warned.

Benjamin Netanyahu

On Friday, the U.S. Congress allocated $205 million to continue developing and producing the Iron Dome rocket interception system. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the move, saying the money will help protect Israeli civilians from Gaza rockets. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the step significantly strengthens Israel's defensive capability against rocket attacks, and he reaffirmed the depth of American support for Israel's security.

The preceding weekend 120 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza, keeping tens of thousands of Israelis in communities near Gaza in bomb shelters. The barrage came soon after militants fired an anti-tank missile at a school bus operated by the Shaar Hanegev regional council, leaving one boy critically injured. The IDF attacked tens of targets in the Strip, killing 19 Palestinians and injuring more than 50. The Iron Dome system so far has intercepted eight rockets fired toward Ashdod and Ashkelon.