Energy Policy

1 2 3 13

Taking Kaplan’s Defense of Empire on Its Face

Robert Kaplan wrote a predictably horrible defense of empire that a number of people are giving the appropriate disdainful treatment.

Against my better judgement, I’d like to take a different approach and treat it as a useful piece (though not one I agree with or find palatable at all).

I think its useful, in part, against the background of the NSA disclosures. Key players in NSA discussions — people who travel some of the same circles as Kaplan, even — premise their treatment of the disclosures from an exclusively national perspective, completely ignoring that the NSA (and its GCHQ poodle) is different precisely because it depends on and serves as a key instrument of authority in an empire (or global hegemon, if the term empire gives you the willies). Approaching and assessing NSA’s behavior solely from a national perspective not only represses the obvious reasons why NSA’s dragnet of other countries’ citizens matters, but it also fails to assess our actions in the proper light, even from the standpoint of efficacy. NSA’s tasking choices reflect not our national interest, but rather the needs of the empire, which is why a relatively minor country like Venezuela gets prioritized along with Russia and China. That’s why we made Huawei such a high priority target: because it presents a unique threat to the functioning of our empire.

I would like to get to the point where we can discuss the NSA disclosures not just in terms of what they mean for Americans’ civil liberties as well of those who may not enjoy Fourth Amendment protection but nevertheless are citizens in a US order, but also whether the prioritization of complete dragnet and offensive spying and hacking serves the interests to which they’ve been put, that of the American global hegemon.

And here’s where I think Kaplan, in spite of his racism and paternalism and selective history, serves a useful role at this point in time. He claims, cherry picking from history, that only empires can provide order.

Throughout history, governance and relative safety have most often been provided by empires, Western or Eastern. Anarchy reigned in the interregnums.

And then he asks whether or not America can afford to sustain its own empire.

Nevertheless, the critique that imperialism constitutes bad American foreign policy has serious merit: the real problem with imperialism is not that it is evil, but rather that it is too expensive and therefore a problematic grand strategy for a country like the United States. Many an empire has collapsed because of the burden of conquest. It is one thing to acknowledge the positive attributes of Rome or Hapsburg Austria; it is quite another to justify every military intervention that is considered by elites in Washington.

Thus, the debate Americans should be having is the following: Is an imperial-like foreign policy sustainable?

[snip]

Once that caution is acknowledged, the debate gets really interesting. To repeat, the critique of imperialism as expensive and unsustainable is not easily dismissed.

Perhaps predictably Kaplan dodges his own question, never seriously answering it. Instead of answering the question that he admits might have answers he doesn’t much like, he instead spends a bunch of paragraphs, in all seriousness, arguing that Obama is pursuing a post-Imperial presidency.

Rather than Obama’s post-imperialism, in which the secretary of state appears like a lonely and wayward operator encumbered by an apathetic White House, I maintain that a tempered imperialism is now preferable.

No other power or constellation of powers is able to provide even a fraction of the global order provided by the United States.

And by dodging his own question by launching a partisan attack, Kaplan avoids a number of other questions. Not just whether the American empire is sustainable, but whether there’s something about the means of American empire that has proven ineffective (which is really a different way of asking the same question). Why did Iraq end up being such catastrophe? Why did we lose the Arab Spring, in all senses of the word? Why, even at a time when the US still acts as global hegemon, is instability rising?

There are some underlying reasons, like climate change, that the imperialists would like to distinguish from our oil-based power and the dollar exchange it rests on.

But even more, I think, the imperialists would like to ignore how neoliberalism has gutted the former source of our strength, our manufacturing, has led us to increased reliance on Intellectual Property, and has not offered the people in our realm of influence the stability Kaplan claims empire brings. People can’t eat, they can’t educate their children, they can’t retire because of the policies Kaplan and his buddies have pushed around the world. And the US solution to this is more trade pacts that just further instantiate IP as a core value, regardless of how little it serves those people who can’t eat.

The NSA is intimately a part of this, of course. The reason I find it so hysterical that NSA’s one defense against China is effectively the IP one — the NSA doesn’t steal IP and give it to “private” companies to use. But that’s just another way of saying that the empire we’ve rolled out has failed to protect even the increasingly ineffective core basis of our power, its IP.

I’ve said this before, but what is happening, increasingly, is that the US has to coerce power rather than win it through persuasion — persuasion that used to be (at least for our European allies) increased quality of life. It’s a lot more expensive to coerce power, both in terms of the military adventures or repression you must engage in, but also in terms of the dragnet you must throw across the world rather than the enhanced communication of an open Internet. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration, for all of Kaplan’s claimed post-Imperialism, seems to be doubling down on more coercive (or, in the case of trade agreements, counterproductive) means of retaining power.

And so Kaplan, who’s so sure that empire is a great thing, might be better considering not empire in the abstract (indeed, abstracted to the point of suppressing the many downsides of empire), but the empire we’ve got. He seems to implicitly admit he can’t rebut the claim that our empire is no longer sustainable, but since he can’t he changes the subject. Why is our empire unsustainable, Robert Kaplan? And for those who believe the US offers a good — or even a least-bad — order for the globe, what do you intend to do to return it to sustainability?

Dragnets and austerity aren’t going to do it, that’s for sure.

Update: Thanks to Wapiti for alerting me to my huge error of substituting Kagan (generic neocon name) for Kaplan’s actual last name. Sorry for the confusion.

The Navy SEALs Bring You Izahgneb! Saving Libya’s Crude for Marathon Oil!

I discovered NSC spokesperosn Caitlin Hayden has a (little used) twitter feed today when she tweeted this article.

The article not only explains why Navy SEALs were ordered to take over a ship absconding with Libyan oil.

Oil is Libya’s lifeblood. The economy entirely depends on it; turn off the taps and everything grinds to a halt. Libyans quite rightly regard the oil as their common property, a national resource to be shared for the good of all. The vast majority of Libyans hold jobs that are financed, directly or indirectly, by the sale of oil.

Given this history, it makes perfect sense that the control of oil should rest with the central government. Take that away, and the government doesn’t just lose control over its most important source of finance — the very notion of central authority will also be compromised, perhaps fatally. And in present-day Libya, the fate of democracy is closely linked with the viability of government itself.

This is why both Libya’s government and the international community have viewed the federalists’ threats to sell off the oil under their control as a dangerous challenge to the stability of the government in Tripoli. Last week, Jathran’s forces finally made good on that threat: they used one of the oil terminals under their control to fill up a North Korean-flagged tanker called the Morning Glory.

[snip]

Had the story ended there, the result would have been an unmitigated disaster for the government. Tripoli’s impotence and dysfunction would have graphically exposed for all the world to see. The floodgates for the wholesale looting of Libya’s oil resources would have opened. The forces of anarchy would have cheered. (It’s worth noting that a prime minister has already lost his job for even allowing the tanker to load in the first place.) But that’s when Washington stepped in.

Not long after the tanker arrived in international waters, a U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser, the USS Roosevelt (pictured above), brought the SEALs into range. (By the way, Obama authorized the move at 10 PM on Sunday night Washington time, as the world was preparing for the Crimean referendum.) They boarded the tanker without a shot fired and took it over.

But it bitches that no one recognized the successful operation as a “master stroke.”

President Obama pulled off a master stroke this week. He deployed U.S. military force in support of an infant democracy that desperately needs our help. The result was a resounding success, a vivid illustration of how the United States can put its unchallenged power to positive ends.

[snip]

The reaction in Washington: a giant yawn. Deafening silence from Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are always quick to demand U.S. military action in situations where it will usually make things worse. Fox News barely noticed. Nor was there a word of praise from the president’s liberal allies on Capitol Hill. Even the New York Times ran a perfunctory report.

Now, frankly, I did notice. I shared the puzzlement I saw a few others express as to the legal basis for our SEALs policing stolen property. I was also rather curious about the legal status of the operation, which presumably relied on secrecy and also clearly (given the detention in Cyprus of suspected intended buyers) involved close cooperation with the intelligence community. (The Washington Times called it a “covert operation,” though they may not have been using the term in its technical sense.) And then shortly after, our government started crowing about its involvement, including this DOD statement noting that “The boarding operation [was] approved by President Obama.” And now, with this rare tweet from Hayden, official approval of this article that is thick with propaganda.

Behold the anti-Benghazi, ladies and gentlemen, a successful operation in which our brave Navy SEALs return stolen property to poor Libya, saving the unity of the country and a fledgling democracy.

Mind you, as I was looking for that DOD statement, I noted a slight change in the description of the operation.

A March 11 statement from Libya’s National Oil Company stated, “the crude oil loaded upon the vessel “Morning Glory”, which is now at Essider Terminal in Libya, is the property of NOC and its Partners.” A March 9 State Department statement said, “The oil belongs to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners. These partners include U.S. companies in the Waha consortium.”

That March 17 statement, however, described, “The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company.” And a March 19 one not only added, “U.S. forces took control of the tanker in international waters at the request of the governments of Libya and Cyprus,” but repeated that “The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company.” Those partners — which both NOC and State were happy to reference before the SEALs valiantly rescued the crude — seem to have disappeared from the Administration’s messaging.

ConocoPhillips owns a 16.3% stake in the Waha Concession, and an even bigger stake in some less productive ventures. Marathon Oil also owns a 16.3% stake (and Hess a 8.2% stake).

So while Caitlin Hayden would like you to believe this was a heroic op that saved the Libyan democracy from disintegration — I’m sure the SEALs acquitted themselves against 3 armed Libyans quite courageously and it may well help the Libyan state — it also happens to be an operation that served to rescue around $8 million of crude owned by American companies.

Two more details. As Guardian pointed out in its initial coverage of the rebels’ seizure of the oil, reliable sources of oil to Europe are increasingly important as the US tries to face down Vladimir Putin on Europe’s East.

Just as importantly, Marathon has been trying to find a way to get out of its stake in Libya.

Libya has blocked efforts by U.S. company Marathon Oil to sell its stake in one of the country’s top oil ventures by moving to preempt a deal, sources said, highlighting the struggle investors face in cutting exposure to Libya’s unrest.

Two years of turmoil since the Arab Spring and tough contract terms have prompted oil firms to reassess their role in Libya, and U.S. companies appear keenest to leave as they lack the proximity and infrastructure links that make North Africa attractive to their European peers.

Sources told Reuters in July that Marathon was considering the sale of its stake in Libya’s Waha Oil Company, which has a maximum output capacity of 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) and produces the OPEC member’s main light sweet crude grade.

In addition to the hit this would have on Marathon’s bottom line (the Libyans have first bid here and informed Marathon they’d pay less than market rates), it would open up yet another new front for China to invest in big reserves. The last thing the US wants in China extending its influence in Africa.

Again, I’m not questioning the courage or excellence of the SEALs, nor am I diminishing the importance of oil to propping up the Libyan state right now. But it seems the push to turn this into a heroic narrative also serves to obscure the degree to which this is also about using our military to ensure the viability of this exploration so as to ensure US oil companies continue to exert influence — and keep pumping oil — in Libya.

Yes, this was not the catastrophe that Benghazi was (which has been magnified in any case). But that doesn’t mitigate that the overthrow of Qaddafi risks spiraling even further out of control into yet another colossal catastrophe of American (and European) intervention.

Minority Report on Ukraine, or What’s Venezuela Got to Do with It?

I freely admit to being the oddest of the quadruplets in the Emptywheel sensory deprivation pool, producing the quirky minority report from time to time.

Which may explain the following graphic with regard to current geopolitical tensions.

[Source: Google Trends and Google Finance]

[Source: Google Trends and Google Finance]

 As you can see, not every trending burp in the news about either Venezuela or Ukraine produced a corresponding bump in the fossil fuel market. Some trend-inducing news may have nothing at all to do with energy. It’s quite possible I may not have captured other key businesses as some of them don’t trade publicly, or are don’t trade in a manner readily captured by Google Finance.

But there are a few interesting relationships between news and price spikes, enough to make one wonder what other values may spike with increased volatility in places like Venezuela (which has the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the western hemisphere), and Ukraine (which lies between the EU and the largest natural gas deposits in the world, and the world’s eighth largest oil reserves).

Of course there’s an additional link between these two disparate countries. Both of them have already seen similar upheavals in which the U.S. played a role — Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, and the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela.

When someone made noise about an Afghan Muslim being a key locus of the latest unrest in Ukraine, I couldn’t help but think of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline for natural gas which has yet to be realized, primarily for a lack of adequate political will among nation-states with a vested interest in its success.

It also made me think of news reports from this past summer when Turkmenistan, sitting on the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world, expressed a readiness to export gas to Europe. This would cut into Russia’s sales, but not for a few years, requiring continuation of existing relationships for the next three to five years. Note the pipelines, existing and planned on the following U.S. State Department map (date unclear, believed to be post-2006).*

Continue reading

John Galt Contaminates West Virginia Water Supply Because Industries Demand Freedom

Structure of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol via Wikipedia.

Structure of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol via Wikipedia.

Some of the more than 300,000 residents of West Virginia who could not drink or bathe in their tap water derived from the Elk River have been told that it is now safe to do so. Considering how flawed the process was for coming up with the standard for a safe level of the contaminant, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), it should come as no surprise that residents are not buying the claim that the water is now safe:

Eric Foster got the call last night. West Virginia American Water said the water at his South Charleston home is safe.

But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to use it again.

“The water smells like licorice, and I don’t really think that’s safe,” Foster said. “I’ll never drink it again.”

Five days after a chemical spill into the Elk River left water unusable for 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers in nine counties, some residents are still wary of using the water even after officials say it’s safe again.

Water company and state officials say the water consistently tested below 1 part per million of the chemical, and have been lifting the water-use ban zone by zone. Six zones, mostly in Charleston and South Charleston, had been lifted as of Tuesday evening.

Here’s a summary of the flawed process for coming to that one part per million “safe” standard:

Unfortunately, the science behind this standard remains unclear.  Based on what we do know, there are good reasons to believe that officials are overlooking significant health risks.

We know, for example, that the manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that officials say they are using as their primary source lacks any information about chronic health impacts. The major federal databases we consulted suggest such data simply do not exist for this chemical.

It also appears that officials made significant leaps in their calculation of a “safe” exposure level – including assumptions that deviate from generally accepted practices.  As a result, these estimates fail to adequately account for either acute or chronic health effects from ongoing exposure to water contaminated at the 1 ppm level.

At a bare minimum, the public deserves to know a lot more about the calculations behind officials’ insistence that a 1 ppm level in drinking water is safe.

But how did we get to this situation in the first place? The event that caused the ongoing contamination of the Elk River was a leak of thousands of gallons of MCHM from a facility owned by a company with the wonderfully Galtian name of Freedom Industries. Of course there is a bald eagle anchoring their website! Would you expect anything else?

How is the chemical used? It is used to perpetuate the myth of “clean coal”. Our government is even a leading crusader for this myth and boasts a nifty gif to show us how coal can be “cleaned”.

Scrub that coal!

Scrub that coal!

One of the main methods of producing “clean coal” is to remove particles of sulfur. From the DOE website with the nifty gif:

Take sulfur, for example. Sulfur is a yellowish substance that exists in tiny amounts in coal. In some coals found in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other eastern states, sulfur makes up from 3 to 10 percent of the weight of coal.

/snip/

One way is to clean the coal before it arrives at the power plant. One of the ways this is done is by simply crushing the coal into small chunks and washing it. Some of the sulfur that exists in tiny specks in coal (called “pyritic sulfur ” because it is combined with iron to form iron pyrite, otherwise known as “fool’s gold) can be washed out of the coal in this manner. Typically, in one washing process, the coal chunks are fed into a large water-filled tank. The coal floats to the surface while the sulfur impurities sink. There are facilities around the country called “coal preparation plants” that clean coal this way.

It appears that the MCHM is used sometimes instead of water in this process. But even after this “washing”, the coal is far from clean: Continue reading

Tapping the Oil Industry

Remember when it was outrageous that the Iranians had (allegedly) hacked Aramco? In addition to wiping hard drives (though in ways that left the computers recoverable), they also took and threatened to release documents.

In news that I earlier predicted, NSA and GCHQ have hacked OPEC, including Saudi Arabia’s OPEC Minister (though NSA managed to detask him when he came to the US).

Spiegel doesn’t provide much detail of what they’ve gotten — just a tantalizing overview, particularly given the likelihood that the speculation claim pertains to the skyrocketing prices in 2008, which (among other things) the Saudis used to get us into a new security cooperation agreement.

None of this is surprising. But as we try to fearmonger new wars based on one party hacking another, it’s probably safe to assume we got there first.

It stated that OPEC officials were trying to cast the blame for high oil prices on speculators. A look at files in the OPEC legal department revealed how the organization was preparing itself for an antitrust suit in the United States. And a review of the section reserved for the OPEC secretary general documented that the Saudis were using underhanded tactics, even within the organization. According to the NSA analysts, Riyadh had tried to keep an increase in oil production a secret for as long as possible.

Our TCA with Saudi Arabia (and the fact that we (Booz, in fact!) are now providing it with cybersecurity) may well be one reason it is no longer a top NSA target.

OPEC appears in the “National Intelligence Priorities Framework,” which the White House issues to the US intelligence community. Although the organization is still listed as an intelligence target in the April 2013 list, it is no longer a high-priority target.

Who needs to hack when you’re in charge of cybersecurity?

And guess which company has a lot of that business? Edward Snowden’s former employer, Booz.

How Can NSA Protect Our Power Grid from Cyberattack When It Can’t Keep Its Own Power On?

In the United States, it is usually a safe bet to attribute massive government fuck-ups to the bloated contractors we’ve outsourced our projects to.

And the electrical problems plaguing NSA’s new UT data center — described as lightening in a box that has caused $100,000 of damage each of the 10 times it has happened — do seem to stem from poorly supervised contractors.

The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the data center’s construction. Chief of Construction Operations, Norbert Suter said, “the cause of the electrical issues was identified by the team, and is currently being corrected by the contractor.” He said the Corps would ensure the center is “completely reliable” before handing it over to the NSA.

But another government assessment concluded the contractor’s proposed solutions fall short and the causes of eight of the failures haven’t been conclusively determined. “We did not find any indication that the proposed equipment modification measures will be effective in preventing future incidents,” said a report last week by special investigators from the Army Corps of Engineers known as a Tiger Team.

[snip]

It took six months for investigators to determine the causes of two of the failures. In the months that followed, the contractors employed more than 30 independent experts that conducted 160 tests over 50,000 man-hours, according to project documents.

[snip]

Contractors have started installing devices that insulate the power system from a failure and would reduce damage to the electrical machinery. But the fix wouldn’t prevent the failures, according to project documents and current and former officials.

Now, don’t pee your pants laughing.

But I did have two thoughts as I read this.

First, this extended confusion sounds similar to that which Iranian nuclear scientists experienced as they tried to figure out why their centrifuges kept blowing up, thanks to StuxNet. While I think the chances some kind of hack caused this are small (but not zero), I do find it ironic that we cause ourselves the same kind of havoc we cause our worst enemies.

And consider the mission!

Back in February, Keith Alexander warned of the possibility of cyberattacks on our grid (which, anonymous sources made clear, could probably only be launched by China or Russia, but that didn’t stop Alexander from suggesting Anonymous might launch such attacks). The NSA needs more authority to protect against attacks that might bring down our power sources, the head of the NSA suggested.

But the entity that proposes to wield that authority, it seems, can’t even build a brand spanking new electrical system immune from some kind of failure.

Saudis Holding Their Breath Until We Deliver Mideast Hegemony

Congressional Republicans are not the only ones who like to throw very public temper tantrums. The Saudis have decided not to address the UN General Assembly today to show their displeasure about developments in Syria and Iran.

This follows the Saudi threat to increase its support of the liver-eating terrorists trying to supplant Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi Arabia wants “intensification of political, economic and military support to the Syrian opposition…. to change the balance of powers on the ground” in Syria, Prince Saud said in his remarks to the Friends of Syria group, a coalition of Western and Gulf Arab countries and Turkey that supports the Syria opposition against Mr. Assad. The state-run Saudi Press Agency carried a transcript of his remarks.

[snip]

Saudis now feel that the Obama administration is disregarding Saudi concerns over Iran and Syria, and will respond accordingly in ignoring “U.S. interests, U.S. wishes, U.S. issues” in Syria, said Mustafa Alani, a veteran Saudi security analyst with the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center.

“They are going to be upset—we can live with that,” Mr. Alani said Sunday of the Obama administration. “We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States.”

[snip]

Saudi unhappiness didn’t mean that the kingdom would start supporting terrorist groups, Mr. Alani stressed. Saudi Arabia, like the U.S., has been targeted by al Qaeda, a group born of U.S. and Saudi support for fighters against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

However, the U.S. is more conservative than the Gulf countries in what it considers terrorist groups in Syria. The U.S. has declared Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra to be a terrorist organization, while many in the Gulf consider the rebel faction to be a legitimate, predominantly Syrian fighting force against Mr. Assad.

All this risks proving allegations Vlad Putin made correct — that the Saudis were willing to use terrorists to accomplish their goals in Syria (and, Putin further claimed Bandar bin Sultan had threatened, in Russia).

But I suspect the Saudis fear something greater: that warming relations with Iran might create a rival swing producer, the role that has served as the basis for outsized Saudi influence since we ditched the Shah in the 1970s. With the Euro region in such dire straights, the Saudis are less able to ditch the Dollar for another currency. And while the Saudis have a window during which US peace efforts in Iran might blowback against the US, after that time, I suspect, they worry not that Shias will take over their own oil fields, but that the US will be less dependent on the Saudis. It doesn’t help them that the most viable challenge to US power, the BRICS, want Iran to come back online themselves.

We shall see. We shall particularly see if the Saudis no longer hide their efforts to back groups we consider terrorists.

Dilma Throws Obama a BRIC

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 2.57.28 PMI was actually surprised, back in May, when the White House announced a State Visit for Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff.

After all, not long after Obama visited Brazil in March 2011, the real started gaining value against the dollar, significantly slowing the boom Brazil had enjoyed in the wake of our crash.

When she was here in April 2012, Dilma explicitly blamed US Quantitative Easing for the reversal in currencies, and suggested the policy was meant to slow growth in countries like Brazil. Before that, Brazil’s boom and its advances in energy independence had put Brazil in a position to assume the global stature a country of its size might aspire to. And Dilma (partly correctly) blamed US actions for undercutting that stature.

I interpreted the State Dinner to be an attempt to woo Brazil away from natural coalitions with the Bolivarist governments of Latin America and the BRICS (Brazil, Russsia, India, China, and South Africa).

Fast forward to today, when the Brazilian government announced that it has postponed the visit that had been scheduled for October 23.

The usual suspects are mocking Dilma’s decision, insisting that everyone spies, and that Brazil is just making a stink for political gain. The White House statement echoes that, suggesting that it was the revelation of US spying, and not the spying itself, that created the problems.

The President has said that he understands and regrets the concerns disclosures of alleged U.S. intelligence activities have generated in Brazil and made clear that he is committed to working together with President Rousseff and her government in diplomatic channels to move beyond this issue as a source of tension in our bilateral relationship.

There is something to that stance. Dilma’s government faces a lot of unrest and the tensions of preparing for the World Cup. The portrayal that the US was taking advantage of Brazil caught her at a politically sensitive time.

All that said, those poo-pooing Brazil’s complaints ignore the specific nature of the spying as revealed. As I noted, even James Clapper’s attempt to respond to concerns raised by the original reports in Brazil didn’t address (and indeed, may have exacerbated) concerns that the US is engaging in financial war, including manipulating its currency to undercut other countries as they rise in relative power. If the US is using its advantages in SIGINT to engage in such financial war, Brazil has every reason to object, because it’s not something Brazil’s currency or telecommunications position make possible.

US disclaimers of industrial espionage no longer matter if the US is collecting SIGINT that would support substantive financial attacks, especially since Clapper in March made it clear the US envisions such attacks (even if they only admit to thinking in defensive terms).

Continue reading

Displacing the Reset with Russia

As you no doubt heard yesterday, Obama called off a planned meeting with Putin after the G20 next month in response to a number of things (including Russia’s increasing persecution of gays), but largely triggered by Russia’s offer of asylum to Edward Snowden.

In addition to this piece applauding that decision, Julia Ioffe wrote up all the things about our approach to Snowden in Russia that Lawrence O’Donnell deemed unfit for MSNBC last night, which echo what I said back in June. The key bullet points are:

  • You can’t back Putin into a corner and leave him no options. If you are a world leader worth your salt, and have a good diplomatic team working for you, you would know that. You would also know that when dealing with thugs like Putin, you know that things like this are better handled quietly. Here’s the thing: Putin responds to shows of strength, but only if he has room to maneuver. You can’t publicly shame him into doing something, it’s not going to get a good response. Just like it would not get a good response out of Obama.
  • The Obama administration totally fucked this up. I mean, totally. Soup to nuts. Remember the spy exchange in the summer of 2010? Ten Russian sleeper agents—which is not what Snowden is—were uncovered by the FBI in the U.S. Instead of kicking up a massive, public stink over it, the Kremlin and the White House arranged for their silent transfer to Russia in exchange for four people accused in Russia of spying for the U.S. Two planes landed on the tarmac in Vienna, ten people went one way, four people went the other way, the planes flew off, and that was it. That’s how this should have been done if the U.S. really wanted Snowden back.

You don’t back ego-driven world leaders into corners — whether it is Putin or Obama — and succeed in achieving your goals.

All that said, Reuters reported a far more interesting development than Obama blowing off the Putin meeting yesterday. The Saudis have offered to bribe Putin to back off his support of Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi Arabia has offered Russia economic incentives including a major arms deal and a pledge not to challenge Russian gas sales if Moscow scales back support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Middle East sources and Western diplomats said on Wednesday.

[snip]

Syrian opposition sources close to Saudi Arabia said Prince Bandar offered to buy up to $15 billion of Russian weapons as well as ensuring that Gulf gas would not threaten Russia’s position as a main gas supplier to Europe.

In return, Saudi Arabia wanted Moscow to ease its strong support of Assad and agree not to block any future Security Council Resolution on Syria, they said.

Finally, America’s allies (and it’s unclear how involved the US was in this deal, though Bandar usually plays nicely with us) are speaking to Putin in terms of Russia’s interests, rather than insisting Assad’s overthrow benefits everyone.

I’m especially interested in Bandar’s promise to “ensur[e] that Gulf gas would not threaten Russia’s position as a main gas supplier to Europe.” That, frankly, is probably the biggest carrot on the table here. But I can imagine no way Bandar could guarantee it (did the Qataris buy in? can Bandar control fracking in Europe? and what happens if and when the Saudis succeed in getting us to overthrow the Iranians?).

It appears the Saudis are more impressed with the meeting than Putin.

One Lebanese politician close to Saudi Arabia said the meeting between Bandar and Putin lasted four hours. “The Saudis were elated about the outcome of the meeting,” said the source, without elaborating.

[snip]

Putin’s initial response to Bandar’s offer was inconclusive, diplomats say. One Western diplomat in the Middle East said the Russian leader was unlikely to trade Moscow’s recent high profile in the region for an arms deal, however substantial.

He said Russian officials also appeared skeptical that Saudi Arabia had a clear plan for stability in Syria if Assad fell.

But it at least appears to suggest that Putin would respond to discussions that acknowledged Russia’s interests, for a change. Even if Bandar can’t yet present a plan that seems plausible.

Does Putin really have to be the grown-up in the room who points out that Syria without Assad will not be stable anytime soon?

No matter what happens with Snowden, very few have acknowledged that, in addition to details of spying on Americans, he has also mapped out the backbone of our increasingly fragile hegemony over the world.  We have responded only by ratcheting up pressure, rather than attempting persuasion.

It will be interesting to see, first, whether this Saudi initiative has any better effect. And if it does, whether we’ve been included in implementing it.

Update: Washington Institute’s Simon Henderson says we weren’t part of this scheme.

The Saudi diplomatic push shows Riyadh’s determination to force the Assad regime’s collapse, which the kingdom hopes will be a strategic defeat for Iran, its regional rival in both diplomatic and religious terms. It also reflects Riyadh’s belief, shared by its Gulf Arab allies, that U.S. diplomacy on Syria lacks the necessary imagination, commitment, and energy to succeed.

[snip]

Meanwhile, the United States is apparently standing on the sidelines — despite being Riyadh’s close diplomatic partner for decades, principally in the hitherto successful policy of blocking Russia’s influence in the Middle East. In 2008, Moscow agreed to sell tanks, attack helicopters, and other equipment to the kingdom, but the deal never went through. Instead, in 2010, Washington and Riyadh negotiated a huge $60 billion defense deal (including attack helicopters), the details of which are still being finalized. The events of the past week suggest that the U.S.-Saudi partnership — which covers regional diplomacy, the Middle East peace process, the global economy, and weapons sales — is, at best, being tested. It would be optimistic to believe that the Moscow meeting will significantly reduce Russian support for the Assad regime. But meanwhile Putin will have pried open a gap between Riyadh and Washington. The results of the latest U.S.-Russian spat will be watched closely, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Dick Cheney’s Biggest Strategic Failure

Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 12.15.49 PMDick Cheney’s biggest failures are surely moral. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, senselessly. The thousands of Americans killed, senselessly. The hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million, on both sides, maimed and poisoned and scarred both physically and mentally.

Senselessly.

See Juan Cole and Tomas Young (who will shortly die from wounds suffered in the Iraq War) for an accounting of that cost.

But there has been far too little accounting of the cost of Dick Cheney’s strategic choices.

Dick Cheney spent the first several months of the Bush Administration assessing where the US would get its energy in future years and how that would sustain our hegemonic role in the world. In his autobiographical novel, published in 2011, he had this to say about his Energy Task Force.

The report is one I am very proud of. I commend it to anyone looking to understand America’s energy challenges still today.

[snip]

The environmental groups that criticized the report are all too often, in my experience, opposed to any increase in the production of conventional sources of energy. They don’t want to drill anyplace. They don’t want to mine coal anyplace. They seem to believe we can depend on alternative sources of energy, such as solar or wind. It’s my view — and it’s the view reflected in the report — that while we should develop alternative sources, in the final analysis, we can’t effectively address our energy problems in the near term nor can we remain competitive in the global economy unless we also produce more energy from conventional, domestic sources.

Right now, none of the alternative sources of energy can compete economically with petroleum and coal and other conventional sources. It’s also the case that time and time again, we have found that developing alternative sources has undesirable, unanticipated consequences. The push for ethanol fuel produced from corn, for example, resulted in driving the price of a bushel of corn up significantly. This had a huge impact on people who used corn for purposes other than fuel — purposes that weren’t subsidized. Cattleman, for example, were suddenly faced with significantly higher feed prices. [my emphasis]

While Cheney’s report did have a chapter on “Nature’s Power,” (which is not, interestingly, one of the two he accused critics of having not read), just one paragraph on any alternative source of power but hydropower shows up on the chapter on “Energy for a New Century.”

Hydropower is, to date, the most successful form of renewable energy. However, some forms of renewable energy generation—wind, geothermal, and biomass— have the potential to make more significant contributions in coming years, and the cost of most forms of renewable energy has declined sharply in recent years. The most important barrier to increased renewable energy production remains economic; nonhydropower renewable energy generation costs are greater than other traditional energy sources. The following chapter discusses renewable and alternative energy in greater detail

Never mind that Cheney’s understanding of the competitiveness of alternatives by 2011, particularly with coal, which the report boosted aggressively, was badly mistaken.

He argued in 2011 — 10 years after 9/11 and 7 years after the Iraq War had descended into a clusterfuck — that alternative energy has some nasty unintended consequences (he might have a point if he talked about how Ethanol contributed to increase food insecurity for actual human beings, which contributes to political instability, but apparently he sees feeding Americans cheap grain fed beef to be a higher priority).

And of course, the nasty unintended consequence that is climate change did not show up in this discussion in the least.

On May 16, 2001, Dick Cheney released a report declaring (based partly on a shortage in CA artificially caused by Enron) an energy crisis, and proposing recommendations to bring more fossil fuels online quickly, as well as nuclear power.

America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970s.

[snip]

This imbalance, if allowed to continue, will inevitably undermine our economy, our standard of living, and our national security.

[snip]

Present trends are not encouraging, but they are not immutable. They are among today’s most urgent challenges, and well within our power to overcome. Our country has met many great tests. Some have imposed extreme hardship and sacrifice. Others have demanded only resolve, ingenuity, and clar­ ity of purpose. Such is the case with energy today.

We submit these recommendations with optimism. We believe that the tasks ahead, while great, are achievable. The en­ergy crisis is a call to put to good use the re­sources around us, and the talents within us. It summons the best of America, and offers the best of rewards – in new jobs, a healthier environment, a stronger economy, and a brighter future for our people.

Four months later, 19 Arabs, 15 of whom were Saudis, destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. All of them were motivated, in part, by America’s increasing presence in the Middle East.

Continue reading

1 2 3 13

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @joshgerstein @hbottemiller @ObamaFoodorama Were they screwing or drinking the sushi?
4mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @CBSAndrew @MikeSacksEsq Joined; good to see Mike back.
6mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz And I still maintain Naverette has far greater Constitutional significance than Schuette. It deserves more attention.
8mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Here's @ScottGreenfield on why Navarette is such a heinous decision, and why Scalia's dissent is praiseworthy http://t.co/JkFbebz4tC
10mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz The dragnet too. Getting snitches big FBI goal RT @adamgoldmanwp Lawsuit: FBI using no-fly list to recruit informants http://t.co/TqeLQT8gPO
19mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz This quote by Guantanamo lead prosecutor Andrea Lockhart is proof of the total farce that are the Gitmo Show Trials https://t.co/NmvPfzWXdZ
31mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @carolrosenberg So she has never practiced in federal, state or local courts?
34mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV With Removal of Materials Under CW Agreement Nearly Complete, Concern in Syria Over Chlorine Use http://t.co/FuRNs7bmpT
36mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @ScottGreenfield @VolokhC @OrinKerr That will be one of the saddest moves imaginable in the legal blogging community.
37mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel Reup: Back Door Searches: One of Two Replacements for the Internet Dragnet? http://t.co/17vCc9ZbRe
42mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @michaelwhitney Have you considered meth?
43mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @EdgeofSports FYI: A look at Pat Tillman the man, apart from football and Army http://t.co/LHFaQOUS99
48mreplyretweetfavorite
April 2014
S M T W T F S
« Mar    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930