Middle East Roundup

It’s been a while since I wrote a detailed political post, and what with it being a relatively calm time in the news, I figured it might be a good time to pull out the political crystal ball and try to make some projections for things to come, and things to watch out for. I’ll be keeping this one focused on international politics, especially the Middle East; (since that’s where I actually know enough to have something useful to say) and so this post should be taken as analysis, sometimes conjecture, and sometimes opinion, rather than as a record of fact.

As usual, comments and discussion are welcomed!


(The text below is fairly long, so you may wish to skip to the executive summary and read the rest later)

Shortcuts: Iraq Iran Afghanistan Pakistan Syria Israel and the Palestinian Territories Saudi Arabia Egypt Libya Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE Footnotes

Let’s start with a country-by-country walkthrough of the Middle East, and ask the question of what are the big things to look out for in each place “if all proceeds without intervention.” (We’ll look at intervention in a bit)

  1. Iraq: The constitution has been voted upon, the next elections are in December, and by now not even the Department of Defense is willing to believe that they have anything to do with a “real democracy.” Casualties are mounting,1 and it’s clear that sooner or later – probably sooner – the US is going to have to pull out. There will be a substantial P.R. effort to make this seem like it’s not a defeat, Mission Accomplished and so on, but let’s skip the domestic politics for now and stick to the ground over there. Once it’s clear that we’re pulling out, expect attacks on Americans to escalate substantially and continue to do so until we leave; once we’ve left, expect widespread jubilation among our foes,2 and a profound psychological impact on them: they will have seen that by means of the techniques of guerilla warfare and terrorism, they were able to defeat the United States military at its full force.

    (And worst of all, we can’t change that by not pulling out, because quite simply we can’t actually capital-W Win this one in any meaningful sense; the war is hopeless not because we can’t control the military front, but because we could never construct a compelling alternative political ideology. A European-style democracy simply isn’t something you can sell to people in Iraq; it has no connection with any of their history or traditions, except for an association with previous occupying governments who they hated. Oddly enough, we’ve understood this problem for quite a while [Take a look at Army field manual 3-07.22, “Counterinsurgency Operations,” chapter 2; it’s got a pretty good summary of why insurgencies succeed or fail] but have been catastrophically unable to use that information)

    That in itself is going to have huge repercussions: not only will the movement be energized, it will have a large repository of practical lessons learned which are now field-confirmed, as well as a reservoir of personnel who have not only trained but who have extensive combat experience. This shouldn’t be underestimated; terrorist operations tend to fail or have little effect because the operators have little practical experience. But Iraq has changed the game; new recruits for groups like al Qaeda go there first, and spend time building and using actual bombs, sniping at actual soldiers, and learning how to survive, then rotate outwards. The next generation of terrorists will be a lot more effective. And you don’t need to think big for this, things involving nuclear weapons on ships; imagine what a single trained sniper could do in a city over a month.

    Inside Iraq, there’s even more going on. The civil war will get worse; apparently the line between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites is as deep as ever. The Kurds are the biggest winners in this; they can simply stay out of it and try to set up their own state. (And best of luck to them!) But there are several other countries who want this to fail, and specifically don’t want them to have control of things like the oil of Mosul, so Turkey and/or Syria may try to stir shit. However, both are constrained; Syria by its internal political trouble (vide infra) and Turkey by wanting to get into the E.U. So they may have to play it subtle, and the Kurds may have time to regroup.

    But the war here has enormous importance for the rest of the Arab world. If the Shi’ites create a working government, there’s going to be a “Shi’ite Crescent” going through the heart of Central Asia, which is large and populous enough to make the rest of the Arab world (which is more fractionated than it’s been in decades) be very worried about its continued political control; and consider that Baghdad is the traditional heart of the Islamic world. (It was the first capital of the Islamic Empire, and it’s been the nexus for pan-Arabism ever since) Also, the Sunnis there are afraid of retribution for their Saddam-era behavior; they’ve got a real reason to fight like there’s nothing to lose. (Promises of equal treatment under a constitution are not to be easily believed) More or less every country in the Middle East has a vested interest in this fight turning out one way or another, and that’s why Iraq was the first entry in this list: everything else plays into it.

  2. Iran: Well, the hard-liners are back in power, and I’ll refrain from unearthing any of the 1980’s jokes about the turbans being there to hide the lobotomy scars. In case you missed it, yesterday President Ahmadinejad called for the destruction of Israel, strongly and publicly advocated terrorism, and bragged about Iran’s intermediate-range ballistic missiles, all within the same speech. (And you wonder why people are worried about their nuclear program…3)

    But all is not so simple. The election was partially cooked – reformist candidates were simply not allowed to run – but it happened in large part because the poor part of the country (basically, everything but Tehran) is turned to fundamentalism. Rates of drug addiction, especially opium and heroin, have skyrocketed; there are estimates that the rate is in the double digits among the young, of whom there are many. (And see the section of Afghanistan below for an important related topic) And a few weeks ago, the Dubai stock exchange opened itself up to more international trade at around the same time that Ahmadinejad started bellowing loudly about a continued nuclear program, and the Iranian stock market plummeted over 30% in two weeks.

    Twenty years ago, I would have called Iran ripe for a Communist takeover. Today, there isn’t that alternative – and that makes Iran’s future very hard to predict. There are no clear political alternatives to the current regime, and even the U.S. isn’t looking foolhardy enough to try to create one by force. The conservatives may well stay in power, but over a country that’s steadily coming apart at the seams, and that’s not a good sign for anybody.

    A lot of the future of Iran has to do with its neighbors – especially Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq is a huge issue: first, there is enormous bad blood between the countries. (The ten-year war destroyed an entire generation) Second, Iraq, not Iran, has been the traditional base of Shi’a; that religion was suppressed under Saddam, but a lot of the ayatollahs are very concerned that power could dissipate across the border, into the hands of people like al-Sistani or al-Sadr. Third, the formation of a stable Shi’ite government in Iraq would be a decidedly mixed blessing for Iran; on the one hand, it would increase the strength of Shi’a in the Arab world considerably, but on the other hand it would be a competing force for control of that. So Iran has every reason to remain deeply involved in the civil war there, keeping the Sunnis from winning but possibly keeping the Shi’ites from winning as well, at least until they can get a better grasp on the situation. Expect a substantial movement of materiel into Iraq.

    Afghanistan is even more of a wild card; the status quo isn’t bad for Iran, but there is one big question still unsettled there, and that has to do with those lovely little orange flowers.

  3. Afghanistan: Remember that other large Central Asian country that still has an enormous (60,000) American troop deployment in it? You almost wouldn’t, given how little attention it gets in the press nowadays. But there’s a lot of news, and not all of it is bad.

    First of all, you should know that combat operations have by no means ended. In fact, the U.S.-backed government led by Hamid Karzai effectively controls only Kabul itself and the immediate environs; Afghanistan has reverted to its natural state of a bunch of small kingdoms under the control of local warlords. (Natural – it’s been this way for thousands of years, with only brief exceptions. This is the most unconquerable part of the planet; Alexander the Great learned that the hard way)

    But the good news is that, these limitations being accepted, some real progress has been made. Karzai really is the effective leader of his little part of Afghanistan, and it’s a key part, and he is still very influential in the rest of the country. Infrastructure-building has been going on as well – schools, roads and the like – and American troops have been instrumental in this. And the Taliban, although it’s perpetually trying to restart itself, doesn’t have a major base of popular support anymore, and we may be able to keep it well and truly dead. Strangely enough, we seem to have systematically done at least reasonably good things in that country.

    The complications, however, are many. The economy is still in terrible shape, possibly worse than even in the days of the Taliban. (The real problem is that overland trade is no longer really a big deal, so the few things that brought serious wealth into this country in the past aren’t really issues anymore) The one big source of money in the past few decades has been the wonderful climate for the cultivation of opium poppies, which continue to be the main source of currency into the country. The U.S. has made its obligatory attempts to stop this, but really nobody has anything to offer as an alternative means to keep people fed, so those attempts have met with little success overall. (And the presence of American troops in the area actually seems to have decreased enthusiasm for things like spraying pesticides on poppy fields from the air; if people there start going hungry, it’s going to be Americans who have to deal with the problem, so real solutions are needed. We’ve gained a good resource from this war, too: commanders who made good decisions in Afghanistan are going to be a real resource for the U.S. in the future)

    The really big open question, and I don’t know to what extent this has been resolved (but I very much want to), is who is going to control this opium industry. And it’s huge – this is the major source of the drug in the world, beating even the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia. Everyone obviously wants a share; drug cartels, local warlords, and even many governments. (Iran has a big stake in what happens here because of its addiction rates; this is where their opium is coming from. Even the U.S. — remember how the C.I.A. funded covert operations post-Vietnam? Mmm, Laotian heroin…)

  4. Pakistan: And moving a bit further East takes us to Pakistan. The situation here is complicated and it’s not in my field of expertise; on its Western side we have a mountainous hinterland that is, for all practical purposes, an extension of Afghanistan, and that the central government has no effective control over; on its Eastern side there is India, and a long-running fight every bit as complicated as anything in the Middle East. In the middle there is a government held together by duct tape and chicken wire, a “President” who has survived about a dozen assassination attempts in the past year, a military with some strong Islamist elements in it, nuclear weapons, a head of the nuclear weapons program who was selling the program with four-color glossy brochures (we got some of these when Libya turned their nuke program over to the I.A.E.A.; the Pakistanis threw in a complete set of working bomb designs free with purchase of their “nuclear starter package,” which included refinery designs, centrifuge and related equipment, and Uranium ore. No word on whether it included an iPod or a toaster)

    The recent major event, of course, was the Kashmir earthquake, which is shaping up to be a disaster of monumental proportions: the death toll currently stands at somewhere between 55,000 and 80,000 (depending on who you ask), perhaps twice as many seriously injured (including a large number of amputations) and 3-4 million people remain homeless, in a country known for its ferocious winters.

    I don’t have any good estimates for the effect of this on politics, or on the broader picture of Pakistani political development; this is farther East than I’ve focused in the past. Pakistan was, in the past, important as a base for Islamist madrassas, and it remains such, but since the collapse of the Taliban and the motion of a lot of the “action” to Iraq, that isn’t quite as visible. It’s still an interesting junction point between Muslims in the Arab world and Muslims in the Far East, and for Islamists in those areas as well; if I were analyzing Indonesia and the Philippines in the same sort of detail, Pakistan would probably show up in that picture, too.

  5. Syria: Since we’re at the Eastern limits of my knowledge, let’s swing back to the heart of the Middle East and take a look at the trouble in Syria. Bashar al-Assad has problems in spades. He was never meant to be President; his older brother was heir to the throne,4 but died in a car accident, and he was called back from his residency in opthalmology in London to learn how to be a dictator. Since his father’s death a few years ago, he’s been trying to take firm control of the country, but this is no simple matter; his father had to wipe out an entire city before his power was really secure, and it’s not at all clear if the son can be quite as ruthless.5

    Recently, several new problems have descended. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri of Lebanon created such a firestorm that Syria was forced to pull its military forces out of there completely, leaving only its espionage network. This created political shock waves inside Syria, of course. Now the U.N. report on that assassination is coming out, specifically naming several senior Syrian officials as being directly involved in the operation. The U.S. has used this as a chance to increase pressure on the country on several fronts, including its state sponsorship of terrorism (Hezbollah is basically a joint Iranian-Syrian operation) and its involvement in Iraq as a staging area. On top of these internal pressures, there’s the risk of the war in Iraq Cambodifying Syria, and if that happens al-Assad could effectively lose control of the southeastern portion of his country.

    So as for the Iranian government, al-Assad’s continued survival is dependent on the lack of any credible alternatives to his regime; and this means that I wouldn’t sell any life insurance to any major players in Syrian politics right about now. (Expect several such people to be offered up as sacrifices to the U.N. investigation of Hariri’s death) But what remains to be seen is whether or not the son has the political skills of the father: if he does, he could remain dictator for several decades at least, and turn Syria back into a central make-or-break leader in Arab politics, and if he doesn’t, then after a brief period of violence maybe his successor will. (Aren’t you glad you don’t have his job? I am.)

  6. Lebanon: At the moment, things are relatively calm. This is a very loose sense of “relatively,” though; the country isn’t being occupied by an outside military force for the first time in decades. Political tensions are still there, and the various groups (Sunnis, Shi’ites, Maronites, Orthodox Christians, Druze) are still engaged in a very complicated political dance which always has the possibility of exploding into violence. Hezbollah and various similar militias retain some of their potency here, but the past ten years of relative peace have created a civil society as well. (Remember that, prior to its horribly destructive civil war, Lebanon was a country with a stable social fabric, run by an elected if not perfectly representative government; something you can’t say for most of the rest of the Arab world)

    Unfortunately, some of the old problems are still present: the constitution still mandates that the government be apportioned in certain ways among the various ethnic groups, but demographic realities have skewed away from that apportionment substantially in the past fifty years. This sort of thing contributed to the original civil war, and could again if it isn’t dealt with. On the other hand, the newly-found freedom may lead to a real attempt to fix these issues; we’ll just have to wait and see. Lebanon is a powder keg, but fortunately (due in large part to its small size, and its marginalization in Middle Eastern politics for a long time) fires there aren’t as likely to spread elsewhere, and both of its neighbors have become quite leery of intervening any more.

  7. Israel and the Palestinian Territories: Here I’ve got less to say than usual, and that’s because things have been outwardly quiet. The pullout from Gaza was by and large a success, and that’s indirectly because of Iraq: first, the people who would usually be stirring the most shit are occupied with the stirring of shit elsewhere, and second, media attention is focused elsewhere, which makes terrorism substantially less effective. But what comes next?

    First, in terms of relationships between the Israelis and Palestinians: everything is tenuous. Rumor has it that associated with the pullout was a deal between Arik Sharon and Condi Rice: if Israel pulls out of Gaza, the U.S. will give tacit support to Israel setting borders for the West Bank favorably, specifically putting all major Israeli settlements (especially Ariel, which is by now a medium-sized city) and East Jerusalem on the Israeli side of the border. Note that the Palestinians were not consulted on this deal; that’s a symptom of what’s going on here. Arafat refused to engage in negotiation for the last several years of his life, and (it’s widely believed in Israeli circles) didn’t do so in good faith even before then; so the Israelis have now effectively cut negotiations with the Palestinians down to a minimum, and are solving matters their way.

    The unfortunate result of this is that the solution that comes out is going to leave several very fundamental things unsolved. I’ve talked in a previous post about several abuses and injustices going on on the Israeli side, and a solution like this is not likely to alleviate those; nor is such a solution likely to solve the complete lack of a working economy in the Palestinian territories. (In fact, it’s making things a bit worse: the Gaza pullout meant that Israeli textile factories there – which were some of the biggest employers – now have to close) So in the long run, a unilateral solution is going to turn around and bite us in the ass. But the mindset in Israel now seems to be that it seems to work at least somewhat, and that’s better than it’s been before, and at least there aren’t the constant terror attacks all the time.

    (I’m quite sure that the Palestinian viewpoint on the situation is a lot less sanguine – since basically nothing has gotten better from their perspective. And I wish I had something reassuring to say about this, but really I don’t.)

    The other wild card is Iran, who has been getting gently involved in terror politics for a few years now. During the early run-up to the Gaza pullout (over a year ago, now) there was a spate of Palestinians kidnapping and assassinating other Palestinians; this was part of an elaborate power game over who would run the area after the Israelis left. The individual people in this aren’t as significant; even most of the winners are dead by now. Organizationally, Fatah lost badly, Hamas did decently but not spectacularly, and the big winner was Hezbollah, which isn’t interested in politics at all – what they did was establish themselves as “outside consultants” on terror operations, work their way into local power structures, and so on. They wanted a base of operations in Gaza.

    For reference, Hezbollah isn’t a Palestinian organization; its main staging area is in the Shi’ite parts of Lebanon, it gets backing and tactical/intel support from Syria, and its main source of funding and C&C is Tehran, about which vide supra.

    Given all of this, there’s a very substantial risk that Iran will want to escalate the game considerably, by anything from arming and training more people in Gaza to deploying Iraq-trained veterans or even new weaponry there. Which is why Israel is very, very interested in Iran right now, and there’s a whole new geopolitical game cooking right under our noses.

    Did I mention that these are both countries with ballistic missiles, that one has the Bomb, and the other may have it soon? Sort of gives you a nice, warm glow all over.

  8. Saudi Arabia: Moving right along, we find ourselves in Saudi Arabia, where the first succession fight for the throne is over, the King is dead, long live the King. Of course, given that both the new king and all of the other contenders are over 75, that doesn’t really mean that the succession fight is done with. Everyone is continuing to fund all sorts of groups for their own complicated purposes, and we can expect Saudi money to continue to be the major source of funding for everything from terrorism to hospitals. Importantly, it’s going to be a major source of funding for Sunni forces in Iraq, since the Saudis have perhaps more to lose than anyone else from a Shi’ite victory. (Imagine a Shi’ite Crescent right on their border, with them being a large Sunni country and in control of the holy sites of Islam, with an unstable government, a large poor population being kept propped up by oil revenues whose cartel is suddenly a lot less Sunni-dominated than it was a few months before…)

    So no specific future predictions here. The status quo will probably go on for a bit, at least until something else catches fire – at which point Saudi Arabia will probably be swept up right in it, and turn out to be a large field of dry grass.

  9. Egypt: I don’t really know nearly enough about Egyptian politics, and I should clearly remedy that. From what I can tell, things here are at least relatively stable: Mubarak is in power, he makes vague noises about increased democracy and some of them may actually turn out to be genuine, while some may not. There has been increased terror lately, aimed again at tourists: not specific countries’ tourists, but at tourism, which is really aiming at Mubarak through the economic angle. An interesting question is just how widespread a base of support this has (I suspect not much: rebel movements that have widespread support rarely turn towards terror domestically, since that tends to erode support. This is more a tactic when you’re grossly outnumbered and want to scare people into not opposing you) and if there are any large movements in Egyptian public opinion.

    I suspect not, at least for now: which is good, since this is a very populous country and trouble in here would spread like wildfire. But don’t forget that Egypt is geographically part of Africa rather than Central Asia, and this means that their attention faces in different directions as well; even though they have cultural and political ties to the Middle East, Iraq is a lot less of a concern for them than for others. They have to think about Libya, the Sudan, and so on. Speaking of which…

  10. Libya: Well, it seems that Qaddafi is serious about trying to be the good guy now (disarming and handing over his nuke program to the IAEA, opening borders), except when he isn’t. (Executing foreign doctors, claiming they were secretly there to spread AIDS) He’s probably still as mad as a bag of clams, but his madness has swung over to the “let’s see if I can win a Nobel Peace Prize!” direction rather than the “let’s see if I can become the terror-master of the world!” direction, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts. It also means that tourism into that country is possible for the first time in a long while, so take advantage while you can – I hear the Sahara is beautiful.

    His elaborate Professional Paranoid’s infrastructure, especially the huge networks of underground tunnels and so on, is still there; but it may deteriorate into weaker condition over the next few years. I suspect that all this stuff is going to come back into play in some very odd way in the future, but right now it’s not at all clear what that may be; for now, he certainly isn’t a major figure in Middle Eastern anything, which is probably for the best. (But I can just imagine those tunnels being used for something a few hundred years from now, by completely unrelated political forces…)

  11. Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE: I’m lumping these rather disparate countries together because, of late, they’ve all been rather quiet. I don’t have anything specifically new to report or analyze, and by the standards of the Middle East, that’s pretty good news.

Okay, that was a long list of countries in the Middle East. There is one other significant issue that needs to be discussed, though, which is a handful of potential major wild cards that could completely upend not only Middle Eastern politics, but more or less everything else in the world.

Climate Change: (Or, Everybody’s doing something about the weather, but nobody talks about it) I don’t think I could ring the alarm bell on this hard enough, but it’s not clear what to do about it. In the past few months, scientific papers have started to come out openly confirming the suspicion that’s been discussed quietly for many years, namely that the threat of climate change6 has been grossly underestimated for political reasons.

(The reason for this is simple: originally, scientists came out and made some cautious statements, reasonable in the light of incomplete data. Industry immediately and vehemently responded by saying there was no such problem. Scientists, not being as experienced in this game, responded to the manufactured controversy by trying to move towards the center and weakening their claims; but at the same time, the data that was slowly emerging was strengthening them, not weakening them. So the media picture emerged that science was getting a growing certainty of its position – which is true – but that the position in question is relatively moderate, which is what scientists were saying in public. The real truth is a lot less pleasant)

The recent data is a lot less pleasant. It appears that polar melting has passed the critical point, and the North Polar Ice Cap is going to completely collapse within the next few years. This will mean that the North Polar Sea may actually be traversible in the next few years. The South Polar Ice Cap is a lot larger, but is also undergoing substantial shrinkage: already an ice shelf larger than Rhode Island has collapsed. This isn’t one of those simple-to-predict situations; it changes everything. On the one hand, it means that northern latitudes are likely to have less ice cover and be increasingly good for agriculture; on the other hand, the deposition of a large volume of fresh water in the North Atlantic will substantially change sea temperatures and heat transfers, which will cause dramatic changes in things like fishing. Much more seriously, that temperature change also affects climate patterns; one possible outcome is an increase in the number of major hurricanes. Another possibility (and a very serious one) is that the Gulf Stream may collapse or reverse, which would in effect change the pattern of seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. The effects on agriculture and on daily life are very hard to predict, since a change like this hasn’t happened since humanity got out of the hunting and gathering stage. There is also the obvious rise in sea levels that goes with this, which will no doubt be appreciated by people living at low altitudes.

From a political perspective, this is an enormous wild card. It’s somewhere between difficult and impossible (for fundamental reasons, not limitations of our current technology) to accurately predict what the effects of a change like this are going to be. A large shift could precipitate floods, famines, an increased rate of natural disasters, changes in the viable crops in an area, sudden bonanzas in previously uninhabitable areas… every time this goes off, it’s going to be big. The final state is still completely unknown. (But read up on the history of the Little Ice Age to get an idea of a much smaller transition and its effects)

(Also, anything that triggers large changes in the food supply and/or large migrations of people can trigger large migrations of microorganisms; and of course, there are always surprises like the H5N1 bird flu that can come up. All of the above can be thrown into a completely unexpected state if a major pandemic breaks out, which is a real possibility especially when it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere)


The broad picture this seems to paint is one of substantial uncertainty, centered around just what will transpire as the U.S. pulls out of Iraq; that’s certain to trigger a lot of trouble, some of it capable of spreading very far indeed. Most countries are working to maintain their status quo, with varying degrees of success; Syria is the only one with a significant chance of major change in the immediate future. Most countries are playing their cards very close to their chest, taking steps to ensure better future positioning (funding organizations, making deals, establishing demographic realities) after things shake down.

The main future conflicts to watch out for are therefore:

  • Iraq (Civil war with possible outside intervention)
  • Iran vs. Israel (Protracted cold war, including possible hot wars by proxy)
  • Syria (Possible internal trouble if a coup d’état occurs)

The first one may affect non-Middle-East countries, especially by sparking an increase in international terrorism and the export of more professional terrorists to other parts of the world, including America. The second has the potential to escalate into a major regional war, although it probably will not do so. (Due, essentially, to Mutually Assured Destruction)

The main things to keep an eye on in the near future are:

  • Iraq (Development of affairs as the U.S. pulls out)
  • Syria (Whether Bashar al-Assad survives or not)
  • Iran (Shifts in the economy, rates of drug addiction, how things evolve on longer time scales)
  • Afghanistan (Who ends up controlling the drug business)
  • The climate (And any significant technical papers), and the perennial chance of a pandemic.

A seemingly quiet time in the world, then, masking a lot of things on the verge of happening. Keep your eyes open!



1 2,000 American soldiers officially killed as of a day ago, as well as the ones whose deaths aren’t a matter of public record; [your deaths are not forgotten] 200 other coalition deaths; about 500 non-Iraqi civilian deaths, such as journalists and aid workers; about 30,000 confirmed civilian deaths, with the Lancet estimating the actual number to be closer to 100,000 “excess deaths from all causes.” (Although they report a very wide 95%CI) Wikipedia has a good summary of casualty reports which is likely to remain updated.

2 Which in this context means a wide range of people, but especially the Islamists, and secondarily the various Arab nationalists.

3 Side note: You may also wonder why France is always the counter-voice, saying that there’s no reason to be worried, we should have engagement, etc. Part of the answer will come out in a few days, with the release of the report showing exactly which companies were involved in extensive bribery and corruption involving the old oil-for-food program in Iraq; French companies, and implicitly the French government, were in this deal up to their eyeballs, raking in a few billion dollars through things that clearly violate both French and E.U. laws. Their situation in Iran is even more compromised; a lot of the nuclear technology in that country, they bought directly and covertly from the French, and there are a lot of other deep – and illicit – ties going on. They don’t want those to end or be revealed.

4 Yes, you can be President and heir to the throne. In Syria you can vote for anyone you like, so long as it’s Bashar al-Assad.

5 Take a look at part 1 of Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem for a good background on this story. You can skip part 2.

6 I’m intentionally using this phrase instead of “global warming,” not because of political alignment, but because it more accurately reflects the situation. The changes we’re looking at aren’t an overall increase in temperatures: they mean that some things will get hotter, some will get colder, and in general all hell is going to break loose.

7 Any relationship to any horsemen, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Published in: on October 28, 2005 at 20:39  Comments (14)  
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14 Comments

  1. Thank-you for this analysis. It’s very interesting. I’m going to be on your side of the country at the end of November. Maybe we can finally meet in person? Please drop me a line…

  2. Thank-you for this analysis. It’s very interesting. I’m going to be on your side of the country at the end of November. Maybe we can finally meet in person? Please drop me a line…

  3. Sounds good! I can be reached at the same username as LJ, at gmail.

  4. Sounds good! I can be reached at the same username as LJ, at gmail.

  5. OK! I’ll email you when I’m in the SFBay area in a few weeks… also added you on gmail.

  6. OK! I’ll email you when I’m in the SFBay area in a few weeks… also added you on gmail.

  7. The whole climate change thing has caused a background thread to be kicked off in my head. It gets varying levels of priority, and normally shows up and says, “hey, go think about open/closed systems and thermodynamics for a while,” and then I go back to ignoring it.
    You, however, probably know somewhat more than I do with that field…
    Basically, the earth can be viewed as receiving a large amount of energy input in the form of solar, and we reflect some of that and absorb the rest (in many myriad ways). One of which, once upon the time, was with a massive biomass that turned itself into all of our crude oil.
    By burning that oil, we’re releasing that energy back into the system. The work that we do with it, basically becomes residual heat in the end (even a solar powered car has to emit heat through it’s motor and friction with the air, right?). Switching to biofuels I’ve seen more and more as being touted as “greenhouse gas neutral”, as the carbon produced via exhaust feeds the plants that produce the fuel. And in some ways, the energy flow follows the carbon around.
    But plants decomposing and trapping the oil into the ground are also sinking energy as well as carbon, right? They’re acting like a battery, absorbing energy, and locking it away. And we’ve been releasing that energy, and the side-effect of that is heat, light, and work, and most work results in heat, in the end, no?
    So even if we stop using dino-oil, we’ve got the problem that we’ve dug up a whole bunch of energy and unleashed it into the system. So not only do we need to try to be energy/carbon neutral, but also need to actively work to sink that energy back into the earth somehow (encourage alge/rainforests?)?
    ****
    Thanks for the political writeup. Always good info. Thanks for the rather frightening reminder about the training ground for terrorists that Iraq has become, and what the US pullout of Iraq will do.
    In your opinion, is someone who’s fighting US troops in Iraq a terrorist, insurgent, or what? Seems like (from their point of view), they’re fighting against an invading army.
    Now when they attack civilians, they’re definitely being terrorists. But when fighting against an army? I’ve heard people make statements about geneva conventions and that people who aren’t in uniform and are fighting with guerilla tactics shouldn’t be treated like they’re members of an army (and treated properly as POWs). Yet that’s kinda the mode that we fought the revolutionary war in, right?
    sorry, aimless rambling while I’m also writing code…

  8. The whole climate change thing has caused a background thread to be kicked off in my head. It gets varying levels of priority, and normally shows up and says, “hey, go think about open/closed systems and thermodynamics for a while,” and then I go back to ignoring it.
    You, however, probably know somewhat more than I do with that field…
    Basically, the earth can be viewed as receiving a large amount of energy input in the form of solar, and we reflect some of that and absorb the rest (in many myriad ways). One of which, once upon the time, was with a massive biomass that turned itself into all of our crude oil.
    By burning that oil, we’re releasing that energy back into the system. The work that we do with it, basically becomes residual heat in the end (even a solar powered car has to emit heat through it’s motor and friction with the air, right?). Switching to biofuels I’ve seen more and more as being touted as “greenhouse gas neutral”, as the carbon produced via exhaust feeds the plants that produce the fuel. And in some ways, the energy flow follows the carbon around.
    But plants decomposing and trapping the oil into the ground are also sinking energy as well as carbon, right? They’re acting like a battery, absorbing energy, and locking it away. And we’ve been releasing that energy, and the side-effect of that is heat, light, and work, and most work results in heat, in the end, no?
    So even if we stop using dino-oil, we’ve got the problem that we’ve dug up a whole bunch of energy and unleashed it into the system. So not only do we need to try to be energy/carbon neutral, but also need to actively work to sink that energy back into the earth somehow (encourage alge/rainforests?)?
    ****
    Thanks for the political writeup. Always good info. Thanks for the rather frightening reminder about the training ground for terrorists that Iraq has become, and what the US pullout of Iraq will do.
    In your opinion, is someone who’s fighting US troops in Iraq a terrorist, insurgent, or what? Seems like (from their point of view), they’re fighting against an invading army.
    Now when they attack civilians, they’re definitely being terrorists. But when fighting against an army? I’ve heard people make statements about geneva conventions and that people who aren’t in uniform and are fighting with guerilla tactics shouldn’t be treated like they’re members of an army (and treated properly as POWs). Yet that’s kinda the mode that we fought the revolutionary war in, right?
    sorry, aimless rambling while I’m also writing code…

  9. It’s not just a matter of sinking energy; the thing is damned messy. One issue is changes in albedo (average surface reflectivity of the Earth); those change the rates of sunlight absorption, and that’s a huge influence on the total amount of energy input. Ice has a very high reflectivity, so replacing it with water also increases solar input.
    ****
    I don’t tend to think of them as terrorists in the context of fighting against an army; this is clearly war, they’re engaged in a guerilla war against a larger force. “Insurgent” is actually a pretty good term IMO; it reflects the situation on the ground and is relatively neutral. The terrorists I’m concerned about are the ones who specialize in attacking civilians outside the combat zone, but are training for that sort of operation by spending time as guerilla combatants in Iraq.

  10. It’s not just a matter of sinking energy; the thing is damned messy. One issue is changes in albedo (average surface reflectivity of the Earth); those change the rates of sunlight absorption, and that’s a huge influence on the total amount of energy input. Ice has a very high reflectivity, so replacing it with water also increases solar input.
    ****
    I don’t tend to think of them as terrorists in the context of fighting against an army; this is clearly war, they’re engaged in a guerilla war against a larger force. “Insurgent” is actually a pretty good term IMO; it reflects the situation on the ground and is relatively neutral. The terrorists I’m concerned about are the ones who specialize in attacking civilians outside the combat zone, but are training for that sort of operation by spending time as guerilla combatants in Iraq.

  11. Thank you.

  12. Thank you.

  13. Sac MUD has done a bunch of really good and interesting research into local climate changes and forestation of an area. They’ve done numerous studies about how shade trees and forests change the local temperatures via transpiration and shading. Pavement really heats up the air above it, much more so than forested areas do. Which I find odd since concrete should have a higher albedo than trees, and asphalt a lower one, but both concrete and asphalt seem to greatly heat the air above them vs. a vegetated environment. They’ve been able to record as much as a 10*F drop in temperature in a neighborhood just by increasing the tree coverage.
    Have you seen the reports about using algae for growing biodiesel? Very cool stuff there. 120Ksq miles of algael ponds will produce enough biodiesel to fuel the US.
    ***
    Insurgents does seem like a decent term. Much better than calling them all terrorists. But the ability to train civilian aimed terrorists by having them first train and fight against the armed forces there in Iraq wasn’t something I’d really thought about, and it really scares me. We’re definitely going to see a lot more of the terror-inpsiring terrorists in the future, I think. Especially after the east-coast sniper that we had, and how much that scared people.

  14. Sac MUD has done a bunch of really good and interesting research into local climate changes and forestation of an area. They’ve done numerous studies about how shade trees and forests change the local temperatures via transpiration and shading. Pavement really heats up the air above it, much more so than forested areas do. Which I find odd since concrete should have a higher albedo than trees, and asphalt a lower one, but both concrete and asphalt seem to greatly heat the air above them vs. a vegetated environment. They’ve been able to record as much as a 10*F drop in temperature in a neighborhood just by increasing the tree coverage.
    Have you seen the reports about using algae for growing biodiesel? Very cool stuff there. 120Ksq miles of algael ponds will produce enough biodiesel to fuel the US.
    ***
    Insurgents does seem like a decent term. Much better than calling them all terrorists. But the ability to train civilian aimed terrorists by having them first train and fight against the armed forces there in Iraq wasn’t something I’d really thought about, and it really scares me. We’re definitely going to see a lot more of the terror-inpsiring terrorists in the future, I think. Especially after the east-coast sniper that we had, and how much that scared people.


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