My Interview on Middle East Geopolitics, Afghanistan and Iran & the Bomb with Marat Kunaev

I was recently interviewed on Middle East geopolitics and the Iran Question by Marat Kunaev, a blogger and translator at InoForum. I would like to thank him for the opportunity to express my views on the topic and providing a possible gateway into the geopolitical commentary on Runet. I’m reprinting the interview from here, with a few very minor edits; Marat made a Russian translation here.

What do you think about the situation in the Middle East?

The mainstream media likes to make generalizations about this very diverse region. Most of these are idiotic, simplistic tropes (oil, Islam, terrorists, etc). I don’t think this is productive, so instead I’ll highlight two things that get little traction in the Western mainstream media.

First, water scarcity is the root of many of the region’s problems. The Middle East is the world’s only major region perennially incapable of feeding itself, forcing it to import “virtual water” in the form of food. One of the main causes of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is over the unfair distribution of water, which is skewed towards Israel and Israeli settlers in the West Bank. On a bigger scale, water flows are almost as important to the region’s strategic balance as the distribution of oil deposits. Control of the headwaters of the Jordan, Euphrates and Tigris rivers, coupled with the biggest economic base in the region, gives Turkey immense strategic clout. To the contrary, Egypt’s food production deficits make it potentially vulnerable, as seen in the food riots of 2008 when global grain prices spiked. The urban poor who are hardest hit tend to resent their secular authoritarian rulers and support Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood. As such, making good with Israel and seeking US protection and subsidies makes perfect sense for the Egyptian political elites: resources can be freed up from military spending towards maintaining domestic stability.

Second, the “Islamic Resurgence” is rather simplistically portrayed as single-minded opposition to the West. The real situation is a lot more complex. The movement takes a variety of guises, from the moderate Islamism of Turkey’s AKP to Al-Qaeda’s franchise-based terrorist cells to the internal clan-based conflicts of Shi’ite Iran’s “Velayat-e faqih” system. It is inaccurate to treat them as a hostile monolith. And many of their grievances do sound genuine to ordinary Muslims. For instance, even Osama bin Laden doesn’t hate the US for its “freedom”, but for its support of Arab elites that he sees as corrupt, anti-democratic and hostile to Islam — e. g., the House of Saud’s acquiescence in stationing US troops in the holy lands of Mecca and Medina to protect the oil exports whose proceeds overwhelmingly benefit influential cliques. But arguing that this interpretation has some validity to it is a sure road to a wrecked career in American mainstream journalism.

Should we wait for radical change in Afghanistan?

No. Even Ronald Reagan and Rambo were pessimistic, back in the 1980’s! :) Americans don’t want to stay in Afghanistan for much longer, and their finances won’t allow them to anyway. In a few years, the Afghan government will have to sink or swim without US ground forces to support it.

However, I doubt the Taleban will seize central control again. Afghanistan has $1 trillion in untapped mineral reserves, and regional giants China, India, Russia and Iran have no interest in fundamentalists blocking access to them — especially in our world of increasingly scarce, harder-to-get resources.

How real is the possibility of US or Israeli strikes on Iran?

It’s one of those things that everyone talks about all the time, but never happens: until a spark sets of the bonfire, the Big Thing happens, and acquires the tinge of inevitability as viewed in the rear-view mirror of our common history. Kind of like World War One…

I wrote about this in my post The US Strategic Dilemma and Persian Deadlock. The key players are the US, Russia and Iran (the “triangle”) and Israel (the “wildcard”). Each have diverging interests that are hard, if not impossible, to reconcile.

The Strait of Hormuz.

The Strait of Hormuz.

Iran wants nuclear weapons to secure its mountain base, acquire the capability to project influence through its proxies (e. g. Hezbollah) with impunity and become the hegemon over the oil riches of the Gulf. Russia wants to keep the US occupied in the Middle East as it rebuilds its Eurasian sphere of influence, but all things considered, it would rather Iran not get the Bomb. The US is firmly against both Iranian hegemony in the Gulf and Russian hegemony in Eurasia: however, the tools at its disposal are insufficient to prevent both (it doesn’t have the hard power to contain Russian influence within its current borders, while a strike against Iran will have severe repercussions — up to and including a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz, through which pass 40% of the world’s oil exports, the commodity underpinning America’s own global hegemony). As such, the US, Russia, and Iran are locked into an uneasy, but potentially sustainable, strategic “triangle”.

However, this “triangle” is broken by the “wildcard”, Israel. While the Israelis couldn’t care less what Russia gets up to, it sees an Iran armed with nuclear weapons as an existential threat: not exclusively in a military sense — Israel has 200 nukes of its own (though Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic rantings aren’t reassuring) — but in a political and cultural one. If Iran gets the Bomb, a nuclear race will break out in the Middle East. A sense of doubt and uncertainty will seep into Israel. Hezbollah will grow bolder; the possible entrenchment of political Islam in Turkey or Egypt will create a strategic nightmare for Israel. Educated Jews will start leaving the Jewish homeland, undermining the tax base needed for increased military expenditures (e. g. on anti-ballistic missile systems), as well as the Jewish nature of the Israeli state itself. In short, a nuclearized Middle East will make Israel’s foothold in the Levant vulnerable, even untenable.

If Israel feels that the US is wavering in its commitment to prevent the emergence of a nuclear Iran, then it will go it alone — perhaps with the covert agreement of states like Saudi Arabia, which aren’t much interested in seeing a hostile, nuclear-armed Shi’ite state on the other side of the Gulf either. The US will almost certainly be drawn into the fight in the aftermath — e. g. by an Iranian attempt to block the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian missile attacks on US bases in Iraq, or even false flag Israeli attacks on the US.

In my opinion, the dates of likely Israeli action are from early-2011 (when the US acquires its Massive Ordnance Penetrator bomb capable of busting concrete bunkers 60m deep) to end-2012 (the date by which Iran is likely to have developed workable nuclear weapons). Otherwise, the stage is set for the eventual nuclearization of the Middle East.

Should we expect a further strengthening of sanctions against Iran?

President Medvedev said on 23 September, 2009, “sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.” What he means by this Aesopian language is that it is Russia that will be able to decide whether the results of strengthened sanctions are going to be “productive” (however you define that). Russia’s position is crucial because it is the only country with the spare refining capacity and secure trans-Caspian transport routes to successfully break any gasoline sanctions against Iran.

But even Russia’s participation will not dissuade Iran from working on the Bomb. To the contrary, it can even increase Iranian resolve if it creates the conditions for a “siege mentality” within the Islamic Republic. Furthermore, sanctions are in the interests of both the US (it would prefer accommodating with Iran to fighting it, if possible) and even Russia (to appease the US in exchange for concessions on other policy fronts). As such, sanctions are a very convenient pretext for delaying military action. But for understandable reasons, Israel is unlikely to be as patient.

What do you think are the real Russian, Indian and Chinese positions on Iran?

Though Russia might have a few more friends than just her Army and Navy, Iran certainly isn’t one of them. It’s just a lever to be used for extracting concessions from the US. At this time, supporting sanctions is good for Russia because the Americans are compromising on many spheres (e. g. on modernization, START, Georgia). However, a time may come when Russia performs volte face, e. g. if the US shows signs of reaching a reconciliation with Iran in order to refocus its energies on containing Russia, or ceases supporting Russia’s modernization drive.

China and India are both interested in cooperating with Iran to develop its hydrocarbons sector and lock in its oil and LNG exports. Both countries espouse non-Western values of “national sovereignty” and non-interference. Furthermore, India is interested in recruiting Iran as a western counterweight against its rival Pakistan. As a result, neither country has any interest whatsoever in stringently enforcing sanctions against Iran out of pure altruism.

What do you think are the positions of Georgia and Azerbaijan on military action against Iran and its aftermath?

Since Iran is in a “cold war” with Azerbaijan and supports its prime enemy Armenia, the Azeri elites would probably secretly welcome military action against Iran. Furthermore, there are twice as many Azeris in Iran than in Azerbaijan, and though they enjoy equal rights with Persians, it is Islam — or the system of Guardianship of the Islamic Jury — that really keeps Iran united (with help from the security apparatus). If Iran were to suffer military defeat, the regime may be discredited, and a liberal democratic one may even take its place.

map-iran-ethnicities

Map of Iran’s ethnicities.

In that case, centrifugal tendencies may become predominant — as in the last years of the Soviet Union — and maybe even a Greater Azerbaijan will emerge on both sides of the Caspian Sea in alliance with Turkey to the west. On the other hand, Azerbaijan can’t be too openly enthusiastic about undermining Iran because it borders Russia to the north, which is friendlier with Iran. That is why the Azeris categorically refuse to let Israeli planes fly over its airspace in a strike on Iran.

Georgia’s position is much harder to decipher, as it maintains fairly good relations with everyone except Russia — against which it is irrevocable opposed because of its liberation / occupation (cross out as you wish) of S. Ossetia and Abkhazia. Though in previous years they’d have supported Israel, their current interests aren’t clear, since the Israelis stopped delivering arms to Georgia in exchange for Russia not delivering the S-300 air defense system to Iran. I don’t think a strike against Iran by either Israel or the US will cardinally change Georgia’s situation.

What do you think about the situation in the Russian North Caucasus and the Caucasus region in general?

Russia’s North Caucasus remains bloody and unstable, but secure under Russian control. Kadyrov is the Kremlin’s vassal in Chechnya: should he turn renegade, they’ll find another baron to replace him easily enough.

I doubt there’ll be another Georgia-Russia war. Its clear that the Ossetians and Abkhazians prefer implicit Russian control to explicit Georgian rule, and Saakashvili has no chance of changing this reality by military force. On the other hand, he remains genuinely popular amongst Georgians and secure in his rule. The cold war between Russia and Georgia will continue, but it’s unlikely to turn hot again; not unless Saakashvili is a total loon and tries to replay 08/08/08.

Another war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is also unlikely. Though Azeri military spending, bolstered by its oil wealth, now exceeds the entire Armenian state budget, the latter has had fifteen years to reinforce its positions in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Furthermore, direct Azeri attacks on Armenia proper will probably provoke a Russian military response through the mutual defense provisions of the Collective Security Treaty Organization). Aliyev is a rational, calculating leader and would much rather enjoy Azerbaijan’s oil bounty than run the risk of military defeat and popular uprisings against his regime.

How would you interpret the recent Brazil-Turkey-Iran deal in the context of multipolarity?

It’s an ideological statement: the voices of formerly peripheral countries rejecting the Western consensus on nuclear rights and proposing an alternative project amongst members of the “Rest”. As such, it is a very strong endorsement of the multi-polar ideal. But in real life, the actors playing the key roles are the countries with both interests in the issue and power projection capabilities in the region: Israel, the US, Iran, and Russia. West or Rest, it doesn’t matter: only power and the will to power.

I’d like to thank Marat Kunaev for this interview. I tried to make my answers as thought-provoking as his questions, and though I might have failed in that endevour, I hope the gap is not unbridgeable.

Interviewed by Marat Kunaev.

Comments

  1. I would also mention that most Indian policy makers see Iran as a potential counter-weight to Pakistan, and would rather see an Afghanistan dominated by the Iranians than an Afghanistan dominated by any other great power in the region (other than themselves).

    • Yes, certainly agreed.
      Not that the Indians themselves have been slouches about increasing their influence with Kabul in recent years.

  2. “The Middle East is the world’s only major region perennially incapable of feeding itself…”

    Africa can’t feed itself either.

    “One of the main causes of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is over the unfair distribution of water…”

    I wouldn’t call it a cause. The conflict, like most conflicts, is ethnic in origin, with water just being one of its many battlegrounds.

    “To the contrary, Egypt’s food production deficits…”

    2,000 years ago Egypt fed half the Roman Empire. I wonder what happened. Random guess: overpopulation along the Nile.

    “Afghanistan has $1 trillion in untapped mineral reserves, and regional giants China, India, Russia and Iran have no interest in fundamentalists blocking access to them…”

    Why wouldn’t the Taliban want to sell Afghanistan’s natural resources to willing buyers? My guess is that they’d love to get a chance to do that.

    “Iran wants nuclear weapons to secure its mountain base…”

    Iran doesn’t want to be invaded like Iraq. If Saddam really had WMD, the US would have never attacked him and he’d now be preparing to pass the baton to one of his sons. Lesson learned by neighbors: if you don’t want to be attacked, get WMD.

    • Africa can’t feed itself either.

      Somewhat true, but the problem in Africa is more of an organizational / political issue – AFAIK. If you look at a map of net food imports, the countries where more than 50% of food by calories has to be imported are clustered in the Middle East.

      I wouldn’t call it a cause. The conflict, like most conflicts, is ethnic in origin, with water just being one of its many battlegrounds.

      True – but it will actually have a chance of being resolvable if access to water and good land weren’t the zero-sum issues that they are.

      2,000 years ago Egypt fed half the Roman Empire. I wonder what happened. Random guess: overpopulation along the Nile.

      Pretty much. One should note that Egypt in antiquity was such a huge grain reservoir because the agricultural output of an entire nation of c.6mn was accessible to Nile barges (poor transport meant that overland food transport of more than c.20km was unprofitable, hence ruling out the Roman Empire’s continental interiors). By taxing Egyptian grain output, the first metropolis of more than a million souls, Rome, could be sustained. But today, despite vast technological improvements, the population of Egypt is more than 80mn, but the agricultural base is still ultimately dependent on Nile irrigation.

      Why wouldn’t the Taleban want to sell Afghanistan’s natural resources to willing buyers? My guess is that they’d love to get a chance to do that.

      Probably, but normal people would as soon avoid dealing with such types. I think the surrounding Powers will try to prevent the Taleban from reclaiming power.

      Iran doesn’t want to be invaded like Iraq.

      Agreed… secure the base first.

      • Access to water is not zero sum issue and was not the reason for the collapse of the Oslo process (the refugee issue was). As a matter of fact in recent years Israel has embarked upon construction of desalination and waste water recycling facilities on a massive scale. I also think we should remain faithful to the futurological orientation of SublimeOblivion blog and admit for the possibility that technological progress may soon render the issue of access to water resources irrelevant for some developed countries just as it’s likely at some point to obliterate much of the value of Russia’s oil reserves.

        • Maybe, but the problem is that such technologies always need quite a long lead time to be implemented on a wide scale. For the time being desalination remains very expensive – especially for a nation as energy-starved as Israel. For the time being, the prospects for water / agriculture are firmly negative – especially so in the case of the M. East.

          Same for Russia’s oil reserves. It will take decades to reconfigure an energy base as huge as that of modern industrialism’s. Russia is pretty much set to keep reaping bucketfuls of petrodollars (make that petroyuan soon?) in the future.

          • Russia is pretty much set to keep reaping bucketfuls of petrodollars (make that petroyuan soon?) in the future.

            Making that petroyuan would forcefully unpeg China’s yuan from the dollar and send the USD tumbling down. With the US accounting for a lion’s share of oil imports, it means collapse of the oil market and switch of the US market into a low carbon mode. It would be the end of the US dependence on the Middle East within years.

            With the US technological potential I would bet on the time span of less than a decade for the US to come up with an alternative technology that would be competitive not only in the US but globally. Russia’s oil fields are not cheap anyway, so Russia would be the first to get out of the market. Saudi Arabia will only suffer a massive revenue loss, but Russia will have to simply stop production.

            • US insolvency would take a giant bite out of its technological potential, and it would become less able to borrow from foreign investors if the petrodollar disappeared. I don’t think it could emerge as the same entity and resume its expansionism, just as Britain did not and Russia did not. However, China is not offering their currency as a replacement. They maintain strict controls on its transactions to keep speculators from attacking it.

              • It’s not as if the yuan’s peg to the $ is going to last forever, though. They are already loosening it up and, having already built up a massive industrial base, it would soon be in their interests to let it float freely so as to enhance Chinese purchasing power and shift away from their reliance on exports.

              • seed says:
                August 27, 2010 at 11:00 am

                US insolvency would take a giant bite out of its technological potential, and it would become less able to borrow from foreign investors if the petrodollar disappeared.

                If the US government becomes insolvent, the dollar will have to collapse. If the petro dolar is replaced by petroyuan or petrosomething it will have the same effect. It’s simply impossible that the US government declares default or something and exchange rates remain the same.

                As a matter of fact the US economy is not that critically dependent on borrowing from foreign investors since it borrows in the same dollars that it prints. Its position is not the same as that of Argentina that owed truckloads to foreign investors and had to clatch to its currency peg. If the dollar crashes, it’s the holders of the US debt and other dollar denominated assets, who will suddenly find their savings wiped out of existence. For the US government and companies, their debt obligations remain the same.

                The US position towards holders of its debt is more alike to those Russian governments of the late Soviet era who were monetizing their pension liabilities until eventually price controls had to be removed and people’s savings were wiped out in the matter of weeks. In this sense the US government can simply print its way out of its debt obligations and wipe out the holders of its debt, means individuals and treseuries around the world and in the US itself. The US governemnt is only inflation constrained, it has no solvency issues. It depends only on how much inflation the US government is ready to tolerate.

                I am not saying that the US is very likely to come out unscathed from this ordeal and obviously with their car culture, urban sprawl and other shit the US is heavily dependent on petroleum imports. Any drastic readjustment of exchange rates will knock the society off its feet, but what will follow will do very little to, say, heal the wounded imperial pride of the same Russia. As the price of petroleum imports shoot up, it would automatically make all alternatives more competitive. The US is a huge market and billions in the private sector will be redirected into research and development of more alternatives. Under this scenario we will have dramatically update our time estimates for the end of the oil era. Oil producing countries, like Russia, will see both their oil revenues and foreign reserves disappearing.As a matter of fact there is no need for a silver bullet technology. What’s missing is only a price signal which the new exchange rate will promptly deliver.

                As to China, I am yet to see any East Asian nation belonging to the same cultural block (Japan, Korea, different Chinese countries) succeeding to create a self sufficient economy sustained by the domestic demand. Until now such a thing has never been observed in nature. If the dollar tanks, China is done.

              • NB,

                I mean, without commodities like oil it would be hard for the US to get others to hold those debts and dollar denominated assets. The terms would be a little more equal with other currencies, making it difficult to borrow. Late Soviet debt was just for servicing existing debt, when it became impossible to borrow anything more. What if your economy is shrinking while your debt is accumulating rapidly and your population is ageing?

                The effects would hurt research universities, defense and space programs, among other things, making technological innovation more difficult. I do not believe there has to be another country to take its place. I think it will cause worldwide instability until someone else assumes that role.

                Anyway, natural gas is considered the alternative in the US because it has so much of its own reserves. However, there is no effective distribution network nor plans to phase it in when oil runs out. I think it shows how obstinate the system really is.

            • I have to agree with seed here. A US currency crisis would also lead to an economic collapse in which much of the technological base can be expected to wither away / relocate to Asia.

              Even should the US “come up with” a silver bullet energy technology that displaced fossil fuel, it will 1) likely take decades to implement and 2) the first oilmen out of business will be those working in remote and difficult locations; the immediate cutbacks will be in Canada’s tar sands and deep-ocean drilling (i.e. the most costly oil producing operations), not in Russia – where production doesn’t seem to be as expensive as you would expect.

    • I agree with Glossy that Iran’s main motive for getting The Bomb is likely one of deterrence (against U.S./Israeli invasion). If they can’t make a nuke in time, they’ll pretend they have one. Iran’s recent history (last few hundred years) shows they have not started any wars, only responded when attacked. I know sounds corny,but they could be classified as “peace-loving nation.” :)

  3. georgesdelatour says:

    I think you’re not quite right about Bin Laden. Sayyid Qutb really did hate America’s freedom, as he explained in his article “The America That I Have Seen”. Ayman Zawahiri was his student, and mentor to Bin Laden. So it’s likely Bin Laden has inherited some of Qutb’s animus.

    Regarding Bin Laden’s hostility to US forces in Saudi Arabia; BL’s fundamental objection comes from Muhammad’s deathbed command that no non-Muslims be allowed to live anywhere in the Arabian gulf. That would still apply to any non-Sunni Muslim presence by absolutely anyone, no matter how nicely and helpfully they behaved towards their hosts.

    It’s difficult for unbelievers to understand the motivations of people who feel the real presence of religious imperatives in driving their actions. I’ve read Marxist historians write about the Protestant Reformation, blandly assuming that it was purely about material forces – class conflicts and technological change. But the fact is, Luther had an intense theological argument which motivated him. He was more imminently frightened of hell than modern westerners are frightened of cancer.

    That’s not the whole story, but it is a significant part, and Clausewitzian analyses just omit it from their calculations.

    • I read bits of Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden and was struck by how logical most of the arguments were as seen from the “patriot”-Muslim perspective (an impression disturbed only by the occasional rant). Don’t quote me on details (this was more than a year ago), but I do recommend checking it out.

      If Arab elites were to identify more with their subjects, and if Western hegemony were not so starkly evident, I doubt the ideas of Qutb & OBL would have gotten much traction. Indeed, they’d have probably never become so extremely radicalized to begin with.

  4. Some thoughts…
    Israel does not have means to significantly hinder Iran nuclear program. It is in current state more about technical know-how, not the number of centrifuges running and Israel does not have neither will nor power to sustain months long bombing campaign. And even that will do probably very little damage to the ability of Iran to get centrifuges up and running again, if the campaign ends.
    US will do everything to avoid being dragged into Israeli-Iran conflict. While many common Arab Muslims may be hostile against Iran, Israel is always their enemy number one. And US-Israeli common campaign against Muslim state will destroy the last remains of goodwill US may have in region. Although the common Arab people do not have much to say about the politics of their states, they will have more than enough means to damage US interests by increased insurgency everywhere, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Israel is more than aware of all that, and is basically blackmailing US to support it unconditionally against Iran by constant threats of attacking the latter. US is ready to do almost everything to avoid being militarily dragged into Israeli-Iran conflict. This includes all kinds of military and political concessions to Israel plus being ultra-tough on Iran. The potential warming of US-Iran ties is the worst nightmare of any Israeli politician and they are ready to do everything to avoid that. Especially because, as many have pointed out, Iran is much more natural ally of West in region than Arab states.
    Iran, of course is also well aware of that and is exploiting it in its advantage.

  5. Alexander G says:

    I don’t think its possible to really stop Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities by bombing them? The purpose of bombing Iran would be more for punishment, than anything else. Its more about making Iran “pay” for disobeying Israel wishes, by causing billions of dollars in damage to military and civilian infrastructure. This was the motive for bombing Lebanon in 2006. It was punishment for the populations support of Hezbollah. Its basically telling Iran: “you can have nukes, but it will cost you billions of dollars.”

    • It will be too costly for Israel to be simple punishment – lost planes, captured pilots, Iranian missiles hitting Israel, emboldened Hizbollah, eroding support for Israel and increasing support for Iran in western Europe…
      But if the price is keeping US involved in Middle-East, it definitely is not too high. And if US seems to try to distance itself, it has to be forced to chose sides – thus the need of conflicts now and then.

    • “Alexander G says:
      August 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm

      I don’t think its possible to really stop Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities by bombing them?”

      I would like to stop this parade of silliness. May I? It would take the US exactly one day to burn to the ground all Iran’s refineries and power stations bringing the country to a total halt. The sanctions against gasoline imports to Iran are already in place. The state of Iran’s economy is dire, it’s absolutely unprepared to handle such confrontations. As long as the US is not committed to bringing democracy to the Middle East and engaging in nation building projects in the region, it’s unstoppable. The US Arab allies in the region, which basically include major Arab countries in the Middle East, have already let it be known, that co-existence with the nuclear Iran is not an option for them at all and they expect America to take action. Given the near total dependence of the US on petroleum imports and escalating competition between it and China for access to natural resources, the US should better heed their advise.

      http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,706445,00.html

  6. Alexander G says:

    NB,
    Iran has had a lot of time to prepare for an attack and are more capable than Serbia, Iraq, Hezbollah, or Hamas. The geography of Iran is more difficult compared to these past campaigns, and Iran literally has the ability to drastically damage an already shaky global economy(by shutting down the strait of Hormuz).

    You are correct that the US could cause a lot of damage, but this doesn’t mean Iran’s nuclear capabilities will be destroyed (even if we use nuclear bunker busters). Israel by itself certainly won’t be able to pull this off, and if they try, the havoc rained down on them will be massive.

    As far as our Arab allies are concerned, I’m sure they were equally displeased when Israel acquired nuclear weapons, but life goes on, and we still buy their oil.

    So don’t be so sure of yourself. Remember the last war when someone suggested it would be a “cakewalk” and it cost us a trillion dollars and over 4000 dead American.

    So perhaps you should stop your own cakewalk of silliness?

    • “Alexander G says
      As far as our Arab allies are concerned, I’m sure they were equally displeased when Israel acquired nuclear weapons, but life goes on, and we still buy their oil.”

      Arabs don’t care so much for Israel’s nuclear weapons, which officially Israel don’t even have. In the Arab perception, Israel’s territorial ambitions, if they exist, don’t extend beyond the already half evacuated by Israel West Bank, which is a tiny piece of wasteland devoid of any strategic or economic importance. Iran’s nuclear program, however, has already spawned at least six parallel programs in the Arab world.

      Another thing is that Israel’s existential paranoia notwithstanding, Israel is a mini state surrounding by Arab nations, has a significant Arab minority, is hosting Islam’s third holiest site and, as rumors in the Middle East have it, is targeting with its nuclear warheads Mecca and Medina as an option of last resort. No regime in the region, let alone a regime run by Muslim clerics, is very likely to dare to consider dropping a nuclear bomb on Israel.

      One should also understand that contrary to the nonsense you and Larius are spewing here all over the place, Israel does not have any real issues with Iran as Israel and Iran are separated by two thousand kilometers. There is no real historic precedence to the obsession of the current regime in Tehran with Israel. If anything, one of the Persian emperors is accorded a messiah like status in the Bible for restoring Israel after the exile in Babel and rebuilding the grand temple. The Romans during their campaigns in the Middle East have habitually and correctly suspected Jews of being sympathizers and agents of Rome’s Persian rivals. Israel used to have full relations with Iran during the Shah.

      On the other hand, the Arab Persian rivalry is a thousand years old and continues unabated to these very days. It includes everything from an Arab minority in Iran that occasionally together with Kurds and Baloch stage uprisings against the Persian rule to territorial conflicts. Territorial conflicts are ranging from Iran’s occupying presumably Arab land to territorial incursions into Iraq and occasional musings that Bahrain is actually not an independent Arab state but one of the Persian provinces. Never mind Arab suspicions that Iran is heavily involved with the restless Shia minorities across the region. http://www.stratfor.com/memberships/148952/analysis/20091116_iran_naval_deployment_and_houthi_rebellion

      The anti Israel obsession of Tehran will be over the very moment this regime, which is already showing cracks all over the facade, goes away. But the Arab Persian conflict will probably continue for another millennium. Under these conditions the Saudis and Emiratees have been apparently offering China to replace one million of foreign workers in the Gulf with Chinese in exchange for China’s support for action against Iran. This year more Saudi oil was sent to China than to the US. If America continues to delude itself that Iran’s nuclear program is Israel’s problem, nobody should be surprised when America’s Arab proteges in the region start shopping around for a better patron.

      • Hidden Author says:

        Shopping around for a better patron? Did you think that America will just let the Chinese or any other power (except maybe the British) park their military in the Gulf?

  7. The Chinese workers angle in the Gulf is interesting. First they come for construction, and some of them turn out to be Dragonwater ex-PLA mercs, as in Sudan. Replace the withdrawing U.S. military in slow motion…

  8. The Chinese comment reminds me of the writer Phillip Jenkins book The Next Christendom in which he claims that China might actually become Israel friendly in forty years since Chinese Christians are having the most babies compared to their secular peers. Unlikely I think given the constraints of oil politics but an interesting theory nonetheless. If Christianity plus realpolitik desire for a united Korea rid of U.S. forces would motivate a Chinese soft takedown of the Kim Jong Il successor regime (since only they can do it) so much the better.

  9. Alexander G says:

    Israel does not have any real issues with Iran as Israel and Iran are separated by two thousand kilometers.” (NB)

    LOL, Someone should tell Netanyahu this. He’s on America TV every other week instigating war against Iran.

    I thought you were just misinformed, but now its obvious that your purpose is to spread disinformation. As far as your historical “analysis” on Judo-Persian relations goes, I suggest you look into the Jewish Holiday called “Purim.” (See link)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purim

    I suspect you probably know this already, and are engaging in “hasbara.” (see link below).
    http://www.counterpunch.org/cook07212009.html

    Judging by the quality of you “hasbara,” (propaganda), you’re most likely new at this game.

    • @AG

      The Purim story ends with a Jew being reinstituted in the position of VP to the Persian emperor. Did you read the story? It’s simply not about it. Purim is a story of a court intrigue.

      And Netanyahu can appear on the US TV every single day. He is by far not the only leader in the Middle East who is preoccupied with the Persian nuclear program, but unlike others he does not share borders with Iran, nor has territorial disputes with the Persians, nor has a Shia minority in his country. The moment Velayat e Faqih finishes its career in Iran, Iran and Israel will happily forget about each other. These days the concept is not endorsed even by Shia Ayatollahs in Iraq and actually anywhere in the Shia world. Iran’s Islamic Revolution can no longer be exported even to Shia countries around, it has become a historic anachronism that outlived its purpose.

      “I suspect you probably know this already, and are engaging in “hasbara.” (see link below).
      http://www.counterpunch.org/cook07212009.html

      Judging by the quality of you “hasbara,” (propaganda), you’re most likely new at this game.”

      This is too silly even by you standards. Well, what can I tell you….hmmm… But basically you are right, you are surrounded by Mossad agents from all sides. They are watching your every single step. So … Behave …
      :D :D

      • I said nothing about the Mossad. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t hire you anyway (these are pretty smart folks).

        With that said, I want to return to my original point.

        Bombing Iran is not a good idea, and I very much hope the United States doesn’t do it(for the reasons I pointed out above). If Israel wishes to do so, its really none of my business.

        Actually, I hope the Israelis DO bomb Iran because I want to watch the show. Unforchantly, I don’t believe Israel has the capability (or the balls) to do so? Of course, if the Arabs want bombs to fall in Iran then maybe THEY should do it(if they even have the ability to maintain an air force)?

        I just don’t the want the US to get involved. And with that said, I encourage the US military to be extra vigilant and on alert for false flag operations like the attack on the USS Liberty and/or the Lavon affair.

  10. Author: seed
    Comment:
    NB,

    I mean, without commodities like oil it would be hard for the US to get others to hold those debts and dollar denominated assets”

    It has nothing to do with oil. The current system we have, which is unsustainable in the long run (I agree), is a legacy of the post ww2 era when the US accounted for a much larger share of the global economy. Under these conditions countries like Japan and South Korea have been industrializing themselves by exports to the US market, which is one of the most open markets in the world. At that time the US did not mind this situation because its economy was big enough relative to the rest of the world.

    The situation with China is no different these days. It’s just that China is too big while the relative share of the US economy has diminished. The current system is based on governments around the world and not only China, manipulating their exchange rates and buying the US debt in an attempt to squeeze the last bits of demand out of the US market. It’s not unlike a housing bubble with banks making saltos in the air trying to prop up demand for new houses.

    It’s not that the US is fundamentally very interested to feed this army of leeches or should care for the preservation of their dollar denominated savings. Far from this, the US economy is now stuck unable to properly adjust its currency rate, since most governments are manipulating their exchange rates by propping the dollar up. When the current system start unraveling, the US economy will certainly get a knockout. But those waiting for their shadenfreude moment should think twice, because demise of the system is very likely to cure them and their Mother Russia of their obsessive compulsive imperial syndrome in no time. This is really one of those wonderful moments in the history of humanity when the wisdoms of not biting the hand that feeds one, and being careful about what one is wishing for, come together.

    We had plenty of cases in recent decades when abrupt devaluation, after initial devastation, was followed by strong economic recoveries. The same Argentina. The Russian default. We have yet to see however, as I already mentioned, any nation from that Confucian cultural unit ridding itself of its dependence on exports. In case the unraveling happens, it’s not China with its rapidly aging and chronically oversaving and underconsuming population, who is going to have the last laugh.

    • I am not sure what is supposed to happen after collapse and rebirth. I just said that it would likely follow the path of Britain and Russia. Its dependencies would find other patrons, and its access to those markets would diminish. Europe, China, the Middle East, Latin America, etc. would go their own ways. Of the G20, US is actually the most protectionist economy, and it only grants access to a few economies. If you mean that Russia is biting the hand of the US – it is actually the other way around – since the US government has actively intervened to prevent it from gaining access to its market. There is the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which Russia has been in compliance with for almost two decades, and two vetoes at the WTO, which would give it recourse against uncompetitive behavior. Then there are the deals with Opel and Saab which were scuttled by Obama (while China and India were buying up GM assets). Major financial and automotive companies were actually acquired by the US government in a move that was not followed by other countries suffering during the crisis.

      • “Author: seed
        Comment:
        I am not sure what is supposed to happen after collapse and rebirth. I just said that it would likely follow the path of Britain and Russia.”

        Put this in your head that it’s very uncommon for governments who borrow in their own currency to go bust because they have a simple tool to send bust everybody around instead of themselves. Have you heard that if you owe one thousand USD to a bank, it’s your problem , but if you owe one million it’s the banks? Now imagine that you can just draw a one million banknote in your kitchen and the bank will have to accept it. This is true that the situation is grotesque and somebody has to take a loss here. That’s why when the time comes the US government will simply print Russia’s and China’s national savings into oblivion. Into sublime oblivion. The US is not likely to follow Russia’s path because it borrows in its own currency. Its debt obligations are not foreign currency denominated. The US government is absolutely oblivious to who is holding its debt. Outsiders, locals, they are all the same. It’s dollars.

        “Its dependencies would find other patrons, and its access to those markets would diminish. Europe, China, the Middle East, Latin America, etc. would go their own ways. ”

        The US is not dependent on anybody, it’s everybody else got addicted to the US demand. America is a huge and self sustained market of an exceptionally industrious nation whose religion is “In shopping we trust”. It’s China who needs the US market and Russia who needs the US market and the US to keep consuming something like one quarter of the global oil. Not the other way round. This is what you should know to be sure about what’s supposed to happen after collapse and rebirth.

  11. “That’s why when the time comes the US government will simply print Russia’s and China’s national savings into oblivion.”

    Debt usually matures, so there is no nuclear option for the US government against its creditors. If they do not buy more, the cost of borrowing for the US government rises, and the incentive to diversify increases for risk-averse investors. The US is still very dependent on oil because it needs dollars to be seen as an indispensable part of the global economy. (And the internal combustion engine has not been challenged in the last 150 years, just to give you an idea of how difficult it is to make major technological innovations widely adopted.)

    “The US is not dependent on anybody, it’s everybody else got addicted to the US demand.”

    Well it is dependent on others to meet the obligations for its entitlements. The US Social Security system must be honored, although it is running out faster than anyone expected. The aging population of the US must invest in emerging economies (such as BRIC) because there are few places in the world seeing large growth.

    “America is a huge and self sustained market of an exceptionally industrious nation whose religion is “In shopping we trust”.”

    It is not the only place with a consumer market. Europe is already a large one and China has 300m people in the middle class. Also, many of these people have more savings than their American counterparts (the euro proving to be almost as strong as the DM). The entire eastern block maintains a trade relationship with one another, while exports to the US markets are negligible. Politics will resume following the regional trade patterns, so the era of superpower is almost over.

  12. “Author: seed

    Debt usually matures, so there is no nuclear option for the US government against its creditors.”

    The US was in this situation shortly after the ww2. The debt to GDP ratio was not unlike the current one. In the years that immediately followed the war there was a massive inflation in the US that wiped out large chunk of the debt pretty much as what the Russian governments did to their people’s savings. Put the US government with its back to the wall and it will do it again. Not out of some malevolence but because this is what governments who issued debt in their own currency usually do when they find themselves with their back to the wall.

    “If they do not buy more, the cost of borrowing for the US government rises, and the incentive to diversify increases for risk-averse investors.”

    The US does need to run these deficits in the first place and that it does comes mainly from the fact that the current system makes America overstretched economically just as it’s overstretched militarily by Iraq and Afghanistan. When the exchange rate adjustment comes it will cure the US economy in one go of its addiction to oil and cheap produce from China. You should understand that the US retrenchment from its global status is mostly good for the US. It’s the would be superpowers who are interested to have the US to run these deficits and this is why they are all too eager to stockpile US dollars and US debt. From the point of view of the US itself, they are not doing any favors to the US with this, but rather serving the US government a rope to hang itself with.

    “The aging population of the US must invest in emerging economies (such as BRIC) because there are few places in the world seeing large growth.”

    Who told you that BRIC have brilliant demographics? You mean Russia? Ha! China? China will soon have the worst demographics in the world since another thing very typical of countries of that cultural unit, besides their incurable export dependence, is their predisposition to super low fertility and China has already spent decades under the one child policy.

    “It is not the only place with a consumer market. Europe is already a large one and China has 300m people in the middle class. Also, many of these people have more savings than their American counterparts (the euro proving to be almost as strong as the DM).”

    The euro is a mega disaster under which the German export machine has decimated peripheral economies of the EU and now relying on the constant threat of default by member countries to push the euro down and keep exporting elsewhere. It could take exactly a 10% devaluation of the Spanish Peseta and a 10% appreciation by the DM to cure the EU periphery of its troubles. They just can’t do it any longer because they are all locked into the same currency. The future by far does not look bright for Europe.

    • “In the years that immediately followed the war there was a massive inflation in the US that wiped out large chunk of the debt pretty much as what the Russian governments did to their people’s savings. Put the US government with its back to the wall and it will do it again. Not out of some malevolence but because this is what governments who issued debt in their own currency usually do when they find themselves with their back to the wall.”

      It was fixed at $35/ounce of gold. Peoples’ savings were not wiped out because those savings during the war were responsible for the post-war boom. Also, US was by far the biggest economy at the time. The situation is always changing.

      “The US does need to run these deficits in the first place and that it does comes mainly from the fact that the current system makes America overstretched economically just as it’s overstretched militarily by Iraq and Afghanistan. When the exchange rate adjustment comes it will cure the US economy in one go of its addiction to oil and cheap produce from China.”

      You believe in magic. There is nothing in this plan to back up the dollar and keep it from spiraling out of control.

      “Who told you that BRIC have brilliant demographics? You mean Russia? Ha! China? China will soon have the worst demographics in the world since another thing very typical of countries of that cultural unit, besides their incurable export dependence, is their predisposition to super low fertility and China has already spent decades under the one child policy.”

      I said GROWTH. That is in wealth, not people. Retirement portfolios have to have these investments because there is not enough growth in older economies. The Arab/Muslim world has the worst demographics, by the way. They have outgrown water supplies and the ability to sustain themselves. Some of these states were less than a million in the XX century, now approaching 30 million. Also, they have too many young people entering the labour market with no one who will hire them. There is no way that more people = healthy economy axiom is true.

      “The euro is a mega disaster under which the German export machine has decimated peripheral economies of the EU and now relying on the constant threat of default by member countries to push the euro down and keep exporting elsewhere. It could take exactly a 10% devaluation of the Spanish Peseta and a 10% appreciation by the DM to cure the EU periphery of its troubles. They just can’t do it any longer because they are all locked into the same currency. The future by far does not look bright for Europe.”

      Devaluations are not cures, and most governments who pursue this strategy end up with poor economic results. The EU periphery should have adapted to avoid this shock, but it is not doomed.

  13. Alexander G says:
    August 28, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I said nothing about the Mossad. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t hire you anyway (these are pretty smart folks).

    ****************

    Then my chances are not that bad. Dunno if I am smart, but I think myself to be quite pretty

  14. seed
    It was fixed at $35/ounce of gold. Peoples’ savings were not wiped out because those savings during the war were responsible for the post-war boom.

    ***********************

    Only foreign governments and central banks could redeem dollars for gold under the BW. Domestic holders of the US debt were not protected and that debt was mostly domestic. The BW was not a real gold standard. Not sure about how much the debt to GDP ratio was eliminated by inflation in the decade that followed but it should be something in between 25% and 35%. I mean between 25% and 35% of the real value of that debt.

    “You believe in magic. There is nothing in this plan to back up the dollar and keep it from spiraling out of control.”

    I don’t believe in any magic. Neither I have any plan. And neither I promised to anybody that it’s going to be a walk in a park. I am just saying a very simple thing. The current system looks anachronistic. Precisely because as you said “Also, US was by far the biggest economy at the time. The situation is always changing.”. Correct. If and when this system goes down, there will be a big mess. It will affect everybody. However, when the dust settles down, it’s not the would be superpowers who will find themselves among the beneficiaries of the new order because the current situation benefits them at the expense of the US. Get it!

    As a matter of fact China understands this. This is why they are in no hurry to step in and start unwinding this bubble. They know that they are very likely to only lose from this. Their only motivation, if it exists, is that the current system looks increasingly shaky and unstable and better to fall apart sooner than later. But this is not that China is very eager to unseat the US. They can only be forced to do it as choosing of the least between the two evils.

    As to Russians, the Russians are always pursuing self destructive agendas. If you are taught for 70 years that if your neighbor has more than you, then he is stealing and likely from you, you are very likely to develop irrational belief that the world is such a zero sum game that people can only advance themselves by other people’s failures. So you will be fighting Muslim insurgencies in your own country and have terror attacks by Muslim radicals in your main cities, and still you will be building nuclear reactors in a nearby Muslim country run by clerics whose main specialty is exporting their Islamic revolution around the world. Just because you will think that being the country of no means that you are protecting your interests. Only the likes of Stratfor can rationalize this absurd into the concept of national interests. Russia’s interest in having the current currency order destroyed is no more rational than its silly games in the Middle East.

    • “Not sure about how much the debt to GDP ratio was eliminated by inflation in the decade that followed but it should be something in between 25% and 35%. I mean between 25% and 35% of the real value of that debt.”

      It does not match up. Inflation was not very high the next decade. Most likely the deficit reduction resulted from increased revenues (in other words – taxes). Inflating your way out of debt, of course, does not work very well. Greece would be in worse shape if it did that because the people can still enjoy the fact that a strong euro will keep its value in their savings.

      “As a matter of fact China understands this. This is why they are in no hurry to step in and start unwinding this bubble…
      As to Russians, the Russians are always pursuing self destructive agendas”

      China is the one who has been quite vocal about ending the dollar’s hegemony. Neither can really do anything about it, but the US is destroying the order on its own. Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, and Russia all could have changed it in the early 2000s. They did not.

      • seed

        I will just comment on this one

        “China is the one who has been quite vocal about ending the dollar’s hegemony.”

        You know, man. If you invite me for a drink, after a few rounds I am very likely to get quite vocal as well. I usually do. Hugo Chavez also used to be quite vocal about boycotting the US. I wonder why his vocalizations never got translated into practical action. Maybe because he could not find enough buyers for his “high quality” oil outside the US?

        You know, we are not under the BW or something. Offer the world an alternative basket of currencies to swap its dollars for and the current system is gone. And when it comes to such alternatives there is no better place to start with than …. You guess.. Bingo! China itself. It’s not that China should be very vocal about it (Never mind that we did not hear from them on this issue for quite a while). All China should do is to offer itself as a replacement. Why are they procrastinating so much with this? Maybe for the same reason that Germany dropped its DM and locked itself into the same currency with dozens of other European nations? Or maybe China is just waiting for other suckers to wreck themselves in a vain pursuit of glory?

        “Neither can really do anything about it, but the US is destroying the order on its own.”

        Right. The big uncle has lost his mind and destroying the foundations of the house. Nobody can do much about this. This is why everybody should immediately vacate the premises and duck for cover.

  15. Seed

    Let this thread die. It became like Velayat e Faqih. It outlived its purpose

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