Oil Prices Fall After Producers Fail to Reach Deal at Doha By Georgi Kantchev Updated April 17, 2016 9:42 p.m. ET


Hopes of a deal had helped oil prices rally in recent weeks

 Oil prices opened sharply lower in early Asian trading hours on Monday after major oil producers ended their meeting in Doha, Qatar, over the weekend without reaching an agreement to cap production.

Hopes for a deal among major producers, including several from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia, were a main driver in a rally that lifted U.S. crude prices more than 50% from their February lows. U.S. crude settled at $41.50 a barrel on Friday.

Now, much of those gains could be eroded in a market that has already endured a turbulent year, analysts say.

U.S. crude was recently trading 5.7% lower at $38.05 a barrel and Brent down 5.2% at $40.86 a barrel.

“This is an extremely bearish scenario,” said Abhishek Deshpande, oil analyst at Natixis. “Prices could touch $30 a barrel within days.”

Steep falls in crude could also weigh on equity markets more generally. Stocks have often moved alongside oil this year. Bank shares, for instance, many of which have large energy portfolios, have been pressured by the declines in oil.

Qatari Minister of Energy and Industry Mohammed Saleh al-Sada attends a news conference following the oil-producers' meeting in Doha, Qatar on Sunday.

Qatari Minister of Energy and Industry Mohammed Saleh al-Sada attends a news conference following the oil-producers’ meeting in Doha, Qatar on Sunday. —  Photo: European Pressphoto Agency

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This is why they hate us: The real American history neither Ted Cruz nor the New York Times will tell you – Salon.com


We talk democracy, then overthrow elected governments and prop up awful regimes. Let’s discuss the actual history

Source: This is why they hate us: The real American history neither Ted Cruz nor the New York Times will tell you – Salon.com

How Proxy Wars Work – By Lionel Boehner November 12, 2015


With U.S.-made antitank missiles finding their way to Syrian rebels and Russian fighter jets pummeling the same rebels and supplying the Bashar al-Assad regime with antiaircraft missile systems, it might seem easy to describe the battle in Syria as a proxy war. But that phrase gets tossed around too carelessly and comes with some dangerous myths.

First, describing the Syrian quagmire as a proxy war implies that the conflict is mainly about larger fissures in the region, especially the rift between Sunni and Shiite, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Second, it suggests that the conflict will be resolved chiefly by outside actors hashing out their differences at the table. Third, the phrase indicates that the conflict is an incredibly high-stakes game involving existential issues on which compromise is impossible.

As the history of past proxy wars teaches, though, all three assumptions are wrong. To bring the fighting in Syria to an end, all parties involved will need to get real about what a proxy war is—and what it isn’t. Proxy wars do not miraculously extinguish themselves without some measure of bottom-up attempts to make peace among local fighters or a fundamental shift in the conflict’s balance of power on the ground.

Smoke rises from what activists said was a military position of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after clashes with Army of Islam fighters, outside Douma, near Damascus September 13, 2015.

Smoke rises from what activists said was a military position of forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad after clashes with Army of Islam fighters, outside Douma, near Damascus September 13, 2015.

COLD WAR THINKING

The term “proxy war” conjures images of the Cold War, when outside powers—namely, the United States and Soviet Union, but also regional players—treated local combatants as pawns on a geopolitical chessboard. In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of guerrilla conflicts in Latin America became de facto conflicts between the Soviet Union and the United States. Ditto wars in Angola, Chad, and Vietnam.

Just as it was unthinkable in those days that Washington and Moscow would get tangled in a conventional war, it is hard to imagine the United States and Russia going to war today. And, in fact, proxy wars are prevalent when the costs of traditional interstate war are high. And so, Hezbollah-backed Syrian forces and rebels from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS) can go at each other’s throats with little risk of regional escalation.

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2015-11-12/how-proxy-wars-work

The Resurgence of the Taliban (Trailer)- Vice News Published on Nov 2, 2015


In late September, the Taliban launched an offensive against Kunduz, a provincial capital in northern Afghanistan, capturing key buildings and freeing hundreds of prisoners from the city’s jail.

The offensive sparked a fierce battle between the militants and government forces, supported by US airstrikes. After several days of fighting, Afghan troops recaptured the city, and took down the Taliban’s flag from the central square.

American planes targeted Taliban positions, but at the beginning of October, a hospital run by medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) was hit, killing 22 hospital staff and patients, with many seriously injured. The Pentagon later admitted that the strike was a mistake.

Gaining exclusive access to the Taliban, VICE News filmmaker Nagieb Khaja spoke to fighters that briefly took control of Kunduz — the first major city to fall to the group since it was ousted from power in 2001.

Watch “Robert Grenier: The VICE News Interview” – http://bit.ly/1KTO5aw

The End of Pax Americana – By Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson November/December 2015 Issue


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The Obama administration has clearly pulled back from the United States’ recent interventionism in the Middle East, notwithstanding the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and the U.S.-led air war against it. Critics pin the change on the administration’s aversion to U.S. activism in the region, its unwillingness to engage in major combat operations, or President Barack Obama’s alleged ideological preference for diminished global engagement. But the reality is that Washington’s post-9/11 interventions in the region—especially the one in Iraq—were anomalous and shaped false perceptions of a “new normal” of American intervention, both at home and in the region. The administration’s unwillingness to use ground forces in Iraq or Syria constitutes not so much a withdrawal as a correction—an attempt to restore the stability that had endured for several decades thanks to American restraint, not American aggressiveness.

It’s possible to argue that pulling back is less a choice than a necessity. Some realist observers claim that in a time of economic uncertainty and cuts to the U.S. military budget, an expansive U.S. policy in the region has simply become too costly. According to that view, the United States, like the United Kingdom before it, is the victim of its own “imperial overstretch.” Others argue that U.S. policy initiatives, especially the recent negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, have distanced Washington from its traditional Middle Eastern allies; in other words, the United States isn’t pulling back so much as pushing away.

The long period of American primacy in the Middle East is ending.

In actuality, however, the main driver of the U.S. pullback is not what’s happening in Washington but what’s happening in the region. Political and economic developments in the Middle East have reduced the opportunities for effective American intervention to a vanishing point, and policymakers in Washington have been recognizing that and acting accordingly. Given this, the moderate U.S. pullback should be not reversed but rather continued, at least in the absence of a significant threat to core U.S. interests.

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2015-10-20/end-pax-americana

America’s Fading Footprint in the Middle East – By Yaroslav Trofimov Oct. 9, 2015 1:32 p.m. ET


As Russia bombs and Iran plots, the U.S. role is shrinking—and the region’s major players are looking for new ways to advance their own interests

U.S. Army soldiers board a helicopter as they leave after the end of their one-year deployment in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, in March 2012.

U.S. Army soldiers board a helicopter as they leave after the end of their one-year deployment in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, in March 2012. Photo: Erik De Castro/Reuters

Despised by some, admired by others, the U.S. has been the Middle East’s principal power for decades, providing its allies with guidance and protection.

Now, however, with Russia and Iran thrusting themselves boldly into the region’s affairs, that special role seems to be melting away. As seasoned politicians and diplomats survey the mayhem, they struggle to recall a moment when America counted for so little in the Middle East—and when it was held in such contempt, by friend and foe alike.

“It’s the lowest ebb since World War II for U.S. influence and engagement in the region,” said Ryan Crocker, a career diplomat who served as the Obamaadministration’s ambassador to Afghanistan and before that as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan.

From shepherding Israel toward peace with its Arab neighbors to rolling back Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and halting the contagion of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the U.S. has long been at the core of the Middle East’s security system. Its military might secured critical trade routes and the bulk of the world’s oil supply. Today, the void created by U.S. withdrawal is being filled by the very powers that American policy has long sought to contain.

“If you look at the heart of the Middle East, where the U.S. once was, we are now gone—and in our place, we have Iran, Iran’s Shiite proxies, Islamic State and the Russians,” added Mr. Crocker, now dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. “What had been a time and place of U.S. ascendancy we have ceded to our adversaries.”

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http://www.wsj.com/articles/americas-fading-footprint-in-the-middle-east-1444411954

 

Obama and the Middle East – By Marc Lynch September/October 2015 Issue


Rightsizing the U.S. Role

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Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Middle East strategy often complain that Obama lacks a strategic vision. This is almost exactly wrong. Obama came to office with a conviction that reducing the United States’ massive military and political investment in the Middle East was a vital national security interest in its own right. The occupation of Iraq and the excesses of the war on terrorism had left the United States overextended, especially at a time of economic crisis. “Rightsizing” the United States’ footprint in the region meant not only reducing its material presence but also exercising restraint diplomatically, stepping back and challenging allies to take greater responsibility for their own security. Obama has adhered consistently to this strategy, prioritizing it ruthlessly along the way and firmly resisting efforts to force it off track. This was not a strategy much beloved in Washington or in a region hard-wired for the exercise of American power. But it was a clear and coherent strategy that led Obama to undertake major initiatives on the problems he viewed as rising to the level of core national security interests: Iran’s nuclear weapons program, terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the war in Iraq.

Yet for all of Obama’s analytic acuity, the implementation of his policies has often floundered. His administration has consistently failed to deliver on the promises raised by his inspirational speeches. It has struggled to communicate its policies effectively to publics in the Middle East and has been unable to explain obvious hypocrisies. Efforts to remain evenhanded and noninterventionist have infuriated partisans on all sides who wanted unconditional U.S. support rather than an honest broker.

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/obama-and-middle-east

The Legend of Mullah Omar – Foreign Affairs September 1, 2015


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Lying on his deathbed in 2013, Mullah Omar likely imagined bigger headlines publicizing his life and death. The indisputable commander of the Taliban, Omar had battled the Soviets, ruled Afghanistan, and fronted a persistent insurgency that has bled U.S. taxpayers of a trillion dollars and embroiled the United States in the longest war in its history.

Now the commander of those enemy forces is dead—or has been for a while. The announcement of his passing hit the press more than two years late, due to the utility of pretending he was alive for both the Taliban and Islamabad. Despite the “Weekend at Bernie’s” ruse finally ending, however, U.S. policymakers are not celebrating—and for good reason. The announcement of Omar’s death appears to be fracturing the Taliban.

This may sound like a positive development, but the United States will find that dividing is one thing, but conquering is quite another. Subjugating factions requires offering a cogent solution for security and governance. Unfortunately for Washington, the U.S.-allied regime in Kabul is not likely to be that cogent political actor. This leaves the door open for alternative insurgents. And if history is any indication, there is bad news ahead; turmoil is fertile soil for extremists.

COMMANDER OF THE FAITHFUL

Touting the title Commander of the Faithful and ruling Afghanistan from 1996–2001, Omar commanded more authority and legitimacy in the Taliban than any other leader. Notoriously reclusive and unhurried in his deliberations, his style played to his image as a pious man who reluctantly rose to the occasion to combat post-Soviet instability. He was not, the Taliban and Islamabad tried to show, yet another warlord campaigning with Pakistani backing. Beyond that, most of what we know about him relies on the same two tired photos and fuzzy biography. According to U.S. documents, Omar was extraordinary and yet wholly unimpressive at the same time. He was reportedly uncharismatic and astonishingly ignorant in matters of global affairs, but the United States could not ignore—or defeat—his Taliban.

 

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2015-09-01/legend-mullah-omar

Ancient Ales | The Past, Present, and Future of Middle Eastern Beer Brewing – By Steve Hindy August 2015


When I was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press in 1980, I covered an Arab Summit meeting at the InterContinental Hotel in Amman, Jordan. We journalists gathered what news we could from the secretive proceedings, cobbled our stories together, and then spent our evenings around the bar, which was amply provisioned with the world’s best-known liquors and local and imported beer and wine. The Arab Summit was followed by an Islamic Summit, which was attended by the very same leaders. The InterContinental’s bar was shut down in observance of the Islamic ban on alcoholic beverages. I recall the hotel manager telling me that the whiskies, gins, vodkas, and other libations had been transferred to the delegates’ private suites. There was no drinking in public, but the liquor flowed in private.

Beer brewing, winemaking, and distilling all have long histories in the Middle East. In fact, liquor, beer, and wine are still available in most countries within the region, despite the Islamist revivals that have swept the area since the early 1980s. Heineken owns breweries in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon—it acquired the Egypt-based, century-old Al Ahram Beverages Company in 2006 and Lebanon’s Brasserie Almaza in 2002 (a brewery that has been in operation since 1933)—and its Middle East division boasts group operating profits of just under $8 million per year. In Lebanon, the main brands are Amstel and Laziza (which means “delicious” in Arabic).

Even in the countries that have banned alcohol outright (some of the Emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia), non-alcoholic breweries abound. For example, Carlsberg, the world’s fourth-largest brewer, also owns a brewery in Saudi Arabia that produces Moussy, a non-alcoholic brew aimed at upscale and metropolitan consumers. It has a 38 percent market share of non-alcoholic brews in the nation. Not to be outdone by its rivals, in 2002 Heineken purchased the Al Ahram brewing company for control of Fayrouz—its signature malt beverage that claims the unique designation of being the world’s first, and so far only, halal (permissible within Islam) non-alcoholic beer.

It probably won’t be the last. According to an October 2014 report by Euromonitor International on drinks in Saudi Arabia, there is an “increasing presence of international brands in the country in clothing, food and drinks. Low/non alcohol beer, for these reasons, is now highly popular among Saudi Arabian youth, many of whom associate it with a sense of adventure, the thrill of being young and a sense of being free-spirited.”

Seeking Refuge in Djibouti: Escape From Yemen – Vice News Published on Aug 17, 2015


According to UN estimates, nearly 100,000 people have fled Yemen since violence erupted there in March. Of those escaping the conflict, over 20,000 have sought refuge in the tiny East African nation of Djibouti, an authoritarian state located between Eritrea and Somalia seen as a beacon of stability in the region, largely due to its hosting of a US military base.

The Markazi refugee camp, located in the arid and dusty Obock region, plays host to many of those fleeing Yemen. Refugees can live in the tented camp, where the average June temperature varied between 111 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit (44 – 50 degrees Celsius). Otherwise they can pay cripplingly high rental costs for substandard living conditions in Djibouti City.

Following on from our coverage of the conflict in Aden, VICE News travels to Djibouti to discover the effects of the war on those forced to flee their homes and start anew.

Watch “The Siege of Aden” – http://bit.ly/1Dxmq2y