Category Archives: Bahrain

Desalination’s Grim End: The Persian Gulf

Kuwait is a Connecticut sized piece of land with 4.3 million citizens at the far north end of the Persian Gulf. They pump not quite three million barrels of oil per day and hold roughly 10% of the world’s oil reserves. Which they are going to need, because they are 100% dependent on desalination for water and the Persian Gulf is becoming too saline to use.

Kuwait & Persian Gulf

Kuwait & Persian Gulf

Three million barrels a day times forty two gallons per barrel is 126,000,000 gallons. Divide by 4.3 million and that’s twenty nine gallons of oil per person produced daily. Let’s turn those into some water numbers. 126 million gallons is 387 acre feet or 477,272 cubic meters. Tankers used to top out at  two million barrels but now the largest VLCCs in operation are half that size.

Per this report, Kuwait is producing 1.65M cubic meters of water per day by desalination. A cubic meter is 6.29 barrels, so that’s around ten million barrels of water a day. Importing that much fresh water seems a daunting task, given that there really isn’t anywhere on the coast of the Indian ocean that has large amounts of fresh water. Maybe they could build a fleet of OTEC vessels, they’ve got access to pretty good temperature differential right outside the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea.

OTEC Potential

OTEC Potential

But that is an enormous conceptual step for a monarchy whose entire resource base is the oil beneath their feet, supplemented by a financial sector that grew in parallel with that wealth.


Since we’re applying Functional Triage to areas of human habitation the water challenge alone puts Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the U.A.E. on the death spiral list. Add the expected months of 50C+ temperatures expected in two or three generations and you’ve got an area that is about as hospitable as the Dead Sea region is today. The populations of North Africa and the Mideast are going to be direct climate refugees, or under pressure from those who are, and when the water runs out they’ll start moving.

Yemen already has a food and water crisis. The Levant isn’t going to get better until Syria’s water problems are solved. Those desalination dependent Persian Gulf states have a population of about twenty two million. Their breakdown is a problem similar in scope to Yemen, with twenty million, and Syria, with twenty six million. Add the concerns of Iran, where 60% of the population live in places that are becoming uninhabitable, and you’ve got a party.


If the Persian Gulf were like Somalia we’d ignore the situation as best we could. But 20% of the world’s oil transits the Strait of Hormuz and the U.S. 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain. Long before we admit the situation is untenable we’re going to put ‘boots on the ground’ trying to control that which is long past control of personalities.

The combined populace of North Africa and the Mideast is roughly equal to the of Europe – both are just below 750 million. The 508 million member European union is starting to fray and immigration pressure is a key component of that. Regions don’t break down in isolation, the Syrian conflict has nearly bowled over both Jordan and Lebanon. Things are going to get progressively more prickly between Europe and MENA, and the Trump administration is an excellent tool for fanning those flames.

If this leaves you feeling creeped out, go read the Eight Principles of Uncivilization again …

Muslim Ban? Fragile States?


Here’s Trump’s list of banned Muslim countries in red, and the ones where he has business interests are in gold. The unlabeled one at the uper right is Azerbaijan.

Trump's Muslim Ban Countries

Trump’s Muslim Ban Countries

And here’s a fragile states index for the region.

Fragile States Worst

Fragile States Worst

The banned countries are places where the governments have basically collapsed. People are complaining about the relationship between Trump businesses and the presence or absence of a ban. I’m not justifying, nor am I criticizing, I’m just noting that here is some data that hasn’t commonly appeared in conjunction with the coverage of the issue.

This map originally appeared in Fragile States Index 2016.

Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading

UN envoy: Iraq and Syrian conflicts are merging

That headline appeared in my inbox earlier and I have been dreading it. The Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon, it’s encroaching on Turkey’s territory, and it’s set off troubles in neighboring Iraq, which are now merging into an end to end regional threat.

Let’s take a look at how things got this way. The Ottoman empire laid claim to Syria and Iraq between 1512 and 1566.

Ottoman Empire 1300 1683

And they lost control of the area as a result of picking the wrong side during World War I.

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

The territory was divided between the English and French via the Sykes-Picot Agreement, with approval from the Russians.

Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916

Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916

The French Syrian Mandate broke up with the loss of the Sanjak of Alexandretta back to Turkey in 1939 and the independence of Lebanon in 1943.

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

The British Mandate of Mesopotamia became Iraq, an independent monarchy in 1932 and a republic in 1958. Today’s ethnic map is consistent with the boundaries of the original territory. Yellow is for Sunni Arabs, green is Shia Arabs, and the Kurds are in blue.

Iraq Ethnic Groups

Iraq Ethnic Groups

I have written quite a bit about Syria’s patchwork of ethnic and religious groups. Summarizing – yellow are Sunni Arabs in the interior the dun colored areas are Kurds. The coastal region of Syria and Lebanon are very diverse and intermingled.

Syrian Ethnic Groups - Detailed Map

Syrian Ethnic Groups – Detailed Map

The Syrian conflict triggered the troubles in Iraq and the U.N. envoy now reports the two conflicts are merging. I noted that this conflict was also Spilling Into Lebanon. Refugee flows are a big part of that, as they put a support load on their neighbors.

Syrian Refugee Flows

Syrian Refugee Flows

Immediately outside the troubled trio of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, are three regional powers vying for influence – Turkey, Iran, and the money men of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I wrote about the underlying details in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle.

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Beyond the bounds of the regional players there are global concerns which include:

  • Israel’s ill advised obsession with Iran, somewhat backed by the U.S.
  • Russia’s longstanding relationship with Syria
  • Turkey’s membership in both the European Union and NATO
  • China and Russia’s disapproval of extreme sanctions against Iran
Mideast Regional Map

Mideast Regional Map

Let’s take stock of troubles in the region:

  • Egypt – military coup against Muslim Brotherhood, supported by democratic forces
  • Yemen – outright civil war
  • Bahrain – simmering discontent, sometimes violent
  • Syria – outright civil war
  • Lebanon – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
  • Iraq – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
  • Turkey – massive protests
  • Greece – bank crash, economic implosion
  • Cyprus – bank crash, U.N. brokered peace between Greeks & Turks
  • North Caucasus – long running insurgency, Chechen jihadis turning up in Syria
  • Iran – brand new government, same ol’ impossible sanctions

What, if anything, will the United States do about this?

The U.S. left Patriot missile batteries, F-16s, and 700 troops behind in Jordan this year after the annual Eager Lion exercise.

We seem to have just one aircraft carrier with its attendant carrier strike group in the region.

Information on the disposition of Expeditionary Strike Groups, which contain helicopter carriers, amphibious assault craft, and marines are not as readily available. I believe there is one on station at or near the 5th Fleet HQ in Bahrain and another active in the Mediterranean due to threats to diplomatic posts across North Africa.

We already have Bipartisan Opposition To Syrian Intervention. Today I saw further news to the effect that even the belated announcement we were going to arm the rebels faces Congressional disapproval.

President Obama is facing criticism for having an unclear strategy to resolve the Syrian conflict. Having spent the last ten years field testing neoconservative theories in the Mideast rather than applying pragmatic diplomacy, the White House’s apparent lack of strategy may be in and of itself a strategy. That last map and conflict list looks a bit like the Balkans a century ago, right before World War I engulfed Europe. Given our history in the region anything we attempt is liable to backfire badly.

The three regional powers I described in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle each have a vision of what qualifies as good governance and only Turkey’s thinking would be vaguely familiar to American voters. “Bringing Democracy To Country X” sounds just grand, but in this part of the world we might want to substitute “a majoritarian blood bath” for the word democracy, and then see how palatable our plans sound. It’s time we listened to those who are there regarding what will and will not work.

Tripolar Power Struggle?

Arabs Persians Turks

Arabs Persians Turks

Since I wrote Post-Assad Syria: Turkey’s Perspective this whole problem of sectarian and ethnic divides has been on my mind. I received some guidance after I published the article, basically that the underlying Bipartisan Policy Center paper U.S.-Turkish Cooperation Towards A Post-Assad Syria was not ‘wrong’, but that it was dated, and overly hopeful about the nature of the Syrian conflict.

This map that I recently found – Arabs, Persians, and Turks – is a good starting point. When do you think this map was created? I think it reflects thinking from closer to the time Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic than today. The population figure of 70 million for Turkey is within the last ten years, but the thinking is dated.

If I were going to draw a tripolar map today I would use …

Turkey Ethnic Groups

Turkey Ethnic Groups

Iran Ethnic Groups

Iran Ethnic Groups

Saudi Arabia Ethnic Groups

Saudi Arabia Ethnic Groups

And right in the middle I would make a point to include these guys:


The Syrian conflict is a microcosm. Turkey is not keen on having a civil war right next door, Iran does not wish to lose an ally in the region, and Saudi and Qatari money men are funding radicalized Sunni rebel groups. Two of the three parties have taken action regarding the Kurds – the Syrian government made sure theirs were left out of the fighting, the Iranians reignited the Kurdish PKK insurgency inside Turkey as payback for their support of the Sunni rebels. I have not heard any news regarding Saudi or Qatari meddling with Kurdish sentiments, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, that means I haven’t dug hard enough yet.

Unlike Egypt, with is ethnically unified, largely free of sectarian disputes, and currently mired in its own troubles, the Saudi and Qatari money men represent the Arab sentiment in the Syrian civil war. And Saudi Arabia has two problems on its own borders.

The population of Yemen is nearly as large as that of Saudi Arabia, 24 million, and evenly split between Sunni and Shia. I did a backgrounder on Yemen in late December and I republished Time For Congress To Build A Better Drone Policy in mid January, other than that I have not spent much time on this country, but that is about to change.

Yemen Sects

Yemen Sects

Bahrain isn’t represented in my usual map sources but the sectarian divide has been neatly mapped by Justin Gengler.

Bahrain Sects

Bahrain Sects

Here’s a bit tighter shot of Shia dominated areas on the Saudi Arabian peninsula. The group in Yemen numbers about twelve million, the group on Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf coast is about three million out of a total of twenty eight million citizens.

Saudi Peninsula Shia Areas

Saudi Peninsula Shia Areas

The Comment, a note from a Jordanian reader, is what pushed me in this direction. While there are ethnic and sectarian divides, they are not as deep as our media would have us believe. Instead, it is the three regional powers here, all former empires in their own right, who are at least partially to blame for fueling conflicts based on these divides.

U.S. Consulate Attacks 2002 – 2012

U.S. Consulate Attacks 2002 - 2012

U.S. Consulate Attacks 2002 – 2012

I have seen a surprising amount of ill informed editorializing about the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. citizens in Benghazi, Libya on September 12th, 2012. I thought adding some context to the situation might be helpful.

Benghazi was not unique. There have been eights attacks on six different U.S. consulates in and around the Mideast since the 9/11 attack. They include:

  1. Karachi, Pakistan, 2002, 2003, and 2006
  2. Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2002
  3. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2004
  4. Damascus, Syria, 2006
  5. Sana’a, Yemen, 2008
  6. Benghazi, Libya, 2012


The events in Benghazi are complex; we don’t have full knowledge of everything U.S. forces may have been doing in Libya due to the chaos resulting from the overthrow of Gaddafi. The 2012 Benghazi Attack Wikipedia entry cites many sources with varying views on the pre-conditions, the actual attack, and the response.

One thing is certain, convicted bank fraud artist Nakoula Basseley Nakoula bears some of the blame for the outburst of violence on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attack. A Coptic Christian of Egyptian descent, Nakoula is thought to be the source of Innocence Of Muslims, a crudely made trailer for a non-existent movie. Egypt’s population is about 10% Coptic Christians and they face persecution at the hands of the Muslim majority. Nakoula’s intent appeared to be calling attention to the injustice, but instead four Americans in Benghazi and about seventy others in the region died during violence touched off during protests of this insult.

Congress also shares a portion of the blame for the fate of Ambassador Stevens and the three others killed:

The State Department is still reeling from deep cuts made by Senate and House appropriations panels to the Obama administration’s budget requests for next year, with some officials warning of national security risks. (2011-10-01)

The quote seems particular damning, but read the whole article. There was an 22% across the board cut, but a separate request for spending on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan was approved. Including the separate request the State Department budget was still down $3.5 billion from the prior year, a very short sighted move given that Arab Spring was only ten months old at the time the decision was made.

Arab Spring: Revolutions & Reform

Arab Spring: Revolutions & Reform

Three autocratic governments blown away, two countries sliding into sectarian conflict, two others facing massive protests, and four that were compeled to introduce reforms by their restive population. And the response from Congress to this seismic shift? Budget cuts.

I have written before about the massive imbalance between our preventative State Department ($52 billion) and reactive Defense Department ($711 billion) budgets in Foreign Policy Futures. We typically cut spending between 25% and 35% when we finish a war. Every time we take a dollar from the Pentagon we should be slipping a dime to Foggy Bottom to ensure we don’t get sucked into some avoidable future conflict.

The Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Peninsula British Influence

I found this wonderful map of the Arabian Peninsula under British rule from 1905 to 1923. I don’t have anything specific to say about this, other than I’m amazed at the detail and happy to have noticed it while searching for other things.

Persian Gulf 1905 1923