Category Archives: Iran

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.

Neo-Conservative Ninny @BillKristol

 

The Obama years … followed the Bush years. During those preceding years, we blundered into Iraq and labeled Syria part of an “Axis of Evil”, in a misguided, neo-conservative inspired effort to “clean up old Soviet client states” in the Mideast.

Now the U.S. is falling into isolationism, as we periodically do, while Russia is resurgent, and this buffoon, who has the blood of 4,500+ U.S. soldiers on his hands, editorializes about a mess that HE played a huge role in creating.

 

 

Low Oil Prices, High Geopolitical Risk

There are times when an infographic is so compelling I take a screen shot of it. Previously such an image would have been the ‘seed crystal’ for an article here, but now I’ve found one I want to duplicate using Tableau. This came from a LinkedIn post entitled Welcome to the new normal. Clock’s ticking, Venezuela, by Eurasia Group.

 

LowOilHighRisk.png

So what are we looking at here? I see the following:

  • An X-Y graph of log population vs. years to deplete oil reserves AND sovereign wealth funds.
  • Pie charts of oil and other income per nation
  • Pies sized by government revenue in billions.
  • A dividing line separating those who are stressed from countries which are considered more robust.

There are some textual or implicit characteristics of this infographic:

  • Oil prices are $50/bbl over the long haul.
  • Each country’s break even cost per barrel known, but unstated.
  • Countries maintain export to internal use ratio, avoiding the Export Land Model trap.

 

There are some other issues that matter when considering the implications of $50/bbl oil. Sixteen years of oil prices and oil rig count are an instructive visualization.

OilPriceRigCount-2000-2016.png

The global oil industry has crashed hard, down to less than $30/bbl this spring. The reasons are more geopolitical than economic – Syria, Saudi Arabia, Russia – go nose around and see if you can detect the calculus behind prices and production volume.

Another interesting graph is the long term Baltic Dry Index, and we’re going to start watching the container oriented HARPEX, too. All we need for the moment is the BDI, which is a proxy for global trade. The DJIA is a measure of investor sentiment and we’ve all seen multiple bubbles in our lives, but it takes a really big one like 2008 to drag the BDI higher. As a rule, people don’t rent dry bulk freighters and pay in advance, hoping to rent them to others at a higher rate.

BalticDryIndex-2000-2016.png

 

What does that infographic tell us? It separates those with small sovereign wealth funds OR oil that is costly to produce from those who are either savers or cheap producers. But I really question its accuracy, because …

  • Why is Libya in the safe zone, when it basically no longer exists as a country?
  • Oman’s government leans heavily on oil, but it’s diversified aggressively.
  • Why isn’t Algeria listed, because they’ve got ISSUES.

I’m not suggesting this is a bad infographic, to the contrary, it neatly sums up some serious issues from the perspective of an analyst that knows oil production. But it does show the hazards in trying to abstract nearly a dozen dimensions of information into a flat 2D representation.

My initial thought was to replicate this work, but having critiqued it, I’m not sure I’m willing to spend the time, given how quickly things are moving in the Ethereum realm.

Pakistan’s Greatest Peril

The news from Pakistan’a Gilgit-Balistan province is grim:

  • 30% of normal snowfall
  • November to March snow was observed before 1994
  • Snows came only January & February 2014
  • March melt is four to six weeks early
  • Water is already gone by May planting time

This province is in the far north of Pakistan, part of the small area that gets snow.

Pakistan Snowfall Areas

Pakistan Snowfall Areas

The country is subject to monsoon rains between June and September, but centered on six weeks in July and August. The cooler, higher altitude areas get the bulk of the precipitation.

Indian Ocean Normal Monsoon

Indian Ocean Normal Monsoon

Pakistan 2012 Monsoon

Pakistan 2012 Monsoon

But on just one night in 2010 this happened, leaving 20% of Pakistan under water.

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

Various stories can be found indicating the per capita water availability in Pakistan is 20% of what it was when they achieved independence in 1947. These stories neglect to mention population – which has more than quintupled in that time.

Pakistan Population

Pakistan Population

Pakistan’s elected government has been taken over by the army three times starting in 1958 and these takeovers last an average of eleven years. The recent assassination of Hamid Mir, a GeoTV journalist, and the TV network’s immediate blaming of Inter-Services Intelligence are seen as signs that 2014 may see another coup.

A military government can quash dissent and push through unpopular but necessary adaptive infrastructure, like a dam that will flood part of one valley for the sake of stabilizing a region. The problem is that Pakistan already has a couple of domestic insurgencies and countering violence today will take precedence over civil engineering projects that will not contribute immediately to stability.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and couple of the former Soviet stans, along with Iran itself are part of a geographic region the Persian empire called Parthia, but which we now call Greater Iran. Click through that link and you’ll find a similar story about Iran, which stands to have 45 million of their population of 75 million become climate refugees(!)

Greater Iran

Greater Iran

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

The Soviet Union blundered into a war of attrition with Afghan tribes in 1979 and this was a big factor in their collapse in 1991. Just eleven years after Afghanistan’s most recent imperial kill, the United States, as sure of democracy as the Russians were of communism, marched right into the same trap. The United States has not collapsed outright just yet, but the economic malaise at home and our shaky grasp on foreign affairs are clear signs of what is to come.

This entire region is over carrying capacity. This should be both the first and last thought when considering any long term plans. India, Russia, and Turkey will bear the brunt of this and they are the ones who are in a position to do something. The days of unilateral U.S. action are over. If you want to make predictions for the region look at precipitation and the price of staple foods such as wheat, because they matter in ways that ideology and rhetoric can never match.

“AIPAC May Have Overreached”

Potent Pro-Israel Group Finds Its Momentum Blunted

Officials at the group insist it never called for an immediate vote and say the legislation may yet pass if Mr. Obama’s effort to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran fails or if Iran reneges on its interim deal with the West. But for the moment, Mr. Obama has successfully made the case that passing new sanctions against Tehran now could scuttle the nuclear talks and put America on the road to another war.

In doing so, the president has raised questions about the effectiveness of Aipac’s tactics and even its role as the unchallenged voice of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Jewish leaders say that pro-Israel groups disagreed on how aggressively to push the legislation, even if all the groups favor additional sanctions.

I am not in the habit of lazy blogging with a spin off a mainstream news story, but this is fairly extraordinary, as big a deal as the nuclear option in the Senate last year, as big a deal as the debt limit showdown.

Those are the deeds and needs of men who wish to retain political power. Greater Iran’s Greatest Problem (11/6/2013) and Why Gaza Is Screwed are about Mother Nature’s take. The Iranian plateau is ‘becoming uninhabitable’ due to drying and closer to home 10,880 acre Gaza is taking on 12,000 acre feet of salt water a year due to ground water pumping.

Israel Aquifers

Israeli hawks have been agitating for a strike on Iran for years. Our sanctions regime is ineffective, as we have no ability to back down no matter what Iran does or does not do. The first sign of this impasse clearing was the deal for the Russians to handle the Syrian chemical weapons problem.

Look at the two posts I mentioned, then add Monitoring The Golan Heights and Israel: No Claim On Litani Waters to your reading list. Israel’s security is going to decline in parallel with water security issues in the region.

We can’t drill or desalinate our way out of this. One consumes fossil water, the other consumes fossil fuel using current methods. Conservation comes to mind – the irrigation systems in the region date back to the first half of the Cold War and figures I’ve seen quoted indicate they are losing two gallons for every three that get delivered. Concentrated solar driven desalination might work in coastal areas but moving water inland means moving uphill everywhere except the Dead Sea, and that takes a lot of electricity.

AIPAC might have overreached. But if you look at the maps of drying lakes, declining aquifers, and compare it to young and still rapidly growing populations you will soon come to the realization that we, as a species, have absolutely overshot our planet’s carrying capacity.

I saw a paper last year on the resettlement of the entire Jewish Israeli population of six million to the American southwest. The two million non-Jews in the country would be joined by 1.6 million Gaza residents and the 2.4 million from the West Bank, who would presumably erase the name Israel from world maps. I’m not sure such a scheme is operationally workable given the overload on America’s Colorado river basin. Politically the idea of a voluntary second diaspora due to climate change is loaded with so much baggage from so many different directions that we won’t be able to broach the topic until it’s too late.

There is no long term path for the region that does not end in bloodshed. But the Israeli hawks will not succeed in triggering a reverse proxy war involving the U.S. this year in the face of America’s periodic isolationist tendencies resurfacing.

Greater Iran’s Greatest Problem

The current political boundaries of the Islamic Republic are a fraction of what the Persian empire was at it’s peak. This map of Scythia & Parthia shows what have been fairly stable boundaries for Iranian culture – from the Tigris river in the west to the Indus in the east.

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

Geographically this area is known as the Persian or Iranian Plateau

Persian Plateau

Persian Plateau

The current nations within Greater Iran’s territory include Georgia, Armenia, Azerbijan, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Afghanistan, and portions of Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Uighur portion of China.

Greater Iran

Greater Iran

This area is not a contiguous plateau, but it’s all elevated, often rugged, and it lays between Anatolia to the west and the Hindu Kush to the east. I have previously written about Anatolia’s water problems in Losing The Euphrates.

This article, Iran Becoming Uninhabitable, contained this stark quote from a former agriculture minister.

Kalantari said that the “deserts in Iran are spreading, and I am warning you that South Alborz and East Zagros will be uninhabitable and people will have to migrate. But where? Easily I can say that of the 75 million people in Iran, 45 million will have uncertain circumstances.” Kalantari continued, “If we start this very day to address this, it will take 12 to 15 years to balance.”

Somalia, Afghanistan, and Mali each dried past the point of sustaining their populations, descended into chaos, and became havens for illicit networks and terrorist groups.

Iran has two and a half times the population of Afghanistan, it has direct access to the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea. Opium production in Afghanistan was curtailed by the Taliban, but since the U.S. led invasion ten years ago production has rebounded. The U.S. is leaving and if Iran collapses due to a mix of climate change and ill advised sanctions, western Europe’s heroin habit will fuel insurgency across the region, and sea access will facilitate that trade.

Afghanistan can convert fertilizer to explosives but they are otherwise almost entirely dependent for any military goods. Iran has its own internal industries making everything from bullets to ballistic missiles. Supply chain issues will hit systems that are large of complex in nature, but the AK-47s and RPGs will continue to flow, and these are the foundation weapons of any insurgency.

The U.S. presence in Afghanistan has destabilized Pakistan. Our presence in Iraq affected the whole region. Syria’s civil war has spread into Lebanon, Iraq, and it threatens Turkey. Libya’s revolution put a flood of weapons on the market. Egypt’s revolution replaced a stable strongman government with dueling factions, none of which can get along in a pluralist environment.

If the U.S. does not take the lead and back off Iranian sanctions, a sometimes belligerent rational actor will be replace by an ugly amalgam of all the things we have seen from the other interventions and revolutions I named. That outcome may be inevitable due to climate change, but rushing to it is a foreign policy mistake of a similar magnitude to what happened in the Balkans in 1914 or Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Lesser Syria, Greater Kurdistan, Armenia’s Mt. Olympus

Here in America it’s somewhat notable to meet up with someone who can identify all fifty of our states if presented with a national map that doesn’t have a legend. European weapons and European diseases made quick work of the native population and there are only a few areas where there is any political friction from the survivors, mostly remote places like Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

The ethnic, sectarian, and historical divisions of the Mideast are obscure and puzzling to us in general, and they remain puzzling to our policy makers. This is about expectations – the U.S. civil war was an anomaly. We had defined nation states, uniformed armies, a clear cut beginning, a fairly clean end, and while the meme has never died there hasn’t been any large scale violence since the cessation of the conflict, nearly 150 years ago. The Mideast is full and there are always tensions the likes of which we never experience here.

This being said, I am now going to put up a bunch of maps and engage in a bit of wild speculation about some things that aren’t all that likely to happen, but if they did … well … game changers.

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

I’ve written about the Ottoman empire enough that it has its own category here, so I won’t gum up this post with excessive maps. This is the French Syrian Mandate, created after World War I. Syria lost the Sanjak of Alexandretta, Lebanon, the Golan Heights, and it isn’t that much of a stretch to imagine the Kurds of Syria seeking freedom, which I wrote about in Funding The Syrian Insurgency.

Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading and The Syrian Conflict Spreads contain grim news from credible sources, and the conflict is Spilling Into Lebanon.

Could the end result of Lesser Syria be Greater Kurdistan?

Kurdistan With Population By Country

Kurdistan With Population By Country

Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey all thwart the ambitions of the Kurds. But the Iraqi Kurds are in a position to tax an extractive industry, and that’s all that is needed to fuel an insurgency.

Iraqi Kurds & Oil Fields

Iraqi Kurds & Oil Fields

Even more touchy than oil is the subject of water. The Kurds dominate the mountainous part of eastern Turkey where both the Tigris and Euphrates originate. Control of the last onshore supergiant oil field in the world and the two largest rivers in the region? I think it is not a question of if, it’s a question of when things change for the Kurds.

Tigris Euphrates Watershed

Tigris Euphrates Watershed

Speaking of mountains …

Ararat

Ararat

Mount Ararat is a potent symbol for Armenian nationalists and a constant goad, visible from the capitol of Yerevan, but under control of Turkey. The Armenians do not forget the Ottoman genocide that wiped out a million of their people as ethnic Turks sought to maximize their territory in their empire’s final few years.

Armenia Genocide 1915 to 1923

Here’s the Google map of the region. The red letter A marks Ararat, the circular green dot nearby is Little Ararat, and there are a lot of lines on this map. The borders of Armenia, Azerbijan, Iran, and Turkey meet just to the east of the smaller mountain, and there are other, more serious territorial problems than the missing sacred mountain.

Ararat, Nakchivan & Nargorno Karabakh

Ararat, Nakchivan & Nargorno Karabakh

This map should make things a bit clearer. Armenia contains the ethnic Azerbijani enclave of Nakchivan, while Azerbijan contains the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nakchivan & Nagorno-Karabakh

Nakchivan & Nagorno-Karabakh

That map might make a bit more sense if you see how Nakchivan lines up against the ethnic makeup of northwest Iran.

Northwest Iran

Northwest Iran

We have had 365 years of Westphalian sovereignty, but the nation state is on the skids. Corporations are the obvious successors when the state’s grip slips in the west, but there are many parts of the world where ethnic and tribal loyalties have never faded. Afghanistan and Somalia are countries not due to their internal cohesion, but due to the boundaries their neighbors keep with them.

Syria and Iraq are already in trouble. Turkey is feeling the heat from the conflict next door. If there is some ill advised adventure by Israel and/or the U.S. against Iran, that would leave three of four Kurdish populations in an unsupervised condition. I lack the wisdom to do more than speculate here, but if the Turks can keep it together and provide a path to European markets for Kurdish oil, what are the odds we might see a coalition type regional power form between the two parties?

And if this does come to pass, could the Armenians get their sacred mountain back as part of the redrawing of maps??