Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

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.

Saudi Arabia’s Role In The 9/11 Attack

Saudi intelligence officer Omar al-Bayoumi had contact with two of the hijackers.


Saudi intelligence officer Osama Bassnan had contact with the hijackers.


Diplomat Shayk al-Thunairy, an imam at the King Fahad mosque in Culver City, CA may have been in contact with the hijackers.



The full report is available here: declasspart4.


Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Two of the others were from the UAE, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon. Yet we invaded Iraq based in part on this lie.




Fragile States Index 2016

The Fragile States Index 2016 was just mentioned on beBee and I saw a nice dataset to visualize in Tableau. Here is the original high resolution image:


And here is the image that resulted from my very simple import of the data into a Tableau workbook:


The states of the Mideast, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa have been an interest of mine for the past several years. Here’s a nit with Tableau, but it’s probably a deficit on my part – the only way I could make Syria visible would be to suppress the appearance of Lebanon. Tableau also treats Western Sahara as Terra Nullius, when it’s an ongoing problem between Morocco which administers it and Algeria which hosts many refugees.


Here are the grimmest of the grim, seven states with fragility scores in excess of 110. Iraq is one bad summer away from joining them.


I’ve made a copy of the Fragile States 2016 workbook available. I really should start pulling in other data, but what I want here would be food and water security information, and that’s often scattered and dated.

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.



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.


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.



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.

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.

Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle

A few days ago I came across a map as part of research intended to expand the current Shia/Sunni labels applied to the Syrian conflict into the regional actors that fuel it. Egypt was given a prominent role that likely dated back to thinking about the United Arab Republic, formed early on in the Cold War. Today I undertook creating a map based on current conditions.

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Turkey certainly has a role, with Syria melting down on their doorstep, and Iran views Syria as an ally, part of the Shia arc from the northeast Mediterranean to Iran’s eastern border. Egypt is bogged down with internal issues and the other player is a composite of the Saudis and the Qataris, both of whom fund radicalized Sunni groups. The 68 million population number is for all countries of the Saudi Arabian peninsula, not just the two who fund adventures.

Saudi Peninsula Shia Areas

Saudi Peninsula Shia Areas

Twenty percent of Saudia Arabian peninsula residents are Shia. Tiny majority Shia Bahrain, home to the U.S. 5th Fleet, has simmered with dissent over injustice that flows from the Sunni dominated regime, and Saudi Arabia has intervened directly in order to keep the troubles from overflowing into their own Shia population, some 10% of the total, and concentrated in the provinces near Bahrain.

Yemen Sects

Yemen Sects

Yemen, formerly the nations of North and South Yemen, who merged in 1990, is evenly split between Shia and Sunni adherents, and has been at a rolling boil for the last four years. As recently as three weeks ago U.S. drones struck al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leadership in Yemen.

I recently posted Bipartisan Opposition To Syrian Intervention, a report on both sides of Capitol Hill weighing in on their disinterest in an unsupervised adventure in Syria. Congressman Peter Welch had this to say:

Syria is in a brutal and tragic civil war the roots of which go back hundreds of years

This is somewhat true and seems to be a reference to the Ottoman Turkish empire’s dissolution, which has been happening for the last two centuries. The real roots are much older; Empires Of The Middle East characterizes two and a half thousand years of shifting dominance between the three ethnic groups listed here – Arabs, Persians, and Turks.

I was cautioned to not minimize the sectarian divides that do play into conflicts in the Middle East. I am mindful of this, but what I seek to minimize is the issue of religion in the much broader context.

U.S. politicians have literally referenced the Bible as a basis for our current foreign policy. This plays straight into the hands of eliminationist minded extremists here, it turns this nasty cluster of diplomatic problems into the battle that presages the ‘End of Days’, and anyone who disagrees with the most extreme of the extreme is branded disloyal, then an outright traitor, and shortly thereafter an agent of the devil.

This extremely dysfunctional approach to policy making has run its course; 2012 passed without any apocalypse and we’re left with a massive debt hangover that a significant portion of the U.S. populace thought wouldn’t matter due to supernatural intervention. Those who hold such beliefs have had their say, they are responsible for the current mess we face, and they should be disregarded completely until they show some contrition and something that could be described as good judgment.

Reframing this discussion away from purely sectarian interpretation is a start in the right direction.