Sunday, June 16, 2013

Morning Twitter Messages -- June 16

This link is a good lens through which to look at the Middle East. Modern conflicts there from North Africa to and through the middle of Asia have always involved two subjects: religion and oil. Pick a conflict, any conflict, and at the core one or both of those subjects will become clear.

In The Expanding Shiite Crescent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi elaborates on an observation that Jordan's King Abdullah made nearly a decade ago that he, a Sunni, was being surrounded by regimes dominated by Shiites. As a Western layman I am in no position to comment further except to note that once the phrase was uttered it entered the lexicon of discussion and has endured ever since.

The importance of oil needs no explanation.

In this column, Khashoggi explains the Syrian conflict in easy to understand, if hard to accept terms. The short version is that if Assad's forces prevail, It opens the way for Iran to sell oil on the world market (getting around international sanctions). He concludes that KSA will not allow that to happen.
A nightmare, don’t you think? 
That’s why I believe Saudi Arabia expressly will not allow Iran to win in Syria. 
Iranian presence there proved a burden from the day Hafez al-Assad sealed his alliance with Iran’s Islamic Revolution as soon as it took over power 40 years ago. Whereas the Syrian regime’s muscle under Hafez left a margin of balance and independence in the partnership, his son submitted totally to the Iranians and Hezbollah. 
It is thanks to them Bashar is still alive and ruling a country in ruin. Instead of being their partner, he has become their subordinate. The implication is that Iran’s presence in Lebanon and Syria now constitutes a clear threat to Saudi Arabia’s national security, and Turkey’s as well. 
Consequently, Saudi Arabia must do something now, albeit alone. The kingdom’s security is at stake. 
It will be good if the United States joined an alliance led by Saudi Arabia to bring down Assad and return Syria to the Arab fold. But this should not be a precondition to proceed.
Let Saudi Arabia head those on board.  Let us put aside any misgivings about sequels of the Arab Spring, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey’s ambitions.  Let the objective be to bring down Assad fast.
This guy's a dreamer.

If any of this speculation is accurate, and predictions are always guesswork, Obama is faced with no good options. US policy for years has played all sides against the middle, supporting whatever regime was in power (regardless of ideology, monarchy, dictator or other) and serving US "interests,"  accessing oil or containing the Russians.

Syria's role (like that of the Shah of Iran before being overthrown by the Iranian Islamic Revolution) has been playing East against West while managing a herd of cats inside its borders. Part of Kissinger's dictum applies that there will be "no peace without Syria." It appears at the moment that Assad's forces are about to close the deal in their own favor. Any assistance to the opposition forces (and they are more disorganized than numerous) will be too little, too late.

Obama already sees how tough it is to relate to a thousand militias in Libya in the aftermath of Gadhafi's fall, or the instability and economic fragility of a post-Mubarak Egypt. No wonder he might be hesitant to add a Syrian quagmire to the list. With GOP opponents playing dog-in-the-manger he will be accused of weak leadership no matter what happens next.


Miscellaneous Tweets...


The following message is interesting because the link doesn't work.  (fixed)
When I look for other links to the Washington Post article, neither do they. When I search "NUCLEON" the results are spotty. I don't like to think anyone is scrubbing the Web this morning to make it harder to learn about these programs, but I'm considering getting fitted out for a tinfoil hat.
 I did find a link to the Post article via Mother Jones. Thanks, Kevin Drum.

When the NSA aims for foreign targets whose communications cross U.S. infrastructure, it expects to sweep in some American content “incidentally” or “inadvertently,” which are terms of art in regulations governing the NSA. Contact chaining, because it extends to the contacts of contacts of targets, inevitably collects even more American data.

Current NSA director Keith B. Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. have resolutely refused to offer an estimate of the number of Americans whose calls or e-mails have thus made their way into content databases such as ­NUCLEON.

The agency and its advocates maintain that its protection of that data is subject to rigorous controls and oversight by Congress and courts. For the public, it comes down to a question of unverifiable trust.
“The constraints that I operate under are much more remarkable than the powers that I enjoy,” said the senior intelligence official who declined to be named.

When asked why the NSA could not release an unclassified copy of its “minimization procedures,” which are supposed to strip accidentally collected records of their identifying details, the official suggested a reporter submit a freedom-of-information request.

As for bulk collection of Internet metadata, the question that triggered the crisis of 2004, another official said the NSA is no longer doing it. When pressed on that question, he said he was speaking only of collections under authority of the surveillance court.

“I’m not going to say we’re not collecting any Internet metadata,” he added. “We’re not using this program and these kinds of accesses to collect Internet metadata in bulk.”
...terms of art...???
What the heck does that mean?

Kristoff's phrase is both cryptic and disturbing:
"Surveillance routes spoken words on phone calls into data base, NUCLEON" 
It comes straight from the article. 

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