Obama's Ukraine Affair

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DDPresident Obama faced his own Ukraine affair last week. He ordered military action against foreign assets controlled by an unstable interim government facing its own domestic factional opposition after deposing a former corrupt leader. Without NATO approval, the President took action on local officials’ requests. The short-term action was successful. The US military didn’t fire a shot.

Did you know about it? I didn’t.

A continual subtheme of “Digging Deeper” is the media’s tragic fail: at a time when news and information really counts, the media has collectively decided to abandon journalism for sensationalism. The media collective pursues profits and revenue as its main purpose; stories rise and fall with the sun. Ratings and rants count for more than facts or the public’s interest. So much so that the media collectively ignored a dramatic use of force in the Mediterranean Sea by a US President already faced with a military crisis in the same geopolitical theatre, albeit further east.

To me, that’s news.

Anytime the US authorizes the use of military force beyond our national borders, it is a real confrontation and situations can rapidly escalate and spiral out of control. Recent history is replete with small operations turned long-term. In fact we are still unwinding two wars that transferred billions annually to private contractors and corrupt governments without achieving any central policy aims.

Drones are cruel, but they are cheaper. They don’t require the massive movement of troops and materiel, the building of bases, the horrendous cost in lives that marked the warfare of the last decade.

Last week, the President ordered his favorite go-to force, a team of Navy SEALs, to board and seize control of a rogue ship, an oil tanker, the Morning Glory, sailing illegally under a North Korean flag, loaded with oil pumped from Libyan facilities at Sidra (in eastern Libya), after it illegally loaded at the Es-sider oil terminal.

Sidra and the terminal are blockaded on the ground and controlled by a rival faction to Libya’s interim government. This is one of several factions that oppose the recognized governing coalition and, with other dissident groups, has crippled Libya’s oil industry by strikes and sporadic fighting.

In fact, Sidra has 19 storage tanks with total capacity of 6.2 million barrels, mainly owned by Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and a trio of US companies: Hess, ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil. According to one industry analyst, diminishing confidence in reliable local production may motivate Marathon to sell its stake in the joint venture.

Somehow, the Morning Glory was loaded with $20 million worth of oil (some estimates say $34 million) from the NOC storage facility and it sailed away from Sidra toward an unknown destination. Morning Glory was the first vessel to have loaded oil from a rebel-held port since the separatist revolt against the central government in Tripoli erupted in July 2013.

Rana Jawal, with the BBC, offered this analysis:

Washington made clear it supports Libya’s elected authorities with the Navy Seals operation.

The US has sent a clear message to both potential traders of illicit oil and to the armed groups blocking Libya’s terminals that it will not permit the sale of oil from rebel-held areas.

Libya matters to the US partly because a failed state would be viewed as yet another failed US adventure abroad, after it backed the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

The intervention will also help to dispel at least one of the many suspicions and rumours among Libyans – that the West will deal with anyone to get hold of crude oil.

It may also restore some of the Libyan government’s credibility with people here, which has been lost over the past year. However, the dangers of this blockade escalating into an armed confrontation remain and it hinges on the government’s next move.

It also cost Libya’s interim Prime Minister Ali Zeidan his job. He was replaced by the Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who received a two-week appointment, which was renewed this week. The new Prime Minister was tasked with coming up with a plan to reopen the Libyan’s eastern oil ports. Libya is currently shipping 275,000 barrels a month, down from 1.6 million barrels last July.

Three takeaways: One, Libya, to a degree greater than Ukraine, exhibits the factional fighting and contention for power and revenue seen throughout the region from North Africa to Eastern Europe to Asia Minor. The completing groups attempt to take advantage of regime change or current instability. They are usually centered around Islamists and several nativist parties who seem intent on relying on arms to settle their differences. Ukraine is the first state to be directly exploited by a former super power. Elsewhere, the groups effect more of a standstill (Syria) than clear winners. Even in Egypt, after winning the election, the Islamists were forced to take a step back.

Two, this factionalism is destabilizing a number of domestic economies. As conditions become more perilous, the conflicts may spiral into cycles of violence involving not only the assets of the political economy but also civilian lives and families, as is already the case in Syria, and to a degree, in Egypt.

Three, the US has no magic wand by which to determine its desired outcomes in local fights, nor can it afford to finance or interfere in every insurgency. Yet its commitment, when made, should not be in half steps. Especially in offering non-military aid. The US commitment to food aid is woefully insufficient and is adding to destabilization by placing unsustainable burdens on countries who are neighbors to states in conflict. A model for creating temporary jobs from mobile production facilities is badly needed in refugee camps. Continue reading Obama’s Ukraine Affair

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Friday Talking Points [162] -- Budget Standoff Continues

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The American media lost interest in the war in Libya faster than they’ve ever done so before, not to even mention the eerie radioactive glow emanating from the milk aisle back home in West Coast grocery stores. Instead, they have been going bonkers all week over the prospect of a government shutdown situation. Will a deal be reached? Will the government shutdown? Will the media enjoy the living heck out of the whole thing? Yes! They will! And why shouldn’t they? Their comfortable salaries, after all, are in no way dependent upon the Small Business Administration being open to help them with loans.

Sigh. What’s depressing about the whole thing, to me at least, is how the entire knock-down-drag-out fight is merely the preliminary round. This whole government shutdown walk-to-the-brink-and-stare-into-the-abyss thing is nothing more than the warmup for the next budgetary battles — which will be much bigger. The entire initial fight is about staking out ground for the next two fights — raising the debt ceiling, and the 2012 budget. Nobody involved — not the Tea Party Republicans, not President Obama, not John Boehner, not Harry Reid — really cares all that much about how this particular round ends up. They’re all stuck thinking: “If I give in now, they’ll want more later” — and they’re all entirely correct.

But this is going to be a marathon, and not a sprint. Much to the media’s glee, no doubt.

Because there’s going to be plenty of time to hash the whole thing out later, and because anything written about it now is going to be stale after midnight tonight (no matter which way it goes), and most importantly because we here at this column are dedicated to fixing our mistakes (when we make them and realize it), today’s introduction to the talking points is going to be entirely self-referential. Take that, mainstream media! Heh.

Two weeks ago in this space, we ran a contest to come up with a better name for the war in Libya than what the Pentagon had managed (“Operation Odyssey Dawn”). One week ago in this space, we plumb forgot to pick the winners and announce them (oops!). Which brings us to this week, and to the winners of our “Name That War!” contest (woo hoo!). All of our winners will receive absolutely nothing, other than the usual bragging rights in the comments section. Our entries came from various different sources, so click on the links to see the original commentary.

Many people picked up on the acronym aspect, including a few entries who tried to use the original “OOD” acronym. But before we get to the winners, we have to highlight the funniest comment the contest generated. It is slightly “blue,” so you should cover your children’s eyes until you finish reading the next paragraph. All set? OK, here goes. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [162] — Budget Standoff Continues

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About Those Incredibly Loud and Usually Wrong Media Pundits

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If you’ve been watching cable news lately, you have been listening to a multitude of pundits pontificating to no end on all sorts of issues as shit happens in our world. Witnessing their sideshow recently, I have been amazed at just how little they know, and  how unwilling they are to concede to all of the facts, instead of just some.

For the past few days, the big story has been concerning Libya and the United Nations’ actions implementing the No-Fly Zone. I believe that pundits were caught off-guard on this one, and were somewhat surprised that the UN has acted so forcefully and so quickly. In fact, instead of calling it what it is, an intervention, pundits have declared that a legally sanctioned UN action is an act of war. No matter that the real war is between a dictator’s imported army of rented mercenaries and thousands of Libyans whose only crime was publicly and peacefully gathering to voice their justified frustrations with their government.

Most of these pundits won’t bother reminding us that it is precisely the 8,000 Libyans already dead at the hands of Colonel/Dictator Muammar/Moammar Gaddafi/Qhadaffi/Qaddafi which prompted the United Nations to act as they did in the first place. In addition, they forget to own up to their own words of a few weeks ago, telling us that the United Nations was bureaucratically ineffective and downright good for nothing, and would never, ever act, period.

Yesterday, the pundits were suggesting over and over again that perhaps the United Nations took too long to act. Many of the pundits have included the US President in their accusations of dithering. Of course, if the United Nations had acted three weeks earlier (which seems to be the pundit-approved timeline in this case) the death toll may not have been high enough to get the countries needed to ratify a resolution for a No-Fly Zone on board, but never mind that. If only, “as some say,” the United States had simply acted alone three weeks before, all would have been just perfect. Except of course, had it happened, the pundits would have simply lost their marbles then, which some are now doing anyway. Continue reading About Those Incredibly Arrogant and usually wrong Media Pundits

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