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Qatar in the cablegate relases 29, November 2010

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Iran

As with most of the cables, we did not learn anything overly new but had existing suspicious confirmed. Qatar maintains a close relationship with Iran to safeguard its “trillions of dollars of potential wealth”. Nevertheless, the Head of the Army noted that “while we’re neighbours, we’re not friends” and HBJ (the Foreign and Prime Minister) bluntly states that “we lie to them, and they lie to us.”

Regarding Al Udeid, it was noted that the U.S. pays no rent, Qatar funded 60% of the improvements on the base and would not allow it to be used as a base for “kinetic operations” [what a phrase!] against Iran [as the Emir also noted in a recent interview]. Only a “permanent USG security guarantee to Qatar, to include its offshore gas fields shared with Iran” could (perhaps) persuade Qatar to change its position.

U.S. relationship

When U.S. Deputy Secretary thanked HBJ for Qatar’s support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, he replied that “We might have our own Katrina.” An allusion, it was suggested, regarding potential crises in the Qatar-Iran relationship and the Qatari reciprocal need for support [quid pro Clarisse…etc].

The Head of the Army, to whom the responsibility falls for maintaining a strong U.S. military relationship, complained that Qatar had been “disapproved” of the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system as an add-on to their purchase of c-17s. (It is an automatic counter-missile system). Others in the region had been granted this system.

It is reasonable to assume that this addition was left off specifically for the U.S. to use in a quid-pro-quo. Assistant Secretary of Defence Vershbow, for example, suggests that were Qatar to “bring about a change in Hamas’s behaviour, it could enhance the U.S.–Qatar strategic relationship.”

Qatar’s record on anti-terrorist activity is noted as being conspicuously poor. The NYT records that Qatar is the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts and its security services were “hesitant to act against known terrorist out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals.” Additionally, the leaked (available) cables note that the U.S. is concerned with Qatar’s continuing support of Hamas via charities and the “moral support” that Hamas receives from Al Qaradawi.

This is not the first time that Qatar has been accused by the U.S. in this way. They continually play a tight-rope game between appeasing the U.S. and ‘Islamists’ (for want of a better catch-all phrase). Perhaps they have a similar notional-agreement as was once mooted in Dubai between authorities and ‘Islamists’: ‘use our city for transit or occasional respite, but don’t do anything here’.

Hamas

The Emir believes that Hamas would accept the 1967 border with Israel but cannot currently do so lest they lose popular support. Senator Kerry confirmed that he had heard similar sentiments in Damascus.

HBJ, in another round of the ongoing Egyptian-Qatari tiff, suggested that Egypt has “a vested interest in dragging out Palestinian reconciliation talks for as long as possible.”

Bahrain

The perennially frosty Bahrain-Qatar relations continue. King Hamad voiced annoyance/concern/anger with Qatar on two counts.

Firstly, because of the visit of the Head of the Army to Iran where, he believes, Qatar agreed to too much cooperation with Iran.

Secondly, because Qatar have consistently refused to supply Bahrain with Gas. He claims that Qatar have said that they do not have spare supply but notes new agreements signed with various countries.

I can only assume that this is a simple disagreement over price. Earlier this year Kuwait balked at the price that Qatar wanted for gas. Both expect, I believe, some kind of ‘brotherly’ GCC, wasta-like discount.

King Hamad also suggested that he would like “our brother in Saudi Arabia to send a note telling Qatar not to play like this [re: Iran].” This suggests that Hamad has a rather longingly antiquated view of the Qatar-Saudi Arabian relationship.

Food security

The Embassy in Doha judges that food security is “a key national priority” for Qatar and a growing one for the Arab region. (Perhaps a summation of interest to those with an interest in the ‘widening’ security debate.)

Kyrgyzstan

One of my favorites so far:

In a conversation between the U.S. and Chinese Ambassadors in Bishkek over the topic of the Chinese seeking to offer inducements to prompt the Kyrgyz authorities to not renew the Manas Base, one cable reports that:

Very uncharacteristically, the silent young [Chinese] aide then jumped in: Or maybe you [Americans] should give them $5 billion and buy both us and the Russians out.” The aide then withered under the Ambassadors’ horrified stare.

What a curious outburst. Here’s hoping that he’s not been reassigned to a post in the middle of the Gobi desert.

On the Wikileaks cables 29, November 2010

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What a mess. The release by Wikileaks of nearly a quarter of a million U.S. diplomatic cables has caused embarrassment for America the world over. Many newspapers even charge that the release will increase the danger for Westeners working in the Muslim world (see any of the British newspapers this past weekend).

While the cables are fascinating they must be approached with serious caveats. The notion that Wikileaks is an impartial organization is a joke. It clearly has a quasi-anti-U.S. stand point and is specifically anti the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Calling a video ‘Collateral Murder’ shows no signs of seeking impartiality.

But the key problem that I have with the latest release is that they are excerpts selected to have been released. We know none of the background to the cables, which ‘diplomats’ wrote them (Ambassador or a junior staffer) or how each individual release fits into the overall narrative. Moreover, surely the ones released are the most media-friendly and salacious? Hardly a judicious or balanced picture.

Having said that, they are undoubtedly a good read and, for a scholar in particular, a fascinating glimpse into what personalities are thinking and saying.

Regarding the Gulf, the key headline is that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and others in the region beseeched America to topple Ahmadinejad. What a shock. This is not news for anyone with a vague interest in the Gulf.

Overall, I don’t think that they are really a threat to US National Security or say anything massively new.

As some commentators have mentioned, this will be a real test for Arab media on how they report the leaks. So far, most media outlets appear to be grossly failing, but that too is hardly a shock.

Here are some random but interesting snippets that I’ve come across so far:

On absurd levels of corruption in Afghanistan:

When Afghanistan’s vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)

On the basket-case in Libya:

the volatile Libyan leader was rarely without the companionship of “his senior Ukrainian nurse,” described as “a voluptuous blonde.” They reveal that Colonel Qaddafi was so upset by his reception in New York that he balked at carrying out a promise to return dangerous enriched uranium to Russia. The American ambassador to Libya told Colonel Qaddafi’s son “that the Libyan government had chosen a very dangerous venue to express its pique,” a cable reported to Washington.

Interesting to note just how dangerous these types of rulers are: on a whim after public embarrassment they are prone to take extremely damaging moves simply for petty revenge.

“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Mr. Saleh said, according to the cable sent by the American ambassador, prompting Yemen’s deputy prime minister to “joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament” that Yemen had carried out the strikes.

Again, although the fact that the U.S. was bombing Yemen is hardly a secret, having it spelt out so plainly is sobering.

The buffoon-like Italian Prime Minister is (accurately) described as

feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader

Most of these quotations are from an excellent NYT piece on the topic.

Palin and her ‘North Korean allies’ 25, November 2010

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Presumed future Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has made another whopper. In discussing the situation on the Korean Peninsula after aiming some really rather exceedingly poor jabs at Obama she stated that America must obviously stand with “our North Korean allies.” She had to be corrected by the radio host.

Really and truly what is this woman like? She simply and honestly comes across as stupid and sadly I think that this is a reasonable reflection of her intellect. I don’t mean this overly pejoratively but quite literally as in she is not very intelligent. The thought of her as President Palin is just plain terrifying. And what a ‘President Palin’ would say about the American electorate doesn’t bear thinking about.

 

Bush & Obama’s drone attacks map 10, November 2010

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This excellent picture/map is taken from the Atlantic.

Qatar shifting LNG from US to emerging markets 3, November 2010

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Qatar is to divert LNG from America to Asia and South America. This should come as a surprise to no one. Even though Qatar recently opened a multi-billion dollar LNG regasification plant in Texas, there surely need to be serious questions asked as to its medium term viability.

People have known that huge quantities of shale gas exist in America for decades. However, until (very) recently, there was no economical way to extract this gas. Now that such technologies exist that allow America to exploit this resource, importing terminals such as Qatar’s Golden Pass in Texas look somewhat redundant.

Aside from this potential white elephant, the fact that Qatar may lose America as an important client is more of a disappointment rather than a catastrophe. Clearly, Qatar would have liked to establish an energy relationship with America. Regularly supplying a meaningful percentage of US gas would give Qatar if not influence or sway then at least more respect in some nebulous way. Perhaps it would make US officials more reticent in criticising Qatari policies (it seems to work that way with Saudi Arabia).

Indeed, Qatar would ideally like to improve their relations with America which are – frankly – not very good. This much was admitted by the Emir in his recent FT interview. An important energy supplying relationship could have gone some way to establishing another point of commonality. At the moment, the Qatar-US relationship is based primarily on the fact that both of them know that the other can’t do without the stationing of US troops at Udeid (and other) bases in Qatar. This isn’t the most ‘positive’ basis for a friendship.

Overall, the demand for gas is strong. Not only are the emerging markets likely to experience practically continual growth for the foreseeable future but gas is a relatively ‘green’ fuel, further increasing its attraction.

On the ‘cargo bombs’ 1, November 2010

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The constant battle between terrorists and security measures continues. The recent discovery of PETN explosives in two packages in Dubai and East Midlands airports and the more worrying revelation from Qatar Airways that one of these bombs traveled on two passenger planes, marks the latest stage in the evolution of airplane terrorism.

After the ‘pants bomber’ I wrote an article on this exact topic. I suggested that it is but a matter of time before PETN – the mostly undetectable, powerful explosion of choice by ‘Al Qaeda’ these days – is secreted within a terrorist on a plane, just as Saudi Prince Nayef’s would-be killer attempted to do. Alas I did not factor in the notion that PETN could instead be secreted in packages. Just as well that I’m not in charge of airline security.

Reading and listening to commentaries on this latest near-outrage, one fact above all else jarred with me. There seems to be a universal acceptance that these bombs would have certainly caused these planes to crash, just as there was with the initial reporting of the ‘pants bomber’. Indeed, the often quoted statistic is that 100g of PETN could “destroy a car”. Leaving aside the imprecise nature of ‘destroying’ a car, as I wrote in reaction to this before, it is by no means certain that the ‘pants bomber’s’ bomb would have ripped a hole in the side of an aircraft; moreover, a BBC documentary team recreated the would-be explosion and concluded that it would clearly not have punched a hole in the side of the aircraft. Instead, the aircraft’s skin would have absorbed the explosion and ‘rippled’; diverting the thrust of the explosion in all directions.

As yet I have not come across any reports of how much explosive was in these bombs, though it does look like more than 100g. So while I am certainly not saying that it is not an important and potentially deadly event, all I ask is that a bit of moderation and accuracy is used in forming base ‘facts’ and opinions.

It has been pointed out that cargo planes are not subject to the same kinds of rigorous security measures as passenger planes, at times, as if this is some kind of industry-wide oversight. I disagree. Not only does the sheer number of packages make such a system difficult to implement, but packages are packages and people are people. One can’t expect the same security standards for both; it’s just a brutal fact (for the crew of a cargo plane, that it).

As for the notion that the cargo planes could be involved in a Lockerbie-type tragedy, this is far from a certain proposition, indeed, it may even be unlikely to happen. Packages are routinely re-routed. There is practically no way to know that a package from Sanaa will travel to Doha, Dubai, London and to New York; it could go by any number of different routes over a varying amount of time within set limits. Accurately judging that the cargo plane is ‘over London’, as many newspapers seem to be inferring when it can be used as a bomb, is surely practically impossible. At the speeds that planes travel with large distances covered in seconds and given that a pilot – barring a spectacular whole-system collapse – would divert a plane away from a populated center at the worst-case scenario, it seems highly unlikely to me that such a long-shot would be undertaken. Of course, as Lockerbie grimly proved, sometimes the most unlikely and unlucky of scenarios does indeed come to fruition. Again, I am not trying to discount the possibility or the danger of such an event, but simply want to put it into some perspective.

 

 

Christine O’Donnell: no clue about the first amendment 20, October 2010

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I am not American and I have never read the US Constitution nor have I studied American history in any depth. However, I know that the first amendment states the importance of the separation of church and state.

Alas it appears that I know more than Christine O’Donnell regarding the US Constitution as she manifestly has no understanding whatsoever of this founding principle enshrined in America’s most sacred document. Indeed, she confirms her ignorance again and again as the discussion progresses as you can see below.

Surely it is scarcely less than a terrifying thought of someone like her obtaining even a modicum of power.

The Guardian further notes that this is but the latest example of Tea Party candidates caught hopelessly out of their depth.

On Sunday, security guards for Republican senate candidate Joe Miller forcibly handcuffed a local journalist after a public event in Alaska, while Nevada Republican Sharron Angle recently told a room full of Hispanic students that “some of you look a little more Asian to me

Rich Iott’s Nazi photo 11, October 2010

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Rich Iott, a darling of the Tea Partyists, has been outed by an American magazine as a Nazi uniform wearer. He insists that he is just an historical buff that likes to play dress-up.

I’m always just staggered by these things. While there are various pictures of me floating around the web, none are worse than showing me with a goofy, merry smile. I make sure I keep my sordid hobbies private. How can this politician look at a camera like that and smile: truly how dumb is he that he thinks that it’ll never come out?

Qatar to ship LNG to America? 28, September 2010

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Qatar is to ship LNG to America. The Golden Pass facility in Texas is ready to receive its first load of super-cooled Qatari gas by Q-Max container ship. The venture which is 70% owned by Qatar has sufficient capacity to ‘re-gassify’ enough gas for up to 10 million households per day.

However, I was under the impression that the US LNG market had all but disappeared with the discovery of new methods which made America’s mammoth shale gas reserves viable. Obviously, the Golden Pass terminal was begun before the shale gas phenomenon surfaced, but the question is what’s going to happen now? Qatar and America aren’t that close, after all, with a Qatari tanker having to travel not much less than 20,000km from port to port: as efficient as the new Q-Max containers are, that just can’t be cheap.

Never say no to Panda 23, September 2010

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Quite frankly one of the best adverts ever.

Hat tip: The Arabist