Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Setting Yemen up for civil war

The crime of the year of the "international community" was the recent departure of all the Western diplomats from Sanaa in Yemen. The official argument was safety. But Sanaa was at that moment still quite safe, so everybody could understand that in reality it was a public rejection of the Houthi's and the announcement that the West would take steps to undermine their government. Once again the West had subscribed to the agenda of the hatred of the Saudi regime.

And indeed we saw soon an increase of Al Qaeda attacks. Former president Hadi escaped mysteriously from Sanaa and - after having moved to Aden - renewed his claim to the presidency. Most likely the Saudi's had spent a lot of money to bribe his guards to let him escape. Hadi's most recent move has been to call for a military intervention by the Gulf States.

I believe it was fundamental mistake to turn on the Houthi's. Like it or like it not: they had conquered the power. So challenging them is interference in the internal affairs of Yemen and setting the country up for a civil war.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How Netanyahu won the elections

One of the basic principles of discussions is that for winning it is important that you are the one who frames the questions. We see this in elections times and again.

A good example were the economic policies of Reagan and Thatcher. They had some luck that the end of a recession seemed to confirm their policies. But much of their success was due to pure bluff. It also helped that after two decades of leftish policies people were ready for something new. But one thing is certain: they changed the political dialogue. Since then leftish demands like equality and fairness are taboo and rightish issues like lower taxes and privatisations are the norm. And we see that even successful leftish politicians like Clinton and Blair are following those norms. Interestingly they typically show a split personality: in their talks they question those norms but in their actions they are often even more fanatic than their right-wing colleagues.

However, people prefer the real stuff. If rightish policies are the norm they will show a preference for rightish politicians.

That brings me to Israel. In Israel establishing settlements has been the norm for several decades now. And leftish politicians have often done that even more enthusiastically than their rightish colleagues. So when Netanyahu rejected the two-state solution and when he denounced Arab participation in the elections he stated things that implicitly have been accepted as the norm by all sides for decades. He just showed the courage to say it explicitly.

Doing that he brought the parties on the left in a difficult position. They could denounce him. But if someone would challenge them they wouldn't have an argument as they had de facto supported similar policies in the past. They are incapable of bringing an alternative. Think of it as something similar to Bush sr's "Read my lips, no new taxes". It was an irresponsible statement and Bush had to swallow his words later on. But during those elections it was something that his Democratic colleague couldn't beat.

The controversial nature of the statement focuses the attention on this issue - at the expense of other issues. So Netanyahu could draw the attention away from the economy and inequality - where he is weak - to security issues where he is strong.

We see the same principle now also in the US. Except for Obamacare Obama has been very unsuccessful in reframing the public discussion. In his foreign policy he has been completely unable to get rid of the neocon influence with its absurd demand that the US should always stay the absolute ruler of the world. The end result may well be that one day the US may suddenly find itself in the same position as Britain: rotten at the core. In finance he has similarly failed to confront the "rulers of the universe". Only now, in his last two years, do we see some timid efforts to change the discourse.

On the left side of the political spectrum president Roosevelt is probably the person who did most to change the norms. It probably helped that he came from a wealthy establishment family. He didn't feel a revolutionary: he just did what needed to be done. In contrast we see in Obama someone who is in awe of the establishment and afraid that he will do something wrong. It is what made me have a preference for Romney in the last US presidential elections. He might be more conservative, but he looked also more of a man who would follow his own conscience than Obama.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Monday, March 02, 2015

The EU rules that undid South Stream

It would go too far to repeat the whole drama that led to the cancelling of the South Stream oil pipeline project by Russia. One thing however stands out: the EU objected against the pipeline on the basis of its "energy competition" rules that separate the ownership of the pipes from the ownership of the gas.

The EU adopts here the cloak of protecting the interests of the EU consumer. However, in fact it is doing the opposite. These rules look like designed by lobbyists for LNG suppliers.

Pipelines are a much cheaper way to transport gas than LNG ships. However, the investment for pipelines is more fixed. Russia needs to spend many billions of euro's to build a pipeline just to arrive at the border of the EU. That piece of pipe is useless at the moment the EU decides to buy elsewhere. So if Russia builds the pipeline to the EU border without control over the following pipes it becomes dependent on the pipeline owners. That dependency can easily be abused. Russia makes itself also vulnerable to political blackmail.

The official rationale of the EU for these rules is that Europe shouldn't become too dependent on one supplier. However, they clearly favor LNG suppliers that are mostly based in the Persian Gulf. This suggests that a lobby from the Gulf and from the US - that hopes to become a LNG exporter in the future - has achieved a big victory in Brussels.

The EU has now declared that it wants to be informed on gas deals of its member states and that it wants to introduce standard contract clauses “to ensure that the EU speaks with one voice in negotiations” for energy contracts.

It seems to me the fox guarding the chickens.