In last night's debate with President Obama, Gov. Mitt Romney ran into trouble when he suggested that "Syria is Iran's...route to the sea." The remark unleashed a torrent of geography sticklers (see here, here, here, and here) who pointed out that Syria and Iran don't share a border (Iraq is in between) and that Iran has 1,500 miles of its own coastline along the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.
The comment wasn't Romney's first geography flub. In the infamous video of a Florida fundraiser released by Mother Jones in September, Romney suggested that a Palestinian state in the West Bank would border either "Syria at one point or Jordan." This, as FP blogger Daniel Drezner pointed out, doesn't make a whole lot of sense because "Whatever contours a possible Palestinian state would have, it won't border Syria."
Of course, Romney isn't the only one with creative geography. In a campaign stop in Oregon in 2008, Obama famously said, "I've now been in 57 states? I think one left to go."
So Romney's in good company, and hey, at least he didn't try to diagnose the "situation on the Iraq-Pakistan border" like Sen. John McCain did in 2008.
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. this afternoon, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen expressed unwavering support for the controversial CIA drone program in his country.
Hadi praised the "high precision that's been provided by the drones," adding that they leave "zero margin of error if you know exactly what target you're aiming at." He further acknowledged that drone strikes form an essential component of the campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) because of the Yemeni Air Force's inability to carry out night operations with its aging fleet of Soviet-made MiG-21s. "It's highly unlikely," he said, that these aircraft "would be successful."
Hadi's public endorsement of the U.S. drone program, which has expanded exponentially under President Obama, represents a shift from his predecessor's policy of denying U.S. involvement. According to a 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable, for instance, President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Gen. David Petraeus, "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours."
Hadi also accused Iran of seeking a foothold in his country by creating a "climate of chaos and violence."
Yemen, which is in the midst of a delicate GCC-led transition following the ouster of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, faces a conflict with Houthi militants in the north, a stubborn separatist movement in the south, and a growing Al Qaeda presence in the country's tribal hinterlands. Much of the country's infrastructure -- including schools, roads, and hospitals -- has been destroyed in the fighting and thousands of citizens have been displaced.
At the same time, Yemen is grappling with critical water and energy shortages, a burgeoning youth population, and the second highest unemployment rate in the Arab world.
In the mist of this crisis, Hadi charged, Iran is trying to "thwart the political solution in Yemen" as a hedge against its waning influence in Syria. Iranian spy networks, he said, are "backing military action" in the south and "buying political opposition figures and media figures."
Hadi sought to portray the security situation in Yemen as a regional and international threat as part of his bid to drum up assistance from international donors. AQAP, he said, is a "common enemy" that poses a "serious and real threat" to the West as well as the Arab world. Moreover, if Yemen descends into civil war, he warned, the situation will likely be "way worse than Somalia or Afghanistan to the area, to the region, and to the world."
Following Hadi's address at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday in which he called for "more logistical and technical support" in the fight against Al Qaeda, the Friends of Yemen -- composed of the P-5 and the GCC -- promised an additional $1.46 billion in financial assistance to Yemen, bringing the total to nearly $8 billion pledged by international donors.
When questioned by the Atlantic Council's Frederick Kempe about his country's most pressing needs, however, Hadi hinted at still more economic assistance: "Seventy five percent of the solution" to Yemen's crisis, he said, "is an economic solution."
It's been a rough year for China's one percent. Just yesterday Reuters reported that demand for Chinese luxury brands -- down of late -- is unlikely to rebound after Beijing imposed a "frugal working style" on government employees in an effort to curb conspicuous consumption (read conspicuous corruption.) Now the Financial Times is reporting (behind the paywall) that the number of US dollar billionaires in China fell last year for the first time in seven years:
In its annual report on China's super-wealthy, released on Monday, Hurun [Rich List] said China had 251 people worth $1bn or more, down 20 from last year but still sharply up from 2006, when there were just 15...Nearly half of the 1,000 richest people in China saw their wealth shrink in the past year, 37 of them by more than 50 per cent. The average wealth of the top 1,000 also fell 9 per cent to $860m, at a time when growth in the Chinese economy has also decelerated, the property market has declined and the stock market has fallen sharply. Chinese GDP growth hit a three-year low of 7.6 per cent year on year in the second quarter of this year.
Reduced Chinese demand for luxury cars has also forced Toyota to scale back the production of Lexus cars for export to China. With the economic outlook so grim, there's no telling what could be next -- party officials might even be forced to think twice about buying Porsches for their kids!
No. 13 USC rebounded from the drubbing Stanford gave it last week by grinding out a 27-9 victory over Cal on Saturday. It wasn't flashy -- quarterback Matt Barkley did an awful lot of handing off -- but Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, was probably relieved. "Go Trojans!" he said in a pre-trip interview with the New York Times. He did not offer any commentary on Barkley's tanking Heisman campaign.
Morsy, who completed his Ph.D. in materials science at USC in the early 1980s and whose two sons are U.S. citizens, has a complicated relationship with the United States. He told the Times that he "learned a lot" during his time in California, but then quickly clarified that he meant "scientifically." California's laid-back attitude about cohabitation, gang problems, and preponderance of "naked restaurants" all made him uneasy. "I don't admire that," he told the Times. "But that is the society. They are living their way." The future Muslim Brotherhood official apparently never really got into the swing of SoCal life.
But if he is still lukewarm on American culture, Morsy seems to have at least moderated his most outrageously anti-American positions since becoming president. Whereas for most of the 2000s he was all too happy to peddle 9/11 conspiracy theories -- "When you come and tell me that the plane hit the tower like a knife in butter, then you are insulting us...Something must have happened from the inside. It's impossible," he told the Brookings Institution's Shadi Hamid in 2010 -- Egypt's first democratically elected president at least steers clear of the topic now.
Morsy rankled American officials by reaching out to Iran and by failing to denounce (immediately) the attack by demonstrators on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but on the whole, his approach has been what you would expect from the leader of a deeply conservative country that is understandably wary of the United States. (Egyptians have no illusions about who propped up Mubarak for all those years.) As Morsy said in the Times interview: "Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region." But if Morsy has been resolute about demonstrating his independence from the United States, he has also indicated that he wants to maintain a constructive relationship with Washington, going as far as saying that the two countries have the potential to be "real friends."
Since the embassy storming, however, Obama has been remarkably cool toward his Egyptian counterpart. On Sept. 13, Obama told the Spanish-language network Telemundo that he did not consider Egypt an ally -- a position the White House later clarified -- and he reportedly declined a request to meet with Morsy at the White House this week. It's not clear, however, what Obama expects of Morsy. On the one hand, he has repeatedly supported the right of Egyptians to "determine their own destiny." On the other, he appears nonplussed by Morsy's need to respond to domestic political forces.
Steven Cook, a fellow at CFR, has a good read on this cognitive dissonance:
Americans consistently fail to recognize that Arabs have their own politics and have the ability to calculate their own interests independently of what Washington demands. As a result, whenever a crisis erupts that presents Egyptian leaders with a choice of kowtowing to Washington or protecting their political position at home, domestic politics will win virtually every time.
Obama may not be able to fully appreciate the drama of college football, having attended only universities with second rate football programs, but maybe he and Morsy ought to watch the USC game next week and talk this one out.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir stands accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. But on Sunday, he met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy in Cairo, where he received a dignified welcome at the presidential palace. A number of human rights organizations including Amnesty International urged Morsy to cancel the meeting -- which covered regional concerns as well as important bilateral issues like livestock trade and water rights in the Nile basin -- or arrest the Sudanese leader upon his arrival. "If Egypt welcomes Omar Al-Bashir it will become a safe haven for alleged perpetrators of genocide," Amnesty wrote in a press release.
Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009 for crimes against humanity and then again in July 2010 for three counts of genocide, cannot travel in much of the world for fear of being extradited to the Hague. But Egypt is not a signatory to the Rome Statute -- Jordan, Djibouti, and Comoros are the only members of the Arab League to ratify the ICC's founding charter -- and U.N. Security Council 1593, which referred the Sudanese crisis to the ICC's special prosecutor, merely "urges" non-signatories to "cooperate fully" with the criminal investigation.
In theory, Bashir should fear extradition from all 121 parties to the Rome Statute, but in practice he has been able to travel more or less freely in Africa and the Middle East. Here's a look at the genocidal jet-setter's travel itinerary since he was indicted back in 2009.
ERITREA - March 2009
Only weeks after the ICC issued its first arrest warrant for Bashir, the Sudanese president ventured to Eritrea to visit President Issaias Afeworki, who had invited Bashir in a display of anti-Western solidarity. In his invitation, Afeworki declared the ICC "anti-people" and the indictment a "defamatory conspiracy on the part of external forces."
EGYPT - March 2009
Two days after his visit to Eritrea, Bashir touched down in Cairo for a state visit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "There is an Egyptian, Arab, African position that rejects the way the court has dealt with the status of the president of Sudan," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in a press conference.
QATAR - March 2009
Following his visit to Cairo, the Sudanese leader traveled to the annual Arab League summit in Qatar, where Arab foreign ministers endorsed a draft resolution rejecting the ICC's arrest warrant. The week before, Amr Moussa, then the secretary general of the Arab League, had cleared the way for Bashir's arrival when he said, "We in the presidency of the Arab League have a clear position on this request and we totally reject it."
SAUDI ARABIA - April 2009
CHAD - June 2010
Bashir travelled to Chad -- the first Rome Statute signatory to host the Sudanese president since the arrest warrant was issued -- in June 2010 in an attempt to mend relations with its eastern neighbor. Khartoum had previously accused Chad of aiding anti-government rebels fighting in Darfur, but Bashir declared the problem "solved" during his visit, adding that he and Chad's President Idriss Deby "are brothers."
KENYA - August 2010
Kenya, which ratified the Rome Statute in 2005, invited Bashir to witness the signing of its new constitution. An assistant foreign minister later defended Kenya's decision to defy the ICC warrant on the grounds that "Sudan's stability is vitally linked to Kenya's continued peace and well being."
DJIBOUTI - May 2011
After Ismail Omar Guelleh won a third term as Djibouti's president, Bashir attended his inauguration ceremony in May. Djibouti, which was the third Rome Statute signatory to flout the ICC arrest warrant, was referred, along with Chad and Kenya, to the U.N. Security Council for failing to arrest the Sudanese leader.
MALAWI - October 2011
Malawi, which signed the Rome Statute in 1999, hosted the Sudanese president for a trade summit last October. When the ICC demanded an answer for why Bashir had not been arrested, President Bingu wa Mutharika said that it was not his country's "business" to enforce the ICC's ruling. Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda, apparently does not share her predecessor's zeal for flouting international law, and denied Bashir permission to attend the African Union summit in Lilongwe in July 2012.
CHINA - June 2011
Chinese President Hu Jintao welcomed the Sudanese president to Beijing in June 2011. There, in a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People, he gushed about the two countries "traditionally friendly relations" before diving into talks with Bashir about how to keep the oil flowing to China following Sudan's impending partition. Interestingly, Bashir's flight to Beijing was delayed because he was forced to avoid Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, both of which denied him access to their airspace. China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.
LIBYA - January 2012
Bashir traveled to Libya to meet with Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) officials last January in order to discuss immigration, among other issues. Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, but the visit sparked outrage from human rights activists who called it "disturbing" and questioned the NTC's "commitment to human rights and the rule of law."
IRAQ - March 2012
Bashir attended the Arab League summit in Baghdad in 2012.
IRAN - August 2012
Bashir made an appearance at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran in August, where, in one of the event's least-publicized moments of irony, he met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Correction: Omar al-Bashir has also travelled to Ethiopia several times, the most recent being for the funeral of Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi in September.
Following Tuesday's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Tripoli that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead, a wave of anti-American demonstrations -- all apparently touched off by the same U.S.-made film that insults the Prophet Muhammad -- has spread across much of the Muslim world. So far, protesters have stormed the U.S. embassies in Cairo, Khartoum, Sanaa, and Tunis. The following is an up-to-the minute account of the demonstrations as they spread (see images of the protests here):
Protesters breached the U.S. Embassy walls in Tunis, breaking windows and setting at least one building on fire. Protests are ongoing and smoke continues to billow from the embassy compound [11:54 am]. An American school is also reportedly on fire.
Al Jazeera reports that more military vehicles are moving into position in Tunis to bring the demonstrations under control [12:55 pm].
Tunisian state television increased the death toll to three and reported that 28 have been injured as clashes continue [1:41 pm].
Riot police have finally driven demonstrators from the U.S. Embassy compound, Reuters reports. Authorities arrested roughly 60 rioters and cordoned off the compound. Clashes are still ongoing, however, in the el-Aouina district across a highway from neighborhood where the embassy is located [4:23 pm].
In Cairo, where protesters overran the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday and tore down the American flag, planned nation-wide protests were cancelled by the Muslim Brotherhood, but demonstrations continue in Tahrir Square and the surrounding area. The AP reports [10:49 am] that security forces fired tear gas at protesters attempting to approach the U.S. Embassy once again. Protests are ongoing [12:04 pm].
Al Jazeera reports that there are two main groups demonsting in Cairo, one protesting peacefully in Tahrir Square and another, more agitated group, sparring with security forces closer to the U.S. Embassy [12: 42 pm].
The Egyptian prime minister and interior minister visited Tahrir Square to express their dismay over the ongoing protests, Al Jazeera reports [1:08 pm].
Ahram Online reports [1:29 pm] that Bedouins, angered by the film, stormed the Multinational Force and Observers' (MFO) compound in the Sinai.
Police arrested at least 90 demonstrators in Cairo today, according to Al Jazeera [2:11 pm].
The demonstrations in Tahrir Square appeared to have quieted somewhat, although crowds continue to mill about and small fires are still burning [3:11 pm].
The AP reports that one protester died from injuries sustained in clashes with security forces today [3:22 pm].
Demonstrators stormed the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum and hoisted an Islamic flag. According to Al Jazeera [11:56 am] three people have been killed in ongoing clashes.
Nigerian troops fired live rounds at anti-American demonstrators in Jos, according to Al Jazeera [12:00 pm].
CNN reports [12:23 pm] that around 2,000 demonstrators gathered at a central mosque in Jos. A clash with security forces ensued when the crowd attempted to move toward the city center.
Nigerians also demonstrated and burned American flags in Sokoto, a primarily Muslim city in the country's northwest, the Washington Post reports [1: 09 pm].
The United States deployed a team of Marines to Yemen following the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa yesterday. "Although these security forces are equipped for combat, these movements have been undertaken solely for the purpose of protecting American citizens and property. These security forces will remain in Libya and in Yemen until the security situation becomes such that they are no longer needed," president Obama wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner. (Keeping Congress abrest of military activities is required by the War Powers Resolution.)
The Marines are now on the ground there. Demonstrators who gathered to protest today in Sanaa have since dispersed, according to Al Jazeera [12:07 pm].
The Yemen Post reports that by day's end, four protesters have been killed and 48 others -- including 10 police officers -- were injured in Sanaa. The rioters destroyed at least 63 cars and damaged several buildings [4: 09 pm].
The AP reports [11:39 am] that demonstrators clashed with the police in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, leaving one person dead and 25 injured. A KFC and an Arby's restaurant were also burned.
Al Jazeera reports that order has been restored in Tripoli and security forces are in control [12:43 pm].
Israel and the Palestinian Territories:
Thousands rallied on Friday in the Gaza Strip and several hundred demonstrated in the Old City in Jerusalem, where they clashed with Israeli police. In a Friday sermon, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya called for the United States to apologize for the anti-Islamic film."The U.S. administration should apologize to the Arab and Islamic nation for this offensive film and bring these criminals to justice," he said [4:35 pm].
The U.S. Embassy issued a warning to Americans in Algeria yesterday after calls for anti-American protests went out over social media websites.
Students demonstrated outside the Swiss Embassy - which represents the United States in Iran - over the U.S.-made film. No violence was reported, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Protests broke out in Afghanistan for the first time Friday in the Nangarhar province with demonstrators "Death to America" and "We condemn the film." The New York Times also reports [12:25 pm] that demonstrators burned president Obama in effigy.
President Obama dispatched a Marine anti-terrorism unit to Tripoli on Wednesday in response to the consular attack in Benghazi. He also moved two warships to the Libyan coast as a precautionary measure.
Libyan authorities said they suspect the Libyan branch of Ansar al-Sharia, a radical Islamist group, of orchestrating Tuesday's attack. They arrested four people in connection with the attack, although those in custody are not suspected of playing a direct role, a top aide to the Libyan prime minister told CNN.
Overnight, U.S. reconnaissance drones flying over Benghazi took heavy fire from militants on the ground. Libyan authorities closed the airspace over Benghazi as a result, Reuters reports.
On Thursday, Reuters reported that roughly 1,000 protestors attempted to march on the U.S. Embassy in Daka, but were blocked by security forces. Today, more than 10,000 people turned out to demonstrate, burning American flags and "Smash the black hands of Jews," the Daily Star reports. Police prevented them from approaching the U.S. Embassy.
President Obama, in a speech at Andrew's Air Force base in Maryland, vowed again to bring those responsible for the attack in Benghazi to justice and promised to "do everything in our power to protect americans serving overseas" [3:00pm].
BEIJING -- Where is Xi?
On this, the eleventh day since Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping has disappeared from public view, speculation has yet to abate over the senior leader's condition and whereabouts. The 59 year-old heir apparent has not been spotted since Sept. 1, causing many to wonder whether the absence is merely health-related, or if it is tied into the leadership succession next month. Over the past two weeks, scheduled meetings between Xi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong were abruptly canceled. When asked to confirm whether Xi was alive, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei retorted, "I hope you have serious questions to ask."
As expected, the Chinese government's information blackout (which is no isolated incident - see the government's period of silence over the rumored death of former President Jiang Zemin a year ago) has only fanned the flames of speculation over what has actually befallen the ascendant leader. Censors have clamped down tightly on Chinese social media, blocking searches for "vice-president" or "Xi Jinping," while rapidly removing related posts on Sina Weibo -- China's version of twitter. One Weibo user reports that his link to a Wall Street Journal article on Xi's disappearance was deleted within ten minutes of publication. Chinese netizens have sought to circumvent censors by using the pseudonym "crown prince" -- though this was later blocked as well. Currently, the best way to search for Xi-related news is by inputting his given name, Jinping, which censors have not targeted just yet.
Rumors accounting for his disappearance range from the sensational to the mundane. Some allege Xi was hurt in a car crash or even an assassination attempt by forces from a rival faction, fueled by a story suggesting as much that was published and later retracted by the gossip site Boxun. "Jinping hasn't emerged in ten days. Does this mean a big domestic crisis is about to hit China??" one netizen asked. "Internal Party struggles are incredibly heated!" another poster remarked, "...[Xi] Jinping has disappeared for so many days, now you know why." Others have suggested that Xi hurt his back while swimming or playing soccer in Zhongnanhai, the senior leadership compound in Beijing. This aligns with the most recent account offered by Reuters, which quoted two anonymous sources suggesting that Xi had indeed injured himself while swimming.
Most of the listings that pop up after searching "Jinping" on Weibo are either expressions of sympathy for the leader's wellbeing, or plain, inoffensive queries as to why the vice-president has yet to emerge. More "inflammatory" posts have probably already been censored out. "X.i. jinping, where are you?" asked one concerned netizen. "[W]hy haven't we seen you for so many days? Are you okay? What happened?" Another post asks simply: "Jinping, where are you? You've almost been gone for 8 days, even the New York Times is looking for you..." With tensions running high over the disputed Diaoyutai islands, Weibo users have also combined their pleas for Xi's whereabouts with demand for Chinese escalation against Japan. In response to an article about Japan's "nationalization" of the islands, one netizen urged that, "Jinping, you should attack! We will support you."
The clock, however, continues to tick. The longer Xi waits before emerging, the greater the domestic and international speculation over the severity of what has befallen him. Some netizens, who have seen this drama play out many times before, have expressed weariness over the government's default approach to handling incidents like this. "Typical in a year of Chinese top political circle mysteries," one poster commented. "I'm sure we'll find it less exciting if our glorious party just tells us what is going on honestly." "A back injury from swimming? Football?" another poster asked, "They try so hard to hide this. At least this sounds like he's only human. But of course, being human is not acceptable for Chinese party leadership."
Mark Jia is a graduate student in politics at Oxford, where he is a Rhodes Scholar.
Saudi Arabia is home to less than half a percent of the world's population -- and fully 16 percent of the world's proven oil reserves. Nonetheless, Citigroup projects that the desert nation may become an oil importer in the next 20 years. "If Saudi Arabian oil consumption grows in line with peak power demand, the country could be a net oil importer by 2030," Heidy Rehman wrote in a 150 page report for the bank.
Already Saudi Arabia uses a quarter of its fuel production and all of its natural gas domestically, meaning that its per capita consumption is higher than the United States despite its miniscule industrial base. Demand for electricity, moreover, is expected to grow by as much as 8 percent a year.
The Telegraph has more:
The basic point -- common to other Gulf oil producers -- is that Saudi local consumption is rocketing. Residential use makes up 50 percent of demand, and over two thirds of that is air-conditioning.
The Saudis also consume 250 litres per head per day of water -- the world's third highest (which blows the mind), growing at nine percent a year -- and most of this is provided from energy-guzzling desalination plants.
Analysts including Jeremy Leggett of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security have suggested that dwindling Saudi Arabian exports could contribute to a global fuel shortage, potentially causing "massive stress to the global economy."
Rehman's report comes less than six months after another Citi report, which predicted an era of oil abundance -- and of reduced American dependence on OPEC:
[T]he US has become the fastest growing oil and natural gas producing area of the world and is now the most important marginal source for oil and gas globally. Add to this steadily growing Canadian production and a comeback in Mexican production and you get to a higher growth rate than all of OPEC can sustain.
Either way, Saudi Arabia's share of global exports is on the wane, so the United States had better stop treating it as a de facto Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
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