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Water, Sunlight, Oil, and Sectarianism

Public Policy

In a prior post in the International Affairs Forum, I tried to outline what Western and Eastern polities might want out of the ever-fractious Middle East, using the p5+1 deal with Iran as a focus point.

Basically, this would be peace, prosperity, citizen-centered governance, and openness to global economic and social systems. In other words, we have had enough of this area’s interminable squabbling. We need to aim for more constructive regional and global engagement.

But there is a deeper set of issues and needs. First, let us take water.

Several analyses suggest that the recent major drought in the area of Syria was a factor in Syria’s unraveling. Water shortages are of even broader scope in the area.

If the people of Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, and even Saudi Arabia are impoverished by water depletion, governance systems are likely to destabilize, refugees will multiply, and oil supplies will be prejudiced as a result of civic unrest and violence.

This would be a disappointing future for those in the area. But why should Americans, Europeans, and everyone else care? The temptation is to think or say that the Middle East was dry before we appeared on its scene, and that is not our responsibility.

Enter oil. The Persian Gulf area has roughly half the world’s oil reserves. These are the lowest cost reserves available. The Persian Gulf countries currently originate over ⅓ of global crude oil exports. At present, the Strait of Hormuz (near the opening of the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean) is a potential choke point for the flow of this oil.

If governments in the area become engaged in major hostilities or become dysfunctional from citizen unrest and conflict, liquid fuel prices around the globe would go up, perhaps dramatically; global economies would likely fail to grow as accustomed, financial markets would be roiled, international trade would likely suffer from global economic contraction, and general global hardship could abound.

Now enter sectarianism. The Islamic Sunni/Shia dichotomy is everyday news. One might say this is just history, not the future, and the adherents of each sect can now focus on better integration with the remainder of the world, fatten their bank balances, enjoy vacations abroad, and get on with the future. Unfortunately, not all of the clerical establishments in the area are on board. History has a lot of inertia, carrying into the future. The mixture of national, ethnic, and religious group consciousnesses present the overall picture of a continually waving red flag.

Lastly is sunshine. MENA has lots of it. Combined with low rainfall, this has made the Middle East hot, dry, and limited in population. But the total solar energy flux vastly exceeds the energy value of the oil and gas deposits there and will last for over a billion years. Solar technologies and energy storage systems present the possibility that this energy might economically be translated into water supplies (by desalination and piping water inland), electricity, and even chemical fuels. One can imagine, for example, industrial scale solar PV complexes providing a combination of electricity, desalinated water for local use, and fuels such as hydrogen for fuel cell usages.

If the Middle East effectively embraces such a future, this could provide more biological carrying capacity for the area, productive employment for its abundant youth, a geographically decentralized tax base for governing bodies, and the possibility (but not the guarantee) of more decentralized, more democratized, and less parasitized political structures. In this bargain, one also economizes on greenhouse gas emissions without lowering the prosperity potentials of the Middle East.

At present, the countries in this area lack the capacity to realize these economic possibilities within themselves. As for the technical and economic potentials, they must draw upon the more advanced industrial tools and skills of Europe, the United States, and the Far East.

This provides a powerful, mutually beneficial complementarity. In the short run, the MENA areas can provide petrochemicals and labor to the industrialized areas and markets for the products and skills of those areas. In the longer term, MENA would be a reasonably prosperous and stable part of a globally sustainable ecosystem.

When contemplating how the global system might encourage such a future, one finds that much of the commentary on the Syria situation and the Middle East in general reflects a not-quite post-colonial mindset. See for example Henry Kissinger’s recent piece in the Wall Street Journal. However cogently argued, the implicit assumption in this treatment of the issue is that the United States must set boundaries between factions and balance “great power” ambitions, arranging matters for its own national objectives.

That is to ask both too much and too little of the United States. Our generalized interest—and the interest which can get broadest international appeal—is primarily  in stable societies open to international economic, cultural and social interchange, not in gerrymandering the Middle East to the primary benefit of the United States or, for example, of Russia.

Many might be inclined to say that the burden of arriving at mutual accommodations in coping with water limitations lies first on the citizens in the area and their governments. This also might be said more generally in regards to reconciling their various national and sectarian rivalries.

This is true. But Syria and ISIL require international interventions to address the crises and to avoid potentially worse outcomes. In doing so, the external powers must take great care to avoid maneuvering for advantage in MENA and sparking a wider cold or hot rivalry among themselves.

Thus the entire global population has some stake in brokering peace between the rival societies of the Middle East and in coping with pressing problems such as water supplies. It would seem wise, therefore, to use whatever set of United Nations, regional, and civil society concords feasible to bring about these goals.

As noted above, the West and East would have much to gain from recycling petrodollars into long term energy and water generation facilities in this arid area, as opposed to arms sales conducive to human misery in MENA and potentially dangerous wider confrontations.

Such an undertaking will not necessarily be easy or clearly understood at all times to all concerned. But former US President Bill Clinton reportedly said, in speaking about dealing with obstreperous and dangerous foreign entities in less than apocalyptic ways, words to the effect of “Well, you can’t just kill them all.”

This is particularly good counsel to the Shia, Sunni, Iranian, Turkish, Kurdish, Iraqi, and Arabian leaders and their citizens. The era in which eliminating or subjugating others through violence can be thought likely to solve any group’s perceived problems is past. There is no local hegemon in sight. Iran might become the “strongest” power in the area, but it could not gain or exploit that status by force of arms if the United States, Europe, and/or other international systems protect other polities in the area from overt conquest or nuclear blackmail. This, indeed, is a part of the reason for the Iran nuclear deal. (Duh.)

Thus, the polities of that area will need to find ways to coexist with each other and participate productively in a global civilization. Or they will massively sacrifice  the lives and prospects of tens and  hundreds of  millions of people who should have rewarding  existence.

Even so, the above discussion asserts, global polities and their citizens also have a stake in outcomes in the Middle East. Thus, the agents of global polities — state actors, private sector interests, and civil society all may be involved  in trying to help find ways forward, involving water, oil, sunshine, and the subjugation, or sublimation, of sectarianism and belligerent nationalism.

United Nations organizations are particularly relevant (see, for example, UN sponsored talks on the Yemen conflict). The United Nations has structural and political limitations. Often it is not sufficiently organized to play decisive  roles in addressing these challenges. But the exigencies of the Middle East situation might serve as a sort of forced draft on the United Nations structure.  In the extreme, the now quiescent ‘trusteeship council’ might conceivably be brought into play.

Whether by coalitions, coalitions of coalitions, and/or UN structures, the primary task is not merely to referee or handicap local rivalries to aid a few external actors. Some refereeing or peacebuilding will be entailed.  But the primary objective should be the integration of the Middle Eastern polities into a global system which relies upon them for needed energy supplies, and can help supply them with the technologies and skills required for their long term peaceful sustenance.

global solutions

27 Comments on "Water, Sunlight, Oil, and Sectarianism"

  1. eugene on Fri, 30th Oct 2015 2:05 pm 

    I think the author said it all in “one can imagine”. One can imagine that much of the conflict in the Middle East is the fault of Britain, France, German and the US. But this in not imagination. This is real world. The typical American’s believe that we are somehow innocent of assassinations, destruction of governments, wholesale slaughter of innocents, black operations world wide and all the rest of our self centered and arrogant behavior. We just have to screw with everybody while shouting we are so pure, so wonderful and have the best of everything claiming if all others would just live as we tell them, all would be well. Reality is we’re just another violent, brutal empire bent on our self interest.

  2. makati1 on Fri, 30th Oct 2015 7:57 pm 

    Well said, Eugene. Well said.

  3. In the middle on Fri, 30th Oct 2015 10:56 pm 

    You make it sound so horrible, Eugene, that freedom loving people would want to export the liberty and justice we enjoy and which is indeed the foundation of prosperity. Yes, Eugene, I want evil people to die. So what sets you apart from those whom I loathe?

  4. makati1 on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 2:43 am 

    In the middle, what freedom? Americans are among the least free people on the planet. They just refuse to acknowledge it. All America exports is chaos and war, not freedom and prosperity.

    It your comment was not sarcasm, then: Congratulations! Your indoctrination is complete! Join the flock of dumbed down, ignorant, arrogant, Americans.

  5. theedrich on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 2:56 am 

    The proponent of more MENA meddling wrote, But former US President Bill Clinton reportedly said, in speaking about dealing with obstreperous and dangerous foreign entities in less than apocalyptic ways, words to the effect of “Well, you can’t just kill them all.”

    No we can’t.  But we could let them kill one another.  The inhabitants of Allahland are largely primitives who have never learned to live without slaughtering or maiming others.  That, indeed, is what “Submission” (Islam) really means.  Consider how many young females have been murdered by their own families over the centuries, how many Hindus have been liquidated, how many Europeans have been enslaved, how many other lands invaded.  A small symbol of Mohammedan bloodthirst is the fact that the national flag of Saudi Arabia displays a scimitar.

    Also, the fact that each year the U.S. requires one quarter of all crude on the planet just to survive is an indication of just how much we exist on life support from the Ghawar and the “golden triangle” of the Persian Gulf region.  Add in a dose of Yidland’s influence, and you have the real reason we have embarked on an illegal war in Syria to oust the current regime — to say nothing of our destruction of Iraq.

    Life on earth is kept within bounds by death.  The Christian insanity that this is something horrible, and that “we” (i.e., you, Whitey) must at all costs help parasitic populations to overflow their ecological niches is the thinking of suicidal maniacs.  And the delusion that said populations will become good Americans or Europeans (à la Merkel the Madwoman) and pay for our old age pensions and hospices is more than a crime against humanity:  it is a crime against earth.

    But then, the sludge which governs us is convinced it will escape the consequences of its own demonic possession.

  6. GregT on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 3:47 am 

    “No we can’t. But we could let them kill one another.”

    Great plan thee. Why not bring the US MIC trained killers back to the motherland, unleash them and their multi trillion dollar industry at home, and let the MENA take care of themselves. A win win situation. You’d no longer need to rely on murdering others for their resources. Instead of travelling half way around the world, it would cost much less to kill millions of innocent people closer to home, and it would be much cheaper for those in the ME to use traditional methods such as knives and swords, instead of paying for US supplied advanced weapons of mass destruction.

    Of course this would never happen, because all of those insane religious folks are firmly in support of allowing people the rights to self determination, and think of them as human beings, as opposed to the parasitic populations that we all know that they really are. They could never become good Americans or Europeans like us, because they don’t possess the advanced weaponry that we do, and they can’t quite figure out how to destroy the Earth’s natural ecosystems as fast as we can.

  7. In the middle on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 9:40 am 

    Mak, calling people dumb, arrogant and ignorant is not the way to make friends. I “refuse to acknowledge” that Americans are the least free people because it’s simply not true. I have plenty of freedom and I enjoy it every day so I know what it is. You say that all America exports is “chaos and war not liberty or prosperity.” Again, not true. Just look at Japan and Germany, our World War 2 enemies. America imposed our values upon them and they have become economic powerhouses because of it. America, in fact, exports a plethora of goods and services around the globe. It is the basis and cause of the strong dollar. Demand. I know you think it’s because the dollar is the reserve currency, but just the opposite is true. The dollar is a reserve currency because it is in demand. It is in demand because people around the world need it to buy American goods. We don’t accept pesos. Now since you like to impose on questions posed for others I ask you this same question: what is the difference between you and the people I loathe?

  8. In the middle on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 9:49 am 

    Thee. Thank you for your perspective. But I know no Christians who think the way you depict them. Liberals, on the other hand, I know many. They have no sense of danger.

  9. makati1 on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 8:54 pm 

    In the middle, I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to share my view of the world today. A view shared by many others, BTW.

    You are so brainwashed that you don’t even see the cage around you. I do because it was built since I was young and free. For instance: For most of America’s history, you could go to Canada or Mexico with your driver’s license. Now you need a bio-metric passport and are limited in what you can take out of the country. And if your name happens to be on the no fly list because someone else has a similar name, you do not get to leave, ever.

    There are over 600,000 laws on the books in the Us and you are breaking several of them everyday without realizing it. But your government is now tracking you so thoroughly that they know and will use that fact someday. They know everything about you, and that will be used if they ever want to make you do something.

    You are basically strip searched (x-rayed) at every airport, thanks to your police state. Not too long ago, you could go from the ticket counter and onto your plane without any of that. And your family and friends could see you off at the gate. Not any more.

    Should I go on? You have no freedom. You even have to license your dog and all of your vehicles. And have you tried to build a home today without the approval of your government? That is an expensive, permit filled process you have to go through to build on property you don’t really own as the government can take it for any number of reasons or none.

    When I was a boy, not that many years ago, none of that was necessary. None. Yes, you are not free. You are a government slave in a cage.

  10. Boat on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 9:07 pm 


    Your a silly man. When Americans get tired of dealing with all those freedoms you claim we lost we will just quit funding them. Happens all the time.

  11. Boat on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 9:14 pm 


    No visa is required to visit Canada or Mexico if your an American. Philippines yes. You would make the no-fly list. LOL

  12. apneaman on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 9:45 pm 

    Sure boat, but if you have been convicted of so much as a DWI you ain’t getting in without special permission after filling out a bunch of government forms and going through a special approval process. Ask GW Bush. He had to do it even when he was the POTUS. Fucking drunken crack head.

  13. GregT on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 9:56 pm 


    You’re a silly man, not your a silly man. We’re talking grade five English skills here. You know, like 11 year olds.

  14. GregT on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 10:01 pm 

    You’re an American, not “Your an American.”

  15. Boat on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 10:57 pm 

    Humans invented the English and made a botched job of it. so many words that sound alike but have different meanings. You think that’s smart? Spelling with letters that don’t make a sound? Kinda dumb. MSM has you hooked and a believer but not me. You live in a box and worry about to many little things. Think phonics and free your mind, spell it like it sounds if you want. I really don’t care.

    Humans are collectively pretty smart as a group but dumb as a bunch of rock individually. But like I like to say….

    There are over 7 billion of us. billions came before and billions will come after us. They were dumb in the past, current and in the future. We just get by as best we can during the short time were here.

  16. GregT on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 11:13 pm 

    It really is a good thing that most people don’t have the ‘reasoning’ skills that you do Boat. We never would have learned how to communicate if they did.

    “Humans are collectively pretty smart as a group but dumb as a bunch of rock individually.”

    As usual, you are very confused. This topic has been studied extensively. The exact opposite is true.

  17. onlooker on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 11:23 pm 

    “As usual, you are very confused. This topic has been studied extensively. The exact opposite is true.” So true. Many studies on group dynamics showing among other things herd mentality, follow the leader, conformity etc. I am sure AP can come up with some juicy links to inform the uninformed such as our good friend Boat.

  18. apneaman on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 11:28 pm 



  19. apneaman on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 11:41 pm 

    Boat is the dumbest fucking retard on here – ever. Some may think, no planty is, but I would have to point out that planty is consistent in her stupidity and narrative, whereas boat will contradict himself multiple times a day and sometimes in the same comment. In addition, boat makes so many nonsensical comments that I often think he is shitfaced or they now have wifi at the mental institute. I bet he thinks he has won some debating points when no one responds to one of them, when in fact silence, a head shake and a wtf? are the normal non-response to nonsensical statements. One simply cannot argue with a babbling moron.

  20. GregT on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 11:47 pm 

    Thanks for that one Apnea. My wife and myself both had a good chuckle, while nodding our heads in agreement.

    Bookmarked for future reference.

  21. onlooker on Sat, 31st Oct 2015 11:58 pm 

    hahahehee. My goodness AP comments made me laugh so much.

  22. onlooker on Sun, 1st Nov 2015 12:08 am 

    “Reality is we’re just another violent, brutal empire bent on our self interest”.
    Great observation Eugene. I think In the Middle has been drinking too much of that kool-aid. Oh since we are into correcting grammar it is not “short time were here” it is short short time we are here. Sorry I just had to given that growing up, grammar was not my strong suit and received some reprimand in that regard over time. 🙂

  23. GregT on Sun, 1st Nov 2015 12:48 am 

    Everyone makes mistakes onlooker, after all we are all human… err apes. It is one thing to make a mistake, but an entirely different thing to constantly make the same mistake over and over again, especially after that mistake has been repeatedly pointed out. That is just plain stupidity. Personally I don’t usually bother to say anything, but the entire there, their, they’re thing or the your, you’re, yore thing, are big pet peeves of mine.

    They’re is simply no excuse. 🙂

  24. makati1 on Sun, 1st Nov 2015 4:12 am 

    Boat. I’m sorry, that passport requirement to go to Canada does not take effect until next year.

  25. Davy on Sun, 1st Nov 2015 7:29 am 

    Ape Man, while we would all agree intelligence is a plus it is also deception at the most basic level. A profound Taoist saying goes “The clever will be deceived”. We find all too often today at the macro and micro level this deception. I wonder is intelligence not our evolutionary dead end? We may have avoided the coming die off if we remained at or below a hunter gather level of intelligence.

    Our intelligence has led to hubris. We feel we as a species re immortal. At our deepest levels of both the individual and society we feel an exceptionalism from our achievements. We look at nature as our clay for our development instead of our mother. Physics documentaries so often point to humans colonizing the universe. We talk about artificial intelligence taking over as if we spawned a Frankenstein. I see both as a dead end and our ultimate hubris and deception.

    Ape, your PDF linked above mentioned “Nature manages, rather mysteriously” in regards to the amazing continuity of the frequency of male to female births globally. I feel nature is regulating intelligence in precisely this way. We are coming to a die off because of intelligence nothing more nothing less. Nature manages through die offs and colorizations of ecosystems.

    You can argue the coming die off is because of lack of intelligence or following the wrong path through intelligence. I would argue intelligence ultimately must always take the wrong path because it creates duality with nature. It creates the ego and the abstract. It created curiosity and technology to satisfy that curiosity. Intelligence cannot control these basic urges even with religion. In fact religion is corrupted by intelligence. No matter how humble we try to be we cannot help opening the unknown door even if we are told or we suspect that door to be dangerous. Competition found at the level of survival with our environment and with our fellow humans is another motivator to gain ever more advantage from knowledge and technology.

    Nature is going to manage our number down and maybe rid the planet of our human intelligence. I suspect the intelligence found in dolphins and whales is actually more advanced in this regards. They have not taken the step of hyper specialization through technology and knowledge.

    Why is this important or relevant to our discussions? It is the most relevant part of our discussions knowing what we know now about an economy ready to break to a much lower level, abrupt climate change from our activities, and the depletion of oil our foundational commodity. Economy and ultimately the progression of energy to oil a finite resource has led to an order of magnitude too many people in consumption overshoot. We are dependent today on a vast global ecosystem with our food chain totally dependent on oil. This order of magnitude level of population has destroyed our land, water and atmosphere. That is the basics of our evolution.

    We have evolved over millions of year to create a large brain then in the course of ten millenniums have evolved that brain to where we are today. The results of that evolution is the sixth great extinction. Nature enjoys nature and only nature can overcome nature. Humans cannot overcome nature ultimately. Ultimately we are just another tool of nature’s management and that is extinction.

    Extinction leads to evolution. Nature is about cycles and frequency. Life can never stay static it must always be in flux to stay life in a harsh solar system of mega physical processes. We are just a tool of nature in this process. We know it is likely if we even survive this coming bottleneck that another extinction event will do us in. Ultimately in a few billion years the sun will cook the earth into a runaway greenhouse event far worse than Venus. I think humility is the name of the game at this point as the die off begins.

  26. Davy on Sun, 1st Nov 2015 7:33 am 

    Mak, so what! you are so simple and redundant in you resentment and hatred of the US. Offer us something creative and enlightening. We know how bad the US is in every way. Focking look out your focking window at your Asian nightmare and tell me that is better. You are a silly man. Boat nailed it in that regards.

  27. In the middle on Sun, 1st Nov 2015 11:34 am 

    Mak. I’m clear on your point you don’t want to make friends but I’m going to keep trying anyway. This presumes a hope you will at some point be rational. Instead of addressing my points above, you resorted again to calling names. You think I’m brainwashed, arrogant, ignorant, and dumbed down just because America has some new laws. But it is you, not me, who declines to address the issues at hand. It is not Americas fault that other countries require passports. This is due to issues beyond our control. And about the dog. There is no license requirement in my city. Feel free. You say so many things that are simply not true about America as a whole. Should I go on? As for the rest of your complaints, these are things I actually approve of! License on cars help track down bad guys. It’s not a “cage” for me but rather it is for them! Is that the reason for your protest? No problem here. I’m not paranoid Mak, but I do worry about who is in charge. Liars concern me most. And I’ve listed a few of yours here but you would rather distract the conversation by calling names. You say I’m breaking laws today. If this is true then tell me; which ones? Or will you just call me some new names in hope you can distract from being held accountable?

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