What’s Not in the News is a Problem

As President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and other countries in the region begins, his staff is working double time in convincing everyone that there are no tensions outside the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went so far as to say no one else in the rest of the world is even remotely interested nor do they have time to watch what is “happening domestically here”. That’s not exactly true. There are many reasons for more than a few countries to pay attention to U.S. actions.

North Korea

Today, Tillerson is trying to convince North Korea to  “trust the U.S.” and that we intend to keep a promise of no hostility. Tillerson also is trying to convince those leaders to “refrain from conducting anymore nuclear or missile tests so as to create the right atmosphere for talks”.

Also this week, Russia decided to ignore Trump’s call to tighten sanctions against North Korea. While many countries happily obliged, Russia decided not to. A weekly ferry service between Rajin, a North Korean port, and Vladivostock, a city in Russia begins in days.

Syria/Russia

I think it’s important to note the lack of any coverage from the media regarding yesterday’s U.S. strike against the Syrian Army. Both Syria and Russia are fuming.  Russia’s Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov made it clear, “This is totally unacceptable; it is a violation of Syrian sovereignty. Of course, it does not help the political process”.

Another Russian leader, Senator Konstantin Kosachev, said:

(The English translation isn’t shown on some apps, so I’ve included a screenshot below as well)

Turkey

Before Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan arrived here earlier this week, he too had harsh words for Trump’s decisions. Last week, Trump decided to provide arms to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units. The U.S. policy that allowed this to happen is rarely used, mostly because the U.S. hasn’t had any reason to aggressively confront Turkey. The Kurdish group is considered to be a terrorist organization by Turkey, though Trump clearly disagrees. Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim reiterated his country’s stance and said that it would be wise for the United States to reverse its decision, or else, “The consequences will bring negative outcomes, not only for Turkey but also for America.”

This week, Erdogan was in the U.S. to meet with Trump. The protests outside the White House turned violent and Erdogan watched his own people attack American protesters. In all fairness, he couldn’t exactly make his way to the street brawls and order them to stop no more than Trump could have. It’s the quiet contentment that is so remarkable.

Between these ongoing problems, and there are more, coupled with problems here in the U.S., my guess is Trump’s feeling like a fish out of water. The attention he’s receiving isn’t what he had in mind once he donned the U.S. President cap.

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Russia’s Gift to U.S: an Oily Turkey

Well, it took them awhile, but sure enough, all hell broke loose today at least on one front. Things got really interesting a week or so ago in the oil sector. No one really took it seriously for a couple of reasons. First, there are still folks hanging their hat on fracking. But more importantly, jobs in natural gas and oil were easier to find; money was being made. It made sense then. No one expected much from the other oil leaders and everyone damn sure underestimated Putin.

Note to Washington: Don’t call Putin an ass. He doesn’t like it and he’s not one to let it slide. Remember when Obama was hocking his kinder diplomacy mindset? Yeah. Turns out that wasn’t quite as sincere as he’d have you believe. And no, I don’t believe Putin is punishing Obama for a bit of name calling. I believe the world as a whole has had a bellyful of the arrogance of the Obama Administration. OPEC just called our bluff. Make no mistake – this gets worse before it gets better. Remember when Obama referred to Russia as a “regional” power and that Crimea only further weakened it? Oh and let’s not forget the now-infamous reference by John Kerry that Russia exhibited “backward behaviors out of the 19th century.  That’s just the tiny tip of the iceberg.

Russia’s Rules

I’ve said for weeks that Russia is the big winner in this latest oil scramble. And then it happened. Remember the South Stream project that’s been idle for awhile? Putin got a bellyful of that too – about the same time he got a bellyful of the Obama Administration is my guess. Russia abandoned that project and just went into business with Turkey. Remember, Turkey tried its best to gain a foothold in the sector, and now, Russia not only made it possible, but it managed to kick a colossal “Screw you” to Obama, the U.S. and the west as a whole. But Putin went further. He just created an entrance for southern Europe, too and he’s going to use the…wait for it…. infrastructure already built for South Stream in his diversion through Turkey. Do the math. Russia just kicked ass.

Mike Whitney said it best on Sunday:

Judging by the Obama administration’s silence on the topic–the gravity of the transaction is beginning to sink in…(this) latest move has caught US powerbrokers flat-footed and left them speechless. This is a scenario that no one had anticipated and, if it’s not handled correctly, could turn out to be a real nightmare. How can this happen? How can Putin waltz into Ankara, scribble his name on a few sheets of paper, and abscond with a key US ally right under Washington’s nose?  Isn’t there anyone at the White House who’s smart enough to anticipate a scenario like this?

But why the silence? Why hasn’t the White House issued a statement about the big Russian-Turkey gas deal that everyone’s talking about?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because they don’t know what the hell just hit them, that’s why. They were completely blindsided by the announcement and can’t quite figure out what it means… Let’s face it, Putin has really knocked it out of the park this time. Team Obama is clearly out of its league and has no idea of what’s going on. If Turkey turns eastward and joins the growing Russian bloc, US policymakers are going to have to scrap the better part of their strategic plans for the coming century.

Clearly, it’s taken the U.S. as a whole a few minutes to catch up with what’s happening. I guess a 200+ drop in the Dow can grab attention. It’s still not front and center, but it’s coming. This is about to become ichiban in world relations.

Wondering about OPEC? Here are the Founding Members as well as the current status of U.S. relations.

Republic of Iran – Last year, Obama insulted Iran to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That was a big mistake because in a CNN interview, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said “I was rather disappointed that President Obama used language that was insulting to the Iranian people… You do not deal with another state with mutual respect by threatening them, by trying to intimidate them…the Iranian people react very, very negatively to such languages of threat and intimidation.”

Iraq – Iraq is now allowing Iran to join the battle against ISIS. It’s even teamed with Iran – without letting the U.S. in on that bit of information. Is it a big deal? Who knows…but why Iraq would not inform the U.S. is a bit disturbing. Wondering what’s being said? This one comment sums up how an unnamed government official sees the “late to the party” mindset of Iran: “We are aware of that. I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily concerned with it — we kind of have our eyes on it” Also, Syria is also flying alongside the U.S. and Iran in efforts of knocking ISIS out. Oh and by the way – Syria and Russia are getting cozy together these days. That’s the real take-away with that.

Kuwait – This is a tough one. Kuwait is home to slightly more than half of the global oil reserve. Not only that, Kuwait also holds more than a third of the world’s natural gas. Naturally, the U.S. benefits from a healthy relationship. We have troops there, and that’s not likely to change considering growing worries about Iran’s nuclear program. Most recently, Russia and Kuwait seem to be building their very own BFF relationship. And let’s be honest – those are usually the most dysfunctional kinds of friends.

Venezuela – Venezuela is most certainly not happy with the U.S. these days. We just hit them – HOURS AGO with sanctions. Oh, and here’s the irony: The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act directs President Obama to sanction against any current or former Venezuelan government official who violated the rights of ant-government protestors this year. That sort of puts a different spin on all of the protests that are ongoing in our own country, yes?

Qatar – This is one of those delicate relationships where both sides are a bit testy and always seem ready to stir trouble. You know the type – we have friends who thrive on the uncertainty of their relationships or marriages. It’s sick, I tell you, it’s sick. But – despite the fact that Hagel and Kerry both have done their level best to buy loyalty (including $11 billion arms package earlier this year), Qatar is still neck deep in its own dysfunctional love affair with Hamas. In fact, Hamas leader Khaled Masha was allowed to build his home in Qatar. Oh – and four words: humongous natural gas revenues.

The other OPEC countries include Libya, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Nigeria, Ecuador, Gabon and Angola.

Now What?

So what now? What can we expect right here in the U.S? Russia already signed a gas deal earlier this year with China, at which time Obama dismissed much the way you’d dismiss a lap dog yapping at your feet. This was exactly what the two countries expected: Obama to dismiss it. OPEC has dug in its collective heels. We’re quickly reaching that dreaded $50 per barrel oil price – and frankly, no one’s really sure what – if anything – can stop this. Bank of America released its annual report today and called the entire shooting match “catastrophic”.

And again, Russia called our bluff on the massive SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) banking system by introducing its own interbank system. SWIFT is the series of numbers and formulas that accompanies every bank transfer in the world. It’s nested quite safely in Belgium, but always under U.S. control. We managed to get Iran kicked out of the system, but Russia? No need to worry about that. It just took control with its new system.

Besides, all of this is happening while Obama is bitching about the sun rising in the east and while Congress is grilling some little weasel about calling Americans stupid. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for snatching a knot in his pompous ass, but seriously, anyone can bring a man to his knees in a controlled environment and with questions that have no answers. How ‘bout we just get back to the business of running this country, find some pride in our decisions and eliminate the whole “dumbass” title we’ve earned in recent years?

And there it is – we can sit atop our pedestals, order sanctions on countries’ governments even as we don’t allow our own citizens to do the same things and we can continue to tout shale and fracking and natural gas – even though the decision makers are the ones who know without the right numbers associated with oil, those new technologies are just too expensive to maintain, as David Hughes explains, “Fracking, the rapidly expanding technique for pulling natural gas out of the ground, may be worse for global warming than coal, ultimately very expensive, and not productive enough to make much of a difference in natural gas supply anyway.” Judgments are coming down every day that include bans on fracking anyway. There’s just not enough money to make it happen. And don’t even bother looking elsewhere for funding– it doesn’t exist. There’s no sugarcoating this one. Not this time.