via Lobe Log

News and views relevant to US foreign policy for Sept. 10

The Interview: Zbigniew Brzezinski: An interview with former US Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Tokyo-based publication the Diplomat includes Brzezinski’s thoughts on Iran and the Arab Spring:

Q: You have long advocated negotiating seriously with Iran, something the Obama administration at least came into office intent on doing. Before talks got underway, however, street protests broke out in Tehran following the 2009 Presidential election. While the administration claimed this came as a complete shock to them, I imagine it was less so for you given that in 2007 you stated that Iran “is a country that may be confronting serious internal problems once Iranians don’t feel that the outside world, and particularly the United States, is subjecting them to a siege.” You also have personal experience with handling street demonstrations in Tehran. How did the Obama administration do in responding to the 2009 Iran protests in your opinion? What about the uprising that latter swept through much of the Arab world?

A: I do not feel that the United States had much freedom of action insofar as a response to the upheavals in Iran and more generally in the Middle East is concerned.  These processes are inherently connected with social change within the region, and especially so in regards to the phenomenon of massive political awakening of their younger populations.  The rhetoric that is used in that connection by many of the spokesmen involved in the upheavals tends to be democratic, but democracy is not necessarily the real object of mass political aspirations.  The aspirations are rooted in historical resentments, social discrimination, financial envy, and sheer frustration.  The result tends to be assertive populism which is not to be confused with imminent institutionalization of democratic processes.

Saudi Arabia May Become Oil Importer by 2030, Citigroup Says: A research report from Citigroup this week projected that at present domestic consumption rates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will become a net importer of oil by 2030:

Oil and its derivatives are used for about half of the kingdom’s electricity production, which at peak rates is growing at about 8 percent a year, the bank said today in a an e-mailed report. A quarter of the country’s fuel production is used domestically, more per capita than other industrialized nations, as the cost is subsidized, according to the note.

“If Saudi Arabian oil consumption grows in line with peak power demand, the country could be a net oil importer by 2030,” Heidy Rehman, an analyst at the bank, wrote. The country already consumes all its natural-gas production and plans to develop nuclear power, which pose execution risk amid a lack of available experts, safety issues and cost overruns, Rehman said.

Last year the Guardian reported that a handful of Aramco executives had confided to US and Saudi officials that “the kingdom’s crude oil reserves may have been overstated by as much as 300bn barrels – nearly 40%” in recent years.

France gives Syria “liberated zones” aid, mulls weapons – source: Moving ahead of Turkey, the UK and the US, Reuters reports that France, one of the more enthusiastic voices in support of Syrian rebels — “has started helping rebel-held parts of Syria so these “liberated zones” can run themselves and is considering the possibility of supplying heavy artillery to protect them from government attacks.”

According to Reuters:

Paris said last week it had identified areas in the north, south and east that had escaped President Bashar al-Assad’s control, creating a chance for local communities to govern themselves without residents feeling they had to flee Syria.

“In zones where the regime has lost control, such as Tal Rifaat (40 km north of Aleppo), which has been free five months, local revolutionary councils have been set up to help the population and put in place an administration for these towns so as to avoid chaos like in Iraq when the regime pulls back,” the source said.

The source said France, which last week promised an extra 5 million euros ($6.25 million) to help Syrians, had started giving aid and money on Friday to five local authorities from three provinces – Deir al-Zor, Aleppo and Idlib. The areas are home to about 700,000 people.

Additional British and US humanitarian and communications aid has also been promised in the past few weeks. The Syrian government has complained that this aid is going to jihadist groups, the New York Times reports, also citing a report in Reuters in which the director of Doctors Without Borders claimed to have encountered many anti-Assad foreign fighters in Aleppo.

Supporters of the rebels, including unnamed US officials speaking to the Telegraph, have countered that all aid recipients have been carefully vetted for links to jihadist organizations.

Bridging the U.S.-Israeli gap on Iran: The Washington Post’s editorial board weighs in on the Democrat party controversy over whether or not to include language on Jerusalem in the 2012 party platform. The editors mainly focused on “the differences between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu over the urgency of considering military action against Iran.” The Post urges the administration to redress “the bizarre spectacle of senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials focusing their time and attention on trying to prevent an Israeli attack rather than an Iranian bomb” and publicly state that all options, and specifically military actions, are on the table:

Certainly there would be dangers to a more explicit presidential statement, including that the United States would start down a slippery slope toward war. But if Mr. Obama really is determined to take military action if Iran takes decisive steps toward producing a bomb, such as enriching uranium to bomb-grade levels or expelling inspectors, he would be wise to say so publicly. Doing so would improve relations with Mr. Netanyahu and deter unilateral Israeli action — and it might well convince Iran that the time has come to compromise.