Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Middle East Crisis Has Just Begun

Despite the military drama unfolding in Libya, the Middle East is only beginning to unravel. American policy-makers have been spoiled by events in Tunisia and Egypt, both of which boast relatively sturdy institutions, civil society associations and middle classes, as well as being age-old clusters of civilization where states of one form or another have existed since antiquity. Darker terrain awaits us elsewhere in the region, where states will substantially weaken once the carapace of tyranny crumbles. The crucial tests lie ahead, beyond the distraction of Libya.

The United States may be a democracy, but it is also a status quo power, whose position in the world depends on the world staying as it is. In the Middle East, the status quo is unsustainable because populations are no longer afraid of their rulers. Every country is now in play. Even in Syria, with its grisly security services, widespread demonstrations have been reported and protesters killed. There will be no way to appease the region's rival sects, ethnicities and other interest groups except through some form of democratic representation, but anarchic quasi-democracy will satisfy no one. Other groups will emerge, and they may be distinctly illiberal.

Whatever happens in Libya, it is not necessarily a bellwether for the Middle East. The Iranian green movement knows that Western air forces and navies are not about to bomb Iran in the event of a popular uprising, so it is unclear what lesson we are providing to the region. Because outside of Iran, and with the arguable exceptions of Syria and Libya itself, there is no short-term benefit for the US in democratic revolts in the region. In fact, they could be quite destructive to our interests, even as they prove to be unstoppable.

Yemen, strategically located on the Gulf of Aden, as well as the demographic core of the Arabian Peninsula and a haunt of al Qaeda, is more important to American interests than Libya. In Yemen, too, a longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has shot protesters in the street to keep order. Yemen constitutes the most armed populace in the world, with almost four times as many firearms as people. It is fast running out of ground water, and the median age of the population is 17. This is to say nothing of the geographical, political and sectarian divisions in the sprawling, mountainous country. However badly Mr. Saleh has ruled Yemen, more chaos may follow him. Coverage by Al Jazeera can help to overthrow a government like his, but it can't help to organize new governments.

In Jordan, at the other end of the Arabian Peninsula, democratic pressure will force King Abdullah to give more power to the Islamists and to urban Palestinians. The era of a dependable, pro-Western Jordan living in peace with Israel may not go on indefinitely. Bahrain, meanwhile, may descend into a low-level civil war. The country's Shia have legitimate complaints against the ruling Sunni royal family, but their goals will play into Iranian hands.

Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain and the other Gulf states are all individually more important than Libya because they constitute Saudi Arabia's critical near-abroad. In this era of weakening central authority throughout the Middle East, the core question for the US will be which regime lasts longer: Saudi Arabia's or Iran's. If the Saudi monarchy turns out to have more staying power, we will wrest a great strategic victory from this process of unrest; if Iran's theocracy prevails, it will signal a fundamental eclipse of American influence in the Middle East.

Criticize the Saudi royals all you want—their country requires dramatic economic reform, and fast—but who and what would replace them? There is no credible successor on the horizon. Even as Saudi Arabia's youthful population, 40% of which is unemployed, becomes more restive, harmony within the royal family is beginning to fray as the present generation of leaders gives way to a new one. And nothing spells more trouble for a closed political system than a divided elite. Yes, Iran experienced massive antiregime demonstrations in 2009 and smaller ones more recently. But the opposition there is divided, and the regime encompasses various well-institutionalized power centers, thus making a decapitation strategy particularly hard to achieve. The al Sauds may yet fall before the mullahs do, and our simplistic calls for Arab democracy only increase that possibility.

Democracy is part of America's very identity, and thus we benefit in a world of more democracies. But this is no reason to delude ourselves about grand historical schemes or to forget our wider interests. Precisely because so much of the Middle East is in upheaval, we must avoid entanglements and stay out of the domestic affairs of the region. We must keep our powder dry for crises ahead that might matter much more than those of today.

Our most important national security resource is the time that our top policy makers can devote to a problem, so it is crucial to avoid distractions. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the fragility of Pakistan, Iran's rush to nuclear power, a possible Israeli military response—these are all major challenges that have not gone away. This is to say nothing of rising Chinese naval power and Beijing's ongoing attempt to Finlandize much of East Asia.

We should not kid ourselves. In foreign policy, all moral questions are really questions of power. We intervened twice in the Balkans in the 1990s only because Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic had no nuclear weapons and could not retaliate against us, unlike the Russians, whose destruction of Chechnya prompted no thought of intervention on our part (nor did ethnic cleansing elsewhere in the Caucasus, because it was in Russia's sphere of influence). At present, helping the embattled Libyan rebels does not affect our interests, so we stand up for human rights there. But helping Bahrain's embattled Shia, or Yemen's antiregime protesters, would undermine key allies, so we do nothing as demonstrators are killed in the streets.

Of course, just because we can't help everywhere does not mean we can't help somewhere. President Barack Obama has steered a reasonable middle course. He was right to delay action in Libya until the Arab League, the United Nations Security Council, France and Great Britain were fully on board, and even then to restrict our military actions and objectives. He doesn't want the US to own the Libyan problem, which could drag on chaotically for years. President Obama is not feeble, as some have said; he is cunning.

Like former President George H.W. Bush during the collapse of the Soviet Union, he intuits that when history is set in motion by forces greater than our own, we should interfere as little as possible so as not to provoke unintended consequences. The dog that didn't bark when the Berlin Wall fell was the intervention of Soviet troops to restore parts of the empire. The dog that won't bark now, we should hope, is the weakening of the Saudi monarchy, to which America's vital interests are tied. So long as the current regime in Iran remains in place, the U.S. should not do anything to encourage protests in Riyadh.

In the background of the ongoing Middle Eastern drama looms the shadow of a rising China. China is not a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system, as we proclaim it should be; it is a free rider. We are at war in Afghanistan to make it a safe place for China to extract minerals and metals. We have liberated Iraq so that Chinese firms can extract its oil. Now we are at war with Libya, which further diverts us from concentrating on the western Pacific—the center of the world's economic and naval activity—which the Chinese military seeks eventually to dominate.

Every time we intervene somewhere, it quickens the pace at which China, whose leaders relish obscurity in international affairs, closes the gap with us. China will have economic and political problems of its own ahead, no doubt, and these will interrupt its rise. But China is spending much less to acquire an overseas maritime empire than we are spending, with all our interventions, merely to maintain ours.

The arch-realist approach would be to forswear a moral narrative altogether and to concentrate instead on our narrow interests in the Middle East. The problem is that if we don't provide a narrative, others will, notably al Qaeda, whose fortunes will rise as the region's dictators, with their useful security services, struggle to survive. But we should craft our narrative with care. It should focus on the need for political and social reform, not on regime change.

Order is preferable to disorder. Just consider what happened to Iraq after we toppled Saddam Hussein. The US should not want Iraq's immediate past to be a foretaste of the region's future.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Solar Energy is likely to benefit from nuclear problems

With the recent problems at the nuclear power plants in Japan, solar energy is looking to be the big beneficiary of a shift to safer energy sources. Solar stocks have been on the upswing in recent weeks as Japan's tragic nuclear crisis has led investors away from nuclear stocks and towards alternative energy plays. Companies such as LDK Solar (NYSE:LDK) and Yingli Green Energy (NYSE:YGE) are expanding their business quickly.

Japan's devastating earthquake may impact solar in both the short and the long term. Japan accounts for around 10% of total world solar production, and in the near term there will be a reduction in supply of polysilicon, solar wafers, cells and modules from Japanese manufacturers that have been idled.

Longer term, alternative energy bulls are hopeful that solar will be a direct beneficiary of a shift in Japan's energy strategy. Last week Jefferies analyst Jesse Pichel argued in a research note that solar power could help Japan deal with the nuclear facility shutdowns. He asserted the country could add a significant amount of photovoltaic power over the next few months.

Recently LDK Solar swung to a 4th quarter profit as the solar wafer manufacturer posted growth in shipments and revenue. LDK said profits totaled $145.2 million compared to a loss of $24.3 million.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ESPN The Magazine ranks TCU #1 for developing NFL talent

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Bruce Feldman has ranked TCU football #1 nationally for its ability to develop National Football League talent. The Horned Frogs' top ranking comes from head coach Gary Patterson being able to consistently develop NFL draft talent out of unheralded recruits.

TCU consensus first-team All-Americans Jerry Hughes (2008, 2009) and Jake Kirkpatrick (2010) were two-star recruits.

Hughes, a 2010 first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's best defensive end. He was also the Lott Trophy winner. Kirkpatrick was the 2010 recipient of the Rimington Trophy, honoring the nation's top center.

Current NFL players who were also two-star recruits for TCU include tailback Aaron Brown (Detroit), offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse (Green Bay) and linebacker Jason Phillips (Baltimore).

Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and quarterback Andy Dalton, projected draft picks this spring, were both three-star recruits. Dalton was ranked as the nation's 82nd best quarterback coming out of Katy (Texas) High School.

Among current Horned Frogs, All-America linebacker Tank Carder and 1,000-yard rusher Ed Wesley were two-star recruits that have flourished. TCU had 24 players drafted and 48 in NFL camps through Patterson's first nine years as head coach. Thirteen former TCU players are currently on NFL rosters.

In 2011, the Horned Frogs put together their first national top 25 ranked recruiting class.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Huge Earthquake moves island of Japan 8 feet

The powerful earthquake that unleashed a devastating tsunami Friday appears to have moved the main island of Japan by 8 feet and shifted the Earth on its axis.

"At this point, we know that one GPS station moved 8 feet, and we have seen a map from GSI (Geospatial Information Authority) in Japan showing the pattern of shift over a large area is consistent with about that much shift of the land mass," said Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Reports from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy estimated the 8.9 magnitude quake shifted the planet on its axis by nearly 4 inches. Friday's monster quake killed hundreds of people and caused the formation of 30 foot walls of water that swept across rice fields, engulfed entire towns, dragged houses onto highways, and tossed cars and boats like toys. Some waves reached six miles inland in Miyagi Prefecture on Japan's east coast.

The quake was the most powerful to hit the island nation in recorded history and the tsunami it unleashed traveled across the Pacific Ocean, triggering tsunami warnings and alerts for 50 countries and territories as far away as the western coasts of Canada, the US and Chile. The quake triggered more than 160 aftershocks in the first 24 hours with 141 measuring 5.0 magnitude or more.

The quake occurred as the Earth's crust ruptured along an area about 250 miles long by 100 miles wide, as tectonic plates slipped more than 18 meters, said Shengzao Chen, a USGS geophysicist.

Japan is located along the Pacific "ring of fire," an area of high seismic and volcanic activity stretching from New Zealand in the South Pacific up through Japan, across to Alaska and down the west coasts of North and South America. The quake was "hundreds of times larger" than the 2010 quake that ravaged Haiti, said Jim Gaherty of the LaMont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

The Japanese quake was of similar strength to the 2004 earthquake in Indonesia that triggered a tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in more than a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean. "The tsunami that it sent out was roughly comparable in terms of size," Gaherty said. "[The 2004 tsunami] happened to hit some regions that were not very prepared for tsunamis ... we didn't really have a very sophisticated tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean basin at the time so the damage was significantly worse."

The Japanese quake comes just weeks after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand on February 22, toppling historic buildings and killing more than 150 people. The timeframe of the two quakes have raised questions whether the two incidents are related, but experts say the distance between the two incidents makes that unlikely.

"I would think the connection is very slim," said Prof. Stephan Grilli, ocean engineering professor at the University of Rhode Island.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Huge Earthquake strikes off Japan sending tsunami's towards US and Hawaii

A monster magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck off Japan's eastern coast, unleashing a 10 meter tsunami that swept boats, cars, houses and tons of debris miles inland. The quake was so strong it was felt all the way in China. Tsunami warnings have gone out all across the Pacific as tsunami fears are rising. It is officially the largest earthquke to strike Japan since records have been kept.

Fires triggered by the quake burned out of control up and down the Japan coast, including one at an oil refinery. The devastation left by the quake and the waves will be massive and the loss of life is unavaoidable. About 4.4 million people in Japan are currently without power and public transportation is at a standstill. Japan's meteorological agency said that within two hours, large tsunamis washed ashore into dozens of cities along the country's eastern shore, from the northern island of Hokkaido to central Wakayama prefecture.

The tsunami also roared over embankments in Sendai city, washing cars, houses and farm equipment inland before reversing directions and carrying them out to sea. Flames shot from some of the houses, probably because of burst gas pipes.

Hawaii is expecting several tsunami waves the first of which is expected near 3am local time and could be up to 6 feet in height. It is yet to be seen if the waves will reach all the way to the United States coast. California has issued warnings that the waves could reach there around 8am local time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011 for the prospective college soccer player

For a club soccer player one of the ultimate goals is to get to play college ball. is for all the club soccer players that have a goal of playing college soccer. Available right now from is a great packet with pages of useful information and advice on how to navigate the college soccer recruiting process.

Everything from identifying the right college soccer program to the best ways to contact that program as well as information on college showcasing and what to expect from the college soccer game. Here are the chapters from the packet:
I.Identifying colleges of interest - Everything from quality of soccer program and roster size to academics offered and scholarships available plus much more will be discussed in this section.
II.Communicating with target colleges - the best ways and when to make contact with your target schools. Also how to respond to coaches as well as all the NCAA recruiting rules will be the topic here.
III.Campus visits - advice on scheduling visits and topics to discuss while on the visit. Also NCAA rules for unofficial and officail visits will be outlined.
IV.Showcasing - how to best take advantage of the showcasing process from when and how to contact as well as the rules for approaching college coaches.
V.Summer camps - the advantages of the college summer camp and how to best utililize them to gain scholarships.
VI.NCAA Clearinghouse - what purpose does the NCAA Clearinghouse serves and how to register to become compliant. Information on where and when to register.
VII.Financial aid/scholarships - everything from how athletic scholarships are broken down to the financial aid part of the equation is touched upon.
VIII.Preparations for the college game - how to best prepare as a player for the step up. Advice on training and what to expect when you arrive on campus.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Trouble in Bahrain a big opportunity for Iran

Several significant Bahrain-related developments occurred on March 7 as the Sunni monarchy ruling the Persian Gulf Arab kingdom tried to deal with an uprising led by its overwhelmingly Shiite population. Although Iranian state media denied earlier reports in the Arab press that a Bahraini delegation had traveled to Tehran on Feb. 27, Saudi sources said the Bahraini delegation was led by the kingdom’s Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa. There were also reports in the Saudi media discussing a March visit of the Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to Riyadh.

While the Bahraini crown prince did indeed travel to Saudi Arabia, it is not certain Bahrain's prime minister traveled to Iran. The purpose of the purported visit was apparently to seek Iranian assistance for Manama’s attempts to pacify the Bahraini Shiites. Whether or not Bahrain sent a delegation to Tehran, the key fact remains that Bahrain is geopolitically caught between the Saudis and the Iranians.

Bahrain, an island nation, is linked via a causeway to Saudi Arabia and through its Sunni al-Khalifa rulers. At the same time, some 70% of the country's Shiite population, whose political principals are Islamist, pulls the tiny Arab country into the orbit of Iran. In fact, the country only came under Sunni Arab rule toward the end of the 18th century. Prior to that Bahrain was under various periods of Persian and Shia control for many centuries.

The unrest in the region, especially in Bahrain, provides the Iranians with a historic opportunity to wrest Bahrain from Sunni Arab control and gain a foothold on the other side of the Persian Gulf. The Iranians are not about to squander this opportunity. Tehran has long been engaged in covert intelligence operations in Bahrain.

From Iran’s point of view, the current situation where the al-Khalifas are in negotiations with the largely Shiite opposition should at the very least result in a compromise offering significant concessions to the majority community. The al-Khalifas may have to give up some powers to parliament. Such an outcome is unpalatable for Saudi Arabia and the United States.

More problematic is that Riyadh and Washington do not have many good options to prevent the empowerment of the Bahraini Shia and Tehran. The Saudis have no qualms about opposing the demand for democracy but they have very little room to maneuver. The Americans have far more room to maneuver but cannot oppose calls for the monarchy to engage in democratic political reforms.

In the end, public agitation for democracy in the Arab world is a potentially powerful tool in Tehran’s hands. First, it allows the Iranians to turn an American weapon against Washington. Second, it could do away with structures that have thus far blocked Iran. Third, it empowers the Islamic republic’s Arab Shiite allies. Regional geopolitical conditions have never been this favorable for Iran since the 1979 foundation of the Islamic republic.