Geopolitical Insider: Post-Obama, ALBA, Mosul, Raqqa

Geopolitical Insider: Post-Obama, ALBA, Mosul, Raqqa


Read all 3 reports below.

Three issues headline your first Geopolitical Insider report of 2017.

The first topic is the post-Obama world as US President-elect Donald J. Trump prepares to take control in Washington.

The second issue covers the state of the ALBA countries in Latin America.

Finally, the third topic provides an update on the battles for Mosul and Raqqa.

Remember, every week, the Geopolitical Insider is your own global security briefing!

Post-Obama World

The legacy of the US Obama Administration will be the increase in geopolitical risk and tensions from Beijing to Britain.

War is more likely during the incoming Trump Administration because of the inaction, inertia, or insouciance of the Obama foreign policy.

Unfortunately for freedom-lovers, Trump’s policies do not appear fully considered.

The main feature of the post-Obama world is the continuing fallout from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) – the “Iran Deal.”

In his 2008 campaign, then Senator Obama had to take a tough stand against Iran to convince skeptics of his mettle as Commander-in-Chief:

“We cannot tolerate nuclear weapons in the hands of nations that support terror. Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a vital national security interest of the United States [1].”

The skeptics have been proven correct.

The JCPOA does not prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons  – it legitimizes Tehran’s overt and covert (military) projects to achieve nuclear status and with its advanced missile program [2] to threaten Israel, Europe, and the United States.

Enemies threaten.

Iran is an enemy of the United States no matter the wishful thinking of the US Obama Administration.

Pretending otherwise is harmful to global security and immature.

Over and over during the last eight years, Washington failed to heed the lesson of history – diplomacy not backed by the credible threat of force is futile.

It is easy to fancy oneself a master negotiator when compromise, concession, and even more concessions are your guide and nothing is extracted from the other side.

Outgoing President Obama’s boast of “shut[ting] down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot” in his farewell address is the audacity of hope, to be charitable.

The JCPOA is a house of cards and Iran will likely abandon the unsigned non-binding slim promise within the year after pocketing all its monetary benefits.

The JCPOA is a house of cards and Iran will likely abandon the unsigned non-binding slim promise within the year

Indeed, Iran has already inked a raft of business deals with European Union members to revitalize its energy sector [3], jetliner purchases from Boeing and Airbus [4] to ferry its troops and armaments around the Middle East, and Russian arms [5] and resumed nuclear cooperation [6].

The US Obama Administration explicitly moved to strengthen Tehran in the region apparently without any remorse for the consequences, reversing decades-old policy to confront the expansionist, revanchist Iranian regime, especially since the November 1979 sacking of the US Embassy.

Global security was not enhanced and the disastrous international policy of the US Obama Administration will not be redeemed by the “Iran Deal.”

No, the post-Obama world will have to live with the number one sponsor of terrorism on a clear path to achieve nuclear weapons and the cash to accelerate the advancement of its ballistic missile program to deliver them.

The US Obama Administration is content. Others know better.

ALBA’s Latin America

The Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA) is a project initiated by the late Hugo Chavez, former strongman of Venezuela.

ALBA was supposed to be an alternative to capitalism economically and pluralism politically in Latin America.

Venezuela is the flagship of the ALBA project to demonstrate that socialism for the 21st century is somehow different from its 19th and 20th century versions.

ALBA at its high point united the Latin America Left – Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and assorted Caribbean islands.

In Argentina, long-time ALBA princess Christine Kirchner saw her chosen successor defeated in the November 2015 presidential election.

Now, Mrs. Kirchner has been indicted on corruption charges [7] and the investigation was reopened into the mysterious death of the prosecutor who accused her of covering up the Iranian bombing of a Jewish center in 1994.

In Bolivia, Evo Morales also practiced well-worn ALBA practices to dominate politics as president since 2006 for three terms and shows no compunction to extending his term in power indefinitely.

Tight controls on the military, judiciary, and the press certainly helped.

However, in February 2016, just like Kirchner in Argentina, Bolivians rejected his bid to run for a fourth term as president in 2019 [8].

Dictators do not like to have their power curtailed so whether Mr. Morales respects the people’s wishes is to be determined.

The “entrenched president” is already plotting to defy the people.

In Ecuador, Rafael Correa, president since 2007, has chosen his successor and decided to retire from politics, for now.

Perhaps the defeat in the US courts in September 2016 over the fight with Chevron over alleged environmental destruction contributed to Mr. Correa’s decision to step aside.

The ruling judge found had the case “had been tainted by layer after sordid layer of fraud, bribery, evidence tampering, and other shenanigans [9].”

The ALBA practices in Nicaragua – elimination of the opposition, tight reins on the press, consolidation of power, etc. – helped veteran revolutionary Daniel Ortega to continue as president with his wife as vice-president in November 2016.

The #LatinAmerica Left has seen its tide go out as a breeze of freedom blows across the region. Click To Tweet

In early December, the opposition protested through the streets of Managua yelling “Democracy yes, dictatorship no! [10]”

In Cuba, inveterate revolutionary Fidel Castro died in late November leaving doubt about the continuation of Castro, Inc. in La Habana.

The Latin America Left has seen its tide go out as a breeze of freedom blows across the region.

Battles for Mosul, Raqqa

The battles for Mosul and Raqqa are not going as planned.

Mosul is the Islamic State’s (IS) last major redoubt in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria is the capital of their self-declared Caliphate.

The offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was launched on 17 October, 2016, more than two years after jihadists overran the city.

Some 30,000 troops from the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga and a Shia paramilitary force backed by U.S. air, artillery and forward air controller support face off against 8,000 jihadists believed to be in Mosul.

Much more, Raqqa is the hornet’s nest of IS operations around the world.

In December, the battle for Mosul ground to a halt as the elite Golden Division, the U.S.-trained and equipped Iraqi force leading the assault on Mosul, had a casualty rate of 50 percent, which would render it combat-ineffective within a month [11].

A Peshmerga Kurd general boasted of a two-month campaign in late October when the offensive began, but that is nowhere near the case [12].

In Raqqa, the battle to knock out the IS’s capital in Syria has also experienced delays since operations began on November 7, 2016.

Much more, the city is the hornet’s nest of IS operations around the world.

As a symbol of the Islamic State’s claim to a Caliphate, the capture of Raqqa perhaps would mark a turning point in the battle against IS’s militancy around the world.

A hodgepodge of forces under a loose umbrella of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is aligned against the IS.

A central thread in both the Mosul and Raqqa operations is the position of Turkey – adamantly against what the US considers the best fighters in both theaters – the Kurds (YPG in Syria and Peshmerga in Iraq).

Turkey is vehemently opposed to the Kurdish move to create a state in northern Syria and Iraq. Ankara has fought decades against the PKK faction of the Kurds which Turkey, the European Union and US consider as terrorists.

This political undercurrent reduces the efficacy of ground operations against IS, which has claimed responsibility for bombing Turkey’s international airport in Ankara in June 2016 and assassinating the Russian ambassador to Turkey in December 2016.

Thus, the battles for Mosul and Raqqa seem destined to creep along, but without any major advances.

The commander US forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, has stated that it could take two years to eliminate the Islamic State from the region [13].

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#4 Maritime Chokepoint – Bab al-Mandeb

#4 Maritime Chokepoint – Bab al-Mandeb


credit: Wikimap

The Bab al-Mandeb Strait lies at the southern gate of the Red Sea.  Almost all trade to Europe from the Indian Subcontinent and Asia moves through this gate.

Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia face the maritime passageway on the African coast.

Yemen borders the strait in the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

The Strait of Bab al-Mandeb links the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, a critical maritime choke point where roughly 3.8 million barrels of oil per day traverse [1].

The Bab al-Mandeb Strait is 18 miles wide at its narrowest point, limiting tanker traffic to two 2-mile-wide channels for inbound and outbound shipments [2].


| Read the full eReport: #4 Maritime Chokepoint – Bab al-Mandeb now.|

Geostrategic Importance

The Suez Canal-SUMED and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait form a vital maritime shipping artery of oil and Liquefied Natural Gas between East and West.

Closure of the Bab el-Mandeb could keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal or SUMED Pipeline, diverting them around the southern tip of Africa, adding to transit time and cost[3].

In addition, European and North African southbound oil flows could no longer take the most direct route to Asian markets via the Suez Canal and Bab el-Mandeb[4].

From 2013 to 2014, trade grew in the Strait by more than 20%, with an increase of more than 200,000 bbl/d in crude oil exports from Iraq to Europe contributing to higher northbound traffic [5].

In the middle of the Strait is Perim Island, a strategic patch of sand dividing the sea lanes roughly in half.

Threat Landscape

The Bab al-Mandeb Strait represents one of the most treacherous waterways in the world.

A host of illegal activities at sea impact the area, including drugs, arms and people smuggling, the dumping of toxic waste, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, as well as notable maritime terrorism attacks.


| Read the full eReport: #4 Maritime Chokepoint – Bab al-Mandeb now.|



#5 Maritime Chokepoint – Suez Canal

#5 Maritime Chokepoint – Suez Canal


credit: US EIA

The Suez Canal (SC), the world’s largest canal, began in 1869 as a 120-mile waterway serving as a vital link between Europe and Asia, a strategic asset, and a man-made wonder.  

The Canal is an artificial waterway in Egypt that snakes from Port Said on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast in the north to Port Tewfik on the Red Sea in the south. Egypt envelops the entirety of the Canal.

In a larger context, the SC was built to connect the North Atlantic Ocean with the northern Indian one, considerably reducing by 6,000 miles the distance between Europe and Asia, and thus encouraging world trade and transatlantic transportation [1].

| Read the full eReport: #5 Maritime Chokepoint – Suez Canal now.|

The Suez is one of the core features of the global maritime system and unlike the Panama Canal it requires no locks and therefore can handle vessels of far larger size and in far larger numbers [2].

In 2015, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi ordered an $8 billion expansion of the Suez Canal.

In 2015, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi ordered an $8 billion expansion, and in just one year the additional lane along part of the vital shipping channel was finished two years ahead of schedule [3].  

The enhancement includes 21 miles (35km) of new channels cut through the desert and a further 22 miles (37km) where existing bodies of water were dredged to make way for larger ships [4].

The controversial move promises to reduce waiting time, open up the Suez for more ships to pass, and of course, increase the toll revenue to the debt-strapped precariously-stable al-Sisi government in Cairo.

The gamble on the Canal’s infrastructure so far appears to have paid off as revenue reached $3.183 billion in the period between January 1 and August 6, 2016, up 4 per cent from $3.059 billion in the same period last year [5].

The Canal is a conduit for many types of cargo traveling between East and West, but what makes it an important maritime chokepoint are the shipments of oil and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

In 2012, about 7% of all seaborne traded oil and 13% of liquefied natural gas (LNG) traded worldwide passed through the Suez [6].

Together, the Suez Canal and the Suez-Mediterranean (SUMED) dual pipeline system transport compose a vital artery in the international energy shipment system.


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