A major snowstorm has blanketed parts of the Middle East, including Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank, and Turkey, causing at least eight deaths. Above, the city of Istanbul.
(Photos: Bulent Kilic / AFP-Getty via NBC News)
Since the 1950s, the US has had a perverse approach to energy. In effect we have maximized demand by building bigger, hungrier cars, homes, and lifestyles and minimized supply by limiting oil drilling, coal mining, and nuclear development. And how do we make up the difference? We buy oil from the people who hate us most.
But this is changing. We’ve long been acutely aware of the geopolitical ramifications of relying on Middle Eastern oil. And the threat of climate change—along with high fuel prices—has made us all realize the need for greater energy efficiency. Thankfully, technology is coming to the rescue. New methods of extracting gas and oil, combined with efficiency gains in nearly every industry, mean that we are now minimizing demand and maximizing supply. And that’s a good thing, right? Not so fast.
Flipping the supply-demand relationship is having some unexpected consequences. Chief among them is that, as fossil fuels become more abundant—and we consume less of them—the incentives to develop clean, renewable energy drop dramatically. As a result, we may no longer be looking at an age of increasing solar, wind, and nuclear power. Instead we are likely moving into a new hydrocarbon era. And that’s very bad news for climate change.
Of course the normal human reaction is “we’ve got to do something!” But however dire the situation facing Syrian civilians, the likelihood that any outside military attacks would actually help the situation is very remote. Despite defections, Syria’s military, especially its air force, remains one of the strongest in the Arab world, and direct outside military involvement, especially by the United States, NATO, or other longstanding opponents of Syria would inevitably mean even greater carnage. U.S.-NATO military intervention didn’t bring stability, democracy, or security to Libya, and it certainly is not going to do so in Syria.
Syria’s war is erupting in a region still seething in the aftermath of the U.S. war in Iraq and the sectarian legacies it left behind. The fighting is also now taking on an increasingly sectarian form — and the danger is rising of Syria becoming the center of an expanded regional war pitting Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar against Shia-dominated governments in Iran and Iraq.
Iran is the most important reason for U.S. interest in Syria. With continuing U.S.-EU sanctions on Iran, and Israeli threats of military attack, Syria remains a tempting proxy target. Damascus’s longstanding economic, political, and military ties with Tehran mean that efforts to undermine Syria are widely understood to be at least partly aimed at undermining Iran.
The United Nations Security Council on Sunday unanimously condemned the Syrian government for its role in the massacre of at least 108 people in Houla over the weekend, even as Syria blamed others for the killing.
The United Nations action was the strongest yet allowed by Russia, a permanent Security Council member who has blocked many attempts to criticize the government of President Bashar al-Assad, its close ally.
“We unequivocally deny the responsibility of government forces for the massacre,” Jihad Makdissi, the spokesman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, said at a news conference in Damascus, the capital. He reiterated the standard government line that the deaths were caused by a terrorist attack, and he said he regretted that the United Nations and other governments seemed to have accepted the opposition’s version of events.
In some of the worst carnage since the uprising began 15 months ago, Syrian tanks and artillery pounded Houla, a rebel-controlled village near Homs, a center of the resistance, during the day, opposition groups said, with soldiers and pro-government fighters storming the village and killing families in their homes late at night. Included in the death toll, which rose Sunday afternoon, were at least 32 children.
At a United Nations Security Council meeting, Russia initially blocked a collective statement condemning the Syrian government, diplomats said Sunday, and demanded a closed briefing from Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the United Nations observer mission, on assigning blame.
Four council members — the United States, Germany, France and Britain — had prepared a draft statement condemning the Syrian military for battering civilian neighborhoods with tank shells, using language that echoed two previous United Nations statements. The secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon issued a joint statement with Kofi Annan, his envoy. Mr. Annan is scheduled to be in the Syrian capital for talks on Monday.
A change in policy: Twitter announced Thursday that it would begin restricting Tweets in certain countries, marking a policy shift for the social media platform that helped propel the popular uprisings recently sweeping across the Middle East.
“Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country while keeping it available in the rest of the world,” the Twitter blog said.
This wouldn’t have anything to do with that would it?