19 July 2019   Leave a comment

Umair Irfan, Eliza Barclay, and Kavya Sukumar have written an article for Vox which highlights the changes in temperatures for various cities in the US by 2050. The graphics in the article are interactive and the site takes a reader’s location and gives data for the nearest large city. In my case, the estimates were for Springfield, MA. According to the data, the summer highs for Springfield will rise by 5.2 degrees F and the winter average will rise by 5.1 degrees F, from an average of 20.3 degrees F to 25.4 degrees F. I likely will not be around to verify the forecasts (I would be 101 years old in 2050).

Iran has seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. It had threatened to do so after Great Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar which it accused of smuggling oil to Syria. Iran also released another British oil tanker which it claimed had requested assistance. The moves represent a significant escalation of tension and Britain is currently considering its options. But it is unlikely that Britain will take any action without strong support from the US. US President Trump answered a question about the seizures before he departed for his country club in New Jersey:

“Q    Mr. President, Iran seized at least one oil tanker today with British oil.  What is your reaction?  Have they crossed the line?  You said that would be a foolish thing to do.

“THE PRESIDENT:  Well, as you know, we have a very close alliance with the UK, and we always have.  We heard that.  The United States has very few tankers going in because we’re using our own energy now.  We’ve made a lot of progress over the last two and half years.  So we don’t have very many tankers going in, but we have a lot of ships there that are war ships.  And we’ll talk to the UK.  And we have no written agreement, but we have an agreement.  They’ve been a very great ally of ours.

“So, we heard about it.  We heard it was one; we heard it was two.  And we’ll be working with the UK.  They’ll have a new Prime Minister soon, which is a good thing.  And we’ll be working with the UK.  But we have no written agreement, but I think we have an agreement which is longstanding.”

The statement is curious. First, because he indicated that the US has no direct interest in keeping the Strait of Hormuz open: “… we don’t have very many tankers going in, but we have a lot of ships there that are war ships.” That statement is a far cry from the doctrine articulated by US President Jimmy Carter in 1979 as described in the Washington Monthly:

“Carter asserted that any nation trying to control the Persian Gulf or restrict the free-flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz was acting against America’s ‘vital interests.’ Carter articulated this message near the end of his presidency and at a time when revolutionary Iran held the United States hostage and the Soviets militarily occupied Afghanistan.

“The message to Iran and the USSR was clear: Make a move on the neighborhood, mess with shipping, slow the flow of oil and risk going to war with the United States.”

It may be the case that the Carter Doctrine should definitely be scrapped, but changing the defined national interests of the state on the fly is not conducive to predictable foreign policy. I suspect that the Israelis and Saudis are wondering what the President’s statement implies.

Second, the cavalier reference to Great Britain, one of the US’s strongest allies–“we have no written agreement”–is astonishing, and even more so because it was referenced to an anticipated change of government in Great Britain. Commitments are made to states, not governments. President Trump may be unpleasantly surprised if Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister (Mr. Trump’s preference) and requests a strong military commitment from the US. But I suspect that the British are trying to figure out whether the US will stand by their interests.

We will get a better read on US intentions early next week. Iran’s actions may trigger financial responses in the oil markets if people think that conflict in the Strait is likely. If that occurs, then stock markets will respond accordingly and we will see how Mr. Trump assesses that response to his political future.

Posted July 19, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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