Tag Archives: Middle East

Falling gas prices a boon or a bust?

A Bloomberg News Service columnist is issuing a warning about the falling gasoline prices.

They aren’t necessarily good for the nation’s economy or its long-term energy policy.

Pump prices in Amarillo now stand at about $2.92 per gallon for regular unleaded gas. That’s “cheap,” yes? And who would have thought $2.92 would be considered a bargain for gas?


Barry L. Ritholtz, writing for Bloomberg.com, thinks the price reduction is going to produce a spike in driving. We’re going to forget that we have a limited supply of fossil fuels used to produce gasoline. It happens every time we see these dramatic dips in gasoline prices, as Ritholtz has noted.

Then comes the sticker shock when the next overseas crisis erups in an oil-producing region — Syria, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Yemen … they all come to mind.

I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all, but my wife and I have recently invested in a hybrid automobile. It runs on electricity and gasoline. Our Toyota Prius is our No. 1 in-town vehicle, and so far the investment is paying tremendous returns for us. We’re averaging about 47 miles per gallon and filling it up about every two weeks for a mere pittance of what we normally have paid for fuel.

Our 3/4-ton diesel-fueled Dodge Ram pickup, the one we use to haul our fifth-wheel travel vehicle? That’s another story. Won’t go there. Suffice to say it stays parked most of the time.

We’re all enjoying the relatively cheap fuel at the moment. However, I intend to take Ritholtz’s warning to heart.

POTUS faces key moment if Congress says ‘no’

Secretary of State John Kerry says President Obama can bomb Syria even if Congress votes against authorizing him to do so.

Not so fast, Mr. President.


Kerry makes the point in an interview with the Huffington Post that the president, as commander in chief, retains the authority to authorize military strikes even if he doesn’t have the backing of the legislative branch of government. Yes he does, but …

There is a huge political calculation at home the president must consider, which the Huff Post notes. It is that the Republican-led House of Representatives seems almost certain to push ahead with impeachment proceedings against President Obama. That, in my mind, would be a grotesque overreaction. It is, however, part of today’s political reality in Washington. Those who oppose the president really detest him and his policies.

I happen to believe the United States must strike at Syria to punish the government there for using Sarin gas on civilians. Obama has threatened to strike at Syrian military targets; the military has drawn up plans; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the military machine is ready to strike when it gets the order.

The strikes must be surgical, effective and must get the job done in short order. There must be a commitment that U.S. troops won’t storm into Damascus once the bombing stops.

However, the president is having a tough time selling this strike to reluctant lawmakers.

Should he act on his own, without their authorization? No. As the president himself said, in addition to being commander in chief, he also is the leader of the world’s largest representative democracy.

Did POTUS pull rug out from Kerry’s feet?

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., poses an interesting theory that might open up some questions about the relationship between the president of the United States and his top diplomat.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an impassioned, emotional speech about the need to make Syria pay dearly for its use of chemical weapons on civilians — and then President Obama decided to ask the Congress for authorization before taking any action.

Rangel thinks Kerry should be “embarrassed” by the sudden switch.


I have to agree with Rangel.

The timing of the two events does seem odd and more than a little clumsy. Kerry’s speech has been labeled one of the finest of his public career. Obama, meanwhile, had been talking tough and appeared to have been ready to strike at Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad’s forces. Then he stopped. Did the president flinch? Has he left the secretary of state, to borrow a phrase from the Watergate era, “twisting slowly in the wind”?

We’ll know in short order whether the juxtaposition of these events has damaged one of the Obama administration’s most critical relationships.

Now it’s Congress’s turn to weigh in on Syria

President Obama’s abrupt about-face on Syria has a lot of American scratching their heads.

He’s talked about punishing the Syrian government for gassing civilians and has sounded for all the world as if he was ready to pull the trigger on a missile strike against Syrian military targets. Then he said: Not so fast; I want to ask Congress for authorization.

Now the debate has begun.


U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is beginning to sound reasonable. He says Syria should be punished, but the Senate will need to know precisely the scope of the attack and what the overall strategy will be. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says an attack on Syria must be with “regime change” in mind, that it must lead toward a change of leadership in the Syrian government.

I believe the president is playing this issue smartly. Congress has asked for authority within the War Powers Act. Barack Obama now has given lawmakers the chance to exercise that authority.

Several ships of the U.S. Sixth Fleet are standing by in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The hammer is pulled back and the missiles will fly when they get the order. The president has gathered compelling evidence that the Syrians used the gas on civilians. They must be punished, as Cornyn has said.

This debate should be full and complete. As the president said, he is both convinced that the Syrians did something that requires a response and that he also is leader of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. The Constitution gives both houses of Congress co-equal authority to run the government, right along with the president.

It’s good that he’s asking for their authorization. I’m hopeful he can make the case, that we can act quickly and decisively — and then apply intense diplomatic pressure all sides in this bloody conflict to call a halt to the killing.

Syria attack seems more likely

Today’s question is this: Should the United States launch airstrikes against Syria in retaliation for dictator Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons on civilians?

Yes, but only after crossing every “T” and dotting every “I.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says U.S. airstrikes will be done only with broad international support. He should add that the Obama administration would be wise to get congressional authorization.


President Obama laid down a serious marker earlier this year when he said Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a “bright line” that Syrian officials must not cross. It’s now all but certain they’ve crossed it, killing many civilians, including children.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country stands behind Syria and threatens serious consequences if the United States and/or its allies launches airstrikes.

Let’s be clear: He isn’t going to attack the United States if we order the airstrikes. As for consequences, well, our relations with the Russians already are in the Dumpster.

I would hope congressional Republicans can see their way clear to back the commander in chief if he commits air power to punishing the Syrians. I am like many millions of Americans, though, who do not want to see American troops on the ground in Damascus fighting beside the rebels — who may or may not be our friends.

Syrian military leaders need to pay a hefty price for crossing that bright line. If the United States can rally its allies behind an effort to hit them hard from the air — and if Congress goes along with it — I think it’s an act worth taking.

However, it has to be effective and it must be able to cripple the Syrians’ ability to commit such atrocities in the future.

Al Jazeera coming to America

Al Jazeera has come to TV screens all across America next Tuesday.

Get ready for the backlash, which I don’t think will be warranted.


Al Jazeera, based in Qatar, is thought by many to be some kind of mouthpiece of Middle East terror groups. Al Jazeera America, which will be shown by many cable providers, has enlisted several prominent American broadcast journalists to take part. Are they part of some terrorist cabal? I think not.

I’ve seen a little bit of Al Jazeera at work. While traveling through Israel in May and June 2009, I stayed for a few nights in the Haifa home of a wonderful couple. Haifa is a gorgeous city on the Mediterranean coast and the couple that hosted me couldn’t have been more gracious.

I awoke each morning to Al Jazeera news and talk on the television. I had heard all the criticism of the network from those who dislike its Arabic origins, apparently believing — as some in the United States do — that all Middle East residents are closet terrorists and murderers.

Having been imbued with that negative feeling, I was stunned to see that Al Jazeera presents the news calmly, without bias that I could detect and it is — to borrow a phrase — fair and balanced in its reporting.

What will Al Jazeera America bring to U.S. airwaves ought to mirror what I witnessed not far from where the network originates.

I’m hopeful it will lend another important perspective in the United States on the news of the day.

Critical talks to begin

Secretary of State John Kerry is on the verge of achieving something of vital importance to the United States.

It is getting Israel and the Palestinian Authority talking again, looking for a permanent peace agreement between them.


Israel already is making the first “goodwill gesture,” in releasing some Palestinian political prisoners. I’m hopeful now the Palestinians will return the gesture, or something akin to it to demonstrate that they, too, are interested in forging a lasting peace.

I’ve had the honor of visiting Israel, spending five weeks there in May and June 2009. I’ve seen how close the Israelis live to those who have made it their mission to eradicate Israel. The threat of violence — even war — is with them constantly. They persevere and go on with their lives in such a way that one doesn’t detect Israelis’ outward fear of extermination.

The two sides need to talk and talk some more.

The agreement to begin those negotiations makes me hope — to borrow a phrase from an earlier¬†negotiation involving the United States and North Vietnam — that “peace is at hand.”

Stay with it, Mr. Secretary.