Tuesday, September 17, 2013


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"Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction" ...


Which ecosystems are most vulnerable to climate change?

Jeremy Hance

September 16, 2013

New research highlights the world's most (and least) vulnerable ecosystems to climate change. 

The study, published inNature Climate Change, is the first to combine anticipated climatic impacts with how degraded the ecosystem is due to human impacts, creating what scientists hope is a more accurate list of vulnerable regions. 

The most endangered regions include southern and southeast Asia, western and central Europe, eastern South America, and southern Australia.

James Watson, lead author of the study, says the research is meant to provide "clarity" on "where limited resources will do the most good" in safe-guarding vulnerable ecosystems in a warming world.

"We need to realize that climate change is going to impact ecosystems both directly and indirectly in a variety of ways and we can’t keep on assuming that all adaptation actions are suitable everywhere. The fact is there is only limited funds out there and we need to start to be clever in our investments in adaptation strategies around the world,"
says Watson, the Director of Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Climate Change Program.

Watson and his team began by evaluating the stability of ecosystems under future climate change scenarios, given that some ecosystems are expected to undergo more drastic changes than others. '

For example, the Arctic is expected to undergo some of the most drastic changes due to warming. But then the researchers combined these findings with how much of the ecosystem remains intact, theorizing that in more intact ecosystems species will be better able to adapt. 

The result points to region that have already been heavily degraded--such as southeast Asia and western Europe--and have at least moderate sensitivity to climate change.

The least vulnerable areas, in terms of both climate impacts and current degradation, include southern South America, the Middle East, northern Australia, and southwestern Africa.

Most vulnerable regions are cream colored, while least vulnerable are dark gray/black. Regions that are heavily degraded but should retain stable climates are dark orange, while those that are relatively intact but are expected to be sensitive to climate change are dark green. 

Map courtesy of Watson et al.


James E. M. Watson, Takuya Iwamura& Nathalie Butt. (2013) Mapping vulnerability and conservation adaptation strategies under climate change. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/nclimate2007


JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE : Drug-Resistant Superbugs Kill at Least 23,000 People in the U.S. Each Year

By Dina Fine Maron | September 16, 2013 

Each year, more than two million people in the United States develop antibiotic-resistant infections, and at least 23,000 of them die as a result, says the first-ever national snapshot of the issue. 

That toll only rises when other conditions exacerbated by these infections are included in the count. 

Because it’s difficult to attribute a death directly to antibiotic-resistant microbes (as opposed to illnesses that put the person in the hospital to begin with), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says these figures probably underestimate the scale of the problem.

CDC today released the findings as part of a blueprint for addressing the issue, which the agency says is an urgent and growing threat. “Even when alternative treatments exist, research has shown that patients with resistant infections are often much more likely to die, and survivors have significantly longer hospital stays, delayed recuperation and long term disability,” wrote CDC director Thomas Frieden.

The report authors ranked 18 microorganisms associated with drug resistance as urgent, serious or concerning by considering the pathogens’ clinical and economic impact alongside current and future projected incidence; transmissibility; availability of effective antibiotics; and barriers to prevention. Healthcare costs that arise from antibiotic resistance are challenging to pin down, but previous non-CDC estimates suggest that it can boost healthcare costs annually by $20 billion and cost another $35 billion in lost productivity.

“Urgent threats” to human health include the serious diarrheal infection Clostridium difficile, a family of germs that includes Escherichia coli called Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), and Drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae–the bacteria responsible for the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. Collectively, they claim more than 14,500 lives each year, primarily from C. difficile. Although resistance to the antibiotics that treat C. difficile infections is not yet a problem, CDC included it in the list because it is naturally resistant to many drugs used to treat other infections which enables it to spread quickly.

Microbes that present “serious threats,” according to CDC, include multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter, drug-resistant Campylobacter, and fluconazole-resistantCandida (a fungus) and drug-resistant tuberculosis, among others. “Concerning threats” include Vanomycin-resistant Staphyloccous aureus (VRSA).

Antibiotic-resistance most often arises when commercial antibiotics kill good bacteria that protect the body from infection alongside bacteria that cause illness–setting the stage for drug-resistant bacteria to flourish and take over. Some drug-resistant bacteria are then able to exchange genes with other bacteria, spreading resistance and helping sideline drugs normally capable of treating infection.

CDC scientists have long said that the overuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals has contributed to the spread of drug-resistant “superbugs.” In fact, multiple studies during the last decade have found that about half of all antibiotics prescribedin the U.S. are not needed or are inappropriate.The most acute antibiotic resistance problems arise in hospitals, Frieden said today on a conference call. “The most resistant organisms in hospitals are emerging in those settings because of poor antimicrobrial stewardship among humans.”

Antibiotic resistance poses a particular threat to people with compromised immune systems, such as patients undergoing chemotherapy or complex surgeries or individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma or rheumatoid arthritis. Most deaths linked to antibiotic-resistant infections happen in hospitals and nursing homes.

CDC’s prescription for combating these infections has four main components: Preventing infections and the spread of resistance; better tracking of resistant bacteria in order to understand the scope of the problem; improving the use of current antibiotics; and promoting the development of new antibiotics and better diagnostic tests for resistant bacteria.

The report does not say exactly how those objectives should be achieved or how much such an effort would cost. It does, however, recommend steps that states and communities, health providers, healthcare officials, and patients can take. Hospital patients, for example, should insist everyone wash their hands before touching them.

Two budget items on CDC’s wishlist for FY 2014 give some insight into how the agency hopes to improve its antibiotic-resistance efforts. In the President’s budget, CDC proposed an allocation of $40 million for a new Advanced Molecular Detection initiative, which would advance technologies such as high-throughout genome sequencing and improving bioinformatics. The agency also requested an increase of about $12.5 million for improvements to the National Healthcare Safety Network, which provides an integrated reporting system for healthcare-associated infections. The funds would expand that system to another 1,800 facilities.

To calculate the toll from antibiotic-resistance in this national snapshot CDC gathered existing data on the proportion of antibiotic resistant isolates and multiplied it by the total number of cases or deaths attributed to that bacterium. Since there is no total count for several pathogens, CDC says their estimates of antibiotic-resistant infections are conservative.

They've Turned Over The Costa Concordia And The Pictures Are Nuts


SEP. 17, 2013, 6:27 AM

REUTERS/Tony Gentile

It took a grueling 19-hour effort, but the Costa Concordia cruise ship is now standing upright.

The "parbuckling" process, wherein pulleys and steel cables were used to slowly pull the 60,000-ton ship into an upright position, has been a success. The boat will now have hollow steel boxes called sponsons attached to the side of it to ensure buoyancy, before being towed away for scrap.

It's a remarkable scene, and even more remarkable when you consider that the boat has been there on its side on the rocky coast, since it crashed in January 2012, killing 32 people.

These pictures show just how weathered and mangled the boat has become. It's really quite remarkable:

REUTERS/Tony Gentile

REUTERS/Tony Gentile

REUTERS/Tony Gentile

REUTERS/Tony Gentile

REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Read more:



David A. Hanken

Senior Staff Officer
Quarantine Policy, Analysis and Support
4700 River Road, Unit 60
Riverdale, MD. 20737
Tel: 301 851 2195
Fax: 301 734 5269

The approved area for movement is bounded on the west and south by a line extending from:

El Paso, Texas, to Salt Lake City, Utah, to Portland, Oregon, and due west from Portland; 


on the east by a line extending from Laredo, Texas, to Galveston, Texas, to Kinder, Louisiana, to Memphis, Tennessee, to Louisville, Kentucky, and due east from Louisville. 

The ports of Galveston, Houston, Eagle Pass, El Paso, and Laredo, are the only ports authorized for entry in Texas.

Exit is limited to PPQ-staffed airports, seaports, and land border ports within the designated corridor.

Increase in consumption of Mexican Ataulfo mangoes in the US


Integradora de Frutas Finas Soconusco is a Mexican producer and exporter of mangoes of the varieties Tommy Atkins, Haden, Kent, Keitt and Ataulfo. Its exports are mainly shipped to the US and Canada and it also ships small volumes of Ataulfo, Kent and Haden to Europe. 

Amberto Bautista Blanca, General Director of the company, explains that, "the variety we ship depends on the demands from the markets, although we promote the Ataulfo, which are our specialty."

The Ataulfo is characterised by its low fibre content. It has plenty of pulp, as the kernel is flatter, and has a very sweet flavour. The National Mango Board has carried out analyses which determined that it is the variety with the highest vitamin A content. It is not a well-known mango, but which always satisfies those who discover it.

In order to meet the United States' protocols, the fruit is treated with hot water at around 45°C, after which, with the goal of preventing the loss of its properties, the temperature is quickly reduced through hydro-coolers. The company was a pioneer in the use of this treatment and also puts plenty of care to let the fruit mature and reach the right level of sweetness; all of this results in a mango able to compete in the most demanding markets.


In Canada, Ataulfo mangoes have gained a lot of popularity and their consumption per capita is, according to Amberto, even higher than in the United States. It is a country that generally consumes more fruit and vegetables and is demanding in terms of quality and flavour. 

"That has really helped us, because the work we do allows us to export a mango that matures well, is sweet and has a good appearance," affirms Amberto.

This year, the firm is exporting almost 1,800,000 4 kilo boxes, from which around 70% correspond to the Ataulfo variety. The company's plantations and those of its associated producers are located in various areas of Mexico: Chiapas (600 hectares), Oaxaca (350 hectares), Michoacán (250), Nayarit (800) and Sinaloa, which packing plants in each of these locations. It has the GlobalGAP certification in Chiapas and Nayarit and is working to obtain it at the rest.

For Soconusco, the peak of the season takes place from February, when the best prices are usually obtained, to April or May, when competition from other producers comes into play. 

Amberto explains that this year, during the months of June, July and August, there was some production which did not reach satisfactory prices, but the overall season has been good. 

Mexico as a whole exported 58 million boxes last year to the United States, and this year, with 15 days still to go, already 60 million have been shipped. From this, more than one-fourth corresponded to the Ataulfo and the rest to red varieties.

According to Amberto, the National Mango Board has carried out great promotional work to boost mango consumption in the United States, which has allowed Mexico to export much larger volumes. 

The Latin American economies are also growing and this will lead to even greater opportunities to continue expanding.


Integradora de Frutas Finas Soconusco
Amberto Bautista Blanca, General Director
Tel, (+52) 962- 625-12-54
(+52) 962-626-49-25
(+521)962- 151-2220

Publication date: 9/17/2013


Sep 17, 12:06 AM EDT


AP Photo/Ricardo Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Brazil plans to divorce itself from the U.S.-centric Internet over Washington's widespread online spying, a move that many experts fear will be a potentially dangerous first step toward politically fracturing a global network built with minimal interference by governments.

President Dilma Rousseff has ordered a series of measures aimed at greater Brazilian online independence and security following revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted her communications, hacked into the state-owned Petrobras oil company's network and spied on Brazilians who entrusted their personal data to U.S. tech companies such as Facebook and Google.

Internet security and policy experts say her government's reaction to information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is understandable, but warn it could set the Internet on a course of Balkanization.

"The global backlash is only beginning and will get far more severe in coming months,"
said Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute at the Washington-based New America Foundation think tank.

"This notion of national privacy sovereignty is going to be an increasingly salient issue around the globe."

While Brazil isn't proposing to bar its citizens from U.S.-based Web services, it wants their data to be stored locally as the nation assumes greater control over Brazilians' Internet use to protect them from NSA snooping.

The danger of mandating that kind of geographic isolation, Meinrath said, is that it could render inoperable popular software applications and services and endanger the Internet's open, interconnected structure.

The effort by Latin America's biggest economy to digitally isolate itself from U.S. spying not only could be costly and difficult, it could encourage repressive governments to seek greater technical control over the Internet to crush free expression at home, experts say.

In December, countries advocating greater "cyber-sovereignty" pushed for such control at an International Telecommunications Union meeting in Dubai, with Western democracies led by the United States and the European Union in opposition.

U.S. digital security expert Bruce Schneier says that while Brazil's response is a rational reaction to NSA spying, it is likely to embolden "some of the worst countries out there to seek more control over their citizens' Internet. That's Russia, China, Iran and Syria. That's Tunisia. That's Egypt."

Rousseff says she intends to push for new international rules on privacy and security in hardware and software during the U.N. General Assembly meeting later this month. Among Snowden revelations: the NSA has created backdoors in software and Web-based services.

Brazil is now pushing more aggressively than any other nation to end U.S. commercial hegemony on the Internet. More than 80 percent of online search, for example, is controlled by U.S.-based companies.

Most of Brazil's global Internet traffic passes through the United States, so Rousseff's government plans to lay underwater fiber optic cable directly to Europe and also link to all South American nations to create what it hopes will be a network free of U.S. eavesdropping.

More communications integrity protection is expected when Telebras, the state-run telecom company, works with partners to oversee the launch in 2016 of Brazil's first communications satellite, for military and public Internet traffic. Brazil's military currently relies on a satellite run by Embratel, which Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim controls.

Rousseff is urging Brazil's Congress to compel Facebook, Google and other U.S. companies to store all data generated by Brazilians on servers physically located inside Brazil in order to shield it from the NSA.

If that happens, and other nations follow suit, Silicon Valley's bottom line could be hit by lost business and higher operating costs: Brazilians are among the most voracious consumers of social media, ranking No. 3 on Facebook and No. 2 on Twitter and YouTube. 

An August study by a respected U.S. technology policy nonprofit estimated the fallout from the NSA spying scandal could cost the U.S. cloud computing industry, which stores data remotely to give users easy access from any device, as much as $35 billion by 2016 in lost business.

Brazil also plans to build more Internet exchange points, places where vast amounts of data are relayed, in order to route Brazilians' traffic away from potential interception.

And its postal service plans by next year to create an encrypted email service that could serve as an alternative to Gmail and Yahoo!, which according to Snowden-leaked documents are among U.S. tech giants that have collaborated closely with the NSA.

"Brazil intends to increase its independent Internet connections with other countries,"
Rousseff's office said in an emailed response to questions from The Associated Press on its plans.

It cited a "common understanding" between Brazil and the European Union on data privacy, and said "negotiations are underway in South America for the deployment of land connections between all nations." It said Brazil plans to boost investment in home-grown technology and buy only software and hardware that meet government data privacy specifications.

While the plans' technical details are pending, experts say they will be costly for Brazil and ultimately can be circumvented. Just as people in China and Iran defeat government censors with tools such as "proxy servers," so could Brazilians bypass their government's controls.

International spies, not just from the United States, also will adjust, experts said. Laying cable to Europe won't make Brazil safer, they say. The NSA has reportedly tapped into undersea telecoms cables for decades.

Meinrath and others argue that what's needed instead are strong international laws that hold nations accountable for guaranteeing online privacy.

"There's nothing viable that Brazil can really do to protect its citizenry without changing what the U.S. is doing," he said.

Matthew Green, a Johns Hopkins computer security expert, said Brazil won't protect itself from intrusion by isolating itself digitally. It will also be discouraging technological innovation, he said, by encouraging the entire nation to use a state-sponsored encrypted email service.

"It's sort of like a Soviet socialism of computing," he said, adding that the U.S. "free-for-all model works better."


Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks reported this story in Rio de Janeiro and Frank Bajak reported from Lima, Peru.


Costa Concordia righted after 'perfect' parbuckling salvage operation

Authorities on Italian island of Giglio say ship that ran aground in January 2012 has been righted in biggest ever feat of its kind

Lizzy Davies in Giglio and agencies, Tuesday 17 September 2013 03.32 EDT

Link to video: Raising Costa Concordia - timelapse video

Engineers in Italy say they have successfully righted the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship after a marathon operation that lasted around 19 hours and proved a nailbiting wait for those involved in the world's most expensive salvage plan.

At a 4am press briefing in Giglio, with the re-emerged hull looming large over the port, Italy's civil protection agency chief, Franco Gabrielli, was applauded by firefighters as he announced that the ship's rotation had reached 65 degrees, meaning the operation known as parbuckling was finally complete.


Salvage vessels surround the wreck of the ship. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Franco Porcellacchia, a representative of the ship's owners, Costa Crociere, said: "We completed the parbuckling operation a few minutes ago the way we thought it would happen and the way we hoped it would happen."

Porcellacchia said it had been "a perfect operation" with no environmentally damaging spill detected so far.


The wreck of Italy's Costa Concordia cruise ship begins to emerge from the water. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

A later statement from the project engineers said the wreck was "resting safely" on six platforms that have been built 30 metres below sea level. It will remain there throughout the winter while the salvage operation continues.

The island was notified of the news – a landmark feat of engineering and big step towards the removal of the Concordia from Tuscan waters in one piece – by a foghorn that sounded shortly after 4am and was heard across the port and beyond.


In daylight the scale of the ship is fully revealed. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

The 114,000-tonne ship ran aground off the shore of Giglio on 13 January 2012. Thousands of passengers and crew made it to land safely but 32 people died, including a five-year-old girl.

The bodies of two people – Maria Grazia Trecarichi, a Sicilian passenger, and Russel Rebello, an Indian waiter – have never been found. Their recovery was a priority of the parbuckling but engineers have not yet seen any sign of their remains in the wreck.

Gabrielli told journalists there was still "a lot of work to do" given that the ship remained off the coast. 


Damage to the ship is clearly visible. Photograph: Andrew Medichini/AP

In the coming months the team carrying out the salvage operation – Titan Salvage from the United States and the Italian engineering company Micoperi – will have to examine quite how damaged the starboard side of the ship is in order to decide how to proceed.

Porcellacchia said that part of the hull looked "pretty bad", which might complicate the attachment of sponsons – large steel boxes – needed for the eventual refloating. That is due to take place sometime in 2014, after which point the Concordia will, at long last, leave Giglio's waters.

Parbuckling is a common means of righting wrecked ships but had never been carried out on a vessel of the Concordia's size. The operation was further complicated by the ship's position, resting on an underwater slope.


Strategy, Ideology and the Close of the Syrian Crisis



By George Friedman

It is said that when famed Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich heard of the death of the Turkish ambassador, he said, "I wonder what he meant by that?" 

True or not, serious or a joke, it points out a problem of diplomacy. 

In searching for the meaning behind every gesture, diplomats start to regard every action merely as a gesture. 

In the past month, the president of the United States treated the act of bombing Syria as a gesture intended to convey meaning rather than as a military action intended to achieve some specific end. 

This is the key to understanding the tale that unfolded over the past month.

When President Barack Obama threatened military action in retaliation for what he claimed was the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, he intended a limited strike that would not destroy the weapons. 

Destroying them all from the air would require widespread air attacks over an extensive period of time, and would risk releasing the chemicals into the atmosphere. 

The action also was not intended to destroy Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime. 

That, too, would be difficult to do from the air, and would risk creating a power vacuum that the United States was unwilling to manage. Instead, the intention was to signal to the Syrian government that the United States was displeased.

The threat of war is useful only when the threat is real and significant. This threat, however, was intended to be insignificant. Something would be destroyed, but it would not be the chemical weapons or the regime. As a gesture, therefore, what it signaled was not that it was dangerous to incur American displeasure, but rather that American displeasure did not carry significant consequences. The United States is enormously powerful militarily and its threats to make war ought to be daunting, but instead, the president chose to frame the threat such that it would be safe to disregard it.

Avoiding Military Action

In fairness, it was clear at the beginning that Obama did not wish to take military action against Syria. Two weeks ago I wrote that this was "a comedy in three parts: the reluctant warrior turning into the raging general and finding his followers drifting away, becoming the reluctant warrior again." Last week in Geneva, the reluctant warrior re-appeared, put aside his weapons and promised not to attack Syria.

When he took office, Obama did not want to engage in any war. His goal was to raise the threshold for military action much higher than it had been since the end of the Cold War, when Desert Storm, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq and other lesser interventions formed an ongoing pattern in U.S. foreign policy. Whatever the justifications for any of these, Obama saw the United States as being overextended by the tempo of war. He intended to disengage from war and to play a lesser role in general in managing the international system. At most, he intended to be part of the coalition of nations, not the leader and certainly not the lone actor.

He clearly regarded Syria as not meeting the newly raised standard. It was embroiled in a civil war, and the United States had not been successful in imposing its will in such internal conflicts. Moreover, the United States did not have a favorite in the war. Washington has a long history of hostility toward the al Assad regime. But it is also hostile to the rebels, who -- while they might have some constitutional democrats among their ranks -- have been increasingly falling under the influence of radical jihadists. The creation of a nation-state governed by such factions would re-create the threat posed by Afghanistan and leading to Sept. 11, and do so in a country that borders Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon. Unless the United States was prepared to try its hand again once again at occupation and nation-building, the choice for Washington had to be "none of the above."

Strategy and the specifics of Syria both argued for American distance, and Obama followed this logic. Once chemical weapons were used, however, the reasoning shifted. Two reasons explain this shift.

WMD and Humanitarian Intervention

One was U.S. concerns over weapons of mass destruction. From the beginning of the Cold War until the present, the fear of nuclear weapons has haunted the American psyche. Some would say that this is odd given that the United States is the only nation that has used atomic bombs. I would argue that it is precisely because of this. Between Hiroshima and mutual assured destruction there was a reasonable dread of the consequences of nuclear war. Pearl Harbor had created the fear that war might come unexpectedly at any moment, and intimate awareness of Hiroshima and Nagasaki generated fear of sudden annihilation in the United States.

Other weapons capable of massive annihilation of populations joined nuclear weapons, primarily biological and chemical weapons. Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the scientific work of the Manhattan Project, employed the term "weapon of mass destruction" to denote a class of weapons able to cause destruction on the scale of Hiroshima and beyond, a category that could include biological and chemical weapons.

The concept of weapons of mass destruction eventually shifted from "mass destruction" to the weapon itself. The use and even possession of such weapons by actors who previously had not possessed them came to be seen as a threat to the United States. The threshold of mass destruction ceased to be the significant measure, and instead the cause of death in a given attack took center stage. Tens of thousands have died in the Syrian civil war. The only difference in the deaths that prompted Obama's threats was that chemical weapons had caused them. That distinction alone caused the U.S. foreign policy apparatus to change its strategy.

The second cause of the U.S. shift is more important. All American administrations have a tendency to think ideologically, and there is an ideological bent heavily represented in the Obama administration that feels that U.S. military power ought to be used to prevent genocide. This feeling dates back to World War II and the Holocaust, and became particularly intense over Rwanda and Bosnia, where many believe the United States could have averted mass murder. Many advocates of American intervention in humanitarian operations would oppose the use of military force in other circumstances, but regard its use as a moral imperative to stop mass murder.

The combined fear of weapons of mass destruction and the ideology of humanitarian intervention became an irresistible force for Obama. The key to this process was that the definition of genocide and the definition of mass destruction had both shifted such that the deaths of less than 1,000 people in a war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives resulted in demands for intervention on both grounds.

The pressure on Obama grew inside his administration from those who were concerned with the use of weapons of mass destruction and those who saw another Rwanda brewing. The threshold for morally obligatory intervention was low, and it eventually canceled out the much higher strategic threshold Obama had set. It was this tension that set off the strange oscillations in Obama's handling of the affair. Strategically, he wanted nothing to do with Syria. But the ideology of weapons of mass destruction and the ideology of humanitarian intervention forced him to shift course. 

An Impossible Balance

Obama tried to find a balance where there was none between his strategy that dictated non-intervention and his ideology that demanded something be done. His solution was to loudly threaten military action that he and his secretary of state both indicated would be minimal. The threatened action aroused little concern from the Syrian regime, which has fought a bloody two-year war. Meanwhile, the Russians, who were seeking to gain standing by resisting the United States, could paint Washington as reckless and unilateral.

Obama wanted all of this to simply go away, but he needed some guarantee that chemical weapons in Syria would be brought under control. For that, he needed al Assad's allies the Russians to promise to do something. Without that, he would have been forced to take ineffective military action despite not wanting to. Therefore, the final phase of the comedy played out in Geneva, the site of grave Cold War meetings (it is odd that Obama accepted this site given its symbolism), where the Russians agreed in some unspecified way on an uncertain time frame to do something about Syria's chemical weapons. Obama promised not to take action that would have been ineffective anyway, and that was the end of it.

In the end, this agreement will be meaningful only if it is implemented. Taking control of 50 chemical weapons sites in the middle of a civil war obviously raises some technical questions on implementation. The core of the deal is, of course, completely vague. At the heart of it, the United States agreed not to ask the U.N. Security Council for permission 
to attack in the event the Syrians renege. It also does not clarify the means for evaluating and securing the Syrian weapons. The details of the plan will likely end up ripping it apart in the end. But the point of the agreement was not dealing with chemical weapons, it was to buy time and release the United States from its commitment to bomb something in Syria.

There were undoubtedly other matters discussed, including the future of Syria. The United States and Russia both want the al Assad regime in place to block the Sunnis. They both want the civil war to end, the Americans to reduce the pressure on themselves to aid the Sunnis, the Russians to reduce the chances of the al Assad regime collapsing. Allowing Syria to become another Lebanon (historically, they are one country) with multiple warlords -- or more precisely, acknowledging that this has already happened -- is the logical outcome of all of this.


The most important outcome globally is that the Russians sat with the Americans as equals for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the Russians sat as mentors, positioning themselves as appearing to instruct the immature Americans in crisis management. To that end, Putin's op-ed in The New York Times was brilliant.

This should not be seen merely as imagery: The image of the Russians forcing the Americans to back down resonates all along the Russian periphery. In the former Soviet satellites, the complete disarray in Europe on this and most other issues, the vacillation of the United States, and the symbolism of Kerry and Lavrov negotiating as equals will shape behavior for quite awhile.

This will also be the case in countries like Azerbaijan, a key alternative to Russian energy that borders Russia and Iran. Azerbaijan faces a second consequence of the administration's ideology, one we have seen during the Arab Spring. The Obama administration has demonstrated a tendency to judge regimes that are potential allies on the basis of human rights without careful consideration of whether the alternative might be far worse. Coupled with an image of weakness, this could cause countries like Azerbaijan to reconsider their positions vis-a-vis the Russians.

The alignment of moral principles with national strategy is not easy under the best of circumstances. Ideologies tend to be more seductive in generalized terms, but not so coherent in specific cases. This is true throughout the political spectrum. But it is particularly intense in the Obama administration, where the ideas of humanitarian intervention, absolutism in human rights, and opposition to weapons of mass destruction collide with a strategy of limiting U.S. involvement -- particularly military involvement -- in the world. The ideologies wind up demanding judgments and actions that the strategy rejects.

The result is what we have seen over the past month with regard to Syria: A constant tension between ideology and strategy that caused the Obama administration to search for ways to do contradictory things. This is not a new phenomenon in the United States, and this case will not reduces its objective power. But it does create a sense of uncertainty about what precisely the United States intends. 

When that happens in a minor country, this is not problematic. In the leading power, it can be dangerous.

Read more: Strategy, Ideology and the Close of the Syrian Crisis | Stratfor