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from Jack Shafer:

What’s more rare — a unicorn or an Al Jazeera America viewer?

 A man works at a desk in the Al Jazeera America broadcast center in New York,

Al Jazeera America draws such a teensy audience -- 15,000 on average during prime time, according to Nielsen -- that if you dropped all of the fledgling cable news channel's viewers into a modern NBA arena you'd leave a couple of thousand vacant seats. To place Al Jazeera America's audience in perspective, it's less than half of that once attracted by Al Gore's Current TV, the channel it replaced last August. Ratings leader Fox News Channel pulls in an evening average of about 1.6 million.

Such miserable ratings would be understandable if Al Jazeera America produced its shows on a shoestring, as did Current TV, or if it marginalized itself by broadcasting bonkers propaganda like RT (formerly Russia Today), or if most cable households couldn't receive it.

But none of those excuses apply. Al Jazeera America's executives have claimed that the company was spending "hundreds of millions" to establish 12 U.S. bureaus, not to mention the $500 million it gave Current TV's owners to go away. Unlike the bombastic RT, Al Jazeera America has to date avoided peddling any country's political line, even though it’s owned by the wealthy Kingdom of Qatar, a hereditary monarchy. (If prizes are a measure of journalistic worth, Al Jazeera has already established its legitimacy by winning two Peabody Awards.) And while not available everywhere, Al Jazeera America can be viewed in about 55 million of the country's 100 million pay-TV households.

America hasn't exactly snubbed Al Jazeera America. The rebuke has been more akin to a shrug. Go ahead and spend your millions, the nation seems to be saying to the channel. Hire all the network retreads you want, people like John Seigenthaler, David Shuster, Antonio Mora, Ray Suarez and Joie Chen, so that if by a long shot viewers stumble upon your channel, they'll recognize some familiar faces. The country will still shrug.

from Expert Zone:

India’s Iraq problem

(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author's own)

Iraq seems to be falling apart, with the rapid advance of the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatening to lead to the country’s division into Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish entities, while blurring its border with its turbulent western neighbor. Moreover, the tumult is now threatening to spread to two more nearby countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which already are facing myriad internal challenges. For India, the message is clear: its national security interests are at risk.

from Breakingviews:

Biggest risk of geopolitics is as a distraction

By Edward Hadas

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Investors consider geopolitics the most important risk to financial markets over the next year. That judgment, reported in a Barclays survey this week, shows people taking greater cues from headlines than numbers.

from Breakingviews:

Iraq troubles are unlikely to bring new oil crisis

By Fiona Maharg-Bravo

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

The continued violence in Iraq looks like a harbinger of a sharp cutback from the world’s seventh-largest oil producer. But the bulk of Iraq’s production is still secure. Even though the Middle East has clearly become less stable, it will still take a cascade of problems to create a big oil price shock.

from Global Investing:

Iran: a frontier for the future

Investors trawling for new frontier markets have of late been rolling into Iran. Charles Robertson at Renaissance Capital (which bills itself as a Frontier bank) visited recently and his verdict?

It's like Turkey, but with 9% of the world’s oil reserves.

Most interestingly, Robertson found a bustling stock market with a $170 billion market cap -- on par with Poland - which is the result of a raft of privatisations in recent years.  A $150 million daily trading volume exceeds that of Nigeria, a well established frontier markets. And a free-float of $30 billion means that if Iranian shares are included in MSCI's frontier index, they would have a share of 25 percent, he calculates.

from The Great Debate:

America’s long search for Mr. Right

What’s wrong with central casting? It’s a virtual truism: The United States always seems to pick the wrong guy to star as George Washington in some faraway civil war. We sell him weapons for self-defense against his despicable foes -- and then, sometimes before the end of the first battle, we find we are committed to a bad actor who bears an uncanny resemblance to Genghis Khan.

President Barack Obama just approved the sale of 24 Apache helicopters to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- despite well-founded concerns that Maliki may use them against people we do like as well as those we don’t.

from The Great Debate:

The shale factor in U.S. national security

The boom in domestic shale oil and gas production has increased U.S. prosperity and economic competitiveness. But the potential for this to enhance our national security remains largely unrealized.

The shale surge has boosted production by 50 percent for oil and 20 percent for gas over the last five years. Yet our political leaders are only just beginning to explore how it can help further national strategic interests.

from The Great Debate:

Assad’s terror farce at the Geneva talks

Just days before the most recent Syrian peace talks in Geneva began, a report detailing “industrial-scale” killing in President Bashar al-Assad’s prisons revealed the nature of his government. Despite this setback, the regime continues to claim that it is only fighting terrorists.

While their rhetoric is convenient, the reality is that only one side of the Syrian negotiations is actively fighting al Qaeda – the opposition. Though Assad has the capacity to attack extremists, from the spring of 2011 until today he has chosen to target civilians instead.

from David Rohde:

Dooming the Syria talks before they begin

The United States won a short-term diplomatic victory over Iran this week. Under intense pressure from American officials, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon withdrew an invitation for Iranian officials to attend the Syria peace conference.

Disinviting Tehran is the latest example of the Obama administration’s continual search for easy, risk-free solutions in Syria. As the conflict destabilizes the region, however, Washington must finally face the hard choice: Either compromise with Iran, or decisively support and arm the rebels.

from David Rohde:

Newest victim of congressional wrecking ball: Iran policy

By design or accident, it is increasingly clear that the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s second-term foreign policy is a nuclear agreement with Iran. Whether Obama can succeed, however, now depends on Congress staying out of the negotiations.

Over the last few weeks, 16 Democratic senators have supported a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. They have defied the White House’s intense campaign to block Congress from adding new conditions to any deal.

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