Archive for the ‘Politics of Oil’ category

Rogue Aid

February 15, 2007

Rather lazy for a blogger to just cannibalize off the New York Times op-ed page but this piece by Foreign Policy editor (and interviewee of yours truly) Moisés Naím describes an emerging and disturbing trend in international relations so adeptly and succinctly, it’s worth all the gnawing on the Grey Lady’s bones. Filthy-Lucre Quote:

“In recent years, wealthy nondemocratic regimes have begun to undermine development policy through their own activist aid programs. Call it rogue aid. It is development assistance that is nondemocratic in origin and nontransparent in practice, and its effect is typically to stifle real progress while hurting ordinary citizens.”

Further cash-money quote:

“States like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have the cash and the will to reshape the world into a place very unlike the one where we want to live. By pushing their alternative development model, such states effectively price responsible aid programs out of the market exactly where they are needed most. In place of those programs, rogue donors offer to underwrite a world that is more corrupt, chaotic and authoritarian. That sort of aid is in no one’s interest, except the rogues.”

Terror-Free Oil? It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas

February 2, 2007

A misguided effort that won’t do Jumping Jackshit to solve the West’s oil dependence or undermine the financing of terrorism, the Terror-Free Oil initiative seeks to open a chain of gas stations that will refuse to sell oil from the Middle East. The idea is to cut off the money supply to Islamist terror generated by Arab and Iranian oil revenues. Even oil from Venezuela is out: “We know that the Government of Hugo Chávez is very aligned with the Government of Iran, so we are certainly not going to have anything to do with Venezuela,” spokesman Joe Kaufman told The Times.

Time for some basic economics, people. If global demand for oil stays constant – as it will if you don’t use less of it – and supply also remains constant or diminishes (a likely scenario what with oil being a non-renewable energy source and all), then the price of oil will remain the same or increase, as will the profits to producers. So it matters not a jot where the oil you buy is produced when oil is a scarce resource, of which the largest proven reserves are held by hmm, let’s see – Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. You’ll still be contributing to the financing of terror.

The initiative appears to have been cooked up by some enterprising Russian entrepreneurs, who festoon their pumping stations with patriotic American slogans and seem to have judged the American appetite for avoiding painful choices (clean, renewable energy sources anybody?) quite cannily. Nebraskan Melanie Drinkall told The Times that that she filled up with “terror-free” petroleum because she feels guilty about owning a gas-guzzling Mazda Tribute 4×4. “I want to try any way I can not funding terrorism,” said Drinkall. Any way, it would appear, other than not owning a gas-guzzling terrorist piggy bank on wheels.

New Rule*

January 17, 2007

[* With apologies to Bill Maher]

James Baker is not allowed to head up anymore commissions, inquiries, or investigations. He is not the only so-called “Wise Man” who is looking for work these days (and he ain’t even that wise).

The impetus for this brief outburst is news that a Baker-led investigation has just released a 374 page-report on the 2005 explosion that shattered a British Petroleum refinery in Texas City, Texas killing 15 people and injuring more than 170.

I ask: How did he have the time? It has been like 6 weeks since he released the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (remember them?). This vaunted group (including the renowned foreign policy thinker Vernon Jordan) offered such compelling nuggets of wisdom as: the US should talk to Iran and Syria and convince them to help us out in Iraq. (And Baker is known as a “realist,” yet in the six weeks since I first heard of this I have been struggling mightily to ascertain what about this qualifies as realistic.)

Just too much Baker. He should be content being overpaid to speak, over-advanced to write, and more or less staying out of the news. Please, Jim, go home. You have a nice home. It is time to pack it in.

Delta Blues

November 22, 2006

A troubling report, via a contact, from the conflict-riven Niger Delta region of Nigeria. According to Patrik Naagbanton and Stevyn Obodoekwe – the coordinator and head of the human rights program respectively of the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) – 27 year-old student Tombari Martins Berebon was shot by police at a Port Harcourt checkpoint on September 1st after the police attempted to extort a bribe from his party. His kidney “shattered” by the bullet, Berebon only survived thanks to timely medical attention.

In the words of Naagbanton and Obodoekwe, Berebon now “pants between life and death,” his assailants having “disappeared into thin air” after the incident. Berebon’s impoverished parents went to the police to implore them to cover his medical expenses. Instead, the police once again attempted to shake them down for a bribe. Summoning a wrathful eloquence in its letter to the police that perhaps can only properly be expressed in the vernacular, CEHRD demands “justice for this defenseless sufferer of your overventuresomeness.” After receiving CEHRD’s letter police officials are apparently hurrying to arrange some compensation. Berebon is undergoing treatment and will require major surgery.

Berebon’s case is no freak occurrence. The oil-rich Niger Delta is home to a volatile dynamic of corruption, vi0lence, tribal rivalry and state repression. Thanks to the region’s oil deposits, Nigeria is the eighth largest exporter of petroleum in the world and the fifth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States. But the oil wealth has been monopolized by a corrupt government and self-protecting elite (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), alienating the people instead of benefiting them and creating broad resentment. This dynamic is most acute in the densely populated Niger Delta region itself, where local tribal groups claim to have been dispossessed by the government and multinational oil companies and have taken up arms against both the government and each other. Kidnappings of foreign oil workers have become common. Government forces are notoriously corrupt and brutal, and ongoing conflict has resulted in civilian massacres, beatings and rape.

I’ll be trying to expand coverage of the troubles in the Niger Delta in the future. I believe it’s a conflict that merits closer attention, and a little more outrage, than the latest O.J. Simpson atrocity.

Big Brother (In-Law)

November 17, 2006

Yet another example of how carbon energy resources are allowing repressive regimes to persevere, resisting pressure to become less odious from outside and within. Burma’s military junta, truly one of the most despicable authoritarian regimes in the world, takes little notice of American sanctions imposed to protest its jailing of democracy activists because it has its “brother-in-law,” China, to take care of it and exploit its carbon wealth. Note the rise of China as both a ravenous new consumer of carbon-based energy, thus raising its value, and the alternative customer of choice to the United States for those governments that would prefer not to have any questions asked about their human rights record.

Quite simply, China is positioning itself to become the 21st century’s illiberal superpower. Whether it can continue to grow in wealth and influence without its own authoritarian system collapsing from within is the attendant question. Meanwhile, America and the global economy’s reliance on carbon-based energy is empowering a creepy set of oleaginous authoritarians. For essential further reading see “Crude Awakening,” Joshua Kurlantzick’s superb article in The New Republic (sorry, behind subscriber wall) on the emergence of this “axis of oil.”

Greasing the Wheels

October 24, 2006

An intriguing dynamic in Sudan’s murderous politics – oil is making the government (and some of its constituents) rich, or at least richer, which is both fueling regional insurgencies such as the uprising in Darfur – where marginalized non-Arabized ethnic groups are demanding a share of the wealth – and increasing Khartoum’s capacity to ignore Western pressure when it attempts to crush those insurgencies through mass bombardment, rape and massacre. The oil money also allows Khartoum to keep its soldiers loyal and continue to buy fearsome new toys (some 70 percent of oil revenues go to military spending, in part because the government wants to be able to produce its own supply of weapons in case foreign sources are cut off).

This again is another example of how America’s massive reliance on oil ties its hands and warps geopolitics. Sanctions imposed to protest Khartoum’s brutality mean that America is not getting oil from Sudan itself. But Chinese, Malaysian and other Asian companies are more than happy to take up the slack what with their ravenous domestic energy markets. American demand for global oil tightens supply and allows Sudan’s junta to sell its crude at high prices, increasing the government’s wealth and reducing American leverage yet further. If America didn’t consume so much oil, Khartoum wouldn’t have such a strong hand to play. If America became a net exporter of clean, renewable energy, Khartoum would be out of the game.

Only Half-Joking Department

August 24, 2006

It seems fairly clear at this point that the world’s, and particularly the West’s (guess to whom ‘particularly’ applies in that sub-category) reliance on massive oil consumption for energy and economic growth is politically dangerous and environmentally unsustainable. This is especially true of the enormous market share in oil supply controlled by Middle Eastern tyrants both friendly (House of Saud in the house) and otherwise (that fellow my brother brilliantly refers to as “Mahmoud I’m-A-Dinner-Jacket”).

With the enormous wealth that flows from their oil reserves, these despotic scum are free to buy lots of nasty weapons and to repress and neglect their people. Certainly some oil states use their revenues to provide a relatively cushy lifestyle for their citizens, but this itself is part of the problem. Oil-rich regimes do not feel the need to invest in people, or their people’s future, stunting political, cultural and economic development. Talent, intellectual capital, dignity and respect – these are of no interest when light sweet crude will buy you shiny cars and warheads.

With their black gold providing them serious geopolitical leverage, psychopaths and tyrants literally have America and the West over a barrel. Saudi oil money funds terrorism through Islamic “charities” and propagates vile anti-Western Wahabbist fundamentalism throughout the Middle East, indoctrinating Muslims with bigotry and jihad. Carbon emissions from petrochemical energy are contributing to climate change and the tiniest pinch in the oil supply can bring us to our knees. And all the while the global demand for energy becomes ever more ravenous.

Faced with this epic political and economic challenge, the Bush administration’s policy is, apparently, to shift America’s oil supply away from politically ‘unreliable’ regions such as the Middle East to new oil supplying markets such as Africa. For one example of how well that’s going, follow the locusts. This, one supposes, is what happens when you let your energy company buddies devise your energy policy. A better idea has been articulated by honey-tongued rogue and sometime cigar moistener Bill Clinton: what we need more than anything is a source of clean, renewable energy.

So, what to do? (more…)