Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Black Gold or Blackmail

Venezuela’s parliament, as expected, voted today to bestow virtual dictatorial power on President Hugo Chavez. In what has been termed a unanimous vote for Venezuelan socialism, that country’s parliament gave Chavez the right to rule by decree for the next 18 months. He has promised – and there is no reason to believe that he will not implement his promises – to nationalize key sectors of the economy: telecommunications and oil in particular.

Chavez is the Bush administration’s favorite “head-of-state-to-hate” in Latin America. He replaces Fidel Castro in this role for two reasons. One, all the “experts” on Cuba’s Fidel Castro – with the notable exception of his Spanish doctor – have effectively consigned the Cuban president him to the status of “dead man walking,” Second, Castro’s Cuba doesn’t have anything the U.S. really needs whereas Venezuela is a major oil producer and supplies 15% of U.S. imports.

Meanwhile, in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia has warned that it will not stand idly by and watch Iraq’s Sunni population be killed by Shi’a militias and militants. Then the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, hosted an inter-sectarian conference in Mecca attended by Iranian Shi’a clerics as well as Saudi Sunnis, after which the king appealed for all parties in Iraq and Lebanon to be calm. He was quickly echoed by Iraq, Egypt and Qatar.

This raised a question about just who is “with us” or “against us?” So I took a look at the core issue – our dependency on oil. What I found about the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is the identity of the original five founders: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Venezuela. Think about it: at one time Iran was a close ally, then it became an enemy. The U.S. supported Iraq in its war against Iran, then fought two wars with Baghdad, and now counts the government as an ally. Saudi Arabia has a checkered record of cooperating with the U.S. Venezuela has also been on both sides of the fence. That leaves Kuwait, which was the casus belli for the first Gulf War in 1990-91.

This history seems to validate Lord Palmerston’s observation that countries don’t have permanent friends or allies – only permanent interests. And some will do anything to defend those interests.


Blogger rasphila said...

Lord Palmerston was clearly correct—particularly with respect to protecting oil supplies. But I wonder if protecting oil supplies is now in the long-term interest of the U.S. or any other country. Yesterday's UN report on global warming makes it clear once again, with overwhelming documentation, that our use of fossil fuels is making the planet warmer, with significant and possibly devastating consequences for everyone.

The obvious conclusion is that, although oil supplies may be important in the short run, lessening and if possible ending our dependence on fossil fuels is crucial in the long run. Protecting oil supplies may be in our short-term interest, but in the long run the use of oil will become a liability. The short run is getting shorter, and the long run is getting closer every day that we don't take strong measures to reduce our use of fossil fuels.

9:21 AM  

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