Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005). Dreyfuss is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone.He can be reached through his website: www.robertdreyfuss.com
Nothing the Bush administration ever does is about oil. It didn’t invade Iraq because that country might have more oil than Saudi Arabia. It isn’t threatening Iran because Iran has a tenth of the world’s oil and one-sixth of its natural gas. And the United States isn’t cozying up to autocrats in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan because the Caspian Sea is a mini-Persian Gulf in the middle of Central Asia, either.
So it stands to reason, doesn’t it, that Washington isn’t making a fuss over Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez because that country is a major supplier of oil to the United States? And that it isn’t making nice to Libya’s erratic Colonel Gadhafi because of oil, either?
“This decision is not undertaken because Libya has oil,” said David Welch, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, in announcing that the United States is restoring diplomatic ties with Libya and removing that country from the hard-to-get-off-of list of nations linked to terrorism. Nevertheless, expect U.S. oil companies to flock into Libya.
Let me hasten to add that it’s better to normalize relations with Libya than to paint another regime change bull’s-eye on the map. And certainly the fact that the United States was willing to engage in direct talks with Libya—and successfully—underlines the absurdity of the American refusal to engage Iran, North Korea, Syria, Hamas and, for that matter, the Taliban. In addition, it needs to be pointed out that the United States and Libya have been involved in a behind-the-scenes minuet for years, one led in part by the CIA’s Steve Kappes—the covert operative who was forced out of the agency by Porter Goss and who will now be brought back into the fold by Michael Hayden, the director-designate. Neoconservatives who claim that Libya’s agreed to end its weapons of mass destruction programs because it was terrified of being the next Iraq are flat wrong since the deal was in the works long before the spring of 2003.
Still, it’s hard not to get a queasy feeling about the rehabilitation of the Libyan colonel. He is indisputably a loose cannon with agents and operatives all over sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, including Chad, Sudan and elsewhere. And, perhaps ominously if you are the king of Saudi Arabia or the president of Egypt, the head of Libya’s Revolutionary Committees announced that Tripoli is ready to help President Bush “to spread democracy around the world together.” Just a couple of years ago, Libya cheerfully tried to spread democracy to Saudi Arabia by plotting the assassination of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who was then crown prince.
Whatever the merits of the U.S.-Libyan rapprochement, it boggles the mind that the United States is moving in the opposite direction in regard to Venezuela. (Piling irony on irony, Chavez arrived in Libya on Wednesday to meet Gadhafi.) Even as it subtracted Libya, the United States took a major step toward adding Venezuela to the list of terrorism-supporting countries. The State Department announced that it is imposing a ban on the sale of weapons, including spare parts for F-16 Falcons, to Venezuela. In doing so, the spokesman for the State Department—noting that he “can’t get into all the details of it”—essentially accused Venezuela’s intelligence service of working with Iran and Cuba to support terrorism and drug gangs in neighboring Colombia.
The charges are absurd on their face and, unsurprisingly, the government of Venezuela angrily rejected the accusations. In fact, Venezuela has more reason to add the United States on its list of terrorism-supporting countries. The United States is harboring a former Venezuelan intelligence official, Luis Posada Cariles, who blew up a Cuban airplane in 1976. At the time Cariles was operating out of Caracas in coordination with anti-Castro extremists. In 1985 he escaped from a Venezuelan prison and today Venezuela is seeking his extradition from the United States. In addition, in a move that was not exactly a manifestation of the Good Neighbor policy, the Bush administration endorsed a coup d’etat two years ago in which the Venezuelan right briefly toppled Chavez.
Although the Bush administration claims to be engaged in a global war on terrorism and a campaign to extend U.S.-style democracy, it is more than apparent that Washington is in fact pursuing a worldwide strategy driven by the geopolitics of oil—and not just in regard to Libya and Venezuela. Iran and Iraq, of course, come to mind. More broadly, in recent weeks President Bush played obsequious host to President Ilham Aliev of oil-rich Azerbaijan. Bush warmly embraced Aliev, a less-than-democratic leader whose energy resources and strategic position make him an important player both in pipeline politics and in regard to U.S. plans for regime change in Iran. One-fourth of Iran’s population is comprised of Azeris. Then Vice President Cheney trundled into oil-rich and autocratic Kazakhstan last week, on a jaunt during which he warned Russia against using “oil and gas [as] tools of intimidation and blackmail.”
Of course. Using oil and gas for intimidation and blackmail? That’s America’s job.