Sunday, May 11, 2014

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Oil

Si fuera petróleo no andariamos con CARTELITOS Salvad a las niñas #hijosdeputa. Maybe he's right, and if there were oil at stake, we'd make bigger signs.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I don't really find #hashsign campaigns to be all that compelling. They strike me as a form of public slacktivism, where the point is to demonstrate just how concerned one is, without actually having to make any sacrifices. (Now, on the other hand, because the Obamas are intensely unpopular with the American political Right, the First Lady is opening herself up to later criticism, as soon as it is politically safe to do so. So the situation is a bit more delicate for her that it would be for, say, myself.) The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad (more popularly known as Boko Haram) militants who abducted, and have reportedly sold into "marriage" (sex slavery being a more apt description) more than two hundred Nigerian teenagers from a girl's school in Chibok, Nigeria, are unlikely to be doing anything other than laughing at this sort of social media campaign. When calling for "awareness" is the only arrow in your quiver, it's going to be a short war.

I'll also be the first to admit that had Boko Haram done something that represented a clear and present danger to the long-term strategic interests of the United States, that, at this moment, they'd be fighting for their lives, and that the neighboring countries that they may be hiding in would find themselves facing some serious gunboat (or, gundrone) diplomacy. Like many other nations, the United States does not tolerate aggrieved groups trying to strong-arm their way into something that we feel belongs to us. Just like many of said aggrieved groups are aggrieved because they feel that the United States, the West, Christianity or whomever, has strong-armed their way into something that they feel justifiably belongs to them.

But I think the reaction that: "Well, if it were oil, then a more effective response would be mounted," has become something of a reflexive and meaningless cheap shot that actually evades the central issue - that on issues of "human rights" the United States, and, honestly, the global community as a whole is all talk. Part of what drives that is simply the magnitude of what happened. If we assume that what Boko Haram has done falls into the category of "stereotypical kidnapping*," Nigeria lost, in a single night, more children than the United States did in a year.

But Nigerian militants have directly threatened the flow of oil out of the nation before.
Militants from [Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or] MEND and other groups have killed soldiers and security guards, kidnapped foreign oil workers, set off car bombs in the delta city of Warri to protest the visit of Chinese oil executives, and, to show off their reach, overrun an oil rig 40 miles (64 kilometers) offshore in the Gulf of Guinea. The attacks have shut down the daily flow of more than 500,000 barrels of oil, leading the country to tap offshore reserves to make up for lost revenue. With each disruption, the daily price of oil on the world market climbed.
Curse of the Black Gold
Where were the U.S. military's boots on the ground? As of 2009, the United States was buying some 44% of the oil that Nigeria exported, making the country the fifth-largest supplier to the United States. And half a million barrels of oil a day was more than a quarter of the country's production - surely that much oil at risk would have made it worthwhile to send in the Marines, no? While the American economy is famously (or infamously) oil-dependent, in all honesty, it's not like we drink the stuff. (At least not straight, anyway.) And while access to energy is likely one of things that would push the United States into a war, for whom isn't that true? Do we really expect that, say, Brazil would simply let the lights go out and return to a pre-industrial agrarian society if they thought that a military intervention would postpone or prevent it?

It's perfectly justified to be critical of us here in the United States for constantly talking up concepts like freedom, justice and human rights, yet consistently failing to put our money where our mouths are, unless there is a "compelling national interest." But the fact of the matter is that humanitarian military intervention has seldom worked out well for the country. Sorry states of affairs in other parts of the world just aren't as important as avoiding flag-draped coffins here at home. So those criticisms are likely to be ineffective, at best. The cliché that the United States will always be ready to make the world safe for "cheap" oil, however, is overstated. It resonates because it provides a neat explanation of the past decade or so, and is always handy to use as a bludgeon. But use the trope of Wars for Oil as a stand-in for the shallowness of America, rather than simply call us out as shallow?

*Stereotypical kidnapping:
A nonfamily abduction perpetrated by a slight acquaintance or stranger in which a child is detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles, held for ransom or abducted with intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.

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