Friday, April 28, 2006

well oiled machine

What's more important than spreading freedom and democracy?

Spreading oil.

Searching for energy supplies and allies against Iran, the Bush administration is reaching out to leaders who rule countries that are rich in oil and gas but accused of authoritarian rule and human rights violations.

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Equatorial Guinea are all getting special attention. The effort sometimes seems at odds with President Bush's stated second-term goal of spreading democracy.

"If those countries were not oil producers, we would probably not be meeting with their leaders," said Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst with the Brookings Institution. "There is some tension with Bush's democracy-promotion agenda. They are pulling in different directions."

Bush meets Friday at the White House with the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliev. Vice President Dick Cheney next week visits the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan and its leader President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Human rights groups have criticized both leaders. But the two former Soviet republics are allies in the war on terrorism and both have significant energy reserves.

Administration officials defend the meetings and similar ones, noting that Bush and other officials make a point of raising human rights and other social policy concerns, as Bush did when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited last week.

In addition to promoting democracy, Bush talks about curing America's "addiction to oil," a phrase he repeated as he announced steps this week to help ease gasoline prices that have soared over $3 a gallon in some places. Some 60 percent of oil used by the U.S. comes from overseas.

Looks like oil's thicker than blood.

At least we're being tough on these oil-producing countries who torture and kill their own people.

Rice herself drew some fire for welcoming Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema to the State Department as "a good friend."

He seized power in a 1979 coup and his government has been regularly accused by the State Department of human rights violations, including torture and deaths of prisoners. But the country is also rich in oil and gas.

"The photograph of you and Mr. Obiang will be used by critics of the United States to argue that we are not serious about human rights and democratic reforms in a country with substantial oil wealth," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., wrote Rice in a letter his office released on Thursday.

Oh. Well, at least it doesn't threaten our national security.

Politics aside, big oil-consuming nations like the United States and China "are looking out at the world and seeing a stagnant supply and a very unstable supply," said Tom Collina, director of 20/20 Vision, an advocacy group that favors sharp reductions in U.S. energy consumption.

"It's going to be a security problem for the foreseeable future," Collina said.

Ah. Hrm.

$3 bucks at the pump and nothing to show for it. And no real viable alternative right now. Nice energy policy, fellas. Real good job on that one.