Black Gold

BLACK GOLD….Spencer Ackerman reads Peter Baker’s Washington Post story about the upcoming visit of Kazakhstan’s president and notes that Baker is oddly reticent about mentioning Kazakhstan’s vast oil wealth as a motivating factor for playing nice with them:

Similarly, early in the piece Baker notes that other moderate-to-serious tyrannies receiving Bush’s thumbs-up are Azerbaijan and Equitorial Guinea, and he also points out Dick Cheney’s recent Caspian Sea excursion. But he does this all without mentioning that what all these nations have in common is possession of or access to quite a lot of a certain black, viscous substance that greases the wheels of the global economy and international relations.

….Look: There’s a certain ridiculous tap dance in politics and in the media about talking about oil, as if the simple recognition that oil influences foreign policy is somehow a gauche or extreme statement. That doesn’t mean that everything reduces to a question of who has oil and who doesn’t. But what good does it serve to strenuously pretend that oil has only a trivial impact on U.S. decision-making?

Spencer is right, and this is one of the reasons that Americans are so clueless about how the rest of the world views us. I can understand a reluctance to be associated with the fever swamps of oil-based conspiracy mongering, but the plain fact is that a great deal of American foreign policy is driven by concerns over the stability of our oil supply. The rest of the world is well aware of this, and our blithe pretense that we’re not concerned with such grubby issues ? it’s all about democracy! ? is one of the reasons so many non-Americans don’t believe a word we say on other issues as well. They probably can’t figure out if we’re in genuine denial about our own motivations or just being mendacious about them, but does it matter?

On our end, of course, most Americans just end up being perplexed. Why do foreigners think we’re after everyone’s oil? How can they believe such a thing about us? The answer is easy: they believe it because there’s a lot of truth to it. But you’d hardly know it if you read nothing but the American press.