Skip to content

Global Oil Panic: The United States of America

Oil prices are on the up and up, setting new records at the pump. Each time this happens, a spate of panicky reactions in national politics, all isolated from each other, burst up. First, a brief look at the state of the debate in the USA:

In the USA, McCain has proposed reacting to the higher oil prices by temporarily cutting taxes. This is in keeping with the Republican solution to everything -- cut taxes. Hillary Clinton has jumped on the McCain tax cutting train, hoping to draw more contrasts with Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Obama finds himself in the same camp as George W. Bush in opposing a symbolic tax holiday. A few paragraphs from the New York Times, via Drezner:

At a meeting with voters in North Carolina on Monday, Mr. Obama said lifting the gas tax for three months would save the average consumer no more than $30, a figure confirmed by Congressional analysts. Mr. Obama has previously dismissed Mr. McCain’s proposal as a “scheme.”

“Half a tank of gas,” Mr. Obama told his audience. “That’s his big solution.”

President Bush’s spokeswoman essentially sided with Mr. Obama in saying that tax holidays and new levies on oil companies would not address the long-term problems of dependence on foreign oil.

Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman, said gasoline prices were “entirely too high, but I think it would be disingenuous and unfortunate for American consumers for them to be led to believe that there is a short-term fix.”

Continue reading "Global Oil Panic: The United States of America"

Sarkozy's Tradeoff: France Considering NATO Reintegration

France has signaled over the past few months that it may pursue reintegration into the NATO command structure, which President Charles de Gaulle fitfully left in 1966.  A sympathetic member of the French National Assembly published an article in Newsweek arguing this move is, “no less than a revolution for NATO and transatlantic relations.” The article explains Sarkozy's proposed tradeoff:
By showing that France is America's trusted friend again, Sarkozy hopes to gain influence on American policy, and, in particular, on lifting the longtime U.S. veto on European defense.
This is an interesting proposal: France will rejoin NATO if it can pursue its own parallel EU military structures.  Many in the US defense establishment have long been concerned that a more autonomous European Security and Defense Policy is intended to act as a counterweight to the United States, or that it will duplicate/detract from NATO programs and assets.  As Soeren Kern of the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos states in World Politics Review:
… most of Sarkozy's proposals seem to be geared toward creating a rival European defense structure that over time will duplicate but not double NATO resources… Indeed, some of the more U.S.-leaning European states suspect that France's renewed interest in rejoining NATO is in fact a Trojan horse designed, ultimately, to destroy the Atlantic Alliance from within.
At the same time, the United States has been pushing Europe to build stronger military capabilities since the Alliance was born, based on a plea for "burden sharing."  One common sentiment, although often expressed with reserve, is that “it doesn’t matter where the forces come from, so long as they come.”  By rejoining NATO, Sarkozy may be able to strike a balance of confidences between what on the face appears to be double-think: convincing America of France’s commitment to Atlanticism, while concurrently pursuing greater European military autonomy. 

However, Soeren Kern points out that even if Sarkozy’s intentions are Atlanticist in nature, they will probably not outlast his term of presidency:
For most of the French ruling elite (the anti-American Left and the nationalist Right), the United States is considered to be the main problem in international affairs because of its reluctance to share its power. The only solution, in their view, is a French-led EU superstate that can counterbalance America on the global stage. And a unified EU foreign and defense policy that is completely independent of NATO (i.e., the United States) is essential to achieve equal status. Until then, anti-Americanism will continue to be the preferred means to accelerate the process of loosening the transatlantic link.
Related posts on Atlantic Review:
•    Europeans View China as the Biggest Threat to Global Security
•    Europe is a Threat to the United States

US Allies: Are Asians so Different from Europeans?

NYT Columnist Roger Cohen wrote Europe Votes Democrat, but Asia Tends Republican and Michael J. Green, who served on the National Security Council staff from 2001 to 2005, claims that the Iraq war has been good for US interests in South East Asia. He writes in The Washington Quarterly:

If anything, most major powers in Asia have used the war on terrorism and the conflict in Iraq to align more closely with the United States in order to balance rivals within the region or to advance their global standing.

Greg Sheridan agrees with this analysis and adds in The Australian (HT: Joe Noory):

Australian commentators almost universally mimic the European critique or more often the liberal American critique of the Bush administration and all its works. What is clear is that they have almost no sense of the Asian context at all.

Other conservatives, however, worry about the US standing in in East Asia: Michael Austin from the American Enterprise Institute opines that appeasement politics weaken US credibility in Asia: "Some of America's most important bilateral alliances are at risk of coming unmoored."

European Biofuel Producers Attack US Subsidies

From the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog:

Europe's biofuel industry has long complained about U.S. subsidies. Friday, it took its case to the European Union but the chances of winning a victory look slim. EU biodiesel producers have been simmering about the $1 per gallon tax credit American biodiesel producers get. EU producers say that distorts the market and, in the words of the biodiesel trade group, created a severe injury to the EU biodiesel industry.

The Guardian is a bit more optimistic regarding the European Biodiesel Board's case.

Rising threat from Jihadists, according to Dutch Intelligence

The Dutch intelligence agency AIVD has released its annual report, in which it warns of a resurgence in jihadist networks, and in industrial espionage. Radio Netherlands reports:
The AIVD describes the truly violent sector as "jihadist networks". In the Netherlands, "after a period of relative calm", these have become rather more active again, although the report says they don't represent any specific threat. This would seem to contradict the "increased threat" which AIVD head Gerard Bouman referred to during the presentation of the report.

Partly on the basis of AIVD information, the terrorist threat level was recently raised from "limited" to "substantial". This was due both to increased activity on the part of jihadist networks elsewhere in Europe (including foiled attacks) and the commotion surrounding the film Fitna made by Dutch MP Geert Wilders. The head of the AIVD praised the Dutch Muslim community for what he described as its "restrained reaction" to the film.
The AIVD also claims to have extradited foreign spies from Russia and from China on multiple occassions. Russian spies were said to be most interested in the energy sector, and China is accused of more broadly enlisting Chinese immigrants for industrial espionage.

The thematic focus of the report itself (nl) is on cooperation between intelligence agencies. As the report explains, there are effective existing structures for cooperation between intelligence agencies and it is a misunderstanding to want to force cooperation through new institutions. Any new institution has to prove its added value. This scepticism of institutional fixes has become widespread in the Dutch government and bureaucracy.

Revealing Protest Against Beijing Olympics

This is my favorite quote of the year so far: "Would we have allowed Nazi Germany to host the Olympics?"

This awesome statement was found on a protest sign in San Francisco. German Joys and Andrew Sullivan have a picture.

This statement is fascinating on so many levels. Not just because the author has not heard about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. And not just because of his/her comparison between Nazi Germany and China. I find the statement revealing because the author apparently thinks that it is the United States as Master of the Universe that gets to decide who is allowed to host the Olympics.

Apparently it is not just US presidents and senators (and plenty of slightly megalomaniac "experts" without any military experience) who boldly declare stuff like "we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon" or similar phrases along the lines of "We must not allow evil doers doing evil stuff." Apparently even the usually pretty left-leaning protestors in San Francisco consider the United States to be a hyperpower.

Actually, right now President Bush is not making any bold statements regarding China. All of a sudden, he prefers quiet diplomacy. What a change from this second inauguration speech three years ago.

Over at Atlantic Community, we have recommended a few press commentaries regarding China and the Olympics:

Chinese Outcry Against the Western Media: "The Chinese believe that Tibet cannot be the real reason for Western criticism of China and call for boycotts."
The Positive Side of Chinese Nationalism: "The Olympics have inspired Chinese nationalism which will lead to increased civil engagement and awareness of the responsibilities and rights of citizenship."
Will the Chinese Change International Institutions?: "In the past, the World Bank, like the IMF, was traditionally dominated by American, Europeans, and their neoliberal agenda. However as American financial pillars are now underpinned by Chinese money, it has become impossible to ignore Chinese interests."

UPDATE: Megalomania and arrogance is of course not limited to the US, but also widespread in Europe, where declarations about "not allowing" Iran, China and others to do something are even more ridiculous considering our real political influence and military power. I just wanted to clarify that this post is not meant to bash the United States, but to criticize stupid and arrogant people, who overestimate their country's power. These people are a danger to their country.

Rupert Murdoch: Alliance Based on Shared Values, not Geography

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp., wrote about Alliance enlargement in his own newspaper this week, the Wall Street Journal.  Mr. Murdoch argues that a proactive Alliance—one willing to take on new members who share and are willing to fight for Western values—is necessary to address the various threats faced by the West today.

According to Murdoch however, many Allies have not carried their own weight in NATO’s Afghanistan mission.  To little surprise, Europe has been identified as the source of weakness in the Alliance:
We must face up to a painful truth: Europe no longer has either the political will or social culture to support military engagements in defense of itself and its allies. However strong NATO may be on paper, this fact makes NATO weak in practice. It also means that reform will not come from within.

In other words, a strong and successful Atlantic alliance will have to ground itself more on shared principles rather than accident of geography. And we need to show we are serious about defending those principles by standing with those who are standing up for them.
Continue reading "Rupert Murdoch: Alliance Based on Shared Values, not Geography"

EU Foreign Policy Chief in Favor of Talks with the Taliban

Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and a Spanish Fulbright Alumnus, said according to AFP that he backed the new Pakistani government's moves to hold talks with Taliban militants, but ruled out any negotiations with Al-Qaeda.

This puts Europe at odds with the United States, not just with the Bush administration, but also with all remaining presidential candidates. Even Barack Obama, who is willing to meet with Iran's President Ahmadinejad, seems to be against negotiations with Taliban. He wrote in Foreign Affairs last summer:

Our strategy must also include sustained diplomacy to isolate the Taliban and more effective development programs that target aid to areas where the Taliban are making inroads.

I agree with Niklas Keller, who argued in the Atlantic Community that "negotiations with the Taliban may be the West's most effective tool to successfully 'divide and conquer' the Afghani insurgency."