Thursday, June 02, 2005

Oil Changes Everything 

Which is the easiest to spread -- freedom, democracy, or cow manure? You are certainly aware that when Islam Karimov mows down hundreds of his own citizens in the streets of Uzbekistan, his patrons in the U.S. are only too happy to reclassify the murdered dissidents, retroactively, as "terrorists"; Mr. Karimov does, after all, allow us to use one of his airbases, and graciously shares his expertise in the questioning of particularly obstinate detainees. (Considering Karimov's trademark interrogation technique, it's safe to say that some of our prisoners have been "rendered" in more ways than one.)

You may also have noticed that the Bush administration is none too eager to condemn the slaughter in Sudan, where 400,000 Africans have been killed and two million left homeless; although Colin Powell nine months ago described the situation in Darfur as "genocide," the Bush administration has since moved to spike the Darfur Accountability Act, which would have "[frozen] assets of the genocide's leaders and [imposed] an internationally backed no-fly zone to stop Sudan's army from strafing villages," according to Nicholas Kristof of the NYT. One reason why: al Qaeda was active in Sudan throughout the nineties, and Khartoum has been sharing its stacks of intelligence files in exchange for Washington's official indifference.

Another possible reason is the one Ward Harkavy of the Village Voice quotes from a geopolitical analysis by Federico Bordonaro of the Power and Interest News Report:
Today's American and Western attention for the Darfur question has much to do with Khartoum's new commercial and political ties with Iran and—especially— China. Beijing's attempt to gain influence in Africa is in fact one of our age's geopolitical novelties. Its main goal is to acquire African oil and gas at favorable conditions, in regions where Western oil majors must still compete for total control. Beijing's new African policy has been focused on Gabon, Nigeria, and Sudan. It must be said, for the sake of accuracy, that Sino-Sudanese relations are not entirely new, for the arms trade between the two countries has been in place since the late '60s.

Control over oil reserves is at the top of China's wishes—and Sudanese diffidence for the U.S. seems to be a good set-up for Chinese penetration as a power broker. In 2003, China's National Petroleum Corp. planned to invest $1 billion to create Sudan's largest oil refinery. Moreover, as recent declarations from Sudanese Minister of Energy and Mining Awad Ahmed Al-Jazz confirmed, a newly discovered oil field expected to produce 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil is located in the Darfur region. This latter is also the way to Chad, a country well-known for its natural gas reserves.
UPDATE: Although we are ashamed to confess that we missed it at the time, our eminent colleague Chris Floyd (of Empire Burlesque, among other venues) was on top of the Sudanese oil story a full month ago.

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