Curses, Back at Us
Sep 27, 2012Posted by Carter Page
"Curses always recoil on the head of him who imprecates them. If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own. Bad counsel confounds the adviser."
A lively debate has long questioned the impact of oil wealth on political and economic trends in energy producer states, a core element of the proverbial "resource curse" theory. Although experts may hold different positions regarding the strength of these relationships, casting aspersions on foreign states and their societies can exhibit a more direct tendency toward negative consequences. While the worldwide response to the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" film was initially sparked by a single repulsive video, the fuel for this continued fire relates closely to a broader tendency toward curses originating in the same country where the provocative Hollywood film was produced.
Beyond the narrow perspective of whether or not an oil curse exists, it is often forgotten that the process of labeling a foreign state as "cursed" might not sit well with the targets of these curses. If such tendencies in discourse existed only within the walls of the academy as heard in debates surrounding theories of international relations, the problem would be manageable. To the contrary, similar ideas infiltrate the broader tendencies inherent in the dialogue that the U.S. employs throughout the world. While argument and invective may be staples of the American political discourse at home, analogous approaches overseas are quickly lost in translation – often with devastating effect.
Diplomacy is defined in the Oxford Dictionaries to encompass, "The art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way." Consistent with the standard of casting curses and contrary to the essence of the term diplomacy, a habit of insults has long infiltrated the very foundations of U.S. foreign policy. A great irony inherent in this trend rests in the fact that democratic principles are said to be among our nation's core values. However, when a single force or an oligarchy of world powers define the direction of states as has been seen in recent history across Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and beyond, the principles of democracy can quickly be called into question by the democratic global consensus across a broader range of states. While China and Russia may frequently advocate foreign policies based on mutual respect and mutual benefit, failure to do so can unfortunately cut in multiple directions. As the U.S. delegation to the United Nations boycotted this week's presentation by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it reflected a long-standing and unfortunate tendency to avoid potential solutions to international controversies.
The Innocence of Chris Stevens
I previously made several trips to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which culminated in my presentation at a 1999 conference organized by their Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran. The objective of this dialogue which included meetings with senior government officials in the country was to explore the possibility of alternative approaches to the negative track which U.S.-Iranian bilateral relations had taken since the days of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. An unofficial yet essential source of insights and support during this exchange was Chris Stevens, a U.S. Foreign Service Officer who then served as the Iran Desk Officer at State Department Headquarters in Washington.
Although cautious optimism surrounded the leadership of President Mohammad Khatami who was in power at the time, the policies I advocated during my visits leaned significantly further toward engagement than the position of the U.S. Government. Throughout our discussions, Chris Stevens showed signs of being an optimist at heart. Yet in response to my more proactive suggestions toward potentially advancing the bilateral relationship, it was consistently apparent that he felt constrained by the shackles of long-standing U.S. policy from leaning as far forward as I advocated. Over a decade later, Chris would eventually serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. He lost his life on September 11, 2012 in protests at the Consulate in Benghazi ignited by the Innocence of Muslims film.
In a speech this week at the U.N. that began with a poignant biography of Chris Stevens, President Obama came to the bottom line: "There should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice." While administering such justice in a foreign jurisdiction is problematic, it ignores the potential for a greater victory in leadership. Ironically, the ultimate tribute to Chris would be constructive engagement across the region, rather than hunting down killers in Benghazi, Libya or wherever they may now reside today. The invective which has infiltrated the U.S. discourse domestically often stands as an obstacle to any steps which may potentially appear to "project American weakness", as Obama's opponents have accused in their competing efforts to prove who's the toughest sheriff in town.2011 Oil Production and reaction to "Innocence of Muslims" Film:
Top 20 World Producers
Rank Country Average Daily Production
2011 share of total Recent protests and/or
1 Saudi Arabia 11,161 13.2% Yes 2 Russia 10,280 12.8% Yes 3 U.S. 7,841 8.8% Yes 4 Iran 4,321 5.2% Yes 5 China 4,090 5.1% Yes 6 Canada 3,522 4.3% Yes 7 United Arab Emirates 3,322 3.8% Yes 8 Mexico 2,938 3.6% No 9 Kuwait 2,865 3.4% Yes 10 Iraq 2,798 3.3% Yes 11 Venezuela 2,720 3.3% No 12 Nigeria 2,457 2.9% Yes 13 Brazil 2,193 2.9% Yes 14 Norway 2,039 2.3% Yes 15 Kazakhstan 1,841 2.1% Yes 16 Angola 1,746 2.1% No 17 Algeria 1,729 1.9% Yes 18 Qatar 1,723 1.8% Yes 19 United Kingdom 1,100 1.3% Yes 20 Indonesia 942 1.1% YesSources: Statistical Review of World Energy 2012, Google News.
A Blessing or a Curse? Time will tell.
An incremental but substantial boundary is currently being redrawn between traditional oil producer and consumer regions, as North America has begun to significantly increase domestic production in recent years. Over the course of the past decade, technological innovations have become a primary game changer in the North American energy balance. With the advent of alternative approaches including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the U.S. has opened new domestic resources that may set the stage for analogous developments around the world. Among a range of potential steps in the right direction toward engagement, significant cooperation with other producer states could represent a change of approach toward mutual cooperation and benefit. Rather than labeling others as "cursed", it offers opportunities to demonstrate a constructive path forward.The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for National Policy.
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