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The Dubya Doctrine

By Sam Parry
June 11, 2001

As George W. Bush prepares for his first meeting with European leaders, he is adding some green hues to tone down his image as a former oil man insensitive to threats against the world's environment. 

On Monday, he announced plans for more research into global warming.

But a new promise to expand environmental research won’t do much to alter the emergence of what could be called the Dubya Doctrine – the subordination of a wide range of U.S. domestic and international concerns to assure an adequate supply of oil and other energy sources to meet the rising U.S. demand for electricity and gasoline.

The administration would deny this is the case, and foreign policy experts might argue that oil supplies have long been a crucial, though often-understated, goal of national strategies. But never has the securing of oil supplies been as unabashedly central to a U.S. administration’s foreign and domestic policies as it is today.

Usually, the pursuit for oil is tempered with nobler policies -- promoting freedom, defending human rights, building stable democracies, fighting terrorism, etc.

Now, those high-minded interests have faded into the background, while stepping to the forefront is the unapologetic U.S. goal of protecting of the "American way of life" by guaranteeing that 4 percent of the world's population can continue to consume 25 percent of the energy.

At the core of the Dubya Doctrine is the conclusion that the American people are unwilling to make any serious adjustments to their energy-consuming life styles, that alternative energy sources and conservation won’t do much good, and that the first responsibility of the government, therefore, is to do whatever it takes to help oil companies extract, refine and deliver the oil that Americans want.

According to current energy consumption protections, U.S. energy use will rise another 32 percent by 2020, and Bush has made clear that he intends to develop an energy program that will ensure that those energy supplies will be available in the future.

Cheney's Report

The outlines of the Dubya Doctrine can be found in the 170-page energy plan drafted by a task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, the former chairman of Halliburton Co. That Houston-based company is the world’s largest oil services firm with subsidiaries and affiliates around the world, including in countries such as Iran and Burma where U.S. trade sanctions have sought to modify those government’s policies.

Cheney’s opposition of sanctions dates back at least to his years in Congress when he sided with President Reagan against an embargo of the white-supremacist government of South Africa. Once in the private sector, Cheney put some lobbying muscle behind his anti-sanctions views. He helped launch a lobbying group called USA-Engage, which is funded by companies, including Halliburton and U.S.-based oil company Unocal, that stood to profit from dropping trade sanctions.

In 1996, during his Halliburton tenure, Cheney made the wry observation that "the good Lord didn’t see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments." [Petroleum Finance Week, April 1, 1996] In a 1998 speech to the libertarian Cato Institute, Cheney referred to his anti-sanctions crusade as his "favorite hobbyhorse." [see "Halliburton's Destructive Engagement," published by EarthRights International, October 2000, for more details]

Cheney's disdain for "feel-good" sanctions permeates the foreign-policy advice in his energy report. Those recommendations favor increased drilling in places such as autocratic Azerbaijan in Central Asia and in undemocratic African nations, such as Chad and Angola.

Lost in the policy equation is any interest in the harsh consequences that might befall the inhabitants of these countries where repressive leaders are more inclined to use the oil profits to fatten their Swiss bank accounts than improve the lot of their people.

Indeed, Cheney’s report calls for rolling back or eliminating national laws that might restrict energy exploitation. His report urges the World Trade Organization and other international institutions to "create a pro-competitive regulatory environment for energy services, so that opaque or discriminatory regulatory practices do not undermine commitments to open their domestic markets to foreign service providers."

Such language usually can be interpreted as meaning that economics should have precedence over the consequences to humans and to the natural environment.

Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth protested this imbalance in Cheney’s report. "The world needs to hear that when it comes to advancing human rights, the United States will not give oil and gas producing countries a pass," Roth wrote in a letter to Cheney.

Roth referred principally to the report’s Chapter 8, entitled "Strengthening Global Alliances: Enhancing National Energy Security and International Relationships," which calls for strengthening trade alliances and working "for greater oil production in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, the Caspian, and other regions with abundant oil resources."

"Remarkably, the report’s 170 pages and 105 recommendations do not once acknowledge the impact energy development may have on human rights," Roth wrote. "On the contrary, the report suggests making energy security an even greater priority in U.S. relations with some of the worst violators of human rights around the world, while proposing no strategy to keep necessary oil investment from perpetuating dictatorships or fueling conflicts, as it has in countries such as Angola, Nigeria, Sudan and Iraq."

page 2: The Nigeria Case