Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Limits to Power

We hardly need a more graphic example of how the power of nation states, even superpower nation states, is limited than the one outlined in this New York Times article.

As the Price of Oil Soars, So Does Its Power to Shape Politics From Washington to Beijing


"As violence spreads in the Middle East, the Bush administration is grappling with an unwanted side effect of its policies: higher oil prices caused by fears of a disruption in global oil supplies.

"While the administration seeks to confront Iran, give Israel more time to defeat Hezbollah, and secure stability in Iraq, higher oil prices reduce its maneuvering room overseas and frustrate American consumers at home...

"Worries that the unabated conflict in Lebanon could draw in Syria, or Iran, which in turn could threaten the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, have compounded those jitters, as has the Bush administration’s confrontation with Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program...

"Any step by Iran to cut off its own oil revenues would be so hard politically for the government in Tehran that many experts say it would not be tempted to go down that road.

"But even a temporary shut-off would be a huge psychological blow to the global market, and Iranian leaders may calculate that there would be an advantage in the economic damage to Europe and the United States...

"Given Iran’s dependence on oil exports for income that supports a broad range of subsidies for food, fuel and other necessities for its people, excluding energy from any sanctions plan raises real questions about how effective such a step would be.

"American officials acknowledge that oil complicates American diplomacy but insist that they will not alter basic policies, especially on Iran, which the West accuses of supporting groups like Hezbollah and Hamas...

"Today the Bush administration faces rising criticism from hard-liners that its Iran policy is not stiff enough. But if the diplomatic course is challenging, the military options may be more treacherous and, analysts say, would almost certainly drive the price of oil even higher...

"Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a speech this year, “No one who is honestly assessing the decline of American leverage around the world due to our energy dependence can fail to see that energy is the albatross of U.S. national security.”...

"In April, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice complained that the hunt for oil and gas was “distorting international politics in a very major way.” Now that comment is turning out to be both prophecy and understatement.
New oil money has given not only Iran but also Russia more resources to resist Western pressure...

"...Russia has joined with China to mobilize a five-year-old group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose members include several Central Asian countries....

"Many American analysts say energy issues are driving Russia and China into each other’s arms politically, and that if anything American policies are accelerating the trend..."

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