If the Joe Biden administration has any strategy at all on energy, it appears to be of the rotating-despot variety. It seems Biden would desperately like any country other than his own to step up its production. That desperation has led the White House to send envoys to Nicolas Maduro, hoping to convince the Venezuelan tyrant to turn on the Russian tyrant to get more of the dirtiest oil available:
A group of senior U.S. officials flew to Venezuela on Saturday for a meeting with President Nicolás Maduro’s government to discuss the possibility of easing sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports as the Biden administration weighs a ban on imports of Russian oil and gas, according to two people familiar with the situation.
The trip is the highest-level U.S. visit to the socialist state in years and comes as the United States is seeking to isolate Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Venezuela, the Kremlin’s most important ally in South America, used to be a significant supplier of crude to the United States before exports were hobbled by domestic mismanagement and crippling sanctions from Washington. …
The trip comes just days after Maduro and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone about boosting the partnership between their countries.
This is quite a change in American policy toward Maduro, who violently suppressed an uprising in the national assembly and has oppressed dissent for years in a starving Venezuela. Not only is he the same kind of tyrant as Putin (only less effective), Maduro is still holding a half-dozen American oil executives on bogus corruption charges. The Citgo Six got lured to Venezuela in 2017 and have been captives of Maduro ever since:
The men known as the Citgo 6 — for the Houston oil company where they worked — were lured to Caracas around Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of Citgo’s parent, state-run oil giant PDVSA. Once there, heavily armed masked security officers stormed the conference room where they were gathered and hauled them away. Later they were charged with corruption in connection to a never-executed plan to refinance billions in bonds.
The executives appeared in November before a three-judge appeals panel in the same week as the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention took up the case of Tomeu Vadell, one of the six detainees. Five of the men are dual Venezuelan-American nationals who had lived in the U.S. for many years, while one, former Citgo president Jose Pereira, is a permanent U.S. resident. …
A court in Venezuela has upheld long prison sentences for six American oil executives detained in the South American country on corruption charges for more than four years.
Venezuela’s supreme court announced the ruling late Friday, disappointing family members who had hoped the surprise decision last fall to hear the appeal, and a recent jailhouse visit by a top State Department official, signified President Nicolas Maduro’s government was looking to release the men as part of a gesture to engage the Biden administration in talks over U.S. sanctions.
That was a month ago, by the way. Maduro’s reward for keeping the men in prison will apparently be a new agreement to sell the US enough oil to keep prices down at the pump. Let’s not forget, by the way, that Venezuelan oil is particularly hard to refine thanks to its level of impurities, which means it will be even worse on the environment than the oil we pump in North America — worse even than the supposedly over-bituminous oil from the Alberta sands that would have come to our refineries over the Keystone XL pipeline.
Maduro’s not the only potentate Biden now wants to woo. Despite having castigated the Saudis during his presidential campaign and promising to turn them into “pariah(s),” Biden may make a personal visit to their kingdom in an effort to get their production increased:
President Biden’s advisers are discussing a possible visit to Saudi Arabia this spring to help repair relations and convince the Kingdom to pump more oil, Axios has learned.
Why it matters: A hat-in-hand trip would illustrate the gravity of the global energy crisis driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden has chastised Saudi Arabia, and the CIA believes its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was involved in the dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Jim Geraghty points out the hypocrisy:
So much for “making Saudi Arabia a pariah!” There’s “very little social redeeming value the present government in Saudi Arabia”… but Biden’s going to go them, “hat in hand.” (Recall that the U.S. was a net energy exporter in 2019 and 2020.) Then again, one of Biden’s first foreign policy decisions was to severely water down his promised punishment of Saudi Arabia, limiting but not eliminating arms sales to the kingdom.
That’s our president. Tough talk on the campaign trail, a pushover in the Oval Office.
It’s more than just a hypocritical failing, though. This is a strategic collapse, demonstrated by the nature of the people to whom Biden has to go begging. American oil and natural gas production can be unleashed to ensure that such regimes remain as marginalized as possible, including Vladimir Putin’s. That was the strategic position Biden inherited from Trump in January 2021, with oil around all-time lows and Putin’s income too low for such aggressive military adventures. Instead of strengthening that strategic position, Biden immediately squandered it by pandering to the climate-change radicals and signing EOs that sent signals of declining American production. Futures markets reacted rationally to those signals, especially the anti-fossil-fuel rhetoric coming from Washington, and prices skyrocketed as the US lost that strategic edge.
Even now, when that strategic position would be fairly easy and quick to regain, Biden still wants to pursue his climate-change agenda at home. In fact, Biden clings to it so closely that he wants to become even more beholden to despots for our energy needs — just changing out the despots depending on the situation. The US needs a strategy that we can control to sideline Putin and Maduro, as well as keep the pressure on the Saudis for modernization and security agreements with Israel.
In short, the US needs strategic leadership rather than the entirely reactive and benighted leadership we elected in 2020. It’s gonna be a long 32 months.