Last week, CAP’s John Norris and Sarah Margon suggested that President Obama respond to the crisis in Libya by engaging Libyan business leaders to convince them that leader Muammar Qaddafi “is a liability they can no longer afford” and since Libya is Africa’s largest oil producing country, a good place to start would be the oil industry:
One doesn’t normally look to oil companies to do the right thing. But they now have an enormous vested interest in helping push Qaddafi out. Libya has Africa’s largest crude oil reserves and the uncertainty in that country has already started to rattle markets. If Qaddafi stays on his current course and remains Libya’s leader, there will invariably be calls for an oil embargo from Libya, a proper U.N. war crimes investigation, and possibly a civil war. The oil business will be disrupted for a considerable period under all of those scenarios.
However, it doesn’t seem that U.S. oil companies are eager to do the right thing. Earlier this week, the President announced that the U.S. would unilaterally impose sanctions on Libya because the continued violence there poses an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to U.S. national security. Mother Jones reports that the business coalition USA*Engage, which reportedly lobbies for oil giants ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, called that approach a “failed strategy.”
USA*Engage — which has also called for the U.S. to remove the travel ban and trade embargo with Cuba — feels that unilateral sanctions put U.S. business at a disadvantage. And even though the coalition called Qaddafi’s violent crackdown “profoundly depressing,” co-chair Bill Reinsch told Mother Jones that its partners, including Big Oil, play RealPolitik when operating abroad in countries like Libya:
“The reality is that the oil in all the nice countries has been exploited already, we can’t drill anymore in Norway,” Reinsch said. “I don’t detect any abiding affection for the Libyan government. In the [oil] business, you don’t have any choices.”
USA*Engage won’t officially disclose its membership and among large U.S. oil industry corporations, only Halliburton has confirmed that it is a member. Mother Jones notes that the group “has also made an effort to shield its powerful members from criticism,” which is perhaps why Reinsch tried to disuade Mother Jones from publishing the report. “I think it would be better for the story never to come out,” he said.