Concocting the Next “Crisis”

The darkest consequence of oil diplomacy, in America, is a political language, a premonition. Already the world energy crisis has brought threatening changes in US economic policy. These changes are evident in Kissinger’s and Nixon’s plans for “energy independence.” But the new policies go beyond oil commerce to world trade in all materials, promising conflict in wheat and copper, metals and minerals.

In its most menacing form, the new US policy anticipates a “next crisis” of raw materials and of US dependence upon the Third World. Strategists of the policy see a need, specifically, for independence in materials other than fuels; they fear that oil power will become a precedent for commodity power in copper or coffee or manganese. Such fears correspond to a theory of US foreign policy which emphasizes economic issues and relations with the Third World. But the new alarmism also has immediate implications in US politics.

In the last few months, US politicians have addressed themselves repeatedly to the “materials crisis,” while discussing issues from deep-sea mining to anti-Americanism, from grain supplies to foreign aid. The boldest recent words came in January, when the House of Representatives defeated a bill allocating $1.5 billion to the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), which provides easy credit for the poorest of developing countries.

The bill was supported by the Nixon Administration. Its congressional partisans argued that foreign aid was justified by “enlightened self-interest” and by “economic realities.” They noted that developing countries supply one-third of US raw material imports; that the US imports more than half its consumption of six “basic raw materials,” including, for example, manganese, “from countries like Gabon, Zaire, and Brazil.”

This argument did not sway the geopoliticians of the Congress. Representative John Dent, for example, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said that US aid to resource-exporting countries, without “some kind of a string attached,” “puts us in the position of being suckers to the point that an American no longer knows where to stand or how to stand.” A “closedown” by the mineral-producing countries, he said, would make the oil crisis seem like “a little Sunday school picnic.” He declared that “we have only two years to get ourselves in a position to become free and independent for our Bicentennial birthday.”

Other representatives seemed encouraged by Representative Dent. Representative Carter of Kentucky: “We are raiding Uncle Sugar. We are getting too soft.” The precedent of oil-producing countries was invoked. Wayne Hays, the Democrat from Ohio, said that the bill would not help “the poor of the world and all that.” He reminded his colleagues that the Saudi Arabian ambassador was “gliding around this city right now” in a Cadillac limousine, and urged that Congress “sort of serve notice that we are not going to be pushed around by these people.” The bill was defeated by 248 votes to 155.

Representatives Dent and Hays may seem to speak with a peculiarly sharp congressional voice on the particularly charged subject of foreign …

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