One of the saddest things about running a channel focused on geopolitics is realizing just how little the US government actually knows about the world beyond our borders. It’s not just the Trump administration, this problem is universal. At the beginning of April, the Trumpsters doubled down on their Venezuela policy, taking a number of steps to intimidate the Maduro government. Many critics complained about the timing, questioning whether this was the right moment to use military resources in this way. But as far as I have seen, nobody attacked the ridiculous premise at the center of the new policy.
By indicting Maduro as a drug trafficker in the US, and then initiating military exercises focused on his country, Trump’s Venezuela guy, Elliott Abrams, and the rest are trying to draw a direct parallel with Panama, a country the US invaded successfully in 1989. What’s obvious to anybody with a map, but not to anybody discussing Venezuela policy in Washington DC, is that Panama is a very, very different country from Venezuela. Today’s video lays out the simple facts.
With this blog post, I’d like to continue to complain about something I was harping on in today’s video. In our new media era coverage of international news is just abysmal. Because it gets clicks, you can find exhaustive coverage of every new sound bite in the 2020 US presidential election. But when political earthquakes like this happen, we’re reliant on a staggeringly small range of voices. As I mentioned in the video, many of the New York Times stories written on Bolivia are actually produced in Brazil. That may be where their regional headquarters are but in previous eras there would have been actual correspondents on the ground, or at least competent local stringers that the NYT could have been able to rely upon. But instead we’ve got a guy who certainly knows more than I do, but will be writing about Brazil next week, and maybe Uruguay the week after next.
I am kind of hard on the unthinking coverage of the New York Times and the Washington Post in this video, but that doesn’t mean I am against these organizations. In fact, I think you should all subscribe to them. As biased and incomplete as the stories they tell sometimes are, without them we’d be lost. If the opponents of these resources get their way, then all we’d have to go on in Bolivia would be the reports of the Organization of American States, the US State Department, and the triumphant tweets of US senators. As bad as things are now, that would be even worse. In the 1980s the US media effectively blocked some terrible US policies in Latin America. It’s pretty clear that the media no longer has the strength or capacity to do that. That’s pretty sad.
Some videos come pretty easy, and today’s video is one of them. I really like it when new ways of looking at stuff pop into my head. The more I think about it though, there are other aspects to this I should have included. The shift in the oil market here is pretty extraordinary. It’s actually the birth of a sort of “Super OPEC”. It’s also an OPEC that’s a lot more dangerous for its members. With a US president in charge, especially a US president listening to Texas oilmen, military operations become a potent tool of market making.
The world, and the US, used to have a minimal investment in the stability of petro-states. In the long term, these places should be happier without US supported perma-leaders, but the short term looks increasingly grim. As oil demand peaks, the ballooning US petroleum industry will need to be protected. The US can do this by knocking off competitors one by one. This could be an underappreciated aspect of Libya’s permanent oil crisis since 2011. Petro-states on each side of the conflict have no incentive to get their proxies on the same page and producing more. Venezuela is being knocked out. So is Iran. Destabilizing Iraq would be very easy. Saudi Arabia is super shaky. A broader war in the Middle East would be horrible, but it would be pretty great for the new head of OPEC… The US president.
The video I just published put me in a depressing frame of mind. Venezuela is definitely something to be taken seriously. People are dying, and a country is disintegrating. The sanctions that the Trump administration announced today could very well cause mass starvation. But do you ever get the sense that this is all a bad joke? On both sides, we’ve got hardliners who talk a lot about opposing the other country on grand principled grounds. But both sets of awful leaders desperately need each other. This whole kabuki theater does get people killed, but the main point isn’t taking down the dictator, or taking down the imperialists.
The main point is holding on to power. Maduro uses aggression from the US to justify his power. US presidents, Republican and Democratic, use foreign leaders who set themselves up as antagonists to justify our defense expenditure and cover up for our own leaders failures. It’s all a really sad joke. A joke that kills people.
In recent years the focus of the channel has changed. I dive in deep on what’s going on in certain countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria or Yemen. This new, in depth approach has been great for the channel, and I think it also makes for much better videos. When something comes up with one of those countries, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to say, and I usually have some good, under-covered context to add to the conversation. Writing those scripts rarely takes more than 5 or 6 hours. My research on those countries is constantly on-going, and I don’t have to think too hard to put together something I’m proud of.
This one was different. I don’t claim to be an expert in anything, I only promise to do a better job than any cable news channel. This is super easy with the countries I’ve been covering for years. Venezuela is new for me. For years I’ve wanted to do more Latin America coverage, but I haven’t had the time to do the in depth reading that is necessary. It’s impossible to avoid having an opinion on Venezuela of course, but they are not really “MY” opinions. It’s what I’ve been force fed by other news sources. That made writing this one super tough. I had to try to cut through the layers of bullshit and say something original. The story of what’s really behind Venezuela’s drop in oil production was one I’ve wanted to tell since May, but the framing was super difficult. I just don’t have the necessary context, which I hope I made clear… Today’s video went through multiple drafts over multiple weeks. I hope you think it was worth the wait!