Even before Russian tanks poured over the Ukrainian border to overthrow the government in Kyiv, the Biden administration warned that the West’s duty to safeguard Ukraine’s independence would not be “painless.” Joe Biden didn’t elaborate on this prediction in great detail, but he did promise to “limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump.” Save, however, from coordinating the release of less than a day’s worth of global oil consumption from the world’s strategic reserves, the administration tried to suggest that none of its green-energy priorities needed to change in response to the Russian menace.
Pressed last week by reporters to explain why the administration had not responded to a crisis that puts downward pressure on the global oil supply by pursuing policies that would augment domestic fossil-fuel production, White House Press Sec. Jen Psaki shrunk into a defensive crouch. It’s the oil producers’ fault for not ramping up production to take advantage of record prices, she suggested. The domestic wells and pipelines that the White House prevented from opening would have “no impact” on global energy prices, she insisted. Indeed, the crisis in Europe “is all a reminder, in the president’s view” of “our need to reduce our reliance on oil” by doing more to “invest in clean energy.”
A week has not passed since Psaki made these remarks, but the ground has shifted beneath the administration’s feet. Many in Congress, including the Democratic House Speaker, have endorsed a legislative ban on Russian energy imports to the U.S., and the administration is reportedly exploring ways to support European allies who are dependent on Russian energy imports while unilaterally imposing greater restrictions on the Russian energy market. Suddenly finding herself in agreement with the national mood, Psaki has pivoted to touting the Biden administration’s aggressive efforts to increase domestic fossil-fuel production.
Talk is cheap. The White House’s actions betray the extent to which the American energy market has been artificially constrained. Moreover, a flurry of diplomatic activity over the weekend reveals the degree to which this administration’s commitment to promoting liberty abroad is undermined by the Democratic Party’s ideological commitment to the promotion of green-energy initiatives.
In their effort to isolate Vladimir Putin, for example, the Biden administration seems inclined to welcome Venezuela’s despotic President Nicolas Maduro back in from the cold. Over the weekend, and for the first time in years, U.S. representatives sat down for a face-to-face meeting with Venezuelan officials to negotiate the reintroduction of the country’s crude-oil exports into the global market. This outreach directly conflicts with the Biden administration’s support for Juan Guaido, who the administration views as the legitimate Venezuelan president.
The Biden administration is also reportedly preparing for a potential presidential visit to Saudi Arabia to both “repair relations and convince the Kingdom to pump more oil.” The Biden White House has been pressuring the OPEC+ member states to ramp up production since last summer, and it welcomed an October 2021 decision by the cartel to do just that. This undermines the administration’s diplomatic offensive against Riyadh. The president entered office convinced of the need to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen and to treat Saudi Arabia like “the pariah that they are,” in response to its human-rights abuses. So much for that.
Nowhere are the compromises the White House is making more apparent than in its headlong rush to cobble together something resembling a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
Ahead of a new agreement with Tehran, the Biden administration shied away from enforcing secondary sanctions against Iranian oil importers, contributing to a 40 percent increase in the rate of Iranian oil exports in 2021 (primarily, to China and Syria). The urgency associated with the pursuit of new curbs on Iran’s nuclear program combined with the West’s desperate need to stabilize the global energy market “could see Iranian oil return to markets by the third quarter,” Bloomberg reported. That would necessitate billions in foreign investment to augment Iran’s export capacity, and that influx of capital would also stabilize one of the world’s most violent and repressive regimes. Indeed, one of the few remaining obstacles to a new Iran nuclear deal is Russia, which has been accused of slowing the progress of talks to drive up energy prices and recoup as much revenue as possible.
Biden officials have dismissed the notion that rolling back impediments to domestic energy production could have any immediate effect on the marketplace. They’re right; repealing executive orders prohibiting oil and gas leasing on federal land, directing executive agencies to restore spending that could subsidize fossil-fuel producers, and approving stalled but critical transit networks in the U.S. would not have an immediate effect on the price of energy. But they would have a long-term effect by helping restore long-term investment in the development of new wells, and it would create financial incentives to augment U.S. export capacity. Now that Germany has been convinced of the need to adopt the kind of diversified energy-import strategy embraced by states like Poland in the Trump years, the market opportunity is proven. If our conflict with the Russian regime will be a long one, we should have an energy policy that is equally far-sighted.
That would be a serious approach to confronting the geopolitical threat represented by America’s near-peer competitors. And it would be an approach that preserves as much as possible the West’s claim to support the aspirations of oppressed peoples everywhere. To prop up the green fantasy for just a little longer, though, the Biden administration is sacrificing that advantage. This is a sop to the environmental wing of the Democratic Party that the Democratic president may soon regret.