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Intelligence Czar Blair's Economic Warnings Echo the Past

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Message Ron Fullwood
THE Obama administration's new Intelligence Director, Dennis Blair, identified the declining world economy as his “primary near-term security concern” in his first national threat assessment before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Warning of a worldwide economic crisis which could produce unstable governments which would, in turn, threaten the U.S. security, Blair asserted that our nation's economic downturn has led to “increased questioning of U.S. stewardship of the global economy.”

“The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests,” he said.

The economy and 'U.S. strategic interests' were also on Blair's mind Thursday as he warned about a threat he perceived from Venezuela and the oil-rich country's growing economic ties with Iran. Blair warned that "Venezuela is serving as a bridge to help Iran build relations with other Latin American countries . . . although the two countries are still struggling to overcome bureaucratic and linguistic obstacles to implementing accords," he said.

From those economic ties, Blair extrapolated that none other than Hezbollah had advantaged themselves of relationships in Latin America which he attributed to 'corruption'. "Chavez's growing ties to Iran, coupled with Venezuela's lax financial laws and border controls, and widespread corruption have created a permissive environment for Hezbollah to exploit," he said.

Blair complained, too, that China had also ingratiated themselves in the Latin American economy by arming Venezuela.

This focus on economic concerns from the Intelligence Director might seem as unprecedented as they were strikingly removed from the usual analysis of weapon proliferation, terrorist activity, and worldwide reaction to our multi-deployments abroad which would seem more pressing to his department than issues normally assigned to Commerce or State. Yet, Blair was practically mimicking a Bush-era predecessor in the intelligence position, John Negroponte, who complained to the Senate Intelligence committee in 2006 about Iran's oil and the influence Iran gains by trading with regional actors like Russia, Pakistan, Venezuela, and China.

Negroponte warned in the hearing that key oil-producing states were increasing their leverage. "Record oil revenues and diversification of its trading partners are further strengthening the Tehran government." Negroponte warned the Senate committee.

Oil was also on Negroponte's mind as he blasted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his increasing relationship with Iran. Chavez "is seeking closer economic, military and diplomatic ties with Iran and North Korea," he said. Negroponte worried aloud in his statement that Chavez was looking to dump the U.S. as an oil trading partner in favor of customers like Russia and China. Although the U.S. was getting about 60% of Venezuela's oil exports, Venezuela reportedly had planned to double their exports to China.

"Increased oil revenues have allowed Chavez to embark on an activist foreign policy in Latin America that includes providing oil at favorable repayment rates to gain allies, using newly created media outlets to generate support for his Bolivarian goals, and meddling in the internal affairs of his neighbors by backing particular candidates for elective office," Negroponte warned.

Am I the only one who thinks it's out of line for the Director of National Intelligence (or any of our Defense departments) to be musing about and formulating policy around oil exports and trade? Not so unusual if you already consider that all of the U.S. military adventures into the Middle East are driven by an obsession for oil, as well as for power.

Even if these are sincere concerns, there's a question whether this analysis by National Intelligence Director Blair will give comfort and support to those who will insist that trade agreements are essential to some hub around the world which can somehow be linked to our national security.

With trade deals pending with Latin and Central America, and with trade deals considered with adverse nations like Russia and China, I'm wondering if this assessment by the Obama Intelligence Director will give cover to those in Congress who want to force these objectionable trade deals through; especially in this period of economic downturn. There could also be a more muted effort from the WH to modifying existing trade agreements which the president promised to reform paying heed to warnings about the effect of the financial collapse of these trading partners, using concerns about our 'national security' as justification.

Will some of these nations who are looking for a favorable trade deal with America be deemed 'too big to fail' by our government? More importantly, is the new Intelligence Director attempting to influence our trade with these nations he views as adverse to our security interests? If so, I'd like to ask then, why we're so determined to solidify and enhance our relationship with our military's Iraqi prize, even as they have established and solidified economic and security agreements with Iran, including recent oil deals?

What makes those solidifying relationships Iraq has with Iran so benign and unassailable in the eyes of the U.S. occupiers, yet, Venezuela, China, and others with economic interests with Iran are the threatened subjects of Blair's official scorn? The new administration's characterizations of Chavez and of Iran's government sound a lot like the old corrupt wing of cohorts in the White House.

Those nations who assumed the threats from the U.S. were exclusive to the Bush bunch will find these assessments by the new administration just as self-serving and arrogant. Especially when those 'national security' assessments happen to center on the opportunistic politics of oil.
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Ron Fullwood, is an activist from Columbia, Md. and the author of the book 'Power of Mischief' : Military Industry Executives are Making Bush Policy and the Country is Paying the Price
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