Writing about commodities usually means discussing supply and demand issues. The weather may be too hot in one area while another area may be facing labor issues and so on. Rarely is there an opportunity to focus the lens of my research directly on U.S. foreign politics. The events over the last few months in the Ivory Coast and Libya have provided us with an apples to apples comparison of exactly how the current administration intends to position the United States in respecting the national sovereignty of foreign leaders versus the protection of global financial interests in those same countries.
In January, we discussed the politics of the cocoa market. The Ivory Coast held a public election in December and the United Nations recognizes the winner of that election, Alassane Outtara as the rightful leader of that country. However, the former leader, Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step down. He has control of the military and the governmental purse strings. The citizens of the Ivory Coast have taken up arms to force him to step down and recognize the newly elected President as the peoples’ choice for the future. Gbagbo’s response has been to turn the country’s military on its own people rather than step down.
The Libyan situation is in the news every day. The Libyan people are attempting to overthrow their leader by starting a civil war. This is the same leader who assumed the leadership role forty years ago through a military coup. Gaddafi is using his military, made up of Libyan citizens, to forcefully quell the rebellion. Both Gaddafi and Gbagbo stand accused of committing serious crimes against their people to enforce their dictatorial wills.
The primary differences between these two situations are the facts that one leader was the rightful winner of a public election while the other’s leadership is being challenged in the same manner in which he claimed it to begin with. The Ivory Coast is responsible for more than 60% of our cocoa imports while Libya is responsible for 2% of our oil. Libya, who ships much of their oil to old European countries like Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the United Kingdom is being covered by all of the major news sources 24 hours a day. The Ivory Coast, however, rarely makes the crawler on CNN.
The United States is being urged to take action in Libya by much of the world with Old Europe crying the loudest. There are discussions of enforcing a no fly zone throughout Libyan airspace to prevent Gaddafi from bombing his own citizens and economic sanctions have already been put in place. Meanwhile, Gbagbo, whose official presidential term expired five years ago, is using his military power to forcibly put down the protests in which hundreds have died and has cut off all U.N. humanitarian aid to his impoverished people.
The United States is being forced to set a moral standard by which it will be judged throughout the world. The current administration also has an opportunity to set an example with our own people by defining its focus on the balance of foreign versus domestic political asset allocation. The U.S. may be able to offset some political ills by proportionately supporting the United Nations in its attempts to install the rightful and recognized leader of the Ivory Coast while avoiding the baited hook of spearheading another oil filled military conflict with no end game in sight.
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