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Department Of Shell Games

Some bizarre news from the Reuters wire:

Rebels who have stepped up attacks on Nigeria's oil industry in the last month said on Sunday they were considering a ceasefire appeal by U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has launched five attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta since it resumed a campaign of violence in April, forcing Royal Dutch Shell to shut more than 164,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd).

"The MEND command is seriously considering a temporary ceasefire appeal by Senator Barack Obama. Obama is someone we respect and hold in high esteem," the militant group said in an e-mailed statement.

At the time--unlike past attacks--MEND seemed to be courting American attention: "The ripple effect of this attack will touch your economy and people one way or the other and (we) hope we now have your attention," the group said last month.

Well, oil is $120/barrel--looks like you've got it. The direct link to Obama, however, seems suspect. He did attempt some high-level suasion during January’s election crisis in Kenya, but I’m doubtful his grueling schedule these last six weeks has left much time for Skyping with MEND. It is notable that even the hint of the "Obama touch" has a band of saboteurs rubbing their chins about an end to a longstanding conflict. (It’s also a testament to the constant danger that such instability poses to the guerrillas and the people of the Delta alike.)
Back stateside, it seems the only expert Hillary Clinton could rustle up to defend her gas-tax proposal was a registered lobbyist for Shell Oil. Obama pounced this weekend and called the plan “literally, a Shell game”—but could push harder on the foreign policy implications of the flap. As a Nigerian, the whole thing recalls my family’s conduct of something like a five-year boycott of Shell gas stations in the 1990s. Nothing huge; we’d just drive around until we found another station—and it was worth the miles to make the point. Shell helped kill nine men in 1995 and today continues a 50-year tradition of pollution with abandon and corporate sponsorship of exploitation in the region.

Now that Royal Dutch/Shell is on the table, and Clinton has floated the notion of dismantling OPEC entirely, Obama should ignore the "thrill factor" of this story and instead use it to emphasize his (and Susan Rice's) committment to mending the political and infrastructural ills in OPEC nations--which, as we know, feed market instability and thus higher oil prices.

--Dayo Olopade