Chevron in the White House
President-elect Barack Obama introduced his principal national security Cabinet selections to the world Monday and left no doubt that he intends to start his administration on a war footing. Perhaps the least well known among them is retired Marine Gen. James Jones, Obama's pick for national security adviser. The position is crucial -- think of the power that Henry Kissinger wielded in Richard Nixon's White House. A look into who James Jones is sheds a little light on the Obama campaign's promise of "Change We Can Believe In."
Jones is the former supreme allied commander of NATO. He is president and chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy. The institute has been criticized by environmental groups for, among other things, calling for the immediate expansion of domestic oil and gas production and issuing reports that challenged the use of the Clean Air Act to combat global warming.
Recently retired from the military, Jones has parlayed his 40-year military career into several corporate directorships. Among them is Cross Match Technologies, which makes biometric identification equipment. More germane to Jones' forthcoming role in Obama's inner circle, though, might be Jones' seat as a director of Boeing, a weapons manufacturer, and as a director of Chevron, an oil giant.
Chevron has already sent one of its directors to the White House: Condoleezza Rice. As a member of that California-based oil giant's board, she actually had a Chevron oil tanker named after her, The Condoleezza Rice. The tanker's name was changed, after some embarrassment, when Rice joined the Bush administration as national security adviser.
So now Chevron has a new person at the highest level of the executive branch. With Robert Gates also keeping his job as secretary of defense, maybe Obama should change his slogan to "Continuity We Can Believe In."
But what of a Chevron director high up in the West Wing? Obama's attacks on John McCain during the campaign included a daily refrain about the massive profits of ExxonMobil, as if that was the only oil company out there. Chevron, too, has posted mammoth profits. Chevron was also a defendant in a federal court case in San Francisco related to the murder, 10 years ago, of two unarmed, peaceful activists in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria. On May 28, 1998, three Chevron helicopters ferried Nigerian military and police to the remote section of the Delta known as Ilajeland, where protesters had occupied a Chevron offshore drilling platform to protest Chevron's role in the destruction of the local environment. The troops opened fired on the protesters. Two were killed, others were injured. (Rice was in charge of the Chevron board's public policy committee when it fought off shareholder resolutions demanding that Chevron improve its human rights and environmental record in Nigeria.)
One of those shot was Larry Bowoto, who, along with the family members of those killed, filed suit in California against Chevron for its role in the attack. Just after Jones was named the national security adviser Monday, a jury acquitted Chevron. Bowoto told me: "I was disappointed in the judgment by the jury. I believe personally the struggle continues. I believe the attorney representing us will not stay put. He will take the initiative in going to the court of appeals."
I met Bowoto in 1998, just months after he was shot. He showed me his bullet wounds when I interviewed him in the Niger Delta. I also met Omoyele Sowore, who has since come to the U.S. and started the news Web site SaharaReporters.com.
Sowore has followed the case closely. Though disappointed, he said: "We have achieved one major victory: Chevron's underbelly was exposed in this town. ... Also there is Nigeria: Protesters won't give up ... this will not discourage anybody who wants to make sure Chevron gives up violence as a way of doing business. American citizens are increasingly protective of their economy. ... Chevron played into fears of ... the jurors, saying these are people (the Nigerian protesters) who made oil prices go through the roof. This was a pyrrhic victory for Chevron. If I was in their shoes, I wouldn't be popping champagne."
Nigerians know well the power of the military-industrial complex in their own country. While Obama was swept into office promising change, his choice of Marine Gen. James Jones as national security adviser probably has U.S. corporate titans breathing easy, leaving the poor of the Niger Delta with the acrid air and oil-slicked water that lie behind Chevron's profits.