Obama Blocks Pipeline to Humiliate Trump
Protesters and the Sioux were handed an apparent victory on Sunday when the Department of the Army declared that it would not allow the Dakota Access pipeline to continue its current course under the Missouri River. The decision was met in the protesters’ camp with fireworks and cries of “Mni wiconi,” or “water is life,” and hailed across the globe as a victory for indigenous peoples everywhere against the forces of globalization and oppression.
The protests, which started in April, brought to light two concerns held by the Sioux: that the pipeline would disturb sacred grounds and, more importantly, threaten the safety of their only water source, the Missouri River. The first issue was largely brushed off by the Army, as the pipeline was being developed on private lands that the Sioux have no access to. The second concern, one of public health, would prove to hold more water; the Army’s press release cited that“the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to [the Sioux’] water supply” as the main impetus for its decision to not grant an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline crossing.
The protesters who flocked to Standing Rock, though met with North Dakota’s frigid cold, fire hoses, tear gas, and rubber bullets, continued to grow in strength and numbers as time wore on, swelling from less than one hundred activists in April to thousands by the end of November. They raised the profile of the Sioux action against the pipeline from little-covered local dispute to international media event, with the conflict reaching a flashpoint on November 22 when a crowd of roughly 400 “water protectors” was dispersed with police-manned fire hoses on a night when temperatures dropped to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Since that night of police brutality, pressure mounted for the Obama administration, which earlier had spoken language backing the pipeline, to use its power over the Department of the Army to halt pipeline construction. A little less than two weeks after the fateful clash between police and protesters, the Army made its announcement, no doubt the result of mounting White House pressure.
Yet with Trump occupying the Oval Office in a mere 45 days, the Department of Army’s actions amount to little more than political theatrics. While the decision makes for excellent television, it does not represent any meaningful change; Trump, who owns shares in two of the companies behind the 1172 mile, $3.7 billion pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, has been vocal in his support of the project, which, once he becomes president, will likely be fast tracked through any remaining red tape.
Knowing full well that pipeline construction will proceed under Trump, what could possibly be Obama’s game plan? Blocking the pipeline means that Trump himself will need to openly force the Army to overturn its previous decision. Though building the pipeline means securing America’s energy markets, bringing back jobs, and raising tax revenue, Trump’s personal financial stake in the pipeline’s construction will unfortunately taint his administration’s intervention in the project.
With partners and properties all across the globe, Trump is already set to be bedeviled by conflicts of interest between his positions of business leader and leader of the free world. Obama’s adding of yet another log to the fire, a high-profile conflict that has already once before drawn the ire of protesters and mainstream media alike, will serve to further undermine the legitimacy of the Trump administration. Even if Trump steers America on a path to continued economic growth, even if he manages to bring America renewed respect abroad, his personal motivation will be called into question, with doubts raised about whether he puts the interests of the American people first or merely serves himself.
The protesters celebrating in Standing Rock are celebrating for the entirely wrong reasons. They believe they have been handed ultimate victory, while in reality they have been handed over by Obama to Trump as a Trojan horse, a sinister Democratic ticking time bomb disguised in plain sight as a shovel-ready Republican victory. Given the political leanings of most of the protesters, they would celebrate at such news, as they cannot possibly recognize that their appropriation as political pawns detracts from their actual cause, protecting the country’s water supply, a problem that, as tragedies like the illnesses and deaths in Flint, MI demonstrate, is a real and serious threat to American citizens.
As Republicans and Democrats form their battle lines, the real issue will be buried under rhetoric and finger-pointing unless we remain committed to keeping those elected to office accountable for their actions. To the Obama administration we must ask what new information came to light to cause the sudden about-face on the pipeline to determine if the administration was motivated by facts at all or if the decision was purely politics. From the Trump administration we must learn if Trump himself will personally benefit from the pipeline’s construction to clear up any conflict of interest between his business enterprises and his job as president of the United States. Keeping our politicians transparent and honest is the only way to protect our own interests and the only way to ensure the continued legitimacy of our government, a burden that falls wholly on us, the American people. Should we fail to ask to the right questions and get actual answers, our government will continue to slip away from us and will resemble less and less a government that serves us, and resemble more and more a disparate mass of drones intent on serving only themselves.