Kamala Harris Pledged To Halt Fracking. Her Foreign Policy Advisor Wants The Opposite.

If ‘personnel is policy,’ then the choice of Michèle Flournoy suggests a President Harris would expand oil and natural gas extraction.

Branko Marcetic September 6, 2019

"There's no question I'm in favor of banning fracking," said Kamala Harris at CNN's September 4 climate town hall. Her foreign policy advisor, Michele Flournoy, sees fracking as "area of strategic advantage." (CNN)

At the Sep­tem­ber 4 CNN cli­mate town hall, Kamala Har­ris sound­ed like a can­di­date seri­ous about cli­mate change. She came out for bans on frack­ing and off-shore drilling, pledged to stop drilling on pub­lic land, and vowed to get rid of the Sen­ate fil­i­buster in order to pass a Green New Deal. She spoke deri­sive­ly about Con­gress debat­ing whether sci­ence should be the basis of pub­lic pol­i­cy, and called cli­mate change an exis­ten­tial threat to who we are as human beings.”

Flournoy called for unleashing U.S. fossil fuel production as part of a “bold and bipartisan international economic agenda” dedicated to maintaining the United States’ superpower status.

Any pres­i­dent will face many chal­lenges to the bold cli­mate agen­das out­lined at the town hall. For Har­ris, those chal­lenges could include her own for­eign pol­i­cy advisor.

Har­ris is being advised by Michèle Flournoy, a career Pen­ta­gon offi­cial who has repeat­ed­ly urged increas­ing domes­tic fos­sil fuel extrac­tion as a key part of U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy, and sup­port­ed sev­er­al poli­cies that have helped turn the U.S. into one of the world’s worst car­bon pol­luters, such as Obama’s repeal of the ban on domes­tic oil exports.

For­eign pol­i­cy will be crit­i­cal to any suc­cess­ful effort to pre­vent cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe — and not only because of ongo­ing glob­al cli­mate nego­ti­a­tions and the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the U.S. to assist oth­er nations’ ener­gy tran­si­tions. Cur­rent U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy is also a major dri­ver of cli­mate change, whether through the mas­sive and car­bon-inten­sive glob­al mil­i­tary foot­print, or the use of oil and gas exports as a lever of power.

Flournoy was con­sid­ered Hillary Clinton’s sec­re­tary of defense-in-wait­ing in 2016 and is rumored to be a top can­di­date to run the Pen­ta­gon under almost any future Demo­c­ra­t­ic admin­is­tra­tion, which, based on her pub­lic posi­tions, could por­tend a more fos­sil fuel-friend­ly for­eign pol­i­cy than many cli­mate-con­scious vot­ers may be com­fort­able with.

Flournoy co-wrote a 2015 Wash­ing­ton Post op-ed out­lin­ing a bipar­ti­san nation­al secu­ri­ty agen­da for America’s divid­ed gov­ern­ment.” Besides can­celling the planned 2016 with­draw­al from Afghanistan and sign­ing the con­tro­ver­sial, cor­po­rate-friend­ly Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship, her rec­om­men­da­tions includ­ed a remit to per­mit crude oil exports, expand liq­ue­fied-nat­ur­al-gas export per­mits and ful­ly lever­age Amer­i­ca’s new­found ener­gy posi­tion.” U.S. ener­gy pro­duc­tion has emerged as a new source of strength,” she wrote, and Wash­ing­ton should take max­i­mum advan­tage of these devel­op­ments,” includ­ing by lift­ing the decades-old ban on export­ing crude oil from the Unit­ed States.

In a sim­i­lar op-ed in the Wall Street Jour­nal four months lat­er, Flournoy again called for unleash­ing U.S. fos­sil fuel pro­duc­tion as part of a bold and bipar­ti­san inter­na­tion­al eco­nom­ic agen­da” ded­i­cat­ed to main­tain­ing the Unit­ed States’ super­pow­er sta­tus. She called the 1975 oil export ban out­dat­ed and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive” and urged Oba­ma to speed the issuance of per­mits for the export of liq­ue­fied nat­ur­al gas” to U.S. allies in Europe and Asia.

Flournoy again urged this course of action in 2016, when she endorsed a report pro­duced by the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Secu­ri­ty, a cen­trist for­eign pol­i­cy think-tank she co-found­ed in 2007, titled Extend­ing Amer­i­can Pow­er: Strate­gies to Expand US Engage­ment in a Com­pet­i­tive World Order.” Among oth­er things, the report praised the U.S. ener­gy rev­o­lu­tion” wrought by frack­ing and hor­i­zon­tal drilling, which was an area of strate­gic advan­tage” that could help extend Amer­i­can pow­er.” Owing part­ly to Flournoy’s involve­ment, the report was per­ceived at the time as a pre­view of what a Pres­i­dent Hillary Clinton’s for­eign pol­i­cy might look like.

Flournoy saw ener­gy exports as crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing the Unit­ed States’ super­pow­er sta­tus. On the one hand, Wash­ing­ton could lever­age fos­sil fuel exports to box out adver­saries like Rus­sia and Iran from region­al influ­ence. At the same time, with the U.S. econ­o­my the foun­da­tion of its mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal pow­er,” and since the demand for U.S. pow­er is high­er than it has been in decades,” the Unit­ed States could use the con­se­quent eco­nom­ic gains to con­tin­ue to inter­vene and have its influ­ence felt across the world from Asia, to the Mid­dle East to Europe.

This vision runs up against not just Har­ris’ com­mit­ment to tack­ling cli­mate change, but the views of envi­ron­men­tal groups.

Export­ing drilling, frack­ing, min­ing for some sup­posed geopo­lit­i­cal gain is in fact going to under­mine glob­al geopo­lit­i­cal sta­bil­i­ty,” said Mitch Jones, cli­mate and ener­gy pro­gram direc­tor at Food & Water Watch, explain­ing that, as the Pen­ta­gon itself has acknowl­edged for years, the dev­as­tat­ing effects of cli­mate change will fuel nation­al secu­ri­ty threats around the globe. You can­not have a sec­re­tary of defense, pres­i­dent, or sec­re­tary of state who is going to be pro­mot­ing the export of fos­sil fuels from the US.”

We’re way past the time of all of the above’ and Drill, baby, drill,’” says Green­peace USA Cli­mate Cam­paign­er Char­lie Jiang.

Asked about the dis­con­nect between Flournoy and Harris’s state­ments, Jiang says: It’s absolute­ly true that per­son­nel is policy.”

The Har­ris cam­paign did not respond by dead­line to a request for comment.

Branko Marcetic is a staff writer at Jacobin mag­a­zine and a 2019 – 2020 Leonard C. Good­man Insti­tute for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing fel­low. He is work­ing on a forth­com­ing book about Joe Biden.
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