January 12, 2006


Hooked on oil (Victor Davis Hanson, Jan. 12, 2006, JewishWorldReview.com)

First, there are the peculiar circumstances of its history and exploitation in the oil-rich Middle East that explain much of the region's present pathology. Unlike most industries, petroleum in the Arab world and Iran was not the dividend of incremental scientific discoveries or the hard work of an educated middle class. Instead, it came about as a matter of luck — and the Western expertise that discovered and exploited it.

At first Western oil companies propped up dictators in the Gulf to allow a free hand to tap resources without much scrutiny. Later, during the 1970s backlash against foreign oil interests, new state-run companies nationalized the industry as their elites used the enormous profits to buy weapons and billions in Western material goods.

Greedy autocrats in these Middle Eastern nations then masked their new stranglehold on the lucrative industry by perennially citing the past sins of Western oil companies and their governments. The Arab Street still saw little of the profits but heard much about how their poverty was supposedly the result of Westerners.

Terrorists like Osama bin Laden soon found ways to shake down petro-rich illegitimate governments. Such regimes gave money and help to Islamic radicals, who in turn blamed Middle East misery on the "crusaders" who once created but now supposedly kept "stealing" the wealth of the Arab people. In the Orwellian world of petro-logic, sheikdoms and juntas that gouge 90 percent profits on each barrel pumped from the desert somehow have convinced their people that they still are daily victims of beer-bellied and twanged Texans.

Moreover, oil profiteering masks the abject failures of quite odious regimes. Take state Marxism, a crackpot philosophy whose heritage is impoverishment and mass death. But thanks to obscene profits, Hugo Chavez spreads cash subsidies all over Latin America under the guise of a successful "socialist" state — as if his anti-democratic government, rather than oil luck and foreign expertise, enriched Venezuela. Without $60-a-barrel oil, Chavez would be just another pathetic blowhard like Fidel Castro lording over a failed state.

In Iran, take away windfall oil profits, and the eighth-century theocrats running the country would be derided as impoverished Taliban clowns, rather than feared for their threats to wipe Israel off the map.

In Russia, worry over oil cut-offs gives Vladimir Putin a pass as he subverts Russian democracy and gives Iran reactor fuel.

And without oil thirst, the world might shun a country like Saudi Arabia for the brutal practice of Sharia law, religious intolerance and subsidies for global anti-Semitic and anti-Western propaganda.

But we the importers also are warped here at home. Gas-guzzling Americans burn far more oil than we produce. That sends billions abroad into the hands of these unsavory governments who profit by accident rather than sound economics.

Free-market libertarians reply that our oil is simply a commodity like anything else — oblivious that current enemies of the United States are parasites and cannot even craft the weapons they use against us without a Middle East awash in petrodollars.

The economic Right is always willing to sell the rope.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 12, 2006 7:48 AM

Fortunately, most of our enemies couldn't figure out how to tie a knot, let alone organize the hanging.

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Posted by: Mikey at January 12, 2006 8:22 AM

Their fascination with perservation of ANWR in its pristine form makes the political left in the U.S. complicit as well in the problem. Unlike the libertarian economic right, they have no qualms about identifying the threat from fundamentalist regimes in the abstract, but other than saying every U.S. vehicle could operate on solar power and vegtable oil if we really wanted them to, they opt to take no action either foreign or domestic, to solve those problems.

Posted by: John at January 12, 2006 9:59 AM

The Constitution requires providing for the common defense - open it up.

Providing for the general welfare - high-paying union jobs and getting the deficit down cos we don't have to rely on them.

Also provides general welfare for most of the developing world cos prices would come down.

Posted by: Sandy P at January 12, 2006 11:58 AM

Set me straight: How does Victor Davis "Syriana" Hansen's tapdance here differ from that of, say, Arriana "I'm giving up my SUV" Huffington's?

I'm sorta dissappointed in VDH.

How is his picture different from those odious "If you have a big car, you're supporting terrorism" arguments we heard a coupla years back?

Posted by: Brian McKim at January 12, 2006 1:06 PM

It's not, and he's right. There should be a nation wide effort to reduce the flow of oil dollars to the Middle East. It's basically a very effective means of assymetrical warfare: less cash the oil sheikhs have, less surplus for them to give to their favorite terrorist.

It's one of the biggest failures of the Bush presidency.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at January 12, 2006 2:25 PM


My Suburban is obviously part of the problem.

Posted by: oj at January 12, 2006 3:02 PM

So OJ, when you going to swap that beast on a Subaru Forester?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 13, 2006 2:27 AM