August 9, 2002


Blair begins to have doubts about the military option (Rachel Sylvester, 09/08/2002, Daily Telegraph)
'The question is," one of Tony Blair's senior foreign policy advisers said to me recently, when we were discussing the prospect of military action against Iraq, "can an oil state ever really be truly democratic?" If a government does not depend at all on taxation for its income, he argued, then it has little incentive to treat its people well.

Certainly, the roll-call of major oil exporters looks like a human rights horror show. Saudi Arabia is run by an autocratic monarchy, Libya a military dictator and Iran a government that does not allow women out without a male chaperon. Even if there was to be a "regime change" in Iraq, my Number 10 source went on, then what is the evidence that the new ruler would be any more democratic than Saddam Hussein?

Bernard Lewis has also discussed how oil has been a disaster for the Middle East, making it so rulers do not need the consent of the governed in order to pay for the government. But the solution seems obvious enough--just privatize the oil industry. The government would still probably get significant tax revenues but would get enough less that it would have to tax the ordinary people and that means asking them for their money and giving them some say in how it's spent. It would make Middle Eastern governments more accountable to their profoundly unhappy populations. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 9, 2002 8:21 AM
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