Thursday, April 20, 2006

Apr 20/06 - On "The First Law of Petropolitics": Tom Friedman exposes what is rotten with the "axis-of-oil"

Hugo Chávez: "I will burn our oil fields if attacked" April 19, 2006

PMBComment: Thomas L. Friedman, who most recently flattened the world for the average reader, has written a superb cover story for this month’s edition of Foreign Policy. The title on the cover reads “The First Law of Petropolitics: Why the price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions”. Inside, accompanied with simple graphs that track both the seemingly unstoppable rise in the price of a barrel of oil next to plummeting measures of political and social freedom, the famed writer expands on the ills that define life in such “petrolist states” as: Iran, Russia, Nigeria and – of course – Venezuela. The rise of petro-authoritarism can only be challenged, concludes Friedman, through a “credible and sustainable strategy for finding alternatives to oil and bringing down the price of crude oil”. I fully agree. Democracy, weak institutions, and bountiful oil revenues do not yield a potable cocktail. (see previous and related post)

As the author points out, it would be inconceivable for Ahmadinejad, Putin and Chávez to be the defiant jerks (my shorthand definition, not Friedman’s choice of words) they have become if the price of oil where $20/barrel. However, the leverage these “leaders” have abused is only partially God given. Runaway energy consumption in the industrialized world and particularly high gasoline consumption in the bear-minimum-sacrifice United States of America has empowered the “axis-of-oil” like nothing else. The perverse spectacle of an all powerful nation seeking revenge in a distant un-winnable war against its perceived enemies, while seeking solace at home by driving gas guzzling SUVs back and forth from the malls, can only complete the joy of these madmen.

A month or so ago, U.S. radio talk show hosts lead common folks and elected officials to mount a successful defense against the takeover by Dubai Ports of six important U.S. ports. National security was the excuse that overrode all facts in that case. What is the excuse for ignoring the very real fact that the growing threat posed by the 3, 4, or 5 oil authoritarians is funded by U.S. consumers and their give-constituents-only-good-news elected representatives? At $70+/barrel the U.S. is about to pay dearly for its addiction to oil and its reckless ignorance about the actual workings of the world the have come to dominate. PMB

Note and disclaimer: I am not a member of the staff, or a sales rep for Foreign Policy. As a regular reader of this increasingly readable magazine I recommend that instead of waiting for the digital version of Friedman's article to arrive in your inbox, you go out and buy this edition which also contains the second-annual Failed States Index (surprisingly Venezuela improved 12 positions in spite of becoming demonstrably more chaotic) and the yearly supplement on Latin America sponsored by the well run Corporación Andina de Fomento and titled ”The New Encounters: Exchanging Corporate Experiences in Latin America”.