Rhetoric of Democracy vs. Reality of Oil
Would Bush be so keen on exporting democracy, were it not for the crude we're importing?
by Byron Williams
"All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."
-- President George W. Bush, Jan. 20, 2005
It is hard to argue with the president's words, in theory. His praxis, however, has left something to be desired. At least where Iraq is concerned, the administration was quick to jump the gun on the "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you" part, as it opted for a pre-emptive form of democracy.
It now appears that perhaps the Bush administration may seek to implement its strip-mall version of democracy in Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested that attacking Iran was "not on the agenda at this point."
Perhaps it is my overactive cynicism, but "at this point" -- given the administration's yearning for pre-emption -- leaves the door open. Moreover, it bears, in the words of former weapons inspector David Kay, an "eerie similarity" to the events that ultimately led to the war in Iraq.
Before we engage in the knee-jerk emotionalism that labels someone in Iran as the next Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini -- serving as the first step to justify another war -- allow me to pre-emptively suggest an alternative course of action: Let's begin in earnest to withdraw from our incessant addiction to foreign oil.
I say this not as a "tree hugger," which is not a bad reason, but as a matter of national security.
Last week, National Public Radio ran a story evoking the possibility that the president's goal of spreading democracy abroad could be affected by the growing competition for oil.
China and India have two of the fastest-growing economies in the world. That translates into two countries with more than 2 billion people collectively buying a larger percentage of the finite resources on which we are so dependent.
The Energy Department estimates that 15 years from now, the world will need 40 million more barrels each day over existing levels. But a number of oil analysts believe that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is already maximizing its production. Thus, the demand for oil could exceed the available supply.
If China signs its proposed $70 billion gas and oil deal with Iran, it is unlikely that the United States would be successful in its attempt to isolate Iran within the United Nations because of concerns over its apparent nuclear weapons.
In fact, China has already demonstrated a willingness to veto such actions, when the United States wanted to impose sanctions on Sudan because of its human rights violations in Darfur. The Chinese blocked those actions largely because of their strong oil interests in Sudan.
In a somewhat ironic twist, it is the United States that is becoming the more isolated country. It was also reported that the Chinese are moving closer to Saudi Arabia and Russia and have signed an oil deal with Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chavez, has already made clear his desire to redirect his country's oil business away from the United States.
As China and India become players in the oil market, it lessens some of the administration's global political clout, forcing it to decide between the rhetoric of democracy versus the reality of oil.
As Eliot Cohen, of John Hopkins University and the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, recently told NPR, "If the United States really wants to work for democracy abroad and still protect its strategic interests, it'll need to reduce its dependence on imported oil."
As the world's leading consumer of oil, it is that dependency, and not the utopian belief in a strip-mall democracy, that shapes American foreign policy in the Middle East.
Would it not be an interesting exercise to ascertain whether a less oil-dependent America would still possess the same commitment to exporting democracy in the region? When one factors in the possibility of a more secure United States, I would certainly like to find out.