Energy Extortionists

Thursday, January 14, 2010
Why do the dictators rage? Because, thanks to oil, they can.

Why do anti-Semitic dictators feel free to damn America from downtown New York? Why do their abettors refuse to rise to America’s defense? And why do creepy regimes plot to get nukes and fund terrorists?

Easy. They do not fear, much less listen to, an indebted and energy-hungry America that needs either their cash or their oil—or both.

When the United Nations General Assembly opened its sixty-fourth session last fall, three dictators—from Iran, Libya, and Venezuela—delivered lunatic hate speeches.

Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi raved for ninety minutes. He railed about everything from the Kennedy assassination to his own jet lag. He trashed the United States and the Jews. Even Gadhafi’s translator collapsed from exhaustion after trying to keep up with the stream-of-consciousness insanity.

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered his usual madness. Once again, he libeled the Jews. He denied his country’s breakneck efforts at getting the bomb. And he blamed the United States for his own self-inflicted problems. (Shortly afterward, Tehran disclosed that it had been secretly building a second nuclear-enrichment facility.)

Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez may have delivered the strangest monologue. He idolized left-wing filmmaker Oliver Stone for making a fawning documentary about revolutionary Venezuela. But somehow Chávez also brought up the Kennedy assassination. And, like his fellow speakers, he faulted America for his own problems.

Energy Extortionists

Chávez has cut off all relations with Israel. Jews have been increasingly attacked in Venezuela, and reports have spread that Chávez is reaching out to Iran for a nuclear program.

It’s clear that the problems these dictators pose and the attitudes they represent go beyond whether our president is Texan George Bush or postnational Barack Obama. And the problems cannot be solved by loud or soft presidential rhetoric, but only by changing both our behavior and theirs.

Beijing and Moscow understand that most of the world’s renegade regimes hate us more than they do Russia and China, and that America is divided at home, broke, and hungry for oil.

Take away oil and the money it garners—Iran, Libya, and Venezuela are all large petroleum exporters—and these strongmen would never receive high-profile television platforms at the United Nations. Oil props up all three economies, which have largely been wrecked by their own incompetence.

Libyan oil, it seems, helped persuade the British to release the mass-murdering Libyan Lockerbie bomber. Iranian oil money fuels Hezbollah, destabilizing Lebanon. Venezuelan oil money goes to narco-terrorists in Colombia. Oil wealth helps these regimes put down democratic reformers, hunt down dissidents abroad, and shut down the news media.

All three dictators freely express hatred of Jews, reminding us that there is no longer a downside to flashy anti-Semitism. Today, leftist, oil-rich thugs carry on in the spirit of Hitler and the Klan, slandering tiny Israel to show their revolutionary credentials even as they pursue scapegoats for their own colossal failures.

Ahmadinejad, Chávez, and Gadhafi are not just regional buffoons but international dangers. Iran will probably get a few bombs soon. Gadhafi was scheming to obtain one until the Iraq war—and has the money and the anger to try again. Chávez brags that he has bought “little rockets” from Russia and now wants his own nuclear program.

The United States had better pay attention. President Obama is to be congratulated for pressing for more alternative energy and conservation to curb our imports and bring down the global price of oil, but, until we reach a new age of noncarbon fuels, we must do a much better job of exploiting the oil and coal we have. Recent large finds in Alaska, California, and North Dakota and off the Gulf Coast remind us that America has plenty of oil left. Rapid development of those deposits would lower our import bill, reduce global prices, and withhold some profits from these three repugnant regimes.

It’s clear that the problems these dictators pose and the attitudes they represent go beyond whether our president is Texan George Bush or postnational Barack Obama.

Our enemies have cash; we don’t. The United States is running a projected $2 trillion annual deficit and adding to an existing $11 trillion national debt. That makes it hard, for example, to ask rich, cocky Russia for help with Iran. Vladimir Putin’s regime is now the world’s largest oil exporter, flush with money and waiting to regain even more of its former influence when the next energy crisis hits.

China is our largest foreign creditor, financing our growing budget shortfalls at low interest. Beijing and Moscow understand that most of the world’s renegade regimes hate us more than they do Russia and China and that America is divided at home, broke, and hungry for oil.

So we have the spectacle of the United States—even with the world’s largest military—having a hard time pleading for Russian help, lecturing China to act responsibly, boycotting Iran, or isolating Gadhafi or Chávez.

It wouldn’t be this way if we produced our own energy and got our financial house in order.