The Price of Oil and the Pace of Freedom

One of the Administration’s key goals has been democratization. Since most of the world’s oil is controlled by dictatorships, that goal stands in stark conflict with high oil prices. Listen to this NPR segment from 2005 (when oil price was about half what it is today) titled Analysts See U.S. Goals and Global Oil Needs in Conflict (if you’ve been keeping track of the Set America Free Coalition’s work you will have heard this already, but it’s brief and worth another listen.)

Thomas Friedman’s Discovery Channel documentary “Addicted to Oil” (featuring the Coalition) elaborated on the conflict between democratization and expensive oil, calling it  The First Law of Petropolitics: “The price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states. According to the First Law of Petropolitics, the higher the average global crude oil price rises, the more free speech, free press, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and independent political parties are eroded. And these negative trends are reinforced by the fact that the higher the price goes, the less petrolist leaders are sensitive to what the world thinks or says about them. Conversely, according to the First Law of Petropolitics, the lower the price of oil, the more petrolist countries are forced to move toward a political system and a society that is more transparent, more sensitive to opposition voices, and more focused on building the legal and educational structures that will maximize their people’s ability, both men’s and women’s, to compete, start new companies, and attract investments from abroad. The lower the price of crude oil falls, the more petrolist leaders are sensitive to what outside forces think of them.”

Reviewing Freedom House‘s 2008 edition of its annual Freedom in the World report, the Wall Street Journal agrees: “Whereas once the economic inadequacy of communism spelled the eventual doom for Eastern Europe’s totalitarians, today oil wealth could perpetuate authoritarians indefinitely if free nations let it. ”

We are addicted to oil; authoritarian suppliers are addicted to petrodollars. It’s well past time to change the equation.

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