Don't Blame America for Muslim Dictatorships
September 19, 2002
by Dennis T. Avery
Is America’s oil consumption blocking democracy in the Muslim world?
Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, says an Indian Muslim leader recently told him that Muslims don’t hate America. “They hate that you are monopolizing all the nonrenewable resources (oil). And because you want to do that, you need to keep in power all your collaborators. As a consequence, you support feudal elements who are trying to stave off the march of democracy,” Friedman says he was told by Syed Shahabuddin.
Friedman says the Bush administration has failed to protect the Muslim road to democracy because it has “not lifted a finger to make us, or the Arab-Islamic world, less dependent on oil.”
Muslim democracy? I seem to recall the U.S. stopping Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from annexing not only Kuwait, but also Saudi Arabia and whatever other parts of the oil-rich (and Muslim) Middle East he could drag under his despotic rule.
Saddam is not a democratic leader. U.S. police are called harsh for using tear gas, but Saddam prefers to use poison gas on his dissidents.
Nor does the U.S. need “collaborators” to sell us oil. Even Saddam and Muammar Khaddafi cheerfully sell oil to anyone with cash. The Middle East can’t use the oil it produces, and has no major source of income other than oil exports—no matter who’s in power.
It is unfortunate—but no accident—that so much mineral wealth has been associated with bad government. The problem is that minerals generate lots of money with only a few workers. Thus the elite can be rich without worrying about the common people.
It’s harder to have mineral wealth and good government in the same country, as demonstrated not only by oil in the Middle East but also by oil in Nigeria and Venezuela, by oil and diamonds in Angola, and by vast treasures of oil, gold and diamonds in the old Soviet Union. Does Friedman blame America for all those bad governments too?
President Bush has offered a major proposal to ease our reliance on Muslim oil: drilling for the apparently-major American oil deposits offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve. (Even the Audubon Society leases oil drilling in its nature preserves.)
Alternatively, the U.S. could shift to much heavier dependence on our huge coal deposits, using the new clean-burning technologies. If Mr. Friedman is worried about greenhouse gases, he should explain why. All the global warming in the last hundred years
occurred before 1940—and thus before any sizable emissions of greenhouse gases.
Solar and wind power are renewable, but it’s horribly expensive to harness them for consumers. The Tennessee Valley Authority says it can generate electricity at coal-fired plants for less than two cents per kilowatt hour. Wind power costs the TVA six to 11 cents. Solar power costs the TVA a whopping 60 cents per kilowatt hour!
If America tied itself to solar cells which are not only erratic (nighttime, cloudy weather) but 30 times as expensive as China’s coal power, where would most of tomorrow’s jobs be created? Europe’s high energy taxes are a big reason Europe has created virtually no new non-government jobs in recent decades. That’s why Europe wants the U.S. to join the Kyoto Protocol and thus triple American energy prices.
Wind and solar “farms” would also take huge amounts of land away from wildlife. To replace one conventional 1,000-megawatt power plant that occupies perhaps twenty acres, we’d need to take over perhaps 200,000 acres on which to spread 2,000 huge wind turbines. (The turbines have to be kept clear of each others’ propwash.) Moreover, wind farms average only 30 percent productivity, so we’d need to clear 600,000 acres of forest or wild meadow to even theoretically replace that one coal-fired plant. (We’d also have to keep the coal-fed plant operational for those rare periods when the winds died down all across the nation.)
The eco-groups themselves aren’t really serious about wind power. The Sierra Club is opposing a modest new shoal-water wind power facility proposed for Nantucket Sound—in Massachusetts, a power-deficit state which currently imports electricity from eco-hateful hydroelectric dams.
Americans can’t protect themselves from any of the world’s big dangers—including winter’s cold, grinding poverty, Muslim terrorists, or wildlife habitat losses—unless we’re realistic.
This article appeared in the Knight-Ridder Tribune on September 6, 2002, and is reprinted with permission.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.