Geo-Greens No! Geo-Neo Yes!
Yes, there is an alternative to the Euro-wimps and the neocons, and it is the "geo-greens." I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil - by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power - we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. All these regimes have huge population bubbles and too few jobs. They make up the gap with oil revenues. Shrink the oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It is that simple.
By refusing to rein in U.S. energy consumption, the Bush team is not only depriving itself of the most effective lever for promoting internally driven reform in the Middle East, it is also depriving itself of any military option. As Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, points out, given today's tight oil market and current U.S. consumption patterns, any kind of U.S. strike on Iran, one of the world's major oil producers, would send the price of oil through the roof, causing real problems for our economy. "Our own energy policy has tied our hands," Mr. Haass said.
The Bush team's laudable desire to promote sustained reform in the Middle East will never succeed unless it moves from neocon to geo-green.
The idea seems to have faded quickly, but it is batting around on some greenie sites still.
The main strong international policy benefit of Friendman's theory isn't ennunciated: Depriving the petro-despots of their cash flow reduces their ability to spend big on the technology and weapons of mass destruction. There's a domestic benefit as well because the creation of alternative energy sources in America means more American jobs and more dollars staying at home. Plus, conservation is just a good thing: It's the biblical concept of stewardship.
Friedman's perceived big benefit, democratization, is implausible at best. Even $18 a barrel oil will create enough profits to sate the wild desires of the petro-despots, who never have been terribly concerned about the human comforts of those they rule. It is more likely that Friedman's theory will lead to no greater freedoms and much greater poverty in the Middle East oil states.
Unless, of course, aggressive US conservation is coupled with aggressive US promotion of democracy. So it's a Geo-Neo approach that will really work. Save the planet, free the planet.
Oh, and don't wait for Geo-Green to capture the hearts of the environmental movement. They will fight it tooth and nail because it requires more domestic drilling and more nuclear power, in addition to more efficient transportation systems.