Monday, March 14, 2011

America: Arab Dictators' Willing Hostage

by Mudar Zahran

The US has been tolerating many with the worst record on human rights, while at the same time allowing them to jeopardize the economic stability of the average American, who has to feel the pain at the gas pump, the local store, and the stock market. Such oil-driven economic blackmail has resulted in the America being held hostage to the policies and even the whims of Arab oil dictators.

While some oil-producing states, like Qatar, have achieved impressive modernization and development through its oil wealth, it is the main source whipping of anti-Western and anti-Semitic hate through its TV station, Al-Jazeera. Nonetheless, in most Arab oil states, the people have not achieved any advantage from the decades-long increase in oil prices: development has remained poor and salaries low, while their rulers grew richer and more indifferent, all resulting in an even stronger anger directed towards the rulers, which they shrewdly try [to] divert through their controlled media towards the US and Israel. So, the "secure" flow of oil comes with a guaranteed rise in radicalism among Arab people, undermining US national security.

Qaddafi, the weakening Libyan tyrant, is a crude example of how fragile and problematic it is for the US to depend on dictator-controlled oil; Qaddafi is now slaughtering the very people he has impoverished, and doing it with weapons he has acquired with Libya's oil wealth, all under the watchful eyes of oil-ban-terrified Western countries.

As if the overwhelming global economic crisis were not enough, the US now has to face even higher oil prices from the political unrest sweeping Arab countries -- posing the risk of a double-dip recession. With Libya being a major oil producer, global oil markets have fallen under fears that more Arab oil-producers could be next in line. The fear is justified: protests have hit the usually quiet Kingdom of Bahrain where they have been causing more concerns than their Libyan counterparts: the kingdom neighbours all major oil producers of the Gulf states. In addition, the protesters have been demanding more civil rights for the Shiite majority, ruled by a Sunni minority -- opening the door for more sectarian unrest in the gulf region. At the same time, protesters in Oman have taken to the street against the Western-educated Sultan Qabous, who has been ruling for decades, unchallenged; and Algeria has been undergoing similar unrest.

It is hard to estimate to what extent this pattern will develop; Standard & Poor's, the credit-rating agency, has reported that all Middle Eastern and North African countries were not immune to the political unrest. Such uncertainty will bring more woes to major oil consumers, particularly the US and Europe, as those have forged historical alliances in the Middle East and North Africa, many if which revolve around the secure and guaranteed flow of oil supplies. Such alliances have proven beneficial to the ruling regimes in the Arab world; their dictatorships and control of their countries' wealth have been tolerated and overlooked by the US and its Western allies.

Such an unholy marriage has proven to be more harmful to the US and its democratic allies than ever thought. In 1973, Arab oil producing countries stopped exporting oil to the US and Israel's Western allies, resulting in an worst energy crisis, and sending oil prices skyrocketing to $160 a barrel. That experience failed to motivate consecutive American administrations to re-examine their Middle Eastern alliances, nor to considering alternative energy sources.

The US's blind gamble on the goodwill and stability of Arab oil dictators became most visible in the wake of 9-11 terrorist attacks. With Americans politicians and media raising concerns about fragile friendships with Arab states supporting and exporting radicalism, the US rushed into forgiving and forgetting the role many Arab oil producers played in recruiting, financing radicals and Islamists. George W. Bush's administration acknowledged that those dictatorships were one of the reasons young men from oil rich countries were turning turn to terrorism; nonetheless, the Bush Administration failed to take any step beyond issuing press releases about the issue, and even set a horrifying bad example by utterly forgiving Colonel Gaddafi for his crimes and terror possibly to persuade him to give up his nuclear program. and possibly to assure one more "secure" oil source. Aside from that, what President Bush did not address was America's dependency on oil itself, or any methods to set the US free from it.

In his ideological "Green Book," in which he describes his "vision for the world," Qaddafi says, "In (overcoming) one's needs, there lies freedom" -- perhaps the only of the colonel's concepts that the US can apply, at least to its oil needs. The US should actively seek, in a new "Manhattan Project," alternative policies and scientific innovations to free itself from economic and political slavery to Arab oil dictators.

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Mudar Zahran

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