Cliff May

Perhaps money can’t buy love, but it can certainly purchase power. So as oil prices have been rising, the major oil-producing nations have been gaining clout.

Petroleum is no ordinary source of wealth. It is - or has become - a strategic resource: People in the West can no longer do without it. A sudden restriction in the supply would produce wrenching changes in our way of life. Lacking fuel, our military would cease to function. In the midst of a global conflict against militant Islamist regimes and movements, that’s a problem.

Russia holds the world’s largest natural-gas reserves and the eighth-largest oil reserves — energy on which Western Europe has come to depend. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin appears to have thought long and hard about how to exploit these facts.

In the wake of Russia’s aggression against neighboring Georgia, Garry Kasparov — one of the few Russian opposition leaders not yet eliminated, incarcerated, or intimidated — asks: “Can such a belligerent state be trusted as the guarantor of Europe’s energy supply?” The question answers itself, but Europe’s politicians and bureaucrats are taking no steps that could lead toward energy security.

Meanwhile, it is clear that extending and solidifying Russia’s grip over Europe’s energy supplies is among Putin’s goals. Russian domination of Georgia will mean control over the pipeline running from Baku in Azerbaijan, to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea. That will give Russia, along with Islamist Iran, a virtual monopoly over the substantial supply of oil and gas originating in the Caspian Sea region.

President Bush and other Western leaders have been calling Russia’s assault on Georgia a mistake. Putin, who made his bones in the KGB, no doubt sees it as a calculated risk. What’s the worst that can happen to him?

The UN will do nothing because the UN is now manipulated, routinely, by its most unsavory members. NATO is not, at present, a serious military alliance, as its failure in Afghanistan — where it was supposed to take the lead — demonstrates. (Al-Qaeda and its local proxy, the Taliban, will be beaten in Afghanistan only if the U.S. military figures out how to do the job, as the U.S. military figured out — learning from mistakes — how to fight al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.)

And there is no chance that any U.S. leader will “go it alone” militarily in the Caucusus when so many Americans could not find the Caucusus on a map.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.