High oil prices allow governments of petro-dictators to eliminate large swaths of jobs in their economies. When the primary export of the country is oil, a diversity of jobs simply isn't necessary. The ruling class receives more than enough money to sustain itself and it increases its influence among the populace through the distribution of oil revenues. As long as the money flows, there is no need to establish a flourishing free market or encourage entrepreneurialism. Not surprisingly, these countries lack a healthy middle class.
High oil prices have had a negative influence on more than the petrolist states. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, high oil prices enable authorities to fund radical Islamic sects that seek to advance their extreme form of Islam through violence. These extremists—enabled by oil money—produce the terrorist organizations that now threaten the West. Massive oil funding is producing massive conversions to radical Islam among Muslim youth. Ironically, America's chronic dependence on oil is funding their outreach.
Shrinking the financial base of radical Islamists will reduce the likelihood that we will have to send troops to engage them on fighting fields in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. That sounds good to me. My son will soon be returning for a second tour in Iraq to continue to fight in a war started because of a petro-dictator. Many other soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan, fighting Islamic extremists who gained a cultural foothold through oil revenues. It may sound strange to say that the gasoline we consume on a daily basis is funding terrorism and increasing the cost of the war on terror, but it is true. These dictators have no other major export than the oil we consume. More oil revenues for these brigands means less freedom for their countrymen, and a greater threat to our freedom.
So what's the solution? America must reduce its demand for foreign oil. Doing so will be a long process, but the current recession presents us with a golden opportunity. Gas prices dropped quickly last autumn when Americans felt the pinch of high gas prices and changed their traveling habits. When the price of oil drops markedly, the grip of petro-dictators is loosened. If we continue to keep our demand low and pursue renewable forms of energy, we can slowly but surely wean ourselves off our dependence on petrolist countries.
You don't have to be a tree-hugger to see the merits of Friedman's argument. If we really believe in freedom and peace, then we should give heed to Friedman's observations. If he's right, we can promote freedom, discourage terrorism, and, perhaps, even help mother earth in the process. Where's the harm in that?
Undoubtably, some of my fellow conservatives will find fault with Friedman's analysis simply because he's not a conservative. Conservatives have long battled against the more extreme forms of environmentalism, so it is all too easy to experience a knee-jerk reaction when someone calls for reducing our dependence on foreign oil. But conservatives need to take seriously the problems presented by this dependency and work hard to come up with solutions. The solutions won't be easy, so along with Kermit the Frog we may have to acknowledge, "It's not easy being green."