For at least 25 years, it has been an article of faith in American policy circles that Persian Gulf oil was vital to American national security. This belief undergirds the so-called special relationship with Saudi Arabia and other repressive, corrupt states in the Middle East.
To guarantee the supply of Persian Gulf oil, the United States has winked at corruption, refrained from promoting democracy and free markets, ignored escalating evidence of putrid anti-Americanism, and bullied its ally Israel, the only democracy in the region. Turkey was once called "the sick man of Europe." The Arab world is today the "sick man" of the globe, with lower growth rates than even sub-Saharan Africa.
With terrifying suddenness, we now recognize that the regimes upon which we have gambled so much are extremely unstable, as well as treacherous (Saudi Arabia has been secretly funding bin Laden and the Islamo-fascists for years) -- and that their likely replacements are our worst nightmares.
Osama bin Laden has a huge following in his native Saudi Arabia and throughout the Arab world. American and British ground forces had better find and kill him because if he is able to escape to Mecca, our big problem would metastasize into something even more frightening. We could not touch him there. It would be unthinkable for America to bomb Mecca. And his presence in the capital of Islam might ignite a revolution that would engulf Saudi Arabia and the whole Gulf region.
Osama bin Laden fancies himself the next Saladin, an Islamic conqueror. He doesn't want to triumph in Saudi Arabia, just to purify it of American soldiers, but also because he believes that with the oil weapon in hand he can strangle the West.
Paul Michael Wihbey, a scholar at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, argues that the oil weapon is no weapon at all. Not anymore. The world is awash in oil. It is estimated that Saudi Arabia has 270 billion barrels in oil reserves. Canada and Venezuela each have more than a trillion. (Much of that is heavy oil, but modern techniques can refine it.) Russia and the North Sea produce 7 million barrels a day each, compared with Saudi Arabia's 8 million. And the United States imports as much from the Guinea Gulf in Africa as from Saudi Arabia. There are massive oil deposits under the Grand Banks in Canada, in Mexico and in Indonesia, to say nothing of off-shore supplies in Florida and California, as well as the north slope of Alaska.
The United States can very easily do without Middle East oil, which accounts for 25 percent of total oil imports (provided we are not castrated by our own environmentalists). Why then have we behaved as if they have us over an oil barrel? Only in the Arab world has America failed to urge the kind of political and economic reforms we have lustily encouraged in Central and South America, Africa and Asia.
Bin Laden would conquer the Arab world for Islamo-fascism. America must have an alternative that it is dead serious about creating. "Someone," Wihbey warns, pointing to the arbitrary lines drawn by European powers in Arabian sand following the First World War, "is going to redraw that map."
We know what an Islamo-fascist map would look like, and it chills the soul: degradation of women, aggressive ignorance, poverty, violence, xenophobia, genocide against Israel and nuclear weapons. This is not far-fetched.
A Pax Americana would build on the two democracies of the region -- Israel and Turkey, and extend to Tunisia, Jordan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In some cases, a regime change will be necessary (as in Syria and Afghanistan). In other cases, we can build on the pro-Turkish segments and sentiments within Moslem countries. Turkey is the best argument we have that a Moslem nation can be free, reasonably prosperous and modern.
But in any case, we cannot build a decent future for the region until we have utterly defeated the extremists -- and confronted the mistakes that brought us to this terrible moment.