Victor Davis Hanson

With the gruesome killing of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, Vladimir Putin's Russia stands accused of poisoning yet another critic.

Meanwhile, Syria continues to mastermind the murders of Lebanese democrats. Israeli-free Gaza is as violent as ever. Hezbollah is busy replenishing its stock of Iranian missiles. The theocracy in Iran keeps promising an end to Israel. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is slowly strangling democracy in Latin America in a manner that an impoverished Fidel Castro never could.

And then, of course, there's Afghanistan and Iraq.

It's easy to think that all of this violent instability across the globe is unconnected. But, in fact, in one way or another, oil and its huge profits are at the bottom of a lot of it.

Islamic jihadists, fed from petrodollar wealth of the Middle East, have the cash to arm and plan operations from Baghdad and Kabul to Madrid and London. Thanks to oil, unhinged leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran and Chavez in Venezuela can stay in power (and demand the world's attention) despite policies that ultimately harm their people, ruin their economies and imperil their neighbors.

Russia, meanwhile, is essentially threatening Eastern Europe with energy cutbacks and reviving the old Soviet nuclear and arms industries. It's stirring up an already volatile Middle East by selling radical Islamists everything from nuclear reactors to high-tech anti-tank guns. President Bush may have seen, as he attests, something reassuring in the heart of President Putin. But Russia's new oil riches offer a fast track back to superpower status — which we're already seeing them use to silence critics at home and abroad.

Furthermore, the global thirst for oil distorts interstate relations. Take the case of China. Its amoral foreign policy is aimed mostly at securing petroleum. Because Beijing is involved in long-term oil deals with Sudan, it's reluctant to join the West in pressuring the corrupt Sudanese government to cease the genocide in Darfur. (Of course, the West, beholden to China for economic reasons, is in turn reluctant to pressure China.) Similarly, China worries far more about getting its hands on Iran's oil than stopping its nuclear proliferation.

The U.S. is often subject to the same blackmail. Take away its need for imported oil and American officials long ago would have ceased visiting Saudi Arabia — a monarchy based on sharia law and the cash nexus for Islamist madrassas and Wahhabi terrorism. Rather than appeasing a few hundred sheiks in the Gulf, American presidents — both Democratic and Republican — might have instead worried more about the poor millions slaughtered in Chad, Darfur, Ethiopia and Rwanda.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.