What do these four governments have in common at the moment?

The Chavez regime in Venezuela

The Putin – Medvedev regime in Russia

The Khamenei and Ahmadinejad clique in Iran,

The former military regimes and the new Yar’adua civilian regime in Nigeria

Look at these current approximate oil production figures in millions of barrels per day:

Russia 12.87

Saudi Arabia 8.91

Iran 3.87

Iraq 2.50

U. A. E. 2.66

Kuwait 2.34

Nigeria 1.90

With the exception of Russia, the oil extraction and processing technology was supplied by Euro-American technology and personnel.

Each country has a history of expropriation of its oil assets, placing them under the direct political control of a ruling clique or regime.

With two notable regime exceptions (and two almost-exceptions), each country has a history of oil revenue funded mischief in the region.

The two major exceptions are the United Arab Emirates (an atypically diverse Arab country ruled by a hereditary presidency that has developed a strong manufacturing base) and Kuwait (a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament), neither of which have a history of Islamic fanaticism, although Kuwait improvidently took Iraq’s side in its long war with Iran.

The two almost-exceptions are:

[1] Iraq – because of the currently benign regime change, reversing a strikingly robust history of oil-fueled mischief; and

[2] Saudi Arabia which is a nominally friendly non-democratic family oligarchy, the ruling clan of which is thoroughly corrupted by wealth and infiltrated by a simmering subset of angry Islamists who have used the Wahhabi ideology to promote terrorism.

The greed and power lures that inhabit the darker side of the human psyche always seek to exploit openings in our economic and political arrangements. Money buys power, military technology, amoral atomic scientists, missiles, and more. Easy money almost guarantees this will happen given enough time.

Greed is usually mitigated by economic failure. But power lures are only contained via internal checks and balances, by starvation or by outright defeat. When the internal checks are ineffective, starvation works better than defeat in the long run, although sometimes it happens too slowly and hurts too many innocent people.

The American political design (the genius of which is the product of a perfect storm of 18th century character, courage and worldly wisdom) seeks to divide power against itself. But ideologies and religious fanaticisms tend to work in the opposite direction. The psychological dynamics of bruised resurgent nationalism (think post Versailles Germany and post-soviet Russia) can operate in exactly the same dangerous way.

When an expropriated money-well falls into the exclusive, plenary control of any governing clique, the effect is like tossing firearms into a drunken mob. Sober reflection and ethical debate is a rare exception. The lust for hegemony is nearly irresistible.

Without internal checks and balances we are left to the external ones. While no single nation can afford (and we shouldn’t attempt) to take up arms at every difficulty, injustice and evil in the world, the naiveté of the policy pacifist is the path to ultimate enslavement. [Note I identified policy pacifism, not individual pacifism. We need not all be warriors, but we all need warriors as well as healers.]

This is because human nature is not perfect. There will always be thugs who seek to lord it over the weak and innocent. They will not police themselves. They are not frightened of the UN. They do not quail before diplomats.

As Thomas Jefferson put it—“Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every Free State”. I would update Jefferson’s advice to accommodate the realities of the 21st century’s high-tech military as follows:

If we are to remain free, we need to be in an increasingly free world. Therefore every citizen of a Free State must be a soldier or the soldier’s friend: The active support of robust, effective armed forces capable, ready and willing to do what is necessary to keep freedom alive and well is the obligation of every citizen. Both tyranny and liberty are contagious, but only liberty, protected by wise internal political arrangements, can inoculate against tyranny. If liberty does not spread, then tyranny will. We can’t remain free ourselves if we are not its champion.


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