Weaning the United States off oil certainly sounds like a worthy goal, but today’s Tom Friedman column on the subject—a column he’s recycled on several occasions—gets a bit off track when he tries to make the national security case for energy independence: “[W]e are in a war. It is a war against open societies mounted by Islamo-fascists, who are nurtured by mosques, charities and madrasas preaching an intolerant brand of Islam and financed by medieval regimes sustained by our oil purchases.” Well, regardless of what you think of all this, we’re simply not going to drain the Saudi coffers and bleed terrorism dry by driving our hybrids to work: the extra oil we don’t use will just get slurped up by China or India or any number of other developing countries with a growing demand for energy.
Perhaps a better way to think about energy independence and national security, as Joseph Braude pointed out several months ago, would involve weaning other Middle Eastern countries off oil. Most countries in the region, after all, are quickly depleting their own reserves, which means that they’ll need to rely, increasingly, on good old Saudi crude. But an increasing reliance on Saudi crude comes with strings attached: oil-needy countries like Jordan and Lebanon often feel the pressure to turn a blind eye to the Saudi-financed Wahhabi mosques that proliferate within their own borders, which simply helps spread that “intolerant brand of Islam” that Friedman’s concerned about. Ending this cycle of dependency seems much more feasible, and perhaps more effective from a national security standpoint.
On the other hand, let’s not kid ourselves; Saudi Arabia will be getting rich off oil sales for a long, long time, regardless of what we do, so pretending that some “geo-green” strategy can end the flow of funds to radical mosques, charities, and medrasas, is a bit wishful. At the same time, though, if Friedman really wants to insist on making a bad argument in pursuit of a worthy goal, well, he can go right ahead.