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Appeasing an Arab Autocrat

After yesterday’s magnificent performance in front of the Knesset assailing “the false comfort of appeasement,” President Bush is in Saudi Arabia today to appease an Arab autocrat. Over tea, during meals, at a horse farm, our leader is humbling the United States.

He’s nominally there to celebrate 75 years of relations between Washington and Riyadh, but the real topic is the price of oil, which jumped more than three dollars today to hit a record high of $127.82 a barrel. For the second time this year, Bush has made a trip to the Saudi kingdom, which possesses the world’s largest reserves of this commodity, to ask King Abdullah to pump more of it. For the second time this year the monarch will politely refuse.

That does not mean that the Saudi will not take the offerings Bush has carried with him. The Kingdom will gladly accept American assistance to build a civilian nuclear energy program for the House of Saud, but this is not nearly sufficient to overcome its overwhelming interest in charging as high a price for oil as international markets will bear.

As we have seen, there is a high correlation between the possession of oil and authoritarianism. And at least for the foreseeable future, global economic development will only drive hydrocarbon prices higher. That means, if the world continues along its present course, democracies will become beholden to dictatorships, as today’s meeting in Riyadh suggests. If we want to avoid the spectacle of another president going hat in hand to Saudi Arabia–or worse, Russia, Venezuela, or Iran–then we have only one real option. We will, in short, need to further develop our own energy resources. We don’t need to achieve complete energy independence; we just need to do enough to affect prices at the margin.

So let’s be realistic. Appeasing oil producers, especially those who stand behind the OPEC cartel, is a dead end. The President can go to Riyadh seven more times before his term is out, and he still will not be able to convince the Saudis to drop prices. The solution to the energy crisis is within our own borders–and not in some horse farm in the middle of a faraway desert.


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