Thomas Friedman Defines Petrolism

Below are some excerpts from an essay: The New Red, White and Blue by Thomas L. Friedman (The New York Times January 6, 2006).

Link: Politics and Practice :: Chelsea Green Publishing.

What’s so disturbing about President Bush and Dick Cheney is that they talk tough about the necessity of invading Iraq, torturing terror suspects and engaging in domestic spying – all to defend our way of life and promote democracy around the globe.

But when it comes to what is actually the most important issue in U.S. foreign and domestic policy today – making ourselves energy efficient and independent, and environmentally green – they ridicule it as something only liberals, tree-huggers and sissies believe is possible or necessary.

Sorry, but being green, focusing the nation on greater energy efficiency and conservation, is not some girlie-man issue. It is actually the most tough-minded, geostrategic, pro-growth and patriotic thing we can do. Living green is not for sissies. Sticking with oil, and basically saying that a country that can double the speed of microchips every 18 months is somehow incapable of innovating its way to energy independence – that is for sissies, defeatists and people who are ready to see American values eroded at home and abroad. Living green is not just a "personal virtue," as Mr. Cheney says. It’s a national security imperative.

The biggest threat to America and its values today is not communism, authoritarianism or Islamism. It’s petrolism. Petrolism is my term for the corrupting, antidemocratic governing practices – in oil states from Russia to Nigeria and Iran – that result from a long run of $60-a-barrel oil. Petrolism is the politics of using oil income to buy off one’s citizens with subsidies and government jobs, using oil and gas exports to intimidate or buy off one’s enemies, and using oil profits to build up one’s internal security forces and army to keep oneself ensconced in power, without any transparency or checks and balances.

When a nation’s leaders can practice petrolism, they never have to tap their people’s energy and creativity; they simply have to tap an oil well. And therefore politics in a petrolist state is not about building a society or an educational system that maximizes its people’s ability to innovate, export and compete. It is simply about who controls the oil tap.

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