Thomas Friedman on Oil and Democracy

Thomas Friedman describes why the US-led efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East are having unintended consequences. Excerpts below.

Source: New York Times, Addicted to Oil, by Thomas L. Friedman, February 1, 2006

So far the democracy wave the Bush team has helped to unleash in the Arab-Muslim world since Sept. 11 has brought to power hard-line Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq, Palestine and Iran, and paved the way for a record showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The Bush team’s fault was believing that it could change that — that it could break the Middle East’s addiction to authoritarianism without also breaking America’s addiction to oil. That’s the illusion here. In the Arab world, oil and authoritarianism are inextricably linked.

You cannot go from Saddam to Jefferson without going through Khomeini — without going through a phase of mosque-led politics.

Why? Because once you sweep away the dictator or king at the top of any Middle East state, you go into free fall until you hit the mosque — as the U.S. discovered in Iraq.

The mosque became an alternative power center because it was the only place the government’s iron fist could not fully penetrate. As such, it became a place where people were able to associate freely, incubate local leaders and generate a shared opposition ideology.

That is why the minute any of these Arab countries hold free and fair elections, the Islamists burst ahead.

Why are there not more independent, secular, progressive opposition parties running in these places? Because the Arab leaders won’t allow them to sprout.

It is not this way everywhere. In East Asia, when the military regimes in countries like Taiwan and South Korea broke up, these countries quickly moved toward civilian democracies. Why? Because they had vibrant free markets, with independent economic centers of power, and no oil.

In the Arab-Muslim world, however, the mullah dictators in Iran and the secular dictators elsewhere have been able to sustain themselves in power much longer, without ever empowering their people, without ever allowing progressive parties to emerge, because they had oil or its equivalent — massive foreign aid. Only when oil is back down to $20 a barrel will the transition from Saddam to Jefferson not get stuck in "Khomeini Land."

If you just remove the dictators, and don’t also bring down the price of oil, you end up with Iran — with mullah dictators replacing military dictators and using the same oil wealth to keep their people quiet and themselves in power.

In the Middle East, oil and democracy do not mix. It’s not an accident that the Arab world’s first and only true democracy — Lebanon — never had a drop of oil.

Injured Playing with the Orange Retriever on Groundhog Day

Sweetie retrieves 1 I was injured at work. That may seem strange for someone who works from a home office, in front of a computer all day. But I could hardly sleep from the pain. Here’s how it happened.

I share my office with a retriever. I know people who have golden retrievers; we have an orange retriever.

This retriever likes to retrieve a small plastic toy. A smart inventor, who understands what cats like, can sell these little pieces of plastic (Cat Crazies) for about a 1000 percent markup because cats go crazy playing with them.

Sweetieretrieves2Our orange retriever, Sweetie Wildcat (her last name reflect her origin as a feral kitten, rescued from a fast food restaurant parking lot — but that’s another story), likes to retrieve Crazies. She comes to my desk, drops a Crazy on the floor by my chair, and whimpers until I throw it through the door of my office into the hall. She sprints after it, bats it around for a moment, picks it up, sprints back, drops it on the floor by my chair, and whimpers. She has the energy and impatience of most adolescents, and the fun is contagious and enjoyable.

Sweetieretrieves3 Without interference, we’ll repeat this process for 30-40 minutes, until Sweetie decides it’s time for a nap. Often we get interference in the form of Mist, our husky Himilayian-Siamese cat who hides just outside the door and leaps at the Crazy as it flies by. Mist and Sweetie scramble for the Crazy — if Mist gets it, she’ll will run off with it and Sweetie loses her toy. If Sweetie gets it, she’ll bring it back to run the gauntlet again.

Recently, I discovered that if I execute a hard and accurate toss, I can land the Crazy on our stairs, where it bounces downstairs chased by the orange retriever. Eventually Sweetie will catch the Crazy, play with it, and bring it back. I like the challenge of hitting the target with my throw. Sweetie likes the action of the Crazy bouncing down the steps. Unfortunately, a Crazy weighs almost nothing, so throwing it the 35 feet to the steps requires a big throwing action with precise aim.

Sweetieretrieves4 On this particular day, I woke up with a slight kink in my back that felt like a small knife stuck into the muscle under my right shoulder blade — I ignored it. Sweetie came around in the morning and we had a good retrieving session, with no interference from Mist. I was learning how to control the flight of the Crazy and was enjoying the effort of throwing it to the stairs. In the mid afternoon we spent about 30 minutes throwing and retrieving. Afterward, Sweetie fell asleep in the bed in the corner of my office and I worked.

At about 4pm I got up and felt a startling jolt of pain from a muscle in my back. I then realized that the hard throws from my office chair had stressed a muscle in my back — after I had ignored the warning from the small pain in the morning. Throwing while sitting in my office chair negates any power from my lower body and puts my shoulders perpendicular to the line of the throw, which is an unnatural motion. This stresses a large muscle under my right shoulder blade (torn in a kayaking injury on the Chatooga in 1982). The hard throws inflamed the muscle and I needed several days of hot-cold therapy on that area in my back.

And that’s how I got injured playing with the orange retriever.