COL No mullahs are left behind
The Wall Street Journal ran a very, very alarming article from Iran on its front page last Tuesday. The article explained how the mullahs in Tehran -- who are now swimming in cash thanks to soaring oil prices -- rather than begging foreign investors to come into Iran, are now shunning some of them.
The article related how a Turkish mobile-phone operator, which had signed a deal with the Iranian government to launch Iran's first privately-owned cell phone network, had the contract frozen by the mullahs in the Iranian parliament because they were worried it might help the Turks and their foreign partners spy on Iran.
The Journal quoted Ali Ansari, an Iran specialist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, as saying that for 10 years analysts had been writing about Iran's need for economic reform. "In actual fact, the scenario is worse now," said Ansari. "They have all this money with the high oil price, and they don't need to do anything about reforming the economy."
Indeed, The Journal added, the conservative mullahs are feeling even more emboldened to argue that with high oil prices, Iran doesn't need Western investment capital and should feel "free to pursue its nuclear power program without interference."
This is a perfect example of the Bush energy policy at work, and the Bush energy policy is: "No Mullah Left Behind."
By adamantly refusing to do anything to improve energy conservation in America, or to phase in a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax on American drivers, or to demand increased mileage from Detroit's automakers, or to develop a crash program for renewable sources of energy, the Bush team is -- as others have noted -- financing both sides of the war on terrorism. We are financing the U.S. armed forces with our tax dollars, and, through our profligate use of energy, we are generating huge windfall profits for Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan, where the cash is used to insulate the regimes from any pressure to open up their economies, liberate their women or modernize their schools, and where it ends up instead financing madrassas, mosques and militants fundamentally opposed to the progressive, pluralistic agenda America is trying to promote. Now how smart is that?
The neocon strategy may have been necessary to trigger reform in Iraq and the wider Arab world, but it will not be sufficient unless it is followed up by what I call a "geo-green" strategy.
As a geo-green, I believe that combining environmentalism and geopolitics is the most moral and realistic strategy the United States could pursue today. Imagine if President Bush used his bully pulpit and political capital to focus the nation on sharply lowering energy consumption and embracing a gasoline tax.
What would that buy? It would buy reform in some of the worst regimes in the world, from Tehran to Moscow. It would reduce the chances that the United States and China are going to have a global struggle over oil -- which is where we are heading. It would help us to strengthen the dollar and reduce the current account deficit by importing less crude. It would reduce climate change more than anything in Kyoto. It would significantly improve America's standing in the world by making us good global citizens. It would shrink the budget deficit. It would reduce our dependence on the Saudis so we could tell them the truth. (Addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.) And it would pull China away from its drift into supporting some of the worst governments in the world, like Sudan's, because it needs their oil.
Most important, making energy independence our generation's moon shot could help inspire more young people to go into science and engineering, which we desperately need.
Sadly, the Bush team won't even consider this. It prefers cruise missiles to cruise controls. We need a grass-roots movement. Where are college kids these days? I would like to see every campus in America demand that its board of trustees disinvest from every U.S. auto company until they improve their mileage standards. Every college town needs to declare itself a "Hummer-free zone." You want to drive a gas-guzzling Humvee? Go to Iraq, not our campus.
And an idea from my wife, Ann: free parking anywhere in America for anyone driving a hybrid car.
But no, Bush has a better project: borrowing another trillion dollars, which will make us that much more dependent on countries like China and Saudi Arabia that hold our debt -- so that you might, if you do everything right and live long enough, get a few more bucks out of your Social Security account.
The president's priorities are totally nuts.
Thomas Friedman is a columnist for the New York Times.