Thomas Friedman: Gas Tax Needed

A gas tax? Get real, Tom. Conservation and self-sacrifice are anathema to our boy-president.

Driving Toward Middle East Nukes in Our S.U.V.’s
Published: February 10, 2006

The world stands today at a very dangerous dividing line. It is the dividing line between the post-cold-war world, which we have known since 1989 — one of expanding democracy and free markets — and a post-post-cold-war world, which is unknown but almost certain to be a much less stable, prosperous and benign place.

I believe the questions that will determine whether we enter the post-post-cold-war world will come down to two: how India, China and Russia deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and how the West, particularly America, deals with $60-a-barrel oil.

Let me explain: if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and possibly other Sunni Arab states are bound to follow. The Sunni Arabs can overlook Israel’s bomb, but they will never stand for the Persian Shiites having a bomb and them not. That’s about brothers with a centuries-old rivalry. And if the Arab world starts to go nuclear, then you will see the crumbling of the whole global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

A world with so many nuclear powers, particularly in its primary oil-producing region, could only be a more dangerous and unstable place, compared with the post-cold-war world. Imagine Iran with $60-a-barrel oil to make all the mischief it wants, and a nuclear weapon to shield it from any retaliation. Indeed, if you want to know what the post-post-cold-war world would sound like, listen to Iran’s poisonous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was quoted in The Guardian of London the other day as saying: “Our enemies cannot do a damn thing. We do not need you at all. But you are in need of the Iranian nation.”

I’m convinced that the only countries capable of getting Iran to back down — through diplomacy — are China, India and Russia. Europe is too weak, and America has already used every economic sanction it can on Iran. China, India and Russia have been great beneficiaries of the post-cold-war order, and the trade, economic development and exports it has made possible. That order was largely shaped and safeguarded by the United States, with China, India and Russia often getting a free ride.

But that order will continue only if China, India and Russia get over their reluctance to get too close to America and become real stakeholders in maintaining this post-cold-war world.

I want to share power and responsibility with them — starting with the three of them, which represent half of humanity, looking Iran in the eye and telling its leadership that they will join in any and all U.N. sanctions if Iran tries to build an A-bomb. That would get Tehran’s attention.

As for America, its leadership task has shifted. If the Bush team continues to let Dick Cheney set its oil policy — one that will keep America dependent on crude oil — the post-cold-war democracy movement that was unleashed by the fall of the Berlin Wall will be either aborted, diluted or reversed. If regimes like those in Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Burma, Sudan and Nigeria have the benefit of 10 years of $60-a-barrel oil, whatever democratic tide President Bush thinks he is unleashing will be stymied. The worst regimes in the world will have the most power to support the most regressive political and religious trends.

I don’t approve of the Danish newspaper cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Yes, you can see much worse in the Arab-Muslim press on any day. But why should the West get into that gutter? What I approve of even less are the blatant efforts to intimidate the world media that have printed these cartoons — an intimidation effort cynically fueled by Iran, Syria and its theocratic allies. What do you think will happen after a few more years of $60-a-barrel oil? You will see a radical arc from Iran to Syria to Hezbollah to Hamas — all financed by Iran — intimidating every moderate in the Muslim world.

A British official recalled for me that in 1946, the British foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, remarked, “Give me 100,000 tons of coal and I will give you a foreign policy.” What he meant was, Give me the energy source to heat the homes and run the businesses of Europe, and I will give you a rebuilt Europe.

Well, I say, Give me even $30-a-barrel oil and I will give you an Iranian regime that is a lot less smug — an Iran that will need to be tied into the world much more in order to create real jobs for its exploding population.

That’s why we need an urgent national effort, starting with a gasoline tax, to move the U.S. economy onto a path of more fuel-efficient cars and renewable energy. If we do it, everyone will follow.

If we don’t, then say hello to the post-post-cold-war world and say goodbye to the post-cold-war world. It was fun while it lasted

The Discussion: 4 Comments

I wonder how many barrels of Saudi oil have been burned by patriotic Americans searching for Danish products to buy.

I’m all for “buycotting” Ecco shoes and havarti, but let’s face it: it’s a pretty hollow gesture if it requires extra driving.

Wanna fight the Islamo-fascists? Buy a bike and ride it. Or put on those new Ecco shoes (an excellent product; I rarely wear anything else) and walk somewhere you’d normally drive.

February 10, 2006 @ 3:02 am | Comment

Damn, I miss your comments

February 10, 2006 @ 4:57 am | Comment

And did you see the google ad it generated for Ecco shoes!

February 10, 2006 @ 4:58 am | Comment


Honestly, I love Ecco shoes. They’re so comfortable. So much better than anything you’ll find at, say, Wal*Mart. Even if they’re not actually made in Denmark anymore (my current pair were made in Slovakia or someplace, I think).

They’re not cheap or stylish, but then again, neither am I. 🙂

February 10, 2006 @ 2:23 pm | Comment

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