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ghanistan, Hiroshima, arms to questionable emerging "republics," and other effects of our longtime progressive stance, simply because freedom has appeared to reign as a result when viewed from a distance, would be to make a major accounting assumption and possibly a grievous error.

In addition, to isolate such countries as the Soviet Union from the rest of the world in questions of democracy and dictatorship is problematic, because the Soviet Union was never in a vacuum. If it were on an island, cut off from world opinion and media (as it attempted but failed), and were not hounded by the Western powers (who were justifiably terrified at the prospect of being absorbed), things might have been different. One could argue that the Soviet Union's greatest error was its expansionist policies in preference to one of strict isolationism. No country exists in a vacuum. It is perpetually exposed to outside influences. Therefore, its policies are hardly the only ideas shaping its future. In fact, the contrast between its policies and those of its neighbors seems to be what causes much of the dialectical strife.

To the main point, if we don't have a balance sheet on hand, I contend it would be better to err on the side of caution and conservatism in terms of the overall laissez-faire argument, particularly as it applies to trade in this case.

I highly recommend a book which you may already have read, and which I am finishing now in context with Saudi Arabia and the current Middle East problems: Pierre Terzian, L'Etonnant Histoire de l'OPEP (OPEC: The Inside Story). It is from the mid-1980s, but it is an excellent book and much of it is topical today, as it explains many of our East-West conflicts in terms of the petroleum resource. It documented, perhaps for the first time in the open, certain strategic stances and methods of trickery practiced by the U.S. to control oil markets.

My thesis, which I litmus-tested on a gang of unusually impolite Texas-style bunker libertarians last week, has been that the princely Wahabite sons of Saudi Arabia and their confidants have been perhaps the world's greatest per-capita beneficiaries of our insatiable thirst for oil these past 30 to 40 years. It is with this thesis in mind that I am reading Terzian's book and coming to the prospect that -- setting the ecological problem aside for the moment -- our excessive consumption habits may have fueled the largest terrorist network since, say, Genghis Khan's Golden Horde, while the relative benefit may have been less than we are willing to acknowledge. I refer you to another article, “Economic fate again in Saudi hands,” by Chris Byron, which you may have read.

If, hypothetically speaking, we and our parents had been more frugal and settled for approximately half the gasoline consumption in our lifetimes, we might have been able to keep consumption within the bounds of "splendid isolation" rather than have to deal with the Middle East and suffer consequences of this modernist version of the Monroe Doctrine. Not that I believe we could have foreseen such a calamity, nor that nothing good has come out of this. But this is to say that extravagant consumption, given such an interdependent world picture, can result in our resources motivating things far beyond our control. Again, whether the sum total is good or bad is the great problem being debated, but I say that if we do not know for sure -- if one life in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Israel, China or anywhere else hangs in the balance -- we should proceed with utter caution as if that life were our own. I'm not speaking in terms of caution in foreign policy, but in terms of individual consumption, which is the only real thing we individually can control with precision.

11/26/2001 02:17:44 PM

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