True to precedent though, Friedman's most recent book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, is now the talk of town. Doha tells me that it is almost required reading at her work place, for example. Personally, I don't plan to read that book either. But, then again, I did attend a lecture Friedman gave at Hopkins, so I guess I cheated.
To be frank, the guy has some interesting thoughts. Most prominently, he is now campaigning to transform the alternative energy issue from a "green, tree-hugger" issue into a "national security" one. He points to countries like Iran, Venezuela, and to the fact that Islamic fundamentalism is essentially funded by US dollars that go to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to make his point.
The message seems to resonate over here. But it’s definitely not a new one. Who knows? Maybe Mr. Friedman’s voice will yield positive results by drawing it closer to the heart of political discourse, as opposed to the fringes – which is where it has been since the late nineties. His most recent contribution to his campaign is an article he wrote in the Foreign Policy Magazine, titled "The First Law of Petropolitics, Why the price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions."
The article can be found in the May/June 2006 issue of the magazine (i.e. it just hit the stands). And yes, I did read it. A shame, yes… but, as I said earlier, he did present some good ideas, like this one about politics and development in what he terms as “petro-states”.
Very often in petrolist states, not only do all politics revolve around who controls the oil tap, but the public develops a distorted notion of what development is all about. If they are poor ... it is not because their country has failed to promote education, innovation, rule of law, and entrepreneurship. It is because someone is getting the oil money and they are not. People start to think that, to get rich, all they have to do is stop those who are stealing the country's oil, not build a society that promotes education, innovation and entrepreneurship.
I think Friedman hit it right on the mark with that one. The image of Jumblatt on Kalam en Nass "advising" the Gulfies to "share" their oil wealth a little more generously keeps recurring in my head. Most Lebanese would probably agree with him too – as if it were somehow their god-given right to get a share of petro-dollars.
Unfortunately, the thought of challenging society to create the wealth, and challenging the state to provide society with a suitable environment to do so, simply does not occur to him or the rest of our beloved people! In their eyes, there is nothing wrong with our behavior as a people. Noooo... Our problem is that we need more petrodollars so that we remain the way we are, but drive more BMWs and Mercedes-Benz’s and (we should not forget, lest we anger some of our more principled brethren) fight the Israelis 'til kingdom come!