(HOST) This morning, commentator Barrie Dunsmore tells us that the Bush administration’s dedication to democracy is taking a back seat to what have become higher priorities.
(DUNSMORE) At the center of the Bush Doctrine for supporting freedom and democracy around the world was the rejection of the policies of the Cold War. In those days, the U.S. would support dictators, especially in the Muslim world, as a way of keeping them out of the Soviet camp – and, of course, getting access to their oil. Spreading democracy is a laudable goal – but those Cold War habits, it seems, are hard to break.
Today President Bush is scheduled to welcome to the White House, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. Mr. Aliyev is forty-four years old, speaks good English, is friendly toward the U.S., and sent troops to help in Iraq. He is also considered to be autocratic and corrupt, and the State Department found “there were major irregularities and fraud” in the last parliamentary elections in his country. Three of his political opponents are facing treason charges, and his major rival is in jail.
But, on the other side of the scale, Azerbaijan is a major energy producer that pumps large volumes of oil destined for Western markets. It has a three hundred seventy-mile border with Iran, which could be crucial if the nuclear dispute with Iran should lead to war. And, according to a report this week in the Washington Post, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are targets of “an intensifying campaign by Russia to restore dominion over former Soviet Republics – and to drive the United States out of the region.”
That would explain why the president of Kazakhstan may also soon be a guest in Washington, in spite of a human rights record that is actually worse than Azerbaijan’s.
For many decades, the potent mix of oil and world power politics has driven American foreign policy. A new book titled American Theocracy maintains that it still does. Author Kevin Phillips is a former Republican strategist – now a strong Bush family critic. He writes that terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and democracy were just ruses to cover up the real reason for the invasion of Iraq – to secure Iraq’s oil reserves and so control production and world oil prices.
Whether you accept that or not, there are certainly other cases where policies driven by oil have backfired. In the 1970’s, the Nixon Administration sold billions of dollars of arms to the Shah of Iran so that he would keep the Soviet Union out of the Persian Gulf – and keep the oil of the region flowing. During the Arab oil boycott that followed the 1973 Mid East War, Iran did continue to sell oil to the West. But to pay for those American weapons the Shah led the OPEC cartel in a quadrupling of world oil prices.
President Bush does admit that America is addicted to oil. So this would be a very good time, not for the cosmetic measures he announced this week, but for significant steps to break that addiction. Among other things, that might ultimately allow this country to conduct a pro-democracy policy that is free from hypocrisy.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.