Oil and the Middle East

It has been in the news the last few days that Saudi Arabian oil production was down 8% in 2006 versus 2005 even though the Saudis are drilling more than ever. Peak oil seems to have come for Saudi Arabia in 2005.

I also read an interview transcript for retired General Wesley Clark yesterday on Democracy Now from March 2, 2007. In this interview, he states in passing:

 "The truth is, about the Middle East is, had there been no oil there, it would be like Africa. Nobody is threatening to intervene in Africa. The problem is the opposite. We keep asking for people to intervene and stop it. There's no question that the presence of petroleum throughout the region has sparked great power involvement."

A question came to mind this evening. This is a realpolitik question, not one of basic ethics or the like. I’m thinking on the level of actions of nations. When all of the oil (or enough of it that everything has either shifted elsewhere for energy or ground to a halt) is gone from the Middle East, is anyone going to care about the endless conflicts there anymore? I don’t just mean Iraq but the conflicts we’ve seen throughout the 20th century, especially since World War II.

If there is no oil there anymore, will it become the same as Africa in the eyes of nations and the populations of most of more economically advantaged nations: a big mess that people, with some guilt, pretend doesn’t exist most of the time and certainly don’t worry about day to day? Will people really care if central Asia goes up in flames or descends into warlordism and endless war if the oil is gone?

Again, this is on the level of nations and the actions of nations (or even large groups). This isn’t an ethics question but one of the practical realities that the world often seems to function under. If I was an educated thinker, a citzen, of one of these nations, this is a point that I’d be pondering as the oil begins to run out. Have I helped build a better nation for tomorrow, for the coming generations? Pretty soon, the world may not care about my people anymore and the leverage that we once had, as holders of a precious resource, may be gone. Is Saudi Arabia, for example, ready for this future? Once the oil is gone, will the EU, China, or the United States (to name some) care what happens to that nation or on its borders?

This should be sobering for someone, I would think.