Oil as the Pillar of Autocracy

From Fouad Ajami in U.S. News and World Report:

Beyond the great economic questions posed by this transfer of wealth lies a political matter of increasing importance: the connection between petroleum and autocracy. Oil is the dictators’ dream and their weapon, their means of escape from accountability and from the limits societies have drawn for their rulers. …

From Russia under Vladimir Putin to Muammar Qadhafi’s Libya—save perhaps for the atypical case of Norway— oil is a pillar of autocracy. The great democratic wave of the last quarter century has bypassed the oil lands. The oil lands are distributive states. Wealth comes to the rulers, they dispose of it, they distribute it to cronies, they punish and overwhelm their would-be challengers at home, and they use it to sustain adventures abroad way beyond the limits of their societies.In the same vein, the rise of Vladimir Putin owes less to Russia’s autocratic tradition than it does to the oil bounty of recent years. After Saudi Arabia, Russia is the world’s second largest oil exporter. The oil windfall gives Putin his confidence and authority; there isn’t much that the chess champion turned democratic politician, Garry Kasparov, could do in the face of the power granted Putin by the oil wealth. Russia’s yearning for order trumps its desire for liberty, and a hand-picked successor of Putin is set to inherit the presidency next March, with a privileged special place for Putin as “father of the nation.” The free media of post-Soviet Russia, the parliament, and the business class have lost out to the ruler, a modern-day czar.