My son Patrick just spent nine days with me here in the United Arab Emirates. He arrived with a decent understanding of the place but he was surprised by the big cities – Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
He had expected them to be more like Miami or Tampa or Orlando, real cities despite the theme parks and gated communities. But Abu Dhabi and Dubai are more like glitzy construction sites. You can see construction cranes no matter where you cast your eyes.
The oil-and-gas countries of the Middle East are under construction. The UAE is sitting on 8 percent of the world’s oil and it will last for roughly 100 years. It has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Money is gushing out of the ground.
I’m happy for all folks here in the UAE and their friends in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
But I also was happy to read in the New York Times the other day that the United States is drilling and fracking its way to energy independence. We’re drilling more and driving less. We’re buying lots of new cars that travel farther on a gallon of gas and we’re yanking oil and gas out of wells that had once been deemed dry.
I know you’re paying $4 per gallon for gas, but if it frees your kids from dependence on the Middle East or any other volatile region in the world, pay with a smile.
After almost two years of editing stories about this region, I’m more convinced than ever that the United States would make more friends over here if it sent fewer soldiers and more celebrities to charm the people here. Our movies, rap music and fast food seem to have more influence than our jets and drones.
The passions and politics over here are complex. We can’t plant democracy in much of this soil despite our good intentions. We can’t assure the aspirations of all the Arab women who chaff under the strictures of their culture. We can’t match the good will that the Muslim Brotherhood’s charity work has generated among poor Muslims in the region.
We have tried because we believe in our way of life. But we’ve also wanted to make sure there’s gas in those Exxon station pumps down the street. We’ve needed foreign oil to maintain our lifestyle for decades now and that’s required us to crawl into bed with some questionable characters.
Our diplomats could accomplish far more good here if they did not have to be obsessed with keeping the Strait of Hormuz open. We could make more principled decisions if we didn’t have to go plead with the Saudi royal family to pump more oil to offset supply lost when Libya erupts into civil war or Iran struggles under sanctions.
I applaud the people in the State Department. They have made us lots of important friends in this part of the world, but we’ve paid a moral price from time to time.
It would be great if our kids did not have to play the unsavory games you need to play over here to keep the oil and gas flowing.
Drill carefully, USA, but keep drilling. And keep buying all those high-mileage new cars.
A former managing editor of The Palm Beach Post, Tom O’Hara is a senior editor with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi and a Middle East columnist for Florida Voices.