Every now and then, I see little banner ads on Republican-leaning websites telling me I should boycott Citgo gas stations.
Citgo is owned by the Venezuelan government, which means it's controlled by – and funnels money to – Hugo Chavez. Chavez is a bad man, the boycott's proponents tell us. Your 12 gallons on pump 4, Doritos and Diet Peach Snapple are lining the pockets of a bad man. But how bad is he?
Hugo Chavez is the democratically elected president of Venezuela. He has strong dictatorial tendencies that should give any honest person who believes in democracy reason to be bothered. He makes obnoxious comments about American leaders and opposes American economic initiatives in Latin America.
But by any measurement, he's leagues more democratic than governments that rule American allies like Kazakhstan or Egypt. But I have yet to see a Web banner demanding that I stop marveling at the pyramids or laughing at Borat.
I don't mean to discount the intentions of the would-be Citgo boycotters. The idea of spending money in ways that support basic human decency is sound. The fact is, the United States' and world's dependence on foreign oil for energy does indeed line the pockets of awful people.
Iran's regime can fork over cash to Hezbollah in Lebanon because of this decade's spike in oil prices. Vladmir Putin can turn Russia into a passive police state because high energy prices have filled the bank accounts of Russia's state-owned oil and gas industries. Sudan's genocidal government uses its petroleum to buy energy-hungry China's protection from international action that might stop the Darfur genocide.
But if you're gonna make nifty Web banners directing outrage at an oil-producing nation that supplies the United States, the country to focus your HTMLoathing at isn't Venezuela. It's Saudi Arabia.
I'm not gonna use this column to rehash the Saudi dictatorship's decades-long nurturing of violent, religious extremists, or the regime's fascist police force that not only denies the kingdom's subjects the freedom to criticize the government, but doesn't allow a man and woman to share a cup of coffee together in a public place.
Oh, crap, I just rehashed it.
What I was gonna say was, you can forget every reason you might have had before to be disgusted by Saudi Arabia's thieving, dictatorial family. You can forget it because I'm about to give an even better reason.
In 2006, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan flew to London and threatened then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and the people of the U.K. He threatened them with terrorism.
So say secret documents made public last month in a British court.
If the name Bandar is familiar, it's because he's Saudi Arabia's former ambassador to the United States. He's close friends with the Bush family, entertains loads of U.S. government officials at his D.C. mansion, and is the son of Saudi Arabia's current crown prince. He might be Saudi Arabia's king one of these days, too.
According to London's Guardian newspaper, Bandar's threat was prompted by a British government investigation of massive fraud involving British weapons contractor BAE.
In 2004, the British government launched an investigation that uncovered evidence that Bandar took nearly $2 billion in bribes from BAE to facilitate a large arms sale to the Saudi kingdom.
Not wanting his sticky-fingered scumminess exposed, Bandar flew to see Tony Blair in 2006. Bandar said Saudi Arabia would no longer deliver intelligence on terrorism to the Brits unless the investigation against him was dropped. Because Saudi Arabia is such a vibrant hub of extremist terrorism, cooperation with Saudi intelligence is crucial to preventing more bloodbaths like the terrorist bombings that killed 52 and injured 700 on London's transport system on July 7, 2005.
Given the choice between protecting British lives and exposing a scumbag, Blair chose British lives. Within days of the threat, Blair wrote a letter to British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith asking that the investigation be dropped.
If Chavez's buffoonery is worth boycotting, then certainly Bandar and Saudi Arabia's violent threats are worth boycotting, too.
It's too bad the wasteful, short-sighted actions of American oil companies, car companies, the federal government and consumers have made a boycott of Saudi oil an impossibility.
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