THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY….I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who once said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

So what are we doing in Azerbaijan (more background here from Mother Jones)? We’ve been told, over and over again, that America’s unwillingness to challenge the democratic deficits of our energy and national security partners in the Middle East played a major role in the rise of extremism and terrorism in that region. George Bush, Richard Perle, and David Frum said so.

One of these things is true: either that belief is false, not generalizable, or we risk making the same mistakes in Central Asia that we have made in the Middle East unless we broaden our policy beyond oil and security. On Tuesday, SecDef Rumsfeld’s visit to Azerbaijan, presumably in support of Caspian Guard, “ostensibly a three-way alliance between the United States, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan for the integration of several interlocking program elements, namely airspace and maritime surveillance and control systems, reaction and response forces, and border control.” More about Caspian Guard here.

Noted leftist propaganda organ the Wall Street Journal described Caspian Guard within the context of the broader search for oil and protection thereof in an article (subscriber-only) on Monday:

The military is paying more attention to emerging oil regions as the country plans for possible disruptions in supply. Over the next decade, the U.S. plans to spend $100 million on the Caspian Guard, a network of police forces and special-operations units in the Caspian Sea region that can respond to various emergencies, including attacks on oil facilities.

The Defense Department’s European Command, based in Stuttgart, Germany, is coordinating the multiagency effort and helping to train forces to protect a new pipeline that will bring oil from rigs in the Caspian Sea through the Caucasus to Ceyhan, a Turkish port on the Mediterranean, starting later this year.

The Caspian Guard , launched in the fall of 2003, will include a radar-equipped command center in Baku, Azerbaijan. That center will give the Azeri government the capability, for the first time, of monitoring shipping activity near the many oil rigs in the Caspian. The Caspian Guard also will be useful in coping with drug and arms smugglers, says Col. Mike Anderson, chief policy planner for the European Command.

Most of the oil from this area will be absorbed by markets in Europe, not the U.S. But any blockage in flows likely would generate a surge in oil prices that would register on gas pumps in the U.S., the world’s largest oil consumer. “There is not a lot of excess capacity in the entire international market,” says Col. Anderson, “so if there is a threat to the Ceyhan pipeline, it will ultimately affect us.”

I’m not condemning things like Caspian Guard in and of themselves, nor am I suggesting that Ilham Aliyev, the current dictator of Azerbaijan, is the worst guy ever and that there are viable alternatives to his rule. I don’t think Richard Armitage necessarily needed to congratulate him on his 2003 electoral “victory” amid an outburst of protest, however. I don’t know the answer to Azerbaijan’s problems, but I do have worries that the United States is headed for a Global Carter Doctrine because we have left ourselves with no other choices at the moment.

Benighted naifs like Reihan Salam may pooh-pooh and dismiss these concerns as so much leftist anti-Americanism and crow about how well our Special Forces are training security forces in Niger (and I’m sure they’re doing wonderfully), but the bottom line is this: when America (and Japan’s, and Europe’s) economic well-being rests so heavily on the protection of oil in unstable regions of the world, it means that the many problems of those regions become our problems, and the internal squabbles of those regions become our squabbles. Maybe it’s time to start having a discussion about whether this is what we really want to be doing in the long run.

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