After a year of feeling unusually good, it finally dawned on me why. It was the lack of any substantive mention and/or usual annoying oratory whatsoever by the Threatening Three.
To my delight, not once over the last year or so have the news channels included any blistering choreographed manifestos by the three amigos -- Vladimir "Look Out, We're Back" Putin, Hugo "Show Me the Camera" Chavez, and Mahmoud "Annihilate & Nuke 'em" Ahmadinejad.
Fair to say, Mr. Putin is still the real power in Russia, while Hugo Chavez continues as master manipulator and abuser of both democracy and Venezuelan oil wealth. He is what he is -- a Dictator, in the likeness of his historically recognized "self proclaimed" Dictator role model, Simon "President for Life" Bolivar. One need only ask any of the millions of Caracans in the ghastly and growing mega-slum surrounding and engulfing Caracas -- a breathtaking and repulsing sight to behold. Meanwhile, Mr. Ahmadinejad transforming Iranian democracy into "demockracy".
These three have seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. Mr. Ahmadinejad's recent media resurfacing however, was not internationally as before. Instead, his brief reappearance was about crushing internal dissent. He the first of the three to experience real rebellion, with Mssrs. Chavez and Putin clearly taking notes. All three now focused internally and fighting for their political survival, rather than threatening externally is a refreshing respite in an otherwise calamitous world and crisis global economy.
Not for threat by any military action. Rather one need only look at what props up each of these de-facto dictators -- oil.
At $147 per barrel and windfall oil profits, they arrogantly boasted the downfall and annihilation of other countries. With oil having since plummeted to around $70-80, and as low as the $30's not that long ago, these one trick pony dictators have lost the only capital source to fuel their oratory fire and keep their economies functioning and regimes alive.
In fact, with their collective breakeven in the $70-90 per barrel range, they've effectively gone silent, as their economies and regimes teeter on collapse. They've realized they are not superhuman and no longer have the "petro whip", to crack on both their people and the international community. As Iran's Ahmadinejad discovered, their regimes will find it increasingly difficult to endure, even when rigging elections and resorting to brute force to survive.
Interestingly, one wonders what might be different in Russia's actions regarding Georgia, if the Georgian conflict commenced today rather than August 2008, during the period of peaking oil price. For sure, not the same robust and costly military one. Ukraine breathing the biggest sigh of relief.
So while the international community has been ineffective if not entirely impotent in containing these three diplomatically, they have been instead remarkably silenced by other means. Not by massive outside military deterrent but rather a basic commodity in their own backyard, one that is both their source of strength as well as their Achilles Heel -- oil.
High oil prices breed and feed arrogant dictatorships and global instability. So while the global recession has been a struggle for all countries, the silver lining ironically appears to be the collapse in oil prices; the newfound antidote to dictatorship.
All three regimes, vis-Ã-vis their economies, cannot sustain themselves with oil prices at these levels. The challenge to the international community then is to collectively find a sustainable price range for oil that ensures an environment unripe for installation and/or propagation of an oil driven dictatorship. That is $70-90 or below.