Opinion Columns & Blogs

Millard B. Grimes: Oil - and a chance for peace

Dare it be said? There are encouraging signs out there for the nation, and even for President Obama's administration and the rag-tag fringe of Democrats left standing after the recent elections.

When Obama attended the meeting last week of the world's 20 largest national economies, he was the leader carrying the biggest stick. The U.S. economy is rising while most other national economies are struggling.

The budget deficit for 2014 fell to a third of the deficit in the year Obama took office. The stock market reaches new highs almost daily and the rally is broad, not narrow, except for one sector - oil. Crude oil dropped to about $74 a barrel last week, after heading toward $100 a barrel earlier this year.

A gallon of gasoline, the most common price that most consumers see, is below $2.79 a gallon and still dropping, the lowest price since $2.07 in 2008 just before the so-called Great Recession began.

That's good news for consumers when they are planning their holiday spending, and it translates into great news for merchants who've gotten a lot of coal in their stockings in recent years. Lower oil prices are also good news for other industries, such as airlines, trucking and plastics. Many people don't connect oil with plastic, which is so pervasive today, but it's mainly a product of oil.

"If oil stays below $75 a barrel, we will see the kind of stimulus package Congress or the Federal Reserve could never deliver," a major manufacturer said. And it will be a classic, free-enterprise, demand-side package with no tax increases except that all government revenues will surge because of the increased revenue and additional jobs that should follow.

Russia, which is heavily dependent on its oil export revenue, is already in an economic freefall and the drop in oil prices should encourage a reevaluation of its aggressive policy in Ukraine and other former satellite nations.

The oil price decline also gives the U.S. a stronger hand in dealing with the Middle East. One factor in the improved oil price picture is that the U.S. has become an oil exporter in recent months, sharply reducing the need for imported oil.

All this presents an opportunity to pursue a better relationship with Iran, now saddled with sanctions from the U.S. and other countries. Secretary of State John Kerry is talking to Iranian leaders about a major readjustment in U.S.-Iranian relations and the chance for a breakthrough should not be blocked by U.S. critics, who let past grievances with Iran overshadow the chance to create a stable and friendly player in that troubled area. Iran is the most populous nation in the Middle East, with 80 million people, compared to 30 million in Saudi Arabia, which the U.S. has coddled through the years. Its location makes Iran a valuable potential ally to the U.S. and its client nation, Israel.

But what's important are the talks with Iran, which could lead to an alliance of Middle East nations to oppose ISIL and other terrorist groups that threaten all these nations and block progress toward the benefits of modern science, medicine, sanitation and other conveniences.

Revenue from oil, which for some oddity of evolution is especially abundant in those area dominated by Muslim dictators, has for years disguised the deep poverty of the overall populations in both material wealth and in ideas, culture, treatment of women, and personal freedom. These are some of the world's oldest civilizations, which built the pyramids, developed the earliest alphabets and the use of money as a means of trade and exchange.

Iran and the United States were friends and allies for many years. Both have a vested interest in working to restore a better relationship and these last days of November 2014 could be the last favorable time.

Many of the new Republican members of Congress may be opposed to reconciliation - not exactly sure why - but the only way to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons is to provide some advantage to those nations that have none while the U.S. has hundreds. Several Middle East nations already have nuclear weapons, including Israel.

Iran can be a helpful ally against Muslim terrorists, plus keeping the price of oil down. As a nuclear threat, it is more dangerous as a militant foe than a possible ally.

Millard Grimes, editor of the Columbus Enquirer from 1961-69 and founder of the Phenix Citizen. is author of "The Last Linotype: The Story of Georgia and Its Newspapers Since World War II."