Fareed Zakaria is one of the few mainstream opinion writers I consistently respect. He’s smart — and furthermore, he’s funny on the Daily Show, which goes a long way with me.

In this column on oil, he basically elides the peak problem and instead focuses on this:

There are really only five countries that matter in the world of oil: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Russia and Venezuela. … In order to build up real capacity, these governments would need to take their oil revenues and reinvest them in projects that would take five to 10 years to spout oil. Which of these countries has that level of stability, confidence or competence?

This is accurate, and gets at something about peak oil that’s been bouncing around, slightly inchoate, in my head. It seems to me many peak oil prophets overstate the degree to which peak oil will be a prime mover in geopolitics (and domestic politics) in the coming decade. It will certainly serve as a background condition, slowly ratcheting up the pressure on the entire system. But in the foreground, it will be politics and circumstance that provide the big developments.

Zakaria also takes aim at U.S. demand:

Since the mid-1970s the demand for petroleum in Western Europe and Japan has been flat. In the United States it has doubled.

This ever-rising economic demand in America is fueled by politics. Without a loophole in the law, SUVs would be banned. Without artificially low gas prices, Americans would not guzzle as much gas. The American government subsidizes gas in many different ways, big and small. As consumers, we do not pay for the enormous expense involved in policing the Middle East, an expense we would almost certainly not incur if its chief export was carrots. We do not pay for the environmental fallout from burning gasoline. We get free roads and a free ride. …

… If the president and Congress were to propose a powerful package of measures — higher gas taxes, fuel-efficiency standards starting at 30 and rising to 40 miles per gallon, tax credits for new technologies — it would begin to wean the United States off its addiction to oil. And, it would signal to the market that demand for oil in the United States was likely to slow and stabilize. The fear, uncertainty and speculation that is built into the price of oil right now would ease.

Well, ease a little, maybe. But yeah.