Alternative histories always interest me even if they serve little purpose. Pat Buchanan recently said that he thinks if the U.S. would've stayed out of WWII longer the two evil empires, Russia & Nazi Germany, would've knocked each other silly and weakened the Soviets to the point of preventing Korea and Vietnam and the whole Cold War.
I've recently been wondering what would've happened if we'd not rolled back Saddam Hussein in 1990. Leaving humanitarian impulses beside, what if there was no Gulf War, as the godfather of paleo-conservatism, Russell Kirk, advised? Knowing Hussein's desire for hegemony and his delusions of grandeur (he still thinks he'll rule Iraq some day) I don't think it's much of a stretch that he'd taken over Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and much of the Middle East.
Which, on the positive side, would mean we'd have one enemy instead of many. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and Syria are all exporters of suicide bombers to Iraq (and we already know how many of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi's). So it would seem easier to fight one crazy dictatorial state than five shrewd terror-sponsoring states.
But on the negative side, there'd be a crazy person in charge of the world's oil supply. And the problem with oil is that filling up our S.U.V. is the least of our problems. Our whole economy runs on it. Trucks use it to get everything everywhere. There is a multiplier effect with oil because it's built into every product we buy. And the worse part about oil is that it's real painful in moving off it. We haven't got a Methadone equivalent and one of the great mysteries of the last twenty years is why the government hasn't funded/given tax breaks to alternative fuel industries. It almost makes a conspiracist out of me. But George Will would say let the market dictate when alternative fueling is needed because the private sector will do it better anyway. A free market has its vagaries.
The other problem with that scenerio is that with all that oil money it surely wouldn't be difficult for him to acquire nuclear weapons. And that, more than the possibility of a global depression, makes you sick. In the nuclear age, any country who gets nuclear weapons becomes exempt from war, at least exempt from being attacked by another nuclear power. You can fight proxy wars as we did with the Soviet Union (Korea & Vietnam) but the tacit agreement was 'no nuclear weapons'. But just as we couldn't go to war with the Soviets, we couldn't go to war with Saddam at that point. So in the end the positive of having just one enemy isn't positive after all.
Update: Great coment from Dan at Lofted Nest:
I remember reading "The Turning Point" by Fritjof Capra and his discussion of Europe approaching the Middle Ages. Their whole culture, he wrote, was based on wood -- wood tools, wood spoons and forks and bowls and plates, wood furniture, wood houses, wood for heat, wood for shaping metal, wood for fishing boats, wood for arrows and on and on. And as population grew, the forests shrank until society reached a turning point. The monarchs took over the forests and the people could no longer make their way without leave of their kings, etc. Society descended into Dark Ages.
Next, Capra started listing everything in modern society that is oil/gas/carbon based -- and it really is an amazing list, everything plastic, transportation, power grids, heating, cooling, farming... and when we run out of oil? Again... expect a dark age for man. It was a scary book & gave me quite an appreciation for just how many eggs we have in the oil basket.