Monday, February 20, 2012

Playing With Fire With Oil And Iran

Juan Cole is listing 10 reasons why the US sanctions against Iran making money from exporting oil are not working at . While indeed Iranian oil sales have fallen, the impact of this has been at least partly offset by the rising price of oil due to all the war talk associated with the sanctions, along with the failure of Saudi oil production to increase to fill the cutbacks, along with declines in oil production in Nigeria, Syria, and Sudan for various reasons, as well as the decisions by India, China, Japan, South Korea, and others to repudiate the US policy. All of this threatens Obama's reelection as gas prices are heading up and Republicans are claiming it is due to Obama blocking the Keystone pipeline project, even as they call for an even more hawkish policy against Iran (see Jim Hamilton for the latest analysis of the Keystone project at ).

I largely agree with Cole on most of his points, with some minor variations. He argues that it is the "Israeli lobby," particularly AIPAC, that is responsible for the sanctions policy, although I would think that the lobby is responding to the Israeli government rather than being an independent source for this policy push. Israeli political leaders are fearful of a possible Iranian nuclear bomb, and according to the NY Times today, are probably not able to actually bomb out fully the four sites involved in the Iranian nuclear program, which may be why they are pushing even harder on the US, despite Israeli military intel reportedly agreeing with US intel and DOD that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program.

The US and UK have reportedly urged Israel not to bomb Iran as this would be "destabilizing." They may not do so for the reason noted in the previous paragraph, but it strikes me that Netanyahu may not mind encouraging destabilization by engaging in war talk and pushing the sanctions that have Iran engaging in talk of blocking the Strait of Hormuz. Bibi does not like Obama and would be perfectly happy to see him lose an election due to a bad economy driven by high oil prices, and all that applause he got in the US Congress may make him think he can get away with this, and he probably can, although maybe the economic recovery is just too strong to be overcome by the negative effect of rising oil prices.

I note some caveats on Juan Cole's post. He says that "Iran is sitting pretty." Not so. While oil prices have indeed gone up with all the war talk, the Iranian rial has declined by something like 60% against the USD. This is not helping the standard of living in Iran for people used to relying on imports of many consumer goods.

OTOH, this decline in living standards, hoped by the US to put pressure on the Iranian regime, is backfiring, just as the economic embargo against Cuba has for a full half century now. Reportedly Iranian citizens are rallying to support the regime against the US actions against their economy.

This fits in with another delusion pandered about in Washington, that we could get Iran to "stop its nuclear weapons program" by more vigorously supporting the Green movement opposition. First of all, any action to openly support the opposition would simply discredit that movement. Second, the opposition has long made it clear that it supports the peaceful civilian nuclear program of Iran. Getting them into power might make Israel slightly less paranoid, but it will not alter the nuclear program itself one bit.

The key to the nuclear program remains as it has been for a long time, the position of Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i, although an article yesterday in WaPo by Ray Takeh [sp?] argues that there is a new "war generation" led by Ahmadinejad that wants nuke weapons. It is true that these young guys will outlive him and could move the existing program into one that does lead to nuclear weapons, but he has repeatedly issued fatwas against nuclear weapons, and as Juan Cole has pointed out repeatedly, Iran has not attacked another nation since the 1700s. These minor facts, supported by official US intel reports, somehow get lost in all the hysteria and pushing of economically damaging sanctions programs. To the extent these sanctions programs are being put into place to keep the Israelis from bombing Iran, the report today in the NY Times may have removed even that half-baked rationale for this stupidity.


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