A surge in oil prices last week to almost $70 a barrel on concerns about the restart of Iran's nuclear program only hints at what may lie ahead. Prices could soar past $100 a barrel, experts say, if the U.N. Security Council authorizes trade sanctions against the Middle Eastern nation, which the West accuses of trying to make nuclear bombs, and Iran curbs oil exports in retaliation. A sharp global economic slowdown could follow.
That's the dilemma the United States and European nations face as they decide whether to act. But Iran would also pay a hefty price if the petro-dollars that now represent 80 percent of export revenues are reduced, potentially stirring civil unrest in a nation with a 14 percent unemployment rate.
Those two paragraphs from an AP story are chock full of potential problems that impact a lot more than the Middle East. Obviously $100 a barrel oil will have a definite economic effect on the economies of the world. But as noted, Iran could also suffer economically if sanctions are indeed voted against the country by the UN's Security Council.
The question is, will it happen, or perhaps a better question is, can it happen? The key to that question, unfortunately, doesn't live with the troika of nations negotiating with Iran or the US. It rests with Russia and China, two of the five permanent members. Any substantive issue requires a vote of nine of the fifteen members of the Security Council, but with the caveat that all five permanent members must vote in the affirmative before it can pass. Based on what I've read, neither China nor Russia are inclined to vote for sanctions.
Obviously all countries, to include Iran, want to avoid the extremes the cited paragraphs foretell. If they were to come true, not only would the rest of the world suffer, but Iran would obviously see the possibility of an internal overthrow grow expoentially as economic conditions deteriorated.
So now what?
Well, apparently Russia is stepping in to act as a broker of sorts (whether it's as an "honest" broker remains to be seen):
The Interfax news agency, citing a Russian diplomat in Tehran, said Ali Larijani's trip to Moscow on Tuesday was on the invitation of Igor Ivanov, Russia's Security Council head, who visited Iran last fall.
Earlier Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari and encouraged Iran to adopt a position that would help ease tensions over its nuclear program.
Germany's foreign minister is saying that Germany is committed to a diplomatic solution (a week after France's Jaques Chirac warned the Iranians that they wouldn't be intimidated by nuclear brinksmanship):
Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham, meanwhile, congratulated the German foreign minister for declaring Berlin's commitment to negotiations over the brewing crisis that intensified on Jan. 10 when Tehran removed U.N. seals from its main uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, central Iran. The regime then resumed research on nuclear fuel, including small-scale enrichment after a 2 and half-year freeze.
That's effective, isn't it? "Thanks, we agree, negotiations are best, meanwhile we won't negotiate our research into nuclear fuel in contravention to agreements we've signed in the past"? I mean, does that make you feel hopeful about the whole negotiations bit? Or does it portend more of the same success enjoyed in the past when negotiating with Iran?
As Jon and I discussed in the comment section of another post, I am not particularly hopeful that this problem will be resolved satisfactorily through negotiations. And given the relationship with Iran I don't see Russia cooperating in the UN in terms of voting for sanctions. And if Russia did, I don't see China doing so. China desperately needs oil to fuel it's red hot economy and Iran can provide that.
My guess is the pragmatic Chinese won't do anything to jeopardize that. And besides, Iran isn't a nuclear threat to China, so there is no benefit to them to toe the line the rest of the world wants it toe. One thing can be said for China, it has little regard for "world opinion".
That assessment see's the world pushed closer and closer to armed confrontation. In the case of Iran, that should be avoided if at all possible. For one thing any such confrontation in the near future could spell doom for the fragile democracy now blooming in Iraq:
The Iraqi cleric who once led two uprisings against U.S. forces said Sunday that his militia would help to defend Iran if it is attacked, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Muqtada al-Sadr, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with the top Iranian nuclear negotiator, said his Mahdi Army was formed to defend Islam.
"If neighboring Islamic countries, including Iran, become the target of attacks, we will support them," al-Sadr was quoted as saying. "The Mahdi Army is beyond the Iraqi army. It was established to defend Islam."
If you thought Iraq was complex, well, it doesn't hold a candle to the problems entailed in dealing with Iran.
Unfortunately, given the structure of the UN, the vested interests of Russia and China and the intransigence of Iran, it seems to be headed down the same path as Iraq. And if the military option is considered WMDs will again be a major reason for concern. This time, unfortunately, it will most likely be a proven concern and in the hands of madmen who make Saddam almost look reasonable.
The obvious and best solution to this dilemma rests in the hands of the Iranian people. We should support their effort to change their government by all available means, and if we're not already doing it, heads should roll.
Recall that Sadr’s support at election time was rather thin. And that his "army" was a rag-tag mob that died by the hundreds when faced with anything like serious opposition.
As far as China goes, perhaps someone should explain to them that there are many ways the supplies of Iranian oil could be interrupted - and that unless Iran’s course changes, bombed-out distribution facilities could bring the flow of Iranian oil to a very effective halt without the need for sanctions. So perhaps they should consider being more of a team player, before they end up with an energy supply problem they can’t finesse diplomatically.
Actually, given the way it’s written, it should be ’affect.’ One really can’t ’effect’ national security issues. One can effect a program, for instance, or a plan, but not an issue.
But as noted, Iran could also suffer economically if sanctions are indeed voted against the country by the UN’s Security Council.
The question is, will it happen, or perhaps a better question is, can it happen?
Sanctions - which you seem to view as a positive - would be an effort to isolate Iran. You see China and Russia as deterrents. Perhaps. And of course we cannot control Russia and China.
But then there is this little bit of unhappy news:
Jan. 18th- Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, during a meeting with Iranian Charge d’Affaires Hassan Kazemi-Qomi on Tuesday, called for deepening of relations between the two neighboring countries. He urged the two governments to continue the current trend of relations and speed up implementation of plans and agreements which have already been signed by the two countries.
That was last week. So as we attempt to isolate Iran on the one hand, we are propping up a regime that is literally undermining our effort.
I was against the Iraq war from the beginning. Even I could forsee at the time that we were strengthening the hand of Iran by going into Iraq. But never did I believe the evidence of my hunch would be so overwhelming.
The silence from the right on this issue is deafening. We are sacrificing our young men and women, and hundreds of billions of dollars, to prop up a government that is literally giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Does this fact bother the war’s supporters? Not in the least. They seem perfectly happy with defending a government that is strengthening its ties with Iran, thereby strengthening Iran.
But of course even though Bush is propping up the Iran-friendly government in Baghdad, wingers accuse those who were against the war of being traitors.
“But never did I believe the evidence of my hunch [my emphasis] would be so overwhelming.”
When you first started commenting on this magazine, MK, your belief that the war in Iraq was wrong was revealed truth on tablets fetched down from the mountain. Anyone not recognizing the error was beyond the pale. Now that the war seems to be successful, your antipathy has become a mere “hunch”. You remind me of the guy in the McDonald’s commercial who is trying to hit on the girl who wanted hors d’ouvres after the double burgers are a success: “Yeah, that’s what I was thinkin’ of.” Before it is over, you will be claiming that you nodded approvingly and shot a fist in the air when Bush landed on the carrier.
al Sadr’s statements merely indicate that step 1 of any plan to deal with Iran by forceful means should include arresting or killing al Sadr. Given his past, and the warrants against him, I don’t understand why he’s not already in jail.
Prices could soar past $100 a barrel, experts say, if the U.N. Security Council authorizes trade sanctions against the Middle Eastern nation, which the West accuses of trying to make nuclear bombs, and Iran curbs oil exports in retaliation. A sharp global economic slowdown could follow
I’m not a big fan of this particular issue. Maybe I’m making it too simplistic, but the economic damage from....oh, lets say a small nuke detonating in Chicago would probably be far, far worse...
On what ground are the objections to Iranian nuclear program? It is obvious that the “West” does not approve of the Iranian regime, but that is not a legitimate reason for objections. Is not best to accept their rights under NPT and go ahead with strong monitoring? If Iranians tomorrow accept a compromise, what’s there to stop them from continuing their program in secret? A strong monitoring program would at least increase the likelihood of any secret programs to be discovered before it is too late. And let’s not fool ourselves; Iranians will have nuclear capability in a region where there are at least 3 verified nuclear powers. They’ll have it, sooner or preferably later.
Actually given the context Chris and MK are right, it should be "affect." But they’re still being annoying pedants.
As to the issue at hand, I take it as axiomatic that:
- The Iranians are not going to overthrow their government within the next three years. They’ve shown a singular incapacity to get a respectable movement off the ground and show no signs of getting their shit together now. It would be nice, but it’s not the way to bet. - An attempt at full-blown invasion and occupation is both politically impossible and would make Iraq look like a pleasent afternoon stroll along the Euphrates. - Tactical bombings which would be sufficient to obliterate Iran’s nuclear program would necessarily entail significant collateral damage and alienate the Iranian populace against the US, causing "rally ’round the flag" effects and strengthening the hand of government hardliners. - Sanctions would mostly just succeed in creating a Cuba effect, pointlessly punishing the Iranian people while not affecting their government in any significant way. - Any escalation would likey lead to counter-escalation in the form of Iranian security stepping up their involvement in the destabilization of Iraq. If you think their meddling so far has been annoying, they can do much worse.
Given all of the above, unless someone can give some good arguments why any of the foregoing points should not be the default hypothesis, it’s not at all clear to me that letting Iran have the bomb and planning around that fact wouldn’t be the least-bad option. Especially when they’re quietly murmuring things like this:
A senior Iranian official close to Ayatollah Khamenei, who insisted on anonymity, says Iran’s ultimate goal in this complicated game of chess is to win security guarantees from the United States at a time when American troops are in several countries on Iran’s borders. “How can the world expect us to sit back and not defend ourselves?” he asks. The mullahs see this fight as one to ensure the survival of their regime—with American assurances.
Why, it’s almost as if... they’re making rational calculations and working to increase their bargaining leverage! Those crazy mullahs, what will they do next...
In seriousness: surely I am not the only one who’s noticed that the introduction of nukes has always and everywhere increased geopolitical stability over the long run. Yes, people are shitting themselves, but that’s exactly why nothing ever happens. I suggest that the biggest bank for the US buck would go toward strenghtening Israel’s missile defences to create as symmetrical a situation as possible between them and Iran, and taking a cue from Chirac to give the Iranian government a Don Vito type warning ("I’m a superstitious man..."). Meanwhile, smother them in economic connectivity and let time take its course, just like it did with the Sovs. We can wait it out.
Effect has the same meaning: "The power to produce an outcome or achieve a result; influence."
That being the case it’s author’s choice .. and I choose effect. Interesting though, isn’t it, how the definition for "affect" uses "effect" as a part of it, in exactly the same way I used it?
- The Iranians are not going to overthrow their government within the next three years. They’ve shown a singular incapacity to get a respectable movement off the ground and show no signs of getting their shit together now. It would be nice, but it’s not the way to bet.
Well that assumption depends on a static world, something of which I’m sure isn’t going to happen. A lot can change in 3 years. 14% unemployment in an oil rich country is unacceptable. If and when Iran further isolates itself (a major Swiss bank has just declared it will quit doing business with Iran due to uncertainty of the present political situation) it could all come apart very quickly.
It is that sort of situation we should be covertly exploiting.
- Sanctions would mostly just succeed in creating a Cuba effect, pointlessly punishing the Iranian people while not affecting their government in any significant way.
To a point. OTOH, it may be the very mechanism that add the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. What isn’t clear is how close to the tipping point the Iranian populace is or what it will take to push them over the edge.
- Any escalation would likey lead to counter-escalation in the form of Iranian security stepping up their involvement in the destabilization of Iraq. If you think their meddling so far has been annoying, they can do much worse.
Oh they can indeed, and they can then provide an excuse for some sort of military retaliation at a time and a place inconvenient for them. It’s a dangerous game they’re playing in Iraq and they know it, and they also know that it would be foolish on their part to overplay it. The consequences may not be worth the rewards. No, that side of it will remain covert and as hidden as they can manage. It will also remain at about the level it is now. They have enough on their plate worrying about the nuclear issue to add further to their problems and they most likely don’t want to provide an excuse for any sort of a military attack.
Given all of the above, unless someone can give some good arguments why any of the foregoing points should not be the default hypothesis, it’s not at all clear to me that letting Iran have the bomb and planning around that fact wouldn’t be the least-bad option.
Well all the above isn’t given, that’s the problem. Letting them have the bomb may end up being the default position when all others are exhausted. But there is certainly no reason to arbitrarily agree that any internal revolution is at least 3 years off. Depending on the pressure that can be brought on the regime and their reaction to such pressure and how it effects the population at large will determine when that event will take place. And I’m of the opinion it is indeed simply a matter of time. The more pressure brought to bear and the more oppressive the regime becomes will be directly proportional to the time it takes for the populace to rise and overthrow the mullahs.
So until they have the bomb, the best way to proceede is to keep the pressure on them, work covertly to aid and abet an internal regime change and hope it all happens before bomb time. If in fact they do get the bomb, then yes, you work around it, since then you have no choice. But to sit back and wait for it to happen and then take action? Huh uh.
...surely I am not the only one who’s noticed that the introduction of nukes has always and everywhere increased geopolitical stability over the long run.
That’s mostly because they’ve been introduced into nations which may be the ideological opposite of us but are still ruled by rational people.
NoKo changed that equation and has hardly introduced "geopolitical stability" in its region of Asia.
Iran, ruled by a theocracy and an apocolyptic President, doesn’t promise to do that in Middle East either. If it was a nominally democratic Iran, I’d hardly have the heartburn that a country ruled by a man who says another country he can reach by missile should be ’wiped from the map’ gives me.
In diplomatic terms that doesn’t equal "geopoltical stability".
I don’t think we can expect to see a regime change there anytime soon. They already had their regime change a quarter-century ago, and anyone who thinks that there is a silent majority in Iran who want democracy is deluding themselves. Yes, they have high unemployment by western standards, but they also have a social structure and culture which largely negates the impact of unemployment - extended families share wealth to a far greater extent than western families do, and to a large degree personal incomes are pooled. What this means is that there is a far greater sense of social unity, of loyalty to the family/clan and country, and far fewer reasons to resent the controlling powers. Quite simply, most Iranians will regard the concept of democracy as a foreign irrelevance.
To my mind the issue is about WMDs, and nothing else. Given the propensity of the religious to convince themselves that hardships and cruelty in this life bring rewards in the next, I’d say that the world must insist that Iran never gets its hands on any kind of WMD deterrent.