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January 11, 2006

Could Sanctions Actually Bring Iran To Heel?

Allah sent me this promising it was good, and to ignore the ridiculous amount of Bush-bashing in the early going. I almost didn't believe him and for a time I stopped reading. But at the end I did learn something pretty interesting:

[A]re the mullahs untouchable? No. Paradoxical as it may seem, their greatest weakness is their oil and gas industry. Sure, Iran has the second largest oil reserves in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia. But its facilities for pumping and processing the stuff are in such a sorry state that domestic demand for gasoline is 60 percent greater than the country's refining capacity. To keep up, the mullahs have to import more than 95,000 barrels a day. Iran has the second-largest known reserves of natural gas in the world—but it's a net importer of the stuff its people use. To make matters much worse, the mullahs long ago adopted a policy trying to buy popular support with massively subsidized prices for cooking gas, gasoline and other products. Today, those subsidies eat up a whopping 10 percent of Iran's gross domestic product, according to the latest World Energy Outlook report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency (not to be confused with the IAEA).

Even without the current crisis, Iran needs foreign technology and hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment if it's going to meet its domestic energy needs. Yet for that to happen, as the same report suggests, "a resolution of the nuclear issue would be required." "We have a big problem, but the Iranians also have big problems," says the European diplomat. If Ahmadinejad succeeds in provoking the United Nations to impose serious sanctions, cutting off Iran's imports of heavily subsidized natural gas and gasoline, the first people to suffer would be the Iranian president's core constituency—the poor and uneducated.

Marshall MacLuhan Update: A-Man steps out from behind a marquee and says "You don't know my work at all."

He says this is the key part of the article:

Even some of the most rabid Iranian opposition groups think the mullahs can withstand whatever the Israelis or Americans throw at them from the air—and in the aftermath the Iranian public would rally around the turbans. Indeed, some opposition groups think Ahmadinejad is intentionally goading the Israelis to launch a strike for just that reason. "If they attack him, he will have his war; if they do not, he will have his bomb," says one well-connected exile who still makes occasional visits to Tehran and asked not to be named.

...and notes that this particular pacifist writer cannot be trusted as regards the efficacy of sanctions. He (and Newsweek) would always support sanctions over force, whether they could work or not.

That's true, and as other commenters note, sanctions did nothing to bring Saddam down.

But I don't think we're ready to strike at Iran yet, so sanctions, in the interim, would not necessarily be a bad thing.

Furthermore, I pretty much doubt the efficacy of anything short of a full-scale invasion or massive nuclear strike on Iran. I just don't think we can bring down the regime with conventional airstrikes alone. And, as they say, if you take a shot at the king, you'd better make sure you kill him. Hitting Iran with enough force to give it a pretext to use the bomb -- while not actually ending its mad-dog mullarchy and its capacity to build the bomb -- would not be, oh, what's the word?, good.

I guess I'm just looking desperately for options at this point. I can not imagine living in a world in which Iran has the atomic bomb, nor can I imagine a likely sort of military assault capable of stopping it from getting one.

I freaked people out at a bar talking about this a month ago. Later they wanted me to give my same downer Iran speech to other people in order to depress them, sort of like a party trick.


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posted by Ace at 02:10 AM

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