Thirty percent of New Hampshire’s independent voters in last night’s Republican primary cast a vote against war with Iran. Ron Paul finished second in the overall balloting with 24% of the vote, but was tied with Romney for 30% of independents. Paul is the only Republican candidate that refuses to promise to “bomb, bomb, bomb…bomb, bomb Iran” (sung to the tune of “Barbara Ann”) as a previous Republican presidential candidate once so creatively explained his views. Surely at least another quarter or so of Democrats would cast the same vote, if perhaps not for Paul, then simply against war. Maybe deploying troops overseas should require a popular referendum supporting the move before any forces are committed.
The Obama Administration meanwhile is forcing Iran into a corner, taking from Iran’s leadership the flight option of conflict management. With the new sanctions it has imposed, the US has reduced to one the existential options available to its leadership: It must fight or it will be destroyed.
The new sanctions provided for in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (the same act that made possible indefinite military incarceration of US citizens on US soil without proving probable cause and with no writ of habeas corpus), leaves the Iranian leadership no choice but to fight. It can not continue to exist without which it can sell oil, and it seems possible that the Act might actually prevent much of Iran’s oil from reaching the market. This is why all the bluster over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran wants the rest of the world to know it won’t take lightly their embargo of its oil.
So far as oil markets are concerned, it is possible that all this–the sanctions and Iran’s blustery response to them–might blow up in everyone’s face. Iran is important to American national interests because it has oil and is strategically located in the major oil-producing region in the world. The sanctions affect Iran’s ability to sell oil, but are intended to dissuade it from developing a nuclear weapon, presumably because of the threat a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to Israel and its neighbors. Never mind that Israel itself has nuclear weapons, and the US nuclear umbrella successfully protected a whole continent from nuclear annihilation for half a century without incident during the Cold War. By pushing Iran into an oil corner over its supposed nuclear ambitions, the US just might be cutting off its nose to spite its face. It is a vital US interest that the Middle Eastern oil spigots keep filling tankers for market delivery. It is not a vital US interest that Israel continue to exist. The US risks damaging its own national interests in order to protect Israel. This is dangerous and foolish. The US may get lucky. Its strategy may prove capable of protecting Israel without unduly damaging its interest in the free flow of oil. But it might also destroy the very thing–the unfettered flow of oil–the US has an interest in protecting, in the process yielding a Middle Eastern bloodbath. Were gas to hits $10 or more a gallon in the US, except for a small contingent of loyal Israel apologists, nobody will care that Israel was saved from facing a nuclear Iran. And $10 a gallon gas would assuredly cause a halt and reversal to the nascent economic recovery. There could hardly be a tighter correlation between oil price shocks and economic contractions in the US, as the following chart reveals:
Recessions in the mid-seventies, early eighties, early nineties, early aughts and the greatest–the late aughts, i.e., all of them since the US became an oil importer rather than exporter, were preceded by sharp increases in oil prices.
Ironically, the US strategy of linking Iran’s abandonment of its purported nuclear weapons to its ability to sell oil might actually benefit Iran, as oil prices will inevitably climb due to disruptions in the market caused either by the sanctions or outright war. No embargo is ever capable of perfect enforcement. The US gets a recession and Iran gets an oil price windfall. Whether or not Israel gets nuclear security might depend on a bloody war and costly occupation, all conveniently paid by its American lackeys. So far as America’s place among similar empires in the annals of history goes, perhaps the only thing exceptional about America is its utter fecklessness in choosing the appropriate action to achieve its purposes.
According to internal reports, the Iranian people have resigned themselves to the inevitability of conflict, with a dark and deeply foreboding mood having taken hold since the new sanctions were imposed. No such mood obtains in the US. Of course, the American public believes that a war with Iran would be fought by volunteers (ie. others) and victory would come quickly and easily, perhaps like the first Gulf War with Iraq. This view is not robustly supported by the facts on the ground. Iran is a much bigger country than Iraq, both geographically and demographically. It has nearly 75 million people in a country roughly the size of Alaska. In contrast, Iraq has roughly 30 million people in a country about twice the size of Idaho. The logistics of war with Iran would be difficult, to say the least.
Yet, it is clear the Obama Administration is doing more now than just rattling sabres. Defense Chief Leon Panetta did the rounds of Sunday talk shows to proclaim that the US would absolutely not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, nor allow it to close the Strait of Hormuz. In an election year, there is no better reelection strategy than to lead the nation on a crusade against evil half a world away. Conflict looks more certain each day.