Selling Iran, Part 3

‘Iran is a crazy country, run by a new Hitler, who is building nuclear weapons to destroy the United States and Israel.’

That is the essence of the White House marketing campaign to bomb Iran, and it’s baloney.

I despise the regime in Iran for oppressing religious minorities. It is hard for me to be detached enough to study the regime’s behavior. Yet I maintain: Teheran has always acted out of rational self-interest, and a nuclear exchange with Israel – let alone the United States – would be suicide for a regime that has it good right now. There are suicide-bombers, but I defy anyone to name a suicidal government.

No, Hitler doesn’t count. Hitler was not the German government.

And Iran’s president is not even close to being a Hitler, either, despite his Holocaust revisionism. Ahmadinejad doesn’t command the armed forces of Iran. He doesn’t determine domestic or economic policies. He doesn’t even have complete control of foreign policy. He is less powerful than most American state governors.

The final word in Iran belongs to the ‘Supreme Jurist,’ an office currently filled by Ayatollah Khamenei, who forbids the “production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons” as a violation of Islamic law.

Indeed, the International Atomic Energy Agency says there is no evidence Iran even has a nuclear weapons program. So far, all ‘evidence’ for such a program is just speculation and rumor.

Iran has had a nuclear energy program since the 1960s, but it is nowhere close to making weapons-grade uranium. Even if it could, the output is nowhere near enough to build many weapons; and even if Iran built warheads, they have limited missile range.

The ‘threat’ is far less than advertised. We have been here before.

But even setting these facts aside, why have a nuclear program at all, when Iran is swimming in oil? If you’ve filled your gas tank lately, that is your answer. With oil prices near $100 a barrel, Iran has every reason to sell its oil on the market and produce electricity another way. It’s basic economics.

Not that the clerics have always understood economics. The revolution of 1979 began as a popular uprising against economic equality. The mullahs hijacked it, promising the people a socialist everything and delivering a socialist nothing. Under the Shah, the country’s largest companies (especially utilities) were either state assets or belonged to royal cronies. After the revolution, these companies were seized and turned over to so-called ‘charitable organizations’ controlled by the mullahs.

Three decades later, the clerics are rich, their cronies are rich, and Iran is still desperately poor. Electricity is one of the few things the regime has been able to call a success. But with a steadily growing population, the clerics face huge challenges to meet future demand.

With that in mind, consider the state of personal freedom in Iran. The greatest gains came in the 1990s, with oil at $20 a barrel and the ‘Great Satan’ largely ignoring Iran. As a result, the regime was weak and had to make compromises.

But now, crackdowns on personal freedom are in full swing. The regime is stronger today than it was in 2001, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why: the Great Satan is an imminent threat again, and Iran’s main export brings lots of money, which buys lots of shiny things.

And it is where the oil meets the money – not the uranium – that we find a looming threat from Iran.

America owes trillions of dollars in debt to foreign nations. China, whose state-owned banks have bought up $300 billion in US treasury bonds since 2001, is an instructive example: their economy is exploding, a billion Chinese are buying cars, and in a decade China will be guzzling gasoline at an extraordinary rate. Meanwhile, the dollar is the international currency for buying oil.

It’s called the petrodollar, and it’s why the dollar remains the global reserve currency. It’s also why China and Japan keep financing our deficits. But now the dollar keeps getting weaker, making dollar investments less valuable, and they have slowed down their buying spree.

With the euro so much stronger than the dollar, oil-producing countries could prefer a petroeuro to a petrodollar. Iran has decided to stop taking dollars for its oil and start demanding euros. Since American companies can’t export anything to Iran, the regime’s decision makes perfect sense – but to the United States, which counts on the petrodollar to finance trade deficits, wars, and pork-barrel spending, it’s an unpardonable sin. With immense oil reserves and command of the Persian Gulf, Iran threatens to start a cascade of petroeuros and end America’s unlimited credit.

So as the White House beats the war drums, remember that it has nothing at all to do with Hitler, Islam, or nuclear weapons. It isn’t even about the oil, really.

It’s about borrowing from the Chinese, spending freely, and letting future generations pay the bills instead of paying them ourselves. In short, war on Iran is the way to protect our tax cuts.

Which begs the question: which country is the ‘crazy’ one?



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About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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