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Good Bad News from Iran

Good news from Iran. The Associated Press reports that “Iranians smashed shop windows and set fire to a dozen gas stations in the capital Wednesday, angered by the sudden start of a fuel rationing system that threatens to further increase the unpopularity of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” Why is this good news? Because it reveals the unpopularity of the theocratic dictatorship in Tehran, and its vulnerability to pressure.

As the AP article goes on to note: “The rationing is part of a government attempt to reduce the $10 billion it spends each year to import fuel that is then sold to Iranian drivers at less than cost, to keep prices low. Iran is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, but it doesn’t have enough refineries, so it must import more than 50 percent of the gasoline its people use.”

That’s a point of leverage that various analysts have suggested exploiting. In the pages of COMMENTARY, Arthur Herman argued for (among other things) imposing a naval blockade to stop the gasoline imports and oil exports that are the lifeblood of the Iranian economy. In USA Today this week, Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institution suggested not only imposing a blockade, but also counterfeiting Iranian currency to drive its economy deeper into crisis.

Those may seem like radical steps. But they are in fact amply justified by Iran’s continuing development of nuclear weapons and its support for terrorists in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among other places. Iranian proxies have been killing Americans in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and yet we have been looking the other way for fear of seeming too “warlike.” Even if we don’t have the political will to meet Iranian attacks with military force—and we don’t at this point—we could still try to make the Iranian government pay a price for its aggression. An embargo would be one way to do it. It’s an act of war, but not as extreme as air strikes.

Even if we’re not prepared to go that far yet, greater economic sanctions could have an impact given another fact noted in the AP story: “Iran’s government is seeking $12 billion in investments to boost refining capacity from 1.6 million barrels a day to 2.9 million barrels in the next five years. It also hopes to increase oil production to 5.3 million barrels a day by 2014, from the current 4.3 million.” If the U.S. could convince other countries in Europe and Asia to join our boycott of Iran, the investment that the mullahs need to buy off their own people might not be forthcoming.

That’s the intent of the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, a bill sponsored by Representative Tom Lantos, which just passed in the House Foreign Affairs Committee by a vote of 37-1. Among other things, it would end the President’s authority to waive penalties under existing sanctions laws on companies that do business with Iran. (This waiver authority has been used to let European firms off the hook.) Unfortunately, the Bush administration, which talks tough on Iran, opposes this genuinely tough legislation.


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