Last month, liberal outlets touted a report aimed at stifling calls for action on Iran. “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran” was seen as the definitive answer to those calling for the establishment of red lines about Iran’s nuclear program. The report, sponsored by The Iran Project, was signed and endorsed by an all-star cast of foreign policy establishment figures (including some who have a record of hostility toward Israel) who were eager to support a study that purported to prove that an attack on Iran’s facilities would not be worth the effort in the event that the United States were to decide that all other options had been exhausted in the effort to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That report’s one-sided arguments were all that was needed for those who aren’t particularly enthusiastic about American action on Iran to claim that the military option ought not be considered. But the biggest problem with the study was the question it did not ask: What are the costs of doing nothing about Iran?
That more pressing question is answered by a new study that has just been published by the Foreign Policy Project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, “The Costs of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran.” The report acknowledges that taking action entails courting severe risks for the United States, the West and Israel. But it makes clear that these not inconsiderable dangers pale beside the consequences of a policy rooted in a foolish belief that Iran can be talked out of its nuclear ambitions. The result will be the creation of an Islamist nuclear power led not by rational military figures such as in Pakistan but by a theocracy whose extremist leaders may well seek to use such weapons as well as to employ them to back up their terrorist auxiliaries. But less understood is the way a nuclear Iran would have a significant impact on the cost and supply of oil. While Americans are understandably war weary after a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, they need to know that listening to the counsels of those who wish to accommodate or ignore the Iranian threat will lead not just to a more unstable Middle East but bring with it a rise in the price of oil that could lead to them paying as much as an extra $1.40 per gallon of gas at the pump.
The bipartisan study analyzes a number of different scenarios that would likely arise in the event of Iran reaching its nuclear goal. Among them is domestic instability in Saudi Arabia, the destruction of Saudi oil facilities and the possibility of nuclear exchanges between Iran and Israel as well as Saudi Arabia, which would almost certainly try to acquire nukes if its dangerous Gulf rival got them.
All those scenarios point not just to the possibility of catastrophe in terms of lives lost and regimes toppled, but to disruptions in the global oil supply that will devastate economies and lead to price spikes that will be felt far away from the battlefields of the Middle East.
The futility of the P5+1 negotiations and the other attempts to talk the ayatollahs out of their nuclear plans show that faith in diplomacy and sanctions not backed up by a credible use of force means only one thing: a nuclear Iran. While the study lauded by the New York Times that sought to caution against the use of force pointed to problems that would arise from military action, the Bipartisan Center’s analysis gives a clearer picture of what will happen if the “realists” get their way.
Containment of Iran is, as even President Obama has conceded, not a viable option. Without the red lines sought by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that imply that force will be used if Iran continues to prevaricate on this question, the world will be faced with a terrible choice. But that choice is not between a world spared from the after shocks of military action and one in which Iran is denied nuclear weapons. It is between using force and facing the sort of catastrophic consequences that will create economic chaos as well as untold human suffering. Looked at in that way, it’s really not much of a choice at all.