Getting Clear on Iran

Law professor Orde F. Kittrie suggests that, if Barack Obama can convince Europe to stop selling gasoline to Iran, the U.S. will finally have an advantage in dealing with Tehran:

Tehran has an economic Achilles’ heel — its extraordinarily heavy dependence on imported gasoline. This dependence could be used by the United States to peacefully create decisive leverage over the Islamic Republic.

Kittrie is exactly right. If his suggestion is heeded, it will give Americans much-needed clarity on three fronts. First: What kind of leader is Barack Obama? Moving to ratchet up international pressure on Iran, and asking European industrialists to risk taking a hit for what is widely seen as an American/Israeli problem, would be a bold out-of-the-gates move for a young first-term president who ran on a platform of parity among nations. Is Obama willing to spare, in the service of furthering U.S. interests, some of the global affection that up until now has served merely to advance his political popularity?

Second, does the world’s adoration for Barack Obama translate into strategic reality? Will European gas companies be more willing to cut off a portion of their clientèle because the persuader speaks a more international language than his predecessor? Or will considerations of profit and stability prevail as they have in the past? The EU has failed to act in accordance with the weaker Iranian sanctions they’ve already agreed to uphold. European exports to Iran, in fact, rose by 17.8 percent in the first few months after the supposedly stiffer sanction regime was put in place. Will Barack Obama be able to tap into hitherto unseen reserves of European sacrifice and fortitude?

Third, is there really a way to derail Iran, short of the military option? Will this sweeping ban bring the mullahs to the table to discuss the possibility of abandoning their nuclear program, or will they forge ahead with enrichment and missile construction, and stir up further anti-Americanism among their people by blaming gas shortages on the cruel, hypocritical Americans? Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently said, “Negotiations with the United States would have no benefit for us, and we do not need them.” Mehdi Kalhor, Iranian Vice President for Media Affairs, said that that “as long as U.S. forces have not left the Middle East region and continues its support for the Zionist regime, talks between Iran and U.S. is off the agenda.” Will a regime founded on the idea of bringing down America and her allies, a regime that thought nothing of using its citizens in waves as human mine-detectors in the Iran-Iraq War, be persuaded to see things America’s way simply because its subjects will go without sufficient gas supplies?

Kittrie’s suggestion is an excellent one. Americans need a fuller understanding of our leader, our allies, and our enemy. Only then can the domestic conflict and hysteria over attacking Iran subside, and make way for informed and reasoned debate. Time was short a year ago, so it’s even shorter now. This should be President Obama’s first foreign policy priority.