Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Obama weighs economic warfare against Iran

One reason Iran has been unwilling to agree to any deal over its nuclear program that would outsource its uranium enrichment to other countries is the fact that it fears its energy supplies being threatened by unfriendly powers, much as U.S. politicians speak glowingly of "energy independence" as a means of promoting national security. It also helps that for decades Iran was exploited by imperial powers such as Russia and Britain, the latter which for a time held a de facto monopoly over Iran's domestic oil production.

So if you're a U.S. policymaker seeking to allay Iran's concern that giving up its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium will leave its energy production at the mercy of unfriendly foreign powers, what do you do? Well if you're the Obama administration, according to the New York Times, you threaten to blockade Iran's importation of refined gasoline, upon which it is dependent:
The Obama administration is talking with allies and Congress about the possibility of imposing an extreme economic sanction against Iran if it fails to respond to President Obama’s offer to negotiate on its nuclear program: cutting off the country’s imports of gasoline and other refined oil products.

The option of acting against companies around the world that supply Iran with 40 percent of its gasoline has been broached with European allies and Israel, officials from those countries said. Legislation that would give Mr. Obama that authority already has 71 sponsors in the Senate and similar legislation is expected to sail through the House.
One wonders (not for long, mind you) whether your typical American lawmaker has ever pondered how the average American would respond were another country proposing a similar act of aggression against the U.S. That Venezuela's Hugo Chavez subsidizes oil for the poor in the the United States (in between often hyperbolic denunciations of U.S. policy) and is still seen as a poster-child for the merits of reducing this country's dependence on foreign oil should offer some insight on the matter.

However, the Obama administration appears to be endorsing National Security Council member Dennis Ross' strategy of pursuing diplomacy as a means of making acts of war more palatable to the so-called international community, in this case exploring ways of blocking importations of refined gasoline into Iran -- which Newshoggers' Steve Hynd notes would necessitate a naval blockade and "would be an unequivocal act of aggressive and illegal warfare under international law" -- a form of economic warfare that produced misery in Iraq, but little in the way of regime change. (For some odd reason, whether they're being bombed or embargoed, people tend to side with the those claiming to defend them -- however poorly -- rather than the people conducting the bombing raids and blocking the importation of basic goods.

Unfortunately, as Hynd observes, Obama's reported consideration of an act of war against Iran over a nuclear weapons program international inspectors and his own intelligence agencies say does not exist doesn't appear to be eliciting the same sort of outraged reaction from Democratic politicians and partisans that might have been expected in the past, with coverage of the silly-things-right-wingers-say dominating much of the conversation.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports:
The U.S. Defense Department wants to accelerate by three years the deployment of a 30,000-pound bunker-buster bomb, a request that reflects growing unease over nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea.


Accelerating the program “is intended to, at the very least, give the president the option of conducting a strike to knock out Iran’s main uranium enrichment capabilities,” said Ken Katzman, Middle East military expert for the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.
Combined with Obama's actions on everything from gays in the military to drone attacks in Pakistan, one could be forgiven for believing the Republicans still control all three branches of government.

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