This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
The ayatollahs lost the last shreds of plausible deniability Tuesday when the International Atomic Energy Agency documented Iran’s drive for nuclear missiles in damning detail.
Nuclear weapons in the hands of this extremist, unstable theocracy would be uniquely dangerous. Iran’s foreign policy consists of intimidating its Arab neighbors, spreading its revolutionary Shiite dogma, sponsoring terror attacks and destroying the state of Israel – which is capable of mounting a catastrophic nuclear pre-emptive strike.
This threat has a foundation deeper than Shiite radicalism. Follow the oil.
Without the intense global thirst for petroleum, Iran’s theocracy might have been gone the way of Moammar Gadhafi long ago.
The theocracy is funded chiefly by Iran’s oil sales. It uses that money to subsidize food and energy, and otherwise keep the Iranian people dependent on government largess.
Oil revenue pays for Iran’s military and for its “peaceful” nuclear program. And the ayatollahs use petroleum to insulate themselves against outside pressure.
The logical response to the IAEA’s report would be crippling international sanctions. But Western governments, including the Obama administration, are worried that tough economic punishment could choke off Iranian petroleum exports – driving up the cost of oil and threatening weakened economies around the world.
Oil demand creates the monster; oil demand protects the monster.
It’s an all-too-familiar phenomenon. Petroleum revenues propped up the old Soviet Union, which collapsed along with oil prices in the late 1980s; now petroleum sales are propping up the revived autocratic Russia.
Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela would be a farcical imitation of impoverished Cuba if it weren’t pumping out 2.3 million barrels of oil a day. Iraq’s oil revenues financed Saddam Hussein’s aggressions and quest for nuclear weapons prior to the first Gulf war; fears that the crumbling of sanctions would let him again control those revenues helped spark America’s second Gulf war.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the world’s top five oil producers, in order, are Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United States, China and Iran. How many of those share America’s interests and democratic values?
Reducing the price of crude – ultimately by cutting demand for petroleum – might be the single most effective strategy for peace in the Middle East and other regions threatened by oil-financed dictatorships.
The demand for petroleum is chiefly driven by the internal combustion engine. Hybrid and highly fuel-efficient cars can help starve Iran and other bad actors. So can electric cars. So can biofuels. So can mass transit, anti-sprawl land-use policies and car-pooling. So can anything that disconnects us from the likes of Iran.
The day before the IAEA released its report, Continental Airlines 1403 became the first passenger flight powered by biofuel, including an oil excreted by genetically modified algae. At Sea-Tac Airport the day after, Alaska Airlines launched a series of flights fueled partly by recycled cooking oil.
These were experiments; the fuels involved aren’t yet remotely affordable enough for commercial use. But the day the world can tell Iran to drink its oil can’t come too soon.