Friday, June 25, 2010

Less Than Zero

This morning (on Friday, June 25th) there was a Q & A session at the Federation office with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Dr. John Limbert. He stopped in to give a short description of his experience with Iran (not his Iran Hostage Crisis experience, rather a short history of diplomatic relations with Iran since then). As a veteran of the Foreign Service, educator and writer for over 30 years, his knowledge is up close and personal.

The audience asked a wide variety of questions, some hostile towards diplomacy and some accepting of it. Naturally, the conversation eventually turned toward the recent 99-0 vote to impose sanctions on Iran and how that would work.

He talked a bit about banking and other such stuff, and then he said something to the effect that the price of oil was the best leverage, historically, for getting the government of Iran to "move" and that strategy had worked well in the 50s, for example. He stated that if the price of oil could be brought down to $15 a barrel, this would sufficiently cripple the government of Iran that concessions would start looking nice, but that such leverage did not exist when oil is $87 or so a barrel.

Well, class, you know I couldn't let that pass.

I raised my hand and waited patiently. Several angry commentators spoke before I got my chance, including a Holocaust survivor that was having none of that diplomatic nonsense. She complained that everyone believed Hitler was just "spouting rhetoric," too, back in the 30s. And we all know how that turned out. She said there wasn't time for all this dilly-dallying (my words, not hers) - that Iran intends to nuke Israel and hasn't kept that a secret.

Ambassador Limbert replied to her that the government of Iran did not, of course, care one whit about individual young people's lives and gladly sent them on suicidal missions, but that the government as a whole was not suicidal. It did not wish to see Iran itself embroiled in a war with the West and possibly destroyed. He said this would be the result if Iran nuked Israel, and they knew that, so she shouldn't worry.

That's when I got my turn. I decided to stick with my original concern while speaking to him, but I'll address my second concern regarding his reply to the Holocaust victim with you here in a moment.

So, when I finally got to speak, I said something to the effect that I wanted to address the earlier point about getting the price of oil back down to $15 a barrel. Oil is a fungible commodity. With all the major fields either at or past Hubbard's Peak, and China especially going ahead with modernization great guns (and also India and other countries), that it would take a catastrophic demand destruction to lower the price of oil to that level in any reasonable amount of time - and that Americans are not willing to make that kind of sacrifice, for Israel or anything. How did he think lowering the price of oil to that target was going to be accomplished?

He didn't blink an eye. He was clearly familiar with the points I had raised, and admitted that basically I was correct, that it wasn't likely this would occur, and then went on to mumble something about market forces could eventually do it. I had the distinct impression that he knew all these arguments and had hoped nobody else would ask about them, because there really was no good answer.

Worse, when you add up the first part of that discussion with the second part, it's clear that outside of a precipitous demand destruction, America HAS NO economic lever that can influence the government of Iran. We all know previous embargoes and sanctions have been ignored when it suited key players, such as China, Russia, and even some European partners who clandestinely violated the first embargo of the region during the Iran/Iraq war. In short, thanks to our oil addiction, they have America - and Israel - by the throat and the State Department knows it.

The meeting was about out of time, so I didn't press the point - other people wanted to speak. But you know as well as I do that Hubbard's Peak IS a market force, an immovable one. No more oil is being created, as as the disaster in the Gulf shows, we are pushing the far edge of our technological capabilities to get what's left. There isn't going to be much, if anything, in the way of improvements in any sort of time frame that would cripple Iran to the point of giving up their goal of nuking Israel.

Thinking that strategy will work in this day and age is a pipe dream, class.

And I have serious doubts about his reply to the Holocaust survivor, too. I don't think what he told her was true. The US is deeply in debt - so much so that the words "sovereign debt crisis" have been spoken fearlessly by some US economic analysts. And on top of that we're spending about HALF our tax dollars each year on the military industrial complex - half, class.

This cannot go on. The Baby Boomer voting block is soon going to realize that they have a choice - either fund the military or fund their own Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment Benefits. Do you really think the "me generation" is going to choose guns over retirement? I'm thinking not. A taxpayer revolt is brewing, and I don't mean those teaparty nuts. They WANT the war, and they WANT to continue the astronomical military spending. Intelligent people are going to realize, however, that you can't have both and they'd just as soon not die in the street with no old age benefits or healthcare. It's only a matter of time.

And Iran knows this, too. All they have to do is wait - wait until our economy implodes one way or the other. Either the military industrial complex will suck up so many American dollars (and future dollars in the form of debt) that the economy completely collapses under it, or the Boomers and others will vote away the military. All roads lead to a vast reduction in military expenditures since there will be, one way or the other, no more funds for a global military empire, for oil or anything else for that matter.

It's a game of chicken that Iran knows it CAN win. It just has to talk nice, stall, and stall some more until the crash occurs. Whether that crash comes in the form of IMF or Wold Bank imposed austerity measures, a taxpayer revolt, or sheer economic collapse doesn't matter. The endgame is 99% inevitable now.

So Iran's best policy is to continue to do what they're doing, regardless of sanctions, because the day is fast approaching when they CAN nuke Israel and get away with it, because there won't be a "Great Satan" to retaliate.

Or, they may decide that even if the US can still retaliate, it's still worth it to nuke Israel because the US is full of liberal wusses who would not let Iran be destroyed just because she did something silly like nuke Israel. After all, liberals aren't that wild about Israel, mostly. And the oil problem would be solved for a while if Israel were out of the way, now wouldn't it?

So I think the Ambassador is wrong, on both these points. Iran will keep rolling in the dough from oil sales, either openly or under the table, and if they wait long enough they won't have to worry about the US protecting Israel or Europe anymore. The US will be dead in the water while Iran can still go forward full steam ahead. There are no sanctions that will change this reality, and Iran is fully cognizant of this fact.

Diplomacy doesn't have a chance - less than zero. There's no logical reason for them to give up their goal of the destruction of Israel.

The title of this post is taken from the book "Less than Zero" by Bret Easton Ellis, probably my favorite existentialist story. If you haven't read it you won't get why it's relevant to my life personally or this situation with Iran generally, and I'm not going to take time to explain either here. So put it on your summer reading list and ponder away - Miss Gayle

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