Politics & Policy

Ready For $60-a-Barrel Oil?

The Iranian election strategy at work.

So the Iranians seized some British “warships” yesterday, and arrested eight British naval officers. That’s what the Iranians announced in the morning, and that’s all we’ve heard. The chatterers were agog. Why would the Iranians do such a crazy thing? Do they really want war (If that isn’t a good old-fashioned causus belli, what is?)? Etc.

Yes, they’re crazy, no doubt. But they’re not stupid. And if an Iranian action seems stupid, you’re probably misinterpreting it. There’s a perfectly straightforward explanation for the whole episode: The Brits were laying down a network of sensors to detect the movement of ships toward major Iraqi oil terminals. The Iranians considered that a bit of a threat. So they attacked.

And why, you might ask, did the Iranians feel threatened?

Because they were planning to attack (or have their surrogates attack) the oil terminals, silly.

And why attack the oil terminals?

Because they want to defeat President Bush in November, and they figure if they can get the price of oil up to around $60 a barrel, he’ll lose to Kerry.

Not to mention a considerable side benefit: At $60 a barrel, they can buy whatever they may be lacking to get their atomic bombs up and running.

It’s not that hard to understand the mullahs once you learn to think as they do, and understand their hopes and fears.

What do they hope? That Bush will lose; that the Coalition will collapse; that they can dominate Iraq and create an Islamic republic in the Iranian image. That will expand their power in the region, totally demoralize the internal democratic opposition, and drive America from the Middle East, thereby permitting them to complete their nuclear-weapons program at their leisure. A dream come true.

What do they fear? Above all, their own people. (And a free, relatively stable Iraq would inspire the Iranian people to demand the same freedom for themselves, meaning the end of the mullahcracy). An aggressive American policy in support of democratic revolution in Iran, for the same reason. A collapse in oil prices. The reelection of George W. Bush.

So you see at once the bases of Iranian policy: Drive oil prices up and the Americans out of Iraq, whatever the cost. The Brits were in the way, blocking easy access for saboteurs to the Iraqi oil facilities. Ergo the “crazy” action. Which turns out to be not so crazy at all.

And one other thing: The Iranians figure they’ve got the Brits under control, because the Brits have lots of contracts with them. Thus far, the Brits have behaved like good little boys, forestalling any effective steps to get in the way of the nuclear program, and lobbying the Bush administration to be “reasonable” and “patient.” You can be sure that the British foreign office has every confidence that no harm will come to their officers, and that the incident will be resolved quickly and even amiably.

Not crazy at all. In fact, they’re winning.

If anybody cares, it’s a good bet that Iranian-sponsored hit squads will be going after lots of oil terminals and refineries in the next couple of months.

But it’s hard to find anyone who cares. I guess we can afford $60 a barrel, and I suppose Foggy Bottom and the CIA will be able to manage a nuclear Iran. Right?

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


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