The Iranian Petroleum Crisis and United States National Security
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Some war advocates believe that U.S. military action would not generate support for the regime. They cite the example of Irani dissent against the Iran--Iraq War to assert that an attack would not unite Iran against the U.S.:"Something so secular and adventitious as an American airstrike on a nuclear facility is very unlikely to bring back that magic, that love of God and man, that can send young boys across minefields on motorcycles."This assertion ignores Iran’s fierce resistance to Iraq’s invasion of 1980. When Saddam Hussein attempted to seize Iran’s oil province of Khuzestan, even Khuzestani Arabs rallied to Irani nationalism. Indeed, the invasion united all Iran behind a theocracy whose grasp on power had been far from secure. Dissent arose only many years later. After Iraqi forces were driven from Iran, Khomeini determined not to quit fighting until Saddam Hussein was deposed. Irani forces thus pursued Saddam’s army deep into Iraq in an invasion that faltered only at the gates of Basra. This was when protest began, after most of the 750,000 Iranis who would perish in the war were already dead.Protests decried any further slaughter in what had become an expeditionary war. Of the need to resist invasion in 1980 there had been no dissent, only volunteers for battle. A U.S. war or air campaign would seem the equivalent of Saddam Hussein’s invasion. Furthermore, U.S. military action would allow the theocracy to escape culpability for the economic disaster looming before Iran. Perceived responsibility for economic problems would be transferred to the U.S., as happened in Iraq.
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To summarize, Iran’s claim that its nuclear technology is entirely peaceful appears to be false (insofar as we can judge from the statements of arms control officials). However, the oil export decline we project implies that Iran’s claim to need nuclear power to preserve exports is genuine. U.S. insistence that Iran’s nuclear technology program has no economic purpose has obscured the regime’s petroleum crisis, of which the nuclear power need is one symptom. If export decline proceeds as we project, Iran might try to optimize revenue by threatening to cut supply unless some unreasonable concession were met. Iran could ostensibly make good such a threat by disguising export decline as a voluntary cut. The persistence of the ‘‘oil weapon’’ belief in importer states makes this gambit likely to work. A fear premium would attach to price, buffering Irani revenue from export decline.