Iran's Nuclear Ambitions And America's Misguidedly Dismissed Countervailing Option

11/06/2011 09:32 pm ET | Updated Jan 06, 2012
  • Raymond J. Learsy Author, 'Ruminations on the Distortion of Oil Prices and Crony Capitalism'

A chilling New York Times article, "America's Deadly Dynamics With Iran," touches on the gruesome prospects of Iran achieving nuclear weapons capability, and what, short of a preemptive attack, could be done to thwart Iran's ambitions.

According to the article, the issue is about to take on heightened urgency with the release this week of the International Atomic Energy Agency Report, which is expected to spell out that Iran has conducted tests on nuclear trigger devices, conducted abstruse experiments to spark a nuclear reaction, and, of particular concern, wrestled with designs that can miniaturize a nuclear device into small confines. Then the article frighteningly muses on the prospect that if Iran ever slips a bomb to a proxy -- "Hezbollah, Hamas or some other terrorist group" --ascertaining a bomb's return address could take months if it "went off in some American city or in Riyadh or Tel Aviv" before it was ever identified as Iranian, thereby seriously complicating meaningful retaliation.

Outside a surgically precise strike with all its risks of full-scale war, the only weapon on the table being considered by the Obama administration is a heightened tempo of sanctions. The New York Times article points out:

While the Obama administration may act unilaterally to shut down transactions with Iran's central bank, officials concede that the only economic step that could give the mullahs pause would be a ban on Iranian oil exports. With oil already hovering around $93 a barrel, no one in the administration is willing to risk a step that could send prices soaring and, in the worst case, cause a confrontation at sea over a blockade.

As pointed out previously, that conclusion and fears of a sharp increase in oil prices can be readily offset. It will need the singular cooperation of Saudi Arabia and the five other Arab Gulf states that, according to the article, are the beneficiaries of a Pentagon plan whereby the United States will have spent billions of dollars installing antimissile batteries on their territory

Yet these six Arab "allies" bordering the Persian Gulf have the capability to fashion "the one solution that could make the mullahs pause," which is "a ban on Iranian oil exports" -- this without in any way risking a spike in oil prices. Iran ships some 2.4 million barrels of oil per day. Saudi Arabia alone has spare production capacity standing idle of more the 4 million barrels a day. An assurance from the six "allies" that they would service any market shortfall caused by an Iranian oil embargo, at prices reflecting the current market, would not only give the "mullahs" pause but very possibly would bring down their regime.

In addition to the installation of antimissile batteries at a cost of billions, the United States currently has positioned a Naval Task Force of some 30 warships, including two aircraft carriers, to defensively ply the Persian Gulf and the coast of the six Arab "allies" at the out-of-pocket cost to American taxpayers of more than $100 million a day, or more than $36 billion dollars a year. And this without counting the enormous cost of the military hardware being put at risk. Are we getting fair value for this expenditure and exposure? Is anyone discussing this issue? If we do not get the Persian Gulf Arab states to support placing an effective oil embargo on Iran, perhaps we should begin to contemplate the possibility of weighing anchor and bringing the fleet and the boys and ladies home, and letting these "allies" deal with Iran on their own.

Oh, yes, by the way, a fascinating Financial Times article, "Pendulum Swings On American Oil Independence," sets out a not-generally-understood issue: with new drilling techniques, such as those now in play in North Dakota, and the vast gas reserves in deposits like the Marcellus Shale, Eagle Ford, Barnett Basin and so on, in the coming decade "the US will leapfrog Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the largest producer of hydrocarbons, counting both crude oil and lighter natural gas liquids such as propane and ethane." The article goes on to conjecture that even if the most optimistic hopes are not fulfilled, "one can imagine a future in which the US imports oil only from Canada, Mexico and a handful of friendly countries such as Brazil."

It would be propitious to all concerned if countries such as Saudi Arabia could be listed among the "handful of friendly countries."