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Friday, August 9, 2013

Just Follow the Oil

Washington's fuss over Iran has more to do with its natural gas and oil reserves than anything else.

Like the United States and most other world powers, Iran foolishly wants to be in the nuclear power business. Atoms offer energy diversity and national prestige, plus a lot of bucks for somebody.

There are plenty of environmental and safety reasons to oppose the construction and operation of nuclear reactors. Key among them is the fact that there’s no proven safe system to dispose of or store the highly radioactive waste they generate.

But that’s not what makes Washington object. The Obama administration loves nuclear power and is angling to get more reactors built on our own soil. Our government’s concern is that Iran’s nuclear power is just a convenient cover for its aspiration to acquire nuclear weapons.

This skepticism isn’t unreasonable. After all, Iran ranks as the world’s second-largest natural gas reservoir and it’s got the planet’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves, according to U.S. government estimates.

Israel claims that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, they would be directed its way, and therefore, there’s no choice but to mull the bombing of Iran’s nuclear operations. An attack by Israel, which itself possesses nuclear weapons, on Iran could unleash regional mayhem.

While probably less devastating than a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the U.S.-led UN sanctions against Iran for its nuclear efforts are proving brutal, depriving average Iranians of prescription and over-the-counter drugsInflation is raging and the quality of life in Iran is declining across the board.

Meanwhile, some scholars are debating whether the sanctions actually constitute an act of war, and it’s starting to look like efforts to enforce the sanctions in Europe are hitting legal roadblocks.
There’s a chance that things will soon appear less intractable. Iranians recently elected a new president, Hassan Rouhani, who experts deemed to be the most “moderate” candidate. He takes office in August.

So there could be some reason to stop considering the potential for that kind of carnage. But there’s no way to end Iran’s status as a U.S. foreign policy priority.

What exactly is at stake?

The answer is the same as with Iraq, Libya, and Venezuela. They’ve all got oil and gas, and the United States wants as much access to their fossil fuels as possible.

Our leaders don’t relish occupation. They just want to ensure that our consumers and companies can obtain all the oil they wish to consume, and that American oil companies can suck up all the profits they can guzzle.

Iran, after all, is the land where oil and foreign policy first pooled together. After seven years of searching for oil in what used to be called Persia, William Knox D’Arcy, a British entrepreneur, found black gold there in 1908. His discovery officially turned the Middle East into an oil hotspot, a fate from which the region has yet to recover.

In the early 1950s, Iran elected Mohamed Mossedegh president. He was a progressive and popular politician who wanted Iran to take control of its own oil and become a great nation.

Washington had other plans. In 1953 the CIA engineered a coup that ousted Mossadegh and installed the Shah, who ensured that U.S. and British oil companies could resume their siphoning away of the Iranian oil industry’s profits. Iranians have hated our government ever since. In 1979, they chucked the Shah and eradicated the last traces of foreign influence over their oil fields.

For perspective, just remember Watergate and its theme, “Follow the Money.” In the Middle East, our national modus operandi is simply “Follow the Oil.”

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.