This article makes me wonder what the U.S. is playing at, while I realize that in international politics everyone is out for themselves this move just seems ridiculous. Saudi Arabia cannot afford to confront Iran directly, agreeing to give the Chinese the oil they need if Iran’s exports are curtailed will, make no mistake about it, lead to a direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. I have three reasons why Saudi Arabia should, at least in public, decline this ludicrous request.
1. Saudi Arabia cannot afford a direct confrontation with Iran. The Iran-Iraq war proved that if there is a war in the region there will be no winners (unless of course Israel is involved, and I doubt Israel will want any part of a Saudi – Iran war)
2. Iran – Saudi war will definitely spill over to Iraq. Some analysts already see the friction in Iraq as the start of a proxy war between the two groups. Iran has a small population of Sunni’s and Saudi Arabia has a small but active population of Shiites. The minorities in both countries would face serious consequences in countries that already have dubious human right credentials.
3. Any confrontation in the region, besides being devastating to the countries involved, will cause the price of oil to l sky rocket. I don’t know what happened to oil prices in WWII, though I know the war got us out of the great depression. I somehow doubt the world will be able to pay high prices for oil, specially after the current financial crises.
An alternative would be to have Venezuela or Nigeria supply the oil. They are all members of OPEC so Saudi Arabia could covertly influence them to supply it. I would stay away from asking Iraq or Saudi Arabia to supply oil to China in return for China’s support for sanctions against Iran. I wouldn’t exactly call the region a powder keg ready to blow up, it is however an oil field and while oil is not as explosive as gun powder, it burns for a long, long time when it does catch fire.
Here’s my take on the proposed US solution to help China with its ‘trade-off’.
First of all, I don’t get it why the US doesn’t understand that imposing sanctions on Iran is not going to stop them from carrying on their goal of uranium enrichment for ‘nuclear power generated energy’ and/or nuclear arsenel. Now I understand their intent of course but what happened with imposing all sorts of sanctions on North Korea for example?
Now coming to China, I’m not too sure who foots the bill for the subsidized oil that they probably get from Iran (not sure if thats true, but I’d be more inclined towards thinking that they do, otherwise why not go with Riyadh to begin with, win win situation for both countries). I don’t think that a Saudi/Iran confrontation would break a war, unless Saudia attacks Iran (like Iraq did in the Gulf war), which is super unlikely to happen. Iran will most likely refrain from attacking Saudia because of the US presence around (in Saudia, Iraq, and Afghanistan). And in the case if a war does break out, you can bet on anything that Israel will want a piece of that because of the high risk that if Iran possesses nuclear arms, then Israel would have a lot to worry about.
My solution? hmm well I don’t know exactly how to go about this issue but one thing is for sure, sanctions will not help in this case, but dialogue can. Sanctions didn’t stop India or Pakistan from testing their nuclear weapons. I would be more inclined towards giving Iran the possibility of trade and improving its economy in return for a mutual understanding of stoping uranium enrichment.
I think a confrontation is more likely then we like to think it is, though Iraq will likely bear the brunt of the conflict. Israel never, overtly, got involved in the Iran-Iraq war so I think they will be wary of stepping into another Shia – Sunni war. Iran didn’t send any pilgrims for Hajj this year, which was a very surprising move. The official reason was fear of H1N1 but I think another reason may have been that it wanted to send Saudi Arabia a message about the religious leadership.
I don’t know how anyone can stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons if it is intent on obtaining it whatever the cost. I am definitely not in favor of the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region but I don’t see any program that has actually worked in the rest of the world that can be applied in this situation. Since sanctions don’t work, I agree with your sentiment of trying diplomacy.
Thanks guys for the detailed comments. My take on this is that U.S. foreign policy has been a little “uneven” since the new administration has come in. Barack thought the Cult of Personality would just translate into “Everyone will do as I say”, and thus thought he could tell some of the crazies of the world to behave. Clearly they did not.
So now we’re at this point. All of the crazies have sensed weakness, and now are starting to posture as if they are now in charge. Whether that’s ICBMs, nuclear weapons, terror attacks. How we fix it, to me also, is unclear. But this strategy of turn Saudi Arabia against Iran (again) doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. It’s like “hey, a war over there is better than Iran attacking us with nukes.” Yeah, not so much.
Iran or any nation for that matter cannot exist in isolation. Obviously, diplomacy has not worked as the US has reached out to Iran and gotten a slap in the face in return. The US cannot afford another war in the region, so I definitely think it’s high time the nations came together and impose sanctions that have a direct impact on the Iranian government. At some point they will realize that nuclear weapons do not put food in the mouths of the people of Iran. Sanctions have not worked in the past because they have not been supported by the necessary parties – China, Russia, etc. I believe this situation is definitely beyond diplomacy it is time for Iran to feel the pain. It’s no North Korea…
The Devil, as they say, is in the details. When in the long sad history of human diplomacy have sanctions actually worked? The worst nation on earth in terms of human rights, in my opinion, is Mayanmar. Have sanctions worked on them? no. India and China are making a too much money trading with the military junta there to support sanctions. We will never get everyone, for better or worse, to support a single cause and that’s just honest truth of the matter.
Sanctions also assume that the party you are sanctioning is a “rational” player, i.e. cares about the people of the country and their well-being. Sure, if Ahmedinajad is smart, he’d realize that he could be overthrown by the people…but the people are also smart enough to know that there could just as easily be a mass murder if they try.
Given the meager success of “promoting democracy” around the world, the U.S. is in a tough spot. Clearly, there’s no support from the U.N., and no money in the U.S., for Obama to crack some skulls in Iran (assuming that he wanted to). Sanctions are better than nothing I guess, but not if it causes another war to break out in the Middle East.
It’s a tough predicament.
I agree Randy, the “rational” player assumption is probably the most important part of this whole issue. Sanctions that hurt the people only work if the leader cares about the people. Unfortunately the current Iranian leadership will probably portray any new sanctions as an example of how the world is against the people of Iran, which will probably have implication for the opposition party. What credible alternatives does the Obama administration have?
In terms of credible alternatives, I think the current administration missed the opportunity when there was that student uprising in Iran and Obama decided to straddle both sides for a while. In my opinion, the clear move would’ve been to support the uprising; yes, it creates an awkward diplomacy with the official Iranian government in future talks, but I think there was a ton of leverage to be gained by the U.S. explicitly backing the student protesters and their demands.
But, hindsight is 20/20 and all that. I’ll be sure to tell you what the U.S. should do about Iran in a few years after I’ve had time to “think” about what *should’ve been* done about the current situation ;)