Friday, February 10, 2012

The Day After an Attack on Iran: An Oil Disaster Scenario

If the U.S. attacks Iran, it won't just be about Iran anymore. Here is just one very possible scenario for 'the day after.' Has Washington thought this through?

I have argued frequently that attacking Iran is a bad deal for U.S. national security, being advocated by U.S. politicians who either are not thinking very deeply or who are working in support of certain obvious foreign factions. But saying that a war on Iran is dangerous does not suffice to make the national security case, and that case in fact is impossible to make conclusively. The argument, from a purely strategic perspective (e.g., ignoring morality, international law), rests on an evaluation of possible unforeseen outcomes. Just for one deadly serious "for instance," consider the following:

  • Step 1. Make the following logical assumption: a U.S. or Israeli (there is no longer any perceived distinction between the two in the Muslim world) attack on Iran will anger Muslims worldwide and all politically active Muslim groups will feel pressure to act accordingly. Therefore, anti-U.S. Muslim steps will be taken independently throughout the world.
  • Step 2. Iranians will quite likely unite to defend their country. Subtract one critical source of oil.
  • Step 3. Iraqis will sympathize. Consider the possibility of Iraqi oil disruptions. 
  • Step 4. Venezuela will sympathize. Consider the possibility of Venezuelan oil disruptions.
  • Step 5. Sure, Steps 3 and 4 may well last only a short time, but here's a longer-term disruption: Nigeria is in the midst of an anti-government radical Muslim revolt already. Consider the possibility of that revolt gaining massive public support overnight, to the point of ending Nigerian oil exports.

Note that these individual potential oil disruptions are not independent: all instantly become much more likely the instant the U.S. commits open aggression against Iran. At this moment, the U.S.-Iranian dispute may be about Iran, but what Washington politicians do not seem to understand is that the instant the attack occurs, a U.S.-Iran problem will be transformed into a U.S.-global Islam problem, with all the little individual issues becoming entangled, generating a reinforcing feedback loop of anti-American activity.

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