Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A downside to the United States using its military against Iran that I think we can dismiss as a realistic possibility...

Why do so many people assume that Iran would react to an American (or Israeli) attack on their nuclear facilities by cutting off the flow of oil?

As has been widely reported, the United States does not buy oil directly from Iran. So it's not as if Iran can hurt America by cutting us off from our oil supplies, the way Sony could hurt Best Buy by cutting off deliveries of HDTVs.

Iran's goal in cutting off its supplies of oil would be to try to punish the United States by making the oil we purchase (from other sources) more expensive, a result of Iran's customers - needing to replace their supplies - going into the spot market and driving up prices.

But... while we would pay more money for the oil we get, so too would everybody else in the world have to pay more for the oil they get. Would it do Iran any good in the short or long term to be responsible for the impact caused by their cutting off oil supplies? Would the Mad Mullahs really seek to punish the world for what the United States did?

Many of the countries that would end up paying more are countries that oppose the United States taking military action against Iran, yet have neither the influence with Washington nor the ability to deter Bush from taking military action.

And a number of countries that would be hurt by Iran pulling its oil off the market are countries Iran is trying to build a relationship with. Would Iran want China, one of Iran's biggest oil customers, to have to pay more money... because of something the United States did on its own?

It's not as if one would expect the United States to buckle under the condemnation of countries affected by Iran's oil cutoff. One thing Bush has shown over the past few years is a remarkable willingness to go it alone.

The same reasoning can be used to discount the threat that Iran would seek to blockade the Straits of Hormuz to oil shipments. While this would (could?) keep some oil shipments from reaching the United States, it would also cause havoc with every other country which got its oil this way.... something I just don't think the Iranians would want - or be able to afford - doing.