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What if ...? Solving the Iran stand-off

by Craig Rowley

I have been mulling over a question or two. Make that a whole series of questions. They are '"What if ..." questions.  They are not messy and futile backward looking "What if ..." questions of the "toothpaste back into the tube" type. They are future focused, solution focused questions that ask what if we could do something, what if we did this or something like it or something else. What if we could work through a problem together?

The Iranian regime has a nuclear program.  It includes several research sites, a uranium mine, a nuclear reactor, and uranium processing facilities that include a uranium enrichment plant. Iran claims it is using the technology for peaceful purposes. The United States, however, makes the allegation that the program is part of a drive to develop nuclear weapons. A nuclear program for peaceful purposes, even one involving the enrichment of uranium, is allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), whilst a nuclear weapons development program is not. And therein lies the nub of the problem.

In the last weeks of last year the UN Security Council approved economic sanctions on Iran. If Tehran fails to comply with resolution 1737 by the end of a 60-day deadline that the UN imposed, the Security Council will consider new measures.  What if the Iranian regime fails to comply?

In a few weeks time the 35 members of the Board of Governors of the United Nation's nuclear monitoring body, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will meet in Vienna and review the reports compiled by their inspection teams. They need to decide whether Iran has taken the steps required by their resolution GOV/2006/14, steps "which are essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose of its nuclear programme."   The IAEA will then make its report to the UN Security Council on Iran’s nuclear activities.  What if the IAEA reports that Iran failed to comply with their resolution and thereby Security Council resolution 1737? What then? What is the next move for the Security Council?

Coercive diplomacy seems to have been the strategy so far.  That was reflected in the first Security Council resolution on Iran in response to its nuclear programme. In June 2006, acting under Article 40 of Chapter VII of the United Nations in order to make mandatory the IAEA requirement that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment activities, the Security Council issued resolution 1696  threatening Iran with economic sanctions in case of non-compliance. Resolution 1696  avoided any implication that use of force may be warranted. Exercise of that option, the use of force, was premature.

Resolution 1737 did not include a clear statement that use of force would be warranted in case of non-compliance. With Resolution 1737 the Security Council affirmed only that it shall review Iran’s actions in the light of the IAEA’s report and:

(a) that it shall suspend the implementation of measures if and for so long as Iran suspends all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, as verified by the IAEA, to allow for negotiations;

(b) that it shall terminate the measures specified in … this resolution as soon as it determines that Iran has fully complied with its obligations under the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and met the requirements of the IAEA Board of Governors, as confirmed by the IAEA Board;

(c) that it shall, in the event that the report … [by the IAEA] … shows that Iran has not complied with this resolution, adopt further appropriate measures under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to persuade Iran to comply with this resolution and the requirements of the IAEA, and underlines that further decisions will be required should such additional measures be necessary.

The Security Council could continue with the current sanctions and set a new deadline with an explicit threat attached. What if it does so? What is likely to happen after that?

The Security Council could authorise additional and more punitive sanctions. What if it did this? What is likely to happen in this scenario?

And though unlikely at this stage, the Security Council could ultimately authorise action more punitive, more violent, than the use of sanctions. What if it does?

As we enter dialogue and together consider these questions, and in all likelihood the assumptions on which each of us base our answers to these questions, I hope we can look to the possibility of a positive outcome.

As we’ve been discussing the issues in Ceasefire and I’ve been keeping myself informed, learning what I can about the issues raised and considering everything constructive that I’ve come across during that time, I chanced upon some old Persian wisdom: “Epigrams succeed where epics fail.”  So what if we keep this in mind: People make peace.

What if a way could be found, with the help of any people who want to find a way, a way without war, a firm and fair way to have Iran take those steps needed for it to be taken off America's state-sponsors-of-terrorism list without anyone being wiped of any map?  What if we considered what Albert Einstein said about the menace of mass destruction?

"Most people go on living their everyday life: half frightened, half indifferent, they behold the ghastly tragi-comedy that is being performed on the international stage before the eyes and ears of the world ... It would be different if the problem were not one of things made by Man himself, such as the atomic bomb ... It would be different, for instance, if an epidemic of bubonic plague were threatening the entire world.

In such a case, conscientious and expert persons would be brought together and they would work out an intelligent plan to combat the plague. After having reached agreement upon the right ways and means, they would submit their plan to the governments. Those would hardly raise serious objections but rather agree speedily on the measures to be taken ... They certainly would never think of trying to handle the matter in such a way that their own nation would be spared whereas the next one would be decimated. But could not our situation be compared to one of a menacing epidemic?

People are unable to view this situation in its true light, for their eyes are blinded by passion. General fear and anxiety create hatred and aggressiveness. The adaptation to warlike aims and activities has corrupted the mentality of man; as a result, intelligent, objective and humane thinking has hardly any effect and is even suspected and persecuted as unpatriotic."  

- Albert Einstein, 'The Menace of Mass Destruction', in Out of My Later Years.

What if we did compare our situation to one of a menacing epidemic? What if conscientious and expert, intelligent, objective and humane thinking persons were brought together to work out an intelligent plan to solve this problem?

I’ve been mulling over these questions. Most of all I’ve have in mind a couple prompted by a quote by John Ralston Saul  that Margo Kingston used to open the final chapter of Not Happy, John!  That quote is: “If we believe in democracy you have to believe in the power of the citizen – there is no such thing as abstract democracy.”

And the questions I mostly think about now are these: What if we, as the citizens of free democracies and the peoples seeking a democratic future, believed in our power? What if we exercised our real power, did not unthinkingly leave these problems entirely to the powers that be, and could work through our problems together? 

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Another myth

Peter Hindrup: "Cut off the oil, cripple the world economy.  Which country will suffer  soonest? The US."

Um, actually no. It would be Iran that suffered the soonest and the longest. The US does produce oil if you did not already know. It however does not export it. All oil produced is used for domestic consumption. Iran on the other hand as one important industry. Guess which one?

The US may be caused some economic problems. Iran on the other hand starves to death. Any idea how many petroleum products they actually import? On top of massive prices rises for things such as plastics and chemicals, Iran is not earning any income.

I am guessing somebody once thought about this rather silly move. I am also guessing they were told fairly smartly about why it will never be put into place.  Trading is about percentages. When the percentages are not in your favour there can be only one result.

The "impending attack on Iran" meme

Craig Rowley: "Are these lines in the NYT article, not quoted by C Parsons,  something he won't want you to read?"

Nope, that cannot be it, otherwise he wouldn't have given you a link straight to the article.

Craig Rowley: "Whether it's fabricated or real, we still haven't been shown the 'evidence' as yet."

That sounds just like the line you ran on the Iranian 'diplomats' who turned out to be security agents, remember? The Americans pointed out quite clearly at the time that the "dipomats" were found to be not accredited to the Iranian consulate and the men did not identify themselves as diplomats or have diplomatic credentials.  But you still had to go on day after day after day insisting they were diplomats. Until finally they themselves admitted they were Iranian security agents and they were then set free.

Anyway, the point is you keep going on and on and on about the "impending attack on Iran by the United States", just like the official state propaganda media in Iran, and must now also defend the proposition that Iranian agents in Iraq aren't attacking Americans.  I bet even the Iranians wouldn't bother defending that line. Why do you feel the need to go on pretending on Iran's behalf? Why go on and on and on peddling the "impending attack on Iran" meme?

The C Parsons Straw Man Special with a Twist

C Parsons: "... just like the line you ran on the Iranian 'diplomats' who turned out to be security agents ... . you still had to go on day after day after day insisting they were diplomats."

A straw man. "You" in this case being C Parsons' imaginary adversary. 

It's not the first time he's tried to set up this particular straw man. 

I'd asked C Parsons when he tried to raise his straw man back in December on Cease Fire! : "And where ... oh where ... have I said that the Iranian government is not meddling in Iraqi affairs?" 

He wasn't able to point to an instance, of course, because the reality is that I'd never said such a thing.  What I did say is that we'd have to wait quite a while to see the "credible evidence" whilst noting that we'd be likely to keep hearing about it.

We'd have to wait forever to see "credible evidence" for C Parsons assertions about anyone going on "day after day after day insisting they were diplomats". It doesn't exist. 

C Parsons: "Anyway, the point is you keep going on and on and on about the 'impending attack on Iran by the United States' ..." 

Another straw man.  

Look through the comments on this thread and the 1,370 comments on Cease Fire!  I've not once used the words "impending attack on Iran" whether by the US or anyone else. The only person to have done so on Webdiary is Jay White (on February 7).  C Parsons himself has mentioned "imminent attack" more often than anyone else. 

The fact of the matter is I've agreed with Will Howard that what any of these nations will or will not do remains in the realm of speculation.  So let me make clear my views on the possibility of military action sparked by the Iran standoff:

Will the US attack Iran? I don't know.  Might the US attack Iran? Yes, it might.  President Bush and co keep reminding us that all options remain on the table.

Will Iran attack the US? I don't know. Might Iran attack the US? Yes, it might attack US interests.

Will Israel attack Iran? I don't know. Might Israel attack Iran? Yes, it might. 

Will Iran attack Israel? I don't know. Might Iran attack Israel? Yes, it might. 

C Parsons: "... and must now also defend the proposition that Iranian agents in Iraq aren't attacking Americans."

A twist. Who actually accepts the proposition that Iranian agents in Iraq are attacking Americans prior to seeing credible evidence?

C Parsons has now twisted "meddling" into "attacking" and we've still not laid eyes on "credible evidence" for either.  Hearing his cues from neocon HQ seems to be good enough.

Iranians bomb Americans - now there's a twist

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran....

The focus of American concern is known as an “explosively formed penetrator,” a particularly deadly type of roadside bomb being used by Shiite groups in attacks on American troops in Iraq. Attacks using the device have doubled in the past year, and have prompted increasing concern among military officers. In the last three months of 2006, attacks using the weapons accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq, though less than a quarter of the total, military officials say.

Now that's something you won't read in Green Left Cash Payments.

Pinch of salt

Are these lines in the NYT article, not quoted by C Parsons,  something he won't want you to read?

Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile. The officials said they were willing to discuss the issue to respond to what they described as an increasingly worrisome threat to American forces in Iraq, and were not trying to lay the basis for an American attack on Iran.

...

Administration officials said they recognized that intelligence failures related to prewar American claims about Iraq’s weapons arsenal could make critics skeptical about the American claims.

...

Iran has publicly denied the allegations that it is providing military support to Shiite militants in Iraq. Javad Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in an Op-Ed article published on Thursday in The Times that the Bush administration was “trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq.”

Whether it's fabricated or real, we still haven't been shown the 'evidence' as yet.  And intelligence failures related to prewar American claims about Iraq’s weapons arsenal make any reasonable person skeptical about American claims. The Bush administration's claims are always best taken with a pinch of salt.

But ... What if the evidence is finally revealed next week and it does establish real "lethal support" by Iran to the Shiite militants in Iraq?  What is 'proved' by that?  That Cheney made a grave error in knocking back the Iranian's peace proposal in 2003? Or that it does lay the basis for he and Bush to get the go-ahead to make another one?

"Not a good way to do things"

G'day Craig (and Daniel, Michael, Peter), some people are slow to learn, some do not as they are otherwise engaged and perhaps it is the victims who learn fastest. Whether it is an illness caused by radioactive dust stirred up by as massive explosion at a former nuclear weapons test site or a parent confronted by the ruins of their house and the dismembered bodies of their family strewn through the wreckage, the thought strikes very quickly that it was not good that the action that caused those results was taken. Somewhere else people initiated those actions. Do they learn? Do they even care?

Are there more entertaining subjects to focus on?

I recall previous mention of Divine Strake and encountered the subject during my researches. Not just a learning difficulty in planning such events but perhaps a failure in logic - referring back to "at a former nuclear weapons test site", one would think that the possibility of stirring up radioactive dust would have raised its ugly head. Did it not or do some not care?

Bit stark so far so perhaps a change of tone, if only briefly. I note all the various "Divines" you mentioned. Glad to see there was no "Divine Miss M" as the headline "Divine Miss M bombs in big way" would not have gone down well in some quarters (G'day Margo).

Back to the issue and more from Newsweek to add to your link.

The above includes a claim that a third carrier group is on its way - but the denials continue. Oh, the denials. I refer back to this Robert Parry article I originally linked on Cease fire! This is a reminder about previous denials:

Though Bush insists that no decision has been made on attacking Iran, he offered similar assurances of his commitment to peace in the months before invading Iraq in 2003. Yet leaked documents from London made clear that he had set a course for war nine months to a year before the Iraq invasion.

In other words, Bush's statements that he has no plans to "invade" Iran and that he's still committed to settle differences with Iran over its nuclear program diplomatically should be taken with a grain of salt.

As I said, they have form.

William E. Odom looks at Iraq and the region and suggests a change of approach.

The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush's illusions from the realities of the war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE, the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a declaration of defeat.

Its gloomy implications -- hedged, as intelligence agencies prefer, in rubbery language that cannot soften its impact -- put the intelligence community and the American public on the same page. The public awakened to the reality of failure in Iraq last year and turned the Republicans out of control of Congress to wake it up. But a majority of its members are still asleep, or only half-awake to their new writ to end the war soon.

Perhaps this is not surprising. Americans do not warm to defeat or failure, and our politicians are famously reluctant to admit their own responsibility for anything resembling those un-American outcomes. So they beat around the bush, wringing hands and debating "nonbinding resolutions" that oppose the president's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

For the moment, the collision of the public's clarity of mind, the president's relentless pursuit of defeat and Congress's anxiety has paralyzed us. We may be doomed to two more years of chasing the mirage of democracy in Iraq and possibly widening the war to Iran. But this is not inevitable. A Congress, or a president, prepared to quit the game of "who gets the blame" could begin to alter American strategy in ways that will vastly improve the prospects of a more stable Middle East.

Does he ask too much of the Commander? Here is the psych assessment I linked on Irises for those who missed it.

Lots to be concerned about so perhaps we can imagine a photo op - "Just stand atop that 700 tonne heap of high explosives, Mr President and Mr Vice-President, and say 'Cheese'".

Just before you draw your terminal breath.

G'day Daniel, I thought I'd add another line from that song. We look at the evidence, analyses and the historical record and it is difficult to be optimistic in light of these. At minimum there is a dangerous game of bluff and bluster and brinkmanship at play. At worst there is a plan for the US to strike Iran. In the former case, as has been pointed out, momentum can take over or accidents or misunderstandings can cause unintended consequences.

Another example of the liberal attitude to truth is this effort by Condi "Mushroom Cloud" Rice to confuse the issue of the 2003 Iranian approach to the Bush Administration. Sensible was the suggestion by Craig: "Well, Mr Johndroe, you and your bosses need to be more convincing." They have tried to be convincing, but far too often what they have tried to purvey has not been true. They have form and it is not wise to take their words at face value.

I was interrupted in writing this and have returned to find that Craig has posted again.  One issue he raised was the 2003 approach mentioned above and on other threads. This was an opportunity that was rejected - apparently by Cheney - and now the process of creating confusion about it is in play. Seems to me a good basis for negotiations and that such an approach has been taken by the Bush Administration does not breed optimism. So, yes, the neocons have to be deprived of power. For starters. Then wiser (and less delusional) heads might prevail. If something doesn't go wrong in the meantime.

Hiroshima: a lesson wasted!

Sadly, I posted a photo of Hiroshima on my blog late this afternoon. What it taught us has been forgotten. Soon we will be reminded rather forcefully.

The same ignorance, stupidity, greed, apathy and love of killing that have dogged human civilization for millennia are about to prevail yet again. It is inevitable. The dominoes have already started to fall.

Only this time it's not arrows and spears or muzzle loading rifles or howitzers or mustard gas or napalm or depleted uranium and phosphorous bombs but nuclear weapons which vaporise living things, which destroy cities completely, which irradiate the soil and the atmosphere, which cause cancer and birth deformities for centuries.

"Forgive them for they know not what they do."

But who will be left to forgive us?

Learning from mistakes - some are

G'day Bob and Daniel, with Moab on my mind something caught my eye when I was reading the letters in which American citizens speak out against Divine Strake.  

You might have noticed and recall that last month on Cease fire! Trevor Kerr (G'day) pointed out the US Defense Department plan to detonate 700 tons of non-nuclear explosives at the Nevada Test Site as part of the military's effort to design "bunker-busting" explosives. I've been keeping on eye on those efforts ever since.

I've learned that Divine Strake is one of several "Divine" efforts under the Hard and Deeply Buried Target Defeat (HDBTD) program supported by the Bush Administration. There's a whole list of them; Divine Buffalo, Divine Invader, Divine Helcat, Divine Kingfisher, Divine Umpire, Divine Zorro, Divine Warhawk, Divine Albatross, and can you believe it - Divine Hates.  These are projects of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which claims its mission is to make the world safer.

Anyway, here's the citizen comment that caught my eye:

"I've had two miscarriages [the five other women in my family have had none]. The only difference was my address was Moab and theirs was Michigan. The government can't predict what dose of radiation downwind populations may receive nor how many cancers and miscarriages it will cause. There is no such thing as an acceptable dose." - Susan Dolan

What if the DTRA listened to how "safe" they'll be making Susan's part of world (let alone the part between Eşfahān and Kashan)? 

Daniel, you'll be interested in what Glen Forster of Salt Lake City says.  He asks a question similar to yours: "Why haven't we learned from our mistakes?"

But the encouraging thing is that many people have learned from those mistakes. Ordinary people have learned to push back. More power to them.

Thelma and Louise.

G'day Michael, Craig, Peter and Margo. It is difficult to be optimistic given the nature of players such as Bush and Cheney. I linked a psych assessment of the Commander in my most recent Irises post which does not help engender confidence. Here is a Tom Engelhardt with a Thelma and Louise analogy and the looming cliff.

Here's a "they could do it as early as ..." story from the Guardian.

Deja vu?

This one looks at the similarity of the nature of current NYTimes stories to the pre-Iraq invasion approach. Backsliding?

They said a lot back then, but truth wasn't a requirement.

As the Bush administration began assembling its case for war, analysts across the U.S. intelligence community were disturbed by the report of a secretive Pentagon team that concluded Iraq had significant ties to Al Qaeda.

Analysts from the CIA and other agencies "disagreed with more than 50%" of 26 findings the Pentagon team laid out in a controversial paper, according to testimony Friday from Thomas F. Gimble, acting inspector general of the Pentagon.

The dueling groups sat down at CIA headquarters in late August 2002 to try to work out their differences. But while the CIA agreed to minor modifications in some of its own reports, Gimble said, the Pentagon unit was utterly unbowed.

"They didn't make the changes that were talked about in that August 20th meeting," Gimble said, and instead went on to present their deeply flawed findings to senior officials at the White House.

The work of that special Pentagon unit — which was run by former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith — is one of the lingering symbols of the intelligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq.

Well, they had a job to do.

Craig was involved in discussion on Cease fire about peace initiatives between Israel and Syria. Here is a Gabriel Kolko piece which examines limitations and failures of US and Israeli policies.

Changes need to be made.

A lot can go wrong, but ...

G'day Bob, almost all of the second half of Thelma & Louise was filmed in the area around Moab ... in uranium rich Utah that is ... not around the (some say) bastard son of Lot, nor a Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb.

I couldn't agree more that changes need to be made. Lest they (the powers that be) leap before they look and take us all over the cliff by launching into another war. What is needed most is an unmaking, an end to the impetuous, illegal, "imperial" project that promises to become the mother of all blow-back. Some say it is has ended already

The neo-cons have passed up real opportunities for peace in the past.  What if they do it again? So until neo-conservatives have no power in the Pentagon and 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, until they've given up all hope of a possible (more probably pyrrhic) "mission accomplished", there is still a lot that can go wrong. 

We need to look to changes at the bottom of the mountain in Tehran  too.  There is an internal power struggle going on there as well. There have been quiet calls to impeach Ahmadinejad, provided Khamenei gives his approval. What if Khamenei's approval no longer matters? Pragmatic Iranian conservatives led by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani secured major gains in the Assembly of Experts elections late last year. Rafsanjani appears to be positioning himself to take over as supreme leader and Ahmadinejad and his faction are in the process of being purged, but whilst that process is played out there is a lot that can go wrong.

Yes, a lot can go wrong. And that's why I see it as now more important than ever that care should be taken and creative people called upon to change the dynamic, to come together and craft some solutions to this standoff. 

G'day, Bob. Be worried!

Your comment backs up my own reading of the situation. The recent propaganda escalation against Iran plus the build up of military force adds further weight to a gloomy prognosis.

 Yet we hear no words of caution from Saint John, no urging of restraint to his big brother George. One can only wonder how much plotting behind closed doors is going on between George, Tony, Olmert and John and what George is promising as a reward to those who join him in the ill-conceived rush towards nuclear Armageddon. 

Russia appears to be the only world power speaking strongly against the militarism and hegemony of America. That is an irony indeed. Talk about a role reversal! 

Unilateral v Multilateral

Yesterday at the Munich Conference on Security Policy the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, blamed US policy for inciting other countries to seek nuclear weapons to defend themselves from an "almost uncontained use of military force". 

"Unilateral, illegitimate actions have not solved a single problem, they have become a hotbed of further conflicts," Putin said, "One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way."

The Bush administration is reported to have said it was "surprised and disappointed" by Putin's remarks.

"His accusations are wrong," said Gordon Johndroe, Bush's national security spokesman.

Well, Mr Johndroe, you and your bosses need to be more convincing. Your government is going to need to convince the members of the Security Council to join you in multilateral solution making soon. What if the Bush administration starts telling the world what it has in mind with that "non-military campaign" ambassador Shulte mentioned last Tuesday?

More Reasons To Be Wary

G'day Craig and Bob. It is difficult to keep a positive frame of mind in the face of the actions of the powerful nut-jobs at the heart of the Bush administration. Like Daniel, I suspect that these guys are determined to try to install a friendly regime in Tehran in order to take effective control of Iran's hydrocarbon resources and the Caspian Sea reserves.The nuclear weapons issue is a smokescreen in my opinion because Iran is subject to intense IAEA scrutiny and nobody has produced a scrap of evidence that Iran has breached the Safeguard Agreements.

An added reason for my suspicion is that, given the situation in Iraq, I cannot see how the Bush administration can possibly achieve its objectives in that country without a friendly government in Iran.

I have tried, for a long time now, to screen out the words spewing from most politicians. They are mostly a distraction. I am much more interested in what those in power do and I firmly believe that past behaviour is the best predictor of the future. (Margo: Spot on, Michael!) Moving another aircraft carrier to the Middle East is worrying enough. This report from the Gulf Times, gives me more reason to suspect that things will get hotter this year.

Meanwhile, Middle East trading sources said Saudi Arabia has steeply raised the amount of its jet fuel earmarked for the US military, which is expanding its presence in the Gulf.

They said state oil company Saudi Aramco may have put aside upwards of a million tonnes of the aviation fuel for possible use by the US military this year, compared with around 200,000 tonnes in 2006.

“I believe that Saudi Arabia was warned in advance of the increased US military activity starting early 2007 and may have allocated 1mn to 1.2mn tonnes of jet fuel for possible use by the US military during 2007,” one source said.

Let's bully Iran

It seems that a plethora of nations want to impose sanctions on Iran. The most valuable commodity in the world today is  energy ---  read oil. Iran has the largest, or is it second largest known reserves of sweet crude ... the easiest/cheapest to process.

Don't know how many WDers have any experience in trading, but if you have an almost unlimited supply of a scarce and desperately sort after commodity, you are in the box seat.

If the few others with access to that commodity are inclined to side me, or would at least prefer to trade with people other than those attempting to harm me, those imposing the sanctions are likely to end up doing the suffering.

I thought that every small schoolboy learned very early that you never pick a fight you cannot win.

Cut off the oil, cripple the world economy.  Which country will suffer  soonest? The US.

As the idiot said --- Bring it on!

Bring it on?

Problem is, Peter, they're talking about using nukes now (America and Israel). 'Bring it on' suddenly has lots of connotations, most of them disastrous. As well, America's beef with Iran is not so much about stopping it acquiring nukes (hence threatening its nuclear-armed proxy, Israel) but using that as an excuse to grab further control of much of the world's oil supply. Having the world's strongest military and seizing control of such a vital energy source gives the US effective control of the whole world, which it will then run to further advantage itself. America must be stopped. Now

Reason to be optimistic?

Last Tuesday speaking to a conference in Munich, Gregory Shulte, US ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that if Iran continues to defy UN Security Council demands on halting enrichment the council "must stand ready to consider additional measures" after receiving the IAEA's report on 21 February.

"A non-military campaign, if serious and sustained, and supported by other like-minded countries, has the potential to succeed against a regime that has failed to deliver on its economic promises, that needs foreign investment to sustain government revenue and that faces increasing opposition at home," he said.

On first glance that looks reasonable, but I'd like to see the detail. Here's hoping we hear more about this "non-military campaign" from US officials this coming week.

Uncommon sense.

G'day Craig, Daniel (G'day) might have something with his "Surely not on this Earth." comment. Michael's (G'day) pessimism is not without justification. However, nothing will be achieved by simply resigning ourselves to the impossibility of changing the way these issues are approached.

The Oil Depletion Protocol is one approach to one challenge that we must face. Reducing use of fossil fuels helps to address the biggie - climate change - as well. The rivalries that are occurring, the jockeying for position and power in an attempt to acquire resources, could have dire consequences if, by design or accident, matters got hot. The attention and treasure spent in these pursuits could be much better directed to finding collective solutions. Seems so far too much like rearranging the deck chairs.

What to do? Keep searching for answers, discussing them and keep those fingers crossed. Send those emails and letters. That the cunning runt is talking climate change is a sign that the message is getting through to enough people to have him worried about the polls. The pessimistic reaction is that if he acknowledges it, it is too late.

Snowballs, eh Craig? One way to replace the disappearing ice caps. And the Siberian permafrost.

The only energy war people face is walking to the fridge

C Parsons is quiet correct. People may not know but when oil was at its all time monthly high last year, Australia recorded its lowest volume of petrol sales in 29 years. So yes, the price does have a breaking point (is elastic). Ask the owners of toll roads.

The advantage of oil is not that there are no alternatives. Its advantage is that it is relatively cheap against other products. Take this price advantage away and things take a different shape. One argument against nuclear energy is its cost. Strangely argued by enviromentalists who push the peak oil nonsense. This argument is contradictory because if peak oil is to come about, the cost of nuclear energy becomes negligible.

In the early '90s what you had was Russian companies (brought on the very cheap) dumping everything they could lay their hands on, on to the market. The price of crude got to around the ten dollar mark. With the rising prices, so we have seen the rising profitability of the industry. With the crude market dumping, exploration all but vanished. It simply was not worth the cost. That has since changed in the last five or so years.

Oil is to be found in many places. The price, though, is the factor on whether to drill or not. And that is not taking into consideration places such as West Africa that have added costs of political problems, corruption, etc.

Oil will one day run out. The collapse of civilisation predicted by peak oil spruikers, though, will not happen. Guff pushed by enviromentalists who know no better, cheered on the sidelines by a industry that does, but cannot get enough of the "scare". It is good for business.

The Saudi's want crude around the sixty dollar mark. A top dollar price and just short of a price where people may start seeking alternatives. The Middle East economically is living on very borrowed time. They need fundamental structural change and they need it soon. False prophets will not be paying their future bills.

Australia should position itself in the nuclear energy market with Canada with the US (building reactors, hello GE). A one-stop monopoly shop, so to speak. My motto would be we dig, we enrich it, we put into place and we even store, all at the cheapest prices in town. Don't like it, go speak to the Arabs, Russians or Chinese, then burst out laughing. An energy monopoly is a very advantageous monopoly. He who dares wins!

The economics of price elasticities

Michael Coleman: "One of the most destabilising effects of peak oil will be the huge and increasing flow of money from importers to producers as unmet demand drives the price of oil up."

That assumes there are no price elastic alternatives to oil that will become comparatively economic once oil prices start on their permanent upward trend. But there are such alternatives, such as extracting oil from coal:

As oil prices continue to escalate, other alternatives to producing oil have been gaining importance. The best known such methods involve extracting oil from sources such as oil shale or tar sands. These resources are known to exist in large quantities; however, extracting the oil at low cost without negatively impacting the environment remains a challenge.

Then there's nuclear energy, which supplies 80 per cent of France's electricty needs, and will help supply poor energy strapped Iran apparently. And probably Australia if Tim Flannery manages to ban coal mining.

Michael Coleman: "Extreme price volatility can be terribly destructive to startup ventures."

Another reason to dump oil for what eventually will be comparatively cheaper alternatives, as you point out.

Environmental Disaster Instead

C Parsons, the coal-to-liquid and gas-to-liquid synthetic fuels are around twice as dirty as conventional petroleum in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, I predict that carbon taxes of one kind or another will keep the price of these synthetic fuels priced at or above the price of conventional crude oil based fuels.

As for tar sands, the fresh water requirements and energy inputs needed to convert these into usable oil will limit the rate of production. I doubt that there will be sufficient volume produced to offset the decline in conventional oil extraction and the expected growth in energy demand.

Consequently, I think it is reasonable to expect the price of transport fuels and other petroleum products to rise very high indeed after the peak.

Anyway, the Oil Depletion Protocol makes no judgement about these unconventional sources of oil. It attempts to manage the process of demand destruction and the transition from conventional oil to whatever follows in as stable an economic environment as possible.

Lead me to them!

"What if conscientious and expert, intelligent, objective and humane thinking persons were brought together..." Great idea but where would we find them?

Surely not on this earth.

Oil Depletion Protocol

I don't think we can properly address the standoff between Iran and the West without tackling the energy security issue. A cooperative approach to energy security is a critical element of any peaceful resolution of the current crisis. So, what would a cooperative approach look like?

It is obvious that conventional crude oil is vital to the economies of most countries. We are consuming this resource much faster than we can find new supplies. The weight of evidence would suggest that we are, on a global basis, very near the absolute peak rate of extraction of conventional crude oil. Demand, however, is forecast to continue to grow.

So far, IMHO, the Oil Depletion Protocol is the most practical of the cooperative approaches I have seen for dealing with this problem. Essentially, it requires all importing nations to agree to reduce imports of conventional crude oil by the global depletion rate (about 2% per annum). It also requires oil producing nations to cut production of conventional crude by their respective national depletion rates.

One of the most destabilising effects of peak oil will be the huge and increasing flow of money from importers to producers as unmet demand drives the price of oil up. The current US trade deficit is largely driven by its huge oil import bill. By managing demand and keeping it in balance with production capacity, wild price volatility is less likely. As a consequence, producers like Iran will have less power to manipulate and control the economies of importers and a lesser capacity to acquire expensive weaponry.

Importing nations could auction tradeable import quotas internally to allow normal market mechanisms to manage the distribution of oil within the national economy. Petroleum products will still be very expensive because internal demand will exceed supply, but the money will not be lost to the nation. Indeed, money raised by government from auctioning import quotas could be used to fund some of the necessary structural adjustments as we reduce our dependence on imported oil.

Alternative, sustainable energy technology developers would likely benefit from the more stable economic environment provided by the protocol. Extreme price volatility can be terribly destructive to startup ventures.

Alas, I don't believe there is a snowball's chance that we will convince our politicians and business leaders to seriously consider the protocol. The bitter fight for control of oil and gas energy will probably continue until we have exhausted the supply and our civilisation.

Re: Oil Depletion Protocol

G'day Michael, I'm in general agreement with you on the standoff between Iran and the West being linked to the energy security issue. My view differs from yours in that I think the standoff could be addressed to the extent that the danger is reduced if we can at least start tackling the energy security issue. What if we can adequately (perhaps temporarily) address the standoff between Iran and the West without a complete settlement of the energy security issue? Where would we start tackling the elements of the energy security issue that have the strongest linkage to the standoff situation?

I'm attracted to the idea of a plan for a sensible energy future such as that which the good people backing the Oil Depletion Protocol want to establish.   I particularly like the fact that the Oil Depletion Protocol isn't just for nations of the world to adopt. That citizens and the organisations that ordinary people form are invited to adopt it as well and work towards reducing their oil dependency.  What if we take that snowball's chance, get a snowball effect rolling and then perhaps roll those pollies who aren't convinced?

Energy-poor Iran follows Howard's lead on nuclear energy

Chris Shaw:  "Iran's main oilfields are very large, but they have been producing a significant amount of the world's oil energy for decades. The end is predictable, even as it was during the days of the Shah. Although there is still plenty by world standards, it is essentially remnant oil, under which Iran must inject some of its natural gas reserves to force the oil to the surface. Iran is now a net importer of refined fuels."

Maybe it should build some more refineries then, instead of a completely pointless nuclear "power" industry in defiance of its obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. If Iran still has plenty of oil "by world standards" - it is in fact one of the most oil rich nations on earth - then it has no more reason to build nuclear power stations than other countries that are oil-rich  "by world standards". If Iran - oil and gas rich "by world standards" - has to build nuclear power stations to meet its energy needs, why does it go on selling vast amounts of its shrinking energy reserves to China? Why doesn't Germany, which has no oil, build more nuclear power stations instead of closing them down?

If nuclear power is a legitimate alternative for Iran to its plentiful oil and gas reserves, wouldn't it also follow that Australia should build nuclear power stations given we have no oil? And that mining coal is as bad as mining asbestos, according to Tim Flannery.

If it has a legitimate reason to build a nuclear power station, then why not comply with the international inspection and control conventions under its UN treaty obligations?  Why would that be any more confronting or difficult for Iran than, say, France? Or Japan?

Re: Energy-poor Iran follows Howard's lead

"If Iran - oil and gas rich "by world standards" - has to build nuclear power stations to meet its energy needs, why does it go on selling vast amounts of its shrinking energy reserves to China?"

Petroleum has been the main industry in Iran since the 1920s. When Mohammad Reza Shah ruled in the '70s he encouraged a high level of oil production, but not the sharing of the wealth it generated. After the Revolution, Khomeini decreed a policy of oil conservation with production reduced to a level sufficient to do no more than meet foreign exchange needs. Iran's economy relies heavily on oil export revenues (around 80% of total export earnings, 40%-50% of the government budget, and 10%-20% of GDP).

"Why doesn't Germany, which has no oil, build more nuclear power stations instead of closing them down?"

The Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe Stabsabteilung Öffentlichkeitsarbeit will be able to answer that question: Email info@oea.fzk.de

"If it has a legitimate reason to build a nuclear power station, then why not comply with the international inspection and control conventions under its UN treaty obligations?"

Good question.  The Iranians gave their answer to the first a year ago by pointing out that they've been doing all they can to comply but that due to perceived "pressure" on the IAEA Board of Governors continuing cooperation was jeopardised. Believe them or not.  A year later and we may soon see how they'll answer that question again.  What if their answer is along the same lines? What could be done then?

"Why would that be any more confronting or difficult for Iran than, say, France? Or Japan?"

Silly question. Neither of those countries has had the world's largest economy imposing economic sanctions on it for 27 years. Neither has had the president of a hyperpower create an "Axis of Evil" construct in order to make the case for pre-emptive action against them. So it's likely that neither perceives itself as subject to such "pressure" as Iran does.  In other words, perhaps neither has reason to feel threatened, and therefore, so paranoid as Iran.  What if something could be done to calm Iran's paranoia? Where might that lead?

Time to start planning the alternatives

What if the world just accept Iran with nuclear weapons? As appears will be the case.

I good case to keep and investing if not up the invest in Star Wars, methinks. Which I expect no doubt we will do. Under any government. The arms races by smaller nations will dictate this.

Rather then lament lost chances it is best to have a back up plan in place.

And the other side of the coin is, that one day Iran may well be on side. Who would have thought Pakistan, eh?

What if we go for energy cooperation not conflict?

G'day Chris, thanks for making the first comment. I read the geological and geopolitical situation in a similar way to you.  And what your comment prompts for me is another couple of questions:

What if, rather than the usual suspect pursuing greedy designs to capture as much of the remaining resource as possible, there was instead pursuit of a bargain to foster international/multilateral cooperation

What if we, all of us, focused more on cooperating to make all the changes necessary to cope with the coming energy crisis?

Geology and geopolitics

Did you ever wonder why Iran was building a nuclear reactor in the first place? It wasn't sold to the Shah as a bauble, an accessory or a toy.

Thanks to the stupidity of the religio-political debate, we have a cartoon caricature of Iran thrust down our throats, which takes no account of geological or physical reality.

FACT: Iran's main oilfields are very large, but they have been producing a significant amount of the world's oil energy for decades. The end is predictable, even as it was during the days of the Shah. Although there is still plenty by world standards, it is essentially remnant oil, under which Iran must inject some of its natural gas reserves to force the oil to the surface. Iran is now a net importer of refined fuels.

The Chinese, flushed with an embarrassment of dollars, are in a position to develop some of Iran's smaller oil patches. This seems to have brought the neo-cons and their oil industry mates out in a geopolitical rash.

Although I do not advocate the pursuit of nuclear energy for those who do not already have it, it must be admitted that the Iranian reactor was a "fact on the ground" as they say, as are their indigenous deposits of uranium. It's ready made for a coming energy crisis. It makes sense.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the people who command the US Government not only want to swipe the Iranian oilfields, but also have complete command of the Straits of Hormuz, through which supplies to Asia must pass.

Over to the west, the groundwork is being laid to pipe as much Middle-Eastern oil as possible to the port city of Haifa on the eastern Mediterranean. This will require a very wide corridor free of "terrorists", so the fate of Syria and Lebanon (and maybe Jordan) is threatened too.

You know it makes sense.

The show must go on.

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