A Message for You, Hu Jintao

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One common interpretation of the message behind Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article is that Israeli officials are trying to scare the United States about the consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran in order to inspire us to take more dramatic anti-Iranian action. That’s very plausible. But I would join James Fallows in noting that it’s China that would take the heaviest economic blow if an Israeli-Iranian war led to a major disruption of global oil supplies. The implications of Jim Hamilton’s research do forecast economic doom for the United States, but at a minimum our political system could survive this, which you can’t necessarily say for China.

One related point is that “China and Russia” are often lumped together on Iran-related issues, but their interests in this regard are sharply divergent. Russia would (along with Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria, and a few others) be a major beneficiary of a disruption in Gulf oil supplies whereas China would be hammered.

Last, though Iranian doves would be unlikely to prevail in the wake of an Israeli attack, I think the most rational Iranian response to an Israeli strike would be to do very little. Publicly urge calm, and reiterate that Iran is a peace-loving country with no intention of retaliating or escalating in any way and no desire to see war. Go to the United Nations and ask for a Security Council resolution denouncing this unprovoked attack and wait for the inevitable US veto. Then keep working on your nuclear program in your surviving facilities secure in the knowledge that international political support for the sanctions regime will be weaker than ever, and that countries around the world will become more sympathetic to Iranian efforts to secure a deterrent against nuclear-armed Israel. Only non-Gulf oil producers win in a military escalation.