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Maybe Underpants Gnomes Will Prevent Iran from Importing Gasoline

An international embargo on Iranian gasoline imports is an idea that Iran hawks like to bring up again and again. Apparently Iran, despite being a large oil exporter, is actually a net importer of refined petroleum products, meaning that an effectively enforced blockade on Iran-bound gasoline would force the regime to ration fuel. And now the idea seems to be back in the news as the Obama administration is discussing it with folks in Congress. But the fly in the ointment is that for this to work China and especially Russia have to agree to it, and I agree with Spencer Ackerman that this seems unlikely:

Why would Russia and China agree to such a package? And why would, say, the United Nations agree to a move that would push the Iranians to dare the international community to confront it militarily over a global economic chokepoint? The smart people quoted in Sanger’s piece make the case for the sanctions by saying that the Iranian regime is more vulnerable to sanctions now, after the theft of the June 12 elections exposed popular anger and antipathy toward it, but not how to make those sanctions feasible.

I suppose one question for the folks pushing this line is how badly do you want it? What are you willing to give the Russians to get them on board? The US-Russian bilateral relationship, after all, has many aspects to it. But the very same people who are most vehement about the idea that the Iranian nuclear program is a threat to civilization tend to also be the most vehement about the idea that we should admit Ukraine and Georgia to an anti-Russian military alliance, that we should spend billions of dollars on attempting to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent, etc. I would think that if people really believed some of the things they claim to believe about Iran, that they’d be more eager to trade some horses.

Russia and China aside, what I think we need to hear more about here is the Iranian opposition. In general, I’m pretty skeptical about sanctions. If it’s the case that the opposition actually wants sanctions, the way the ANC did during apartheid, then that’s something we should take very seriously. But I would imagine that if Iran finds itself short of gasoline that the security services and the governing elite won’t be the ones without enough fuel to get around.

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