New Gingrich, sleep-walked into a declaration of war on Iran in last night’s Republican foreign policy debate. Here is the relevant exchange:
“BLITZER: The argument, Speaker Gingrich — and I know you’ve studied this, and I want you to weigh in — on the sanctioning of the Iranian Central Bank, because if you do that, for all practical purposes, it cuts off Iranian oil exports, 4 million barrels a day.
The Europeans get a lot of that oil. They think their economy, if the price of gasoline skyrocketed, which it would, would be disastrous. That’s why the pressure is on the U.S. to not impose those sanctions. What say you?
GINGRICH: Well, I say you — the question you just asked is perfect, because the fact is we ought to have a massive all-sources energy program in the United States designed to, once again, create a surplus of energy here, so we could say to the Europeans pretty cheerfully, that all the various sources of oil we have in the United States, we could literally replace the Iranian oil.
Now that’s how we won World War II.
GINGRICH: So, I think you put your finger, Wolf, on the — on the — you know, we all get sucked into these tactical discussions. We need a strategy of defeating and replacing the current Iranian regime with minimum use of force. We need a strategy, as Rick Santorum was saying, of being honest about radical Islam and designing a strategy to defeat it wherever it happens to exist.
We need a strategy in central Asia that recognizes that, frankly, if you’re Pashtun, you don’t care whether you’re in Pakistan or Afghanistan, because you have the same tribal relationships. So we need to be much more strategic and less tactical in our discussion.
But if we were serious, we could break the Iranian regime, I think, within a year, starting candidly with cutting off the gasoline supply to Iran, and then, frankly, sabotaging the only refinery they have. “
The new round of sanctions on Iran recently announced by the US, the UK and Canada have helped drive the price of Brent crude over $100 a barrel, and saber rattling toward that country is helping keep petroleum futures at historically high levels. Oil analysts typically dismiss the idea of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran as a form of pressure on the West for stiffer sanctions. If they thought there was a serious prospect of such a strike, prices would move up substantially.
These high petroleum prices are hurting the European economies (most European countries import most or all of their oil) at a time when they are anyway in the doldrums. If you’re an American who commutes to work, they aren’t doing you any favors, either. Oil supplies are tight, and if the US and Israel really could succeed in taking the 2.3 million barrels a day that Iran exports off the world market, on top of the Libyan reductions, it would likely put the price up to more like $200 a barrel (i.e. for Americans $6-$7 a gallon for gasoline). Remember that Asian economies like India and China are growing rapidly, and demand for petroleum is actually increasing in Asia, which is also putting upward pressure on the price.
Petroleum is mostly used to fuel automobiles and trucks. Gingrich appears to assume that the United States has the capacity to increase its own petroleum production substantially, which is not true. Even if all the known reserves off the coasts in the lower 48 were developed, it probably wouldn’t amount to more than 400,000 barrels a day. Gingrich’s reference to the era of World War II, when Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma were the world’s swing oil producers, is ridiculous. North America only has 3% of the proven petroleum reserves in the world. The Perso-Arabian Gulf has roughly 63% of the known reserves. The US has increased, e.g., ethanol production (which threatens high food prices and world instability by taking corn off the food market), but it cannot hope to both replace Iranian production and meet increasing Asian demand with any known “all-energy” policy in the short to medium term. That is a science fiction scenario.
The US could move to solar, wind and geothermal electricity production and use electric cars, but it will take many years, and Gingrich says he is against that step.
So the United States cannot protect Europe from the spike in oil prices that would ensue from an even more muscular policy toward Iran. Indeed, the US cannot even protect itself from such consequences, which Gingrich would have noticed when he filled up his gas tank if he didn’t have his chauffeur take care of such tasks instead, having made himself filthy rich by influence peddling for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Gingrich’s prescription for dealing with Iran is K-r-aaaay-z-yyyy. He seems to be stuck with the propaganda talking points of two or three years ago, when Iran had temporary refinery capacity problems, leading to gasoline shortages. Iran launched a crash program to expand some refineries and open new ones, and is now more or less self-sufficient in gasoline. It is likely to be a major exporter of refined petroleum products, not just crude oil, in coming years.
So, blockading gasoline exports to Iran is no longer a plausible strategy.
As for “sabotaging” its “one refinery,” — this is fantasy. Iran has more than one refinery. The US doesn’t have the assets in Iran to conduct such extensive and massive “sabotage.” And, Iran could “sabotage” things right back. If he means bombing Iranian refineries from the air, that would be an act of war. It would in any case send the price of petroleum sky-rocketing because it would spook investors.
There are no Pushtuns in Iran or Central Asia, and Gingrich’s bizarre comments on Islam and Central Asia have nothing to do with Iran or its gasoline and petroleum production. Most post-Soviet Muslims in Central Asia are Tajiks or Turkic and are relatively secular.
As far as I can tell, Gingrich wants war with the whole Muslim world. Good luck with that.
In any case, Gingrich’s answer to Blitzer’s good question is a hodgepodge of power fantasies (he thinks the US can create fuel to replace Iranian production and meet rising Asian demand out of thin air) and little boy military daydreaming (“sabotaging” the alleged “one refinery”).
What his stated policies imply are 1) war with Iran and 2) astronomical petroleum prices.