The Oil and the Glory

Will anti-Iranian sanctions policy undermine the U.S. oil supply?

The United States and Europe are leaning on allies to stop buying Iranian oil, part of a squeeze to complicate Tehran’s economics while it allegedly covets nuclear capability, writes the Financial Times’ Javier Blas. As a corollary, the West is urging a half-dozen friendly petro-states — Saudi Arabia of course, but also Angola, Ghana, Libya ...

The United States and Europe are leaning on allies to stop buying Iranian oil, part of a squeeze to complicate Tehran’s economics while it allegedly covets nuclear capability, writes the Financial Times’ Javier Blas. As a corollary, the West is urging a half-dozen friendly petro-states — Saudi Arabia of course, but also Angola, Ghana, Libya and others — to sell more oil to the nations that give up their Iranian supplies, reports the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon.

The upside of this approach to geopolitical persuasion as far as the U.S. is concerned is that it rarely affects Americans themselves. But I wonder if that will continue to be the case.

Analysts so far seem to have largely focused on what happens if the West makes the embargo on Iranian business stick by applying a chokehold on Iran’s Central Bank. This blog is among those casting doubt on the effectiveness of such sanctions — while making life more difficult for the targeted regime, cutoffs are usually bypassed by smugglers of various sorts. Yet Iran says it is feeling the impact already, writes the New York Times’ Rick Gladstone.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that the sanctions in fact achieve their intended aim. If that happens, it would be a triumph of what has become a principal form of U.S. diplomacy toward out-of-favor countries, one that gathers enormous strength from allied numbers.

But if aggressive new forecasts of U.S. oil production are accurate (here too I am skeptical), the U.S. itself may be on the hook in future years for oil supplies to Western allies who comply with such sanctions. After all, it would be unseemly for the U.S. to push the Saudis to pump and provide more oil if the U.S. is unwilling to do so, too.

And what then? Some might regard it as ironic if the U.S. achieves a far greater level of self-sufficiency in oil and natural gas supply, only to become a key oil benefactor for countries that go along with Western-urged sanctions.

The United States and Europe are leaning on allies to stop buying Iranian oil, part of a squeeze to complicate Tehran’s economics while it allegedly covets nuclear capability, writes the Financial Times’ Javier Blas. As a corollary, the West is urging a half-dozen friendly petro-states — Saudi Arabia of course, but also Angola, Ghana, Libya and others — to sell more oil to the nations that give up their Iranian supplies, reports the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon.

The upside of this approach to geopolitical persuasion as far as the U.S. is concerned is that it rarely affects Americans themselves. But I wonder if that will continue to be the case.

Analysts so far seem to have largely focused on what happens if the West makes the embargo on Iranian business stick by applying a chokehold on Iran’s Central Bank. This blog is among those casting doubt on the effectiveness of such sanctions — while making life more difficult for the targeted regime, cutoffs are usually bypassed by smugglers of various sorts. Yet Iran says it is feeling the impact already, writes the New York Times’ Rick Gladstone.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that the sanctions in fact achieve their intended aim. If that happens, it would be a triumph of what has become a principal form of U.S. diplomacy toward out-of-favor countries, one that gathers enormous strength from allied numbers.

But if aggressive new forecasts of U.S. oil production are accurate (here too I am skeptical), the U.S. itself may be on the hook in future years for oil supplies to Western allies who comply with such sanctions. After all, it would be unseemly for the U.S. to push the Saudis to pump and provide more oil if the U.S. is unwilling to do so, too.

And what then? Some might regard it as ironic if the U.S. achieves a far greater level of self-sufficiency in oil and natural gas supply, only to become a key oil benefactor for countries that go along with Western-urged sanctions.

<p> Steve LeVine is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, and author of The Oil and the Glory. </p>

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