Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Oil and Deception

In short, this is what I believe: when the price of oil goes up, our leaders think about threatening and teaching lessons to the world and magnifies their wishful slogans. Undoubtedly these slogans may bring some good if they are actually implemented. But the problem is that since these slogans and proclaimed goals originate from wishful thoughts and a bit of egotism, they usually do not turn into reality. So in the final count, people have to pay a price for the promotion and airing of these wishful thoughts, which explains the difference between what conditions Iran should be in versus where they really are.

One does not have to search long for evidence to support this idea. Oil production in Iran began only about 100 years ago, and oil revenues found their way into the national budget some 85 years back. After the 1953 coup against Dr. Mossadegh and the defeat of the National Front [Mossadegh’s political coalition] movement, the oil consortium that was set up. The fact that Iran had to deal with a group of companies, rather than just one, made things tough for Iran. It took another 10 years until the international environment changed, the US provided its support, and the domestic scene changed enough for Iran to assert its rights. That was 50 years ago and one cannot reverse events, developments and achievements.

The first real hike in oil prices took place in early 1970s; the second, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979; the third took place 15 years later; and the last took place some six months ago, which shot up the price of crude to over $70 per barrel.

Each one of these events changed the rhetoric and discourse of Iran’s rulers substantially.

When the events of the early 1970s took place, the Shah spoke to his people in this manner: “Nowadays the members of the human society are constantly looking for ways to resolve their differences, because the material and spiritual conditions have changed such that, unlike any other time in previous history, the strong cannot impose their will on the weak anymore.”

The same change in rhetoric also manifested itself following the 1979 revolution: calling on the world’s fighters to come to Tehran, wanting to confront every power, loudly announcing plans to export the revolution to the world, and so on. The potentially positive aspects of this kind of rhetoric never materialized, but its damage has lingered and tainted Iran’s foreign policy as extremist in direction and nature.

The next change, which was not as drastic as the previous ones, happened under Khatami’s reformist government. The situation was ripe for the normalization of Iran relations with the outside world, as US Democrats took charge of the White House. But the sudden increase in the price of oil made some people overconfident, and even as the US State Department presented an official apology for the US role in the 1951 coup, the opportunity for concilliation was lost and wasted.

And recently, once again, the seventy-dollar barrel oil is enabling the new power wielders in Tehran to threaten the world amid all of the internal and external problems and pressures facing them. It is enabling Ahmadinejad to claim that the American people have asked him to write them a letter; that the world is asking him for solutions to their problems; and finally, as he claimed recently, the entire world is moving towards “Ahmadinejadization” – this last one has the potential of being studied by clinical psychologists.

Now that the price of oil is decreasing the lessons of life are appearing one by one again. But what remains is the everlasting poverty of the Iranian nation.

Masoud Behnoud is a seasoned Iranian commentator and journalist living in exile.