How Obama could benefit from the alleged Iranian bombing plot

If Iran was going to engage in as risky an operation as to attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, it wouldn’t use a flaky used-car salesman as its lead operative and it wouldn’t outsource the attack to some unknown hit men from a Mexican drug cartel. Anyone who knows anything about how Iran operates finds such a scenario highly implausible.

On the other hand, if someone else wanted to frame Iran, since they wouldn’t be able to enlist the kind of Iranian team capable of carrying out such an attack, they might well end up recruiting the very cast of characters who are alleged to have been involved. Indeed, if the object of the exercise was that the plot be exposed rather than carried out, then unwitting amateurs would be perfect for the job.

Given that informants for the US Drug Enforcement Agency played a pivotal role, suspicion about who might have been directing this operation has to fall on Washington. Are we talking about a false flag operation and a pretext for war?

The intemperate response from the Obama administration over the last few days might suggest that escalating tension with Iran has at this juncture passed a critical point and that the American public and the rest of the world is being warned that war may be on the horizon.

The drums of war have been beating for so long — mostly from Israel — that in some quarters the question has not been if a war will start, but when.

Has Obama now boarded the war train? I seriously doubt it.

Firstly, I think his innate timidity would make him very reluctant to start his own full-scale war — least of all a war that would likely be more devastating than all the wars of the preceding decade. Shock-and-awe was the style for his predecessor — this is a president who prefers assassinations.

Secondly, the American appetite for war has already been well and truly drained. Economic pain has promoted a grim realism in which most people recognize that another war is really the last thing this country needs. Launching a war against Iran would be like pounding the last nails into our own coffin.

So, if Washington was really behind this bombing plot and it wasn’t trying to start a war, how would it stand to benefit?

Here’s how: by driving down the price of oil.

Why make the Saudis the target of the attack? Because they would then feel compelled to retaliate and since they cannot threaten Iran militarily, they will rely on the only weapon they have: increasing oil production.

The consequent drop in oil prices will hurt Iran much more than Saudi Arabia and if by the summer of 2012, gas prices in the US have dropped below $3 a gallon, Americans will travel more and perhaps regain a bit of economic optimism — good news for Obama as he tries to close the deal in securing his second term.

At the same time, the attack-Iran hawks who love to talk war but who are actually happy with anything that undermines the regime in Tehran, will be pleased to see Iran suffer.

Andrew Scott Cooper writes: The alleged Iranian plot to blow up Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington made for blazing headlines even as it obscured a deeper truth: Iran and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in a different sort of war of attrition over the past few decades, with economics, not explosives, the weapon of choice. Both regimes are keenly aware that although bullets may kill, they can’t bankrupt: only a sudden collapse in oil revenue can do that.

Skeptics who find it implausible that the oil markets can be harnessed as a weapon, and that oil can be turned into a financial super bomb to destabilize a national economy, should heed the words of a leading member of the Saudi royal family. Prince Turki al-Faisal, previously his country’s head of intelligence and ambassador to Washington, has long enjoyed a reputation for frank talk. Three and a half months ago, he delivered an address to a select group of NATO officials at an air base deep in the heart of the British countryside. In his remarks, the prince fired a shot across the bows of the Iranian regime.

This past year, the Saudi royal family was caught off-guard by the Arab Spring uprisings and badly shaken by the overthrow of old friends and allies in Egypt and Tunisia. The Saudis blame their neighbor Iran for inciting and stoking the troubles as part of a sinister plot to divide, weaken, and eventually topple the region’s conservative Sunni monarchies. Prince Turki made it clear that after six months of being on the defensive, the Saudi royal family had rallied and was about to fight its corner by unleashing the most powerful weapon in its arsenal: the kingdom’s massive oil reserves.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, jeered Prince Turki, was “dysfunctional,” a “paper tiger,” though one with “steel claws” whose survival depended on its ability to cash in on high oil prices “to maintain a level of economic prosperity that is just enough to pacify its people.” The implication was that Iran’s reliance on a single revenue stream to prop up a sclerotic political structure had left the regime in Tehran vulnerable to sabotage.

The Saudis, continued Prince Turki, were quite prepared to use their swing power as the world’s biggest oil producer to “squeeze” the Iranian economy. They could presumably do this by opening the spigots to flood the market with cheap oil, enough cheap oil indeed to force prices down and deprive Iran’s rulers of billions of dollars in government revenue necessary to buy social tranquility at home. Flooding the market is economic warfare on a grand scale, the oil industry’s equivalent of dropping the bomb on a rival. The prince’s threat sounds like a diabolical plot best suited for a novel–holding the world economy to ransom by manipulating commodity prices to settle scores with a neighbor–until you realize it’s been done before.

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  1. Good, comprehensinve article Paul.

    The Guardian — very slow on the uptake these days, and prone to feature propaganda plant stories from time to time — had a good article too.

  2. I find these analyses far fetched and frankly wrong. The recent threat for the “atomic2 option vs Iran and based on this recent trumped up plot is that the US will sanction the National Bank of Iran. This would effectively cripple Iranian trade. Yes they can do some bilateral agreements but the strain on the regime would be massive. The idea that SA would flood the market is simply a joke. Not only are they limited in productive capacity to truly influence the price in the way that this argument suggests but they would not do it because it would be too costly to their own coffers. Oil is money in the bank when it is under the ground, and as much as it can be a weapon, it is a weapon best used in its restriction not in its excess.

  3. Steve Zerger says

    The Saudis are the “paper tiger”. Gullible reporters routinely report that Saudi Arabia has millions of barrels per day of excess production capacity. We can’t know for certain because Aramco is so secretive about its operations, but the likely truth is that they are struggling just to maintain their current production level. Their internal needs are also rapidly accelerating with a birth rate of 6.3 children per female. Even if they could cause an oils price collapse (highly doubtful), they would never do it.

  4. speaking about IRAN ….and just ‘who’ is manipulating the US behind the scenes..? of course you know who….”third rail politics” to tell the truth…but truth you will get in this very interesting and revealing Truthout piece:

    How many millions of us will it take to STOP the drive to MORE WARS as empire crumbles…??

  5. Colm O' Toole says

    @ Ameshiea “I find these analyses far fetched and frankly wrong”.

    Well the US government started this narrative with it’s Jerry Bruckheimer-esque lies… so any analyses of that will likely appear far fetched too. We have already entered the Twilight Zone.

    But Saudi Arabia in fact did flood the market with oil during the Libya fiasco to make up for the shortfall in supply so it isn’t inconceivable. Saudi even walked out of the OPEC conference a few months back because of the criticism of it. But yeah it is one thing to flood the market to replace lost Libyan supplies and another to sink the second largest OPEC member.

    Personally I’ve got my own far-fetched theory that is making me a bit unsettled about the whole thing. I haven’t been able to shake the idea that Netanyahu is going to offer Obama a final two state solution deal in exchange for the US taking out the nukes. Had this theory for a while but the developments of the last few days and the timing of everything makes me more nervous.

    The Shalit deal was the only thing stopping talks from getting underway since 2006. So that gets resolved the same day this Iran ploy is announced. Meanwhile Panetta has visited Israel twice in two weeks to discuss Iran? Maybe I’m making connections where there are none but considering all the characters I think it may be an option.

  6. eddy mason says

    It may be all about Iran and oil but I’m putting my money on the used car market being the underlying cause of this sudden outbreak of irrationality in the USA!
    Gee, all we have to worry about down here is “will the All Blacks win the RWC?”