I head seen references to the recent National Academy of Sciences report about Iran’s crumbling oil infrastructure in a few places–Allah cheerily noted here that Iran will have the bomb by the time the tanks go dry and Iran turns into Mad-Max level anarchy. Ace, pointed out that it was being spun as a reason not to attack Iraq. The AP report he linked quotes the main scientist saying as much:

If the United States can “hold its breath” for a few years it may find Iran a much more conciliatory country, he said. And that, Stern said, is good reason to belay any instinct to take on Iran militarily.

“What they are doing to themselves is much worse than anything we could do,” he said.

“The one thing that would unite the country right now is to bomb them,” Stern said. “Here is one problem that might solve itself.”

That’s a good conservative sentiment; many problems may solve themselves and don’t need meddling with. But another account of the report in today’s Telegraph quotes Prof. Stern saying something else:

“They cannot afford to carry out their threats to shut off oil supplies,” he said. “There is no oil weapon, it’s just a bluff.”

I think that’s very important. Lemme tell you why.

Iran has two main weapons now it can use against the West. One is the oil weapon. It can threaten to shut off its own domestic production. It can also threaten to shut down production abroad. Ever notice that Iran is always testing anti-shipping missiles? That’s not just so they can threaten U.S. forces but so they can threaten supertankers off the Straits of Hormuz. They are implying that if things go badly, they can make a serious dent in the world’s oil supply.

But the anti-shipping missile batteries can be dispensed with. And the domestic supply, Stern says, can’t shut down without hurting them worse than it will hurt us. (In fact I hear a lot of talk of deliberately targeting their few functioning oil refineries and plunging the country into chaos.)

Their other big weapon is, of course, terrorism–in Iraq and all over the world through their surrogates such as Hezbollah. But that is an issue for another time. For now, it clarifies things:

I. Let’s pretend we’re James Baker and assume Iran is thinking logically. It’s more likely Iran wants nuclear weapons, because they’re bluffing about the oil weapon and they need a solid deterrent. Especially now that they know we know they’re bluffing about the oil weapon. They need a deterrent–against us, against Arabia, against Pakistan.

II. Now let’s question that first assumption. Iran had a choice to allocate money to fixing its oil infrastructure and securing a huge source of national revenue (70%, according to Stern), and helping their shattered economy–or investing in an illegal nuclear weapons program that gives the most powerful nation in the world a great excuse to start a war with them. They chose nuclear weapons. That’s not rational deterrence–that’s apocalyptic thinking.

III. Iran is much more vulnerable now than we thought they were because (A) they can’t hit back as hard as we thought and (B) their own system is pretty fragile. They may be getting a little more vulnerable each month to sabotage as their refinery capacity dwindles, but they will not be this vulnerable again once they get their bombs online.

So: this would seem like a good time to do something. As for the consequences in Iraq, Iran might have better things to worry about when the gasoline riots are right on top of their bunkers.