Ledeen: Iranian regime failing as proxies lose ground

posted at 11:55 am on January 5, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Normally, Michael Ledeen wouldn’t qualify as an optimist, especially on Iran.  That’s what makes his column today on the mullahcracy’s fortunes interesting reading, as Ledeen sees the regime teetering after its proxies have lost ground.  But is Ledeen a little too hopeful?

First of all, the dramatic drop in oil prices is devastating to the mullahs, who had planned to be able to fund terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.  Suddenly their bottom line is tinged with red, and this carries over onto their domestic balance sheets, which were already demonstrably shaky (they were forced to cancel proposed new taxes when the merchant class staged nation-wide protests).  No wonder they seize on any international event to call for petroleum export reductions.  Just today they called for a [2] drastic reduction of oil shipments to all countries that supported the Israeli military incursion into Gaza.

No doubt, the Iranians believe the fall in oil prices is the result of satanic will, rather than the shock to demand produced by the runup to $140/barrel.  Not for them the subtleties of the free market;  given the way they view the world, they must be convinced that the same strategy that beggared the Soviet Union–Saudi cooperation with America to hold down prices–is now deployed against them.  This belief was no doubt reinforced when the recent official cut in petroleum production did not lead to markedly higher prices.

Second, their terror strategy has not been working as well as they wished and expected.  Most American and European analysts have not appreciated the effect of the defeat of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards in Iraq, but you can be sure that the high and mighty in Arab capitals have taken full notice.  The Iranians not only lost a considerable number of skilled and experienced terror leaders–Imad Mughnieh, the long-time operational chieftain of Hezbollah is the most important, and Abu Musab al Zarqawi was close behind, having created al Qaeda in Iraq alongside a network throughout Europe–but also several of their own Revolutionary Guards officers.  Some of these were captured, others have defected, and most all have provided details of the Iranian network. This sort of thing is bad for operations, bad for recruiting, and weakens the Iranians’ efforts to bully their neighbors into appeasement or more active cooperation.

Third, despite all their efforts to crush any sign of internal rebellion, many Iranians continue to publicly oppose the mullahs.  A few weeks ago, students at universities all over the country demonstrated in significant numbers, and as one Iranian now living in Europe put it to me, “they were surprised that the regime was unable to stop the protests, even though everyone knew they were planned.”   This is the background for the new wave of repression, accompanied by an intensification of jamming on the Internet, and an ongoing reshuffle of the instruments of repression;  Khamanei and Ahmadinejad have no confidence in the efficacy or blind loyalty of the army or of large segments of the Revolutionary Guards.  Most public actions are carried out by the Basij, who are judged more reliable, and repression is less in the hands of the traditional ministries than in new groups freshly minted in the Supreme Leader’s office.

In short, we are dealing with a regime that is very concerned about its future, and is not very comfortable with its friends, allies, and proxies.

The steep drop in oil prices is probably the worst problem facing the mullahs.  Their economy had already gone sour long before then, even with oil at its $147/barrel peak.  With the current trading price at this writing at $47 and demand dropping dramatically, they have no capital to fund their terrorist activities.  They also have precious little with which to maintain their oppressive rule over the Iranians, at a time when dissent and dissatisfaction appear to be increasing significantly.

Will that continue in the long run?  I’d say that Tehran may look to Washington for a little Hope and Change on this score.  Barack Obama opposed, more or less, the idea of increasing American domestic oil production in order to achieve more independence from foreign energy resources.  Eventually, Obama wants the US to get away from an oil-based energy platform altogether, and that would be very bad for OPEC and Iran, but that’s at least a generation away in the most cheerful of estimates.  If Obama won’t expand American production, the current low prices will not last, and Iran can once again count on high profit margins to correct most of the ills Ledeen outlines in his column.

However, that’s precisely why the other Arab nations will work to keep prices reasonably low.  They may talk Israel, but their eyes are fixed on Iran as the real threat in the region.  They do not want a Persian Shi’ite hegemony in the Gulf nor an expensive nuclear-arms race, and Iran’s late aggressiveness with its Hamas and Hezbollah proxies has them worried.  They will do their best to quietly starve Iran of its funds and hope the Iranian people do the rest.

The best strategy for the US is to pursue low international oil prices over the next few years by aggressively expanding domestic oil production.  Starving the Iranians of the funds for terrorism doesn’t require bombs or invasions, and it will be much more effective at weakening the mullahcracy enough to foment an organic overthrow by the Iranian people — as well as securing our own economic standing and keeping American capital in America, creating jobs and cutting back sharply on our trade deficit.


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Drill! HERE! NOW!

CynicalOptimist on January 5, 2009 at 11:56 AM

Domestically drilling for peace? What a novel thought.

Rovin on January 5, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Dude, where’s my oil bubble?!?

Your Jewish Master on January 5, 2009 at 12:02 PM

Barry wants to fund his ‘stimulus’ at least in part with a gasoline tax, estimated to take the pump price back to around $4/gallon. That would further damage the US economy, anger US voters, and reduce demand beyond what the current global recession has done. Ironically, that would hurt the Iranians more, as oil is a fungible commodity. All in all, a brilliant move (if you oppose him).

Vashta.Nerada on January 5, 2009 at 12:02 PM

Worst headline grammar. Ever.

lorien1973 on January 5, 2009 at 12:03 PM

Terrorism is not that expensive, that’s why it exists.

hanzblinx on January 5, 2009 at 12:06 PM

This will be the issue that torpedos Obama’s run in 2012. He won’t do anything to expand domestic oil production. As a matter of fact his administration will do more harm to the oil companies to the point that we will see one major American oil company pull out of America all together. Solar, wind and other alternative sources of energy sound great on paper but the reality is this: If America is to grow and pull itself out of it’s recession then the only quick way to do that is to drill for oil. People cannot quit driving to work overnight or quit working in our economy based on fossil fuels for the next four years. Perhaps if Obama waited and became president in 2028 then he might have some basis for his energy policies.

izoneguy on January 5, 2009 at 12:07 PM

Ledeen is one of the smartest observers of Iran around, and for years he’s been advocating treating the various conflicts in the region (Afghanistan, Iraq, Israelis v. Palestinians, even al Qaeda) as one large regional war with Iran at its center. I think events in Gaza and Lebanon the last couple of years give weight to his thesis.

irishspy on January 5, 2009 at 12:12 PM

Solar, wind and other alternative sources of energy sound great on paper

When you know what to look for, they don’t look good on paper either. It takes massive propaganda for them to look good.

MarkTheGreat on January 5, 2009 at 12:12 PM

Perhaps if Obama waited and became president in 2028 then he might have some basis for his energy policies.

izoneguy on January 5, 2009 at 12:07 PM

Is it too late to get him to defer?

loudmouth883 on January 5, 2009 at 12:19 PM

Expanding our own oil production would not only hurt the rare three eyed, sabre-toothed, bushy tailed titwillow (which just happens to live everywhere the oil is located), but would also not fit the multicultural narrative that the leftist appeasers would have us take with terrorist nations such as Iran.

Bishop on January 5, 2009 at 12:22 PM

Drill baby, drill.

rbj on January 5, 2009 at 12:29 PM

I wonder if Obama will continue the Bush administrations rather effective use of the Financial system to make life difficult for Tehran? Then again it will be interesting to see what they do when they realise they cant afford to keep blowing huge sums of hard currency on their pursuit of an A-Bomb.

I predict that Iran will do something desperately stupid sometime in the next 6-12 months if the price of oil continues to stay so low. Or alternatively they will get one of their proxies to stir up some shit somewhere and hope that the price of oil will go as a result due to loss of supply fears because of war in the middle east.

Hey maybe that’s why Hamas decided to unilateraly end the ceasefire with Israel? Its all a ploy by Iran to try and get the price of oil to go up.

Dreadnought223 on January 5, 2009 at 12:31 PM

Starving the Iranians of the funds for terrorism doesn’t require bombs or invasions, and it will be much more effective at weakening the mullahcracy enough to foment an organic overthrow by the Iranian people — as well as securing our own economic standing and keeping American capital in America, creating jobs and cutting back sharply on our trade deficit.

This makes too much sense, therefore the Democrats will never go for it!

ARom on January 5, 2009 at 12:32 PM

Ok… the idea is like legalizing weed…. it becomes cheap…let’s legalize drilling for oil… it’ll do the same… surely if the Dems are for legalizing MJ, they’ll go for this….ya think?

CynicalOptimist on January 5, 2009 at 12:37 PM

However, that’s precisely why the other Arab nations will work to keep prices reasonably low. They may talk Israel, but their eyes are fixed on Iran as the real threat in the region. They do not want a Persian Shi’ite hegemony in the Gulf nor an expensive nuclear-arms race, and Iran’s late aggressiveness with its Hamas and Hezbollah proxies has them worried. They will do their best to quietly starve Iran of its funds and hope the Iranian people do the rest.

Ed still suffers from the beliefs that regimes acting under the influence of Islam are going to act rationally. How much insanity do we need to see from muslims before we give up this naive belief? I believe that the decision makers in the Islam world would gladly poison the water supply of their capital city if it would hurt Israel some way. Iran is just an erratic ally in their world view.

thuja on January 5, 2009 at 12:43 PM

While we wait for Iran to crumble economically like the Soviet Union, they will continue to develop the bomb. As soon as they get a functional device, Tel Aviv will disappear in a mushroom cloud and the Mahdi will reappear…

Bomb baby, Bomb!

tommylotto on January 5, 2009 at 12:50 PM

Ed, I don’t argue with your recommendations but they are 180 degrees out of phase with Obama’s core beliefs. The big-eared freak intends to rule, not govern. What is in America’s best interest is secondary to whatever he thinks is in his best interest. If the two ever coincide, I guess we can just thank our lucky stars.

SKYFOX on January 5, 2009 at 1:09 PM

thuja on January 5, 2009 at 12:43 PM

Bit of an overstatement, I think. Arab regimes want to stay in power over all else and that trumps Israeli hatred which is their straw man to divert attention from their own failures. They know the Iranian octopus will gradually gobble them up if allowed to continue. An obsession with power isn’t restricted to our Democrats.

a capella on January 5, 2009 at 1:13 PM

The steep drop in oil prices is probably the worst problem facing the mullahs.

No, the worst problem facing the mullahs is that their evil philosophy is impractical, as evil philosophies always are. It makes their regime inherently unstable and the rulers subject to constant internecine warfare, a never-ending struggle for dominance, which they must battle daily to keep themselves in power.

JDPerren on January 5, 2009 at 1:21 PM

American oil production will not have any impact on global oil prices. The reserves are not significant enough to have any strategic impact. Most of the reserves are only viable to exploit if prices increase anyway. Leave something in the ground for future generations.

The Iranian regime was losing support even when prices were high. The Iranians know they are badly served by their government and will eventually reform their government as long as they are left to their own devices. Any attack from Israel or the US will unite the nation behind the mullahs. The same people who would reform the government are the ones supporting Iran’s nuclear program. They are doing this because of the memories of the Iran Iraq war. The conflict in Gaza right now merely serves to remind them how important a nuclear program is to Iran.

lexhamfox on January 5, 2009 at 1:30 PM

All through the oil run up, we kept hearing about these ‘Oil Speculators’ but never really put a name/face to any of these people.

Who’s to say Iran, noted for detailed planning and well executed campaigns, is not chief amongst the ‘Oil Speculators’? The Persians may be Islamic, but they’re not stupid.

SeniorD on January 5, 2009 at 1:42 PM

Drill, baby, drill!

It would be Obama’s golden opportunity. Let’s hope he has the smarts to do it, and deal a mortal blow to worldwide terrorism.

PattyJ on January 5, 2009 at 2:06 PM

Maybe the mullahs can convince their people that it’s good to eat oil.

GarandFan on January 5, 2009 at 2:30 PM

Expanding our own oil production would not only hurt the rare three eyed, sabre-toothed, bushy tailed titwillow (which just happens to live everywhere the oil is located), but would also not fit the multicultural narrative that the leftist appeasers would have us take with terrorist nations such as Iran.

Bishop on January 5, 2009 at 12:22 PM

Don’t forget, this animal is indigenous to ANWR and the California and Florida coastal waters. Fortunately is does not reside in Texas.

Johan Klaus on January 5, 2009 at 4:23 PM

American oil production will not have any impact on global oil prices.lexhamfox on January 5, 2009 at 1:30 PM

Increases in oil production anywhere will have an impact on global oil prices.

Johan Klaus on January 5, 2009 at 4:27 PM

In short, we are dealing with a regime that is very concerned about its future

And we should be concerned about that. Wounded animal backed into a corner.

ThePrez on January 5, 2009 at 6:08 PM

Any attack from Israel or the US will unite the nation behind the mullahs.

Absurd.

The same people who would reform the government are the ones supporting Iran’s nuclear program.

Then shoot them first.

What’s Iran’s government needs is not ‘reform’ but elimination and replacement with a constitutional republic that respects individual rights, as was forced on Japan after WWII. If there’s any society in the Middle East of which that’s possible, it is Iran. The population is – unlike many others in the region – well educated, modern, and capable of living in the 21st century in a civilized manner.

That will only happen if the U.S. or a U.S.-supported Israel makes it happen by force. But you needn’t worry. There is no hope whatever of the American government having the moral rectitude and far-sightedness to do that any time soon.

JDPerren on January 5, 2009 at 10:11 PM

The best strategy for the US is to pursue low international oil prices over the next few years by aggressively expanding domestic oil production.

If the Americans were really intent on surviving and thriving, it seems they would impoverish the Iranian mullahs and the Saudi “princes” by acquiring the lands under which so much oil lies. They would make jobs for themselves doing all the work required to extend and improve the active oil fields and to bring the oil to market. They would placate or neutralize much of the anger they would arouse, by nullifying the power of OPEC and Arab muslims, and by making oil readily and steadily available on the open market.

Kralizec on January 6, 2009 at 1:50 AM

by acquiring the lands under which so much oil lies

I agree; the U.S. government should allow drilling in Alaska, off the coasts, in Colorado, etc without needless restrictions. (It should likewise remove restrictions on oil refining, nuclear power plant creations, and in thousands of other power and finance related businesses.)

But keep in mind, too, that Americans, along with the Brits and French, did pursue the strategy you suggest in the Middle East. Middle Eastern governments abrogated the contracts, expropriated property, etc and Eisenhower did nothing. Sometimes, the market is not enough.

JDPerren on January 6, 2009 at 10:44 AM