Sleepless in Tehran

From the ineffable Thomas L. Friedman:

Have you seen the reports that Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is suffering from exhaustion? It's probably because he is not sleeping at night. I know why. Watching oil prices fall from $147 a barrel to $57 is not like counting sheep. It's the kind of thing that gives an Iranian autocrat bad dreams.

After all, it was the collapse of global oil prices in the early 1990s that brought down the Soviet Union. And Iran today is looking very Soviet to me.

From HERE.


Don said…
I think that Friedman is a little optimistic, to say the least.

There's no question that halving the price of oil is going to put the Iranians in the hurts. But there are other factors at work.

First, to characterise Ahmadinejad as an "autocrat" is far from the truth. He has to share power with a cabal of mullahs, some of which like him and some of which don't. In fact, I've seen one article that states that, if Obama wins, Ahmadinejad is toast. Who needs to take an agressive stance against a power who's running away in Iraq and other places in the world? That aggressive stance has scared many, but hasn't reaped internal benefits to Iran. The mullahs may be fanatics but they're not stupid: the last thing they want in the march to the Mahdi is social unrest to screw up their plans.

Beyond that, Friedman has conveniently forgotten that it was Reagan's arms buildup that basically forced the Soviet Union, with its ramshackle economy, into effective bankruptcy. He can't even remember that oil prices collapsed in the early 1980's, not the early 1990's. I know: I was in an oil related business at the time, and I watched the whole thing blow away.

The Nobel Prize committee must have been drinking a good deal of Russian vodka when they awarded the prize to Friedman.
Rob said…
Also, I heard that many nations, like Iran and Venezuela, planned for $70 a barrel in their 2009budgets. Of course, this may still mean they have to tighten their belts next year, butit is not as if they planned for $140 and got stuck with $60. Also, llok for prices to go back up. Maybe not so quickly to $147, but they won't stay low forever.

And, yeah, I agree with Don, Friedman is talking out of some orifice besides his mouth when he says oil priices in the 90's killed the Soviets. The Soviet Union fell in 1991 for the reasons Don explained. I think Friedman, who I don't know from Adam, is creating mythology here.

PS - Hey, Abu Daoud, remember back when you were posting 97 times a day and no one commented and we said, "Slow Down!". It worked, didn't it? :-)
Abu Daoud said…
Hi Rob: Yeah, well I asked and you got what you asked for! Also, I started working on a PhD which made blog time a little more scarce (though I still read my blogs every day, just fewwer of them).
FrGregACCA said…
It is possible, indeed probable, that collapse in oil prices helped to contribute to the fall of the Soviet Union, and any Middle Eastern country today would be even more vulnerable to that, including Iran.

While Reagan's arms build-up didn't hurt, there were other factors as well, most notably Afghanistan and a Polish Pope actively supporting an independent Polish trade union.
Rob said…
-It is possible, indeed probable, that collapse in oil prices helped to contribute to the fall of the Soviet Union-

Sure, it contributed.

I guess I am most offended by the determinism (correct term?) implicit in Friedman's statement. No one factor, no set of factors, can cause a people's downfall. Iran struggled through terrible economic difficulty after the revolution and never faltered. Why? Becuase they believed in their goal, their God, etc. The Soviet Union fell, in the end, becuase people no longer believed in it strongly enough to continue suffering the slings and arrows of their unity. So each republic broke away and tried to set up something it did believe in.

Iran won't fall just because times get tough. Oil could drop to $0. Given the right set of conditions, leadership, moral unity, they would still overcome it. As long as the people believe in the Islamic revolution, Iran will continue on the way it is.
Don said…
As someone who has spent much of his working life in an oil related business, I'm still bothered by Friedman's connection between the collapse in oil prices and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Actually, if you read the original article carefully, Friedman isn't sure himself when oil prices collapsed. He tells us in one paragraph (which AD quoted) that they collapsed in the 1990's, then in the next one he turns around and says they collapsed in the 1980's.

If you want a graphic look at the collapse of the oil industry in the early 1980's, go here and look at the attendance of the Offshore Technology Conference, one of the leading oil shows out there. It speaks for itself.

Beyond that, the USSR wasn't a big exporter of oil and natural gas to countries which paid for it in "hard currency" in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The Warsaw Pact countries didn't have hard currency (the Soviets saw to that.) Their export of natural gas to Europe was impeded by U.S. sanctions. That of course has changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Russian Federation and the other republics as independent (to varying degrees) states.

The big problem in Iran is the same one we saw in Saddam Hussein's Iraq and we see in other places in the world: it's easier to want to get rid of a regime than to do so. It's too easy for regimes to establish a security apparatus that can outlast all manner of economic and social disasters. What we saw in the USSR and Eastern Europe was the wholesale abandonment of systems by entire nations, an extraordinary spectacle (and, yes, I was an eyewitness to that, too.) I don't see that happening in MENA, and Islam is a large part of that.

If the West wants to oust the Iranian mullas, they're going to have to find a power challenger with the credibility and ruthlesness of an Ayatollah Khomeini, and frankly I don't give either the CIA or the State Department enough credit to pick one out.

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