The Elephant In the Room: Our tentative peace with Iran and the economics of world politics

By Shoshanna Israel


When the US government announced on Thursday that a tentative deal with Iran had been reached, many felt relief. The lengthy process of sanctions and tension that defined decades of interaction with Iran had come to a head. There was light at the end of the tunnel after 10 years since Iran left the Paris Agreements and cemented its commitment to build a nuclear weapons program.
The reasons this agreement was even able to be reached were largely economic. Economic sanctions, levied by the US and other nations, have crippled the Iranian economy. The United States has banned the purchase of Iranian imports, as well as interactions with Iranian financial institutions. These sanction have proven to be the best bargaining chip the US has on the table, the US and five other nations are trading greater economic freedom for the Iranians in exchange for the halting and dismantling of their nuclear weapons systems.
All of this sounds promising, and it is promising, as this is exactly how sanctions are supposed to work. The economic pressures the US and other nations have exercised in the region have resulted in a number of important concessions from the Iranians which could help pave the path to peace in one of the most contentious regions in the world.
But we must be realistic. Despite the optimistic nature of these peace talks, Iran still remains a country infamous for its abysmal record of human rights. Iranian political opposition are frequently jailed, along with dozens of journalists. Iranian law allows capital punishment for puberty aged children, which it defines as age 9 for girls and age 15 for boys. Adult women need permission from a male guardian to marry, obtain a passport and travel outside the country. Its political processes are frequented by abuses, where arbitrary governmental bodies dismiss hundreds of potential presidential candidates for no real reason at all, including all of the dozens of women who submitted their candidacy. Of course, the icing on the cake is Iran’s noncompliance with international law and their insistence, up until this week, of building a nuclear weapons program.
The fact of the matter is that almost 80% of Iran’s revenues come from the energy sector of its economy. The country is considered an oil super power, and every play it has is based, either directly or indirectly, in its power to manipulate the oil market. The US, and most countries who deal with Iran, are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Economic sanctions against Iran are painful for us too, increasing the price of oil and disrupting its production, according to the Energy Information Administration arm of the Department of Energy. Nevertheless, today’s low oil prices take the sting out of theses sanctions, but the increase in Saudi oil production driving down prices is not a permanent solution, and the American appetite for oil continues to grow. After years of decreased oil consumption, the United States actually increased consumption of oil in 2013, due largely to a rebounding economy. Though energy sources like shale offer some reprieve from foreign dependence, these are riddled with environmental, cost efficacy, and public relations problems.
Every talk with the Iranians is infused with the notion that the US does not want sanctions, even if they can hold out longer than the Iranians, not to mention that money spent on oil fuels government revenue to pay for Iranian projects like the nuclear weapons program. The tentative agreement reached between the Iranians and the Obama administration is a step in the right direction, but it is still the same Iran. We must, and should all remain optimistic, but, nuclear weapons or not, an oil rich Iran is a threat to freedom and democracy, unless we can kick our oil habit for good.

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