Some analysts say that if this acute imbalance between stagnant production and rising demand at home continues unchecked, Iran will have no oil left over to export within a decade. Its oil exports, totaling $47 billion last year, account for half the government’s revenue.
To curb demand, which has been driven in part by subsidies that keep the domestic pump price at a mere 35 cents a gallon, the government plans to begin rationing gasoline in March, a measure so unpopular, and potentially explosive, that rationing plans have been put off several times in the past.
If Ahmadinejad were serious about staying in power, he’d put off the plan for a year, and rely on overproduction, just like the Shah did in the 1970s. In such a situation, a smart US President would wait for Iran’s oil production to plummet and then engage in minor diplomatic action to ensure that the post-revolutionary government would be pro-American. However, Bush isn’t a smart President, and his advisors are not a smart administration; they’re likely to bomb either way.
It seems almost as if Ahmadinejad is trying to ensure the regime collapses before the US has any time to bomb. If he can wait it out two more years, Bush’s hotheadedness and Congress’s spinelessness will secure his regime indefinitely. The US can’t execute an invasion, or at least not a successful one; all it can do is aerially strike, giving just enough impetus to preserve the regime.
Iran’s government is repeating the same mistakes the United States’ did, which led to the crash in Bush’s approval rate. The correct way to wean a gasoline-addicted population is gradually, via either slowly increasing taxes or investing in public transportation. The incorrect way is to ration gas. Peacetime rations have never been conducive to regime support. Regimes that the people are overall satisfied with can get away with it; regimes that have a five-year shelf life can’t.
Iran won’t know what hit it. For a government that got installed when angry mobs threw out the despised, authoritarian Shah who was keeping them in poverty, it has an awfully short memory. It has an authoritarian, despised President who can’t deliver on his economic promises, who’s propped up by an equally authoritarian Supreme Leader who’d be even more despised if he were more public.
I’m willing to stake my entire corpus of posts about the Middle East on this: barring an American or Israeli attack on Iranian soil, the current regime isn’t going to survive into the 2010s. Far stronger regimes have fallen before the might of popular discontent. A year ago, Ahmadinejad could cover up his unpopularity by clamping down on opposition newspapers. Today, he could just as well jail two thirds of the Iranian population.