- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Here’s a gag that used to circulate in the days of the Soviet Union and communist central economic “planning”:

What would be the immediate result if the Kremlin seized the Sahara desert? Answer: Within a week, there would be a shortage of sand.

That old joke came to mind reading news reports that Iran’s dictatorship had imposed gasoline rationing on its domestic market. Yes, gas rationing in Iran, OPEC’s second-biggest producer of crude oil and the world’s fourth-largest exporter of crude oil. And you can be sure that gas rationing in a country drowning in petroleum means an explosive growth in black marketeering, especially in the capital city of Tehran with a population of 12 million.

Announcement by Iran’s Oil Ministry of gas rationing set off wild street riots culminating in torching of gas stations and looting of government-owned businesses, government banks, and chain stores.

Iran’s state-run media reported nearly 30 percent of the country’s gas stations were destroyed or severely damaged. And the blame for all this is dumped on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 51, elected two years ago after pledging to revive a stagnant economy. His pledge has become a national joke.

Since Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election, according to Reuters, inflation has zoomed 30 percent — and still zooming — in what has long been a stagnant economy. Living standards have fallen in this country of more than 70 million people.

But things get even worse. The government has failed to build gasoline refineries to meet consumer needs so until recently Iran has been spending $5 billion buying gasoline on the world market.

American consumers will be interested to know that until recently, motorists in Iran could buy gas for 34 cents (U.S.) a gallon. Today the per gallon price is 42 cents. The government was importing gas to the tune of $5 billion a year but lacking hard currency, it cut that expenditure in half — $2.5 billion for gas imports — which is why there are gas lines and angry consumers. The cut is due in part to Iran’s funding the global terrorist networks, especially in Iraq.

And there is more to explain Iran’s economic failure: its nuclear enrichment program. Mr. Ahmadinejad has ignored the demands of the United Nations Security Council to stop Iran’s nuclear program, claiming it is only for peaceful purposes — but nobody believes him. Mr. Ahmadinejad has been condemned internationally for urging that Israel be “wiped off the map.” and for describing the Holocaust as a “myth.” He’s quite a number.

If there is one country in the Middle East that should be a howling economic success, it is Iran. And if there is one country in the world that proves revolutions usually create worse conditions than previously existing, it is Iran. For however bad conditions were in the days of the shah and his secret police, the Savak, Iran was a far happier place and more open than it is today.

I had this confirmed for me a few months ago on a trip to Washington, D.C. I could tell from the surname on his visible license that my airport taxi driver was Iranian. I asked him how he had ended up in Washington. “Because I was a fool,” he replied. In Iran he had been a major in the Iran air force, well paid with a nice home and family. Then he got involved in the revolution against the shah and was exiled. “How much better off we were under the shah than under Khomeini,” he said.

Too late. It’s always too late. The lure of revolution may be irrational and, often, irresistible. What follows the overthrow of the old system is even worse — the Reign of Terror, the aftermath of revolution. From the rule of 18th-century Maximilien Robespierre to 20th-century dictators like Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, flow torrents of blood, the blood of their own people, their own citizens, their own children.

The 19th century was the century of nationalist revolutions, the 20th century ended as the century of counter-revolution. The 21st century appears to be the Era of the Lone Bomber — no longer a terrorist, today a “militant” on a suicide mission, recruited by a nation-state, Iran, and endowed with the war powers of the nation-state. Is Iran untouchable?

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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