What Should Britain, the U.S., and Europe Do About Iran?


Two interesting pieces from the London papers yesterday on this question, with recommendations you might not expect. In the Times, Gerard Baker says that Britain is doing pretty much all it should do at the moment. He reminds us that Margaret Thatcher's response to the seizure of the Falkland Islands by Argentina was not as immediately bellicose as we remember, nor did the Reagan administration immediately support Britain. Our memory of recent history tends to elide over long moments of hesitation and agonized indecision. Not everyone responded as rapidly as Franklin Roosevelt did to Pearl Harbor–and remember that we weren't able to do much after Pearl Harbor, except watch as the Philippines, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) fell to Japan. The Doolittle raid over Tokyo, mostly done for morale reasons, didn't take place until four months after Pearl Harbor, the marvelous victory at Midway not till six months after, the mostly botched landings in North Africa not till 11 months later. Some things take time. Here's his recommendation:

Where does all this leave Mr. Blair and his government as it seeks to recover Britain's sailors and restore its pride? This time, thank goodness, the U.S. is firmly on our side. But it is not clear what difference that will make. The military options open to the British government look rather limited. It lacks the intelligence and the military capacity to mount a rescue mission from its meager task force in the Gulf. Though the U.S. has much more firepower and presumably better intelligence, I'm guessing the U.S. Navy does not plan to start a war with Iran in an effort to rescue 15 British sailors.

The right approach, as frustratingly dilatory as it seems, is the one the U.K. is currently taking. The Iranian attack is an outrage, but it presents an important opportunity to demonstrate to the world (which shouldn't need reminding, but does) just how vile a regime Tehran is. Let no one be in any doubt as to who is the aggressor. Produce the evidence that this was no hostile action by the British but simply an operation rooted in international law. Steadily ratchet up the diplomatic pressure on Iran, isolating the country in international opinion. All of that will lay a much better groundwork in global public opinion as the United States and its allies prepare for the long, difficult struggle to stop Iran from achieving regional hegemony under the shelter of its own nuclear umbrella.

It is frustrating work, but all of the alternatives are worse.

In the Guardian, the leftish don Timothy Garton Ash, who wrote so movingly about the fall of communism in eastern Europe, calls on European nations to cut off credit export guarantees to those who trade with Iran. Garton Ash (or is his last name Ash? I should know and don't know) tips his hat to Bush-hating Guardian readers but still insists, with the moral clarity he brought to his coverage of Eastern Europe, that

"only someone whose political and moral compass is totally disorientated by hostility to American and British policy could dare to suggest that this act of shameless, lying, cross-border piracy is justified or excusable."

He notes that the European Union recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, with ceremonies in Berlin, presumably because Germany is currently holding the EU presidency. But is European solidarity anything more than hot air? Can Europe do anything?

"But there is something Europe should do: flex its economic muscles. The EU is by far Iran's biggest trading partner. More than 40 percent of its imports come from, and more than a quarter of its exports go to, the EU. Remarkably, this trade has grown strongly in the last years of looming crisis. Much of it is underpinned by export credit guarantees given by European governments, notably those of Germany, France, and Italy. According to the most recent figures available from the German economics ministry, Iran is Germany's third-largest beneficiary of export credit guarantees, outdone only by Russia and China. Iran comes second to none in terms of the proportion of German exports–in recent years up to 65 percent–underwritten by the German government.

As the squeeze grows on Iran from U.N. sanctions and their knock-on effects, and as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fails to deliver on his populist economic promises, this European trade becomes ever more vital for the Iranian regime–and ever more dependent on European government guarantees to counterbalance the growing political risk."

Good idea. Our State Department has encouraged European unification–unwisely, in my view, for reasons I'll not get into here. Has it been in contact with the appropriate officials of the EU, Germany, France, and Italy? Has it been making the case made above? If not, why not?

I guess Baker is probably right about military action, and I think Garton Ash is right about the EU. But I would also like to throw in the hopper the proposal Newt Gingrich made on Hugh Hewitt's radio talk show.

"HH: Now let's get to the first major issue of the day, which is Iran. Mr. Speaker, if the United Kingdom feels obliged to use force, if diplomacy fails to get their people back, will you applaud?

NG: I think there are two very simple steps that should be taken. The first is to use a covert operation, or a special forces operation, to knock out the only gasoline producing refinery in Iran. There's only one. And the second is to simply intercede by naval force, and block any tankers from bringing gasoline to Iran ...

HH: Would you do? Would you urge them ...

NG: And say to the Iranians, you know, you can keep the sailors as long as you want, but in about 30 days, everybody in your country will be walking.

HH: So how long would you give them, to give them that ultimatum, the Iranians?

NG: I would literally do that. I would say to them, I would right now say to them privately, within the next week, your refinery will no longer work. And within the following week, there will be no tankers arriving. Now if you would like to avoid being humiliated publicly, we recommend you calmly and quietly give them back now. But frankly, if you'd prefer to show the planet that you're tiny and we're not, we're prepared to simply cut off your economy, and allow you to go back to walking and using oxen to pull carts, because you will have no gasoline left.

HH: I agree with that 100 percent. Would your recommendation to the United States president be the same if Iran seized our forces?

NG: Absolutely. I mean, the reason I say that, it is the least violent, least direct thing you can do. It uses our greatest strength ... you know, the mismatch in naval power is absolute. And so you don't have to send troops into Iran. Everybody on the left is waiting for conservatives to say things that allow them to run amok and parade in San Francisco, and claim that we're warmongers. I want to avoid war by intelligently using our power to eliminate the option of sustaining an economy, so that the Iranian dictatorship will be shown to be the hollow dictatorship it is, so the people of Iran decide they'd like to have a decent government with real electricity and real gasoline, so they overthrow it. And I want to do that without risking a single American life, or being engaged in a single direct confrontation. And naval power lets you do that."

Interesting. Garton Ash may not be entirely comfortable with this, but his arguments are echoed, and directed against the French firm Total, by the editors of the Wall Street Journal.

Speaking of Britain, here's a website I came across, for a presidential candidate who should appeal to liberals and conservatives alike, William Wilberforce. Wilberforce is of course the British M.P., a devout evangelical Christian and a liberal reformer, who persuaded Parliament to outlaw the slave trade 200 years ago this month, and whose amazing story is well told in Eric Metaxas's William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, and the current movie Amazing Grace.


There are a lot of us. That's one thing you notice when you take a look at the latest Census figures. As I go about updating the Almanac of American Politics 2008, I come across passages where I have noted a state's population increase from 1990 to 2004. These started off as 1990 to 2000, and I decided to update them to 1990-2002 rather than just look at the two-year period 2000-02. Anyhow, I am now updating them to 1990-2006, which strikes me as a reasonable period, one punctuated by just two brief recessions, and all of it (or almost all of it) within living memory of my readers. (I have encountered over the years many people who started reading the Almanac as teenage political junkies; I have always pictured my ideal reader as me at 14.) Anyway, one day this week I decided to calculate the total population increase of each state (or decrease, in the cases of North Dakota and the District of Columbia) from 1990 to 2006, with the help of the figures you can link to on this wonderful Census Bureau web page and the state figures from the 1990 Census. As it happens, the population of the United States increased by almost exactly 50 million people in this period, which is to say by an amount equal to one-third of the total population of the country in the Census in which I was first included, 1950. The exact number is 49,977,989.

But population increase is anything but equally distributed. Rather to the contrary. One quarter of the population increase occurred in just two states, which happen to be our two largest states. (I've appended the number of House seats each state was assigned under the apportionment after the 2000 Census; this gives you an idea of their relative populations at the beginning of this decade.)

United States 49,977,989 435
California 6,697,528 53
Texas 6,521,273 32

By the way, Texas will probably replace California at the top of the list in the 1990-2007 or 1990-2008 figures; Texas gained 579,275 people in 2005-06 and California only 303,402; Texas's increase seems to have been inflated by Katrina evacuees (its 2004-05 increase was 410,607, and all these figures are for July 1 estimates except for the 1990 Census count which is as of April 1).

In addition, another quarter of the population increase occurred in just four other states, and they are not the ones you might have guessed in 2000.

Florida 5,151,926 25
Georgia 2,885,725 13
Arizona 2,501,090 8
North Carolina 2,228,628 13

You may have noticed that five of these six states voted for George W. Bush in 2004.

The third quarter of national population growth occurred in 11 states:

Washington 1,529,106 9
Colorado 1,458,983 7
Virginia 1,455,526 11
Illinois 1,401,368 19
New York 1,315,728 29
Nevada 1,293,696 3
Tennessee 1,161,618 9
New Jersey 994,372 13
Oregon 858,437 5
South Carolina 834,546 6
Maryland 834,529 8

Politically, they're a mixed bag. Five voted for George W. Bush in 2004, five for John Kerry. But it's weird to see a population-related ranking in which Virginia comes out ahead of New York, Nevada ahead of New Jersey.

That leaves the remaining 33 states and D.C. with one-quarter (actually, a little less) of the nation's population growth (or decline).

Utah 827,213 3
Michigan 800,346 15
Minnesota 792,002 8
Indiana 769,361 9
Missouri 725,640 9
Wisconsin 664,737 8
Ohio 630,891 18
Pennsylvania 558,978 19
Alabama 558,483 7
Kentucky 520,778 6
Idaho 459,716 2
New Mexico 439,530 3
Oklahoma 433,627 5
Massachusetts 420,768 10
Mississippi 337,324 4
Kansas 286,501 4
Connecticut 217,693 5
New Hampshire 205,643 2
Iowa 205,330 5
Nebraska 189,946 3
Delaware 187,308 1
Hawaii 177,269 2
Arkansas 169,853 4
Montana 145,567 1
Alaska 120,010 1
Maine 93,646 2
South Dakota 85,915 1
Louisiana 67,795 7
Rhode Island 64,146 2
Wyoming 61,416 1
Vermont 61,150 1
West Virginia 24,993 3
North Dakota - 2 ,933 1
District of Columbia - 25,370