Sunday, April 16, 2006

Iran's Electric Power Grid

I have a suggestion for the Iranian people, at midnight April 30- May 1, they should turn on every electric light they own. Why? To answer that question, we need to examine the strategic situation regarding electric power in Iran.

The one undisputed fact is that Iran has inadequate supplies of electric power. The justification President Ahmadinejad gives for their nuclear program is the generation of electric power. Our concern is their potential perversion of a peaceful program into a weapons program. America has supported peaceful generation of nuclear power since Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program in the 1950s! There is plenty of common ground. And we have supported the EU3 process, including Russia’s offer to perform all the necessary enrichment on Russian soil. What we cannot accept is an Iranian nuclear weapon. One advantage we have is that it is clear the people prefer the benefits of an American technology, the electric light bulb (Thank You, Thomas Edison!), over the mullah’s medieval philosophy.

So the Iranian people are the key audience for this debate. What is the best way for them to get the electric power they want and deserve? Should Iran defy the United States and the international community by enriching uranium to build a unilateral nuclear capability? Or should they agree to using reprocessing capability in Russia or elsewhere and re-join the family of nations? The question before the world is whether the Iranian people have a real voice in that decision.

Repressive governments try to intimidate their populace into acquiescence. A real people’s hero, such as “The Tank Man of Tiannemen Square”, are quite rare. There is evidence that the people were dismayed by the lack of real choice they had in their recent presidential election. There seems to be a split between what the mullahocracy is doing and what the people want. We need to find a way to encourage ordinary Iranians to seize the initiative and assert their authority. They need to find their courage. This is where the maxim, “there is safety in numbers” comes in. The simple act of turning on an electric light is well within any individual’s power. Yet the sudden illumination of the Iranian night sky would be a clear sign of their collective desires and political power! It would be a vote of the people for international cooperation and a renunciation of nuclear enrichment.

There would also be some delicious ironies in such an act on May Day! The repressive governments in Beijing & Moscow, which have been reluctant to confront Ahmadinejad, would hate to see a resurrection of the civil defiance reminiscent of Tiannemen Square, especially on May Day. The people of Iran could strike a blow for civilization and repressed people everywhere! And it does mark the end of the 30 day period for Iranian compliance with the IEAE mandate to cease enrichment activities. How could China and Russia resist sanctions on a defiant Iranian government if the Iranian people voted for them?

This could be America’s peace offering, the carrot in a carrot or stick choice that Iran faces. Clearly, the stick would entail denial of electric power to a regime intent on developing nuclear weapons. But this is the time to try peaceful means. Let’s give them a chance to proclaim their desire to live in peace.