Thomas Friedman: Go green to support Iran's reformers

New York Times (NYT) columnist Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, last week argued, quite persuasively, that the United States has a new reason to become more energy-efficient, i.e. to become green -- it's the Green Party in Iran.

I have long favored a transition away from oil – and especially imported oil – to keep more energy dollars circulating at home, in the domestic U.S. economy, to reduce greenhouse gases, and to increase the nation's foreign policy flexibility.

Well, if we didn't know it before, Friedman explains, there's another incentive to transition away from oil -- to decrease revenue to the brutal, repressive, fascist regime in Iran. The Islamic dictators have driven Iran's economy into the ground -- it produces very little that the world wants -- but the regime is able to remain in power in large part by paying off a domestic political coalition through jobs, subsidies, and other cash -- all funded by high oil prices. Friedman said high oil prices give Iran's leaders leverage and extend their reach.

Officials in Iran extended their deadline to conduct what the New York Times refers to as a "limited recount" of the disputed presidential election by five days after police fired tear gas on tens of thousands of protesters who crowded onto the streets of Tehran on Sunday. The Associated Press reported that demonstrators, who gathered at Tehran's Ghoba Mosque, chanted "Where is my vote?"

Iran's dictatorship: a brutal, repressive regime

And, in case one isn't familiar with Iran's case file in the last 30 years, it ranks at the top of the democratic and free world's problems.

Iran is the No. 1 sponsor of state-sponsored terrorism in the world, based on research compiled by both the U.S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. Its oil revenue funds the terrorist groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It's a primary sponsor of terrorist acts in Iraq and is involved in numerous efforts to de-stabilize various Middle East governments friendly to the West. It persecutes every ethnic minority group in Iran, it funds a massive anti-Semitic campaign, and has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction. Its leaders have repeatedly denied The Holocaust. And, of course, its human rights record is abysmal: it persecutes, imprisons, tortures, and kills anyone it deems is against its leadership or interpretation of Islam.

The mullah dictators try to project an image of free choice and 'tolerance' in Iran, but as the recent presidential election (really a president selection) has demonstrated, the regime's true nature is obvious: protest our dictates and exercise free speech and we will brutally repress you – and your family and contacts - with unlimited violence. And, of course, Iran is working on a program to develop nuclear technology, for pure 'peaceful' civilian purposes.

Those who dismiss Iran's actions and intentions are sorely misguided. An oil revenue-fed Iran under the Islamic dictatorship isn't merely opposed to the values espoused by Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Washington, its opposed to everything moving forward from Isaac Newton, basically.

However, despite repression, the Iranian people - a talented, entrepreneurial people with a diverse, rich culture – have broken through the lies and hate to begin the process of reform in an attempt to claim their inalienable rights, Friedman says. The citizens of American can help their efforts by using less oil.

Friedman argues energy conservation, and a tax on gasoline (with rebates for the poor and senior citizens) would be a triple-positive: it would increase demand for fuel-efficient vehicles, stimulate investment in renewable energy, and reduce our oil imports in a way that will surely lower the global price of oil, weakening every petro-dictator. It will take time, Friedman says, but it will have an impact.

Economic Analysis: Friedman is right. Those who live in the United States and in other free, democratic nations that have civil liberties and rights as a birthright and foundation should help the Iranian people as they struggle for those same rights that no regime or entity can take away. As the Iranian reform movement continues and as we see the heroic sacrifices being made and the injuries and deaths incurred by the reformers, it is appropriate that every American do what he/she can to reduce the price of oil – to become, as Friedman says, more green to support the Green Party in Iran. It is the least we can do. Or, as Friedman says, "What are we waiting for?"

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Financial Editor Joseph Lazzaro is based in New York.

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