Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Walls Are Closing in Mr. Ahmadinejad

Is Iran coming apart at the seams?

Wacky Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has totally mismanaged his country’s economy. It’s in total disarray. Inflation is spiraling off the charts, hovering somewhere around 30 percent, while growing unrest from the Iranian middle class threatens to undermine his grip on power.

All this comes on top of the government’s recent surprise gas rationing announcement. This decision—designed to lower fuel consumption over fears of possible UN sanctions over their nuclear program—sparked a surge of violent protests across the country.

Iranians are furious. Gas stations are being set ablaze. Iranians are marching in the street calling for Ahmadinejad’s head.

Despite their huge energy reserves, Iran’s moribund refining infrastructure forces them to import roughly 40 percent of its energy needs. In addition, gas in Iran only costs about 2 1/2 cents a gallon due to massive subsidies. This has caused enormous strain on the country’s finances which, of late, have been propped up by higher oil prices.

To make matters worse for Ahmadinejad, 57 Iranian economists recently signed a letter publicly denouncing his mismanagement of the economy. He denies all this and insists inflation is under control. He even offered to debate all 57 economists on television.

The guy is clearly off his rocker.

The powers that be recognize they have a serious problem on their hands. They are cracking down and ordering journalists not to report any of the unrest. They even went so far as to turn off Tehran’s mobile text messaging system to prevent people from organizing further protests.

One of the key issues facing Iran is the huge number of young people fed up with their leadership's tyrannical rule. As an Investors Business Daily editorial pointed out today, two-thirds of Iran's 70 million people are under 30 years old, roughly 45 percent are under 18. These kids have no recollection of the 1979 revolution, nor do they seem much to care. “They live in an age in which technology makes it easy for them to compare their lives and futures with those in the West, and they don't like how they are faring under an oppressive and militant religious master.”

Clearly, troubles abound in Iran.

In the meantime, the United States ought to be doing everything in its power to tighten the vise grip on these tyrants. Hit them in the wallet where it hurts. Toughen up existing sanctions, put in place some new ones, and put even more heat on these guys. If done right, the question will soon become how much more unrest it will take before the mullahs are forced to make a decisive political leadership change.

And, who knows? If we're really lucky, perhaps the present Iranian power structure will be toppled from the inside, courtesy of 70 million young people desperate for freedom.