On February 19, Mark Kirk, a Republican Congressman from Illinois running for a promotion to the US Senate, delivered a speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs to share his views on Iran policy. While initial reports didn't indicate anything much new was said by the Representative, who has been calling for a gasoline "quarantine" on Iranians since 2007, audio from the event has just been released that reveals some troubling insights into Kirk's gasoline embargo rationale.
During the Q&A, Kirk brushed aside concerns that a gasoline embargo will hurt innocent Iranians and stated that, in fact, the US should punish innocent Iranians as a means to engineer anti-government protests in Iran:
Q: The oil embargo or quarantine sounds like a very plausible alternative ... why the opposition from the administration?
Kirk: Um, in a discussion I recently had with administrative officials they said we would feel worried that it would hurt the Iranian people... (laughs)
But it's that actual pain that I think has to be imposed, in my view, a gasoline quarantine would immediately trigger anti-American demonstrations in downtown Tehran, organized by the regime.
But over time the regime fears large groups of people gathering because as you know a mob can turn very quickly.
When you hear that you can't get enough gasoline that day, and you read in the state controlled paper that it's Barack Obama's fault, you'll be mad at Barack Obama that week.
But as your factory closed down and as the refrigerator starts to run out, the naturally tendency of any people is turn to their own leader and say "fix this".
I cannot feed a nuclear weapon to my family. It is more important to feed my family than eat nuclear weapons. And that's the dilemma you want to put them in.
So, the Kirk Plan, in a nutshell, is to cut off gasoline for Iranians and triggering anti-American protests in Iran. Sounds bad so far. But then, eventually, Kirk says, the "mobs" will turn and Iranians will suddenly start protesting against their own government.
I'm not sure if Kirk has been following Iran for the past nine months, but somebody better tell him that Iranians are already standing up to their government. And they didn't even need Mark Kirk to engineer their discontent.
But while the Iranian government has displayed increasing aptitude for repressing and silencing its opponents, the last thing Iranian activists and human rights defenders who are putting their lives on the line need is for a wannabe Senator to intervene on behalf of his own protest movement--not one contesting the legitimacy of the Iranian government or demanding rights for the Iranian people, but one in which Iranians beg their government to give in to US demands so that they are able to heat their homes or drive their cars.
Early on in his speech, Kirk also remarks that it was he who first introduced legation to impose a gasoline embargo on Iran back in 2007, not Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman, who is the sponsor of the current bill moving through Congress. Kirk explains that Democratic Leadership came to him saying "we want to move your bill, we don't want to exactly give you credit for it" and asked if they could replace his name on the legislation with Chairman Berman's. Kirk claims that he magnanimously replied "I so believe in this bill" that he would be willing to let a Chairman from the opposing party steal the credit.
Unfortunately, Mark Kirk is going to have to play second fiddle yet again, not to a Democratic colleague, but to the Iranian government. Because if anyone deserves credit for inciting Iranians to take to the streets to protest Iran's government, it's the Iranian government. And if anybody deserves credit for standing up to the government, it's not a Congressman on the campaign trail in Chicago, it's the Iranian people actually suffering for their cause in the streets of Iran.
Congressmen like Mark Kirk would be wise to, instead of rehashing tired schemes to mobilize an already mobilized Iranian population, consider ways that Congress can actually stand with the Iranian people by removing unintentional US burdens in place against them, not adding new, intentional burdens to further punish them.
If Kirk's gasoline embargo does pass, however, he can certainly share credit with his colleagues for punishing innocent Iranians, helping undermine the indigenous opposition in Iran, and providing Iran's government with some much needed assistance in their propaganda efforts.
Jamal Abdi is the Policy Director for the National Iranian American Council.
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