We can't expect the mullahs to change their system in the same way. But we can expect divestment to put a heavy economic squeeze on a regime whose economy already is deteriorating visibly. Iran produces lots of oil, but it doesn't have enough refinery capacity and must import gasoline. The mullah regime appears to be highly unpopular, and further economic deterioration might spark a peaceful overthrow -- the best result imaginable for us, as well as for most Iranians.
What of private pension funds? Here the lead is being taken by Teamsters Union President Jim Hoffa, who last week urged managers of 170 funds that invest Teamster pension money to sell all shares of companies that do business in Iran. Hoffa has vigorously protested the arrest and torture of union leaders in Iran and seems to be following in the steps of the late AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, who did so much to destabilize communism in Eastern Europe. Divestment by private pension funds will be aided if the Senate passes the bill (sponsored by Reps. Barney Frank and Mark Kirk, Sens. Barack Obama and Sam Brownback and already passed by the House) to shield investment managers from lawsuits based on any losses from terror-free investing.
In a time of great partisan strife, the divestment movement is deeply bipartisan. Bills have been passed in the heavily Democratic legislature in California and the heavily Republican legislature in Florida. Sponsors include supporters of the war in Iraq -- including Ohio legislator Josh Mandel, now on his second deployment there as a Marine reservist -- and strong opponents. We may not be at war with the mullah regime, but they have been waging war against us for a long time, since the hostage seizure in 1979 and the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon in 1983.
You sometimes hear the criticism that ordinary Americans have not been asked to make any sacrifices or take any action in our war against terrorists. But as Treasurer Steelman, dozens of state legislators and the Teamsters' Hoffa have shown, there is something we can do. Stopping the flow of investment funds into companies that, opportunistically, do business with the No. 1 terrorist-supporting regime in the world doesn't guarantee success. But it's a step in the right direction.
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