Hitting Iran where it hurts

States are taking action to remove public money from companies that deal with Iran.

All indications from the highest levels of U.S. government indicate that we are preparing for a long-term struggle with Iran. Just this week, President George W. Bush announced that he is pushing ahead with the installation of a controversial missile shield to protect our country from Iranian attacks. So diplomacy does not seem to be the priority, and Congress seems unwilling to get involved.

In the face of this apparent federal apathy, some states have decided to try their hand at foreign politics. Just a couple weeks ago, California became the most recent state to sign legislation aimed at pressuring Iran through economic means. The new policy prohibits state public pension funds from being invested in companies that do energy and military business with Iran. These divestment measures are supposed to make Iran rethink its current behavior.

Whether the state divestment moves will have an impact on Iran is hard to say. It is possible that the surging Chinese economy could replace U.S. presence in Iran, thus negating the well-intentioned state action. At the same time, it’s unclear if divesture will have detrimental impacts on the public retirement funds; such a scenario would be slightly embarrassing. Others have argued that the proactive states will only hurt United States-Iran relations further, but on the other hand, it doesn’t seem that the upper levels of our government are too concerned about that.

The divestment trend is spreading through the states, and it’s encouraging to see the states start to take control when Congress is so apathetic. With California joining the movement, divestment suddenly starts to seem like it could actually put some pressure on Iran.

We can build all the missile shields we want, but the economic might of the United States can still be used as a powerful bargaining chip. Maybe it’s not as powerful as it once was, and maybe this will not have the desired effect, but it sure beats the war rhetoric and threats coming out of Washington.