When the Germans told Gen. Anthony McAuliffe to surrender his forces in Belgium during World War II, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division famously replied, "Nuts!" The German officers didn't quite get his drift, which was "Go to hell."
Iran has made new threats to block the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf if the United States follows through on a plan to slap penalties against companies doing business with its central bank. Those penalties would slow Iranian oil sales to a drip. Europeans are talking of joining such a boycott.
The sanctions are viewed as a non-military way to stop Iran from going forward on its nuclear weapons program, which it is clearly doing, according to a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report. Without the oil revenues, Iran's fragile economy would crumble, along with its leadership.
President Obama's answer to the Iranian threat was even shorter than Gen. McAuliffe's four-letter repartee. He said nothing, though that's fine as long as he sticks with the program. (Cowboy bombast is probably what Iran's leaders most crave.)
Analysts say the likelihood of Iran's actually closing the Strait of Hormuz is low. That would cut off what little oil revenue it receives. (Some see Iran's saber rattling as a trick to raise the price of oil.)
If Iran does follow through, one may worry about Obama's resolve. For some reason, blame for prices at the pump gets laid at the president's feet. As you may have heard, there will be an election this November.
While the United States has made strides on replacing oil, renewable energy sources produce just over 14 percent of our electricity. Much of that comes from hydroelectric projects built long ago.
Oil interests in this country habitually argue: Why bother? Oil is so much cheaper than wind, solar and other kinds of alternative energy. Case closed.
They rarely look two steps ahead to imagine a situation where Iran would close the strait. One-fifth of the world's oil supply passes through this narrow opening, where the Persian Gulf empties into the Arabian Sea. And somehow, they never add to their per-barrel calculations the blood and treasure expended in our defense of oil supplies.
Iran is playing on Americans' fear of higher energy prices, something that has long kept this country slave to the whims of petro-dictators. Rising oil prices turn the masses into Jell-O. And rather than come back with a strong defense -- a Manhattan Project for alternative energy, whose products do best at times of high oil prices -- the U.S. leadership pays tribute to some of the worst regimes.
The true "nuts" response to Iranian-type oil threats now comes from Germany. In June, Chancellor Angela Merkel set Germany on course to generate 80 percent of its power from renewable sources -- wind, solar, geothermal and bioenergy -- by 2050.
Merkel insists that the program is job-creating. By contrast, many American politicians tar any energy program not in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry as "job-killing." While Germany raised the share of electricity made from renewables to 20 percent now from 6 percent in 2000, it enjoyed higher wages, lower unemployment and stronger exports. Case closed, you might say.
Imagine what America could say to the petro-terrorists and assorted oil sheiks if our advance toward renewable energy matched Germany's. It could say "nuts" -- and some other choice words.