NEW ENGLAND IS reported to be outraged over the American sale of heating oil and kerosene to Iran. But President Carter is right -- as matters of both energy policy and, to use an unfashionable term, public morality. In contrast, Rep. John J. Moakley (D-Mass.) wants a law to prohibit sales of oil to Iran. A question for Mr. Moakley, and any other New Englanders who join him in this dangerous fatuity: Where do they think New England's oil comes from?
Not, certainly, from New England. You will recall the vehement battles that the New Englanders have fought through courtrooms and legislatures against refineries and offshore drilling. But in that respect the New Englanders aren't much different from the rest of the East Coast, including this area. Americans have come to think of the oil that they consume as theirs -- by right of custom and convenience. It's a concept of property that grandly ignores the awkward fact that half of the country's oil supply comes from wells in other countries. Those countries, unfortunately but not unreasonably, have also come to think of the same oil as their own -- and it is they, not Congressman Moakley, who will decide how much to produce and export.
Mr. Carter has approved a shipment of two million barrels of refined oil products, half of it kerosene and half of it home heating fuel. The Iranians, amidst all their crude oil, have a severe shortage of refined products because of the sabotage to the refineries at Abadan. This American shipment to Iran will represent less than one-tenth of the oil that Iran will ship to the United States in this month alone.
This country now gets around 25 million barrels of Iranian crude oil a month. Mr. Carter, acutely aware of the importance of a continuous flow of Iranian oil to American refineries, has taken this opportunity to demonstrate to the ayatollah's government that there are advantages in good relations with the United States. Would you not call that a sensible political gesture?
But there's more to it than politics. The outcry against this shipment illustrates a habit of mind that does Americans no credit. It seems to say that there's nothing wrong with Iranians' running out of fuel to cook their food, if that's necessary to keep Americans' tanks full. But, this unspoken argument goes, it would be intolerable to require Americans to cut back merely to keep Iranians fed and warm since, after all, Americans are a different class of people and used to finer things. It is not a line of reasoning that many Americans, when they stop to think about it, will want to support.
This shipment to Iran is more likely to increase the winter's fuel supplies in this country than to decrease them. More important, it recalls a better, and deeper, American tradition of sharing in the midst of shortage.