As Roger Cohen’s lengthy, analytical piece in the New York Times Sunday magazine described, the Obama administration hasn’t quite figured out how to respond to the continuing turmoil in Iran.

Troubled we should be over the report, also in the New York Times (by David Sanger), that the Obama administration is actively considering the imposition of an embargo on gasoline and refined petroleum products for Iran if the regime doesn’t accede to talks with the United States and the West by September:

The option of acting against companies around the world that supply Iran with 40 percent of its gasoline has been broached with European allies and Israel, officials from those countries said. Legislation that would give Mr. Obama that authority already has 71 sponsors in the Senate and similar legislation is expected to sail through the House.

The talk from members of Congress reminds me of what senators and representatives said back in 2002, when they approved the Iraq war resolution that President Bush used to launch the March, 2003, illegal invasion of Iraq. At the time, they — including Hillary Clinton — said that they were not voting for war per se, only for empowering the president to go to war in the unlikely event that was necessary. Many of the liberals who voted for the 2002 resolution justified their vote by saying that giving the president war powers would make it easier to negotiate with Iraq. Flash forward to 2009. Here’s Senator Chris Dodd:

“Our job is to arm the president with a comprehensive set of tough sanctions designed to ratchet up pressure on the Iranian regime.”

In the real world, things in Iran are getting uglier and, in my opinion, talk of a gasoline embargo and “crippling sanctions” (viz. Hillary Clinton) can only make things worse.

Yesterday, as the regime trotted out more than 100 opposition leaders for a televised show trial, accusing them of trying to organize a revolution, Tehran’s chief prosecutor said that Iran might also arrest and bring charges against anyone who argued that the trial itself was illegitimate. Both former President Khatami and former Prime Minister Mousavi, the chief reformist candidate in the June election, have openly criticized the trial. Mousavi has accused the regime of using “medieval torture” against the prisoners, and he said:

“The one thing we can conclude is that the organizers of this show trial have stooped so low that they lack all reason and credibility.”

But the hardliners are threatening protesters and oppositionists with death. Kayhan, the right-wing daily that serves as a mouthpiece for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Leader, has called for executing the leaders of the reformist movement, and it has demanded the arrest of Khatami and Mousavi. Key leaders of the hardline faction in parliament are ratcheting up the rhetoric, too, according to the New York Times. Hamid Resaee, one MP, said: “Today’s confession has opened the way to dealing with the leaders of the unrest. There is no longer any reason to tolerate or compromise.” Said another, a cleric named Elias Naderan: “Those within the inner circle who managed the unrest must be put on trial. We shouldn’t chase after weak, second-class figures with no influence.”

Meanwhile, Khamenei has officially endorsed Ahmadinejad’s second term, and Ahmadinejad will be sworn in on Wednesday in a ceremony that is likely to spark new protests. Nearly all of the centrist and reformist opposition is likely to boycott the inauguration, along with many conservatives who oppose Ahmadinejad as well. The kiss-kiss between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad papered over a dispute between the two regime chieftains last week over the appointment of a deputy by Ahmadinejad that the Leader disapproved of and the sacking of Iran’s intelligence minister. Still, it isn’t clear that the troubles between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei are over, and it isn’t even clear which of them is on top in the current crisis. At the very least, Ahmadinejad is going to have a very difficult presidency, with members of parliament and the Leader questioning his appointments and key decisions.