• 17 March 2008
  • Posted By Shadee Malaklou
  • Nuclear file, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Sanctions cost us hearts and minds

Iranians, who usually have positive feelings towards the US, have grown increasingly disillusioned, according to a new opinion survey conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion (TFT) and D3 Systems (D3).

The survey polls 1,001 Iranians in all 30 Iranian provinces. While the majority of Iranians polled back improved US-Iran relations, many are growing disillusioned with the US’s response to Iran’s nuclear program.

And this disillusionment has sent them straight into Ahmadinejad’s camp.

At a March 14 briefing at the New America Foundation (NAF), US foreign policy guru and Director of NAF’s Geopolitics of Energy Initiative, Flynt Leverett, argued that Iranians believe US-backed sanctions against Iran say more about the United States than they do about Iran, or about the Ahmadinejad government.

The Bush administration has failed to discriminate between the Iranian people and Iran’s government, and its support for hefty sanctions against Iran reflects this. In its executive summary, the TFT/ C3 survey reports that: “The last six months…has seen some movement towards retrenchment inside Iran, with a growing sense of less faith in what the United States and the world can offer for the future.”

Interestingly enough, a new BBC World Service Poll reports that Iranians are not the only people adverse to sanctions. According to the poll, support for “tough measures” against Iran’s nuclear program, including sanctions, has declined inside the United States and internationally.

US-backed measures against Iran, like the third round of UN sanctions, have had the opposite of their desired effect. Instead of upping pressure inside Iran to stop the country’s uranium enrichment, sanctions have encouraged Iranians to turn to their government in an unexpected sign of support for Iran’s nuclear program.

I guess the Bush administration will have to decide if its steadfast insistence on sanctions is worth this adverse affect.

Posted By Shadee Malaklou

    10 Responses to “Sanctions cost us hearts and minds”

  1. Personally, I find it really disappointing that the US has pursued sanctions, ad nausea and infinitum, and against the greater good of the non-sanctions route. Like a petulant child unwilling to let go of his toy, the US just doesn’t want to admit that sanctions aren’t working.

  2. nader says:

    Americans could impose as much sanctions as they like. Iran will never lose its independence. Those days are gone. The government in Iran is not like the governments during Ghajar and Pahlavi regimes. This government will not betray the interest of its people.

  3. azadeh says:

    I fam totally against the sanctions, it only hurts regular people trying to do an honest business on both sides. Any rational mind should know by now that sanctions are not working and US. in pursuing this only to cause psychological harm and humiliation to Iran.

  4. farzadn says:

    i’m not sure if the last post is a joke or real. this government will not betray the interest of its people? thats all they do! it would be better to say this government will not betray its own interests. anyhow, the sanctions do not work and will never work, because the government will find a way around the restrictions and pass on all costs and hardships caused by these sanctions to the people. still, i very much doubt that this is sending people into ahmadinejad’s camp, as his popularity is lower than ever. not that he was popular to begin with.

  5. Babak Talebi says:

    Nader, I must agree with Farzad that its not just impolitic but rather dubious to assert that the “government will not betray the interest of its people”. Though certainly we could argue over ‘betray’ and ‘interest’ the case is pretty heavy that the IRI is no angel. On the other hand, as Farzad said, you can not find a single government that does not serve its own self-interest or the interests of its elites.

    But I digress – the key point, as all of you have pointed out, is that the Sanctions Regime has had no discernible positive impact on the IRI’s “behavior”, and in fact has had the counter-productive effect of pushing the Iranian people and the Iranian government even closer together. This does not help the cause of democracy, peace, or US national security.

    And in the bargain, it destroys the potential for a middle class in Iran that will be key in creating a more just political system inside the country.

    The really key thing is – TFT who conducted the test, is no progressive peace-nik organization. its a very hard-headed analytical think-tank. And I have heard from my own sources that when they got these results, they were stumped on how to analyze the results without making Ahmadinejad look good. No joke. That was their dilemma after looking at the raw data. Its sad to say, but our policies (US) have helped Ahmadinejad more then he could ever dream of helping himself.

  6. Mehdi says:

    I think to have hope that an institution such as the US government would ever do something useful is folly. It has never happened. The only positive actions are always done by individuals and small groups. Governments only take credit when the job is done. I think NIAC and others should start their own efforts. Why not directly contact the IRI and also the US government and ask them what should happen for each to start re-establishing relations? We could make a basic simple list and then start working on the items on that list and improve it. Currently, I don’t think there is any exact official and clear policy by either side as to what should happen before the other side will warm up to the idea of re-establishing relations. There is just a vague idea about it. I think we should contact individual opinion leaders such as Khatami, Rafsanjani and hopefully Khamenei and ask them to write down with some specific what should happen for the IRI to warm up to the idea of re-establishing relationships with the US. I think that would be an awesome project! What do you guys think?

  7. Shadi says:

    Please allow me to make a few possibly radical points, and then explain myself.

    First, sanctions help the Iranian government.
    Second, removing sanctions against Iran will actually be a more powerful tool to creating an internationally-friendly Iran.

    Essentially the purpose of sanctions is economic isolation. That step seems to work. But proponents of sanctions think that economic isolation leads to governmental weakness. But we don’t see this happening in Iran. Why not?

    Generally speaking in Iran today, we have two very identifiable camps: religious poor and connections-heavy elite. I call the elite “connections-heavy” because Iran lacks a solid rule of law, and therefore, many individuals who reach economic success in Iran do so through their connections. What this means therefore, is that the rich/elite in Iran usually achieve these positions not through a level playing field, but through individual connections and power. So, we’ve got those two camps. But do we have a camp that is in the middle ground? No.

    What Iran lacks is a solid middle class. How does this relate to sanctions?
    Well, sanctions prevent the growth of a middle class. Blocking Iran from the international economic community means fewer jobs, fewer opportunities, etc.

    The elite rich can afford to ignore sanctions, buying what they want at the Dubai-marked up prices. When you can pay your way out of sanctions, what does this mean? No INCENTIVE to alter the status quo.
    The religious poor can barely afford a thing, so government handouts and sympathy keep them going. When you’re too busy trying to live on a month-to-month or day-to-day basis, what does this mean? No TIME to alter the status quo.

    And what does this mean for the Iranian government? Well, with the elite/rich busy shopping in Shahrake Gharb and placing orders for hot items from Dubai, and with the religious poor struggling to survive, that’s right, no one comes knocking on the government’s door demanding much of anything. This is exactly why and how sanctions actually HELP the Iranian government maintain its power.

    So, that was first, sanctions help the Iranian government. Now let me explain why removing sanctions will create a more internationally-friendly Iran.

    We’ve seen that the two predominant camps in Iran don’t actually have a strong incentive lobby the government for change. And sanctions certainly do isolate Iran economically, but with the ironic effect of actually preventing the emergence of a middle class.

    You might think, well wait a minute, if sanctions are removed, then those elite/rich will just gobble up the opportunities and everything will be just as it was before. But that is not the case. The international economic system, which Iran is currently left out of, is based on two drivers: capitalism and globalization. When these two forces enter a new environment, they enter with such force, overwhelming everything in their path, that even a dominant elite can’t hoard all the opportunities (who hasn’t noticed the invasion of Nokia, Toshiba, etc. billboards all over Tehran?!). In fact, it’s this very power that has made so many people speak out against the negative effects of capitalism and globalization. But in Iran, we need these effects of capitalism and globalization to provide a level playing field and change the connections-heavy method of doing business in Iran.

    Capitalism and globalization will replace the connections-heavy method of reaching the top with an innovation and entrepreneurial-heavy method of reaching the top. What does that mean? If you have a new business idea, capitalism is there for you, you don’t need connections. If you have a new invention, capitalism is there for you, you don’t need connections. If you and your brother want to start up a new bakery business shipping delicious “gaz” from Esfahan to Tabriz, capitalism is there for you, you don’t need connections. What does this mean? You guessed it, the emergence of A MIDDLE CLASS.

    So how does a middle class make Iran more internationally-friendly? Many scholars have argued that Gorbachev’s fatal mistake was that he first gave the Soviet people a little taste of political freedom, before he had set any economic reforms in place. The result? A failure. But when Soviet leaders got serious about economic reforms, letting the Soviet Union participate in the international economic system, that was the powerful driver that led the people to demand more, opened the floodgates to the insatiable appetite of capitalism, allowed the emergence of a middle class, and ultimately changed the history books from “USSR” to “Russia”. It’s no wonder that since 1991, we’ve seen an absolute explosion in Russia’s middle class. Yes, there are still oligarchs out there, who hoard the opportunities for themselves, and scandals such as Yukos taught us that we haven’t quite reached a level playing field in Russia. This only teaches us that capitalism needs the rule of law to develop properly. But Russia is only in the early stages of capitalism, compared to the robust over 200-year-old tradition of capitalism we see in the United States. All in all, creating a middle class is the first step. It’s no coincidence that the Cold War died down as Russia became more economically open.

    The only difference between that analogy and Iran is that the Soviet Union chose to dissociate itself from the international economic system, while Iran is forcibly left out of the international system because of sanctions.

    When a country is allowed to participate in the international economic system, a middle class emerges. This middle class has the incentive to demand more international-friendly behavior from its government. Right now, the Iranian government can afford to use off-putting language that makes corporate CEOs shudder, precisely because there is no predominant group in Iran that would resist such behavior. But if average Iranians had their livelihoods tied into the international economic system, there would finally be the incentive coming from WITHIN Iran to rein in the government. As we have seen throughout modern history, over time, capitalism eats away at the power of national governments. Removing sanctions would allow a middle class to emerge in Iran, and this middle class would be the source of change in the Iranian government (remember how important bazaari-s were in the time of the shah?).

    Now don’t get me wrong, I think the groups in Iran that are fighting for political and social rights are doing good, but their numbers are small. Also, it is far easier for misinterpreters of Islam to use the religion to counter political and social freedom than to counter economic freedom (if I recall correctly, the prophet’s wife was quite wealthy!).

    What Iran fundamentally lacks and fundamentally needs is a robust, capitalism-based middle class. Removing sanctions is the first way to encourage the growth of a middle class. After that, all we need is time. A revolution in Iran can occur, without overthrows, without violence, without needless confusion and chaos. It will be an economic revolution. Just let capitalism in to do its magic. Even MEK supporters should find this logic convincing. They claim to be the ones who want the overthrow of the current government more than anyone (dubious, but let’s just give them the benefit of the doubt for argument’s sake). If you really REALLY want the Iranian government to weaken and become a participant in the international order, there is no force stronger, not missiles, not rockets, not even nuclear weapons, than capitalism.

    This interpretation of the role of sanctions leaves a lingering question. In the face of economic data and evidence showing the correlation between economic openness and political freedom, how could the United States, Israel and other countries be so hungry for more and more sanctions against Iran?

    Unfortunately, the answer to this question seems to be a bit uglier. If sanctions are removed and things progress as the economists expect and as I have explained above, then Iran stands to become within a couple of decades, a new economic powerhouse and international friend in the Middle East. Unfortunately, some governments in the Middle East see the game as zero-sum and don’t see the pie that can be enlarged for everyone. For a small country like Israel, an Iran that is the new economic girl-next-door, may leave Israel feeling like a slightly overweight girl at band practice.

  8. farzad says:

    thank you shadi. very well said. i agree 100%. unfortunately a lot of iranians dont have the patience or vision for long term change and want everything fixed overnight! this is how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place, but it seems as though most people didnt learn their lesson, and think another revolution would fix everything. i agree that the way to fix iran is through economic relations with the rest of the world.

  9. Babak Talebi says:

    Shadi – very well argued I have to say. It is exactly as you said – sanctions stifle the growth of a middle class, which in turn stifles the drive towards a democratic and pluralistic society.

    The good news is, a massive majority of Iranians (TFT poll), Iranian Americans (Berkley poll), Americans (any poll), and citizens of at least 30 other countries (BBC poll) all have come to the conclusion that sanctions are not only ineffective but also counter-productive. The only question is, when will that public opinion affect the elites and decision makers.

    It never ceases to amaze me how after just a few meetings with a member of Congress, Iranian Americans can truly educate them on these issues and affect their mentality.

    Mehdi – the role your prescribe is really not for NIAC. As a US-based 501c3, it would be odd and probably illegal to go down that road. Its really up to International Relations professors, think-tank types, and former US. government officials to conduct what you are recommending – 2nd track diplomacy.

  10. Mehdi says:

    Babak, what I meant was doing something similar to the “NIAC Conference: Breaking the US-Iran Stalemate.” A seminar, a conference, if direct contact is not possible. Maybe we could even invite some Iranian “dignitaries” and get them to do speeches. I think Khatami gave speeches in the US once or twice. Just sort of help them break the ice in a way. Help take out the unspoken taboo that exists. Even doing such a thing online can be a start. I am thinking that either side is currently in quite a darkness about the other. And establishing communication at any level and by any means can have significant effects on clarifying issues and lead to eventual resolution of these issues. I think Ahmadinejad’s trip to the US, despite a lot of planned demonizing by special interest groups ended up having a positive effect because the fear of the unknown among Americans disappeared to some degree. They saw that he is a man just like any other, more or less and nothing to really be afraid of. Anyway, just a thought.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Sign the Petition


7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



Share this with your friends: