Within an hour of having landed at Minneapolis airport (and having to pass up our golden opportunity to visit it’s infamous bathroom), Patrick and I found ourselves going through 3 layers of security and 5 iterations of having our names checked off of the RSVP list for the IRI panel. 


No, I promise that the ‘Islamic Republic of Iran’ is not hosting a panel discussion at the RNC, rather this was a star-studded (for you IR geeks out there) event hosted by The International Republican Institute titled: National Security in a Global Era (you can listen to it at the link).  The panelists included a former Secretary of State, a former National Security Advisor, a former Chair of the house Intelligence Committee, and its most junior member having started his illustrious career with the Reagan administration in 1981. Amateur night, this was not!




Panelists:  former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Burt, Congressman Pete Hoekstra, former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman and former Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Williamson. The panel was moderated by former Congressman Jim Kolbe


The event opened up with a reading of the panelist’s career highlights (which as you can imagine was no short endeavor) and a recognition of a few of the dignitaries on hand among the 200+ guests at the event (a high-ranking delegation from Georgia, a few currently-serving members of Congress, and other notables – NIAC staff excluded). 


Congressman Kolbe kicked off the event by asking each panelist to highlight the one piece of advice they would give to the next President.  The obviously partisan panel (hey, it’s the REPUBLICAN convention) spared no praise for Sen. John McCain and most lashed out very artfully at Sen. Barack Obama’s experience gap.  The quip of the day belonged to Amb. Williamson who said “Giving advice to John McCain on foreign policy is like giving golfing lessons to Tiger Woods.”


However, the conversation quickly lost its light-hearted start as the various and numerous international challenges to US foreign policy were enumerated.  The distinctive perspectives and schools of thought within the Republican party FP establishment were on full display as the pre-submitted audience questions sparked a wide-ranging discussion.


As luck would have it, Rep. Kolbe started off by combining three questions about US-Iran relations (one submitted by yours truly and another by my partner in crime here in St. Paul).  Richard Burt first responded by outlining the complexity of the Iranian leadership structure and threw cold water on the dialogue option proposed by Sen. Obama by stating “we don’t know who to talk to and if they could deliver on promises.”  He then added that the military option was the most difficult and any Israeli attack would be treated by the Iranians as a US-directed attack.


Sec. Eagleburger, no shirking violet, jumped in and conclusively stated “If Obama is elected President, the Israelis will do something militarily!”  When prompted by Rep. Kolbe about the military solution being the best, without pause he declared “YES!” (he subsequently walked-back his ‘quick’ response but maintained that Israel ‘will do it’)


Scowcroft, the realist on the panel walked the conversation back to the nuclear issue and reasoned that with a multilateral approach the US could indeed resolve this conflict diplomatically and that we would have to acknowledge that ‘they do have real dangers in their neighborhood’.   Of the panelists, he was the most critical of this administration’s policies and at one point, in a related conversation about North Korea, stated unequivocally that “[former UN ambassador] Bolton is wrong!”


Rep. Hoekstra, representing a far more hard-line approach on Iran praised Bolton stating that “engagement does not work” and decried the administration’s lack of message discipline by asserting that “The NIE was a pathetic document.”


The discussion offered a wider spectrum of opinion on Iran-policy from these conservative perspectives than I expected with lively and vibrant disagreements on what policies the next administration should take.  But there were three areas of complete agreement among the six experts:


1)   McCain is experienced and will essentially plot his own course with little need for ‘advice’ from experts

2)   Obama will be a disaster with 300+ advisors that will confuse him, he should just call up McCain for advice if he is elected and

3)   War with Iran will open up a whole new can-of-worms, will be unpredictable, and should not be an option, except that an Iran with nuclear weapons is worst and none of them could offer a viable alternative solution.


The complex foreign policy challenges faced by the next Administration were perhaps best summed up by Amb. Burt: “As serious as Iran is, Pakistan is more dangerous, they already have nukes!”


Just the kind of statement that reminds you – for all the political pageantry and showmanship that these two conventions represent – there will be very real consequences and very important decisions that these two putative leaders of the free world will have to tackle once all the fireworks, balloons, and open bars are long forgotten.


Speaking of open bars – There is a Romney event I can’t wait to go to. I hear they also have a pretty good buffet set up.

Posted By Babak Talebi

    One Response to “Debating Iran Policy – Republican experts don’t hold back”

  1. […] McCain’s Outreach efforts to the IA community So as you would have guessed, it’s not all serious panels and speeches at these political conventions.  Just like the Democrats in Denver, the Republicans […]

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7,350 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.



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