• 21 February 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Persian Gulf

Bloggingheads: Can sanctions really prevent an Iranian nuke?

[vodpod id=ExternalVideo.786578&w=425&h=350&fv=playlist%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fbloggingheads%252Etv%252Fdiavlogs%252Fliveplayer%252Dplaylist%252F17835%252F37%253A26%252F42%253A48] Bear with me while I completely geek out for a second. 

Bloggingheads has Jeffrey Lewis and Jacqueline Shire debating whether Iran sanctions are an effective tool of US policy.  Awesome.

Jeffrey is over at the New American Foundation and also runs the blog Arms Control Wonk (which I believe I mentioned earlier is required reading).  He’s also someone for whom I have enormous respect.

Jacqueline is part of a team at ISIS (the Institute for Science and International Security) that provides one of the most valuable resources for anyone following Iran’s nuclear program: the ISIS papers that always accompany the quarterly IAEA reports. (check out their last one here)

It’s important to note that these two experts agree on most of the really fundamental questions over Iran’s nuclear program.  Would a military attack be a good idea?  No.  Is Iran hell-bent on getting a nuclear weapon?  Probably not yet.  Is it possible to avoid an Iranian nuke?  Yes. 

But in my mind, Jeffrey’s argument is dead on.  If we really want to solve this problem with Iran, we need to forget about sanctions.  There are other options that are much more effective; sanctions won’t work on any reasonable timeline, if at all; obtaining the universal support that’s required for sanctions to work is unrealistic, etc. 

I am a big fan of Jacqueline’s work, but it’s important not to forget what the real goal in all of this is: to ensure that Iran does not use its nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon.  Hurting the Iranian economy is not an end in itself — in fact American officials have declared that it is the policy of the United States to fully support the Iranian people.  So Jacqueline makes a mistake in focusing only on the sanctions rather than the true objective:

I completely agree with you that the sanctions currently imposed on Iran are not causing huge pain.  I do think that there are some banking and finance sanctions that are causing some problems….  That having been said, I also think there are sanctions that could be adopted that could cause serious pain.

This overlooks Jeffrey’s original point, which I happen to agree with, that causing the Iranian government to feel pain does not necessarily have an effect on Iran’s policies.  It’s possible sanctions really do hurt Iran’s hardliners, but what’s the point in doing that if it won’t make them change their behavior? 


And as for the question of what countries export gasoline to Iran, they’re predominantly Swiss and Indian.  Jacqueline was right to point out that Reliance Industries, a major Indian gasoline supplier to Iran, recently bowed to US pressure and announced it would halt its exports.  She was also right in saying that once a company steps out, someone else will probably just move in to fill the void. 

That is unless, like Reliance did last month, companies just go ahead and continue their shipments anyway. 


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Posted By Patrick Disney

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Sign the Petition


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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