cross-posted from HuffingtonPost.com:

For most of the month of August, Congress will be on recess. Consider this the calm before the storm.

Most in Washington are aware that September will bring with it the biggest push for Iran sanctions in years. AIPAC has been lobbying for months on the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), and on September 10 the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will kick off a massive nationwide lobbying effort, which they compare to the “Save Darfur” movement. All of this will culminate at the end of the month when, conveniently enough, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in New York for the UN General Assembly.

Yes, right around the time Ahmadinejad is at the podium in the UN, Congress is expected to impose what it calls “crippling sanctions” on Iran’s economy. The plan is to blockade Iran’s foreign supplies of gasoline, hoping that an increase in the price per gallon at the pump will cause the Iranian people to rise up and demand a halt to Iran’s nuclear program.

But this plan has number of obvious flaws.

First, the Iranian people have already risen up against the government’s hardline leadership. What we have witnessed in Iran for the last two months is unprecedented. To think that marginally higher gas prices will mean anything to a population willing to risk their lives for freedom and democracy is at once naïve and hubristic. According to Juan Cole, imposing broad sanctions on Iran will likely only destroy Iranian civil society and bolster the state’s repressive apparatus–as it did in Iraq.

What’s more, even if the Iranian people were to demand that the government halt its enrichment program–which they wouldn’t, since the vast majority of Iranians support Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology–does anyone think that the government will actually go along with it? Has Tehran been particularly responsive to the wishes of its citizens lately? No, in fact, that is what these people are fighting for each and every day: to have their voices heard.

Next, even if the sanctions were effective in harming the Iranian economy, there isn’t a single historical example of economic sanctions translating into a desirable change in the Iranian government’s behavior. Just as the hardliners are resisting their people’s calls for change, so too will they refuse to be seen as capitulating to the demands of the West.

So why is Congress fixated on this idea if it doesn’t stand a chance of stopping the nuclear program? Some would say that the government has to be punished for the brutality with which it has treated its people. Politicians in Washington were universally outraged by the violence against the Iranian people. And for many lawmakers, this was a time to stand up in support of these brave Iranians.

Senator John McCain spoke passionately from the floor of the US Senate, saying:

The United States of America must, and this body must, affirm our support for fundamental human rights of the Iranian people who are being beaten and killed in the streets of Tehran and other cities around Iran. We are with them.

Republican Mike Pence of Indiana said:

We are bound to support the courageous and decent people in Iran who are struggling for their rights and their freedom.

And even Minority Whip Eric Cantor spoke up, saying:

We must rally the world around the cause of the Iranian people.

But now, almost in the same breath, those same lawmakers are calling for “crippling sanctions” on the Iranian economy. They are quick to mention that Iran imports 40% of its refined petroleum, making that industry Iran’s “Achilles heel” so these sanctions will be able to “bring the economy to its knees.”

So much for standing with the Iranian people.

What better way to show our support than by casting the common man into financial ruin? Think about who suffers the most in the US when gas prices rise due to shocks–it’s the poor. Why would it be any different in Iran? Certainly the elite won’t suffer the brunt of these sanctions–the Revolutionary Guards have been getting rich off smuggling sanctioned goods into the country for years. And with Russia and China ready to provide anything the US won’t sell to Iran, the mullahs will surely find a way to fill their gas tanks. So that will just leave the poor and middle class to suffer.

Even neoconservative scholar Fred Kagan has acknowledged the real effect of these petroleum sanctions, saying “Look we need to be honest about this: Iranians are going to die if we impose additional sanctions.” So despite all their lip-service, it seems that Congress’ priorities haven’t changed. They are planning to continue the same failed approach to Iran of the last three decades. To them, these petroleum sanctions made sense before Iran’s election, and miraculously, they are still our best option after the election.

Iran changed forever on June 12. We are now dealing with a completely altered country, and we would be wise to tailor our policies to reflect that reality. Congress should brainstorm some new ideas for how to support the Iranian people and still protect our security and nonproliferation objectives.

To start, they should throw out these sanctions.

Posted By Patrick Disney

    15 Responses to “When All You Have is a Hammer, Every Iran Problem Looks Like a Nail”

  1. Derek says:

    As the leading organization educating Americans on Iranian issues, why not start offering some solutions, rather than solely criticizing what is on the table? As a progressive who is concerned about the Iranian dictatorship, I want solutions, and it’s frustrating to hear every proposed course of action shot down. What should Americans be doing now? Is there any answer other than “nothing?”

  2. James E-J says:

    I share Derek’s sentiment that we need alternatives.

    I support the sanctions because, to me, they seem like the most plausible non-violent means of forcing Iran back into the NPT regime of IAEA inspections and counter-proliferation mechanisms.

    As it stands now, I do not see how we can avert an Israeli strike on Iran or a nuclear arms race in the gulf without getting Iran back in the NPT framework. Neither of those alternatives is acceptable and so it is necessary that we do what we can to get Iran back into compliance with the NPT.

    Please, if there is a better mechanism for doing this, let me know. I don’t like sanctions. But they seem like the only plausible solution to avoid worse outcomes. Please show me a more plausible solution. I am looking for one.

  3. Patrick Disney says:

    You both make very good points. And we share your concerns. But the sad truth is, these sanctions are not the way to go. That’s why NIAC’s policy staff is working with a couple members of Congress on alternative legislation that will provide a positive way forward. We’re looking to develop a plan that will help the Iranian people, and at the same time spare them the pain of our sanctions policies. Stay tuned for more information, and in the meantime contact your representatives and tell them what you think!

  4. David says:

    Patrick, Your statement is so similar to what I read in government funded PressTV – many assurances, just trust the authorities, generalities and no specifics. Stay tuned? Developing a plan? What I hear is you oppose all other plans but you have no plan yourself. If true, then don’t criticize the other plans.

  5. Derek says:

    Patrick, thank you for the response. I look forward to hearing more from NIAC. Until then, in lieu of any NIAC-endorsed plan, however, what I support is heavy sanctions with continued diplomatic outreach. I presume you don’t want me contacting my representatives with that message.

  6. Megan says:

    NIAC is not speaking for Iranian. Every Iranian who is risking his/ her life in the streets of Iran these days is supporting the blockade of refined petroleum. They know such a blockade will cripple the current regime and that is what they want. If you have any doubt, ask them. Take a poll or listen to TV and radio broadcasters who are taking calls from people in Iran.

  7. Rusty says:

    If you want to offer carrots along with the stick of sanctions, fine. But your history of the complex history of sanctions is way to simplistic. Re: Iraq, let’s not forget that under Saddam Hussein Iraq had the 4th largest army in the world and had used it against other nations twice. How many MILLIONS died in the Iraq-Iran war? Were there other politically sustainable ways to keep Saddam’s military ambitions in check? Perhaps but it’s an unknowable. And goodness knows what precedent would have been set for international law if Saddam just had to wait out his 1991 cease fire agreement for seven years.

    As for Iran, I think to the statement by so-called moderate Rasfanjani that a nuclear war with Israel wouldn’t be so bad because the Muslims had the numbers and some would survive while the Israeli Jews would all die. If my neighbor said something about that about my house/family, I’d be very wary of reports that the kids were upset with the dad so don’t do anything because they might be taking over the house.

  8. Dan says:

    One of the problems in the whole debate is the naive assumption that this is all about 3 countries and 3 countries only, Iran who can do no right and whose only reason for possibly maybe getting nuclear weapons is to destroy Israel. Israel who is OBVIOUSLY allowed to have as many nuclear weapons as it wants as they are all nice and have no interests at all which might not be the same as the US as they are democratic and we are democratic as we are all the same, the US as the most powerful nation on the planet if it passes a law in congress everyone on earth will accept it because they have to because congress said so!

    Iran is obviously self sufficient in Oil but not self sufficient in refined products. OK where does it get those refined products from and how much comes directly from the US of A, which has a shortage of refinery capacity itself?

    Russia has both Oil and excess capacity in refined products, Iraq has a very long open border with Iran and will happily supply petroleum unless the US Army starts shooting at the Iraqi Army to stop the legitimate trade between Iran and Iraq. If the Gulf Arabs want to sell refined products to Iran they will unless the US Navy starts sinking or at least threatening to sink the ships of our friends. If those friends in Dubai or Qatar or Saudi would stop selling refined products to Iran they could do it now and do not need an act of a foreign Congress.

    When someone explains how such legislation will have Russia and China supporting and enforcing such sanctions come back before that it is just an excuse for lobby groups to run self perpetuating fund-raisers exaggerating the threat in the interests of existence of the lobby group.

  9. PostReader says:

    Yes, please give us a few counter-proposals.

    The proposed sanctions will strike at civil society and strengthen the government — just like the decade of sanctions that Saddam used to keep himself in power.

    PLEASE give us alternatives — like actions targeted precisely on those who have carried out this June coup, the prison torture, and the sickening Orwellian show trials. We know their names, how can we sanction them??

  10. Peter H says:

    “As the leading organization educating Americans on Iranian issues, why not start offering some solutions, rather than solely criticizing what is on the table? As a progressive who is concerned about the Iranian dictatorship, I want solutions, and it’s frustrating to hear every proposed course of action shot down. What should Americans be doing now? Is there any answer other than “nothing?””

    I’d suggest reading Trita Parsi’s March 12 testimony to Congress. Trita’s point is that we already have significant leverage over Iran with the considerable sanctions & containment measures we have in place, and we should make clear our willingness to lift those measures in return for extensive changes in Iranian behavior. Although, obviously this strategy is complicated by the June elections and the terrible repression that followed.

  11. Peter H says:

    “As the leading organization educating Americans on Iranian issues, why not start offering some solutions, rather than solely criticizing what is on the table? As a progressive who is concerned about the Iranian dictatorship, I want solutions, and it’s frustrating to hear every proposed course of action shot down. What should Americans be doing now? Is there any answer other than “nothing?””

    I’d suggest reading Trita Parsi’s March 12 testimony to Congress. Trita’s point is that we already have significant leverage over Iran with the considerable sanctions & containment measures we have in place, and we should make clear our willingness to lift those measures in return for extensive changes in Iranian behavior. Although, this strategy is obviously complicated by the June elections and the post-election repression.

  12. irannationalcongress says:

    We are beyond the point of sanctions. we are dealing with a regime that time after time displayed a rigid mentality toward world affairs, human rights and even disregarding its own written constitution .No respect for law have put this regime in criminal path and they are willing to beat, arrest, torture, rape, kill and even burn their own citizens. With these thugs we need radical measures otherwise many more Iranian have to suffer and die while the world is watching. unfortunately Niac is not playing a constructive role as lobby organizations for Iranian American community. I believe NIAC has become a vehicle for Trita Parsi’s personal agenda.

  13. Ye Irooni says:

    Patrick, check out this response to your piece on the JTA blog:


    besides the silly point on “even”, the author’s arguments are flawed and easily responded to, as it seems even his readers have pointed out to him.

    As for commenters on here asking for counter proposals –
    1) “nothing” is often the better policy. doing ‘something’ only to harm is worst than doing ‘nothing’.

    2) Let NGO’s collaborate – Iran’s non-profit or civil-society sector had a huge role to play in the Mousavi phenomenon – the fact that a maturing civil society in Iran had explicit demands of the Presidential candidates forced Mousavi and Karoubi, and even Rezaie to respond to the needs/demands of the electorate. This was NOT true even in 2005 – when the candidates offered platforms and the electorate had to buy into one or the other… in 2009, and important factor in Mousavi’s fast rise was that the electorate’s demands were far more delineated and thus it was easier for the candidates to be responsive to their needs

    3) Let small businesses in Iran sell their services as vendors to American companies – for example, Iran is full of unemployed engineers, and much like India’s tech sector, could provide cheap outsourced labor for American IT, architecture, and Engineering firms. By allowing such business transactions, you allow not only a more vibrant middle-class to emerge (which then challenges the power structure looking for more rights) but you also increase the ‘cultural diffusion’ quotient, meaning that an exchange of cultural understanding and cultural principles occurs naturally

    4) REMOVE the ‘military option’ from the table… this dare not be spoken in DC – but in truth, what does ‘leaving it on the table’ get us? first, in truth do we even HAVE a military option? does it truly even exist? I mean sure some random General on an WSJ op-ed says it does, and there is always Bolton when you need a military-option proponent… but does anyone in the US foreign policy establishment really think the US CAN put any boots on the ground in Iran? and even our erstwhile WSJ editorialist admits that ‘bombing’ will delay at best and not destroy ‘know-how’. so when we KEEP the option – what is the ONLY effect? that hardliners can play it up and continue to say there is an existential threat to the ‘system’ and ‘nation’ from America and the West. another words, in order to keep our hard-core hawks from foaming at the mouth, the only advantage gained from keeping the military option ‘on the table’ is gained by Ahmadinejad and the IRGC propaganda arm.

    anyways… not that I expect any of the above 4 items to be considered by American officialdom – that would require a level of practicality and pragmatism that is simply impossible in Washington.

    but hey – Derek and James both asked for alternative options.

  14. Ye Irooni says:

    One point of explanation – I think what NIAC has right is the idea that in the modern globalized era, even ‘rogue regimes’ will act rationally to preserve economic growth and well-being… that is to say, the old poli-sci theory of “Democracies dont go to war with each other” has expanded to “integrated economies dont go to war with each other”.

    Another words – the more Economic growth Iran has, under whatever system of Government, the more rational and responsible its leaders and elite will act to preserve the economic growth and prosperity.

    China is the model case-in-point.

    simplistically put:
    More Isolation = More undesirable action internationally

  15. menso says:

    The US should not just cripple Iran’s economy for no good reason and I can barely imagine how awful a war would be. Counterproposals would be good. For now, the best is no sanctions at all.

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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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