• 18 August 2009
  • Posted By Trita Parsi
  • 3 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Persian Gulf, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Throwing Ahmadinejad a Lifeline

The following is an op-ed published in Friday’s edition of the New York Times by NIAC President Trita Parsi and GWU professor Hossein Askari:

In an effort to squeeze Iran into submission over its nuclear policy, Congress and the White House are edging toward a gasoline embargo. This would do nothing to force Iran into submission. In fact, it would be a blessing for the hard-line government to once again be able to point to a foreign threat to justify domestic repression and consolidate its base at a time when opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is increasing among conservatives.

An effective gasoline embargo can only be implemented through a naval blockade. This would require U.N. Security Council approval — a tortuous process with no certain outcome. An embargo without U.N. approval is an act of war according to international law, and Iran has declared that it would be met with force.

But even if the Security Council were to miraculously unite, success would still be out of reach. The economics of a gasoline embargo simply doesn’t make sense. Iran imports roughly 40 percent of its domestic gasoline consumption at world prices and then sells it along with domestically refined gasoline at a government-subsidized price of about 40 cents per gallon. As a result, domestic gasoline consumption is high. It is also smuggled and sold to neighboring countries.

Over the past 10 years, this policy has cost Iran in the range of 10 to 20 percent of its G.D.P. annually, depending on world prices and the government-mandated pump price. Yes, a whopping 10 to 20 percent of G.D.P. In need of additional revenues, the regime has wanted to eliminate this subsidy, raise the price to world levels and reduce consumption, but has been paralyzed by the specter of a domestic backlash.

Even assuming that a gasoline embargo would be effective, what would be its result? Consumption would decline by 40 percent and government revenues would go up, because no payment would be needed for gasoline imports.

If Tehran allowed the reduced supply of gasoline to be sold at a price that would equate demand to supply, the price would increase to a level that would eliminate the subsidy, meaning no subsidy for imported gasoline and no subsidy for domestically refined gasoline. The government would have more revenue to spend elsewhere. The sanctions would have done what Tehran has wanted to do for years and the government would not be held responsible!

What about the political fallout? Proponents of the embargo believe that increased economic pressure would cause Iranians to revolt against their unpopular rulers. This is a fundamental misreading of the psychology of an embargoed people.

Iranians have suffered tremendous hardships under the Islamic Republic. And while the Iranian economy is in tatters today, Iranians have seen much worse times. During the Iran-Iraq War, they faced unprecedented economic hardships. This did not ignite a popular uprising.

What caused Iranians to rise up two months ago was not economic hardship, but dashed hopes in anger over the fraudulent election.

If the back of the Iranian economy is broken, the first casualty will be hope. Economic misery will kill people’s faith in a better future. The result will be political apathy. And rather than blaming Mr. Ahmadinejad, Iranians are likely to blame the United States.

Moreover, Iran’s ruling hard-liners are in disarray. The politics of fear is their bread and butter; they have long benefited from invoking foreign plots and Washington’s discredited regime-change policy. But now — with President Obama’s new outreach to Iran — the hard-liners have lost their 9/11. President Obama has deprived them of their perennial boogeyman.

This has helped the opposition find the maneuverability to challenge Iran’s vote-robbers. The hard-liners have no credible threat to rally around. Their disgraceful show trials on Iranian TV reveal their desperation. This has not only allowed fissures between various factions in Iran to grow, but also increased tensions among the conservatives themselves.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is desperately in need of a threat to help consolidate his conservative base and lend credibility to accusations of conspiracy against his moderate opposition. Imposing a gasoline embargo could be his last, best hope. Congress and the White House should think long and hard before throwing a lifeline to Iran’s vote-robbers.

Hossein Askari is professor of international business and international affairs at the George Washington University. Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and author of “Treacherous Alliance — The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States.”

Posted By Trita Parsi

    3 Responses to “Throwing Ahmadinejad a Lifeline”

  1. John Jackson says:

    An embargo without U.N. approval is an act of war according to international law, and Iran has declared that it would be met with force.

    Which is totally irrelevant, because the Iranian ability to break a U.S. Navy blockade with force is zero, and a more general use of force by Iran would merely provoke a more general use of force by the U.S.

    There are good reasons for the U.S. to avoid imposing a blockade. But Iran’s strictly limited ability to use force isn’t one.

  2. Azad says:

    The author Hoessin Askari is missing at the beggining of this op ed. Why?

    Also, is it not Askari’s idea why the embargo is a bad idea? Has Askari not said it elsewhere? Give him some credit!

  3. Pirouz says:

    Iran’s means of military engagement to a US imposed war (blockade), while limited, is not inconsequential.

    It is only the success of Iran’s deterrent military capabilities that enabled it to withstand numerous threats and open hostility during the Bush/Cheney years. That deterrence remains in effect to this day.

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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.

Sincerely,

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