• 27 August 2009
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • Sanctions

Why petroleum sanctions only make things worse

Congress is currently considering legislation that would expand unilateral sanctions and target companies exporting refined petroleum to Iran. As of today, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act has 294 cosponsors in the House and 72 in the Senate. It’s an incredible level of support for something that will just make things worse for the people of Iran and won’t increase U.S. security. Here’s why it’s a bad idea:

The Iranian people are already protesting in the streets. But sanctions and threats will help the hardline government consolidate its hold on power.

  • The politics of fear is the bread and butter of Iran’s hardliners. But now, President Obama’s outreach to Iran has deprived them of their perennial boogeyman as the divisions in Iran’s political system have cracked open.
  • Imposing sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which has widespread support, would only enable the hardliners to once again be able use the specter of a foreign threat to justify domestic repression and consolidate its support.
  • Imposing broad sanctions on Iran will likely only weaken Iranian civil society and bolster the state’s repressive apparatus – just as it did in Iraq.

A gasoline embargo actually benefits the government of Iran.

  • A gasoline embargo would enable the government to eliminate burdensome subsidies and place all the blame on the United States.
    • Iran has to import roughly 40 percent of its domestic gasoline consumption at market prices and then resell it at a subsidized price of about 40 cents per gallon.
    • These subsidies cost the government of Iran between 10 and 20 percent of GDP, annually.[i] The Iranian government has tried several times to eliminate the subsidies, but has been stymied by popular opposition. An embargo would provide the excuse they need, and free up the government to spend the money elsewhere.

An embargo would hurt the people of Iran.

  • Just like in the United States, Iran’s poor will bear the brunt of any gas price shock. Between its domestic production and smuggled petroleum, the mullahs and IRGC will surely find a way to keep their gas tanks full and their homes warm in the winter.
  • Even neoconservative scholar Fred Kagan has acknowledged the real effect of petroleum sanctions, saying “Look we need to be honest about this: Iranians are going to die if we impose additional sanctions.”

[i] Hossein Askari and Trita Parsi, New York Times. August 14, 2009.

Posted By David Elliott

David Elliott is the Assistant Policy Director at the National Iranian American Council.

    One Response to “Why petroleum sanctions only make things worse”

  1. Megan says:

    I have written on this topic before. NIAC has no clue what Iranian people, who live and die in Iran, want and neither does the Obama administration. Your analysis in this post has no factual basis. Out of respect for innocent lives lost in Iran in the past 30 years I ask NIAC to stop being a mouth piece for Obama administration and stop apologizing for it. Stop serving the interest of a few Iranian living in the U.S.

    Iranian people who live in Iran are preparing to do their parts when the petroleum embargo takes effect by buying and damping gasoline in the sewer in order to run the government out of its reserve faster. They want to speed up the fall of the regime of torture, rape, execution, and murder. For God’s sake and in the name of humanity stop denying them that by meddling and by acting as if you live in their shoes.

    I have been reading your posts and slanted views and have been quietly outraged. I, however, will not be quite anymore and will start writing and calling every member of Congress and pass on the REAL sentiment of Iranian who live in Iran to them. I let them know how Iranians living in Iran are anxiously waiting for gasoline embargo to kick into gear.

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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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