Congressional Miscalculations and Sa’adi’s advice


Yesterday a bill sanctioning companies that supply fuel to Iran was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill was sponsored by two  U.S. Senators. In a joint statement Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Susan Collins (R-ME) said,

Time is running out for Iran to give up its illegal nuclear weapons program…This provision sends a message to companies that put profits over security — you can do business in our $13 trillion economy or Iran’s $250 billion economy.

It is understandable that two lawmakers would try and capitalize on growing concerns about Iran. In this case, however, the two have miscalculated.

Diplomatic talks with Iran are still in their infancy, and the negotiators for both sides should be allowed more time to do their jobs. This is especially true when U.S. intelligence reports have stated repeatedly that Iran is not currently seeking to build a nuclear weapon, and that the international community has years until Iran would be capable of obtaining one.

After the first day of negotiations, a tentative agreement has been reached that Iran will ship its low-enriched uranium to Russia for processing as medical grade uranium. Both sides also agreed to more talks, to take place before the end of the month. This new Congressional legislation is akin to amputating a limb before discovering if a band-aid might suffice. It has the potential to have a massively destabilizing effect on the (currently impressive) unity within the P5+1.

In diplomacy even a simple handshake can send a powerful message, so imagine what message Congress’ actions have sent to the Iranian government.  Congress essentially said: “Thanks for those concessions yesterday in Geneva, we’re going to go ahead and sanction you anyway.”

The focus of the Geneva talks should be an opportunity for trying to use diplomacy to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains specifically civilian in nature, and for pressuring Iran over its human rights abuses.  That is exactly what happened yesterday, thanks to our clear-thinking diplomats (led by Bill Burns).

Congresses lack of focus on the issues that matter, including human rights abuses in Iran calls to mind two quotes. The first comes from the 13th-century poet Sa‘adi,

All Adam’s race are members of one frame;
Since all, at first, from the same essence came.
When by hard fortune one limb is oppressed,
The other members lose their wonted rest:
If thou feel’st not for others’ misery,
A son of Adam is no name for thee.

The second quote is more recent. It comes from U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who on the topic of shared humanity said:

In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.

U.S. lawmakers should not be so fixated on a potential serious future problem, Iran’s nuclear program that they forget that it is morally incumbent upon them to make a concerted effort to help those Iranians who have been tortured by the Islamic government. One of the requirements of being human is to recognize a basic connection with other humans, and to help them when they require it.

Sanctioning Iran is unlikely to bring about the end of its nuclear program, and will almost assuredly be more harmful to the Iranian people than the government. Sanctions will also help the Islamic regime to crush the country’s growing, but fragile, democracy movement. Congress should wait to see the fruits or failures of the Geneva diplomatic talks before moving on to alternative methods.

Posted By Matt Sugrue

    3 Responses to “Congressional Miscalculations and Sa’adi’s advice”

  1. Rob says:

    This is just classic “good cop, bad cop.” In fact the current environment is the best possible environment and opportunity we’ve seen for this tactic. Iran has an opportunity to cooperate with the “good cop” P5+1 or deal with the “bad cop” US Congress and others pushing for sanctions. Really, why do you think the Iranian regime has suddenly developed what appears to be a significant change of heart? Because they finally realize it’s the right thing to do? I doubt it. It’s more likely a result of the political environment has shifted against them. “Good cop, bad cop” is just a way to effectively leverage that shift against the regime.

    As for the legislation, this is actually an effective application of “good cop, bad cop.” It has only passed the House. It still has a long way to go yet to pass the Senate and be signed by the President. This is not a fait accompli by far and drives home the point that time is running out for the Iranian regime, specifically because they still have time as this wends it’s way through the US legislative process and they should hope to give the President reason to decide in their favor when it gets to that point. So, no, it’s not “akin to amputating a limb before discovering if a band-aid might suffice,” it’s akin to drive home to the Iranian regime what awaits them if they fail to cooperate: to use your words, there may be an amputation if they don’t take advantage of the band-aid.

    Yes, it will almost assuredly be more harmful” to the Iranian people if it comes to pass, and clearly the welfare of the Iranian people doesn’t factor into the calculus of the Iranian regime. But it will also most assuredly harm the Iranian regime, and this does factor into their calculus.

    Hopefully it’s just a bluff and hopefully the Iranian regime puts their own self-interest above calling the bluff. But without even a credible threat, why would anyone ever expect the regime to change course? Now the credibility factor has gone up and that’s the only way to make “good cop, bad cop” work: is the “bad cop” just a bluff or for real and how bad to you want to call that bluff? The more likely the “bad cop” is for real, the more likely it is to work and I think the “bad cop” is finally starting to look pretty real to the regime and suddenly cooperating with the “good cop” is looking more attractive to forestall the “bad cop.”

  2. Pirouz says:


    American analysts claim that Iran’s government is hard to figure out when it comes to centers of power, decision making, etc.

    What are Iranian analysts to make of situations such as these?

    Khamanei actually commented on it last year sometime.

  3. I am a great fan of Shaikh.

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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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