• 14 December 2009
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • Congress, Events in DC, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Will Congress Undo Obama’s Diplomacy?

Cross-posted from the HuffingtonPost:

The 111th Congress is barreling forward in a last minute race to enact what may prove to be one of the most damaging American foreign policy decision for years to come before adjourning for the holidays. It is a decision that may isolate us from our closest allies and biggest trading partners, pose momentous new challenges for our efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the greater Middle East, undermine the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy, and once again place the United States on the grave path towards military confrontation. But if you think Congress is engaging in the type of spirited debate that such a strategically significant policy deserves, think again.

On Tuesday, December 15, the House plans to approve the Iranian Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act under a suspension vote, meaning that a bill that levels sanctions and suspends trade with US allies while restricting the President’s authority to make major foreign policy decisions will be passed by the House with no amendments and limited debate in a process typically reserved for naming post offices and congratulating the winners of college basketball championships. Meanwhile, the Senate last week attempted to fast-track its own similar bill before the Administration intervened at the last minute. In a letter to Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, the State Department expresses concern with the bill’s timing and substance, stating that it could “have unintended foreign policy consequences” and “weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts” to change Iran’s behavior.

Some in Washington have seized on new unilateral sanctions as a way to prematurely slam the engagement door closed and bolt it shut. Tehran’s unhelpful approach to negotiations over the last ten weeks has turned an opportunity into a stalemate, giving critics of engagement plenty of opportunities to declare diplomacy a dead end. But in taking the bait, Congress is rushing to slam the door on our own fingers, as well as on the fingers of the Iranian people. Congress’ newest incarnation of sanctions, just like the Iran sanctions of the past two decades, will be meaningless in changing Iranian behavior but will contribute immensely to the suffering of innocent Iranians.

In fact, it is partly owing to the decades of isolation under a sanctions economy that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have established political and economic dominance over the people of Iran and the clerical regime’s paranoid, anti-Western brand of nationalism has claimed relevance.

In June, a tectonic shift occurred in Iran when the Iranian people took to the streets by the millions to protest a stolen election and to stand up to their government in demonstrations unrivaled since the 1979 revolution.

Congress must adjust its strategy towards Iran to account for this unprecedented development. A successful approach is one that recognizes the US cannot attempt to impose democracy from the outside but can help Iranians struggling for their freedom by not standing in their way with bad policies. We must reconfigure sanctions to target the bad actors in the government who control the nuclear program and who are responsible for recent human rights violations instead of cutting off the Iranian people from the global community. If President Obama deems it necessary to pursue the sanctions option, there must be an honest debate regarding why the strategies of the past thirty years have failed and how we can recalibrate a winning strategy for the future.

In addition to undermining the Iranian people, further unilateral sanctions will antagonize our allies. This will likely undermine President Obama’s diplomatic efforts that have regained the unity and credibility among our international partners and will provide crucial leverage to change Iranian behavior. Congress must not rush to negate the President’s effort and to block the US from speaking with one voice alongside our international partners. Eight years of saber rattling, non-engagement and, later, pseudo-engagement should have been instructive.

George Bush famously admitted that the US had “sanctioned itself out of influence in Iran.” Now, we risk sanctioning the US out of the engagement process, leaving no more arrows in our quiver but military action.

Any calculation that diplomacy was going to succeed in a mere twelve weeks is naïve. Any calculation that the US can unilaterally impose “crippling” sanctions and change Iranian behavior without our allies is disingenuous.

And any calculation that the US can bully Iran into submission is a fantasy that is frighteningly similar to the lead-up to war with Iraq. In reality, there are few who actually believe any of these fairy tales, let alone that we must act on them before the President’s established year end timeline.

But as one proponent of sanctions recently confided, “the purpose of enacting these sanctions now is to prove that they don’t work,”cryptically suggesting that, once engagement has been struck off the list and the final sanctions box is checked, the US can move on to the step nobody wants to talk about but which will be the last remaining option on the table–military action.

It is time to remove fantasy from our calculations on Iran and to level with the American people about what are the implications of prematurely derailing engagement and what is the true endgame that lies around the corner.

Posted By Jamal Abdi

    One Response to “Will Congress Undo Obama’s Diplomacy?”

  1. Pirouz says:

    Obama’s diplomacy?

    Jamal, by that are you referring to renewed sanctions, the attempted seizure of the Alavi foundation (including four mosques), the attempted seizure of Iranian antiquities, the abduction and indefinite detention of roughly 10 Iranian nationals, and the take-it-or-leave it demand on Iran’s nuclear program? Is that what you call “diplomacy”?

    “In fact, it is partly owing to the decades of isolation under a sanctions economy that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have established political and economic dominance over the people of Iran and the clerical regime’s paranoid, anti-Western brand of nationalism has claimed relevance.”–Jamal

    Political dominance of the IRGC? The IRGC has indirectly (through its press loyalties) come out in favor of the IAEA nuclear deal. That it has so far not prevailed against Iran’s full spectrum of political elites dispels the notion of said “dominance”.

    Paranoid? Let’s see, there’s the 1953 coup, the overt support of Iraq during the Imposed War, the shooting down of Iran Air 655, the funds provided for support of separatist groups and regime change, the funds provided for instruments of soft power threats, the abduction of Iranian nationals, the unwavering support for Zionist wars of aggression, continued support for Zionist occupation, the illegal invasion of neighboring Iraq, the US militarization of the Persian Gulf region, and the recent military escalation in neighboring Afghanistan. Have I missed something here?

    At bare minimum, Jamal, I think that the word “paranoia” should be replaced with “legitimate apprehension”.

    Beyond that, you completely ignore the direct role and responsibility of AIPAC and the Israel lobby in “barreling through” this legislation. Why is that?

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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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