• 1 February 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • Uncategorized

(Cross-posted from Huffington Post)

This past Thursday, the Senate voted to pass disastrous legislation under the auspices of getting “tough” on Iran. Unfortunately, the bill is only “tough” on the Iranian people, punishing them in the midst of their historic struggle for rights while hamstringing the President as he deals with Iran’s nuclear program. To top it off, the world’s greatest deliberative body spent a whopping 5 minutes debating the bill. The Majority Leader refused to consider any amendments, including significant changes proposed by the Administration and ultimately the bill passed by voice vote in front of a mostly empty chamber.

The bill, S.2799, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2009, is composed of several outdated ideas conceived well before the tectonic shift in Iran that followed stolen June elections. Like the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act recently passed by the House, this bill would cut off gasoline that Iranians use to heat their homes and fuel their cars. The Senate has signaled that, in the midst of the Iranian people’s stand against brutal repression from their own government, the US Government intends to punish them as well.

Given the images of brave Iranians taking to the streets and the videos of brutal government repression that continue stream out of Iran, it is understandable that Congress wants to help. Just yesterday, two more political dissidents were executed, and since December’s Ashura protests up to 1,500 people have been detained or simply disappeared. But if Congress wants to act, why are they going forward with a failed strategy that has been publicly opposed by the leaders of the Green Movement on numerous occasions? If Congress wants to address human rights and reduce the Iranian people’s suffering, why are they passing measures to undermine Iran’s opposition and “cripple” its economy?

The Senate bill also significantly restricts President Obama’s authority to carry out Iran policy. It weakens the President’s flexibility in ways Republicans wouldn’t have dreamed of during the Bush administration and perpetuates the same “with us or against us” approach of that era by hindering the United States’ ability to work with international partners. As Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put it, the legislation was crafted so that the United States could go it alone and not “depend on the cooperation of the other countries”.

The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The United States is only now extricating itself from a war in Iraq that was presaged by years of “crippling” sanctions against that country. Those sanctions did nothing to change Iraq’s behavior but instead caused the death of 500,000 Iraqi children and paved the way for a US invasion.

Congress is not talking about war with Iran, yet. But if they are intent on denying Iran from importing gasoline, a naval blockade will be necessary, which is an act of war. Is the United States really prepared to start sinking ships to block gasoline from reaching Iran? Do such stirrings of war do anything but undermine Iran’s opposition movement?

Ironically, this bill would play right into the hands of an Iranian government eager to end gasoline subsidies that are already strangling its economy. Iran imports its gasoline at market prices but then resells it to Iranians, costing Iran about 10 to 20 percent of its GDP. The government has tried several times to eliminate this tremendous burden but with little success. By cutting off Iran’s gasoline imports, the US would enable the government to end the giveaway and blame America, freeing up cash for other priorities such as the nuclear program or Basij militias.

The Senate would be wise to reconsider this failed strategy and consider a new approach adjusted to the dramatic events in Iran of the past eight months. The new strategy should target Iran’s human rights abusers while eliminating existing US policies that punish innocent Iranians. The Obama Administration has demonstrated that they are taking account of this new landscape and recently announced that it would remove barriers on Internet freedom software for Iranians. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reiterated on numerous occasions the Administration’s support for multilateral “efforts to apply pressure on Iran” that do not “punish the Iranian people”.

There are good proposals that have been introduced in the House that embody this new approach–H.R.4303, the Stand with the Iranian People Act and H.R.4301, the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act. Congress should act on these smart proposals as part of a new strategy attuned to the events on the ground in Iran. Otherwise, they risk sabotaging the opposition movement in Iran by applying the same failed strategy of the last thirty years to a dramatically changed reality. Congress can still adopt a strategy in sync with this new reality before sending a bill to the President. Let’s hope they adjust before it is too late.

Posted By Jamal Abdi

    One Response to “Senate Votes to Undermine Obama and Punish Innocent Iranians”

  1. Ali says:

    Excellent article Jamal. Very well-argued and written. I hope they listen to you!

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Sign the Petition


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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