War with Iran by Any Other Name

This week may be looked back on as the pivotal moment when war with Iran entered the mainstream of political thought in the Obama era. At a time when Iranians are standing up to an Iranian government that has been deprived of the Bush-era shadow of war, that shadow is again emerging.

“Bomb Bomb Iran” may be finally crossing over to the pop charts.

While Iran war rhetoric is nothing new in Washington, for the first time it has been given a vehicle. This week, a resolution in the House of Representatives is being circulated by Texas Republican Louie Gohmert that explicitly endorses an Israeli military strike on Iran if “no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time.” The resolution does not specify what peaceful solution its supporters are willing to endorse, what timeframe they would consider “reasonable”, or what kind of “support” the United States would provide to Israel if they bombed Iran. The resolution also does not specify what sort of Israeli military action the U.S. would support.

But in the National Review this week, neoconservative pundit Daniel Pipes raised the specter that, if Israel bombs Iran, it will be with nuclear weapons. Pipes offers this as yet another reason the President must be cajoled into bombing Iran first (he has previously urged that Obama attack Iran to win reelection).

This was also the week that AIPAC convened its annual conference in Washington, in which many of the speakers, including U.S. lawmakers, focused on the importance of imposing “crippling sanctions” on Iran and rallied AIPAC members to lobby Congress on this point. While it was the “crippling” gasoline sanctions that were on the marquee, the conference’s subtext was clearly war.

“To our friends in Israel, to AIPAC,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina proclaimed to the conference on Monday, “Congress has your back!”

“All options must be on the table. And you know what option I’m talking about,” Graham declared.

“When you talk about war you should never talk about it with a smile on your face. But sometimes it’s better to go to war than it is to allow the holocaust to develop a second time,” asserted Graham, thus reducing the debate on Iran policy to a false choice between all out war or a second holocaust.

And then, having committed himself to the former option, Graham laid the groundwork for his vision for war.

If military options go forward, Graham said, “The Iranian government’s ability to wage conventional warfare against its neighbors and our troops in the region should not exist; they should not have one plane that can fly or ship that can float.”

Whether this message was intended for Israeli generals or for American war planners, Graham’s message was clear–a military option must be “decisive” and the U.S. and Israel need to act soon because “we do not have time on our side”.

“I hope and pray that other options will work,” Graham insisted. “I hope and pray that is not the option we have to seek.” But if figures like Graham are so hopeful that other options will work, it is odd that they have worked so effectively to systematically undercut and eliminate those other options every step of the way.

Already, multilateral sanctions the Obama Administration is attempting to construct with partners and at the U.N. have been declared dead before arrival. Prior to that, it was the engagement track that was prematurely eulogized after a mere twelve weeks. And once “crippling sanctions” are circumscribed to an artificial timeline and fail to miraculously fix everything, we will soon have exhausted our entire diplomatic playbook with remarkable swiftness. The path will be cleared for war.

This is not keeping all options on the table, this is clearing the table for only one option.

On Sunday, Michael Makovsky, foreign policy director of the Bipartisan Research Center, revealed the true pathway upon which “crippling sanctions” will place the U.S. In a column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Makovsky clearly connected the dots between a “crippling” gasoline embargo and war with Iran.

The President, Makovsky said, should “beef up” the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf so that “the U.S. Navy could then blockade Iran to enforce sanctions on gasoline imports passed by both houses of Congress.”

In order to enforce “crippling sanctions”, then, a naval blockade will be necessary. And while Makovsky does not call this blockade “war”, a naval blockade is an act of war by accepted international legal standards. Hence, while one can call it “the naval blockade option”, as Lindsey Graham would say “you know what option I’m talking about.”

Thus, we have policymakers and pundits claiming an aversion to war, talking about not talking about war with a smile on their face, and yet their solution is merely to call the pathway to war by a different name.

In committing only to pushing forward the most draconian sanctions available, they avoid a true assessment of what will be the cost–derailing diplomatic options, burning bridges with our allies, and helping snuff out Iran’s opposition movement.

The abysmal effort that has been invested in avoiding a war scenario makes it challenging to accept the premise that these policymakers are actually committed to war as only a last option. Hoping and praying is not sufficient. If we know “bomb bomb Iran” is next on the playlist, it is time to get serious and figure out how to change the station.

Posted By Jamal Abdi

    One Response to “War with Iran by Any Other Name”

  1. Mormon Socialist says:

    The only purpose for Daniel Pipes airing his poisonous little fantasy in this way is to make the idea of conventional military strikes seem the more reasonable and “balanced” by comparison. For all the drum-beating, Obama isn’t going to war with Iran. And if anyone thinks he is going to acquiesce to Israeli strikes, they’ve missed the last few days’ events. The regime is unnerved, weakened and insecure. The only thing that would unify the nation and its leadership now is a military attack. Cui bono?

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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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