• 19 April 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions, US-Iran War

One Overlooked Aspect of the Secret Gates Memo

The New York Times on Sunday reported on a secret memo written by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January warning that the US has no long-term strategy for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.

As always, a lot has been written about this already, so I’ll only focus on one aspect of it that I think is important.  This bit about predicting Iran’s intentions:

But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

I’ve long argued that this option — the so-called “Japan option” — whereby Iran has a weapons capability but not an assembled, usable weapon, is what Iran actually wants.

The benefits are great and risks few: Iran would gain a large deterrent value by virtue of having a “breakout capability” where they could assemble a weapon quickly if need be; they would gain the prestige of having mastered nuclear technology; they would be emboldened in their regional and foreign policies because of the ambiguity surrounding their actual capabilities; and they could continue stressing that it is their right to produce nuclear technology under the NPT.

Contrast that with the downsides of actually trying to pursue a weapon: doing so in secret risks being caught (not unlikely, given the Qom revelation), which could lead to serious consequences; pursuing a weapon out in the open requires Iran to withdraw from the NPT, kick out inspectors, and re-jigger the countless religious edicts the Supreme Leader has issued declaring nuclear weapons anti-Islamic.

Not to mention: stopping short of an actual weapon allows Iran — in the event that the US, Israel, or someone else preemptively strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities — to justify pursuing a nuclear weapon as the only way to guarantee their security.  It’s the perfect excuse, and one that we should deny them.

But back to Gates’ memo.

The part about how most analysts consider a “Japan option” the most likely for Iran is actually a very big deal.  This means that the government recognizes that everyone’s favorite game — the one where you try to figure out how long Iran will take to build a bomb — doesn’t actually matter.  Whether it’s one year, five years, or more, it doesn’t matter if Iran is content to maintain nuclear latency.  Even if the dynamic between Iran and the international community doesn’t improve, the situation is manageable.

So even though the situation seems dire at the moment, (and not to underestimate the threat of war), the United States and Iran might not actually be doomed to clash militarily.

The truth is, containing a nuclear-latent Iran is a much more attractive option than having to contain a nuclear-armed Iran.  And there is a difference: one carries the risk of a nuclear detonation at any moment.  The other carries a risk of escalation to the point where a nuclear detonation becomes possible.

That small distinction could actually mean the difference between a US policy that is deemed a “failure” and one that “succeeds.”

The takeaway from all of this is that Gates’ memo puts the lie to all of those who claim that diplomacy and sanctions will not work against Iran, and that we have to face a choice between living with a nuclear Iran or a military attack.  The smartest people in the country — both inside and outside of government — believe that’s simply not true.

And I, for one, think that’s a relief.

Posted By Patrick Disney

    One Response to “One Overlooked Aspect of the Secret Gates Memo”

  1. Pirouz says:

    Not to mention: stopping short of an actual weapon allows Iran — in the event that the US, Israel, or someone else preemptively strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities — to justify pursuing a nuclear weapon as the only way to guarantee their security.  It’s the perfect excuse, and one that we should deny them.

    Huh? What would be the rationale for a “preemptive” strike? For merely exercising its rights under the NPT? And you say “perfect excuse.” Do you call defending your country’s people from attack a “perfect excuse” that should be denied them?

    The truth is, containing a nuclear-latent Iran is a much more attractive option than having to contain a nuclear-armed Iran.

    Why must we limit ourselves to just these two confrontational choices? Why not advocate rapprochement? By far, that’s actually the most attractive direction to take- is it not? And if you personally don’t believe so, Patrick, state your reasons why you believe continued confrontation, with all its inherent risks, is somehow the more advantageous policy direction for American and Iranian citizens alike.

    I urge you to take a more courageous stand. Adopt the rapprochement advocacy espoused by the Leveretts. Or at the barest minimum, allow it into your calculous of thought, so that it can be weighed and considered by the Iranian -American community, as a potentially peaceful solution for both their adopted homeland (for many) and the their Meehan-motherland. By all means, don’t allow the AIPAC-ers to maintain effective control over the range of discussion and debate over this matter. To do so is not in the interest of the US.

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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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