Will the Obama Administration Listen to Gates or Neo-Cons?

As a Bush Administration holdover, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has largely avoided Republican attacks.  A Republican working in a Democratic administration, Secretary Gates seems to enjoy broad support on both sides of the aisle, and his policy recommendations are generally approved of enthusiastically by both political parties.

His recent comments on Iran, however, have the potential to raise some neo-conservative hackles.  Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to convince Vice President Joe Biden, among others, to make the US military threat against Iran “credible.” Gates immediately responded, saying that “We are prepared to do what is necessary, but at this point we continue to believe that the political-economic approach that we are taking is in fact having an impact in Iran.”

Yesterday, Gates pushed back even further against callously wielding the military option:

A military solution, as far as I’m concerned … it will bring together a divided nation. It will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons. And they will just go deeper and more covert

The only long-term solution in avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is for the Iranians to decide it’s not in their interest. Everything else is a short-term solution.

Pretty strong stuff.  Gates reiterates not only the words of top US civilian and military leadership, but backs up quite a few points madeby Iran war opponents outside the administration.  His comments show that Gates is aware of the tragic consequences a new war with Iran would have for both Americans and the Iranian people.  While military and civilian leaders have consistently voiced strong concerns about the “military option” on Iran, Gates is not just pushing back against a catastrophic decision to go to war, he is pushing back against dangerous advice that the Administration should start saber rattling against Iran.  His comments are particularly significant because they come at a time when Israel’s prime minister, top Republican Senators (and a certain Independent), and US pundits are suggesting Obama start using war rhetoric as part of his Iran strategy.  Gates rightly deserves some recognition for pushing back against such disastrous policy recommendations.

However, although Gates downplayed the “military option,” the Obama Administration must offer more than just the pressure track of sanctions.  The problem with the pressure-only track is that this is exactly what Obama’s opponents have been calling for and it is a trajectory to war.  Republican Congressional staff and neoconservative pundits signaled in the Washington Times the imminent battle: hearings and investigations to press Obama to enforce unilateral sanctions. 

Additionally, incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised Netanyahu that he will act as a “check” for Israel on the administration.  Between Senator Lindsey Graham’s proclamation that the US should “neuter that regime”, Netanyahu’s pressure to ratchet up war rhetoric, and Cantor’s “check,” Obama may find that the only way to increase pressure if sanctions fail is to threaten Iran with military force.  By focusing the “dual track” approach almost exclusively on pressure, Obama risks forcing the administration to adopt the very policy that Gates is now criticizing.

With the poisoned political climate in Washington, saying anything other than “all options are on the table” or worse is considered almost sacrilegious.  Secretary Gates should be applauded for his willingness to stick his neck out and endorse what many have been saying for quite some time.  Sadly, however, the administration risks forcing itself into a corner where the only option just may be the one they now oppose.  By trying to help the Iranians “decide” against nuclear weaponization using pressure rather than genuine offers of engagement, the administration is moving away from its own stated desire to create a long-term solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.  Hopefully, the administration realizes this fact before it runs out of options.

Posted By Patrick Heffner

    3 Responses to “Will the Obama Administration Listen to Gates or Neo-Cons?”

  1. Pirouz says:

    What leading Iranian official has ever advocated “nuclear weaponization”? Where is the Iranian debate on this subject that we need to “help them decide”?

    So far, what we have is a fatwa by the Supreme Leader himself against such things.

  2. Saeed says:

    Say what? When was the last time any government announced their intention of building a nuclear weapon? So, if Iranian officials do not “officially” advocate for nuclear weapons, then there must be no danger to us here? Get Real!

    Do not believe Iranian officials or fatwas issued by its Supreme Leader. They are politicians too. They lie.

  3. Jack says:

    Wake up! US and ISrael try to fool the world just like Iraq, they try to use the nuclear issue as a pretext to invade Iran!

Leave a ReplyLeave a Reply to Jack

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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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