Stop talking war, start talking…

We’re slowly reaching a critical point in the nuclear impasse with Iran.

If you listen to Iran hawks on the right, Iran is hell bent on getting a nuclear weapon.  They just know that’s what Iran wants, despite, as Roger Cohen suggests, no evidence or logical basis supporting their conclusion.

Unfortunately, there’s been little to no push back against what sounds eerily familiar to the rhetoric coming out of neo-cons in 2002, pre-Iraq invasion.

Keeping quiet could lead us beyond the point of no return, where no matter what we do or say or what calculus we use, the end result is a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.  Of course, many Iran-hawks will portray this as a “limited strike” sortie, where only nuclear facilities are attacked.  But if “limited strike” doesn’t sound a whole lot like “slam dunk” or “cake walk,” you might not be listening closely enough.

For us to assume Iran would not respond to “limited strikes”, that Iran would slow or end its enrichment of uranium, that Iran would somehow become more pliant in its reporting, and that the rest of the Middle East would remain quiet, is recklessly naive at best.

I want to be clear before I go forward.  I don’t support an Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons.  But the fact is Iran has not decided to actually begin a nuclear weapons program.  The only conclusion we can draw from a new IAEA report is that they are still in the investigations phase, despite attempts to suggest otherwise. And Iran still hasn’t decided if they actually want a program, and, if they do, what will it look like.  As I’ve written previously, all major intelligence analysis points to this conclusion as well.

Unfortunately, some have decided, despite the fact Iran is within boundaries of international law circumscribing uranium enrichment and despite the fact Iran remains operating within the framework of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the US needs to threaten Iran for its transgressions—as Senator Lieberman’s questioning of Leon Panetta at his recent confirmation hearings would suggest.    What we have to understand is that, in many ways, the policy coming out of Tehran is in large part a response to such threats.  (Disclaimer, this doesn’t mean that Iran is helping its cause by being evasive regarding their program.)

This means that they could decide they are safer with nuclear weapons, or with people thinking they have nuclear weapons.  We have to refrain, however, from accelerating any decision by Iran to seek nuclear weapons.  Far worse, however, would be a self-fulfilling prophecy–an attack on Iran that drives them to decide to weaponize.   As my former professor Dr. Robert Farley, at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and Commerce says, “Angels weep when we mistake pre-emptive strikes with preventative strikes.”

This is a problem because, first, Iran’s nuclear facilities are spread throughout the country.  Multiple facilities make for multiple targets.  We can’t forget all the anti-aircraft instillations that need neutralizing.  Already, a “limited strike” is starting to take on more than limited dimensions.  Would we get every target?  Would there be more than one sortie?  What about the unknown targets?  What if a plane gets shot down? What if civilians are killed in the strike?  Will one sortie knockout the necessary facilities to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program?

Second, despite what some would have us believe, Iran is a very nationalistic country.  At a recent forum, Green Movement spokesman Ardechir Amir Arjomand, said the population would rally around the government–ending any hope of democratic change or reform–to protest the attacks on Iran’s nuclear program.  Remember Iraq’s invasions of the Arab dominated areas of Iran in 1980?  The popular thought was that the Arabs would join Iraq against Iran’s new revolutionary government.  What happened was the exact opposite, except for the Mujahedeen al-Khalq (MEK), everyone rallied around Khomeini to fight off the invaders.  As a direct result of the invasion, Khomeini was able to solidify his revolution.  Thus, any attack would breathe life into a dying regime.  We’d give them exactly what they want.

Third, the US economy would be affected by the subsequent sharp rise in oil costs.  This would stem from the natural tendency of prices to rise during times of instability, but also from a likely Iranian response of harassing and possibly even sinking oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.  So, the cost to American families would still be drastic, possibly plunging the US into a second recession.  A recent poll from Pew Research Center suggests that there won’t be many Americans pleased by steep rise in prices due to another military engagement in the Middle East.  How anyone can think attacking Iran is a good thing is beyond me.  Additionally, high oil prices would allow the Iranians to continue filling their coffers.

Fourth, likely responses from Iran, its allies, and the Arab Street would destabilize the region even further.   More than likely, Iran would mobilize Hezbollah, and its allies in the occupied territories of Palestine, to attack Israel.  And all the revolutions we’ve witness this spring—ones that overthrew tyrants—will immediately distance themselves from US sponsorship.

So, what should we do?

First and foremost, we have to be patient.  As a recent piece by John Limbert says,  thirty years of virtually no communication between the US and Iran means that rapprochement and trust building won’t happen overnight, but instead will take time.  This means the best approach will be moving forward with incrementally small steps.  Also, as Hooman Majd beautifully points out in his most recent book The Ayatollah’s Democracy, Iranians don’t adhere to a strict timeline, much less one imposed by Western Powers.

Second, keep the focus on engagement.  Despite Iran’s diffusive political talk, the more we engage Iran, the more we learn.  Each meeting can be a learning experience; after 30 years of no engagement, the US has no cadre of diplomats with experience in Iran.  Not to mention each meeting can be used to build trust.

Third, stop focusing on the nuclear program.  Shift the focus to human rights.  This is something around which we can build a consensus.  Evidence is not lacking proving Iran’s poor human rights record, pushing this instead of the nuclear program may also change Iran’s calculus regarding weaponization.

Finally, stop talking about “the military option.” Maybe, it remains on the table, but so far away from the center of the table—almost falling off—that we, and the Iranians for that matter, actually forget it as an option.

The illusion that the US can use its military might to get its way has narrowed our options regarding the Iran issue.  Instead of asking whether military strikes will work, the real question is, can we use diplomacy to solve our problems?

Posted By David Shams

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Sign the Petition


7,349 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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