• 30 September 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • Diplomacy, Election 2012, Events in Iran, US-Iran War

Rhetoric, Reactionaries, and Repercussions

What do the political spheres in the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran have in common?  They both possess groups with a penchant for dramatic acts and belligerent rhetoric that serve no purpose other than to provoke the other side and raise the specter of war.

Take the recent provocative boasts by Iranian officials that they plan to send warships off the United State’s eastern seaboard.  This came on the same day that it announced it had begun mass-producing new cruise missiles for its navy.  While Iran’s ability to follow through with such threats is highly questionable, the fact that these threats ratchet up tensions and raise the risk of conflict is not.

But for all of the bluster coming out of Iran, the U.S. has plenty of its own policymakers who are just as guilty of saber-rattling and equally culpable for the rise in tensions.

For we can all but guarantee that references to Iran’s latest empty threats to make their way into plenty of talking points on both sides of the aisle this election season as candidates and pundits serve up red meat to brandish their “tough on Iran” credentials.  And as sanctions legislation is pushed through Congress, Iran’s bluster and bluffs will only be given validation by Republican and Democratic hawks eager to grease the skids for enacting harder-line U.S. policies.

And one only need look at the revelation of the Obama Administration’s decision to sell bunker busting bombs to Israel–bombs that could be used to strike Iranian underground nuclear facilities–as a signal that the U.S. is providing Israel with the means to carry out the military option, which the U.S. has so consistently reminded Iran remains on the table.  The deal happened to make headlines at the same time as perceptions that the President’s support among Jewish voters was declining reached a fever pitch domestically.

Yet as an armed conflict would be disastrous for both our countries, why is there such a seeming enthusiasm for war and why do not more moderate groups step in?

The reason is two-fold.  On the one hand, hawks on both sides continue to fuel the feud through their rhetorical one-upmanship that only increases the tension.  Every time a hardliner on the Iranian side spouts off with provocative rhetoric, there is neoconservative counterpart on the U.S. side the next day who seizes on that rhetoric to advance their case for more hawkish policies.  The brinkmanship is a vicious cycle of escalation.

At the same time, these hardliners have succeeded in framing the debate in such a way that to come out with anything less than war mongering rhetoric is to look weak on foreign policy or to be abandoning the revolution, in the U.S. and Iran respectively.  Thus, in such a political environment, cooler heads are often prevented from taking the steps necessary to reduce the chance of war.

In light of such a dynamics, the calls by the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen for the U.S. to set up channels of communication between Tehran and Washington, is all the more laudable.  For as groups in each country continue their saber rattling with little concern for the increasing risk of conflict, reason seems to dictate that steps must be taken to deescalate and avoid a destructive conflict that serves neither side’s interests.

Yet already we have already seen hawks in both countries doing their best to put the kibosh on Mullen’s hotline idea.  The Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi quickly rejected the idea, and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton railed against a hotline that would help protect U.S. soldiers in the field because talking can only “enhance Iran’s prestige.”

Given that Iran poses little threat to the U.S. homeland and is not the existential threat to Israel that is often claimed, and given that the path to war we are on can only lead to disastrous outcomes, why do we continue to let hardliners in the U.S. and Iran frame our foreign policy options?

Posted By Loren White

    One Response to “Rhetoric, Reactionaries, and Repercussions”

  1. Pirouz says:


    IRIN has been voicing intent on cruising across the Atlantic at least a couple of times now. Ii think they’re considering using a frigate and a replenishment ship, to potentially make it to Cuba.

    It’s a very small tit for tat for Iran, since the USN has a base in the PG.

    Regarding the AShMs, the propaganda out of Iran is directly related to its deterrent defense policy.

    But I agree overall with your post. We really need a “Nixon to China” moment, but the only slim chance of that would be after Obama wins a second term. And even then, the chances are slim. That’s what it’s going o take, Loren. And as I’ve been saying for years now, contributing toward the demonization campaign against Iran only serves to make such a breakthrough all the more difficult to initiate.

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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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