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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.

Graham and Netanyahu pressure Obama to ratchet up war rhetoric

On Saturday, Senator Lindsey Graham reportedly “stunned” attendees at a Halifax International Security Conference when he called for a military strike that would “neuter” the Iranian regime “not to just neutralize their nuclear program, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard.”

NIAC addressed the bellicose remarks with a statement warning that, “Graham’s confrontational war rhetoric sets back America’s opportunities to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully and prevent a third costly and destabilizing US war in the Middle East.”

Meanwhile, that same day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in New Orleans advocating to Vice President Joe Biden that, in spite of all of the sanctions the US had put in place over the past year, the Obama Administration needed to start doing more saber rattling:

Israel’s media says the country’s prime minister has told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that Iran must be made to fear a military strike against its nuclear program.

They say in their Monday editions that Benjamin Netanyahu told Biden that although sanctions have hurt Iran, Tehran will be determined to produce nuclear weapons unless it thinks a military strike is a real option.

This all comes just a week before proposed nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 approach, and is just the type of toxic rhetoric, coming from both the US and Iranian sides, that poisons the environment for successful diplomacy.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is apparently less willing to callously issue war threats and pledge American troops to a third Middle East war, took exception to the saber rattling on Monday:

“I disagree that only a credible military threat can get Iran to take the actions that it needs to, to end its nuclear weapons program. 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 on Iran,” he said.

But the debate is symptomatic of a discussion going on in Washington, in both the White House and on Capitol Hill, as to whether the US should start raising the war rhetoric against Iran.  Returning to the Bush era of name calling and saber rattling would effectively guarantee that the Obama administration continues solely down the pressure track, rejects opportunities for a successful peaceful resolution to our issues with Iran, undermines Iranians fighting for the rule of law, and locks the US into a trajectory for war.

The Obama administration is reportedly mulling whether to ratchet up belligerent rhetoric towards Iran, according to the New York Times:

Two years into office, Mr. Obama has organized an impressive sanctions regime and managed to combine diplomacy and pressure better than many experts had predicted. But so far he has little to show for it, which has prompted a discussion inside the White House about whether it would be helpful, or counterproductive, to have him talk more openly about military options.

Further complicating this discussion is the November 2 midterm election “shellacking” that Obama and the Democrats received.  Some pundits believe the Democrat’s electoral defeat should cause Obama to tack right on Iran policy, either for purely politically reasons or, crazily enough, even to help jumpstart the economy.

Problem is, Obama has already tried this approach and received little credit from his opponents.  NIAC’s policy director writes in Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel:

Unfortunately, instead of fighting the Bush paradigm that rewards policymakers on the basis of bellicosity towards Iran, Obama has by and large perpetuated a political metric that defines success on Iran only in terms of pressure. Only if Obama raises the consequences of the dire alternative to a successful engagement strategy — war with Iran — and stakes out a new path to create his own political space for diplomacy, can the president effectively navigate the new reality in Congress and pursue a successful Iran agenda.

After coming into office promising to extend an open hand towards Iran, Obama gradually backed away from this position in favor of a tough sanctions regime.  Still, that wasn’t enough for many Republicans like Graham, because, simply put, Obama will never be able to out-hawk the hawks.  Repeating the mistakes of his first two years in office by further increasing bellicose rhetoric will only result in failure at the negotiating table and a crushing political defeat as Obama continually fails to live up to a standard of “toughness” that he himself set.

So far, it appears the administration is correctly distancing itself from Graham and Netanyahu’s comments.  But now the administration needs to go one step further and push back against provocative and counter-productive statements and generate the political space it needs for a major diplomatic effort.

  • 8 October 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Heffner
  • 1 Comments
  • Iran War related legislation, Israel, Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Israeli Official’s Call for Imminent Iran Blockade is Really a Call for War

Hyperbole reached new heights this week when Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations on Monday that a blockade will be necessary in two to six months to give “Iran a deadline to change its behavior.”  Steinitz, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and a former protégé of the Prime Minister, has always been known as hawkish; given his role as a government minister and his ties to Israel’s leaders, his latest remarks should not be ignored.  Never mind the absurd justification Steinitz offered, in which he likened such a blockade to that of  Cuba in 1962—Cuba, an island nation that, unlike Iran, actually possessed nuclear weapons in its territory at the time of the embargo.  And never mind that Steinitz demanded that Iran “become open for inspection,” when in fact the IAEA constantly has inspectors in Iran looking at the country’s nuclear facilities.  Instead, what is most concerning is that this call mirrors a Congressional resolution introduced in 2008, which suggests that a blockade may actually have support among US lawmakers.

Calls for a blockade are not new.  In the past it was seen as an option for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program by commentators who believed sanctions were not enough or would inevitably fail.  They claim that a blockade is simply the “next logical step.”  However, what these pundits fail to mention is that a blockade is an act of war.  Such an act against Iran by the United States or any state in the international community could likely lead to open violent conflict between US and Iranian forces as Iranian warships try to force their way through the blockading force.  Furthermore, such a blockade would seek to destroy Iran economically, punishing Iranians who have nothing to do with the nuclear program and destroying America’s image with the Iranian people.  Finally, a blockade would convince Iranian leaders they have nothing to gain from negotiating a deal with the West and provide an incentive to push for an actual nuclear device, ending all hopes for a compromise that would avoid a calamity in the region.

  • 13 September 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Heffner
  • 2 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Human Rights in Iran, Legislative Agenda, UN

In the Struggle for Human Rights, Every Victory Brings More Work

There has been some welcome news on the Iranian human rights front in recent days.  First, Iranian authorities released human rights activist Nazar Ahari yesterday from the infamous Evin Prison, and photos of her outside the prison have made their way onto the internet.  Additionally, earlier in the week Iranian officials officially suspended the execution by stoning of a woman facing adultery charges, acquiescing to widespread and overwhelming international condemnation of the sentence.  Finally, reports surfaced that Iran will release the female American hiker Sarah Shroud after a $500,000 bail is paid, although this comes after Iranian authorities first announced her release was imminent, then further delayed that release over the weekend.  These human rights cases illustrate the sensitivity of Iran’s government to human rights pressure, while highlighting the overwhelming amount of work still left for activists.

The release of Ahari is significant from an American perspective because pressure came from not only the international rights community but from United States lawmakers as well, with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Sam Brownback both independently lobbying for her release.  The success of these efforts in the case of Ahari should encourage lawmakers and others within the United States that pressing the Iranian government on its human rights obligations can produce tangible results.

  • 9 September 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Heffner
  • 1 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

Clinton’s Rhetoric on Iran: Does It Match the Administration’s Actions?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a wide-ranging speech yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations on the current and future United States role in the international community.  In addition to commenting on general trends and intentions, Secretary Clinton discussed many individual policy issues, one of which was Iran.  She described how the United States is engaged in diplomatic efforts to pull Iran into compliance with the global non-proliferation regime and to provide Iran  a route back “into the community of nations.”  She explained how this diplomatic posture allowed the administration to use “classic shoe-leather diplomacy” to put strong international sanctions in place.

“The choice for Iran’s leaders is clear”, Clinton said, ” and they have to decide whether they accept their obligations, or increasing isolation and the costs that come with it. And we will see how Iran decides. “

  • 7 September 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Heffner
  • 1 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions, UN

Who is reporting on the report?

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday expressed concerns about Iran’s nuclear facilities and capabilities as part of its quarterly report onthe Iranian nuclear program, eliciting an immediate outcry from news outlets, with several calling the new report clear evidence that tough sanctions and even military action might be necessary to prevent Iran from “going nuclear.”  For some, this shows the futility even of a sanctions regime in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program because this report was released after the latest round of UN sponsored summer sanctions.  They are focusing on the Iranian decision to reject two nuclear inspectors as a clear sign of Iranian intransigence.  However, to what extent are the concerns expressed in the report new?  Furthermore, is the expulsion of these two inspectors really a sign of Iran’s malevolent intentions?

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.

Sincerely,

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