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War with Iran by Any Other Name

This week may be looked back on as the pivotal moment when war with Iran entered the mainstream of political thought in the Obama era. At a time when Iranians are standing up to an Iranian government that has been deprived of the Bush-era shadow of war, that shadow is again emerging.

“Bomb Bomb Iran” may be finally crossing over to the pop charts.

While Iran war rhetoric is nothing new in Washington, for the first time it has been given a vehicle. This week, a resolution in the House of Representatives is being circulated by Texas Republican Louie Gohmert that explicitly endorses an Israeli military strike on Iran if “no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time.” The resolution does not specify what peaceful solution its supporters are willing to endorse, what timeframe they would consider “reasonable”, or what kind of “support” the United States would provide to Israel if they bombed Iran. The resolution also does not specify what sort of Israeli military action the U.S. would support.

Iran at a Crossroads – LIVESTREAMING Here

UPDATE: It’s confirmed, we’ll be Livestreaming our conference here at niacINsight tomorrow.  So tune in between 9:00 and 2:00 to see what’s happening!

Iran used to be a pretty black-and-white issue. You either wanted war, or not.  Diplomacy, or not.  Regime change, or not.

Those days of simple choices between two clear opposites–they’re long gone.

Now, the rise of an indigenous opposition movement has thrown a new set of variables into questions of “regime change,” diplomacy, and even human rights.  Iran-watchers are struggling with the cognitive dissonance of it all: how can you still oppose war but support the dismantling of the Islamic theocracy?  How can someone help the opposition but still oppose overt US government involvement? And don’t even get me started on the nuclear issue…

All of this confusion amid the new complex reality of post-June 12th Iran means it’s probably a good thing that people are still debating the issue as vigorously as ever.  Open any major newspaper in the US and chances are you’ll find at least one or two (often four or five) different articles about Iran.  From op-eds advocating a preemptive strike, to analysts who say the Green Movement is just a fad–there is a wider diversity of opinions now than ever before.  Even politicians and pundits who might otherwise have the luxury of ignoring the Iran issue are being forced to weigh in (see Palin, Sarah), and despite their often ludicrous claims, ultimately the best thing for US-Iran policy is a robust debate about substantive issues.  That’s the only way we’ll be able to think our way through this difficult challenge.

(Incidentally, some major steps have already been taken in formulating a coherent policy proposal: see here and here for one approach that’s coming clearer into view).

Our goal here at NIAC is to contribute some wisdom and clarity to the debate on Iran — both among the Iranian-American community and inside the Washington DC beltway.  Toward that end, we are pleased to announce our upcoming conference on Capitol Hill: “Iran at a Crossroads: Assessing a Changing Landscape.” We’re bringing together the top Iran experts in the world, alongside members of Congress and their staffs, to explore the most important questions facing US-Iran policy today.

We’ll look into the current state of the Green Movement as the latest chapter in Iran’s 100-year democratic evolution.  We’ll examine the prospects for US-Iran relations one year after President Obama began his engagement strategy, and we’ll try to determine if there is a US-Iran war looming on the horizon.  (And we’ll also celebrate the upcoming Norooz holiday with some excellent food and our very own haft-seen table).

The video will be streamed live on this site, niacINsight, so check back here next Wednesday morning (March 10) at 9am for the feed.  Or feel free to RSVP and show up in person.

We are grateful to our special guests Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), along with all of our excellent panelists (including our friends at EA).

Full info available below the jump, or at  Hope to see you there!

  • 7 February 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • MEK, US-Iran War

Palin Parrots Pipes on Iran

Following her keynote address to the national Tea Party Convention yesterday, Sarah Palin added fuel to the the flames of speculation about her possible bid for the presidency in 2012.  During an interview with her now-employer Fox News, Palin was asked her opinion about President Obama’s chances for reelection:

If the election were today, “I do not think Obama would be re-elected,” she said. But he has a chance if he gets “tough” on terrorism, she added. “Say he played the war card. Say he decided to declare war on Iran, or decided to really come out and do whatever he could to support Israel, which I would like him to do. But that changes the dynamics in what we can assume is going to happen between now and three years.”

Forgetting for a moment that it is the Congress, not the President, that is empowered with the authority to declare war, this is a pretty brash statement, even for Palin.  It is rare that a public figure would call for military action against Iran so explicity — and to call for such drastic action as a purely political ploy breaks an even stronger taboo in Washington circles. 

So it cannot be a coincidence that Palin’s advice to President Obama comes just days after prominent anti-Islam activist Daniel Pipes wrote nearly the identical thing in the National Review.  “How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran” was the title of the article, which my colleague Jamal picked apart well enough that I don’t have to here.  But I thought it interesting that Palin would so casually align herself on foreign policy issues — by all accounts her political Achilles Heel — with such a divisive figure as Pipes. 

  • 15 January 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Neocon Think Tank: US Should Prepare for Nuke War with Iran

Most people outside of Washington DC probably don’t hear about the neoconservative Heritage Foundation very often.  It’s true that the “golden age” of neoconservatism is long gone, so groups like theirs sometimes have to resort to extraordinary and often spectacular measures for their work even to get noticed.

I would like to believe that the two Iran-related reports they released today fall into that category.

The first, by Jim Phillips, talks about the implications for the US of an Israeli strike against Iran.  He argues that, since we’ll be blamed for an Israeli attack anyway, the US might as well get in on the fun from the beginning:

Given that the United States is likely to be attacked by Iran in the aftermath of an Israeli strike anyway, it may be logical to consider joining Israel in a preven­tive war against Iran.

But since that isn’t likely to happen as long as the White House values peace and stability over war and chaos, Phillips’ fall-back plan is for the US to just wait until Israel attacks, and then go ahead with a plan to bring about WWIII in the MidEast…

In the event of a conflict, Iran’s nuclear facilities should be relentlessly targeted until all known nuclear weapon-related sites are destroyed completely. Perhaps the preparations for such a war, combined with the knowledge that Washington will not restrain Israel, would enable cooler heads to prevail in Tehran before Israel is forced to take action to defend itself.

The second report, which looks at how Russia complicates the Iran issue for the US, also employs the think-tank equivalent of an angst-y teen’s cry for attention:

The U.S. should deploy a visible deterrent, including overwhelming nuclear forces near Iran, on surface ships, aircraft, or permanent bases.  These offensive forces should be designed to hold at risk the facilities that Iran would need to launch a strategic attack, thereby making any such attack by Iran likely to fail.

Just to clarify: this author is talking about brandishing US nuclear warheads in the Persian Gulf, on US bases (likely in Qatar or Kuwait), and on aircraft flying overhead one of the world’s most volatile regions.  He is suggesting that we wave these missiles in front of Iran’s face, knowing full well that Tehran and its proxy allies will not sit idly by as the US makes such a thoroughly provocative move.  And he makes the ludicrous suggestion that the thing the Middle East needs more than anything else right now is more Weapons of Mass Destruction.

This report insinuates nothing less than a preemptive nuclear attack on Iran.

As Matt Duss would say: “these are the Iran war drumbeats that liberals are just making up in their heads.”

  • 24 December 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Nuclear file, Sanctions, UN, US-Iran War

Merry Christmas. Bomb Iran.

Stunning.  That’s the only word to describe what was printed in the once-respected op-ed page of the New York Times today. 

Alan Kuperman argues in his op-ed titled There’s Only One Way to Stop Iran, that

In the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement. We have reached the point where air strikes are the only plausible option with any prospect of preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Strange that the author could arrive at this conclusion a week before the Dec. 31 deadline for Iran to accept the West’s nuclear proposal.  It’s almost as if he had made up his mind already.  

Let’s look at his reasoning, such as it is.  Kuperman argues that the West’s nuclear proposal to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor was not a clever idea with benefits for both parties, as most experts believe, but instead was a boondoggle that threatened the security of the US and would have given Iran “a head start” toward building a nuclear bomb.  It is good that the deal was not adopted, he argues, because it would have only postponed the really important and only remaining effective option for the US to pursue: multiple airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. 

Even worse, Kuperman fumes, the plan would have actually “fostered proliferation” by allowing Iran to continue operating the research reactor, which he says could provide valuable knowledge for a weapons program.  Of course, it is probably safe to assume that the IAEA was aware that the fuel could be used to operate the reactor…what with that being the whole idea of the deal and all.  But apparently, the UN’s atomic agency doesn’t share Kuperman’s definition of “fostering proliferation.”

He goes on:

While Iran permits international inspections at its declared enrichment plant at Natanz, it ignores United Nations demands that it close the plant, where it gains the expertise needed to produce weapons-grade uranium at other secret facilities like the nascent one recently uncovered near Qom.” 

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.  Kuperman seems to be one of the few remaining nonproliferation professionals who actually believe transparency is a bad thing.  Suspending enrichment does no good if Iran starts up a covert facility that can’t be inspected; on the other hand, inspections can virtually ensure enrichment activity is not used for a weapon, and if Tehran tries, they will be detected. 

Kuperman also says that Tehran rejected the deal because of domestic political turmoil.  But the truth is more complicated than the startlingly concise explanation –“Ahmadinejad reneged” — that Kuperman provides.  See Ray Takeyh’s explanation of how Iran’s internal national security apparatus scuttled the deal.  Also, how many times do we have to say this? Ahmadinejad does not control Iran’s nuclear program–the Supreme Leader does.

After all that, Kuperman finally gets to his real point.  Start the music…“bomb, bomb, bomb Iran…”

Since peaceful carrots and sticks cannot work, and an invasion would be foolhardy, the United States faces a stark choice: military air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities or acquiescence to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The risks of the latter are obvious, he says: “Iran supplies Islamist terrorist groups in violation of international embargoes.”  Supplies them of what?  Ominously, he doesn’t say, suggesting that if Iran were to possess WMD, they would hand it over in a heartbeat.  Of course, this ignores the fact that Iran has had chemical and biological weapons for two decades and is yet to deliver them to terrorist proxies who most certainly want them.  “Even President Ahmadinejad’s domestic opponents support this weapons traffic.”  Huh?  You mean the Green Movement, whose chants say “Not Gaza, nor Lebanon; I give my life for Iran”? 

At last, Kuperman concedes that an aerial assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities might not work, and it might impose heavy costs.  But history suggests that it could work, and is therefore “worth a try.”  For evidence, he lists episodes such as the 1981 Israeli strike on Iraq and the subsequent Gulf War (the success of which Kuperman somehow manages to claim was only confirmed by the 2003 Iraq war, which apparently made the entire thing worth it).  “Analogously,” he says, “Iran’s atomic sites might need to be bombed more than once to persuade Tehran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”  Because the more times we bomb them, the more they’ll see things our way…

Kuperman’s rationale for bombing Iran is not new; it is just intellectually sloppier than most others.  But that doesn’t mean that it should be taken for granted.  If anything, the fact that the New York Times printed this column before the laughably short deadline for diplomacy is up just illustrates the sorry state of discourse in the US on how to deal with Iran.  And that is exactly the plan for those who wish to hasten a US-Iran war: drive the debate so far to the fringe that reasonable proposals are discounted and the irrational seems like the only option.

update: For the record, I penned this blog post on a plane between DC and Texas, long before I read Heather Hurlburt’s scathing piece about the same article.  Kudos, Heather.

update 2: Wow, nice to see I wasn’t alone with this.  See also Matt Duss, Joe Klein, Steve Saideman and Dan Drezner.   Marc Lynch says: “This kind of sustained pushback is exactly what is needed to prevent this dangerous idea from being mainstreamed.”

New Sanctions a “Sword of Damocles” over Iran

Washington DC – “I view the [Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act] as a sword of Damocles over the Iranians,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman. “This is a clear hint of what will happen if they do not engage seriously and move rapidly to suspend their uranium enrichment program.”

Berman said there is “no doubt” the American people stand with the Iranian people, but he said the U.S. will rally international support for imposing “crippling sanctions” if President Obama’s diplomatic strategy has not shown signs of success by the fall.

  • 24 July 2009
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • Human Rights in Iran, Legislative Agenda

Senate Adopts Measure to Counter Censorship in Iran

Cross Posted from

Washington DC – Last night, the Senate voted unanimously to adopt legislation that aims to aid the ability of the Iranian people to access news and information by overcoming the electronic censorship and monitoring efforts of the Iranian government.

The Victims of Iranian Censorship (VOICE) Act was introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Robert Casey (D-PA) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

From the National Review Online

Over at The Corner:

Red Meat Takes on Iran [NRO Staff]

Why are negotiations with Iran doomed to be fruitless? How might the administration use military force against Iran? What does the return of the Clinton team to our foreign policy bode for our relations with Iran? Special guest Mario Loyola, a former adviser in the U.S. Senate and at the Pentagon (and a frequent NR contributor), outlines the history — and future — of our Iran policy with Jim Geraghty and Mark Hemingway.

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.2162112&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

Consider this an open thread…

  • 22 September 2008
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Election 2008, Presidential 2008 Elections, US-Iran War

Obama and McCain on Iran: 60 Minutes


“We have not applied the kind of tough diplomacy over the last eight years that I think could have made a difference.”

“I don’t think it’s acceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.  And I haven’t taken any options, including military, off the table.”


“Suppose that the Iranians had nuclear weapons, and you had a whole lot of other information about Iranian intentions, and you could make the case to the American people and to the world, I think it’s obvious that we would have to prevent what we are absolutely certain is a direct threat to the lives of the American people.”

Update: More Movement on H.Con.Res. 362

With a little less than three weeks remaining in the legislative session, Congress seems to be readying for  last-minute action on H.Con.Res. 362, the Iran Blockade Resolution.

Yesterday, eight members of Congress joined onto the bill as cosponsors, while at the same time Rep. John Lewis [D-GA-5] withdrew his name as a cosponsor.

The newest supporters of the bill are:

All Congress needs to do is go three more weeks without voting on this bill and it will die in committee.  Write your Congressmen today and tell them to oppose this dangerous resolution!

Update: 2 more signed on Tuesday, Rep. Jim McCrery [R-LA-4] and Rep. Wally Herger [R-CA-2].

Sign the Petition


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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