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  • 19 September 2011
  • Posted By Helia Ighani
  • 2 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Congress, Legislative Agenda, Persian Gulf, US-Iran War

U.S. military leaders push for direct communications with Iran

In January 2008, the U.S. Navy was on the verge of opening fire on three Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats, which were taking provocative action in close proximity to the American ships.  Fortunately, no shots were fired that day, but the danger of armed conflict breaking out between two nations already on the brink was clear.

As the Wall Street Journal reported today, a series of “near-miss” encounters between U.S. and Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf has convinced many U.S. military officials that there needs to a direct military hotline between the United States and Iran to defuse any potential situation that could arise.

During a talk at the University of Miami last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen told the audience that he is troubled by the lack of contact between the United States and Iran. “Even in the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said, “U.S. officials could still talk with the Soviets.”

The catalyst behind the recent push rises out of the concern that a run-in between the two severed nations in the Persian Gulf could escalate to a large-scale conflict.  As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said, “This [the Persian Gulf] is a very volatile area. The risk of an incident, and of an incident escalating, is real.”

In fact, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law late last year, included a provision mandating the Pentagon “to assess the merits an Incidents at Sea agreement between the US, Iran, and other states to avoid military confrontation in the Persian Gulf.”  That provision was based on the Incidents at Sea resolution, introduced in the previous Congress by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Geoff Davis (R-KY).

As the Wall Street Journal notes, opening up communications with Iran could not just help prevent a confrontation in the Persian Gulf, it could also develop into a mechanism to stabilize tensions and prevent conflict throughout the region:

“Although that current proposal would only cover naval incidents, some U.S. officials say they believe that if it proves workable and useful it could be expanded into a broader hot line that could be used to defuse not just confrontations at sea, but also a broader array of potential conflicts. The issue is also being studied at the State Department’s Policy Planning office.”

Military leaders, including Mullen, Gates, and David Petraeus, have vigorously pushed back against calls for military strikes on Iran and have emphasized the dangers that war with Iran would bring.  Clearly it is in the interest of those responsible for U.S. troops and national security to prevent a disastrous war.  Establishing direct lines to prevent incidents in the Persian Gulf would be a positive first step, but further talks must be established to address the many volatile issues–such as instability in Afghanistan and Iraq–where conflict could quickly push us past the brink.

  • 19 August 2011
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 1 Comments
  • MEK, Neo-Con Agenda

MEK, Iran interventions and Mossadegh

Iran Policy Committee head Raymond Tanter with members of the MEK's political wing, the NCRI

The Iran Policy Committee–a  Washington organization dedicated primarily to spreading pro-MEK propaganda on Capitol Hill and elsewhere around Washington–organized an event at the National Press Club yesterday that is raising eyebrows.

It wasn’t the  spectacle of former U.S. officials rehashing MEK-prepared talking points and referring to MEK as the “main opposition”–this we have all grown accustomed to (especially now that the big money machinations behind these efforts have exposed by the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Huffington Post).

It also came as no shock when the Iran Policy Committee’s head, Raymond Tanter, invoked the death of Neda Agha Soltan (while obliviously pulling up a picture of a completely different person).

It wasn’t even surprising that Tanter referred to the Green Movement’s Mir Hossein Mousavi – who has been under house arrest since February – as a “sell out,” particularly since the Green Movement has so unequivocally expressed its opposition to the MEK and the use of violence in the struggle for democracy.

No, the surprise came when the panel suggested the MEK should be taken off the terror list so they could stage a “tit for tat” campaign of attacks within Iran.  

Mujahedin Supporters Envision “Tit for Tat” Campaign Against Iran:

Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney said an MEK delisting should be part of a campaign of “proactive actions” against Tehran.  The MEK, he said, is the only “credible overt political-military counterforce to the Iranian regime.”

“We need a very active tit for tat policy,” said McInerney.  “So every time they kill Americans, they have an accident in Iran.”

John Sano, formerly of the Central Intelligence Agency, echoed those sentiments.

“I agree one hundred percent with what the General just said, it’s got to be tit for tat.  We have known that the Iranians have been in Iraq talking to our enemies.  We know that the MOIS has been in Iraq causing harm to U.S. personnel.  And the only thing that can counter that is force,” Sano said.  “I know that may sound too militaristic, but you have to go with what your enemy understands.”

I don’t think there has been a clearer sign that the campaign for delisting the MEK has little to do with supporting democracy in Iran or humanitarian concerns about Camp Ashraf but is instead central to a push to escalate a military confrontation with Iran.

The lesson of recent history–the disastrous war of choice in Iraq–has clearly not sunk in with this crowd.  But coming just one day before the anniversary of the 1953 coup d’état that deposed Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (a coup that pro-sanctions, pro-war Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently endorsed as bringing “freedom” to Iranians), yesterday’s conference helped emphasize that the empirical history of miscalculated interventions and adventures in Iran have been completely lost on Washington’s pro-war establishment.

A full write-up from the event is after the jump.

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.

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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