Getting to Know the Persian Gulf

US Navy ships steam alongside each other in the Strait of Hormuz
US Navy ships steam alongside each other in the Strait of Hormuz. US NAVY/KENNETH ABATE

American officials now rank Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz as dangerous to American interests — or even more so in the short term — than Iran’s nuclear program. Where is this place, and why has it risen to the top of Washington’s concerns?

Answers to such questions can be found in a new concise but comprehensive study of the Persian Gulf, where the Strait of Hormuz, at the gulf’s southern end, forms the vital choke point between Arab oil producers and the open seas of world energy markets.

“The Persian Gulf: Tradition and Transformation,” by Lawrence G. Potter, a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and a leading scholar of the region, is a timely addition to Foreign Policy Association’s Headline Series. The paperback, a double issue in the series, sets the historical and strategic contexts for understanding potential crises in the region.

The littoral nations of the gulf are a complex mix of ethnicities, sects and politics. Inequities and instabilities, autocracies of various stripes (from ultraconservative monarchies to the long-running dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq) and intermittent warfare are all part of the region’s modern history — a cautionary tale for outsiders who may think that intervention would be easy.

“The Persian Gulf,” an excellent choice for discussion among foreign-policy study groups, can be ordered online for $14.99 (plus shipping and handling) from the Foreign Policy Association site or by calling (800) 477-5836 weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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