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Getting to Know the Persian Gulf

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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.

Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

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Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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