Whose Gulf Is It Anyway

Growing up, I learned that the body of water that gave the Gulf War its name was the Persian Gulf. By college, I realized that Arab-Iranian tensions had “boiled over” the naming rights of the aforementioned watery divide, thus leading to its alternative name: the Arabian Gulf.

I had been under the impression that the United States Government still referred to the body of water as the Persian Gulf. However, this tweet from international relations scholar Andrew Exum suggested otherwise.

Presuming he is talking about the Americans, I did not notice there was a conflict in the United States over that name. The only time I had heard any Western source refer to the body of water as the Arabian Gulf was in Michael Bay’s 2007 film, Transformers.

I decided to see what US military and diplomatic personnel call the Gulf in their social media accounts. I looked up “Arabian Gulf” on Twitter and narrowed my search to accounts I follow.* I did the same with “Persian Gulf.”

So there isn’t much agreement between federal agencies, even within the Department of Defense, of what to call the Gulf. However, people overwhelmingly prefer “Persian Gulf,” especially laymen and non-IR organizations.

One media outlet, Defense News, even uses both names to refer to the Gulf.

The debate shows no signs of abating.

*Not a scientific poll

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