Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy or opinion. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.


We humans (also known as moist robots) celebrate greatness when we see two things:
  1. A huge accomplishment that benefits the world
  2. Sacrifice, or at least a big risk
By that standard, Iran has a huge, lucky opportunity. It can accomplish something immensely valuable for the entire world while making a sacrifice that ultimately doesn't cost Iran that much. I'll explain.

I predicted in an earlier post that a solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff will probably involve some sort of fake deal that allows all sides to claim victory and save face. The error in that prediction is assuming such an agreement had to be based on a white lie. I couldn't imagine any kind of a solution that would be entirely honest. But now I can. And it might even be practical. That would be a first for any of my ideas.

My prediction is based on the belief that Iran's leaders want a way out of the economic sanctions more than they want to have the capacity to easily slap together some nuclear weapons. (I don't buy the idea that Iran's ultimate goal is some sort of religion-inspired nuclear suicide.) I'm also assuming Iran needs a way out of their mess that doesn't make them look like losers.

Normally we think of international solutions in terms of one side or both "saving face." But the notion of saving face is what makes us blind to a better solution. That framework causes us to think too small. If you assume Iran needs a solution that involves saving face, it's easy to overlook the better option of Iran coming out of this mess way ahead. I'm talking Nelson Mandela/Gandhi/Mother Teresa ahead.

Here's how.

Let's say the leaders in Iran make the following pronouncements:
  1. The age of war among modern nations is over. Economic sanctions are a reminder that the world is connected, and no nation can or should be a deliberate thorn in the side of others.
  2. To mark this new age, Iran has decided to become history's first and greatest model of how economic forces can and should be a substitute for war. This is also an example of how Islam can lead the world toward peace, they might say.
  3. Iran agrees to full nuclear inspections and a discontinuation of support for Hezbollah. In return, it asks for a two-state solution for the Palestinians and Israel that permanently grants Israel everything it already controls (just being realistic here), and gives the Palestinians huge International financial aid for economic development - far more than ever before - plus a big pile of money for the people who were displaced in Israel's formative years - the so-called right-of-return folks. In other words, Iran embraces the use of economics instead of violence to solve the Palestinian situation too. But Iran doesn't ask Israel to foot the bill. The entire world has an interest in settling things in that region. Remember, we're all connected.
  4. Iran asks for a security guarantee from the United Nations to help protect it against future acts of military aggression from any other nation.
The power of this idea is that it uses what I call the Big Picture Maneuver. It instantly transforms Iran from looking like a bug getting burned by the bully's magnifying glass into the moral leader of all Islam. History-wise, that's a big deal. It's far better than simply saving face. And it involves no lying at all.

This concept also puts Israel in the awkward position of hurrying to complete a peace plan with the Palestinians so they can get nuclear inspections going in Iran. At the moment, Israel best play is to indefinitely delay peace negotiations as they build settlements and consolidate their hold on disputed land. Iran's offer could turn the tables, putting the pressure on Israel to act quickly, freezing new settlements at the very least, which would look to the Iranian people like a victory.

This situation reminds me in some ways of the story of George Washington leaving office at the end of his term instead of sticking around and trying to become a dictator. Washington probably decided to leave power for personal reasons, but history remembers him as being one of the all-time most awesome dudes for walking away from an opportunity to become a dictator. Iran has a similar historical opportunity by walking away from a portion of their alleged nuclear ambitions in return for the world's agreement to help the Palestinians. Iran would become one of the most awesome countries in history while giving up little of practical value. (Do they really need nuclear weapons?) It would be the smartest, most ballsy maneuver of all time. There might even be a Nobel Peace Prize in the deal. And Iran could legitimately claim a great victory for what they might call the peaceful influence of Islam.

There's still the matter of Iran's expressed desire to "annihilate" Israel. But this would be a good time for Iran to define that objective as an economic and demographic evolution. In a thousand years, anything is possible. By then, maybe the Israelis will decide to scoop up the top layer of holy land dirt and put it on a floating nation in the sea that can sail out of the way of super hurricanes created by climate change. I'm just saying anything is possible if you wait long enough. There's no hurry once the Palestinians are prospering.

I know you want to tell me how irrational the Iranian leaders are, and how naïve I am. But once you get that off your chest, please answer this question: If the Iranian leaders were to do what I described, would they come out ahead?

Keep in mind that they have three alternatives to the plan I described:
  1. Get bombed.
  2. Agree to inspections and look like weak losers.
  3. Endure continued crushing sanctions.
Compared to those choices, becoming the peaceful Islamic hero of the Middle East seems like a good deal, doesn't it?

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +127
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2012
I won't spend time arguing whether or not the solution would work. As an exercise in creative thinking, it's aces. And I have to admit I'd kinda be rooting for them to pull it off on a ballsy scale alone.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2012
Mahmoud Abbas stated as recent as 2011 that the Arab rejection of the UN Partition Plan "was a mistake he hoped to rectify". The last half of your post doesn't resonate with that fact at all.
This Arab rejection lead to civil war between Jews and Arabs, and this lead to the establishment of Israel, which lead to Arabs commencing an actual attack. But everybody was already in a frenzy.

Israel has taken its security worries to the extreme since that time. The Israeli land grab first occured after the first phase of the war driven by, I think, both warranted and unwarranted fear.
Jun 13, 2012
Scott, your idea works exactly as an engineer would see the problem. Its logical and it assumes both sides share similar goals, reasoning and logic.

Unfortunately Iran is ran by people who believe it is their holy duty to destroy all Jews.

Also there are some flaws in the basic design of your plan. The development of Israel is not debatable in terms of perspective. It is very clearly documented that the UN divided the area of Palestine into Jordan and then Israel and a new smaller Arab nation. Jews purchased most of the land directly from Arab landowners even after it was designated to them and so the myth of displaced people being chased out of their homes is simply not true.

Arab nations attacked Israel and Israel defeated them thus winning more land. They are not occupying anything since no one had claim to the land in the first place since Arab nations refused to compromise on the whole "The Jews get to live" part of the deal.

Arabs never recognized a "palestinian people" until the late 1970's when Arafat realized being a victim worked better than being a blood thirsty terrorist to the UN. Up until that time people were "palestinians" in the same way I am a "north american."

The problem here is that Israelis and palestinians are not on even ground. You have a pretend people whose sole existence is focused around killing all Jews and a reasonable productive people spending absurd amounts of time and energy trying to convince them to please stop firing rockets at children.

Gaza already gets billions in aid.

So there is no reason for anyone in the Arab world to "make peace" with Israel.

This is not France and Germany fighting over rights to bridges. This is a group of countries with the sole purpose of killing all Jews. There is no reasoning here.

Iran was doing just fine until it elected a nut job who believes he is the messiah. Reason and logic just wont work here.

The Arab world only responds to force. They do not respect talk or peace making anything. Peace to them means the result of only Muslims being left alive. They make that very clear.

Our problem is that we try to reason with them as if they were our intellectual and emotional equals. We are trying to convince cave-men through interpretive dance that violence is not the answer.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 11, 2012
Not the greatest in our lifetimes, loans are a sin there unless they dance around the religious rules. From the Islamic banking wiki: Sharia prohibits the fixed or floating payment or acceptance of specific interest or fees (known as riba, or usury) for loans of money.

No Islamic country is going to become a great country with a crippled banking/finance industry. Don't laugh too hard, Christianity had the same rule a few centuries ago.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 10, 2012
@ Phantom II
What is it that has you so convinced that Iran is blocking any potential peace deals? That Arafat turned down the peace deal from Ehud Barak? Yasser Araft could have all sorts of reasons of his own. For one, he was stubborn in nature and refused to compromise on Jerusalem. The starting point for negotiations was poor, absolutely, but I don't see how that automatically points to Iran being the one pulling all the strings.

Also, lookup "meir dagan 60 minutes" on youtube. Its the interview with former Mossad Chief, on 60 minutes. He speaks about how Iran is rational, but not based on "western thinking".

It reminded me: Its going to take extraordinary effort for Iran to be a peaceful hero while their installations are being sabotaged and scientists being assasinated. I'm amazed they haven't gone into a mouthfoaming rage yet.
Jun 10, 2012
I think they don't trust us and will feel safer with nukes. That way, they figure, we can't push them around cuz they will have nukes. And they're probably right for the most part. And there is no reason for any govt to trust any other govt. Govts are untrustworthy and even good faith agreements today may be broken 5 years from now when power shifts. This is has always historically been the case and nothing has changed currently. The guys making the decisions still have food and water so sanctions don't count as much as we wish they would. Sanctions hurt the poor and powerless people most.

However, I don't think they really plan to bomb us with the nukes either, just strut around and act like big shots and saber rattle. Such blustering seems to be a favorite of govts everywhere. But I don't buy that these people are irrational psycho killers who want to start a war with nukes. Even in small countries, you have to be fairly savvy to take and hold power these days. If you are not, someone will take you out, especially in countries known for unstable internal power struggles. Many of these people may well be evil and heartless but they also must have a reasonable understanding of consequences of foolish actions or they would have been unlikely to make it this far in the first place.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 10, 2012
Whenever I hear people chew the fat about international politics like this it reminds of the conversations in War And Peace, it's meaningful to the people who have them at the time and yet so irrelevant in the grander scheme of things. Pitiful and admirable at the same time... like kids pretending to be kings. It's even worse when news commentators do it too.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 9, 2012
Iran has already been one of the greatest countries in history....it was Persia. And I suspect they might not be the biggest stumbling block to peace in the Middle East.
Jun 9, 2012
Enough niceties.

We've discussed this before. When you say, "I don't buy the idea that Iran's ultimate goal is some sort of religion-inspired nuclear suicide," I say, "Great." But who cares what you believe? You believe in global warming, too, even though some little rational side of your meat-robot brain realizes, "Hey, it's only a theory, and what if I'm wrong? We'll have spent billions and billions of dollars for nothing!"

So, good on you, Scott. Glad you have your beliefs. Now here are mine: if Iran doesn't have a nuclear capability, then I don't care if they want a "religion-inspired nuclear suicide" or not. It then becomes, as they say, a moot point. See how my belief leads to a surer result than yours? Good. You've learned something.

Now, to the rest of your post, comparing your beliefs to mine. My belief is that Iran has about as much chance of adopting your four points as Hitler did of closing down the concentration camps and stopping the German war machine. You miss one tiny point: Iran (and much of the militant Islamic world) doesn't want a two-state solution. They want a one-state solution that doesn't include any Jews. If they wanted a two-state solution, there'd be one. It's not Israel that is standing in the way.

You may recall when Yasser Arafat was offered virtually everything he'd asked for in return for peace between the Arab world and Israel, and he turned it down. The only way Iran would endorse a two-state solution would be if they thought it would get them closer to their goal of wiping Israel off the map.

You are well-intentioned but naive. You fail to look at the motives of those involved, and rather try to ascribe to them the motives you'd like them to have. This leads to what, to paraphrase the 9/11 Commission's findings, is "a lack of realistic imagination." You can imagine the Iranian leadership acting rationally, but you can't project the results of the Iranian leadership acting in a way that is, to us, irrational, but to them makes perfect sense.

It reminds me of the riddle demonstrating how different the abnormal mind thinks. The riddle sets up a scenario where a woman ends up murdering her sister, and then asks, "why?" Normal people answer incorrectly, but sociopaths answer correctly. If you view everyone else's motives only from your worldview, your lack of imagination could lead to drastic consequences.

Iran is not going to play nice unless they're forced to. They're not going to sing "Kumbaya" and embrace the non-Muslim world with love and comradeship. They are, under their current leadership, an enemy of world peace, and must be dealt with accordingly. To do less is to ignore the lessons of history. The free world should never allow another Hitler to rise.

So I suggest you consider using your imagination more realistically, or at least consider how your beliefs could lead to some horrific results. I, for one, prefer to make sure we don't ever have to worry about what Iran will or will not do.
Jun 9, 2012
Hey, Scott, just wanted to wish you a (belated) happy birthday! Fifty-five is a good age to be. I'm sure you don't look a day over 40, but hey, how would I know?
Jun 9, 2012
What if Iran is actually trying to keep it secret that it's nuclear weapons program doesn't work?
Remember Saddam's WMDs? He didn't have any, but he didn't want inspectors to confirm this because then his enemies (including those within Iraq) would know he was weak.

What if Iran just can't get their nukes to work properly? Maybe it's because of sabotage, or the Israel/USA computer virus. Or maybe even when you know the basic principles, building a working nuke is much more complicated than most people expect.

The next trick is to convince the Palestinian leadership to go along with the plan. The Palestinians themselves might agree, especially if the money is real and it will improve their lives. But their leadership has existed entirely on the basis of being at "war" and they aren't any good at governing the "peace".

It's easy to point out (to both Iran and the Palestinians) that if there was 20 years of peace, the Arab/Palestinian population of Israel would be simple take over the country without a shot being fired. Can they be convinced to wait?
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 9, 2012
uhmdown: "Israel wants contant assurance and reassurance that USA has the military option ready to go."

If Israel did a real deal with the palestinians, including east jerusalem, I at least would have no problem at all with Israel becoming a NATO member. That would probably solve much of israels concerns regarding military options.
Jun 9, 2012
Regarding the ready-to-bomb environment, I think this reflects how USA really is at a loss on how to negotiate with a country that USA isn't trusted and respected by. If it isn't there, what do you think Iran is going to be paying the most attention to, the carrot or the stick? You can't treat a country like some animal you want to domesticate. This has been the problem with all of the past failed negotiations. All Irans hears USA saying is "if you don't do what we tell you to, we'll bomb you". A prideful country like Iran is never going to yield to that sort of pressure.

But, I have a hard time imagining that USA really is this bad at negotiating. They must know that this can't be the way to do this. So that makes me think that something is forcing USAs hand, and I think its Israel. Israel wants contant assurance and reassurance that USA has the military option ready to go.

If Iran did the big-picture-maneuver, and assuming I'm right that Israel has some kind of power over USA (jewish voters, is my best guess), USA would be forced to keep trumpeting the military option throughout the entire negotiation process with Iran over inspection details.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 9, 2012

Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King would not have supported your deal, given the nature of their movements.

You can't occupy someone's house and rent it out to them.

Gandhi's peaceful, non-violent, non-cooperation was against foreign aggression. Although he was strongly against Adolf Hitler's ideology and supported the allied forces in the war by allowing the Indian forces to join the British army, in the case of the occupation of palestine he would have supported the Arabs against Israel. He was not the type who would sleep with the enemy. Pleasing the armed man would never occur to him.

If the embargo against Iran is lifted the price of crude will fall below $85 a barrel. That is not something the US cartels can digest in the current recession. The hoax of WMD played out for blocking Iraq's Oil applies in this case as well. Same in Libya.

The real threat to saving the scientific community in the US is from Korea, Pakistan and China where fanatic fear breeds suicide bombers. And all three are nuclear powers.

Jun 8, 2012
Evidently !$%* gets filtered out, even where relevant. Let's refer to it as... Corn-ography.
Jun 8, 2012
[What's the reason for Israel's secrecy in the same realm, especially when the entire world already knows they have nukes? I think that in military matters, secrecy is always the first choice. Even if Iran has no nuclear weapons ambitions, I'm sure their military sites have lots of other stuff they would like to keep under wraps. By analogy, sometimes a murder suspect won't offer the police a verifiable alibi because the truth is that he was robbing a liquor store somewhere else at the time. -- Scott]

I think this is an important thing people need to keep in mind concerning accusations and the motivations of others, but I don't think you took the analogy far enough.
The person need not be committing a lesser 'crime' to have reasons to be misleading. He could be shifty for a variety of other reasons like committing adultery, shirking religious obligations, or even just because he has a guilty pleasure of whistling in the elevator. These things aren't crimes, and to varying degrees aren't even strictly immoral.
A proud person who feels that any information that might poses a threat to his or her integrity (especially religious or political integrity) has the motivation to hide even the pettiest details. For all we know Iran is hiding a !$%* pile of Bin-Laden-esque proportions that they don't want the inspectors to stumble over. Lust is taboo, afterall.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012
[You're right about stalling and developing nukes so long as Iran is willing to become....North Korea? -- Scott

At that point I'd like to concede that I don't know enough about the iranian leadership's real opinion, the general population's many opinions, the time frame in which whoever hopes to have something to show for, nuke-wise, how responsibly they will behave after that and how china, europe and all the rest will react to it.

Therefore I feel myself unable to continue this chat in any meaningful way.

Thanks a lot for all those replies! :-)
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012
[Sometimes the best deal you can get is still a bad deal. If your only two options both include a kick in the nuts, but in one case you get also get a million dollars for you pain and suffering, the choice is simple. -- Scott]

Uh - I'm hesitating as to how far to go here but may I ask what makes you think that there are only two options? Or, better, how you think it's possible to convince iran, hamas and the other palestinians that their only two options are defeat and paid defeat?

For instance, palestine: Given current rates of procreation, it's a question of time until arabs are the majority in israel. At that point, they can win by voting.

For instance Iran: As long as they don't agree to full transparency over their nuclear programs, I'm not convinced that they aren't developing a bomb. The scientists israel killed during the last years and their secretiveness point to a different conclusion and don't match up with Irans (i.e. Khameneis) official position.

So, I think there are two more options:
- Waiting for the demographics to change. This means the palestinians are less willing to sell their homeland, making this part of your deal less convincing.
- Developing a nuke and then offering nuclear protection to lebanon and possibly palestine, which, incidentally, are hamas areas. This limits Israels response options, making them less able to ignore the negotiating table.

[The long term demographic victory is available no matter what you decide today, so that can be removed from the decision about what happens in the next ten years. You're right about stalling and developing nukes so long as Iran is willing to become....North Korea? -- Scott]
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012
Accepted, and I can also just about live with the fact that other muslims (particularly pakistani ones) see this differently. In Iran, Khamenei is the one who says what goes and what doesn't.

But then what's the reason for all that secrecy and playing hide-and-seek with the IAEA?
For me it just doesn't fit.

[What's the reason for Israel's secrecy in the same realm, especially when the entire world already knows they have nukes? I think that in military matters, secrecy is always the first choice. Even if Iran has no nuclear weapons ambitions, I'm sure their military sites have lots of other stuff they would like to keep under wraps. By analogy, sometimes a murder suspect won't offer the police a verifiable alibi because the truth is that he was robbing a liquor store somewhere else at the time. -- Scott]
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012
A brief look into wikipedia tells me that Pakistans official name is "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" and that 97% of its people are muslim.

I don't recall any anti nuclear demonstations by all those muslims when pakistan proudly presented its nukes.

[Iran's top guy, Khamenei, has called nuclear weapons "un-Islamic," and he's the top religious authority in that country. -- Scott]
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog