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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?

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Jun 8, 2012
Frankly, where does this nuclear weapons being against their religion come from?
This is the first that I'm hearing of it.

[Khamenei: "We have friendly relations with all the region and Asia," he said. "We have good and healthy relations with Europe, and in the close future, because they need our gas, these relations will become even better. They accuse us of developing nuclear bombs. This is an absurd lie. We do not need nuclear weapons and bombs. We don't have any target to use them on.

"Using nuclear weapons is against Islamic rules," he continued, according to AFP news service. "We will not impose the costs of building and maintenance of nuclear weapons on our people. Our explosive source is the power of our faith." -- Scott]

[Regarding the presumed irrationality of Iran's leaders, we can't know what is in their minds, but Khamenei's clear statement that they have no targets for nuclear weapons is as lucid as you can get. -- Scott]
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012
I'm sure there are a host of hidden agendas on both sides of the conflict (I have a friend who even believes that USA isn't worried about the nuclear weapons. Instead, he claims that an Iran self-sufficient in energy production scares the crap out of USA). But you call me naive, fair enough. Would you call Isreals former Spy Chief of Mossad naive too?

Your theory about Israel not being the real issue is valid, but if its a distraction they're going after, they are primarily using the sanctions and USA, not Israel. If you look at Irans state-owned news site Presstv.ir, Israel is typically mentioned far less than USA (usaully when Israel conducts another bombing raid in Palestine or something). I think Iran rather wants to portray Israel as an ant that they can squash at a time of their liking. So its probably more of a pride thing, than one of sympathy.

I think Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons during a period with a primarily non-religious leader, but I'm not sure.
Jun 8, 2012
[Thanks for reading The Religion War. Iranian leaders don't need to read this blog in order for the ideas to reach them. The ideas simply need to be interesting enough that the people who do read this blog choose to repeat them. I typically don't reach that standard, but that doesn't make it any less fun to try. -- Scott]

I think realistically you do reach that standard around once a week for me. I often mull over one or another of your ideas in company, down the pub or by the water cooler - if I don't then it has probably just been forgotten. 'The digital crossover' worked for me last I think. For today, I think all I can say is that Iran's leaders' motivations are pretty opaque to me.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012
"And their religion forbids Nuclear Weapons."

The first thing that popped up in my mind after reading this was "Pakistan".
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012
Iran may be "rational" i.e. not foam spitting crazy, uhmdown
But (with all due politeness ;) you (and Scott) are being naive as to Iran's intentions,

All of the Dictatorships/regimes in the middle east aren't interested in peace in Palestine, and they don't care what happens to Israel,
What they ARE interested in is a perpetual distraction.

Israel is nothing more than a scapegoat they use to fire up their religious wing-nut base, and
(like so many political issues in the the US are) to distract their own citizens from their own corruption & incompetence, and to gain international sympathy, the last thing, Iran, or any other Muslim regime wants is to stop milking the cow (i.e. Israel)

[I often hear the theory that dictators manufacture foreign threats to solidify power at home. I wonder if there has ever been a verified case of that when the clear alternative was economic prosperity and peace. Saudi Arabia, for example, is doing pretty well with the peace and prosperity strategy for dictator stability. I would think Iran would have noticed. -- Scott]
Jun 8, 2012
Let me play the devils advocate for a moment.

Israels former Spy Chief of Mossad believes that Iran actually is a rational actor. He has said this on 60 minutes to Lesley Stahl. Good luck with trying to paint him as naive.

One could take it even further: Israels and USAs actions toward Iran are motivated out of fear and distrust. Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And their religion forbids Nuclear Weapons. It has never been proven that Iran has nuclear weapons or is trying to acquire them (thats why the focus has shifted to developing nuclear weapon capability instead).
Everything points to them not having the slightest interest in nuclear weapons.

Occams Razor would suggest that its Isreal and USA that are trapped in their confirmation bias.

Iran is trapped too, by their pride. But even if the Iranian leaders were to do what you described, they would still be up against USAs and Israels confirmation bias, which will simply frame any of Iran maneuvers as tricks and deception, as long as they don't get what they want. This may even be what is happening right now.

Worst case would then be that USA and Israels continued agression towards Iran may itself force Iran to actually start considering acquiring nuclear weapon out of self-defense.

[I agree with all of your points about confirmation bias. If Iran agrees to nuclear site inspections we still have a risk that Iran will ban access to non-nuclear military sites and we'll assume that's where the nukes, or chemical weapons, or some damn thing, are actually hidden. But I think it's still better to move from the current ready-to-bomb environment to something that looks more like a negotiation on inspection details. -- Scott]
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012
Let me rephrase your plan:

The palestinians are supposed to sell their homeland, including east jerusalem.
Israel can keep its occupied territories and its nukes for free.
Iran is stops its nuclear development and therefore accepts permanent israeli military dominance in the middle east, including the ability to grab land whenever they feel like it.
Iran gets a toothless promise of UN "protection". (See George Orwell, 1946: http://orwell.ru/library/articles/nose/english/e_nose, paragraph starting with U.N.O.)

All this for an end to sanctions that could be reimposed next year, if the next US government feels like it. Remember, many of the current sanctions are not UN sanctions but agreements of countries with the US. How do you exect the UN to prevent a repeat of this? UN troops entering congress and forcing it to (re-)grant most favoured nation status to iran at gunpoint?

Sorry, I think it's a dud.

Given the wildly different military capabilities in the middle east, some sort of equalizer is needed. Since no third party has stepped forward, a believable iranian nuclear threat may well provide that and even play a constructive role in the peace process. Sad but true: MAD works.

Palestine under an iranian nuclear umbrella /could/ perhaps be convinced to forego its own army.

[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]
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012
Tom Clancy had it right in "The Sum of All Fears": the day the Palestinians sit down in the street and chant "We Shall Overcome" will be the day they win.

If they don't understand that fact about the West yet, they have no hope.
If they understand it but can't bring themselves to take advantage of it, they have less than no hope.

[There was no hope that India would produce a Gandhi until . . . Gandhi. There was no hope for a Martin Luther King until . . . Martin Luther King. I think a billion Muslims can produce just about any kind of person history requires. It just might be slower than we'd prefer. -- Scott]
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 8, 2012

Economic and military power has grown a generation of naive politicians and thinkers in the United States. Your post reflects that absurdity with all the pretensions of a (non-existent) intelligence about ME and the Asian subcontinent.

Symptomatic treatment is good where the body has its own defense mechanism that needs time to cure the ailment. Symptomatic treatment doesn't work on diseases.

Iran is only a symptom. Israel is more likely to be bombed by a WMD from Korea or Pakistan, or even China (once their stakes are large enough). Unlike Russians who are content with arms deals and Oil contracts, China seeks territory in exchange.

But lets talk about Iran.

Economic sanctions have no impact on the rulers of Iran. Their President is neither the voice of the policy makers nor representative of the desires of the population. He is just an inland administrative tool.

Those rulers are not high school drop-outs. The model of economic strangling that was used against Iraq will not work on Iran for obvious reasons. Iraq was a military dictatorship. Iran is a theocracy.

Eradication of industrial poverty is not a priority. They don't need face saving.

Having said that, let me also state that Persians are among the most beautiful and sophisticated people on the planet. Their culture is the most human and gentle anywhere. The United States can never meet them on cultural terms.

If you're merely looking at economics, Iran doesn't exist on the map. Their anti-israel rhetoric is not about economics. It's about territory and culture that Americans can neither perceive nor care to invest their tax payers money in.

If you're looking for a doomsday prediction, I think, the conditions that lead to World War II, are not in the middles east at all. As before, they have begun to find grounds in Poland and some remote corners of Europe. It is too early to foresee an apocalypse of the Jewish part of the world.

Jun 8, 2012
No peaceful person is seen as a hero in Islam.

And yes, Persia was a great country once. But it wasn't an Islamic country then.

[Have you heard of Jesus? Islam recognizes him as a prophet. -- Scott]
Jun 7, 2012
How I wish some political leads reads this blog or gets a link to this through someone and in time! May be it would happen. This idea is so good that I want to see this executed
+18 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 7, 2012
I think you apply the western notion of heroism to an islamic culture which probably will not work. I do not consider myself an expert on Islam, but I think martyrdom is valued much higher than heroism.

In addition Iran's leadership needs an enemy, since they don't have any other reason to be in power (the vast majority of the city population is against the regime, a joke I heard from Iranians in Iran "Before the revolution we had 95% religious people, now we have 5%").

Not to mention, that everyone knows that the USA has no problem invading foreign countries on fake arguments and only nuclear weapons and/or a strong ally will protect you (North Korea). I believe the US would already have invaded Iran if they had the money... So from Iran's point of view nuclear weapons are a must.

And one more thing:
Your theory applies to the USA as well. The US could become the moral leader again by embracing peaceful solutions and declaring that war is a only the last option. I.e. sign the anti-person mine convention (which is not signed by only a couple of evil states like North Korea and the US), accepting that the International Court also applies to the US (funny thing is that the US wants to put Iran before it, even though they do not accept it for themselves), disarming their biological weapons etc etc etc. Once the US does that it will become the leader again and will remove much of the hate they generate in islamic countries which in turn will lead to less terrorism.

The US is not capable of doing this, so what makes you think Iran will do it?
Jun 7, 2012
A few points -
1) Most of what Iran's leadership does is for their domestic politics (quite rational). Dropping the nuclear program would be a major political blow - they often accuse their opponents as being willing to drop the nuclear program. Helping the Palestinians is barely a fig leaf - though they help Hamas, Palestine is not really a national security issue.
2) Iran has already been one of histories greatest countries - they used to be known as Persia.
3) Economic sanctions have a very poor track record.
4) War between nuclear nations has been over for decades, but I don't see any evidence that other wars are changing - the list of current conflicts has 12 major conficts ongoing.
Jun 7, 2012
Iyour initial premise has a major caveat, which really simplifies your premise.

"We humans (also known as moist robots) celebrate greatness when we see two things:
A huge accomplishment that benefits the world..."

Actually, it's not 'we humans' it's 'the people who end up benefiting from the huge accomplishment and have the power to control the others' (note: NOT the majority.... See: White Supremacy From Crusades through Today), or more commonly stated as "The only history is the history of the Victors"

And 'Sacrifice' != Risk.

Risk is potential failure. Rolling the 'we got the bomb' dice is a big risk... but not so big as it plays on the fact that no one has ever stopped anyone from 'getting the bomb' other than Cuba and they were effectively a Russian Pawn at the time. Other than Germany, has any country been 'defeated' for attempting (Iraq wasn't attempting in 2011) to build themselves into a Nuclear Power?

So from their vantage point, why not risk it? I truly think the US has gotten their powder wet after Afghanistan and Iraq, and no one has used a nuke on another country since the U.S. (and that was 'megaton's ago) The next country to use it will threaten all mankind... Is Israel really that threatened?

Every country that has moved from 2nd world to 1st world status save Germany and Japan (and they had that prior to WWII) have gotten there via getting a Nuclear Option... From a 'look from their eyes' view... The only 'level negotiations' occur when there are nukes in everyone's pocket (open carry law). I don't agree with it, but why not get a gun if you're entering into a potential gun fight...

So, I see Option 3, until their long game of having a 'gun' at the negotiating table. Then at least they can be in a point where they are 'respected' at the same level as say, Pakistan. They don't have enough raw materials (or labor) to constitute a 'China Play,' But Iran likely views itself as the cradle of civilized thought (almost all countries do, but Iran at least has some history to back it up), therefore they [In Their Humble Opinion] are truly of world leadership stock, and could make a play for being a leader of all Islam (like russia for all Communism, China for all Asia, India for all Hindu, Brazil for South America), establishing an economic system with it's sister countries, and through sheer will and the long game, get the economic power to place it in the G20 if not the G8 (watch out Canada!)
Jun 7, 2012
I think most of us in the free world would agree that Iran's leader's re-purposing the "annihilate Israel" goal as something not involving bombs would be the best thing, and I for one would rush to give Iran credit for such a move. Iran's leaders are hard to read though. They certainly have their own people convinced that "annihilate Israel" means with bombs, and Israel itself must assume it means with bombs and hope for the best but plan for the worst. Now, would the Iranian leaders tell their people one thing and do another? Who knows. One can hope.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 7, 2012
Sorry Scott.

The fallacy in your argument is assuming that they are rational. Not.
Jun 7, 2012
One thing regarding ending sanctions, though... because of Israel and the sanctions, the conservative religious government can prop itself up using antagonistic propaganda, and point to the US as an aggressor for supporting Israel and punishing Iran's economy.

If the sanctions were gone in Iran, and Israel was acknowledged, this could hurt the current administration on several fronts. The hardliners would be less willing to support the ayatollahs, and it would then become far easier for Western culture to seep into the country, potentially emboldening more liberal government opposition to oppose the hardline religious policies, or even just plain defiance of the government's rules.

And then there's the fact that no militarized nuclear program/military buildup due to Iran's current "us against them" viewpoint will likely have a large impact on the Revolutionary Guard's funding. And as past revolutions have shown us, the military tends to have a LOT of political power in the Middle East, and if they didn't like the way the winds were blowing for them, there's definite potential that they would pull off some sort of coup.

Sure, your solution would improve Iran's world standing, and benefit the US and the rest of the western world, but it might actually weaken the Iranian government domestically and have unforeseen long term ramifications as a result. (That's not to say I'm dismissing your idea - it sounds good on paper, anyway.)
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 7, 2012
The basic problem as I see it is that Iranian regimes, past and present, simply have not represented the Iranian people. The regime went from a pro-West extreme to an anti-West extreme, and the people are left in the middle, trying to get on with their lives. If there's a US invasion of Iran, who suffers first and foremost? Not the regime - I expect they have solid exile plans already, unlike the militaristic Saddam Hussein. I think the country needs regime change, all right - but not imposed by military force.
Jun 7, 2012
Scott: (I don't buy the idea that Iran's ultimate goal is some sort of religion-inspired nuclear suicide.)

Johannasburg (I think that's the place), the heaven's gate cult, the branch davidians, and the 911 hijackers say hi. People will kill themselves for religious reasons. So if you believe taking as many people with you when you die gets you extra bonus points in the afterlife, a nuclear suicide is plausible.

I've there are some in the terrorist community that are trying to use economics to hurt their foes, shriah finance is sometimes used as a cover for it, I don't see iran going the peaceful route. They might be involved in the economic game, but IDK if it's their main focus. And you have to look at what happened to gadafi after he tried to appease the west. Assuming they tried it anyways, I would like to say that such a 180 wouldn't pass the BS test, honest attempt or not.

I'm guessing Iran will opt for option 3 because sanctions never do anything and they still have russia and china in their corner to help them out economically.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 7, 2012
You make one assumption that astounds me: Every country is sanctioning Iran. In fact, this is not the case. So long as they continue to get enough to continue on, they will. Religious zealotry maintains that to struggle is to reach for the divine and that is what they are doing.

There is a forming of two sides to the economic, political, cyber warfare forming. Clearly, there is an axis of power related to the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, Venezuelans, Pakistanis, Iranians, Syrians, etc. They scoff at UN sanctions proposed by the US and her allies. As these struggles continue, and more countries choose sides, you are less likely to see the fruition of sanctions and cyber warfare be effective on Iran.

A new cold war is brewing, and Iran is just one of the players. So long as there is no trust, there is no peace.
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