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We humans (also known as moist robots) celebrate greatness when we see two things:
- A huge accomplishment that benefits the world
- 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.
Let's say the leaders in Iran make the following pronouncements:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Get bombed.
- Agree to inspections and look like weak losers.
- 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?