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Playing to win

GB Geo-Blog

Playing to win

I enjoy games, and I always play to win. (This may be a novelty in the city of Toronto where our sports teams are not known for having a winning attitude or record.)

But in political circles, other than trying to win elections, it does not seem as if western leaders play to win, especially in the international arena.

Let’s consider the case of Iran. There are three good reasons to be concerned about Iran. The country is currently run by a theocratic dictatorship. There is no democracy or respect for human rights. Second, these leaders are trying to build a nuclear weapon, which is most unlikely to be used for peaceful purposes, including deterrence. Finally, there is likely to be a greater incidence of madmen (not the Madison Avenue type) among religious fanatics (regardless of religion). Put all this together and I conclude that there is an unacceptably high probability that some mad man in Iran will be tempted to push the button and launch a nuclear attack if and when Iran attains this capacity.

What are the options for the U.S. for example? (I choose the U.S. because the other western countries do not have the ability to act unilaterally. Nor do they likely have any inclination to act.)

Benign neglect is one option. Just turn your back on Iran, ignore the country and tell everyone else that Iran is now their problem. The U.S. can once more become isolationist. Indeed, they could withdraw from Afghanistan to show their resolve. Iran then becomes the problem of its Sunni Arab neighbors, Israel and Europe, all of whom can be reached now or in the future by Iranian missiles. It would be devilishly interesting to see how the oil states in the Gulf and the EU would react in this case.

A second option is to continue threatening to impose sanctions, but only with international support. This option has surely lost all credibility. It plays for time, but I am not sure for what ultimate objective. This option appears to be the State Department’s preference. However, the State Department bureaucrats have not been known for decisiveness or astuteness in playing games.

A third option combines either one of the preceding two with Israel doing the dirty work for the United States. But if Israel does blow up the suspected nuclear sites, every country will still blame the U.S., and this will further isolate Israel and encourage more blatant anti-semitism.  This also will get Iran’s neighbors and the EU off the hook. But this could turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for the United States.

A fourth option is to get serious and play to win. The U.S. can impose sanctions unilaterally and make them effective. The U.S. can make it clear to every company and country in the world that any company that directly or indirectly violates the sanctions (don’t let anything get into Iran not even under the guise of humanitarian aid – remember the food for oil farce in Iraq) will be banned from doing business in the U.S. or with U.S. companies anywhere in the world, and all of their assets in the U.S. will be confiscated.

In less than six months the thugs running Iran will capitulate. However, the U.S. would then have to decide whether they accept a deal covering nuclear weapons, or wait a tad longer to let the regime collapse altogether. I know what I would do.

But is the U.S. playing to win with Iran or anywhere else?


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