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Reframing Iran and the Middle East - Dilbert Blog

Reframing Iran and the Middle East

According to popular opinion, the current situation in the Middle East is that the Iranian government, along with everyone it finances and arms in the region, will stop at nothing to conquer Israel and the rest of the world. Given that Iran has shown a recent willingness to develop secret nukes and not-so-secret missiles, common sense says we have to treat this version of reality as 100% accurate.

So how do you solve a problem in which Iran wants to destroy both the United States and Israel? There is no path to a win-win in that version of reality. We either stay in a state of permanent low-grade proxy war or else one side crushes the other. Two bad choices.

Does that situation sound familiar? Only a few months ago we thought our only options with North Korea were to accept them as a permanent nuclear threat or to have something like a nuclear war. Two bad choices.

What changed with North Korea might tell us a bit about how Iran and the Middle East could find a path to peace and prosperity.

Yes, yes, I know. Religion is a different situation from North Korea. Those crazy Iranian leaders can’t be reasoned with!

That’s exactly what we said about Kim Jong Un a year ago. It wasn’t true in his case. Perhaps Iran’s leadership is the real kind of crazy, and not the imaginary kind. How can we know?

I’ll get to that. First, some more context.

North Korea looked unsolvable until President Trump and the other players added variables to the mix. For example, President Trump went after individuals and companies violating sanctions, in addition to pressuring their home countries. That was new. And at some point the issue of reunification entered the conversation, which solves for a lot of the trust and verification issues because no one nukes their own country. President Trump also added uncertainty and fear to the mix in a way we’ve never seen. And on top of all that, the players involved with North Korea designed an off-ramp for Kim that makes him a huge winner if this plays out right.

Now take those concepts of deal-making to Iran. It looks like this:

  1. Add variables. Include in the negotiations the larger question Iran’s funding of Hamas and Hezbollah, recognition of Israel, and a Palestinian peace plan.
  2. Add military uncertainty (done).
  3. Put meat on the “carrot” part of the carrot-and-stick approach. (Trump already started that.)
  4. Make sure time is on your side. The Iranian leaders are old, and the economy is crumbling.
  5. Provide an off-ramp for Iran and the other Israel-haters in the region.

That last one is the hard one. Iran needs an off-ramp in which they get out of this jam without sacrificing their religious principles. That’s what this blog post is about.

Some more context. . .

In the early days of Islam, the fastest way to spread the religion was through violence and conquest. Muslims used the best tools of war they had, which at the time were swords and other stabby things.

Today, modern Islamic radicals have upgraded their tools of war to include automatic weapons, bombs, missiles, and that sort of thing. I’m no religious scholar, but evidently there is no Islamic prohibition against upgrading your weapons. That’s important.

In 2018, the best “weapon” for converting people to your way of thinking is the Internet and social media. Nukes didn’t help North Korea. Nukes are not helping Iran. Nukes are the wrong tool. Missiles are the wrong tools. Terror is the wrong tool. When was the last time any of those tools successfully spread Islam to a modern country with a standing army?

Iran has to know it has no chance of destroying Israel and also surviving. But they can’t say that directly, or create policy that recognizes that reality, because it would conflict with their desire to “wipe Israel off the map.” They have no off-ramp.

One way to play this is to invite Iran to finish this centuries-old religious battle on the Internet, where a battle of ideas belongs. If they wish to “wipe Israel off the map,” the only practical way to do that is to reduce violence in the region to the point where Israel has no issue with expanding their Muslim population. In the long, long run you end up “wiping Israel off the map” simply by making it more diverse. The name might stay the same, but a change in population will change the reality on the ground.

Summarizing all of this, the idea is to invite Iran to keep their anger and their ambitions intact while upgrading their weapons from physical weapons with little hope of success to the realm of persuasion-by-Internet. If Iran trusts their God, that should give them the result they want in the long run, while allowing them a safer and more prosperous future.

For new readers of this blog, I do realize my understanding of the Middle East is insufficient. But some principles of persuasion and deal-making still apply, and sometimes the “bad version” of an idea can stimulate thought and lead to something better. I provide this kind of thinking to increase the creative portfolio on this topic, as I did a year ago when I started writing that North Korea could be solved along the lines we see now.


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