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In America, it's easy to understand threats, sanctions, and other punishments. That how our judicial system handles problems, and that's partly how we handle conflicts in our personal relationships. The Bush-McCain approach to international conficts feels so familiar that most people gravitate to it when there's a real threat. It's no wonder that McBush has a following when he talks tough. Same for Hillary.

Obama, by contrast, advocates "talking." No contest. "Diplomacy," "negotitiation....? These are words difficult to identify with. What's a candidate to do?

One thing Obama can do is to point out that Bill Clinton is participating in a research project in Iran, a conference calculated to lay the groundwork for a favorable negotiation for us. Moreover, he can say a bit more of how modern negotiation can work, and introduce us to the leader of that conference in Iran, James Blight.  

McCain thinks Iranians are evil and want only to destroy Israel and kill Americans. Obama can continue to criticize the Bush-McCain position, saying, This is the kind of thinking that got us into Iraq. They didn't read the intelligence. Everything they thought they needed to know they got from reading the newspaper and then telling George Bush what they read. I jest, he can say, but the point is that Bush didn't find out what really was going on in Iraq, what really motivated the Iraqis. George never did like to study.

As for me, he can say, I think detailed knowledge of Iran and other states in the Middle East is absolutely necessary. We've got to know everything we can about their motives and aims. The idea is that if you don't know in great detail what they truly are about, you have no idea how to influence them best. I don't hear Sen. McCain saying anything like that. He thinks he knows them well enough. He reads them through their actions in Iraq and Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. Those actions however are just a part of what some of the Iranians are about. There are many factions in Iran, many leaders to be known and understood.

Let me tell you a joke to make my point. There was a manufacturing plant in the 1960s that had to close, because one of its longest lines of machines broke down. In desperation, managers called in a top flight consultant, even though the owner of the plant hated prissy, lab coated consultants. The consultant spent an entire week walking around the plant, taking notes, conducting tests, talking to staff, and generally doing what the owner said looked like "wasting time." On the fifth day, the consultant grabbed a little hammer, went up to one of the machines and smacked one of the levers. The entire line of machines began working. The consultant submitted a bill to the owner, a bill for $2,000. The owner was outraged, saying, "Hell, man; all you did was smack the lever." The consultant explained, "It's $1,999 for figuring out what to hit and $1 for actually smacking the lever."

McCain is like the owner of the factory. He wants us to believe that solving the problem presented by Iran is easy. All you have to do is face them down with threats and name-calling and, in the end, violence. That's what we've been doing in Iraq. That point of view is dead wrong. The factory still is mostly closed down.

We have to work hard to come up with a careful understanding that is so true and meaningful that it immediately leads to a solution. That's why, I'm watching with intense interest a major new multi-center, multi-national initiative. Using the method of critical oral history pioneered by Watson faculty members Jim Blight and Janet M. Lang, a conference is planned to feature major figures from the US administration of President Bill Clinton and from the Iranian administration of Mohammed Khatemi.

The point of this conference, to put the matter oversimply, is to figure out what lever to smack.

I ask a lot of working class guys I've met in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas why international relations should be any less complicated and requiring of high-level scholarship than, say, the problem of cancer or any other difficult problem. When you go to your doctor, you don't want him to pull out a gun and shoot your tumor. We've got to get out of the cowboy mentality that chooses up sides and guns down the bad guys. We've got to be serious about using our best intelligence, our best understanding of the complicated inner workings of Iran. If we had done that kind of thing before 911, we would have had a better chance of stopping it. If we had used our heads first, we wouldn't have gone into Iraq and given up over 4,000 lives and 700 billion dollars.

I know that some of you think I'm naive. And some of you think I'm effete, an egg head. I think I'm just real smart and educated but very down to earth. I called the Iraq war a colossal mistake before it started. Who really was naive? Who really was tough-MINDED? The guys that talk tough, shoot first and ask questions later? They're tough, and I'm naive. I'm an egghead with no practical judgment, right. No, no, no. That's not the record. They don't have the practical judgment. I do.

Sometimes in a crisis, you have to shoot first. But in the run up to almost all wars, there is plenty of time to at least get our best intelligence first, our best understanding of the enemy. And then act, not before.

McCain and Bush think they already know enough about Iran, but they don't. They never talk about the moderate influences in Iraq. How many times have they told you that Sistani, the top cleric in Iraq, is an Iranian and a moderate. Iran is complicated that way. McCain and Bush should be telling you that as often as they say that a radical faction of Iran is like Oliver North was, sending arms to combatants in Nicaragua. Get to know this country, folks. There's a strong liberal population in Iran. Let's get to know Iran much better before we even think about obliterating it. And let's cool down the rhetoric and the threats. Who can respond cooperatively to that junk?

Here's more about a man you're going to be hearing more from if I am elected president. He's leading the conference in Iran to help get to the bottom of the problem there.

James Blight is a former Director of Harvard's Center for the Study of the Psychology of Nuclear War and now is lead professor at the Watson Institute for the study of international affairs at Brown U. He had the distinction of being the only psychologist to have been allowed to have direct access to prominent world leaders, including Gromyko, Castro, MacNamara, Rusk, and others who were involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Imagine. Heads of state talking to a psychologist!

He gained access, because unlike all other professionals who were studying the psychology of nuclear war, he refrained completely from name-calling and other degrading practices and relied only on amazingly thorough preparation and insightful questioning. Almost every other student of this problem called world leaders "insane." Blight understood that, no matter how badly behaved the leaders of another country, you can't possibly cool them down if you are shooting the flamethrower of name-calling at them and if you make no effort to deeply understand them.

Blight's critical oral history method brings declassified documents and policymakers involved in a conflict into a conference setting with scholars to analyze what happened. The point of this critical oral history is to enable participants to construct a reliable, valid understanding of Iran-US relations as a basis for improving them. The documents help keep leaders honest, to stop just reciting their made-for-TV positions, and that honesty and the trust that develops in these agreeable conferences enables leaders to achieve their goal--a basis for successful negotiations.

The medium is the message. The message of Blight's method is, We can work this out and avoid another tragedy without giving away anything. I'm smart enough and will have the advice and counsel of other experienced top flight people to avoid making any mistakes that will threaten Israel and our other interests. I'll present what I learn about Iran to you before I make any deal. The deal will be openly discussed before it's signed.

No one I know and respect wants anything for Israel but peace and safety for the Jewish people and their homeland. We can do it if we're smart and we stick our noses into the Iranian conflict and stand for justice, peace, and respect for life but with our best intelligence, our tough-mindedness, not our shoot first kind of toughness.

Originally posted to StoryTeller on Thu May 22, 2008 at 03:26 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Too late. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shockwave, weasel, Terra Mystica

    One of our genius think tanks has already decided we can bomb Iran and it won't be a problem. Guess why? Because they are not a threat.

    Get that? We can bomb Iran because their bark is worse than their bite. Since they aren't the threat the media claims they are, we should bomb them now.

    Big Brain thinking at WINEP

    •  I guessed it was Clawson even before I (0+ / 0-)

      clicked on the link.

      I heard Clawson speak in Pittsburgh, sponsored by United Jewish Federation.  It was appalling.  

      I suspect Clawson was a mediocre-to-washout flunkout at World Bank & the other places he plied his craft, til the Mideast flared up and Clawson could tap a slender connection to Haleh Esfandiari -- Clawson claims she taught him Farsi, I believe -- and leverage himself into a position that cast him as an expert on Iran.

      He spoke in mid-December 2007; I had just viewed "Gandhi" and had the image of Brig. Gen. Reginald Dyer in my mind.  Dyer is the fellow who trained British guns on Indian civilians he had trapped in a courtyard, gunning down women, children, and old men, then justifying his actions to the British panel that demanded an explanation.  Clawson bears a striking physical appearance to Reginald Dyer, as well as the same callous and self-righteous disregard for basic human decency as Dyer.  I can still hear Clawson start his talk with an extremely sarcastic comment, to the effect, "Iranians are sooooo proud of their culture; they built the Taj Mahal, you know."  The rest of the statement was along the lines of, "that's all the pathetic sots have to cling to, don't you know."  It was a truly despicable performance.  

      Nevertheless, Pennsylvania's two senators, Casey (especially) and Specter, are deeply committed to the United Jewish Federation and its agenda of demonizing and bankrupting Iran.  

      Last update - 22:45 22/05/2008  
      Is an attack on Iran a big risk?
      By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent
      Tags: nuclear program, Iran, U.S.

      The standard assumption is that a military attack by the United States or Israel to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons would be disastrous for the attackers, and would threaten the stability of the entire Middle East.

      Various experts outline doomsday scenarios for such an occurrence, and warn especially of Iran's harsh reaction. Fearing the reaction of the ayatollahs has a paralyzing effect. Even before the first shot has been fired, Iran can credit itself with a success. It created an image of an omnipotent country that will not hesitate to use its power to respond and avenge a military operation against it. This is an impressive psychological achievement.

      But a new paper, to be published this month in the U.S. by two well-known experts on the subject, sketches a different and more complex picture. The paper is "The Last Resort," written by Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The main point, notes Dr. Clawson in an interview with Haaretz, is that the success or failure of a military attack depends on many variables, and not just the degree of damage the attack would cause.

      What are these variables?

      The type of weapons chosen for the attack - will nuclear or conventional weapons be used? Who attacks - the U.S. or Israel? Will the attack cause serious collateral damage to the surroundings, that is causing a lot of civilian casualties? Will only the nuclear sites be attacked, or other regime targets? After the attack, will President Ahmadinejad announce Iran's departure from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty? If the attack completely destroys Iran's nuclear program that is one thing, but if it does not, that is a different story. Then Iran will be able to continue to develop its nuclear program, and the world will no longer care about that. In short, this is subject that is dependent on many variables.

      Nevertheless, what would be deemed a success?

      If the attack does destroy the nuclear facilities, and it leads to a broad consensus in Iran that nuclear weapons are dangerous for the future of the regime or the nation. In other words, success or failure is determined by the political result of the military attack. The primary objective of the military option has to be to convince Iran to cease its nuclear program, that it's not worthwhile to continue. Destroying the nuclear facilities is not an end in and of itself; it is merely a means to an end. And therefore it is necessary to create the political conditions that will increase the chances for the success of the attack.

      And what will be a possible result of an Israeli attack?

      Again, my answer is that it depends. Israel has to create the circumstances in which world public opinion will understand Israel and its motives, even if it regrets the attack.

      That's more or less what happened with the attack against the nuclear facility in Syria?

      Yes, it is quite similar. Israel benefited from President Assad's hostile attitude to the world, and therefore the international community showed understanding of the Israeli air force's attack. Israel did not have to do much because Assad did the job for it. In this respect, Israel also benefits from Ahmadinejad and his statements. They help Israel present its position to the world and explain the threat it faces.

      Do you share the sweeping assessment of most experts that Iran's reaction if attacked will be harsh and painful?

      No. Iran's record when it comes to its reactions in the past to attacks against it, or its important interests, is mixed. When the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan and persecuted the Shi'ite minority there, Iran mobilized military forces on the border and threatened to respond, but in the end it did nothing. The same occurred when the U.S. shot down an Iranian passenger airline in 1988: Iran threatened to avenge the incident, but in the end the exact opposite happened. Not only did Iran not respond, but also the incident hastened its decision to agree to a cease-fire in the war with Iraq for fear that the U.S. was about to join the war on Saddam Hussein's side.

      In another incident during the war, Iranian boats attacked an American naval force that set out to mine the Gulf. The U.S. did not expect Iran to react, and was surprised. This did not stop it from sinking half of the Iranian fleet in response.

      Iran has lately been threatening that if it is attacked it will close the Straits of Hormuz and block the flow of oil, and thereby damage the world economy. But this is a problematic threat, since it would also affect Iran's friends and supporters, such as China and India. I have no doubt that in such a case, they would be angry at Iran.

      But most experts estimate that in the event of an Israeli attack, the Iranians will respond with force and launch Shihab missiles at Israel.

      It is possible, but first, the Shihab missiles are not considered particularly reliable. Iran deploys them without having done hardly any significant tests. Second, the Shihab's guidance system is not very accurate. The missile's range of accuracy is up to a kilometer. And finally, Israel's aerial defense system - the Arrow missiles would certainly intercept quite a few Shihab missiles. Moreover, Iran's firing missiles at Israel would enable Israel to respond in a decisive manner.

      And what about Hezbollah? They will certainly mobilize to help Iran and respond against Israel.

      There is no guarantee that Hezbollah will react automatically. They will make their considerations on the basis of their interests, as they understand them. In Hezbollah, they are very aware of Israel's strength, and of the harsh reaction that may result if Hezbollah attacks.

      In other words, you're basically saying that things are not as they seem? That Iran is like a dog whose bark is worse than his bite?

      There's something to that. My assessment is that contrary to the impression that has been formed, Iran's options for responding are limited and weak.

    •  Big Brain's reduction (0+ / 0-)

      Hey, brain. are you giving up because of that think tank? what gives.

      Reconciliation is the ultimate goal of punditry

      by StoryTeller on Thu May 22, 2008 at 09:11:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You need some links with sources (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You also need to post a comment.; an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action -1.75 -7.23

    by Shockwave on Thu May 22, 2008 at 03:41:19 PM PDT

  •  I was simply shocked when I read about (0+ / 0-)

    how ignorant some of the state dept folks were about Iraq.  Just read one book by Bernard Lewis and your getting there.

    Hubris indeed.

    •  omigod Bernard Lewis is a jackass of (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      highest magnitude.

      Richard Bulliet at Columbia (one of the embarrassed- out-of-his-socks-cosponsors of Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia), has written a very fine and compact evisceration of Lewis; Bulliet's book is, "The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization," pub. in 2004.

  •  close, and a light for your cigar IF (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    you can provide assurance that we can go ahead and "smack" as long as we spend $1999 on figuring out where.

    Maybe the US needs a good swift smack in the levers of power.

    But definitely, I endorse wholeheartedly the position that it is essential to understand a nation, at least at the high school level, fer pete's sake, before we attempt to bankrupt them (which the US Congress is doing now to Iran) or threaten them with military action, which US and Israel do at random intervals, or threaten to obliterate them sometime in the next 10 years, as HRC famously did.

    I was in Iran when HRC made her famous comment.  And on the basis of the reactions of the Iranian people to that comment that I and my colleagues observed, I can tell you that it's really not all that necessary to send Harvard psychologists to Iran to analyze them and see what makes them tick.  In fact, if I've learned anything about the Iranian people, I would say that they might be rather amused by such a project; they're not at all secretive about what they want, who they are, or what is important to them; no need to put them thru Rohrshack-test-like analyses, just watch, talk, listen.  

    Oh -- and read their history, read their poetry, study their art and architecture.  Lot to learn there.

    It's not that difficult.  

    SEveral weeks ago I heard a Boeing commercial: "We build the technology that keeps America safe."

    It occurred to me that America's reliance on technology to solve her problems IS the problem.  In the process of coming to rely on technology, then putting all her effort into developing technology, America has forgotten how to get along with PEOPLE.  Iranians have tremendous people skills. I wish it were permitted to quote several entire pages of Richard N Frye's 1950 primer on Iran; he writes magnificently of the continuity of Persian culture, the pride of the Iranian people in their poets, their history; he explains how this "intangible feeling among the people that Persian culture--traditions, outlook on life, and the like--will always survive political domination and the onslaught of new ideologies....."

    The Iranian people are a universal treasure.  The world has so much to learn from them.  Please do not bomb them, and please do not attempt to destabilize their culture and their way of life.  Please don't get to know them just so you'll know where to 'smack' them.

    •  You're Taking the "smack" analogy too seriously (0+ / 0-)

      My joke about the consultant was about how important it is to understand the problem with Iran. You seem to validate my point in the following:
      "Oh -- and read their history, read their poetry, study their art and architecture.  Lot to learn there."
      Moreover, you're trivializing the problem, focusing exclusively on the great people of Persia, not on the creeps in Iran. There's a witches brew of influences, including the great people of Iran. I was forming an argument against McCain, not you or the other sold people. McCain and the voters beguiled by him need to learn not only what you know but also that there is a sophisticated method for dealing with the entire time-bomb factions in Iran and the Middle East as a whole. In sum, you're trivializing the problem.

      Reconciliation is the ultimate goal of punditry

      by StoryTeller on Thu May 22, 2008 at 09:06:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  thank you (0+ / 0-)

        You're quite right, I did make too much of the 'smack' anecdote. It reminded me of a tale told in my Italian family, of a man whose mule refused to budge.  He tugged, shouted, and cursed at the beast but he would not move.  
        A farmer came along and said to the muledriver, "Why are you cursing at that donkey?  You should talk to him nicely."  
        The muledriver said, "OK, let's see you make him move."  Whereupon the farmer picked up a large branch and whacked the mule on the head.
        "Why did you do that?  I thought you said, 'Talk nicely!"
        The farmer replied, "Yes, but first you have to get their attention."

        I don't think my tale applies to Iran; even the 'creeps in Iran' are very much aware that action is demanded of them; in fact, Iran's leaders have issued several responses and comprehensive proposals for settlement of very contentious issues but they have been ignored by the Administration as well as by the media.

        there is a sophisticated method for dealing with the entire time-bomb factions in Iran and the Middle East as a whole.

        I think the path to sophisticated methods has to start with fundamental honesty:  most of the case against even "the creeps in Iran" is the whole-cloth product of the Likud propaganda machine of which Patrick Clawson is an exemplar; (I fear a majority of Democrats and even Jewish Dems on this forum are more in tune with Likud than not). Ten years of Clawsonesque propaganda about Iran has to be rolled back before an honest discussion can begin.

        If by sophisticated methods you mean the kind of mediation work George Mitchell practiced to achieve a Peace agreement in Ireland, then I'm all for it.

        I think Americans have a tendency to think some new technique or gimmick will solve a problem and relieve them of the necessity of doing hard -- but basic, human, people-to-people, work.

      •  durn it, did it again (0+ / 0-)

        as Harriet Lerner said, "marched off to battle before I knew what the war was all about."

        Yes, it looks like Blight's approach has some merit--I read about him here. I did not see any information about the specific conference you alluded to. Years ago I heard a discussion of the decision-making dynamics during the Cuban Missile Crisis; good to know that brain cells are processing experience to achieve progress.

        I was a bit put off by Bill Clinton's inclusion in the Conference; a year ago I would have said, "put Bill in charge of Peace in I/P."  Today, I mistrust his judgment & his ambition.

        Blight's focus seems to be on the Iran side of the equation; that's only half the problem; Israel is so much a part of the equation that Israel's half amounts to 90%.  And most of that 90% is a very tragic and dangerous psychological dynamic in Israel that is being reinforced by its leadership, particularly Bibi Netanyahu, and by Jews in the American diaspora who find Pat Clawson's analysis acceptable.

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