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.