(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)
In second grade, Eric C and I went to war.
Our nemesis was “Big Joe”, the biggest kid in our grade. The issue wasn’t land rights or trade negotiations, but the finer points on handball and what properly constituted a legal “under-doggy”. (He accused us of cheating.) If someone had asked us (Eric and I) in second or third grade, “Will you ever be friends with Joe?” I would have said, “No, he is mean and he hates us.”
Two years ago, Big Joe was a groomsman in my wedding. What the hell happened?
In short, we found common ground. Our dad coached football at San Clemente High School--the high school Eric C, myself and Joe would attend in a few years--so we had that in common. And our dad had coached Big Joe’s older brother in wrestling and football. Another thing we had in common. All three of us loved football and knew how to play football, and we lived near each other too.
Noting all these points of similarity, in fourth grade, after a period of detente in which most major tensions had thawed, Joe said that we should go to a one of our dad’s football games sometime. So I invited him to join Eric C and myself to go to a junior varsity football game Thursday after school. (When Eric C saw Joe waiting with me, he was shocked. I told him Joe’s brother played football for our dad. He said, “Cool” and that was that.) We had a great afternoon on the sidelines, throwing footballs to each other and watching the game.
We became best friends after that.
Since this is a post about Iran, the trite next paragraph would say, “As bad as it seemed, some elementary school kids found common ground and become friends. So we don’t need to go to war with Iran.” That really is trite, but as the Clausewitzians would say, conflict is conflict; maybe we can find something valuable in this story.
As I wrote last week, I value unique solutions to the Iran problem, especially ones that break out of the stale triumvirate of diplomacy, sanctions or war. Bringing them up again doesn’t evolve the conversation. And none of them will likely work, as Bernard Finel mentioned in a post I linked to last month.
To solve the problem, America’s decision-makers need to (clichedly) think outside the box. Right now the “Iran box” has diplomacy on side one, sanctions on side two and war on side three. The fourth side of the box is “do nothing”. As long as policy makers, pundits, politicians and academics phrase the problem as, “How do we stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?” we are stuck inside the box. Until we destroy this box, we will have the spectre of war looming over our relationships in the Middle East.
So let’s just reframe the question.
Like, “How can we rehabilitate our relationship with Iran?” Or, “How can we develop a positive and friendly diplomatic relationship with Iran?” Yes, friendly. In the 20th century, several countries with severe historical animosity gradually set aside their differences and created strong alliances. For example, virtually every country in Europe. (More on this in a follow up post.) It can happen again.
Like myself and Big Joe, America and Iran could find common ground on issues from oil to Afghanistan to Iraq to the Persian Gulf.
Next, American politicians who truly want peace should develop the domestic political support to change the relationship. Ideally, President Obama--backed by think tanks and opinion articles--would start a campaign to improve America’s relationship with Iran.
Then we commit to that relationship. That’s a much harder task, I know, but much easier than stopping a sworn enemy from developing nuclear weapons using only diplomacy, sanctions and the threat of war.
As children, Eric, Big Joe and I didn’t get along because we didn’t view the problem right. We argued over dodgeball and ignored the gigantic areas of common interest we had. If we had redefined the problem--how can we become friends?--the situation would have been solved much sooner.
We see the immediate counter to this analogy: war and international diplomacy are more complicated than kids fighting on a schoolyard. Yes, they are. At the same time, the principles are the same. Two sides disagree and start fighting. One of our goals at On V is to connect violence and war to larger philosophical concepts. Sometimes analogies--the old tool of philosophy--perfectly capture real world problems, which is why we have compared war to bar fights, globalization to curling, and counter-insurgency to brand management.
America desperately doesn’t need another war. And we don’t need a war to rehabilitate our relationship with Iran like it took with Germany and Japan during World War II. We just need the courage of both our citizens and politicians to stand up and say, as lame as it sounds:
Let’s restore diplomatic relations with Iran. Let’s become friends again.