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President Obama: "I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy..."
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President Obamba "...we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations..."
Photo by RH

 

Raymond Hall

Confronting Iran

Houston, We Have a Problem

Raymond Hall, March 26, 2012

 Iran's continuing development of nuclear weapons capability, in direct contravention of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and United Nations Security Council Resolutions presents a real and existential threat to not only Israel, but to the entire Western World.  Attempts to dissuade Iran from continuing its pursuit of nuclear armament have all apparently failed, despite the efforts of both the United States and the European nations, with the clock  close to running out.

This article provides a review of the Iranian nuclear threat from a historical and analytical, decision-making perspective.  It criticizes the efforts at resolutions made so far, and provides a theoretical framework for addressing the core issue in a timely manner.

Decision making is rarely non-controversial.  Usually, the more there is at stake, the greater the number of conflicting opinions put forward to resolve problems arising from the issue. This is especially true in the case of international arms development, and nowhere moreso than in the nuclear arms race, where the United Nations and its component agencies are empowered to supervise conflicting national aspirations without any inherent power to enforce alternative forms of conflict resolution.

With evidence that Iran is flagrantly in violation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the 1974 Safeguards Agreement mandating report of any processing and use of nuclear material and several United Nations Security Council Resolutions, what decision making process should nations use in order to effectively persuade Iran to halt its nuclear weapon development program and comply with its international obligations?

Flawed decision analysis is invariably at least one of the major components of every war, large or small, and experience in flawed decision making appears to provide little immunity from repeating the same errors in succeeding conflicts. Nations do not always learn from their mistakes.

Nations both large and small, with their cadre of skilled and experienced diplomatic, military and political human resources combined with their innate knowledge of their own political history are not immune from making simple, fundamental decision errors that can lead to disastrous consequences, often as a result of their failure to adequately identify the root cause of a problem, or as a result of erroneous assumptions regarding their adversaries. My misgivings in that regard resurfaced most recently at the AIPAC Conference held in Washington, D.C. March 4th to 6th.

I was reminded of the words of former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold when President Obama, in his address on Sunday, March 4th, stated, “…from my very first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t…” and later, “Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unresolved. The effective implementation of our policy is not enough – we must accomplish our objective. And in that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy – backed by pressure – to succeed.”

In his book, The Rise of Nuclear Iran, Ambassador Gold painstakingly documented a litany of verified facts as well as admission after admission from senior members of the Iranian regime displaying not only their violation of several treaties and six separate U.N. Security Council resolutions but also their outright contempt for the community of nations to which President Obama refers. Gold also identified and tracked the Iranian regime's now 30-year single-minded focus on strengthening the power and the authority of its own regime, at any cost, within the hegemony of the Middle East and beyond. 

In the chapter entitled, “Where did the West Go Wrong?” Ambassador Gold states,

“If there is a core error that repeated itself over the years, it was the tendency to underestimate the true hostile intentions of Iran’s revolutionary regime.
“[S]uccessive U.S. administrations have totally misread Iran’s revolutionary leadership, underestimating the deep enmity of the Iranian regime and its uncompromising commitment to its confrontational revolutionary ideology.”
The errors in acknowledging, gauging and reconciling Iran’s continued refusal to compromise or change its unswerving path toward nuclear domination of the Middle East are not limited to the United States. For over two decades, the European Union has also unsuccessfully attempted to resolve the nuclear impasse between Iran and the Western World through an inherent belief in the use of diplomacy and negotiation and by entering into signed treaties or agreements that were invariably disregarded or openly disavowed by the Iranian regime shortly after the documents were executed. Many of these breaches led to offers of additional economic inducements from the European community, which led in turn to further agreements, and then to further breaches.
Given the incontrovertible evidence of the seriousness of the Iranian nuclear ambitions, these “diplomatic failures” by now ought to have given rise to several fundamental questions regarding the underlying assumptions made and the decision analysis methodology used by the West in its approach to avoiding the potential consequences of a nuclear-armed Iranian state, before the current problem changes from one of preventing nuclear warhead development to one of nuclear warhead containment. Apparently, that has not yet happened.
At AIPAC, President Obama stated, “Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
That statement obviously makes for good feelings, especially when it is made to over 13,000 supporters of Israel who, without doubt, carry immense influence in the U.S. Congress and the Senate, and whose constituency could make a substantial difference in the outcome of the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. But how effective is a policy that is not implemented with any effective deadline for achieving its objective, or that allows repeated failures of the Iranian regime to respond to the policy’s initiative to be met with further offers to engage in more negotiation, while the Iranian nuclear development program proceeds unabated?
Absent a timely, effective means of putting in place the forces necessary to interrupt and to ultimately abort the ongoing Iranian nuclear weapon development program, events could easily overtake the best intentions of President Obama. The fact is that absent IAEA full access to all of the Iranian nuclear development sites, which is currently not being provided, the West is unable to accurately predict when Iran will unilaterally change U.S. policy from prevention to containment by its unannounced detonation its first nuclear bomb.

Underlying President Obama’s “outstretched hand” approach there obviously must exist a fundamental assumption that the Iranians, like the Americans and the Europeans, are engaged in the diplomatic process with equivalent diplomatic objectives and equivolent ethical values. This implied assumption simply does not accord with reality, given the overwhelming number of facts to the contrary; nevertheless, the Iranians continue to exploit this fundamental perceptual shortcoming with almost complete impunity.

As Ambassador Gold so clearly articulated, the Iranians play by very different rules than those used by Western diplomats. Iranians, he states, employ the doctrine of taqiya, or deception, and in consequence, as succinctly summarized by one Italian UN diplomat, “say the opposite of what they think and do the opposite of what they say…” Their diplomatic engagements are clearly not intended to further international harmony and congruence. Rather, they are intended to buy time so as to enable them to continue their development of their nuclear weapons program.
The most dangerous consequence of the failure of the West to recognize the application of the doctrine of taqiya as a tool of Iranian strategy has been the late realization that while the Europeans and the United States were  engaged by the Iranian diplomats in negotiations, the Iranian regime was busy surreptitiously and almost continuously advancing its development and acquisition of its nuclear weapons capability through the building of and putting into operation thousands of centrifuges to refine low grade uranium, through the development of nuclear “triggers” (detonators) and through the development and acquisition of long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear technology from North Korea.
In 2005, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani disclosed that at the same time as negotiations were taking place with the Europeans in Tehran, the Iranian regime was busy installing equipment in Isfahan, the location of its clandestine second stage uranium fuel production facility. He boasted internally that Iran’s diplomatic engagements with the West gave Iran the critical time necessary to complete the second stage facility without intrusion by the West or by the IAEA. That was 2005. Of course, the situation is different today, seven years later, is it not?
Well, no. Just last week the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany again accepted an Iranian proposal to reopen negotiations with respect to Iran’s nuclear weapon development program without specifying any dates or any terms of the proposed discussions. As Prime Minister Netanyahu told AIPAC the day after President Obama addressed the same group, “[U]nfortunately, Iran’s nuclear march goes on.”
The Rational Decision Analysis Framework

As Ambassador Gold documented, erroneous assumptions in decision analysis can give rise to horrendous failures in decision outcomes. Rational decision analysis, a discipline pioneered by former RAND Corporation researchers Drs. Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe and illustrated in their 1965 book (updated and republished in 1981), The Rational Manager, is a managerial decision making process that assists decision makers first to identify the core problem of a complex issue and second, to find reasonable, effective alternatives to resolve the core problem. One such formulation of a rational decision analysis model is given in Illustration 1.

Although not always perfectly suited for political decision making solutions, the principles on which the rational decision analysis discipline is based do assist to properly identify key problem solving characteristics that ultimately limit the selection of alternative problem solutions to only those that indeed can be effective. Kepner-Tregoe analysis was used by NASA in its successful rescue of the Apollo 13 Mission, for example.

The first step in rational decision analysis, a step frequently overlooked or inadequately addressed in many problem-solving situations, political and otherwise, is to adequately define the problem and to consciously verify the implicit assumptions made about the problem situation.
Although these two components of the first step of the decision making analysis may seem self-evident or even patently obvious, history is replete with examples of nations launching wars on the basis of mistaken facts and erroneous assumptions. Big players, simple mistakes, awesome cost.
American historian Barbara Tuchman, in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Guns of August, for example, described in remarkable detail the erroneous assumptions of World War I’s protagonists, including extreme economic miscalculations, unfounded belief in quick warfare, over-reliance on a philosophy of war based on soldier morale, and rigid adherence to outdated precepts of warfare. 
In her later work, The March of Folly – From Troy To Vietnam, Tuchman again described in impeccable detail the behavior of nation states persevering in actions contrary to their self-interest. Often there is coupled with the failure to adequately question the facts and assumptions of a decision analysis, a “group-think” censure of individuals who suggest alternative, more appropriate courses of conduct. In the Troy case, for example, an individual, Laocoon, a blind priest, chastised the Trojan leadership as soon as the wooden horse was found, saying, “You can’t bring that think in here—it might be full of Greek soldiers!” Later, after his plea failed, he suggested, “Well, if you’re going to bring it in, at least poke it with a spear and see if anybody yelps.” To no avail.
In The Fog of War—Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara, a video documentary of the U.S. Secretary of Defence during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, McNamara describes a meeting in 1995 with the former Foreign Minister of Viet Nam, Mr. Thach. In his description of the meeting, he says:
“In the Cuban Missile Crisis, at the end, I think we did put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets. In the case of Vietnam, we didn't know them well enough to empathize. And there was total misunderstanding as a result. They believed that we had simply replaced the French as a colonial power, and we were seeking to subject South and North Vietnam to our colonial interests, which was absolutely absurd. And we, we saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War. Not what they saw it as: a civil war. "
McNamara confronted Thach with his (McNamara’s) perception of the final results of the war:
“Do you mean to say it was not a tragedy for you, when you lost three million four hundred thousand Vietnamese killed, which on our population base is the equivalent of 27 million Americans? What did you accomplish? You didn't get any more than we were willing to give you at the beginning of the war. You could have had the whole damn thing: independence, unification."
to which Mr. Thach replied,
"Mr. McNamara, You must never have read a history book. If you'd had, you'd know we weren't pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. McNamara, didn't you know that? Don't you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for 1000 years? We were fighting for our independence. And we would fight to the last man. And we were determined to do so. And no amount of bombing, no amount of U.S. pressure would ever have stopped us."
The consequence? Over three million Vietnamese and over 58,000 Americans killed as a result of decisions that were based in large part on an erroneous assumption and a failed decision analysis.

Is a rational decision analysis appropriate to resolution of the present Iranian intransigence? Most assuredly. 

The core problem in this issue is not the political or religious differences of the players, nor is it the inability of the players to find effective diplomatic solutions, nor is it  Iran’s aspiration to dominate the region or to export its policy of terrorism. The core problem is the nuclear weapon development program itself that provides an existential threat to Iran’s neighbours, including Israel, the European Community, and with its most recent acquisition of long-range ballistic missiles, even the United States and Canada. 

Only by adequately identifying and describing what the core problem is and what the core problem is not can we generate, evaluate and implement reasonable, practical alternatives to effectively deal with the core problem, in a timely manner, so as to eliminate the growing and almost immediate threat to regional and world stability.

----------

Part II of this op-ed will review the facts and assumptions germane to the problem in the context of the rational decision analysis model. Part III will discuss and evaluate diplomatic, economic and military alternatives, including the need for specific time limits, deadlines and IAEA access to Iranian sites. Part IV will address the issue in the context of the current political arena and the potential consequences of the various alternatives.
 
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