A little diplomacy from Obama to Iran would go a long way. PHOTO: Reuters
In a will-they-or-won’t-they worthy of a sitcom, speculation swirls around U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The big question: will they shake hands?
Relations between the U.S. and Iran have been cold for decades. Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran was publicly hostile toward the U.S., and the U.S. regularly returned the favor. The latest elections saw Iran replace the Ahmadinejad with the relatively progressive Rouhani, and U.S.-Iran relations have begun to slowly thaw.
On the U.S. end, President Obama has historically been very cautious in all diplomatic matters, but he’s also an outspoken advocate of diplomacy itself. Obama prefers baby steps in any negotiation, but eventually the gap between Iran and the U.S. will have to be breached, and there might not be a better opportunity than this week at the United Nations.
Obama ought to be just a little bit bold here and shake Rouhani’s hand. This will facilitate negotiations on Iran’s attempts to build a nuclear weapon, and catalyze healthier relations between the U.S. and Iran. There is concern that Rouhani hasn’t earned his handshake yet, but a handshake doesn’t have to mean “we approve of everything you are doing,” it means “the lines of communication are opening.”
Iran & The Dice Roll Principle
There’s another reason why Obama and Rouhani should shake hands: the dice roll principle. This idea is that war is not the result of tensions building up over time and eventually exploding, but rather, every day there is a certain (generally very small) chance that two countries will go to war. A metaphorical die is cast, and if it comes up “war” the two countries go to war.
While we like to think of war as the result of human decisions, randomness plays a role in how these decisions mix together. War with Syria was very unlikely, then there was the terrible chemical weapon attack, which made some kind of U.S. military strike very likely. Then U.S. public sentiment proved to be very much against an intervention in Syria, John Kerry made his fateful remark, and now war with Syria is still possible, but much less likely. No one designed that course of events, it just happened.
Iran, hostile toward the U.S. and loaded with oil, has seemed like a probable target for U.S. military action for years. The die had relative weight toward war with Iran under the Bush years. Now the die is leaning back toward peace, but what if Iran develops a nuclear weapon? Or Israel attacks Iran? Or there’s a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and the terrorists are from Iran?
We can’t predict the future, but we can make choices in the present that improve the resilience of peace. Iran has its issues, but Obama can set us on a better course by offering Rouhani a hand.