Iran: The Home Game

For anyone who has been paying attention to what goes on in Time Square -and if you are a local that means as little as possible- this past week saw a massive protest by pro-Israel support groups against President Obama’s deal with Iran. We here at The NYRD were curious what all the fuss was about, so we buckled down and did something that most senators will not do, and actually read the 159-page Iran deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. Quite frankly, we would have found a better name for it, like the He-Man Nuke Haters Agreement.

Regardless, we read the damn thing, and even then we still didn’t understand what the problem was, so we had to dig a little deeper. What we found was that the Iran situation all comes down to board games. They say world politics is a game, and we aren’t sure if we read that somewhere or heard it on Game of Thrones, but it makes sense to us. So, the only question is, what game is it?

The Rulebook
Have you ever gotten a new board game and never read beyond the first page of the rules. Maybe you just look things up as you go or you just make everything up. Well, we here at The NYRD are those geeks that wind up reading the booklet from cover to cover. That is also why staff board game nights are run with an iron fist.

It turns out that many congressmen treat bills and treaties like the rulebook to Clue. They barely get past the preamble before they just start going off about what they think or don’t think is in it. Next thing you know you get someone accusing Mr. Green of killing freedom with the wrench in the gumdrop forest.

So for anyone who doesn’t have the attention span to get through the main points of the JCPOA, we felt it was our duty to layout some of the key components:

In layman’s terms, Iran will be welcomed back to the international financial community, and in return they will not able to accumulate the technology or fissile material capable of creating a nuclear weapon for at least ten years. That is, of course, if everything goes as planned, and that is the sticking point. Most people’s disagreements over this plan come down to whether or not we believe Iran will hold to their end of the bargain, and that is a real and potential fear. In other words, it’s a risk.

Risk: The Game of Global Police Actions
Risk is a game about consolidating military power, conquering territories weaker than your own, and basically taking Madagascar from that guy across the table, just because he drank the last of the Mountain Dew. We’re looking at you, Todd. It is also the basis for how we may choose to look at the board of the international stage. It is true that we have not had as many wars of conquest as we used to, except if you’re Russia, but really it all comes down to how we want to deal with our neighbors.

In Risk there is nothing stopping a player from forming alliances with those around him or her, but those agreements are often tenuous, dissolving almost as quickly as they were made. An ally in Risk is just someone who will be your enemy in a few turns. After all, the goal of the game is complete and total global domination. Now, we are not saying that the detractors of this deal are trying to move our cavalry soldier piece into Kyrgyzstan, but they are approaching these talks with the same level of paranoia as Todd, hopped up on a few Mountain Dew. If you view the world as a Risk board, than you see everyone out there as a potential enemy, if not now than later. Thus, the JCPOA is a problem, because treaties will never last when everyone is out to win.

However, those feelings might be justified. After all, Iran does have a history of deceit and of proven ties to terrorist organizations all over the Middle East. They also pose a very credible threat to Israel and many Western interests in the region. Even if all goes as planned and Iran follows the JCPOA, chances are they will have the material, resources, and technology to create nuclear weapons within ten or twelve years. Essentially, this plan may not stop them from getting the bomb, only in delay their ambitions by a decade or so. Even worse, with all the sanctions lifted it will be harder to get Russia and China to agree to new ones if the need arises. That is why you hear many detractors accusing the President and his negotiators of basically handing Iran the means to create a nuclear weapon, and they are correct. Thanks to our new economical help and with even the allowed incremental advancements of centrifuge technology, it is very possible that Iran will have a nuclear weapon, but not for at least a few more turns.

Many estimates from experts around the world had Iran gaining enough material for a nuclear warhead by the mid 2014’s. Even Israel’s own Prime Minister admitted that Iran was on the “threshold” of becoming the next nuclear power. We know sanctions have not been working, and thus the only option left open to the US and our allies is war. This is not just some idle threat either, there are many world powers who, if it was confirmed Iran was days away from completing a nuclear warhead, would most likely attack to try and stop them. It would mean a real game of Risk, and not with just a few of our minor pieces.

Even worse, many experts, including George W. Bush’s former CIA director, believe that an invasion could prove ineffective at stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In fact, it would only justify their fears and give them all the more reason to push for the bomb. It would also mean another long and drawn out Middle Eastern conflict with American lives caught in the middle. The JCPOA is not perfect, but maybe there is a reason why Risk is a game played with pieces shaped like horses and cannons. In this day and age, the international game of choice is often played with trade and resources.

Settlers of Tehran
Settlers of Catan is a game we here at The NYRD highly recommend for your next game night. It is about owning property with resources and then using those resources to build cities and roads. Victory can only be achieved through trade and cooperation with opposing players. It is a game that tests your negotiation skills, and your skills at flinging game boards across the room when Todd inevitably refuses to share the wheat he has been stockpiling. Come on, Todd, really? It is also a game, much like Risk, that is built upon acquiring power, but not military power. At the heart of the game you are trying to build up your own infrastructure for achievement points.

In a way we have been playing Settlers with Iran for almost thirty-five years, except much like Todd, we have been refusing to trade with them. However, the only way to advance in this game is to work together to trade and to build. So for our Iranian opponents it has not been much of a game. More to the point, if they don’t trade with us then they trade with others, not for wheat or stone, but for uranium and explosives. They don’t build roads and cities, they build bombs and a hatred for the West. No matter how much we have tried to restrict them they still keep inching forward to a nuclear weapon.

Proponents of this treaty will say that for Iran, the game is no longer about winning or losing, because we stopped letting them play a long time ago. We have bled them dry, and the better part of this treaty is that fact that we will once again normalize relations with the country. If we lift economic sanctions against the Iranian government we also lift them against the Iranian people, not terrorists, but families with children. These are people who once owned factories, and made livings through trade and export, but after their businesses dried up they had nothing left but hatred. Maybe if they start to once again earn money, to be allowed to play the game, their drive to acquire nuclear weapons and create havoc in the region will lessen. After, all, if you are going to swipe at a board, you don’t do it where you have pieces in play.

There is no guarantees either way. Lifting the sanctions will give Iran more money which they could use against us, but it also gives more money and prosperity to the average citizen, and if the lessons we learned during the Arab Spring mean anything, it is that we should never underestimate the power of those very same families and citizens. Maybe it comes down to how we view people in this world, are we naturally made for cooperation or competition?

Coopertition is a board game strategy where players work together to achieve mutual goals, until one person wins the game. It does not always work, and sometimes it even ends in a few tears -mostly from Todd- but it does give game nights a new edge. It is the idea that together people achieve more and along the way we make life interesting. Ultimately, someone wins but for the losers the game becomes less about a feeling of loss and more about a mutually enjoyed experience.

Can we trust Iran? No, as of right now they have not proven that they are capable of being trusted. There are still many hardliners in the country, including their spiritual leader, the Ayatollah. In fact, they are currently engaged in funding terrorism around the region, and even as these negotiations were happening Iran held four Americans prisoners. America has made a good faith effort to put as many safeguards in place so that this treaty will be upheld. Granted the IAEA has a less than perfect record when it comes to monitoring Iran, but the US, EU, UN, and many reforming elements within Iran itself are invested heavily in seeing this treaty succeed. There are some promising indications that this time things might be better, but nothing is certain.

So. do we take a risk or do we settle? Whatever we decide we have to give Iran a chance to play, because excluding them for the past thirty-five years has been proven an ineffective strategy. It is time to find a new way of dealing with the people sitting across the table from us, because the truth is, this is not a game.


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