Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Brutes playing chess and the Trojan sailors

The President of Iran shook hands with the British hostages this afternoon after announcing he was freeing them.

The sailors will leave Tehran early Thursday and arrive at London's Heathrow airport around 1200 GMT, said Robin Air, father of Royal Marine Capt. Chris Air. Families will be reunited with the crew later Thursday at a military base, he said.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad smiled as he talked through an interpreter to several of the men held captive for 13 days in the capital Tehran. One of them was heard to say to him: "Thanks for releasing us. I wish you success.Daily Mail

Before I was forced, by experience, to disabuse my mind of ethno-centric views I thought, like many of my fellow countrymen, I knew what smart people looked like. They were white. They didn't wear robes or other silly clothes. They were like me.

A decade of world travel, including a few years living in SE Asia brought me face to face with smart well-read people who didn't dress the way I expected, nor look the way I expected. Buddhist monks and Islamists wore robes and unlike me, didn't spend their formative years watching Fantasy Island or the Love Boat. Instead they read books. While I could easily have beaten these robe wearing people playing video games, I would likely lose to them at chess. And as much as we Americans might like to think that video game prowess is a sign of future success, world politics is more like a game of chess- and brutes don't play chess well.

I'm not arguing that we couldn't learn to play that game, or even that there aren't Americans who can think strategically- there are. Rather, my point is that the rise of the Neo-Con brutes has shuffled those people to the background in favor of the faux-cowboy bluster of "you're either with us or against us." This is not, in the main, the path by which America rose to become a major player in the world political game. The big stick was meant to be carried more and used far less.

Over the past few days I've been wondering (worrying) if the Iranian seizure of 15 British sailors would open the door to US/UK military action against Iran. The rhetoric was heating up.

But today I see that the ruling Persians are quite adept chess players, and, I believe, wonderful students of history, both ancient and recent.

On the recent history front, the Persians have avoided the trap set for Saddam. A few days prior to the US invasion of Iraq, Saddam decided to open his country to full UN inspections, but his offer, if noted at all in the US press, was considered too little, too late.

Having focused on the captive sailors, the media was primed to tell the tale of any eventuality, in this case, their release. By now, Ahmadinejad's "gift" to the British is set to be the big story in tonight's TV and tomorrow's newspapers.

Here's an example from the BBC: Families describe joy and relief

On the ancient history front, Ahmadinejad's "gift" recalls tales of the Trojan Horse, except in this case, the "city" the gift-givers intend to enter by subterfuge is the hearts and minds of the British. How much more difficult a sell will it be for Tony Blair to argue the case for war against Iran following the release of the sailors, in time for Easter no less?

Of course, the hardened heart of the Vice President is immune to such trickery: In a rare approval of an Iranian decision, President George W. Bush welcomed the promise to free the 15 sailors while Vice President Dick Cheney said it was unfortunate the sailors were taken in the first place and he hoped there would be no "quid pro quo" for their release.

"Once people start taking hostages or kidnapping folks on the high seas and then are rewarded for it by getting some kind of political concession or some other thing of value, that would be unfortunate," Cheney told ABC News Radio.

And so the Iranians demonstrate that others can play the game of divide and conquer as well as we. For a bunch of robe wearers the mullahs of Iran seem to have very ably split the Neo-Cons from both the body politic here in the US and from the Brits. Maybe there's something to reading books and playing chess after all.

Sometimes in a chess match, the appearance of having a Queen, Rook and Bishop to your opponent's few scattered pawns and isolated King is deceiving if during the attempted capture of the King you lose your Queen and Rook while your opponent converts his pawns to a Queen and Rook. Having public opinion on your side is akin, it seems to me, to having those key pieces.

Does this mean there will be no war against Iran? I wouldn't go that far, but if it does materialize, it will not engender the nationalist chest thumping that followed the decision to invade Iraq.

On the market front, the resilience of Gold and Oil to such an event suggests interesting developments below the surface. If we don't have a new war as a distraction, and reason for foreign central banks to continue buying US bonds, we just might have to begin to deal with our domestic economic problems. And that resolution might not involve lower commodity prices after all.

When the War Party ends the bills will come due.


floss said...

Dude, your last line reminds me of Voltaire's Candide. "We must cultivate our garden". Many thanks.

"Cassandra" said...

I like real-asset inflation hedges but I am bugged by why the 5-year high divergence between Spot Gold and gold mining shares? Why have US commercial real estate assets dropped from the "liquidity-linked portfolio"?
There seems to be an end-of-trend narrowing in the "liquidity trade" to just the raw commodities themselves. Something more ominious is approaching....

TallIndian said...

The phrase 'no quid pro quo' usually means that there was an enormous 'quid pro quo'.