Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Iranian crisis and the scuff mark trick

Isaac never ceases to amaze me with his breadth of knowledge. He seems to be a dabbler in all facets of existence, but to what end I do not know. Today he is discussing the current Iranian crisis (how many have their been in all of history, I wonder?), when he suddenly stoops in front of a scuff mark. "Black soles are a real bitch, but if you did your waxing properly, they are pretty easy to clean."

Isaac whips out a gold-painted metal pocket scraper and with a deft sweep of his arm, peels the scuff mark away from the wax. The entire mark comes up as one impossibly thin sliver of rubber, which Isaac casually tosses in the garbage can. The wax is flawless where he scraped. "You know, some cleaners actually use a floor buffer to do that. Imagine grinding at a harmless little scuff mark for 2 minutes and ruining your wax because you were too lazy to bend over."

"Not to mention that you had to haul the buffer out of the closet." I chime in.

Isaac turns and points at me. "Good point."

Back to Iran. "Right, so where was I?" mutters Isaac, eyes fixed on the ceiling in intense recollection as we stroll down the corridoor.

"You were saying that the Iranians aren't as nuts as everyone thinks they are."

"Right, right, right. You see, they captured British sailors instead of Americans. That wasn't just happenstance. The capture's got nothing to do with who crossed whose water lines. The Iranians are making a clear diplomatic statement, and they are making it to the Americans, don't you know? Kind of like a rival slaps your buddy in the face instead of you: clearly offensive, but not quite confrontational enough to make you want to strike back just yet, and your friend, smaller and weaker than you, waits for you to make the first move. The Iranians are saying 'We are still here. This problem isn't going away. We know you can't afford to fight us right now. We want something in exchange for peace.'"

I'm not convinced. "but what if they aren't that sophisticated? What about that whole multiple governments and multiple chains of command thing the Iranians have going on? What if this capture of British soldiers is just the work of some religious nutjobs who just like poking the West with a stick to see what we'll do?"

"I'm not sure I buy the whole multiple government thing. We'd like to think that the order might have come from some fractured lower level and not Ayatollah Kohmeini himself, but that's just wishful thinking. He at least gave his blessing to this escalation with the understanding that Americans were not to be involved. Structures of power always lead back to one individual. You know one of the State's top naval officers publicly stated that if the Iranians had tried that stunt on one of his crews, they would have opened fire? No one in the White House is denying that bold statement; in the crazy universe of diplomacy, no denial is the same as a confirmation of policy. The States in very clear terms have just said to the Iranians, 'You do that to me, and I'll hit back.' That's war! Diplomacy is over. There'd be air strikes on Tehran right now!

"No, Iran knows what it is doing and there is relative consensus in its highest levels of government. It knows that the British are a conservative nation when it comes to an escalating crisis. There is no chivalry, just calculation and patience and diplomacy until some bitter end forces itself onto the table. It also knows that the States is now being led by men who are just the opposite: rash, stupid and short-sighted. That's sophisticated understanding of the way the world works right now in this political climate. It might be a dangerous game to play with the Americans, but it's a game they can win!"

"Shit Isaac, then what does Iran want that makes it play this dangerous game?"

Isaac just smiles. "Well, this is where we separate. I want you to know that I don't begrudge you getting the shop wing section. Carl is doing this on purpose to turn us against each other. He is a vindictive and manipulating man, and he has reason to hate me especially."

He cuts me off before I can ask. "Another time, Mort. I'm on a tight schedule right now!" And Isaac is marching away, whistling some thoughtless tune as he disappears around the next corner.