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Joanne B. Ciulla
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Joanne B. Ciulla

Joanne Ciulla is Professor and Coston Family Chair in Leadership and Ethics at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, the only undergraduate degree-granting school of leadership studies in the world.

Don't Play His Game

After being derided by the world for a rigged election, and condemned for hiding a uranium-enrichment site, Ahmedinejad and company decided to show off their medium-range missiles during military war games. This seems like bad timing and bad taste. So why did they do it? What do the Iranian leaders want? I think they want respect and if they don't get it, they want to humiliate their enemies even if it hurts their own citizens.

Our leaders need watchful patience and self-control. Ahmedinejad is forcing the issue. He may be confident that the Chinese and the Russians will not honor tough sanctions. This will embarrass the U.S. and Israel. He might not mind if the Israelis bombed uranium enrichment sites, because that would give Iran the moral edge of a victim and perhaps improve its support in the Arab world. In a culture that values honor, and where the smallest slight can lead to violence or vendettas that last for centuries, sanctions are a short-term solution. Even if the U.S. received full support for severe sanctions that forced Iran to behave, the Iranians would feel humiliated and their resentment would fester and flare up again with new problems. While negotiators do not want to reward bad behavior, they will not get better behavior by punishing the Iranians.

The most difficult challenge for U.S. leaders is to keep from being pulled into Ahmedinejad's game. They need to sit down and patiently try to lay out a broad framework for trade and cooperation with Iran. This may require our leaders to suck it up, stifle the desire to punish the Iranians, and deal with some untrustworthy and annoying leaders. This is a tough job, but somebody has got to do it. At the same time, we should watch Iran closely and at any sign of imminent military threat to the U.S. or our allies, be prepared to use military force.

By Joanne B. Ciulla

 |  September 29, 2009; 11:26 AM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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"where the smallest slight can lead to violence or vendettas that last for centuries"

This is a very thin line you're walking. You're saying that arabs are quick to anger, right? Sure, lump the Persians in there, because who really cares or knows the difference? This is a bigoted stereotype not borne out by the facts. Convictions leading to violent action aren't generally come to via the 'smallest slight'. And what specifically are we talking about here viz. Iran? Nothing short of a million deaths during the Iran-Iraq war (the one where the US funded and supported Hussein), the unspeakable brutality under the US-backed shah, the decades of overt and bellicose military threats from the US and Israeli administrations (threats of this kind being stricly forbidden by international law,) and a disasterous course of sanctions, which continues to cause great poverty and suffering to the Iranian people, not to mention the shame which comes from being continually attacked and stereotyped in the world press. If this is 'the smallest slight', then you've got to wonder what exactly counts as extreme provocation.

One does wonder how the US would react if they experienced something like this astounding course of events. Their reaction to the 3000 deaths at 9/11 might provide some kind of hint.

Posted by: watchclosely | October 1, 2009 12:58 AM
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"The most difficult challenge for U.S. leaders is ... to sit down and patiently try to lay out a broad framework for trade and cooperation with Iran. This may require our leaders to ... stifle the desire to punish the Iranians, and deal with some untrustworthy and annoying leaders. This is a tough job, but somebody has got to do it. At the same time, we should watch Iran closely and at any sign of imminent military threat to the U.S. or our allies, be prepared to use military force."

"This is a tough job, but somebody has got to do it." Thanks, mom.

"... be prepared to use military force." Why? To revisit Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam? To encourage Isreal to start WW III? To raise the price of oil to astronomic height? And all because of Iran's non-existent nuke-making capacity.


"...deal with some untrustworthy and annoying leaders." Oh, how "trough" for trustworthy and non-annoying "leaders" like Bush/Cheney and Obama, whose intentions have been always beneficent for all the world, and even all the sweet little Iranian babies who suffer the horror of being born and raised in a nation that utters the truth that the U.S. and Israel are the world's worst and greediest terrorist states.

Oh, you say that Iran is an oppressive theocracy? What is the Christian United States? What is Israel (perceived with the eyes of Palestinians and Moslem countries)?

Posted by: ljaffee | September 30, 2009 5:24 PM
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As an American who remembers the Iranian outrages of 1979 I don't like Iran, Iranians or its leaders. I don't like any country, including Israel, which is controlled by a religion. Having said that it appears to me that the US position on Iran is full of hypocrisy. We are alarmed that Iran may develop nuclear weapons but we are silent concerning whether or not the Israelis have such weapons.
We suggest that China go along with sanctions against Iran. This just won't happen. I recently returned to the US after living in Beijing for more than four years. The Chinese don't like using sanctions against countries anywhere because the Chinese want to be friendly with everyone. In particular they will not support sanctions against Iran which China regards as an ally. The Chinese don't really think that Iran, even with nuclear weapons, is a threat to the region. If the Israelis decide to attack Iran it will not be an attack the Chinese will support.
If the US wants to resolve the problems it sees with Iran as a nuclear power it first must resolve the problem which exists with an Israel with nuclear weapons. The Isrealis are much more a threat to world peace than the Iranians.

Posted by: jimeglrd8 | September 30, 2009 3:36 PM
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Ahmedinejad is playing to his own domestic audience. His biggest problem is the legitimacy of his own regime. We would be doing him a political favor by imposing economic sanctions or by other hostile acts against Iran.

Futher, it should be noted that Iran is in full compliance with its treaty obligations. Iran's announcement of the new reprocessing plant near Qum, is in accord with the requirement that such plants be announced and subject to inspection six months before becoming operational.

Professor Ciulla is correct in suggesting that U.S. leaders should patiently work for a broad framework of trade and cooperation with Iran. Iran poses no threat to the U.S. - unless we are foolish enough to begin hostilities.

Posted by: LeszX | September 30, 2009 9:40 AM
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The underlying premise of the article is faulty in that it assumes that Ahmedinejad's "game" is amenable to reason when, in fact, all politics is power based.

Britain and France learned at Munich just how effective "reason" and diplomacy worked with regimes hell bent on establishing a regional hegemony at any cost, to them or their citizens.

Posted by: samscram1 | September 30, 2009 7:28 AM
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What on earth are you talking about. Dealing with proven "untrustwaorthy leaders". That's insane and if you are not from an insane asylum you should know that. Most rational adults in this world do. The world can never again trust or deal with the current Iranian leadership. Period. To do so is sliiy action from silly people. We have had very unserious leadership that includes Clinton, who trusted bald face liars in North Korea. You saw what happened there. You want the same thing in Iran? I have to question your adequate sensibilities after making a statement that you did in this article. Whew.

Posted by: joegeshel | September 29, 2009 6:14 PM
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