Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Post #104 - Playing Well with Others

"If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest." (Thomas Jefferson)

Tehran Bazaar
Aside from fossil energy – both oil and natural gas – Iran has many goods that would find ready markets in the United States and elsewhere in the West. Persian carpets and caviar, the prices of which have been astronomical due to the sanctions that prohibited their import to our country, would instantly become more affordable, were the sanctions to be lifted. Moreover, because Iran has an available pool of highly-educated workers, business sectors such as information technology could establish the kinds of mutually-beneficial relationships that have drawn India and the United States so close together in recent years. Call centers and programming shops don't much care where they are located.

In like fashion, American goods and services -- still enormously popular in Iran, though rarely available -- would find a ready market in that nation where over half the population is under thirty. Everything from iPads to airplane parts could be sold by U.S. firms, who could then employ more workers.

To facilitate such openings, the workings of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and other institutions must be thoroughly reexamined, so that the scores of full-time negotiators for the United States or the UK are not able to pursue their own agenda while ignoring the concerns of the under-represented people of Iran, Chad or East Timor, Peru or Armenia.

Indeed, our whole relationship with commerce and technology needs an overhaul. As Huston Smith points out (in The Soul of Christianity): "Technology is disproportionately invested in, on the one hand, designing more effective instruments of death (and shields that might protect us from them) and, on the other hand, helping industries pour out new consumer goods that are not really needed."

Can we hope to re-order our human relationships, including nation-to-nation, if our overriding concerns are profit, promotion and protectionism? As individuals, we know the cost to family-life of excessive emphasis on getting ahead, beating down the competition and making worldly accomplishments the sole yardstick of success. Are international relations any different? Must we leave our most positive traits at the door when entering the political arena or engage in foreign affairs?

Dustin Hoffman, in The Graduate
Certain bits of wisdom stand the test of time. One thinks of Tip O'Neill's "all politics are local." Or, "it's the economy, stupid!" from a presidential campaign. Or, "follow the money," from All the President's Men. and the one-word prophecy heard in The Graduate: "Plastics." When it comes to Iran, Israel/Palestine and the Middle East, the one-word-answer is still "oil." But it doesn't have to be.  We have other words, better words.

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