Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Team Effort in the Long Game


What an exciting moment this is: a first stage, six month deal with Iran has been inked by the P5+1. The Supreme Leader in Iran has sent President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a letter of congratulations. Iranian social media is happily abuzz on both sides of the political divide - reformers and pro-regime supporters. Israel and Saudi Arabia are negative, as are many US conservatives - which to my mind is predictable and makes our getting the deal done even more admirable. The Twitterverse is full of mostly positive speculation about how a new world of possibilities may have opened up for diplomacy - after all, consider that the three most powerful countries on earth (US, Russia and China) actively worked together to make this happen. Could this diplomatic model render large nation state war less likely in the future? Is it even remotely possible the peacemakers will prevail?

A spiritual teacher once told me: "The only conjunction God likes is AND." So all the above is true AND we will need to continue to be cautious. "Trust, but verify," Reagan said. "Be gentle as a dove and shrewd as a serpent," Jesus said. "Trust in God and tie your camel to a stake," says Mohammed.

All true. AND this is a moment for celebration!

Obama told us he would pursue the engagement path, that he would talk with Iranian leadership without conditions, and he was roundly criticized. In Oslo, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, he warned that to achieve peace, he would probably end up having to fight as well, which he did in Afghanistan and which he was ready to do here, if there was no other choice.

But diplomacy and peace was the preferred path. I think he knew that his biggest problem was to convince the Iranians over time that he (and America) could be trusted. Was the US seeking regime change (like Iraq) or would they pull back the pressure if convinced the nuclear program was peaceful? Was Obama really so different from Bush? Do you think we would have this agreement now if Obama had followed GOP and the media's urging to actively support the Green movement in 2009? And do you think today would have happened if Obama had bombed Syria for crossing his chemical weapons red line?

Strategic patience is what Stratfor's George Friedman has called it. That, and both the willingness and the capacity to play the long game - to have a crystal clear picture of what you would like to see happen, and to wait, and to take the hits, and to wait some more until the moment of possibility arrives.

That, and a willingness to trust your team - Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, and now John Kerry.

Clear vision. A strong team. A deep and quiet space within you that allows you to take the hits without flinching or flailing about. And patience. And if the other side really does have shared interests, a deal that is good for both sides can happen.

And it just did! Bravo, Mr. President and Mr. Secretary! Bravo!


  1. Fantastic post; I hadn't thought about what it takes to be a long term political strategist but your description makes total sense. Thanks.
    p.s. I think you mean "shared" and not "shred" in the 2nd to last paragraph.

  2. Absolutely on point! This stellar quality of Pres Obama and his tireless team is also precisely why his detractors go apoplectic each time one of his long-gestating projects comes to fruition