The Fear-Forged Manacle: Using the principles of game theory to determine whether or not there will be war with Iran.

A little and a little, collected together, becomes a great deal; the heap in the barn consists of single grains, and drop by drop makes an inundation.”

-Old Arab Proverb

 “In terms of game-theory, we might say the universe is so constituted as to maximize play. The best games are not those in which all goes smoothly and steadily toward a certain conclusion, but those in which the outcome is always in doubt.”

-George B. Leonard


It is often incumbent to give voice to the things that set us to worry. To do so, of course, can give us the temptation to simply rouse headlines all day, which is why you see many columnists grabbing as many readers as they can with as much punctuation as they can, without saying a great deal of anything. For those who have the knack for it, headline chasing can be a very lucrative trade. I can’t write headlines – I’ve tried. I seldom risk worrying the headlines for the simple reason that there are way too many sneering, overzealous people out there who will stop at nothing to reduce even the most obvious figure of speech into a red herring. For those of us who consider ourselves journalists, the risks are sometimes the name of the game. With plenty of headlines these last couple of months, how can we ignore the Islamic Republic of Iran? How can we forget Iran? Do we even dare?

The easiest way to discover the sentiment of any nation is by observing the means with which it employs to frighten itself. Logically, then, if a particular fear pervades the tabloid, it reverberates throughout the cultural zeitgeist, which ends up getting bounced back into the media cloud, then amplified, then reinforced, and so on. This is also one of the basic lessons of diplomacy – this discerning of what your enemy fears by what methods he uses to frighten you. The easiest way to play this game is to determine who your friends and enemies are. The next step is to figure out whether they understand that they are either or, and whether it is more of a risk to be your friend than an enemy – or whether it is more of risk to be your enemy than your friend. This progression simply allows the player to divine trait adjectives from both sides, and ultimately decide what the most optimal payoff would be from there.

Do we play nice with our enemies at the expense of existing friendships? Are our friends rewarded? Are our enemies perspicacious, dim-witted, and so on? The game in Persia, and the intertwining games being played along the Mediterranean coast, boil down to how each side’s actions regulate and are regulated by the other side’s actions. Simple enough.

For example, if the US and Israel are allies, and if Israel wants to attack Iran, should the US stand aside knowing that such an attack would sever all avenues for oil through the Hormuz? If the US decides that it is not in its interests to let Israel attack Iran, and they do it anyway, do we try to stop them? At what point do our friends become our enemies? You get the idea.

Once we begin to realize that this tug-of-war style of land and resource acquisition is a game like any other game that has rules, might it not mean that we could anticipate the moves of other players with almost preternatural force and truth?

An underwhelming article by Tim Harford in a 2006 issue of Slate gives a dismissal to the idea of trying to apply game theory to the already inflamed Palestinian situation, which has always been under the constant invigilation of the Islamic Republic of Iran via Hezbollah. Harford’s cursory skimming of the issue satisfied his four paragraph column, and it was hurriedly brushed to the wayside of more sensationalized headlines – more chew toys for the rest of us.

The problem is that Harford’s myopic view of a situation considered by many authorities to be the loadstone of all middle eastern affairs, seemingly wasted precious time sparring over the two player dynamics of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Within the intervening years, and having followed Harford’s career with naked envy, I’m not entirely certain that he would as carelessly skim the issue this time round. There is no reason why we can’t define many intertwining tit-for-tat games happening simultaneously, and I can think of no reason why Harford wouldn’t know that.

Rest assured that the diviners of such laws are worrying away at an Arab-American multidimensional tit-for-tat game of payoff, as much as the rest of us are wringing the knots of our tabloidesque chewies.

Something is going to happen, and although we may exist in a deterministic universe of evolutionary events, where every single occurrence happens for a reason, it is impossible at this point to determine which direction things will break in Iran, given the nature of chaos and reductionism. Despite what many tabloids are telling you, nothing is certain. Nothing will inevitably happen as much is it may happen, and the only thing we can do at this point is tally the score.

The game is set. The object of the game is for the players to conquer fear in its many forms. To succumb to fear means losing. The stakes are high, with war and prosperity as potential outcomes. Each side must navigate the treacherous, labyrinthine terrain of nuclear armament, greed, freedom of expression, freedom of self-governance, ignorance, censorship, religious zealotry, and economic sanctioning, in order to reach the other side unscathed and in at least a position no worse than where they started.

Oil is the key issue, if only for the simple fact that the profits from selling it will be used to obtain higher grades of enriched uranium – the likely staple for nuclear bombs. The sub-aspect of the oil issue is the unfortunate truth that it happens to be the lifeblood of the world entire. The straight of Hormuz is the main artery in and out of the heart of the black triangle. The simplest way to negate the oil variable would be to take it out of the economy, which would leave us with a whole other realm of financially invested ass-cobs who would vigorously thwart the establishment of any such allocation or alternative infrastructure.

Throw in the dangerous game of chicken that Halliburton is playing, as they race face first into American sentiment while simultaneously selling nuclear weapon technology to Iran through its various foreign subsidies, at the same time daring the United States to turn first lest they be obliterated for war crimes and treason, and you have vested interests on nearly six or seven major frontiers. Complex indeed. Alan Perlis once said:

 Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.


Since we risk endangering the middle way anyway, I propose we suffer this appropriation together. The geniuses out there have no time for this sort of thing, after all. That is, since nobody else will bother, the only manner in which I can think to sift through this complexity is to pour everything we know about the players into one place, and categorically reduce each intention to its smallest components.

What is it about Iran that has everybody on edge? Why are we so concerned whenever new democracies pop up in the middle east? What the hell is Hezbollah’s interest in Lebanon? Why has our own breed of religious nutcases banded together to warn us against the lurking dangers of Islam? Why is it such a bad thing that Iran arms itself with nukes?

Iran’s official position is that it is not seeking nuclear weapons. Contrary to uniform belief in the west, Ayatollah Khomeini has been quoted to have issued a holy fatwa against the procurement of such weaponry.

Day by day, there is increasingly more evidence to the contrary. Nuclear armament must be one of Iran’s most principal concerns, because forgoing as much would definitely mean more in the realms of international aid, acceptance, trade, and prosperity. It is well established that Iran has sworn oaths before every possible authority – the International Atomic and Energy Authority, the European Union, and the United Nations – that its nuclear endeavors are primarily directed towards energy and not armament. This would be all well and good if Ahmadinejad hadn’t been caught lying.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad berates the United States at a United Nations conference in 2010.


Not only has Iran been negotiating to transport its low enriched uranium to places like France and Russia in order to have it enriched to a higher grade, President Ahmadinejad has openly boasted the attestation of Iran’s nuclear weapon program during several test firings which he presided over. Unless anyone reading this is completely devoid of pulse and pulmonary, or has completely detached themselves from caring, they will most likely know what it feels like to live in a world in which a regime will finally have at its disposal apocalyptic weaponry, whose moral foundation is built upon holy laws that demand supplication, conversion or death.

The historical necessity has been begging the question for some time now: why is Iran’s nuclear program and not Israel’s the illegal one? A contradiction must be found somewhere in the minutia of its own argument. If religious intolerance were the issue, wouldn’t that be a fallacious excuse for proliferation? After all, are not the surrounding nuclear powers ridden with equally fanatical elements?

Pakistan has the bomb, in fact, and has been caught red handed harboring al-Qaeda. Point of fact, Iran is surrounded by nuclear powers. You have Pakistan, India, China, Russia and American nuclear subs lurking in the deep gulf. Does Iran not have the right to be a bit paranoid?

While Iran is a place where legal issues are chiefly governed by religious potentates like Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini, it is also a place in which the average age demographic is under thirty – a result of the terrifying Iran-Iraq war waged against Saddam in the late eighties. As it stands, Iran is a nation currently undergoing throes of a rapid urbanization of its formerly agresitc population. Unlike the uttermost degrees of censorship to be found in places like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Saddam’s Iraq and King Jong-il’s North Korea, the Iranian people have access to extramural noesis and influences, in spite of the various fatwas which forbid the expression of such influences.

Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

President Obama sought to take advantage of this contradiction in terms, and trace its scissure back to the hearts and minds of the Iranian people, hoping to invite them directly to convince their leaders to rejoin the family of nations. In order to understand this player, in this game of risks, one must confront the reasons why Iran wasn’t part of the family in the first place.

It is a specific trait of this despotic, dictatorial authority which commits it primarily to a policy of heinousness toward its own population, and secondly to a very bellicose stance toward Lebanon and to a point Afghanistan. Why?

During the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, after the Iranian revolution of 1979, after the Iranian people flooded the streets in order to overthrow the Sha’, the freedom-fighters found that their revolution was stolen by a messianic class, who then turned around and used violence against everyone who assisted them. Khomeini and company then imposed their own version of dictatorship shortly after. The fact is that despotism in Iran has a theocratic color. This totalitarian and clerical group of henchmen is called the Valayat-e Faqih, or the Guardian of the Islamic Jurists. This agency of sorts was initially created to allocate care to orphans, children, the mentally incompetent, and anyone else that had fallen to the wayside of social outposts and deviations. People of this category were usually considered the ward of the state, and care was provided accordingly.

Khomeini decided that the Valayat-e faqih should also apply to everybody in Iran. Nowadays, everybody in Iran is essentially regarded as children which require parental supervision in the form of the supreme leader and his guardianship. Not only is this protection necessary to keep the Iranian people safe from the heretical influence of democratic nations, it is a protection which the Iranian people should be grateful for – their immortal souls at stake, as they are.

Ominous as it may be, the Islamic Republic of Iran allows women to vote, believe it or not. Not for much, but she can vote for what piddly allowances a man can, let’s say. Of course it’s not the case that everybody who steals has their hand chopped off in Muslim society, or that every advance toward adultery is thwarted with a good stoning, although it does happen on occasion.

Estimates suggest that more than half of the Iranian population is under 30. And it’s rather surpassing the guardianship of genitorhood. With all of their holy censorship, the Mullahs have unwittingly brought forward a generation that loathes them. Primarily of the female demographic. The funny thing about what is happening in Iran is that there may be a time when the Valayat-e faqih might cannibalize itself with conflicting value systems.

The image of a closely transparent society is very important to Iran, at least relatively transparent when compared to North Korea, where everything is permitted, but everything is directed, and all is finally determined by the guardian counsel. There will come a point when the older minority won’t be able to continue in the old ways, is incapable of doing so, and when everyone whom it commands no longer has any more desire to be commanded. The old guard and the radicals of the Islamic ummah are starting to realize this, and they have met this onslaught of progress with desperate violence.

There is evidence of Iranian involution and acts of extreme vehemence up to and including assassination and bombing in places like Buenos Aires, Berlin and Viena. Iran has issued death threats against novelists living in England, and has stubbornly defied proliferation. Not to mention the procession of shit fits in lieu of a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad that was published in some far flung corner of Denmark – which ended with an 11 million dollar reward for the heads of the responsible cartoonists, on top of a few embassies being put to the torch. Again I ask: why?

Which do you think is worse? The Mullahs receive the blessing of the various national courts to cultivate nuclear weapons after the way they have conducted themselves toward their own people and their neighbors, on top of what they have openly confessed their intentions are once they do have said weapons? Remember that Hezbollah’s emblem is the mushroom cloud. Or should we not allow Iran to ever access the bomb, and accept the most likely outcome in either case? Those of us who do not wish to live by sharia are at least entitled to point out the possible calamitous outcome of allowing an otherwise lawless messianic state to arm themselves with world ending capabilities.

A lot of people will no doubt try to draw attention to the moderate groups within Islam’s ummah – they may even point out the error of generalizing an entire religion by small minorities therein. Fair enough. I must admit that there is a clear disconnect between Iranian society and what we believe of Arab and Muslim states. There are various opinions within Islam about what the role of religion in society or the state should be. There is deep opposition to the clerical theocracy of Iran within sharia itself. Some of the most fundamental, extreme parts of Islam believe that its spiritual leaders should not profane themselves by engaging in governing the state, or dabbling in politics. I suspect that Khomeini is simultaneously revered, feared, respected, and hated by his own people.

We can dance around the religious contextualists all we want, but even the very best of any religion cannot ever answer for the religion itself. Even the most moral canonical interpretation cannot prevent the most literal and bloody interpretations. One must always consider the ancient, backwater, and archaic source material. It is not the moderates of any religion who wish to burn the entire planet alive in righteous hellfire, and so they are not the problem.

Many of my fellow hardcore constitutionalists would willingly die for the right of any person to practice any religion they wish – but we would die just as well for anyone to have the right to be free of any religion as well. The fundamental problem for radical Islam is that it cannot allow anyone to ever be free, because the holy Qur’an demands that everyone yield to it or die. If the moderate portions of the ummah can somehow reel in the violent, fanatical stragglers, then so be it. The question is not whether the moderates have political influence; the question is whether or not the radicals do. I hate to keep begging the question, but why is the rest of the world seriously looking at Iran, who has declared itself the Islamic Republic, with clear and lucid concentration and suspicion?

Could it be that Islam, the religion of peace, the theocracy which has thrust itself to power in Iran without mandate, has lost control of its most radical movements? Is Iran at the mercy and influence of the radical ummah, the religion of peace, that has deemed every Hindu and infidel fit for slaughter? Islam, the religion of peace, that has issued fatwa death-orders for innumerable whispers of criticism and doubt? Who invaded Egypt? Who chased the Zoroastrians into India? Who have slaughtered Sikhs, Armenians, and Greeks? Is this the true face of Islam? If this isn’t an accurate portrait, then the moderates must prove it wrong, which they can’t. None are as answerable to any religion as the religion itself, except God.

The funny thing about religion is that it is often used by people in power to control their dominion. It’s only fair to accept the possibility that such a thing is happening to Islam right now, without dismissing the original canon, which could inspire the sprouting of radical nut-jobs at any time.

Objectivity demands that if we are comparing moral action, we have to admit that every nation on the planet has been guilty of injustice toward its own people at one time or another. That’s for a separate editorial. Keep in mind that if radical Islam is the Basiji, and I’m not saying that it is, but if it were, then that would mean the regime has a monopoly of divinely justified violence. The Basiji and the footmen that they command may only make perhaps 8% of the population, not likely more, but they have a lot of power at their disposal, and they are very ruthless.

If this were indeed a game to be won, then the side which commands the most fear, who can place it deeper into the heart of their opponents, would put Iran ahead on the scoreboard. Don’t make the mistake thinking that the only reason we would commit war against Iran is not because we were afraid of them. It has been universally understood that war is a method of resource and land acquisition, which we employ to prevent our enemies from acquiring land and resources. If war is a method of contest, then fear drives all contest between men.

Fear is the name of the game. Iran is afraid of the world; the world is afraid of radical elements within Iran. Weapon and shield in this game comes in two flavors: nuclear, and armament. If the world knew better, tensions wouldn’t happen along this direction. If we simply looked at Iran the way it actually is, we wouldn’t care whether they had nuclear weapons or not. Iran would be so insignificant of a threat, we would hardly notice them at all. Our politicians are caving, letting their fears run and essentially showing their cards. If I were an Iranian political-strategist, I would see the west’s hand, and come to the same conclusion that Iran will come to anyway: there is no winning this game. In the event that things break in either direction, war for Iran is the only outcome.

If Iran isn’t allowed to make its bomb, it will go to war. If Iran proceeds to try and make the bomb, the US will go to war. If the US can’t move its oil, it will go to war. If we continue reducing these boundaries, we have to someday realize that when one is put into a corner, there is only one direction to go, and everything hinges on who or what is in the way.

A US aircraft carrier navigating the straight of Hormuz.

The most likely outcome here is that Iran will make its bomb, and the US will probably not do anything, unless Israel panics. Iran will then stroll into Bahrain and claim it as its own Kuwait. We would simply chalk things up as the price of doing business, and wait for things to heat up between Iran and the Saudi’s.

This sanctioning posture may be nothing more than a symbolic measure. And it’s a smart move, if you think about it. Matters are already grave in the Iranian economy, when my currency-app divulges as much as 1 USD canceling out 11,081 IRR. If you or I can speculate about such things, imagine what the professionals have been speculating for decades.

Things in Iran are what Stalin would describe as a “revolutionary situation.” In all this nuke kabuki, the US has quietly placed sanctions on Iranian central-banks and exports. We did so with full knowledge that those sanctions would primarily affect the poor more than the ruling classes, as we observed before we invaded Iraq. The US is essentially stirring the hornets nest of an already stirred up hornets nest. Get it? The poor seemingly have no one to blame for their misfortune other than the oppressive regime, its madmen and their apocalypse fixations.

It’s no secret that western intelligence agencies have been active in Iran. Iran shot down a supposed US drone back in December, which was more likely an Israeli drone, but let that go. The pressure has been mounting in Tehran to comply with the west or else… what? Invasion? Are the Israelis going to authorize strikes against Iran’s nuclear reactors? That would be irrational, wouldn’t it? Fear is often irrational.

War with Iran would assuredly spread quickly to Iraq and Lebanon, which would invariably pull in Israel and Afghanistan. We know that the Pentagon is emphatically opposed to unilateral attacks on Iran by Israel, at least officially. The simple truth is that no one on the planet would believe that the US didn’t give Israel the go-ahead to attack Iran, even if Israel decides to attack without our blessing, no one would believe it.

The Israeli’s are right to be concerned with an Iranian nuclear bomb. Like I said earlier, the emblem of Hezbollah is the mushroom cloud, and they have openly declared their intention to detonate nuclear weapons over Israel if they ever have the opportunity. Israel’s main concern at this point is maintaining their own nuclear monopoly in that region, for good measure, considering the bloody history behind their occupation of Palestine.

With these contemporary Babylon’s, people acquire nuclear weapons as a method of self-defense. The players in China and Russia would veto war in Iran. The UN security council wouldn’t authorize it. Neither Brazil nor India would favor war in Iran.

If we continue down this milieu of fear and paranoia, we just may ignore the fact that war in Iran would be frightening, not just for the region, but the oil supplies for the entire planet. If this rocket-rattling to frighten the Tehran regime into complying with western imposition doesn’t pay off, and if Iran calls our bluff, and if the west in turn calls theirs, the world would be in the most dismal situation for a long, long time. Not only would it be impossible for the US to occupy Iran, like they did with Iraq, any strike on Iranian nuclear reactors would be considered an act of war, and the Iranians would retaliate however they believe they should. This isn’t something either side could win. Maybe Halliburton would make out quite nicely.

If we feared less, we would understand more. For example, I would rather risk American lives for the chance of peace, than sacrifice life to war. Because if the US or Israel decides to hit first, then the loss of American lives would no longer fall within the realm of risk-assessment – it would be a certainty.

I can’t decide where to go from here. Part of me thinks that there are larger movements for players that we just can’t see. Part of me believes that this new cold war is the remnant of a bygone era, where all manners of war were mere movements of pieces on a board, when the games were won without ever firing a single shot. I do know that fear is often irrational. I do know that every time I jump at a shadow or a sudden noise, my body harkens back to the days when our ancestors had to fear the things that lurked in the shadows. I’m starting to think that fear is only useful for keeping the individual alive, but is entirely useless when rationalizing whole populations.

I can’t tell you where to go from here. All I can do is lay the board and set the pieces. I can wish that you will be strong, brave and that you will have courage. I hope that you can somehow learn to live without fear in your heart. I apologize, dear reader, because you have to figure this out. This is up to you. Remember that if there is war in Iran, it would mean that you didn’t try hard enough. It would mean that you didn’t care enough to stop it. And remember, above all else, that you can’t make people want peace more than they want other things.









Shane Lindemoen is an American author, journalist, and an occasional literary critic; he is also the National Affairs Editor of Secret Laboratory. Shane is a self-described “poor white boy from the east side who happens to read about politics and stuff.”  He has a sci-fi novel called ARTIFACT, set for an 8/13/13 release through Boxfire Press.. Visit Shane at
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Shane Lindemoen
Shane Lindemoen is an American author. His debut novel Artifact (Boxfire Press, 2013) won the 2014 National Independent Publisher Book Award.

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