Playing atomic bomb poker

Mushroom cloud from the atomic explosion over Nagasaki rising 60,000 feet into the air on the morning of August 9, 1945. Wikipedia

Today in Las Vegas, a 22-year old German student defeated the last three poker players left standing in World Series of Poker; 6800 optimistic poker players began the tournament this summer, that was whittled down to 8 for the final table and those 8 finalists fought it out until Pius Heinz emerged victorious with $8.7 million.  Poker is a game of luck, it is also a game of strategy –  at this level it is much more besides; it is a game of youth, quick thinking, nerves of steel and skill.  Poker is often used as a metaphor for life, for me that is a bit of stretch – I not a poker player – but some of the terms and strategies certainly do seem to apply to many other situations in life.

Business is often cited as being poker-like in its strategies of risk, betting and bluffing.  Another area where poker-like thinking is common is diplomacy.  So for example, in the series of press releases and countering responses over Iran’s nuclear industry, poker is an easy metaphor as the players ante, match (see) raise, fold, and endlessly bluff.  Iran is playing against the other countries of the Middle East, western Europe and the United States all at the same time and against each individually.  Iran has few allies to call upon for more money to stay in the game or emotional support.  Syria at the moment is its major ally in the region, internationally Russia, China and Valenzuela are its closets allies – they may cheer for Iran, but thus far they have not given much tangible support at least publicly.  This week situation is heating up again,  Iran appears to be getting close to having the capabilities to build a bomb and is said to be hiding its existing “stuff” deeper and deeper under ground.  At least that is what the International Atomic Energy Agency says in its latest report.

Could this be just one big poker game?  I can’t say, there is a lot of stuff going on – lots of seeing the other country’s bet and raising it; each country in the game is posturing and yes bluffing.  Iran says the report is an American plot to cover its anti-Islamic activities in the Middle East and its conspiracy with Israel to… ? here I am not sure, but I think destroy Islam and rule the world with a satantic hand is the implication.  The U. S. says Iran is rushing to build and bomb, lying and cheating its way to buy time; France says Iran must be stopped; Israel says Iran threatens world security and peace and it too thinks the world’s nations should work together to stop Iran; Russia says the whole thing is overblown, however, one suspects that both China and Russia would like a couple of other nuclear powers to balance out the power of the United States and might even be aiding Iran with materials and expertise; Saudi Arabia and Egypt actually come down on Israel’s side in this – to them an Iran with a bomb is very, very threatening thing; Pakistan and India don’t want any body else in the region to have a bomb now that they each have one.  Each country in this grand game has a position and each is trying to force the other into backing down – folding.

There have been more than a few that suggested bombing Iran to destroy its capabilities – today a newspaper suggested that would buy the world at least another three years to find a better solution.  There was the hack attack earlier this year that did delay things a bit and certainly there are frequent rumors of other covert actions against Iran.  All of those reports and actions are clearly meant to act both as real mechanism to stop Iran and to threaten it – bluff Iran into submission.

When challenged about its nuclear industry, Iran always answers with the same answer, “we are a peaceful nation, pursuing nuclear power for peaceful purposes, not building a bomb; but if you attack us, we will get you.”  Ahmadinejad is always on the point with the threats, he must be the poker player in the group, the bluffing specialist; he makes some pretty big threats, stopping just short of saying that Iran will destroy the world if attacked.  I suspect he is also the one that tries to guess who is bluffing and how far they can be pushed.  It is a very complicated game – and you and I could die if one of the bluffers misjudges the other – in poker not all bluffs are bluffs, sometimes the other player really does have a full house.

Tomorrow Iran is promising to release the proof and the details of the United States’ conspiracy to place false blame on Iran and destroy the Islamic state.  Today, and interesting side story surfaced, and while it does not fit into the international poker game metaphor, it just might fit into an internal one in Iran.  A hardline group posted a press release – which was taken down within hours at the request of the Iranian government – that Ahmadinejad is a double agent.  This takes a great leap of imagination for most of us, but according to the story in Al-Arabiya – Ahmadinejad is conspiring with Israel and the United States to overthrow the government of Iran and become its unchallenged leader.

A website belonging to supporters of the Iranian supreme leader published a headline stating that the country’s president and his supporters are working with the Israelis in a plot against the Islamic republic. The Iranian hardliners referred to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his top adviser and chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, and their supporters as the “deviant ones.” Al-Arabiya, 11-9-11

It has not been a good year for the president of Iran internally.  He has been sideways with the country’s supreme leader, Ali Khamanei, for most of the year; Khamanei recently said he thinks he will eliminate the presidency as an elected office, too much bother and confusion, after all there is a Supreme Leader, what more can be needed.  That would put Ahmadinejad on the unemployment roles for sure and end his political ambitions and career and maybe his life.  The story does mean much, except to point out that with or without Ahmadinejad Iran is going to be challenging on this issue and all of the regional issues as well. With the world lining up on opposing sides, players on each side puffing up their chests, strutting, crowing and making threats we are teetering into very dangerous territory.

In Las Vegas when the last player stood up and collected his millions of dollars, his opponents were not lying dead on the floor – they may have bluffed and lost, but they did not die – in fact all of the finalists went home quite a bit richer than they came.  In the dangerous game the leaders of the world are playing, if someone overplays their hand, the losers will be dead.  If were are going to play poker, I would prefer we kept the stakes a bit lower.  I thought this ended with the end of the Cold War – didn’t you?


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November 2011
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