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Football, Soccer and Iran

Iran may be experiencing technical difficulties forging ahead in their nuclear enrichment, at least at the pace they desire. Says David Ignatius at the Washington Post...

The problem, according to intelligence officials, is that the centrifuges that are supposed to enrich uranium are overheating. Some are breaking down and must be replaced. As a result, Iran has not ramped up its enrichment effort as quickly as analysts had expected.

This assessment is based on recent conversations with analysts from several Western nations that are watching the Iranian program closely and on an unpublished report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that was completed Aug. 31. To me, it's the equivalent of adding some extra time to the clock in a tense football game. The urgency remains, but there is an opportunity for a few additional plays before the game is over.

ahmadinejad2.jpgThis is where Ignatius and I part ways. His sentence should conclude simply, "The urgency remains." Any perceived "opportunity for a few additional plays before the game is over" relies upon an assumption that any in the West know precisely when that game will be over. If there is no reliably measurable clock, the only sure approach to preventing a nuclear Iran is to stop convincing each other that we know when the clock strikes zero. Doing so is to rely upon any number of disparate predictions and/or intelligence analyses - which range from months to more than a decade.

Imagine one is seeking to protect his family from neighborhood violence. A gang is expected to be able to brandish high-powered machine guns on your street at some point, with .50 calibers mounted inside the sliding doors of their vans. All concede this will happen, and there are various estimates on when this will become reality, ranging from two weeks to two years. Without knowing, under which presumption do you operate in order to protect your family - whether through direct conflict, negotiation or law enforcement?

When Ignatius - who is certainly not alone in this thinking - says that "there is an opportunity for a few additional plays before the game is over" and concludes that "the clock is still ticking," he is not necessarily incorrect, but he employs a rigid American mentality regarding a 'game clock.' Ignatius acknowledges as much when he says, "To me, it's the equivalent of adding some extra time to the clock in a tense football game."

This is a mistake. In American football, there is a known finite clock. When it strikes 0:00, the game is over. We know when this will happen. But Iran and Europe do not employ any such mentality, as can be evidenced by the approach to talks even after the UNSC concrete deadline as stated had passed without adherence.

Iran and Europe employ the 'game clock' - and thus clearly in their approach to 'deadlines'- quite naturally in a soccer sense. When the game clock in soccer reaches the 90:00 mark, the supposed end of the game, it neither stops nor pauses. It continues on beyond for a precise amount of time known only to the referee that has been quietly tabulating how long the clock should be extended for interruptions during regulation play. Eventually and suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, that referee will blow a whistle ending the game, jarring the stadium into surprised acknowledgement that the game is now indeed over.

No one knows when that whistle will blow for Iran. But to approach these unknown 'extended minutes' as if there's still time for maneuver undermines the very sense of urgency required when facing a known consequence in an unknown time.