Israeli intelligence revelations last year of Iranian leaders' deception regarding their nuclear weapons program have understandably jaded Israeli and American leaders against continued diplomatic engagement. Yet, a mutually complementary combination of pressures and policy compromises, including efforts to bring Iran into the fold of the two-state framework of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, could lead to reciprocal moderation of Iranian policies. Recognizing nuances in the Supreme Leader of Iran's rhetoric is the first step.
During his remarks at the Munich Security Conference on February 14, Vice President Mike Pence asserted that “the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust” against Israel. Numerous American and Israeli leaders have echoed this over the years, whether based on misinformation or calculated efforts to sway international public opinion in favor of regime change. President Trump himself during his State of the Union speech in February accused the Iranian government of genocidal intent against Jews more broadly, despite the fact that Iran has one of the largest Jewish populations in the Middle East outside of Israel—albeit only around 10,000—and has a seat in its parliament reserved for a Jewish member to represent them.
It is undeniable that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, like his predecessor, has consistently advocated for the annihilation of the state of Israel as a political entity and asserted that this is a religious obligation incumbent upon the Muslim world. Khamenei has made no secret of this; he has repeatedly broadcast his intent to the world in English.
He has also repeatedly denied any genocidal intent that would indicate a degree of irrationality comparable to Hitler, however. Moreover, his aggressive behavior is partly rooted in Iranian leaders’ threat perceptions of Israel, as counterintuitive as this may be to Americans unversed in Iran’s history over the last 65 years. This raises the question of whether the current American and Israeli political leadership has prematurely dismissed diplomacy with Iran on this issue by disregarding arguably important nuances.
Entertaining this possibility does not mean the West should ultimately give Khamenei the benefit of the doubt, of course; particularly given his record of deception on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
On the contrary, the U.S. should continue to provide full diplomatic as well as intelligence and any other necessary support for Israel’s defensive air campaign against Iran’s military build-up in Syria. Although Iranian military deployments to Syria are in the short term intended to maintain Bashar al-Assad in power, they are not ultimately intended for deterrence but are rather in preparation for a war of aggression against Israel.
While robustly deterring this aggressive behavior, the White House and Congress should also publicly support maintaining open diplomatic channels with Iran on this issue and reinvigorate their support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. American political leaders must acknowledge that the balance of political power in Israel has been as much an obstacle to peace as it has been on the Palestinian side. They must then act accordingly by exerting substantive pressure on both sides to return to the negotiating table and increasing that pressure as a consequence of continued obstinacy.
Although Iranian leaders have stated that they will not negotiate under threat, their decision-making on their nuclear weapons program demonstrates that a combination of pressures and incentives have been necessary to persuade them to moderate their most important foreign and national security policies. They must also understand that they cannot make threats against the existence of a state with the full recognition of the UN General Assembly without expecting challenges to the future of their own rule.
There is admittedly little reason to be optimistic that Iran will negotiate on its absolutist policy against Israel until after it has suffered a major military defeat in Syria and Lebanon. The U.S. should nevertheless maintain an open diplomatic channel on this issue in an effort to challenge Khamenei’s narrative vis-a-vis his more moderate political rivals, make it more difficult for him to maintain his hardline policies, and limit the potential scale of the growing Iran-Israel conflict. This is particularly important considering that it would involve three nuclear-armed states—Israel, the U.S., and Russia—and Russia remains firmly aligned with Iran.
The Arab-Muslim world has since 2002 offered Israel full recognition contingent upon its acceptance of a Palestinian state. The Organization for Islamic Cooperation reiterated this commitment in 2018. The diplomatic framework for peace is established. It now awaits compromise from Iran, Israel, and the U.S., ideally before a new, potentially catastrophic layer of conflict erupts across the region.
About the author: Thomas Buonomo is an international relations and foreign policy analyst with expertise in U.S.-Iran relations. His writing has been published by the Atlantic Council, Middle East Policy Council, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Fikra Forum, The Cipher Brief, Securing America's Future Energy's The Fuse, Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Small Wars Journal, Diplomatic Courier, and other outlets. Twitter: @ThomasBuonomo
But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?
Let’s start with gold.
Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.
In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.
It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.
And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.
It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.
We’ve already agreed.
Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.
Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.
In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.
Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.
This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.
But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently. Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.
Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?
We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.
What if education was a new gold standard?
And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?
Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.
By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?
Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.
Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.
These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.” —George Washington