Decisions When All The Outcomes Are Negative

For a long time I have believed people make poor decisions unless there is an answer that is “good.” We seem incapable of deciding between adverse situations. It is a fundamental emotional problem in divorce and business breakups. There is a money cost and some transition problem, or there is an emotional cost to continue as before.

Choose your poison as the saying goes.

The triggering event

The United States maximally demoted senior Iranian General Soleimani this week. He was arguably the mastermind behind the Iranian terror structure and a very highly placed member in the Iranian political hierarchy. It is not easy to determine who was the bigger winner by his demise. The Americans who have confused their enemy’s terror structure, or the leaders in Iran who likely saw the general as a political rival rather than a staff person.

The problem Iran now faces

Iran has at least five paths they can follow. None are attractive to the leadership.

  1. Culturally it is important for them to seem to fight back with military assets, but they cannot do that so long as The Untied States is prepared to destroy their economy with sanctions or their own military actions. I doubt the Iranian oil refineries, military infrastructure, ports, and communications infrastructure would survive 36 hours if they decide strike back is a choice. Yet culture demands something.
  2. The could escalate terrorism through surrogates. It would not take long for the US to decide that was a strike against them and respond. A similar result as 1) above but likely more restrained.
  3. Continue as before with somewhat less ambitious terrorist activity. That would probably buy some time but at the expense to the current leadership of seeming to do nothing. A risky choice for their leadership people. Iran is not politically stable and thie neighbours would welcome a change at the top.
  4. Make some minor concessions to reduce the embargoes and let the people have some economic breathing room. Again the cultural mandate gets in the way for at least some of the citizens.
  5. Make concessions but lie and cheat about compliance. Pretty much the current method except those methods only work when people trust you at least a little. No real expectation of that happening again.
  6. Enlist support from other countries to force the US to back off. The only country in the world that has that ability is China and they are already embroiled in a US confrontation. I doubt Iran is higher on the importance list.
  7. Replace the leadership with people whose aim is to make Iran a good world neighbour and citizen.

Option 8 -Wait for the 2020 Election in the United States

The eighth option is to run out the clock. Play the time game and hope President Trump is defeated in November. I don’t know the future, but I would want high odds to bet against him in the next election. It seems likely he will continue to the end of 2024.

All the while the clock is ticking in Iran.

I know too little about internal affairs in Iran, but what I do know from talking to people who have family there, is it would not take a lot to begin a new revolution. Given the economy there, a new revolution is fast becoming necessary. Would the Ayatollah and his helpers be able to survive for five years given their choices above. Not a chance.

What then?

Given every outcome is bad for the leadership in Iran, what can happen? Possibly some other option, or possibly a combination of things. I expect they will try, in order:

  1. Continue the terrorist game with concessions, subsequently sabotaged.
  2. Enlist world support, but with few takers given that the Americans would likely impose sanctions on anyone helping Iran.
  3. Violently suppress any internal revolution and continue to feign interest in concessions.
  4. Strike American interests violently if none of these methods work.

Step 4 is essentially to commit suicide.

External help

When none of your choices seem feasible, seek external help. The Iranians seem stuck in the condition that says, “If you continue to do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten.”

It is like asking what your customers want (citizens in this case) and then setting out to provide it. If you decide your own values must supersede the customer’s values, you cannot succeed for long.

Maybe the goal for Shia hegemony in the middle east is not an achievable goal. When an unachievable goal becomes your only goal, you will need external help to see other possibilities. Who could influence the Iranian leaders to think and act differently?

Examine your own life for unsolvable problems using current methods. Usually the way out of a problem with only bad outcomes, is to redefine the problem and its purpose. As the Turkish proverb says, “When you find yourself on the wrong road, turn back.”


I help people understand and manage risk and other financial issues. To help them achieve and exceed their goals, I use tax efficiencies and design advantages. The result: more security, more efficient income, larger and more liquid estates.

Please be in touch if I can help you. don@moneyfyi.com 705-927-4770

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