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BOOK REVIEW

Curve an effective tool in US foreign policy

When the Israelis seized a boatload of weapons in 2002 intended for Iran-backed Palestinian militants, Iran's ruling mullahs must have been absolutely delighted, suggests Ian Bremmer, an expert on international business and politics.

In his new book, Bremmer suggests that conservative elements of Iran's security services may have intentionally sent the weapons to the Palestinians, fully expecting the Israelis to discover them in order to trigger a predictable anti-Iran outburst from the Bush administration.

``In any case, the event was a disaster for Iran's reformers. Bush responded by demonizing Iran, and Tehran's conservatives went on the attack, calling Iranian reformers dupes of the West who would naively open the country to foreign domination," Bremmer writes.

Bush and his advisers would not have made that mistake if they were adept at using what Bremmer calls the ``J curve," a way of gauging stability and openness in countries around the world.

``The J curve is a tool designed to help policymakers develop more insightful and effective foreign policies. It's meant to help investors understand the risks they face as they invest abroad. It's also intended to help anyone curious about international politics better understand how leaders make decisions and the impact of those decisions on the global order," he writes.

Bremmer acknowledges that J curves aren't new to models of political and economic behavior. He points out that they have been used to show such things as the perils of gaps between people's actual circumstances and their expectations and the relationship between trade deficits and currency values.

``The purpose of the J curve in this book is quite different and much broader. It is intended to describe the political and economic forces that revitalize some states and push others toward collapse," he writes.

In this instance, the J curve is formed on a graph by taking a cross section of countries and assessing their stability in relation to their political and economic openness to the outside world. Those countries that fall on the right side of the dip in the resulting J are more open; those on the left of the dip are less open.

Iran, for example, falls on the left side of the dip, meaning that it's among the more closed societies. But it is not on the far left. Despite its current authoritarian leadership, Bremmer argues, most Iranians have far more access to outside information and influences than its autocratic leaders would like. And there are strong reformist elements in the country that should be supported.

Bremmer believes, for example, that the United States should rethink its policy on sanctions against Iran and try to ``drive a wedge" between the ruling conservatives and the rest of the Iranians.

Bremmer does an admirable job of summarizing the modern history of Iran and several other countries, including Iraq, Cuba, and North Korea, and spotlighting US policy mistakes toward them. He suggests how, on the basis of the J curve, the United States can discern where those and others are headed politically and economically, and how to tailor its policies accordingly.

This is an important book, one that most US political and business leaders should revisit frequently.

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