The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Ignoring the Signaling Dilemma: Round 2 for Ahmadinejad

December 9, 2005

Now certainly we can all agree that many of the most inflamatory, anti-Israeli statements from Iran’s newest President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been targeted towards a certain segment of his domestic audience and possibly segments of the Arab world. This is quite common for politicians of all types, since their continued power relies in part on their ability to maintain support from relevant actors, and this is done through signaling. However, there is a right and wrong way to signal so that you minimize the amount of negative reactions from other audiences who are obviously listening.

Ahmadinejad’s most recent proposal to move Israel to Europe (which, coincidently, implies that the Holocaust may not have occured–not kidding) may play well in some circles both at home and in the Arab world. However, it will undoubtedly have the same negative impact internationally as his earlier comments about wiping Israel off the map. When one is trying to negotiate the deadly waters of nuclear proliferation and counterproliferation it is probably best not to give your adversaries any more ammo then is necessary (although I certainly thank him for it).

Both Dan and I have written about the art of signaling to mulitple audiences–sometimes this is done to cobble together a coalition of disparate groups. Other times, states must be mindful that the signals they need to send to rally domestic support can cause them significant problems with their international audience (and vice-versa), therefore necessitating that they craft their signals in such a way that they can be interpreted different ways by multiple audiences. I have written elsewhere how this dilemma is being handled poorly by the US and its execution of the Greater War on Terror (GWOT). President Ahmadinejad has yet to get the hang of this. Given the precarious position Iran finds itself in, he doesn’t have the luxury of too many more flubs. Besides the angst these statements cause Iran’s international rivals, there has been mounting criticism and pressure from within. It would behoove the new President to pay more attention to the signaling dilemma and craft his words more carefully–both for international and domestic reasons. However, given his track record to-date, I would not count on it.

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Petti is Associate Director of Insights and Analytics at Alexion . Previously, he served as Lead Data Scientist in the Decision Sciences group at Maritz Motivation and a Global Data Strategist and Subject Matter Expert for Gallup.