Amid the thousands of rows on the spreadsheet, there’s one called Forecast. It consists of a single number that represents the most likely consensus of all the players. It begins at 160 — bomb-making territory — but by next year settles at 118, where it doesn’t move much. “That’s the outcome,” Bueno de Mesquita said confidently, tapping the screen.
What does 118 mean? It means that Iran won’t make a nuclear bomb. By early 2010, according to the forecast, Iran will be at the brink of developing one, but then it will stop and go no further. If this computer model is right, all the dire portents we’ve seen in recent months — the brutal crackdown on protesters, the dubious confessions, Khamenei’s accusations of American subterfuge — are masking a tectonic shift. The moderates are winning, even if we cannot see that yet.
Could this possibly be what will happen? Certainly Bueno de Mesquita has his critics, who argue that the proprietary software he uses can’t be trusted and may cast doubt on the larger enterprise of making predictions. But he has published a large number of startlingly precise predictions that turned out to be accurate, many of them in peer-reviewed academic journals. For example, five years before Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, Bueno de Mesquita predicted in the journal PS that Khomeini would be succeeded by Ali Khamenei (which he was), who himself would be succeeded by a then-less-well-known cleric named Akbar Hashemi… >>>