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Why the Iran deal is like the financial crisis

Western leaders who just signed off on the nuclear deal with Iran could learn a thing or two from Wall Street and the financial crisis. Yet, the lessons we have learned all too well – and often at great cost – in regards to our financial system seem to have been irrationally forgotten in Vienna at the negotiating table.

It was just a short while ago that our economy and entire banking system were threatened with catastrophe. The real-estate bubble created by subprime mortgages which could never realistically be repaid cascaded into trillions of dollars. How did it happen? For years leading up the financial crisis, companies like New Century Financial and Countrywide Financial built their success by training their employees to sell as many mortgages as possible with little regard for future consequences. Concentrate on the immediate payoff. Ignore upcoming risk. Forget about the day when the final bill comes due. Cash in while you can and check out before the piper must be paid.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Atta Kenare | AFP | Getty Images
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Indeed the stock market in the short term rewarded them handsomely for their spectacular growth. But anyone with a modicum of responsibility and appreciation for growth beyond the next quarter could understand that what had been planted were the seeds of assured self-destruction.

Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, codified sound investing. Central to the financial philosophy of almost certainly the greatest investor of our times is his emphasis on envisioning a decision's long-term status. A recent study by Harvard Business School's Francois Brochet, Maria Loumioti, and George Serafeim ably pointed out the negative results for companies that put short-term reward over long-term risk.

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How are we then to judge a deal which at the very outset includes a sunset provision granting those who continue to commit themselves to our destruction everything they need to fulfill that goal after a mere decade?

Politicians are not businessmen. They do not own the company. They know, as our president does, that they have but a limited time left to make their marks. Short-term success becomes a highly desirous goal, perhaps hopefully accompanied by a Nobel Prize for peace, with later administrations forced to cope with the consequences of unfathomable compromises. What they forget is perhaps most important lesson of all Warren Buffett shared with his followers when he cautioned them not to be carried away by unrealistic hopes and improbable expectations: "The giddy participants all plan to leave just seconds before midnight. There's a problem, though: They are dancing in a room in which the clocks have no hands."

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Iran gets its sanctions lifted now. Its coffers immediately become filled with the billions it can quickly turn into support for worldwide terrorism. It gains the status of a major and newly respected power. All for a promise it almost certainly has no intention of keeping. And western leaders are giddy because Iran won't get the bomb before midnight 10 years away. How long will it take them to learn they are dancing in a room in which the clocks have no hands?

Commentary by Rabbi Benjamin Blech, a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University in New York.