February 23, 2007
Letting Iran Say "Yes"
I know we're all supposed to be getting ready to attack Iran and being really concerned that their nuclear program has accelerated to a speed that's still slower than we thought, but it may be time to notice that the regime is desperately trying to negotiate if only we would give them a face-saving way to do so. A spokesperson for Khamenei -- who, unlike Ahmadinejad, has real power -- said that freezing uranium enrichment would be on the table in negotiations, declared the Holocaust a historical matter that should be left to scholars rather than politicians, and even hinted at a willingness to accept a compromise plan by Mohammed el-Baradei that would essentially end their nuclear program while keeping a few face-saving centrifuges in operation.
The impetus for all this talk of compromise? The UN Resolution passed last month, and the onrushing reality of real sanctions, particularly at a moment when oil prices are falling. According to Abbas Milani, head of Iranian studies at Stanford, the one thing that could fundamentally disrupt this process is an American strike:
In other words, what the unilateral and increasingly quixotic American embargo could not do in more than a decade, a limited United Nations resolution has accomplished in less than a month. And the resolution succeeded because few things frighten the mullahs more than the prospect of confronting a united front made up of the European Union, Russia, China and the United States. The resolution was a manifestation of just such a united front.
While the combination of credible force, reduced oil prices and a United Nations resolution has worked to create the most favorable conditions yet for a negotiated solution to the nuclear crisis, any unilateral American attack on Iran is sure to backfire. It will break the international coalition against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear adventurism; it will allow China, Russia and even some countries in Europe to legitimately side with the mullahs; it will lead to higher oil prices and an increase in Iranian government revenues; and finally, it will help revive the waning power of the warmongers in Tehran.
So let's stay away from that, huh? And maybe even enter into talks with the Iranian regime that will allow them to bargain away their nuclear program without preemptively sacrificing their dignity and, in reality, their political futures. Giving your opponents the room to say yes is a treasured negotiations tactic, albeit one we've completely and inexplicably tossed out the window. Moreover, a demonstrated willingness to end this crisis diplomatically -- even at the cost of contravening our no-negotiations rhetoric -- might increase the confidence of our allies that they're not just aiding a crazed, ideologically-motivated invasion scheme, and thus heighten their willingness to exert real economic pressure. That's the sort of thing we should do now, in the winter, while gas prices are low. The closer we get to summer, the less sanctions will matter.
"ElBaradei", not "el-Darabadei".
Posted by: ajay | Feb 23, 2007 11:02:22 AM
Heh -- that was a memory placeholder before I went to check the actual spelling, which I helpfully forgot to check. Thanks.
Posted by: Ezra | Feb 23, 2007 11:04:17 AM
Somehow, the Bush White House has it in their heads that to negotiate with Iran would make us look weak, so they have to look weak first. Of course, this is loopy. The United States can't look weak as long as we're the world's foremost military, economic, and cultural power. They are deluded enough to believe that if we don't exercise all those powers to their full extent, people will think they can take us. Essentially, then, their governing philosophy is based on the premise that every other nation on earth is governed by abject morons.
Posted by: jhupp | Feb 23, 2007 11:04:46 AM
Because the war Iraq has gone badly for Bush, he needs Iran as a bogeyman to trot out as an excuse. Negotiating with Iran would undercut that, which is why Bush won't do it.
Posted by: al-Anon | Feb 23, 2007 11:08:40 AM
To allow anyone the room to say yes essentially validates the other's position. Our current foreign policy is being crafted by people for whom that is anathema.
Posted by: chimneyswift | Feb 23, 2007 11:09:45 AM
I fear that all this attention on Iran is taking the American Public's eye off of a more imminent threat:
"Chimpanzees living in the West African savannah have been observed fashioning deadly spears from sticks and using the tools to hunt small mammals—the first routine production of deadly weapons ever observed in animals other than humans...
In one case, after repeated stabs, a chimpanzee removed the injured or dead animal and ate it, the researchers reported in yesterday’s online issue of the journal Current Biology."
We cannot just assume this National securtiy threat will go away--rumours are already spreading that these chimps have attempted to buy yellowcake.
And as Bush would say:
Posted by: discreet87 | Feb 23, 2007 11:10:58 AM
jhupp: well, if all the members of the current administration were actually sentient herring, they might well follow a governing philosophy based on the premise that every other nation on earth is also governed by sentient herring.
You see my point.
Posted by: ajay | Feb 23, 2007 11:11:30 AM
I guess we should consider the likely result of a Cheney/Bush agreement under pressure to negotiate:
John Bolton as Special Iranian Envoy.
It's not clear that the UN, Russia, EU and China should let the US negotiate one to one with Iran, since we would find that they weren't serious and therefore claim to have the necessity to enforce discipline by air attacks on their infrastructure and population (like Israel did to Lebanon).
Let's face reality: Bush Cheney LLP is not a trustworthy negotiating partner (like Israel said about Arafat, before they reportedly killed him).
I'd prefer to let the non-US adults negotiate with Iran and force our hand into accepting the results by refusing to authorize anything involving force.
It is a sad state of affairs when China and Russia look more internationally responsible for preserving a sane mideast policy.
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Feb 23, 2007 11:39:49 AM
I do, yes. And "sentient herring" was an interesting choice.
Posted by: jhupp | Feb 23, 2007 11:46:12 AM
And "sentient herring" was an interesting choice.
Would have been a great name for a band, ca. 1967....
How do you sell 'win-win' to a White House that thinks a.) international relations is a zero-sum world, but that anything negative-sum is an even better deal, and b.) a scary external threat is the only thing holding up the corpse of the GOP?
Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Feb 23, 2007 12:07:30 PM
Giving your opponents the room to say yes is a treasured negotiations tactic, albeit one we've completely and inexplicably tossed out the window.
We've thrown it out the window all right, but it's not really inexplicable. Giving your opponents a face-saving alternative is not only useful, it's downright essential in most cases - IF, that is, you are actually interested in negotiating some kind of resolution.
The US has no interest in doing this with Iran, because the administration isn't really concerned about Iran's nuclear program (or lack thereof), or about their alleged 'meddling' in Iran, or their support for Hezbollah. They are interested in using Iran for their own purposes; those matters just give them the necessary pretext for threatening them.
What are those purposes? It's hard to say exactly: they may indeed be laying the groundwork for some kind of attack on Iran, or for maintaining or increasing our presence in Iraq. They may just be looking to flex their muscles, a time-honored motive behind much of post-war (and pre-war for that matter) American foreign policy.
The same dynamic was at work with Iraq just before the invasion. The US could have easily obtained just about any concession they wanted from Saddam. But that wasn't the point. Real negotiations would just have subverted the whole plan.
Posted by: Jason | Feb 23, 2007 12:40:21 PM
In other words, what the unilateral and increasingly quixotic American embargo could not do in more than a decade, a limited United Nations resolution has accomplished in less than a month.
This is silly. The US has been laying the groundwork for the UN resolution for years. It didn't come out of the blue; it was the fruit of long and hard diplomacy on our part, with the cooperation of our allies.
I'm pretty sure that, after years of back and forth with Iran, the main nations involved in negotiations with Iran remain skeptical. But they'll negotiate if possible (the most recent noises from Iran are cold again), and the US will go along. The US doesn't have to directly negotiate, though it might be helpful.
Obviously attacking Iran would be really stupid.
Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 23, 2007 1:08:10 PM
"rumours are already spreading that these chimps have attempted to buy yellowcake"
Yellowcake vs. chocolate cake, or maybe ice cream? I think we need a covert op to grab some of those chimps. Sounds like they're working on WMDs, or watching Animal Planet for secret messages from Osama!
Posted by: CParis | Feb 23, 2007 3:13:27 PM
Echidne nailed it in her "Ins and Outs".
Posted by: opit | Feb 23, 2007 10:26:44 PM
"Essentially, then, their governing philosophy is based on the premise that every other nation on earth is governed by abject morons."
Yep, jhupp: you nailed it -- it's called "projection".
Posted by: Jay C | Feb 23, 2007 10:32:32 PM
We have given the Iranians plenty of opportunities to say yes. All they have to do is replace the Mullahs with a pro-American and pro-Israeli government, permanently renounce their right to develop nuclear energy, privatize their oil and gas industry and open it to unlimited foreign investment, outlaw the sale of oil and gas for any currency other than the dollar, and grant American evangelicals unlimited rights to proselytize to Iranian Muslims, and we will leave them alone.
If they won't do these things, then obviously, our great and glorious leader George Bush will have no choice but to bomb them. They know what they have to do. No more negotiation is necessary.
Posted by: Jay | Feb 24, 2007 1:34:13 AM
Posted by: judy | Sep 26, 2007 11:46:34 AM
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