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June 20, 2007

The TNR Diplomatic Corps

Yesterday, in mocking the sort of liberal hawks who define themselves as "liberals that acknowledge the existence of very real enemies in the world, and maintain any and all options in dealing with those enemies...You thank God when you can avoid confrontation, but act swiftly and decisively when left with no other diplomatic options," (cue soaring theme music), I asked "Who are these liberal doves who avoid confrontation when avoiding confrontation is impossible, and then seek to act sluggishly and in as muddled a fashion as possible when finally moved to act?"

Turns out...I am! Jason Zengerle weighs in today, wondering, "But isn't Sullivan describing Ezra--at least as it relates to his views on Iran? So far as I can tell, Ezra really does believe that, in the case of Iran, the military option should be taken off the table no matter what." Vis-a-vis the nuclear weapons, I do. So yes. And it would seem that we just got a clear answer from Jason on whether we should bomb Iran to prevent their construction of nukes. Zengerle believes, given what he approvingly quoted, that an Iranian nuclear program is something we cannot avoid confrontation with, and if we are unable to stop it through diplomacy, we will have to stop it through force. We thank you for your honesty, Jason.

But then we get to the end of the post and, lo and behold, it turns out Jason doesn't believe any of those things at all! "I'm beginning to be persuaded by the case that a U.S.-led attack on Iran could have more dire consequences than a nuclear Iran," he writes. But "without the threat of force looming in the background, I don't think the diplomatic approach has much of a prayer."

But unlike irresponsible doves like me, Jason may think "that a U.S.-led attack on Iran could have more dire consequences than a nuclear Iran," but he doesn't think anyone should say that. Instead, he wants to pretend that he's part of the State Department. This is the second odd piece of the Iran conversation, in which pundits, with no role in our diplomatic efforts at all, think themselves so critical to America's success that they will publish the same feints and misdirections that our (theoretical) negotiators would use.

Look: I think military force should be taken off the table, as the more we appear an existential threat to Iran, the more they're going to accelerate their nuclear program. The threat of force renders negotiations somewhat moot. But that's not a strongly held judgment, and I am not a diplomat. It is not for me to pretend that my readers are high-ranking civil servants in Tehran, who must be convinced of America's determination to disrupt their nuclear program. And so I, happily, can separate out the questions.

It would be a bad thing to bomb Iran. That means if we keep force on the table, and negotiations fail, we should not bomb Iran. And that means making the case for not bombing Iran, even as our negotiators may be relatively more belligerent towards Iran. Jason, on the other hand, thinks it's apparently a bad idea to bomb Iran, but also a bad idea to publicly say we shouldn't bomb Iran. He'll poke me in the eye for being a forthright opponent of military action here, even as he suggests he may also be an opponent of military action here, even as he warns that military action shouldn't be opposed or taken off the table. What he thinks will happen after months of hype about Iran's nuclear threat, in which Bush promises that fruitless negotiations will trigger bombing, and everyone's either publicly agreed with that strategy or swallowed their doubts, is anybody's guess. I bet it'll be good, though!

June 20, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

If it's a bad idea to bomb Iran, but we're not allowed to say that, what happens when some idiot (i. e., the president) decides to bomb Iran, on the grounds that there is no discernable domestic opposition to bombing Iran?

This democracy thing works best if you actually use it . . .

Posted by: rea | Jun 20, 2007 11:11:27 AM

not too long ago, stephen, at the thinkery, posted some photographs of teheran, via matt yglesias.
a beautiful and ancient/modern city with apartments filled with people having normal lives.
....looking at the photographs, and thinking about the horrors of gaza and lebanon...cities and lives reduced to ashes.
how can there not be a better way in the twenty-first century to solve problems, than to destroy cities and the men, women and children in them?
...it would seem that in a world that is now more globally connected than ever before, there are even more incentives to create diplomatic solutions if we really wanted to.....
but maybe that is not what it is really about.
....it seems that we have it within our infantile grasp now to create a more globally secure world...through aid, economy, environmental initiatives and trade...it would seem that courageous diplomacy and leadership could make that happen.
isnt that what we want?
what is the other part that makes a globally cooperative worldview not work when we have the ability to move in that direction.
what are the forces that work against that?
since it seems that it would be to everyone's benefit,
why do we not move in the direction of that worldview?
....isnt the effort to create a peace imperative, with all of the abundance of resources and innovation at hand, the only best alternative at this time?

Posted by: jacqueline | Jun 20, 2007 11:26:32 AM

A nation that entertains or tacitly threatens a first use of nuclear weapons is a rogue nation.

Posted by: kth | Jun 20, 2007 11:57:22 AM

Jason Z. may have some reservations that he wants to keep private, but his public support for nuclear idiocy is clearly what is called 'enabling'.

For that matter, he's not alone. The Dem. candidates are just a enabling of a Bush strike on Iran. When Bush bombs Iran (likely without a Congressional resolution, but claiming support from the American people because of the enablers), and does it with conventional (but HUGE) bombs, Bush will claim the high road of avoiding nuclear weapons, but the effects on Iran and its people will be approximately the same.

We will be in war again in very hostile surroundings, and Moslems outside of Iran will support Iran. Iraq may very likely erupt into attacks on US forces, and the world economy will be stricken with fear over oil flow from the Persian Gulf (aka the Arabian Gulf).

No good and much harm will come from this. Watch the PBS FrontLine program from this week on the Iraq strategy ("End Game") from the beginning to date and see how well we think ahead and face reality.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 20, 2007 12:23:42 PM

But don't you see, those Big Names are wrong /for the right reasons/!

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jun 20, 2007 12:28:22 PM

"Without the threat of force looming in the background, I don't think the diplomatic approach has much of a prayer."

At the end of the day, either Jason Zengerle believes that obviously empty threats to attack Iran are useful for diplomatic relations, or he believes that we should be willing to go to war with Iran over nukes.

I cannot tell based on his post which he believes. I personally find the first possibility laughable on its face; no one will believe that we are crazy enough to attack Iran unless we ARE crazy enough to attack Iran. (If he thinks the US should be willing to start a war, he should really say so, and probably would.)

Posted by: Aaron | Jun 20, 2007 12:44:10 PM

i remember thinking before the iraq invasion that the bush admin had a great opportunity to pull back at the last minute, with inspections firmly in place, and bask in the glow of a legimitate foreign policy coup.

for a single second it made me wonder if i should be joining the anti-war marches and all that. but, then i realized, heck, i'm either utterly irrelevant (yup) or doing my part in this great diplomatic dance. if iraq was 100% convinced the attack was coming no matter what, they wouldn't have allowed inspectors in. if they were 100% convinced it wasn't coming no matter what, no inspectors.

the anti-war movement seemed to me at worst a useful counter-weight to the crazy bellicosity of the admin, if the end-game was a last minute blink after having safely installed the inspections regime.

didn't obviously work out that way, but, in response to Jason's odd contortions, it's certainly safe to say that if you don't think we should bomb iran to disable its pursuit of nukes, you are free to say so and need not worry about ruining some grand diplomatic waltz.

Posted by: josh bivens | Jun 20, 2007 1:26:41 PM

This bunch?
And the Big Red Button..at hand?
With this bunch?

Heebie-jeebies like I never had through
the long scary cold war days.

This bunch?

Posted by: has_te | Jun 20, 2007 1:51:54 PM

Remember, there is absolutely no downside in being willing to bomb anyone for any reason. Those who bray about being willing to make "the hard choices" are always more serious than those of us who think indiscriminantly killing people is wrong.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | Jun 20, 2007 2:26:17 PM

I think military force should be taken off the table, as the more we appear an existential threat to Iran, the more they're going to accelerate their nuclear program.

As was argued when you had several threads on taking the threat of military force off the table some months ago, formally taking force off the table would be unlikely to have any significant positive effect, since it's something of a formality to always have it on the table and no Iranian will accept the word of any government, and certainly not ours, not to use force. It's our actions next door that are speaking loudly, no matter what else we say. So your fallback position that we should just not bomb Iran, whether we take it off the table or not, seems more to the point.

I agree that we should argue against bombing Iran. Jason agrees too, apparently. He doesn't say that you shouldn't argue against it. He just doesn't think it should be taken off the table in negotiations, which is a different matter.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jun 20, 2007 2:31:28 PM

I think charging blindly into the Little Big Horn valley is suicidal but I won't say so because Crazy Horse may overhear me. Besides, General Custer might have me shot.

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | Jun 20, 2007 2:33:39 PM

I don't think a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is a good idea for a lot of reasons. However, I don't discern much benefit from assuring others that you won't. Same with "no first strike" talk.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Jun 20, 2007 3:16:47 PM

What is it about the Hawks being so self-important? These guys always act like their blog posts are themselves part of the war effort (standing up to 'Islamofacists' or 'not taking the option of force off the table.')

Posted by: Justin | Jun 20, 2007 3:23:52 PM

They have an active fantasy life as armchair generals, it's the major thing that gives their lives meaning.

Posted by: mq | Jun 20, 2007 11:04:05 PM

So if we take the use of force off the table.. why on earth would Iran have any reason so listen to us. Are we simply to go to them and ask politely that they stop work on facilities that they've sunk millions of dollars (rubles whatever) into? ..then if they say no we sniffle and leave?

Or are we to take our only other resource, money, and pay them to stop the nuclear ambitions. Pay them more then we already do for the millions of gallons of oil per year we already by from them btw. Thereby every third rate country in the world strikes up a 'nuclear program' so the rich americans buy off all the copycat governments. Not a scenario thats definite, but surely possible and Id say likely. (N. Korea may well be playing that game already.)

We may well do good just to give Tehran a nuclear bomb. Let them keep it on a missile in the central square where everyone can see how great the government is. We also should back that with a promise, written on a plaque at its base. If that missile is ever fired, Iran will be levelled from 1 side to the other 30 minutes later. Kind of a small time m.a.d. crafted for minor despots instead of the soviets.

Posted by: dave b | Jun 20, 2007 11:26:33 PM

If that missile is ever fired, Iran will be levelled from 1 side to the other 30 minutes later. Kind of a small time m.a.d. crafted for minor despots instead of the soviets.

The "M' in M.A.D stands for mutual. Where's the assurance for the Iranians that if the US tries some crazy shit like it's doing in Iraq that mainland United States will be flattened from coast to coast?

Posted by: BP | Jun 21, 2007 9:00:42 AM

Setting aside childish propaganda, Iran represents an obstacle to U.S.-Israeli control of the region, with its tremendous energy reserves. This is why it's a 'threat'. Fair enough, that's how the real world works. When power is at stake, violence is the preferred means of settling such issues.

The fact that we haven't seen violence yet (I would have expected it before Iran took delivery of the TOR anti-aircraft system from the Russians, but whatever) means that U.S. policy-makers are divided on the question of whether or not an attack will advance U.S. interests. I doubt very much that they are being held back by any sort of moral compunctions.

The attack on Iraq has demonstrated that America has power to destroy, but it has so far not been able to compel obedience. Israel's assault on Lebanon had the same result. It may be emotionally gratifying to U.S. nazis to do it, but there's no point to destroying Iran if the end result of it is nothing more than staving off the collapse of U.S. influence in the region.

Personally, I think the U.S. was far better off doing nothing and being thought omnipotent than it is now, to have acted and revealed itself to be both bully and coward. Well, whatever. That can't be undone.

Perhaps now we are at last seeing momentum in the U.S. to take policy out of the hands of violent idiots and into the hands of people who at least try to look forward and see consequences before acting. When all else fails, people will still use reason, and that gives me cause to hope.

Posted by: RLaing | Jun 21, 2007 3:32:12 PM

Whether we "take the military option from the table" or not, Iranians noticed that using that option would have quite dire consequences for us.

What are the negative aspects of "not taking the options from the table" if we do not want to use it? Because we negotiate as if we had a viable threat in our disposal, to wit, we do not offer any valuable concessions in return for agreement with our demands.

If X is important for us, there has to exist some Y that we are ready to concede or sacrifice in exchange for X. If not, X is not important, so there is no issue worth longer discussions.

Posted by: piotr | Jun 22, 2007 3:03:14 AM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 8, 2007 9:10:29 AM

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