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May 22, 2008

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The key problem is that "hat in hand" image. Talking to people is not per se humiliating, for most of us.

a US government that is actually willing to take negotiations seriously and consider making serious concessions and compromises

we don't have a Department of Appeasement yet.

we don't have a Department of Appeasement yet.

Someone's fishing for a government job...

Good post, Eric. A couple of thoughts:

According to you and Yglesias, we’re six years into a nuclear showdown with Iran and nobody has bothered to ask the Iranians if there was something we could give them in exchange for disarmament. I'm sorry, but this is a fantasy. There has been extensive back-channel U.S. communication with the Iranians for a very long time, not to mention the extensive, multi-year effort of the EU-3, and since 2006, from the UNSC.

If you want to mount a defense of Obama, you need to explain why the absence of president-to-president diplomacy has been the missing element in our failed campaign. Arguing that there has never been any engagement in the first place is ahistoric.

The deeper problem — something doves like Yglesias seem incapable of thinking about honestly — is that the Iranian regime is devoted not to a set of discreet interests that can be accommodated through negotiation and compromise, but to a grand strategy whose end point is Iran’s supremacy in the Middle East. The regime believes that this requires a nuclear arsenal, the procurement of which will only become negotiable should the regime come to believe that its own survival depends on abandoning it.

If the paradigm I describe is correct (and I believe it is), then there is nothing we can offer the regime in the way of incentives to stop their nuclear program. Not even if President Obama himself asks.

All you need to know is that Ahmedinejad drives an old station wagon.

Back in the service, we were sent to interact with the House of Saud to influence them. It was a Clinton thing and it worked. In retrospect, it was a very smart strategy by the Clinton Administration.

The Saudi Royal Family has shiny cars, airplanes, booze (Jack Daniels), lighted water fountains, etc, etc. They like that kind of stuff. You can negotiate with the Saudis because they are not believing Muslims, they instead use Islam to control their population.

Ahmedinejad drives an old station wagon. He rejects idols. He means what he says. He is on a mission from God.

I recommend the Qur’an over Sageman.

Hey! Thanks for all the great info. I was browsing through a bunch of political websites and blogs (mostly liberal ones) and I came across your blog and find it to be very interesting. There are a bunch of others I like too, like huff post, and other news sites like politico. Do you know of any that cover politics and the environment? I saw earthlab.com which has mostly environmental info but some politics. I took EarthLab.com’s carbon calculator (http://www.earthlab.com/signupprofile/). I was pretty easy to use (and it doesn’t make me feel guilty after I take it). Are there any other blogs you would recommend? Can you drop me a link to your favorites or any ones with green info?

One could ask, whether Iranian hegemony would be less legitimate than, to chose a purely random example, a US hegemony. Given who has been traditionally backed by the US in the area, I would not be surprised, if lots of people would chose Teheran over Washington, if given no other choice (most would likely prefer neither). Given US actions I would not put much trust into secret (i.e. deniable) talks, if I were the Iranian leadership. Btw, I would also not put much trust in US security guarantees (especially with an administration that considers treaties as "lawfare", as foul tricks of the weak to undermine the strong).
What I believe would be possible (but not with a GOP or Hillary admin) is a deal of tightly supervised civilian nuclear program (without direct or indirect US participation for the time being) while slowly working on solutions to common problems to build up a bit of mutual trust (for example accepting Iranian help in Afghanistan, giving them an official seat at the table about Iraq, cutting all relations to anti-Iranian terrorism.
I personally believe that Iran wants to have a nuclear option (i.e. the know-how), not necessarily a nuclear arsenal, and they want security (i.e. a removal of the permanent threat of an attack by the US). I do not believe that the Iranian leadership is on a mission from God to make the world safe for theocracy by violent means (though they may believe that Islam will win in the end the way communists believed that communism was inevitable).
So, my opinion is: keep them watched but don't treat them as the new Nazis. I am cynical enough to think that both Bush and Ahmadinedjad deliberately profit from the poisoned atmosphere because it allows both to use fear as a tool (the world would be a nicer place without human specimens like them*).

*not to be construed as a demand for "taking them out", legal prosecution not to be taken off the table though.

Well, I know hypocrites that ride bikes. I also know enough "I am more humble than thou" hypocrites to not buy into that theory*.

*at least not as a magic tool of finfing out about someone's (dis)honesty.

"The deeper problem — something doves like Yglesias seem incapable of thinking about honestly — is that the Iranian regime is devoted not to a set of discreet interests that can be accommodated through negotiation and compromise, but to a grand strategy whose end point is Iran’s supremacy in the Middle East.
--Noah"

Really? For all of Ahmedinejad's bluster, he holds no power whatsoever. So maybe you can show me where those who truly run Iran have said their grand plan is take over the Middle East, subjecting a region of Arabs to their Persian rule.

Seriously -- I have yet to see anything other than idiotic comments from a guy who's nothing more than a talking head with no real power. So if it's there, please do share.

It seems to me that their whole drive for nuclear weapons (including a program that, as has been reported, hasn't been active in nearly five years) is for protection -- considering American military might flanks them from all but one side (Turkmenistan, IIRC), I can't say that I blame them.

Not saying we should let them do it -- oh hell no.

But to think they want the weapons in order to attack and take over the whole Middle East seems a bit grandiose and not supported by much other than a few rightwing blog rantings.

How will they occupy those lands?

How will they supply their troops?

How can they manage an occupation of the entire region when we can't even do it right in one single country?

Are they just going to nuke every country and wait until it's safe to go in, or will they just nuke every surrounding country and hope to god they don't off themselves in the process via radiation clouds and tainted food and water, etc.?

In other words, do you really think Iran is going to fling a nuke at someone when they know damn good and well they'd be incinerated after doing so?

If someone can answer those questions intelligently, I'll start buying the "Iran wants to dominate the Middle East" theory.

Until then, not so much.

Noah,

Thanks for stopping by and engaging. I appreciate that.

The deeper problem — something doves like Yglesias seem incapable of thinking about honestly — is that the Iranian regime is devoted not to a set of discreet interests that can be accommodated through negotiation and compromise, but to a grand strategy whose end point is Iran’s supremacy in the Middle East.

I say let them have at it. Any attempt by tiny, Shiite Iran (with a struggling economy and a host of internal problems) to dominate the predominately Sunni Middle East would be an overreach met with resistance that would likely drain their already limited resources considerably.

Let's put it this way: I'm not overly concerned with the prospect of Iranian domination. That is, unless we continue to act as Iran's military wing and go about neutralizing their enemies (Saddam) and empowering their groomed proxies (ISCI).

According to you and Yglesias, we’re six years into a nuclear showdown with Iran and nobody has bothered to ask the Iranians if there was something we could give them in exchange for disarmament.I'm sorry, but this is a fantasy. There has been extensive back-channel U.S. communication with the Iranians for a very long time, not to mention the extensive, multi-year effort of the EU-3, and since 2006, from the UNSC.

Noah, I think you seized on some sloppy diction on my part. It's not that nobody has asked, it's that we haven't sat down and haggled over the price. Direct, earnest negotiations with high level representation are needed. More than simply feelers and general requests.

Not only have we been poking and probing, but Iran made a pretty generous (in retrospect) offer to the Bush administration immediately after the invasion of Iraq. So we have a basic idea of the parameters of the bargain (though Iran's position post-Iraq war is somewhat stronger, so the price might have gone up).

So perhaps what we need is a POTUS willing to sit down and try to make a deal more than a POTUS willing to ask through back channels and then reject viable offers outright, without realistic counteroffers.

It might be that the Iranians, much like North Korea, think they need nukes to prevent a US invasion. President Bush declared them all part of the "Axis of Evil" in his State of the Union speech, and look what happened to Iraq.

Meanwhile, since we stopped negotiating with North Korea and started threatening them, they went ahead and built a nuke, and they haven't been invaded.

Seems like the Iranians are making a simple calculation. Bush calls countries evil, then invades one of them. Bush doesn't invade another "evil" country, which has nukes. So if George W. Bush thinks you're evil, the way to keep him from invading is to either have nukes, or let the US army stay tied up in a civil war next door, instead of helping put an end to the civil war.

Maybe the Iranians really are supervillains who want to take over the Middle East. Maybe they're justifiably worried that the US wants to attack them. We don't really have a good history with Iran, what with the CIA-backed coup, supporting the Shah, etc etc etc. Maybe we should find out which it is, and not threaten to invade other countries all the time for no good reason.

sam,

Gristmill is a very good enviro blog:

http://gristmill.grist.org/

Their blogroll is a treasure trove of like-minded sites.

"Any attempt by tiny, Shiite Iran"

Let's not get carried away, Eric.

Iran is slightly larger than Alaska: would you call Alaska "tiny"? Would anyone?

Total: 1.648 million sq km
land: 1.636 million sq km
water: 12,000 sq km

[...]

Land boundaries:
Definition Field Listing
total: 5,440 km
border countries: Afghanistan 936 km, Armenia 35 km, Azerbaijan-proper 432 km, Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave 179 km, Iraq 1,458 km, Pakistan 909 km, Turkey 499 km, Turkmenistan 992 km
Coastline:

2,440 km; note - Iran also borders the Caspian Sea (740 km)

[...]

Population:

65,875,223 (July 2008 est.)

It's a "tiny" military threat when compared to the Soviet Union, or China. It's not otherwise particularly reasonably described, overall, as "tiny," I suggest.

Left out:

GDP (purchasing power parity):Rank Order
$852.6 billion (2007 est.)

Fair enough Gary. I was alluding to the Obama statement, but you're right, the context of that comment is everything.

Nevertheless, Iran is not in a good position to dominate the Middle East. And I'd like to see them try. An expensive folly.

Noah said... According to you and Yglesias, we’re six years into a nuclear showdown with Iran and nobody has bothered to ask the Iranians if there was something we could give them in exchange for disarmament.

Judging from the administration's total failure to engage when offered a chance for real negotiations in 2004, I'd say that either they don't know or don't care what Iran wants. Either way, the result is the same. Iran knows now that negotiations with this administration are hopeless, so they need another path. That path is to obtain a nuclear weapon (and I believe that's their ultimate goal) so they won't have to worry about negotiating with us.

And that's where Bush's lack of talking has gotten us. We now have a nation that desperately feels the need for a nuclear weapon to protect themselves. All they have to do is look at North Korea and Pakistan as compared to Iraq.

And despite its failure, McCain wants to use the same policy.

I don't understand why the debate is at this place. It feels like the goal is to cook a banquet, only we're arguing over whether to use silverware, and there's a large group of people pointing out that no amount of silverware can possibly roast a chicken, which is true but strangely off where I'd expect the roasting-chicken or silverware debates would be.

I understand that to a certain extent talking to an organization grants a certain recognition of its institutional existence and place in the fabric of international society. I understand how one could make a strategic argument for declaring a regime so illegitimate that you won't talk to them, not as a way to interact with them but rather as a way to isolate them---a kind of sanction.

I don't understand the argument that talking is in itself a concession or that it's supposed to solve anything on its own. From what I see, Senator Obama doesn't like the tactic of denying legitimacy to his opponents as a strategic measure, and he likes the tactic of granting legitimacy to his opponents as a lever of influence on them. But I don't understand how or if the arguments I'm seeing connect to that. If he thinks he'll have an easier time influencing Iran's behavior by talking instead of shunning, why should we doubt that or think it's inherently terribly important? Why does it say anything about his *competence* to influence Iran, either way?

Youda thunk markey fundamentalists would have cottened (why an I talking like this?) to diplomacy, it being so much like capitalism, a compromise between two lies:
the asking and the selling price.

BOB:

DaveC. drives a vomity old Valiant: I'd be careful.

Well, I wouldn't be, but each to his own.

booze (Jack Daniels)

For what we're paying for oil, they should at least be drinking Bookers.

Ahmedinejad drives an old station wagon.

Maybe there's a low hanging fruit opportunity here. Let's offer to get him a new car.

More seriously, there are bases for negotiation that aren't based on swag.

Thanks -

I freely admit to metaphorically swimming in deeper waters (than perhaps I should attempt) here in addressing this topic, especially compared with present company, but let me throw out a thought here about Iranian nuclear ambitions:

Maybe their nuclear ambitions, whether aggressive (i.e., to expand their regional power and make a bid for hegemony in the ME), or defensive (i.e., to protect themselves from nuclear blackmail and/or conventional invasion), are not really centered on the USA as much as we assume in these discussions.

The ruling elites in Iran are linguistically and ethnically distinct from their Arab neighbors. As a Shi'ite dominated state they are also theologically and culturally distinct from their Sunni-dominated neighbors (excepting the now Shi'ite dominated Iraq). One state in the broader ME/South-Asia region (Pakistan) is known to possess a nuclear arsenal right now, and others may choose to pursue their own WMD programs in the future, while spending petrodollars on more conventional armaments right now. Many of these states watched the bloody Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s from the sidelines in a posture of what can at best be described as benevolent neutrality favorable to Saddam's Iraq. And this just covers the conventional state-based threats, not to mention what Al-Qaeda and other non-state actors also hostile to Iran may be up to.

I submit that under these circumstances Iran's rulers may be as much concerned with either pre-empting or deterring (by means both conventional and nuclear) military threats from one or more Sunni-Arab states (probably led by Saudi Arabia, playing the role of their coalition's leader and banker, c.f. Britain vs. Napoleonic France) as they are with the USA or Israel.

A historical parallel that seems plausible to me would be the rivalry between the USSR and Maoist China during the late 1950s and beyond, which was partially concealed by the posture of hostility to the USA and allies maintained by both powers. I suspect that right now ME power politics is at least as concerned with a cold war (and a hot war via proxies in Iraq) between Arabs and/or Sunnis vs. Persians and/or Shi'ites, as it is with the USA.

We flatter ourselves by seeing this conflict as pitting us vs. Iran, but I think that with benefit of hindsight future historians may see our role as having been used as a proxy and dupe by both sides in competition with each other. I also suspect that as peak oil approaches and Iraq's untapped oil reserves loom larger over time, this competition will continue to focus on the issue of Iranian domination (or lack thereof) of the Iraqi state.

If this is true, then the crux of the problem in negotiating with Iran is not: "what are we willing to trade?", but "what are our friends in Riyadh (who currently have a partial stranglehold on our economy) willing to trade?", in which case a very large scale change in US energy policy will need to happen before we can make much progress on this front.

In other words, right now we don't really have our own foreign policy with respect to Iran, because we can't afford one, and won't be able to until we cut the ties that bind us to SA.

Here is a link to an article where Andrew McCarthy blasts the Bush Administration for its weak stance on Iran !

http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=N2Q2MTU5ZWY2ZGJmMDJlYWYwNWQ0ZjkyYzZmZThkMWY=

And we have people here who are ready and willing to jump on Bush for every thing ! Here's a question for people out here - how exactly did the Iranians get in touch with AQ Khan, way before Bush was even President or before the Iraq war ?

How dare Yglesias talk about US accomodating to "Iranian concerns" in Iraq ? What exactly are the concerns that Iran has in Iraq and why exactly should the US be accomodating ? Does Iraq have a say in all this ?? Or does it have to listen to know nothings like Yglesias on how it should accomodate Iran? This, comes after all the terrorist activity that the Iranians have organized in Iraq, the cleansing against the Sunnis they organized with the help of Sadr - it seems US has to accomodate to Iranian interests.

If you want to leave Iraq, just get the hell out of there - dont sell out Iraq to Iran for that. Enough damage has been caused already to Iraq - now Yglesias has his moronic recommendations- what a fool !

Iran gains leverage with nuclear weapons - it is easy for even a child to see that. But to see foolish arguments about how Iran cannot really dominate the Middle East, misses the point - they dont think that way. They WANT to dominate. And yeah, they already ARE trying. What do you think Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Sadr are meant for ? Keep the peace?

Having a precious energy resource, an unwavering faith in Shia religious theocracy, unstinting support for terrorism is bad enough. Now they want to have nuclear weapons too to cap it all.

Here's another question - what exactly is Obama willing to offer to Iran that was not offered by Condi Rice in 2006 ? A personal meeting that will melt the Iranian's hearts or some how make them realize that they are religious wing nuts ?

How exactly will any one verify Iran has rolled back its nuclear program - yeah, the UN will do a great job, outsource it to them - and if they dont, its too bad then.

Thank God pacifists like Yglesias have never had influence on American history - otherwise the Nazis would have wiped the world clean.

Here is a link to an article where Andrew McCarthy blasts the Bush Administration for its weak stance on Iran !

http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=N2Q2MTU5ZWY2ZGJmMDJlYWYwNWQ0ZjkyYzZmZThkMWY=

And we have people here who are ready and willing to jump on Bush for every thing ! Here's a question for people out here - how exactly did the Iranians get in touch with AQ Khan, way before Bush was even President or before the Iraq war ?

How dare Yglesias talk about US accomodating to "Iranian concerns" in Iraq ? What exactly are the concerns that Iran has in Iraq and why exactly should the US be accomodating ? Does Iraq have a say in all this ?? Or does it have to listen to know nothings like Yglesias on how it should accomodate Iran? This, comes after all the terrorist activity that the Iranians have organized in Iraq, the cleansing against the Sunnis they organized with the help of Sadr - it seems US has to accomodate to Iranian interests.

If you want to leave Iraq, just get the hell out of there - dont sell out Iraq to Iran for that. Enough damage has been caused already to Iraq - now Yglesias has his moronic recommendations- what a fool !

Iran gains leverage with nuclear weapons - it is easy for even a child to see that. But to see foolish arguments about how Iran cannot really dominate the Middle East, misses the point - they dont think that way. They WANT to dominate. And yeah, they already ARE trying. What do you think Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Sadr are meant for ? Keep the peace?

Having a precious energy resource, an unwavering faith in Shia religious theocracy, unstinting support for terrorism is bad enough. Now they want to have nuclear weapons too to cap it all.

Here's another question - what exactly is Obama willing to offer to Iran that was not offered by Condi Rice in 2006 ? A personal meeting that will melt the Iranian's hearts or some how make them realize that they are religious wing nuts ?

How exactly will any one verify Iran has rolled back its nuclear program - yeah, the UN will do a great job, outsource it to them - and if they dont, its too bad then.

Thank God pacifists like Yglesias have never had influence on American history - otherwise the Nazis would have wiped the world clean.

Nagarajan: Yglesias is not, in fact, a pacifist.

Also, the UN didn't do such a bad job in Iraq, as it turned out. A lot turns on what they allow us to inspect.

Also also: the Iranians offered to put everything, including their nuclear program and their support for Hezbollah, on the table in 2003, iirc. (cite.) Might have been worth checking out.

"know nothings like Yglesias"

"Yglesias has his moronic recommendations- what a fool !"

Hilzoy, you commented on this comment, but only to say that Matt wasn't a "pacifist."

Are comments such as these not a violation of the posting rules because Matt has only rarely, if ever -- perhaps never -- commented here?

Also, I'm pretty sure you didn't intend to leave the impression that while Matt isn't a pacifist (and, of course, anyone the least familiar with his views knows that he isn't), he is a fool and a moron and a know-nothing. But it's easier to read your response as indicating that than it is to read it otherwise.

"What exactly are the concerns that Iran has in Iraq"

That they share a 1,458 km long border, and are the only two majority Shia countries on the planet. What concerns does the U.S. have in Canada?

Noah:

Fixed.

...the Iranian Bush regime is devoted not to a set of discreet interests that can be accommodated through negotiation and compromise, but to a grand strategy whose end point is Iran’s U.S. supremacy in the Middle East.

Funny how the hyperbole can make sense both ways.

Really, the undoctored quote is the fallacious premise rather than any kind of fact. There is simply no evidence that the Iranians are slobbering nutjobs who will not act rationally in a diplomatic setting. Citing to the past several years of negotiations is not proof -- their behavior is a rational response to diplomatic efforts when the major player both refuses to participate and continually threatens the regime with military attack.

Another way to demonstrate the nonsensical nature of Noah's premise is to replace "Iran" with the "USSR" or "Red China." Our past diplomacy was crippled by similar foamings about the communists for whom a better case could be made that they were on a 'religious' mission to dominate the planet. Nonetheless, those dovish types like Nixon and Reagan somehow found it prudent to engage in diplomacy with both. And surprise!, the results were positive. (And yes, we talked with them even though they were engaging in the same types of support of terrorists that is a major grievance with Iran).

No one is saying that diplomacy with Iranians will work -- but that it is nonsensical to reject it before even trying it.

Or to add another spin, diplomacy continues even when both sides are already committed to all out war. There is truly never a reason to refuse to engage in it. Even when you walk away from the table because talks have failed, you leave a calling card to invite further talks along lines acceptable to you.

Here's a question for people out here - how exactly did the Iranians get in touch with AQ Khan, way before Bush was even President or before the Iraq war ?

Because the Pakistanis were essentially hosting a nuclear arms bazaar for anyone, including the Iranians. When it was finally shut down, Bush was complicit in the meek response to the problem. Do some reading on the history of the anti-proliferation policies of the Bush administration. It has been rather weak, and evidences a greater desire to use belligerence against hostile countries such as Iran rather than any kind of credible anti-proliferation program. Put another way, if it was not the nuclear concern, there would be some other reason why the Bushies are advocating war with Iran. This is more about advocating war than anti-proliferation.

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