« More Alito | Main | Coleman Finally Concedes »

June 30, 2009

Comments

"the real action was a knife fight between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani"

O rilly?

So those tens or hundreds of thousands of people protesting on the street were... what, exactly? Unreal?

This is a push back against the developing narrative. It's also a narrative that seems overly reliant on the assumption that this was a legitimate election. (Rafsanjani and Mousavi and the senior clerics pushing back against the threat of their opponent's new power.) These dynamics don't exist in contradiction of the emerging "western" narrative, however. It just depends upon how you see the story unfolding.

The only question, really, is whether Ahmadinejad's victory was itself a kind of coup, against which his foes are pushing or whether his foes are trying to salvage their own power. Everything about this election, from the highly improbable and a-historic (and a-cultural) vote distributions to the bizarre (and extremely unusual) circumventing of normal electoral processes to the refusal to engage in an open analysis (which such a large victory would certainly survive, if legitimate).

This analysis sounds more like a apology and a fairly unconvincing one at that.

So those tens or hundreds of thousands of people protesting on the street were... what, exactly? Unreal?

No, they were real. They were also expressly acknowledged by Friedman. It should be noted that many of those protesters were, in fact, the clerical/regime elements that Friedman cites. Others were legitimately protesting the system of clerical rule, and an election that they claimed was fraudulent (which I agree with, as does Friedman).

In so doing, the liberal protesters championed the cause of Mousavi, who was not himself a liberal or a reformer. He was, as Friedman notes, an element of the regime, and a long-entrenched one at that.

This analysis sounds more like a apology and a fairly unconvincing one at that.

An apology for what? On behalf of whom?

It's also a narrative that seems overly reliant on the assumption that this was a legitimate election.

Not really. Friedman claims there was fraud, but thinks that A-Jad would have won either way.

I myself did a little double take when Friedman began a sentence with "When Ahmadinejad defeated Mir Hossein Mousavi on the night of the election...", then was somewhat assured when he clarified that it was clearly stolen. Then Eric confirmed my initial concern:

"Friedman claims there was fraud, but thinks that A-Jad would have won either way."

Look, put aside the polls, which are far from clear on this point (or at least not in AJ's favor) --

What the hell is that supposed to mean? "Yeah, he stole the election, but he was totally gonna win it anyway..." (??)

Look, you don't have to convince me that Obama needs to engage Iran, whoever comes out on top of this power struggle. And yes, a lot of VIPs think this is all about the US, and it isn't remotely.

But that doesn't mean we have to buy into Ahmedinijad's whole "man of the people" crap.

Sorry if this was too much of a rant.

Well, he doesn't say he stole the election, but was going to win either way. He says there was fraud in terms of ginning up the margin of victory - possibly in order to send a message to reformers, or their clerical allies, or both.

Regardless, it cannot be denied that A-Jad is extremely popular, and enjoys the backing of very powerful factions. Even if he lost - which I tend to believe - I don't think anyone is suggesting Mousavi would have won in a landslide.

A-Jad is able to muster enormous street protests of his own - even if those get less focus in Western media. He is a populist, and as such, has a dedicated backing.

Further, during the current round of protests against the election results, you will note that Iran's security apparatus did not pushback against the government.

Ahmadinejad is not part of the establishment, but rather has been struggling against it, accusing it of having betrayed the principles of the Islamic Revolution.

Sorry, but some of this analysis carries a whiff of Ahmadinejad as Evil Genius.

(1) Was he actually the one who carried out the likely electoral fraud? If so, how did he know that the Guardian Council and its "corrupt clerics" would back him up?

(2) Rafsanjani is a poster child for Looking Out for Number One, but is this actually perceived as a widespread phenomenon? Is Grand Ayatollah Montazeri living large? From a lower tier of the religious establishment, is Former President Khatami? What about the Supreme Leader himself? It's not clear to me that "look at the debauched clerics" would actually work well when so many of them attain their position from scholarship and being considered worthy of emulation. Barring outliers, it's not really a Renaissance-era College of Cardinals vibe.

(3) Related to the above, how does Ahmadinejad claim the mantle of the true Islamic Revolution without any religious scholarship to his name? Or will he just continue to piggyback off of a compliant Khamenei, who has his own religious legitimacy issues?

So although it's good to see Friedman reiterating that Iran will continue to act out of rational self-interest, and is nowhere near having atomics, I think "Ahmadinejad vs. the Religious Establishment" might be overstated. Then again, perhaps this is just wishful thinking on my part, since heaven help the Iranian civilian population if he ever actually gains the levers of power.

I think "Ahmadinejad vs. the Religious Establishment" might be overstated.

Keep in mind, Friedman is clear that it's not simply that dynamic, since much of the Religious Establishment is siding with A-Jad and using him. Friedman wrote:

The situation is even more complex because it is not simply a fight between Ahmadinejad and the clerics, but also a fight among the clerical elite regarding perks and privileges — and Ahmadinejad is himself being used within this infighting. The Iranian president’s populism suits the interests of clerics who oppose Rafsanjani; Ahmadinejad is their battering ram. But as Ahmadinejad increases his power, he could turn on his patrons very quickly.

Related to the above, how does Ahmadinejad claim the mantle of the true Islamic Revolution without any religious scholarship to his name?

It's based on economic populism and anti-corruption rhetoric. A-Jad is (supposedly) true to the cause because he lives an ascetic life of religious devotion, while much of the clerical establishment is corrupt, living high on the hog instead of living devout lives.

The key to understanding the situation in Iran is realizing that the past weeks have seen not an uprising against the regime, but a struggle within the regime.

Ironically, the Iranian press probably carried similar analyses of Obama's win. Similarly accurate, too.


The Ahamadinejad-Khamenei (AK) side was lurching toward nuclear war. It was not "Rational" of them to make holocaust denial a part of national policy, nor was it rational to both build nuclear weapons and threaten their neighbors. Creating the weapons generates existential enemies that Iran simply didn't have before.

The Iranian revolution has survived since 1979 with only Saddam Hussein trying to really bring it down. And Saddam is dead. Now the US and Israel have very sharp reasons to bring down the regime.

The AK combination is the enemy of world peace and humanity in general. If they make a mistake, we must use it to shake their foundations. There is a real chance of improvement. The Iranian masses understand shaking the foundations could yield greater personal freedom, less inflation, a walk away from nuclear war, disassociation from terrorism, and a chance at greater democracy.

The actual election statistics of a vote that was already pre-rigged by selecting the candidates is not so important. Tweedledum versus Tweedledee. A chance to weaken or even bring down a dangerous regime; Priceless.

As a bonus, making the Mullahs even less popular all over the world (even Roger Cohen was forced to recant, after all) should make it easier to arrange meaningful sanctions; Making real war less necessary and less likely.

All support for the Iranian people!

The Ahamadinejad-Khamenei (AK) side was lurching toward nuclear war.

No it wasn't. What's your proof?

It was not "Rational" of them to make holocaust denial a part of national policy, nor was it rational to both build nuclear weapons and threaten their neighbors.

But it wasn't national policy. Nor have they built nuclear weapons. Actually, they don't even have a nuclear weapons program, let alone a nuclear weapon.

All support for the Iranian people!

What support do you offer when peddling such nonsense?

"Ironically, the Iranian press probably carried similar analyses of Obama's win. Similarly accurate, too."

This was always the Soviet analysis of U.S. elections, and similarly accurate, too.

"The Ahamadinejad-Khamenei (AK) side was lurching toward nuclear war. It was not 'Rational' of them to make holocaust denial a part of national policy, nor was it rational to both build nuclear weapons and threaten their neighbors."

Um, wtf are you talking about?

"Creating the weapons generates existential enemies that Iran simply didn't have before."

Wtf are you talking about? Iran has no nuclear weapons. It doesn't even have the fuel for nuclear weapons.

"The AK combination is the enemy of world peace and humanity in general."

Could you explain which countries they've invaded? I can name two countries we've invaded in the past ten years, and in the past hundred years the list of countries we've militarily or covertly intervened in is just unbelievably long.

Do feel free to name at least one country Iran has invaded, to make it "the enemy of world peace and humanity in general."

All of this post is built on a critical assumption:

"Accordingly, Iran’s ideal position is to be seen as developing nuclear weapons, but not close to having them. This gives Tehran a platform for bargaining without triggering Iran’s destruction, a task at which it has proved sure-footed."

I agree with all of the facts and most of the assessment in this post, however, the above assumption creates a different conclusion whether it is true or false.

If true the bargaining is fairly tedious, useless, and empowering to a regime that is not interested in concluding the negotiations. I call this the Saddam Hussein method of keeping regional power and international attention, barring the misstep of actually convincing people you have succeeded. There is little value and only downside in active engagement if this assumption is true.

More realistic is that this assumption is false, they are trying to and have every intention of developing and deploying a nuclear weapon. In this case, engagement is valuable only to the extent it would provide some way to anticipate when they might get close. It would achieve their goal of dragging extended negotitations out to afford them the time with minimal sanctions to allow them the time to finish.

Either way, there is little value in direct negotiations, little expectations you would ever deal with anyone on a good faith basis. By every other assumption here, you would be providing fodder for a regime who will consistently take any negotiations and publicly use them to make us the problem, so whats new?

Mostly, that we engage in trying to appease them, which is interpreted in that part of the world as weakness, and allows them to argue every aspect of the Middle east quandary from a position of strength.

So, Marty, what is your suggestion?

If true the bargaining is fairly tedious, useless, and empowering to a regime that is not interested in concluding the negotiations.

That does not follow. If Iran is doing something to improve its bargaining position, then it would follow that they would like to gain something from...well, bargaining. This is unlike Saddam, who didn't want to improve his bargaining position at all or achieve something via bargaining, but wanted to scare off regional adversaries.

There is little value and only downside in active engagement if this assumption is true.

Not so. The value is in the negotiated outcome. Whether that can be achieved or not has little to do with whether or not Iran is trying to improve its bargaining position as Friedman suggests.

More realistic is that this assumption is false, they are trying to and have every intention of developing and deploying a nuclear weapon. In this case, engagement is valuable only to the extent it would provide some way to anticipate when they might get close.

No, negotiations would also have value if they persuaded Iran to abandon its goal. Sometimes, deals are actually made that affect a party's prior goal or intention.

Mostly, that we engage in trying to appease them, which is interpreted in that part of the world as weakness, and allows them to argue every aspect of the Middle east quandary from a position of strength.

Wait, we didn't appease them under Bush? But negotiations would appease them?

Not following.

Disagree with Marty. What Eric said was that the logic behind dragging things out is regime survival - actually get a nuke, you get nuked, but abandon the program without anything in exchange and you're left with nothing to counter all those neocons lusting after "regime change." He also said that they might be willing to bargain with us and give up the program if we give them security guarantees, ie, that we won't invade or otherwise try to depose them. With those considerations in mind, negotiations wouldn't be irrational or pointless. I'm also not quite sure that the well-worn "Munich" frame of "appeasement," "weakness," and "strength" is particularly useful or relevant here.

If you start with the assumption that there is no nuclear program, then what are we bargaining to get?

I usually don't bargain with someone who wants something but has nothing I want. My suggestion would be to ignore them and spend time on things where we get value.

"More realistic is that this assumption is false, they are trying to and have every intention of developing and deploying a nuclear weapon."

It's true that there's no proving, for now, either case, but I don't agree. It seems to me, based on the religious pronouncements by Khameni, and a general consideration of the strategic pros and cons, that Iran's best position, absent a deal, is to maneuver themselves into more or less the position of Japan: to be able, when they can, to have enough weaponized nuclear material, and a working nuclear weapons design, and material on hand, to have the capability of assembling a nuclear weapon within short order, a matter of months, or even weeks, without ever having to so assemble one.

This would keep them within the letter of their religious pronouncements -- which have been so repeated and emphatic as to seem difficult to step back from -- and yet would grant them the effectively the full power of nuclear deterrence, without ever being in violation of the NPT.

So why wouldn't that be to their greater advantage than to actually assemble and brag about possessing nuclear weapons?

Additionally, far more difficult than eventually achieving sufficiently enriched uranium, or alternatively, plutonium, for a weapon, and completing a reliable weapons design, would be completing a reliable design that could fit on a missile.

That part is far and away the trickiest part of the equation, and there's no reason to think Iran could achieve it any time soon (though obviously given enough years it's achievable).

Meanwhile, even if Iran developed and tested a fission weapon, they wouldn't have any way of delivering to anywhere much further than, say, Iraq. Which wouldn't seem very useful. They certainly wouldn't have the capability to fly a plane all the way to Israel to drop such a weapon without being shot down, after all. So, again, what would be the point of assembling and testing a weapon without having a missile to deliver it?

The theory that they'd smuggle a weapon into America or Israel via ship or other smuggling method seems to posit a not very useful technique. Yes, they could do it, but what would be gained? We'd know who did it, and they'd see Tehran nuked in return. There's no reason to think they're that irrational and less deterrable than the Soviet Union, or Mao, was, despite the extremely poorly supported claims about how religiously apocalyptic and irrational the leadership is.

Meanwhile, the carrots of dropping all sanctions, recognizing Iran diplomatically with normal relations, and engaging in trade that would be of tremendous economic benefit to their economy, and therefore their electoral politics (as well as to the personal economic benefit of a significant part of the leadership), would seem not at all insignificant, in return for a deal by which we get inspections that they do not achieve weapons-grade enrichment of fuel, but instead keep to low-grade enrichment useful only for reactors, or possibly even arrange so that they only can get such fuel via a third party. The outlines for such a deal are not at all unclear, and neither are the benefits to both sides.

This isn't to say any such deal is the most likely outcome, but it certainly seems more than worth seriously exploring.

"I'm also not quite sure that the well-worn "Munich" frame of "appeasement," "weakness," and "strength" is particularly useful or relevant here."

Then you don't understand how important those concepts are culturally in the Middle East.

This seems to reduce to: Iran is nowhere near producing a kind of government that would be at all amenable to any of our vested interests (including, for the amnesiac, the spread of fundamental human rights, regional stability and their neighbour's rights to self-determination), ergo we should just continue merrily negotiating their way to legitimacy in exchange for such magnificent concessions as, well, maybe someday...

Leaving aside the fact that quite clearly a large percentage of the population was against the continued imposition of authoritarian rule by any side, leaving aside that the suppression of the demonstrators marks the first occasion in 30 years in which the Iranian regime is publicly stripped bare of its veneer of popular legitimacy, even ignoring those facts which seem rather salient to me, the above analysis seems the most utterly unconvincing basis for further negotiations that I could have thought of.

I am heartened to see that I am not the only one in dissent!

To shortcut the debate somewhat, can Eric or anyone minded to support Eric's analysis please focus on two propositions:
(1) We don't really have any right to care if the regime floats our boat, but we do have a strong interest in it being democratically legitimate, ie voted for in reasonably free elections. A strong realist interest besides the fundamental human rights involved.
(2) We will not gain any worthwhile concession from negotiation with the current regime, not at any faintly reasonable price. Feel free to rebut this with examples of concessions you think ol' Sweet Funky Hipster Style might be ready to make, including, if you really think that he is so willing, a guarantee that Iran won't pursue nuclear weaponry. Please cite any single scrap of evidence suggesting that this concession is likely.

PS: Gary, are you serious? What happened to Russia in GaryFarberWorld? At the very least it beggars belief to state that Iran could not get hold of missiles capable of reaching the entire continental Europe, but most importantly Israel and every other Arab country, or for that matter design them itself - rocket science is not what it used to be, as you probably realise.

Gary,

If they wanted that deal they could have had it years ago. There is a reason they don't. There reason, not ours. All this is about figuring out why they don't want it. My opinion is they care more about their stranglehold on a subjetced populace than about removing sanctions. So no deal is in their best interest. So engagement is a waste of time. It is important to note, again, the UN sanctions are in place because they refused the deal you ar describing.

Is it true that Ahmadinejad is popular and can bring out his own massive rallies? And is it true they couldn't have made up any numbers they wanted when they falsified the election returns? This isn't rhetorical skepticism--I've been wondering all along and I'm curious to know what evidence there is one way or the other.

Not that this would justify the thuggish behavior of the government even if it turned out they really did get a majority, but it'd be nice to know just what's been going on over there. Also, it seems overstated to say there was no democratic movement in Iran--even if their leaders are part of the theocracy, weren't many of the people in the street demonstrating against repression and to have their votes counted correctly? Are their numbers too small to matter?

"If you start with the assumption that there is no nuclear program, then what are we bargaining to get? "

We are bargaining to ensure that they don't develop one down the road. Iran is getting close to the point of breakout potential. We want to negotiate so that there are safeguards in place to prevent break out - or to give earlier warning thereof. Those are valuable. Also, we want to bargain to compel Iran to cooperate more in regional matters, and to change their posture with respect to their proxies.

Ah, yes. Another guy eager to tell us about how "those people" think. How enlightened, and fine-grained, and specific. Do tell.

Even from a realist perspective, what motive does Obama have to spend domestic political capital on negotiations when the AK regime seems uninterested. How can the US respond to the harrassment of UK embassy personnell by improving diplomatic relations?

Obama's better off focusing on other things and waiting for calmer times, as even Bush and Baker did wrt China in 1989.

If they wanted that deal they could have had it years ago...the UN sanctions are in place because they refused the deal you ar describing.

This is simply false. At no point has the US offered security guarantees to Iran. On the contrary, we have pursued (both in rhetoric and action) a policy of destabilization and regime change.

So, the opposite.

Then you don't understand how important those concepts are culturally in the Middle East.

Yeah, it's an "Arab" thing. Are you sure your last name isn't "Peretz", Marty?

Patrick:

(1) From a "realist" perspective, we have never cared whether countries we can use (um, that we can have mutually beneficial dealings with) were particularly democratic or not.
(2) If Iran were to consent to greater nuclear restrictions in exchange for security guarantees, that might be a "reasonable price," and one that they might be willing to pay in exchange for greater security for their regime.

Eric:

"The main take away is that those suggesting that the election-related power struggle is evidence that the Iranian regime is, in fact,"irrational," or that the crackdown on protesters was so odious as to preclude negotiations,"

So you don't think the crackdown was odious? You think it was justified?

I have read a number of trustworthy sources who say the election was rigged. We can't know for sure, but I think it's a safe assumption given how they screen reformist candidates and are paranoid about Western tampering and "colored" revolutions. The regime is certainly bent on control:

"The crackdown in Iran shows that, for regimes bent on survival, squashing electronic dissent isn't impossible. In many ways, modern communication tools are easier to suppress than organizing methods of the past. According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran has one of the world's most advanced surveillance networks. Using a system installed last year (and built, in part, by Nokia and Siemens), the government routes all digital traffic in the country through a single choke point. Through "deep packet inspection," the regime achieves omniscience—it has the technical capability to monitor every e-mail, tweet, blog post, and possibly even every phone call placed in Iran. Compare that with East Germany, in which the Stasi managed to tap, at most, about 100,000 phone lines—a gargantuan task that required 2,000 full-time technicians to monitor the calls. The Stasi's work force comprised 100,000 officers, and estimates put its network of citizen informants at half a million. In the digital age, Iran can monitor its citizens with a far smaller security apparatus. They can listen in on everything anyone says—and shut down anything inconvenient—with the flip of a switch."

http://www.slate.com/id/2221397/

But sure let's be "nonjudgemental" so we don't cause another war by badmouthing the Iranian regime.

And I believe that the protests were about liberalizing society and included people who want to be less isolated. And they risked a lot. To minimize them and paint them as dupes is extremely offensive and patronizing.

Eric,

Then they do have a nuclear program? See point 2.

Scott,

Culture is important in all negotiations, disappointing we keep forgetting that everyone is not us, oh wait, we aren't even all "us", or we wouldn't be having this discussion. Proclaiming America is weakminded and has no strength of character is a fundamental internal propaganda tool against Western values in most Islamic states.

Is it true that Ahmadinejad is popular and can bring out his own massive rallies?

Yes, he has done so many times. Including, right after the election.

Also, it seems overstated to say there was no democratic movement in Iran--even if their leaders are part of the theocracy, weren't many of the people in the street demonstrating against repression and to have their votes counted correctly?

But neither Friedman nor myself made such an overstatement. Friedman wrote the opposite:

Whatever the motives of those in the streets, the real action was a knife fight between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani. [...]

The demonstrators certainly included Western-style liberalizing elements, but they also included adherents of senior clerics who wanted to block Ahmadinejad’s re-election.

Even from a realist perspective, what motive does Obama have to spend domestic political capital on negotiations when the AK regime seems uninterested.

But we don't know whether or not it's uninterested. Let's probe that further. If they're uninterested, then forget em. But let's not decide that on our own a priori.

"Whatever the motives of those in the streets, the real action was a knife fight between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani. [...]"

A mischaracterization of what happened. Yes Rafsanjani decided to make a stink about the rigged election but the protests were about much more.

This seems to reduce to: Iran is nowhere near producing a kind of government that would be at all amenable to any of our vested interests (including, for the amnesiac, the spread of fundamental human rights, regional stability and their neighbour's rights to self-determination)...

Where does it say that? This post reduces to the opposite.

This post says there's a good chance the current regime wants a deal, and it's the same deal that they've wanted for some time: one that includes real security guarantees. This post says that we have every reason to believe that Mousavi would have wanted that same deal regardless, so we should negotiate.

If not, then we can confirm that and recalibrate as necessary.

Marty, they have exactly what they have: a domestic nuclear energy program. They don't have a nuclear WEAPONS program. But the former can bring one close (within breakout range) to the latter, as is the case with Japan, as Gary quite adeptly pointed out above.

Proclaiming America is weakminded and has no strength of character is a fundamental internal propaganda tool against Western values in most Islamic states.

And proclaiming that Muslims are irrational, conspiratorial and only understand the language of violence is an internal propaganda tool against Islamic states in many Western nations.

I don't pretend to be privy to the inner workings of fruitcake et al, but isn't it a bit in the beggaring belief region to see Sweet Hipster Style himself proudly announcing that Iran had secured a security guarantee from the almighty US, in exchange for accepting a form of international child status (ie submitting to monitoring and control of its nuclear regime)?

If this wasn't obsidian wings I would assume I was reading some complete fruitcake rationalising how he saw fit.

Sure, they want to preserve their regime. Isn't the Primary Designated Means to that nuclear power+capacity to develop nuclear weapons? And the Second Designated Means is regional destabilisation and proxy wars, with the good ol' third leg being domestic repression?

(Now, possibly, a theoretical Iranian leader could theoretically accept the bargain described. But Sweet Hipster Style???)

So you don't think the crackdown was odious?

No, that's not what I wrote.

You think it was justified?

No, I didn't write that. Quite the opposite.

But sure let's be "nonjudgemental" so we don't cause another war by badmouthing the Iranian regime.

Um, I called the crackdown "unquestionably brutal" "horrific to behold" an "illiberal action" and described the violence as "tragic."

Please read what I actually wrote.

"This is simply false. At no point has the US offered security guarantees to Iran. On the contrary, we have pursued (both in rhetoric and action) a policy of destabilization and regime change.

So, the opposite"

The only caveat we have ever put on this deal is the recognition and security of Israel. Do you really think we have, for thirty years, not been willing to say that if they didn't build nuclear weapons and terrorize the region we wouldn't attack them. Really? Which President do you think turned down that deal? Which UN Ambassador or Secretary of State said no thanks?

The last thing Ahmadinejad wants is for someone to say he has cut a deal to be "protected" by the US. He would not win another election or probably survive the week. Go back to my much maligned culture comments.

Want to actually cut a deal, then you have to give him a "Big Victory" over the Western infidel invaders.

"weakness," and "strength" is particularly useful or relevant here."

Then you don't understand how important those concepts are culturally in the Middle East.

Posted by: Marty | June 30, 2009 at 04:49 PM

I suspect he doesn’t understand how important those concepts are culturally in the United States. Since, we seem to have armies of little egos obsessing over their comic-book images of themselves.

And I believe that the protests were about liberalizing society and included people who want to be less isolated. And they risked a lot. To minimize them and paint them as dupes is extremely offensive and patronizing.

Of course! Many of the protesters had those motives! Friedman acknowledged as much (more than once), and I would suggest that there were substantial numbers - maybe even majorities (or solid majorities), but it's hard to estimate exactly.

And neither Friedman nor I called them "dupes" or suggested as much. So I'm not sure what you're taking offense at.

Yes Rafsanjani decided to make a stink about the rigged election but the protests were about much more.

Remember, Friedman is talking about more than just the protests. He's talking about political fights that are occurring in the background behind the protests, and which will continue even now that the protests have diminished in size.


"And proclaiming that Muslims are irrational, conspiratorial and only understand the language of violence is an internal propaganda tool against Islamic states in many Western nations."

I am so tired of the US and Western nations in general having to listen to this ridiculous statement. As was witnessed over the last few weeks, their propaganda can be violently controlled and their people can be isolated and the view of the West manipulated regularly. The cultural differences are played upon intentionally and with no alternative view.

I did not ever state that Muslims are irrational, conspiratorial and only understand the language of violence, I noted a cultural distinction that their leaders (The Bad Guys) use to demean the West. If it wasn't culturally significant, they wouldn't use it.

Don't put words in my mouth.


The only caveat we have ever put on this deal is the recognition and security of Israel. Do you really think we have, for thirty years, not been willing to say that if they didn't build nuclear weapons and terrorize the region we wouldn't attack them. Really? Which President do you think turned down that deal?

Well, if every Prez for the past 30 years has offered that deal, do you have any actual examples. Say, one. Of that kind of deal on the table?

The last thing Ahmadinejad wants is for someone to say he has cut a deal to be "protected" by the US. He would not win another election or probably survive the week.

But it wouldn't be A-Jad's deal. It would be Khamenei's. A-Jad doesn't have that kind of clout.

I don't pretend to be privy to the inner workings of fruitcake et al, but isn't it a bit in the beggaring belief region to see Sweet Hipster Style himself proudly announcing that Iran had secured a security guarantee from the almighty US, in exchange for accepting a form of international child status (ie submitting to monitoring and control of its nuclear regime)?

A few things:

First, A-Jad isn't in control of FoPo, and so it wouldn't be his deal. The power structure doesn't give A-Jad that power in Iran.

Second, Iran is already under some international oversight of its nuclear regime, so some further oversight would hardly be some radical departure.

Third, the positive inducements would go beyond security guarantees to include memberships in economic clubs, relief from sanctions and other economic boons. THOSE are what would be trumpeted.

It's really quite humdrum.

"But it wouldn't be A-Jad's deal. It would be Khamenei's. A-Jad doesn't have that kind of clout."

Quite right. Wrong name, same point.

However, the UN sanction documents lay out the very deal that everyone is talking, so everyone is now being cantankerous.

However, the UN sanction documents lay out the very deal that everyone is talking, so everyone is now being cantankerous.

Now that's a switcheroo if I ever saw one. They want security guarantees from the US government specifically. They don't fear the UN, they fear the US.

Also, Khamenei doesn't have to worry about an election, and the victory would be the economic boons as mentioned above.

I noted a cultural distinction that their leaders (The Bad Guys) use to demean the West. If it wasn't culturally significant, they wouldn't use it.

But it's not any more culturally significant in Muslim societies than Western ones! And such tropes are used by our leaders as well!

For example, US elections: Tough guy vs. effete, Texan vs. Frenchie, Brush clearer vs. windsurfer, global test vs. shock and awe, etc.

"Also, Khamenei doesn't have to worry about an election, and the victory would be the economic boons as mentioned above."

Well, then, in the end, the answer lies in the humdrum of us actually making an offer, that will be readily accepted, and then I will be gladly wrong. But I think the Ayatollah needs the adversity to maintain power, so it won't be happening.


Eric Martin is in willful denial of Iran's threats, and of Iran's nuclear program. His position is absurd. Are El Baradei and the Saudi Foreign Minister both neocon Zionists?

Gary Farber is in denial of Iran's proxy wars using Hezbollah and Hamas, and of Iran's missile programs (look up Sajjil to start).

Iran's security is a red herring. If there were danger from the US, the Mullahs would have been gone anytime in the last 30 years.

First, A-Jad could nonetheless effectively scupper any such deal. Which he seems hell-bent on doing.

Second, sure, some international oversight that it constantly seeks to evade and frustrate.

Third, that's a good point, but I would think it would be abhorrent to let that happen without requiring recognition of Israel and giving up public holocaust denial, not to mention murdering gays. So not on the table, under the current regime, I should hope.

"But it's not any more culturally significant in Muslim societies than Western ones! And such tropes are used by our leaders as well!

For example, US elections: Tough guy vs. effete, Texan vs. Frenchie, Brush clearer vs. windsurfer, global test vs. shock and awe, etc"

So windsurfers, effete, Frenchie, are universally thought of as being less good here? Not really, they are just different and we celebrate those differences. Do you actually deny there are cultural differences between America and Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.? Isn't that relentlessly myopic?

Of course there are cultural differences between America and Iran, but ask John Kerry how "celebrated" those differences are here. You think the GOP has gone out of its way to cultivate the cowboy/macho imagery since Reagan for nothing? You think it didn't hurt Carter? Dukakis in a tank? Gore? Kerry out hunting? Romney and his varmit?

My point is that basing our policy on appearing "weak" in the Muslim world by being willing to negotiate with Iran is foolish, and puts too much emphasis on cultural quirks (that aren't so unique in many ways). After all, US leaders such as Obama will be made out as "weak" for domestic political gain by opposition parties as well. Nor should he pay that much heed.

If Holocaust Denial isn't a part of Ahmadinejad's official foreign policy, then who's policy is it? And who here thinks it's rational?

In the linked article, Mousavi and Sarkozy both expound on the subject. And show some differences between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad.

Fred,

If you're really suggesting that the notion that the Saudi Foreign Minister could have an anti-Iranian bias is absurd, you need to do some more research on politics in the Middle East. As for ElBaradei, he said what I said!

"My gut feeling is that Iran definitely would like to have the technology ... that would enable it to have nuclear weapons if they decided to do so," he told the BBC."

They want the technology that would enable them to have nuclear weapons at some future point, but, only if they decided to at that future date. In other words: they want breakout potential.

Interestingly, he didn't say that they had nuclear weapons, nor did he say they had the technology for nuclear weapons. He said that he "thought" in his "gut" that they would like to have that technology.

"First, A-Jad could nonetheless effectively scupper any such deal. Which he seems hell-bent on doing."

I don't think so. If he crossed Khamenei, he wouldn't have much of a power base to rely on.

If Holocaust Denial isn't a part of Ahmadinejad's official foreign policy, then who's policy is it? And who here thinks it's rational?

Fred, you said it was "national policy." It isn't. A-Jad doesn't make foreign policy, so it's meaningless what he says about the Holocaust. Even then, how do you mean "official"? Did A-jad pass a law?

Well, "real action" is pretty clear on what he thinks was important about the events in the last few weeks in Iran. My opinion - for what it is worth - is that the street protests were vastly the more significant part of the events, and that twenty years from now, whatever ends up happening in Iran in the meantime, it is the protests and not the elite infighting that will be considered significant.

In the end, all countries are democracies. They might be democracies requiring large and determined supermajorities to overturn the existing regime, but all regimes are subject to the cooperation of the population. The army and security forces are crucial to maintaining control. But they are not isolated from the population in the long run, though in the short run they may be. In the long run, the opinions of their friends and family will percolate through to members of these groups, and so if the population has a majority who are opposed to the regime, especially if it becomes a supermajority, the support for the regime in the army & security forces weakens until a breaking point occurs where they refuse to prevent a popular movement from gathering and taking power.

I base this view, I think, not on pure naive idealism but on my understanding of what actually happened in Warsaw Pact countries at the end of the Cold War. Realism is all very well, but realists should also notice that popular democracy movements have repeatedly overthrown authoritarian governments around the world. And further, they should notice that the opinions of the populations of those countries and therefore their stance towards the US are in large part shaped by the extent to which they felt the US either supported them or screwed them during the (usually lengthy) process of revolution.

Because it's not an immediate or automatic process. It requires communication among the population and it requires that the opposition movement survive being painted as treasonous, etc, so that its popular support grows instead of contracting. It requires outrage against the government rather than indifferent resignation, and a belief that a different system is possible.

But it seems to me that large gatherings of people in the streets are often a turning point in the credibility of opposition; they demonstrate that the opposition is numerous enough and determined enough that they can defy, even temporarily, the existing regime, and therefore lends credence to the idea that they could overthrow it; and the brutal crackdown that usually comes in response can help catalyze more opposition. At the moment of the crackdown those in the security forces & army naturally take the side of the government, especially as their access to outside sources of information is very limited. But in the long run their opinion will tend to converge with that of the population as a whole, for reasons noted above, and if that opinion turns against the regime, then the breaking point where the army can be relied on to support the regime may approach.

What the short-term US response should be is a whole other thing, though I do think it's important to look like we are on the side of democracy, because what we do and say sets international norms of behaviour, and signals what we will and will not accept in other countries. (Yes, even though we already deal with numerous regional governments that are authoritarian. That is the status quo; what draws more attention than our existing relations is what we do when situations are in flux & we are faced with an obvious choice.) For the sake of our long-term relations with Iran, I think it's important to make it clear that we morally support their right to self-determination, because, as I have said before, people remember who their friends were, and all the old people currently in power will eventually die off; and I suspect opposition to the regime is extremely popular among the young people who will eventually be Iran. Those considerations should, I think, influence our decisions about how we talk to and about an Iranian government that clearly holds power by force and not popular consent.

I am personally unclear on what exactly it is we are negotiating over, what we hope to accomplish, what we are threatening, what the Iranians want from negotiations, and so on. The answer to those questions might help make it clearer what kind of engagement with Iran is likely to be good for the US in the short and long run.

My opinion - for what it is worth - is that the street protests were vastly the more significant part of the events, and that twenty years from now, whatever ends up happening in Iran in the meantime, it is the protests and not the elite infighting that will be considered significant.

But the protests, were in part, a manifestation of that infighting. There were clerics and other regime elements joining in the protests. That's part of what made them so hard to break up. If this was just college students and liberal reformers, there would have been a quicker, more decisive crackdown.

Not that I want that to happen, but why shouldn't Iran get nuclear weapons. Alright, they've signed the NNPT, but there's a withdrawal procdure and apart from that it's not as if Israel or the US have always honoured every treaty they've signed or followed all the UN resolutions to the letter.

"Leaving aside the fact that quite clearly a large percentage of the population was against the continued imposition of authoritarian rule by any side, leaving aside that the suppression of the demonstrators marks the first occasion in 30 years in which the Iranian regime is publicly stripped bare of its veneer of popular legitimacy, even ignoring those facts which seem rather salient to me,"

Were either the Soviet Union, or Mao's China, lacking in large percentages of the population that were against the continued imposition of authoritarian rule when we found it a very good idea indeed to negotiate with them?

Are negotiations rewards we give to regimes because we approve of them? Or are they endeavors we engage in because they will benefit us?

"At the very least it beggars belief to state that Iran could not get hold of missiles capable of reaching the entire continental Europe"

Yes, they could, and undoubtedly someday, probably not in the distant future, they will. What this has to do with being able to design a nuclear fission device that will fit on such a missile, I dunno.

"If you start with the assumption that there is no nuclear program, then what are we bargaining to get?"

Of course Iran has a "nuclear program." They've had one since the Shah, when the U.S. helped them under "Atoms For Peace." Their light water reactor at Bushehr is due to go online this year.

They quite famously have a large-scale centrifuge program to enrich uranium at Natanz. They've so far managed to enrich uranium up to somewhere between 3-5%. They also have a heavy water reactor under construction in Arak.

This is not remotely the same thing as having a nuclear weapons program, which among other things requires either plutonium or uranium 235 enriched up to some 90% or so. (Maybe a bit less if you want a fizzly-sort of low-yield device.)

It's not very helpful to speak of incredibly vague terms like "nuclear program" without being a lot more specific as to what you're talking about.

And, once again, programs to develop weapons-grade fissionable material, programs to develop nuclear weapons, programs to develop nuclear power, programs to develop missiles, and programs to develop fission weapons that can fit on missiles are all different things.


"If they wanted that deal they could have had it years ago. There is a reason they don't. There reason, not ours."

Please give a cite to an account of the Bush administration's negotiations offering such a deal. Thanks.

"The main take away is that those suggesting that the election-related power struggle is evidence that the Iranian regime is, in fact,'irrational,' or that the crackdown on protesters was so odious as to preclude negotiations,"

So you don't think the crackdown was odious? You think it was justified?

No, it suggests you're imagining that Eric wrote something he plainly did not write. Again, since when was the Soviet Union or Mao's China not odious? Should we not have negotiated with them? Hell, we were allies with Stalin. Because it was in our interest, not because he was a fun-loving humanitarian.

"But sure let's be 'nonjudgemental' so we don't cause another war by badmouthing the Iranian regime."

Let's not have an honest discussion and instead make up straw man quotations and put them in the mouths of people we're allegedly having a discussion with.

Alternatively, try responding to what people have actually written here, rather than to voices in your head that you then "quote."

"Through 'deep packet inspection,' the regime achieves omniscience—it has the technical capability to monitor every e-mail, tweet, blog post, and possibly even every phone call placed in Iran."

I'm rather unclear exactly how all those people in Iran have been so famously Twittering, using cell phones, and otherwise getting their messages out since the election, in that case.

But if you'd care to bother to give an actual cite, we might discuss this further.

"Gary Farber is in denial of Iran's proxy wars using Hezbollah and Hamas, and of Iran's missile programs (look up Sajjil to start)."

Fred is lying. Please don't do that. Thanks.

"Third, that's a good point, but I would think it would be abhorrent to let that happen without requiring recognition of Israel and giving up public holocaust denial, not to mention murdering gays. So not on the table, under the current regime, I should hope."

Wait, your assertion is that if Iran turns out to indeed be willing to accept some form of international inspection or or third party production of nuclear fuel, that would prevent their achieving nuclear weapons, we should turn that down until they also recognize Israel and promise to do something about gay rights?

Are you serious?

Eric: 'Fred, you said it was "national policy.' It isn't. A-Jad doesn't make foreign policy, so it's meaningless what he says about the Holocaust. Even then, how do you mean 'official'? Did A-jad pass a law?"

Anyone who knows me in the slightest, or who has the faintest familiarity with my writings, knows that I find anything resembling Holocaust denial tremendously offensive.

However, we don't choose whether or not it's a good idea to try to negotiate to achieve some goal with a country based on how offensive their leaders are. The whole issue of Holocause denial is irrelevant to the question of whether or not we should be trying to get Iran to not achieve nuclear weapons. It's an entirely separate question.

(And I won't take well to anyone who suggests I don't care about the security of Israel, either.)

Jacob: "In the end, all countries are democracies. They might be democracies requiring large and determined supermajorities to overturn the existing regime, but all regimes are subject to the cooperation of the population. The army and security forces are crucial to maintaining control. But they are not isolated from the population in the long run, though in the short run they may be."

Fred, I understand your point perfectly well, and there's certainly a sense in which it's ultimately true, but when discussing real countries in real terms, the "short term" can be pretty damn long. How long might you be able to argue that North Korea has been a "democracy" in any reasonable sense, for instance?

The frame you state here, while not one, as I said, that I entirely disagree with -- it has some usefulness in some contexts -- is nonetheless one that applied very strongly in many cases winds up leading to some unhelpful implications, I think. That is, it understates the ability of a repressive apparatus to, with various tools, suppress the ultimate "democracy" you refer to to quite a significant period of time -- many decades, at the least.

(I'm tempted to go off into a discussion of how the power structure of the U.S. has certain aspects of this, but it would be a wild digression.)

"I base this view, I think, not on pure naive idealism but on my understanding of what actually happened in Warsaw Pact countries at the end of the Cold War."

What happened in the Warsaw Pact countries couldn't have happened without the acquiescence of the Soviet Union. As you'll recall, they chose not to invade Poland or East Germany or any of the other states of the regimes that collapsed. This compares, of course, to such times as Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and so on.

"Realism is all very well, but realists should also notice that popular democracy movements have repeatedly overthrown authoritarian governments around the world."

Yes, but not terribly quickly. Lifetimes, even.

[...] For the sake of our long-term relations with Iran, I think it's important to make it clear that we morally support their right to self-determination, because, as I have said before, people remember who their friends were, and all the old people currently in power will eventually die off; and I suspect opposition to the regime is extremely popular among the young people who will eventually be Iran. Those considerations should, I think, influence our decisions about how we talk to and about an Iranian government that clearly holds power by force and not popular consent.
Agreed on all this.

Novakant: "Not that I want that to happen, but why shouldn't Iran get nuclear weapons."

As I've stated, I'm highly doubtful that if Iran did achieve nuclear weapons, and even some useful ICBM delivery system (as is obviously in their capacity sooner or later, beyond their current non-nuclear MBM capacity), that they would be less deterrable than Stalin's Soviet Union, the USSR of Brezhnev and company, or Mao's China.

But I personally don't want any more countries to get nuclear weapons, and I'd like to see the abolition of all nuclear weapons, including those of the U.S., Russia, China, France, and Great Britain. So I don't think Iran getting nuclear weapons is a helpful step, even though I agree we should be doing more our selves (starting with concluding a treaty with Russia to drastically lower the number of nuclear weapons both sides possess).

why shouldn't Iran get nuclear weapons.

Four words: Middle Eastern arms race.

"I'm also not quite sure that the well-worn "Munich" frame of "appeasement," "weakness," and "strength" is particularly useful or relevant here."

"Then you don't understand how important those concepts are culturally in the Middle East."

Iran is a third rate power, Marty. Who cares was they think of us. Is the American Leviathan that emotionally insecure?

Our position on this is very similar, Gary.

What I was getting at, is that if one looks at the history of US-Iran relations from Mossaddeq to the present day, there is pattern of the US engaging in hard-nosed "national interest" politics and applying a blatant double standard with regard to Israel that makes the Iranian nuclear ambitions seem totally rational from their point of view.

Who cares what they think of us.

The refusal to even attempt to understand your enemy's position is just plain stupid, regardless of the actual course of action favoured.

"Iran is a third rate power, Marty. Who cares was they think of us. Is the American Leviathan that emotionally insecure?"

Perhaps our experience in Iraq leads me to believe that understanding how our negotiating "partners" think and their cultural drivers might be important to the success, failure or value of negotiating with them. Yes, if we are going to spend this amount of time discussing it, then somehow it matters.


"If they wanted that deal they could have had it years ago. There is a reason they don't. There reason, not ours."

Please give a cite to an account of the Bush administration's negotiations offering such a deal. Thanks."

I have been asked this now several times.

It begs the question if anyone really thinks about how these things work. The deal described, which was the point, is a fully completed deal where the US gets pretty much everything we want and Iran gets everything it wants. It is actually not very productive to look for public evidence of the backroom discussions between third parties that have certainly happened over time.

It should go without saying that if we got everything we wanted and they got everything they wanted, that deal could have been done.

It begs the question if anyone really thinks about how these things work.

As a little heads-up, Mr. Farber will probably be back to explain to you how that's not what "begging the question" means. (I'd do it, but I don't want to step on his toes.)

It is actually not very productive to look for public evidence of the backroom discussions between third parties that have certainly happened over time.

Fortunately, I had finished the day's first mug of tea before I read this.

...Wait, wouldn't conducting all these backroom discussions with Iran already have proven to them that we're weak? And wouldn't Iran have wanted to make their existence public in order to tear down the US in the eyes of the Middle East, where negotiation is viewed as contemptible appeasement?

Wow, this is fun. Lets see, maybe I can point out this article, from Stratfor, a seemingly acceptable reference source that specifically discusses back channel communications between the two governments as recently as 2005:

U.S., Iran: Coming to Terms With Iraq and the Future?
January 4, 2005 | 0559 GMT
Summary
There have been a number of statements from Washington, Tehran and Baghdad suggesting that the Bush administration, the clerical regime in Iran and the power brokers in Iraq's Shiite majority community have reached an understanding on the future of Iraq. Despite the Iranian nuclear issue -- which Washington does not deem an immediate threat -- it would appear that dealings on Iraq could pave the way for enhanced U.S.-Iranian bilateral relations.

Analysis
Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said Jan. 3 that Tehran had not yet decided on a third party to mediate in unspecified negotiations between Iran and the United States. The statement comes the day after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that a future Iraqi government dominated by the Shia and influenced by Iran will not be a threat to the United States or its interests. On the same day in Baghdad, the main Shiite-dominated electoral coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, said that if it came to power in the Jan. 30 elections, it would not be calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces from the country.

These three statements along with other related developments suggest that Washington and Tehran have reached an understanding on how Iraq needs to be stabilized.

The likely deal comes close on the heels of the temporary end of the nuclear standoff involving Iran in November 2004. Iran decided to comply with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog -- at least for the time being -- in order to achieve its goal of gaining influence over Iraq through the installation of a Shiite-dominated Iraqi regime in the Jan. 30 polls.

Conversely, the United States also understands that Iraq's demographics -- particularly its 60-65 percent Shiite majority -- and the continuing insurgency leave little choice but to engage Iran on the issue of Iraq. Another reason Washington has come back to the Iranian/Shiite option is that at its current state of development the clerical regime's nuclear program does not constitute an immediate threat, and it can always contain Iran through the European Union. The United States does not expect Iran to pose a real nuclear threat anytime soon. Washington understands that Tehran currently is using the threat as a means of achieving other goals. Tehran manipulated the nuclear threat to get the United States to the table to talk about Iraq -- a goal that has been accomplished. Iran can return to the nuclear issue at a later date, and the Bush administration seems confident that it will have other ways and means to deal with the nuclear issue at the appropriate time. For now, however, the Bush administration has successfully isolated the two issues in its dealings with Iran, which likely will lead to improved relations between the two sides, especially if the issue of Iraq is resolved to their mutual satisfaction.

At the crux of the Iraqi issue is that neither Washington nor Tehran can escape from the reality that they need each other to get what they want from Iraq. Washington needs to bring eventual closure to its policy of regime-change in Iraq and scale back its troop levels. For Iran, Iraq is the instrument through which it can break out of the Persian Gulf area and become a major regional player in the larger Middle East, especially at a time when there is no potential rival to thwart its ambitions. At the same time, Washington might be using the Shiite Persians to balance Sunni Arabs and keep the Middle East focused on regional squabbles in order to prevent them from unifying against the United States.

Given the last quarter of a century of bad relations, there seems no way: 1) for the two sides to openly conduct business, at least not immediately; 2) for each to be sure that the other will not renege on its commitments; and 3) for them to come to mutually acceptable terms. Now, however, the major points of disagreement seem to have either been set aside to be dealt with at a future date or perhaps resolved amicably.

The nuclear issue is in the first category. Washington appears at ease with the issue being dealt with through its EU proxy and the logic of events in Iraq necessitated that it stand down on the nuclear matter in order to pursue its goals vis-a-vis Baghdad. The other major sticking point was the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Washington did not engage in a quid pro quo with Iran -- trading Iraq for nuclear power. Instead, it recognized that the nuclear issue was a false crisis at present and decided to deal with the real issue. Tehran stepped back from the nuclear crisis, even though nuclear weapons remain a strategic interest of the Iranians -- and Washington is by no means oblivious to this.

Through both back channels and public statements, Washington appears to have finally convinced the Iranians that it is not going to try to effect regime change in Tehran. At the same time, the growing Sunni insurgency has made it easier for Iraq's Shia to accommodate U.S. and coalition forces remaining in Iraq after an all-but-certain Shiite ascent to power in Baghdad -- and avoid looking like collaborators.

Only Sunni nationalist guerrillas and transnational jihadists now threaten the road to the Jan. 30 elections and beyond. This does not mean that all is settled between the Bush administration, Iran's clerical regime and the Shiite Hawza in Iraq; nor does it mean that at some future point the Shia -- both Arab and Persian -- will not run into problems with Washington or vice-versa. At least the vote in Iraq can be held in some shape or form, and the war on terrorism can go on.

Remember, I said, "their reasons, not ours."

Perhaps our experience in Iraq leads me to believe that understanding how our negotiating "partners" think and their cultural drivers might be important to the success, failure or value of negotiating with them.

But if your position is that the mere act of negotiation is seen as weakness, how would knowing that help with...negotiations?

It should go without saying that if we got everything we wanted and they got everything they wanted, that deal could have been done.

Which is my argument, not yours! My point is that we have NOT offered Iran security guarantees. Quite the opposite: we have openly discussed the preferability of regime change, and have ACTUALLY engaged in covert operations to destabilize the regime.

We also do know of some of those backroom dealings, and the party rejecting the deal was the US (despite Iran putting everything on the table).

Washington appears to have finally convinced the Iranians that it is not going to try to effect regime change in Tehran.

Yeah, where could the Iranians have ever gotten that idea? Perhaps this can be considered the moment the US finally surrendered to appeasement.

This does not mean that all is settled between the Bush administration, Iran's clerical regime and the Shiite Hawza in Iraq;

Wait, I thought these backdoor discussions were giving both sides everything they wanted.

Washington and Tehran have reached an understanding on how Iraq needs to be stabilized.

Oh, right, this was focused on Iraq and its elections, and punted on pretty much everything else:

Washington appears at ease with the issue being dealt with through its EU proxy and the logic of events in Iraq necessitated that it stand down on the nuclear matter in order to pursue its goals vis-a-vis Baghdad. . . . Washington did not engage in a quid pro quo with Iran -- trading Iraq for nuclear power. Instead, it recognized that the nuclear issue was a false crisis at present and decided to deal with the real issue.

Well, I'm convinced. The US offered Iran everything Iran wanted in exchange for everything the US wanted, only to be repudiated for "there [sic] reasons, not ours." Which is why Iran destabilized Iraq enough to disrupt the 2005 elections. And they continue to defiantly work on their nuclear program, while denying that they're pursuing nuclear weapons, despite the fact that the US boldly left such matters to the EU. Which is now presumably viewed as a bunch of impotent appeasers throughout the Middle East as a consequence.

Well, at least you're having fun.

Marty: Not sure what your point is in citing the Stratfor article. It was a discreet issue resolved between two parties whose interests in Iraq are more or less aligned.

Iran wants the Iran-friendly Shiite/Kurd dominated Iraqi government empowered for years to come. So does the US. This deal was easy. It specifically excludes the other issues central to our ongoing discussion of Iran.

Further, if you recall, the SOFA in Iraq specifically and expressly forbids the US from using Iraqi soil to launch military attacks on third party nations (read: Iran). Iran insisted on including that provision, and Maliki willingly complied. The US didn't want it, of course, but they were overruled. So even if the US was able to assuage Iran's concerns enough to cut a deal on Iraq, Iran remains fearful, cautious and skeptical of the US govt's longterm plans.

Finally, the very act of negotiating is not what I caqlled appeaeement, negotiating with nothing to gain is simply appeasement. Read what I wrote. The point was that there was no nuclear threat so why would we bother to start negotiating for nothing? Which in the article is pretty much what the Bush administration decided. It actually supports the lack of threat argument Eric made, that I didn't argue much, and that negotiations were therefore not important, which was my point.

And yes, over the last three weeks, please note, that the primary targets of Irans propaganda have been, not surprisingly, Britain and the EU.

Oh, and in the spirit of asking to prove the unproveable, could you point out the public record of those covert actions we have taken to destabilize the regime?

Look, Marty, if the consensus opinion is that Iran is well enough if left alone, and that their nuclear program doesn't pose a threat, and that neither the US nor Israel should attack Iran's non-threatening nuclear program, then I can live with that.

However, if you pay attention to the rhetoric emanating from Tel Aviv and from the Right in the US, that is not the consensus opinion at all.

Exact opposite.

According to Tel Aviv and the Right in the US, Iran is an existential threat to Israel and the US, is the next Hitler, wants to wipe Israel off the map, is so irrational it can't be deterred through the doctrine of MAD, etc.

Just read Fred's comments on this thread for a sample.

negotiating with nothing to gain is simply appeasement

So wouldn't Iran be appeasing us as well? Wouldn't it be Mutually Assured Appeasement? I can think of worse things.

Could someone tell me where my lenghty post went?

OK, I'll try again:

Personally I think that US security guarantees would be worth as much as those given to Belgium before WW1, i.e. close to nothing. Both France and Germany were willing to ignore Belgian neutrality should it stay in their way (in Germany in the way of their attack on France, in France in the way of the defense against that). And US history indicates that guarantees and treaties can't be trusted independent of who sits in the WH.
---
I agree with the assumption that Iran wants the nuclear ability, not necessarily an actual arsenal of nukes.
---
Ahmadinejad might be indeed like Hitler in his methods (including using the old elites on the one hand while preaching against them on the other) but I don't see the ambition beyond increasing his own power in Iran.
If 'finishing Hitler's work' is his real goal, why do Jews feel less threatened in Iran than in most or all Arab countries? Compare that to how the regime treats e.g. the Baha'i.
---
US conditions for a 'deal' are unconditional surrender by Iran on all important topics before negotiations even start. Not the smart way to get anyone to the table.
---
I consider it possible that Ahmadinejad got a relative majority of votes before rigging, maybe even a small absolute majority. But by the massive rigging (I believe to be true) and blatant post-election break of proper procedure (undoubted) he has forfeited any possible legitimacy.
---
As long as the US has no diplomatic relations with Iran, it does not matter whether the election was legitimate or not. The problem starts once the US enters any direct negotiations benefitting the regime. So a hands-off approach for seems to be the wisest choice at the moment.
---
It would be interesting to see the reactions should the US openly call for gay rights in Iran given the powerful (and very loud) anti-gay forces inside the US.

Eric,

I was just responding to the assertion that somehow we haven't had any contact with the Iranian government for thirty years. Several people have implied we haven't, of course we have.

"So wouldn't Iran be appeasing us as well? Wouldn't it be Mutually Assured Appeasement? I can think of worse things."

Not really, they would like sanctions lifted, membership in those clubs, etc. that would help them in some ways, they do have something to gain. And in fact, we might gain some stability and less proxy violence. It really isn't all one side or the other, I just like to make sure the other is represented.

Marty,

That's certainly not what I said ("no contact at all"). What we haven't been willing to do is confront the full panopoly of issues before us. We haven't offered the deal that you seem to think, without evidence, that we simply must have.

As for US covert Ops, here's one story with some background. See, also, US support for the MEK. And of course, there's the not-so-covert stuff like backing Saddam in his war with Iran.

Marty- and how recently did a presidential candidate sing about "Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran"? They watch our news too.

Backroom dealings are a start. But because they are secret, 3rd parties in either government can scuttle the agreements, even unintentionally.

Once again, I didn't define the deal or say it had been offered in total. I responded to a deal defined by someone else with the statement that if Iran wanted that deal, which they don't because it starts with recognizing Israel, they could have it any time, and could have.

Then people jumpedd on the, when have we ever talked to them bandwagon, prove that we have offeredd to talk, and I believe that the article proves we would be willing to talk if they were at all willing. But if, up front, they declare they will continue to work for the destruction of Israel, then why waste the time?

But if, up front, they declare they will continue to work for the destruction of Israel, then why waste the time?

But that's not the case. We haven't had those negotiations, nor have they issued such statements prior to those negotiations since they haven't commenced.

If Iran wanted that deal, which they don't because it starts with recognizing Israel, they could have it any time, and could have.

But we haven't offered them that deal, so how do we know they wouldn't take it? More importantly, how would Iran know that it could have that deal any time it wanted if the US has never actually offerred that deal?

I asked for evidence that we have offerred them that deal. You have not provided any.

Eric Martin:
"Remember, Friedman is talking about more than just the protests. He's talking about political fights that are occurring in the background behind the protests, and which will continue even now that the protests have diminished in size."

And he's privileging them over the protests. He's saying that's were the "real" fight is. Where I differ from you and Friedman is that it's a combo of Moussavi, the street protests, Rafsanjani with each of them bolsterign the other and I wouldn't dismiss the street protests as a lesser factor which you are doing and don't deny it.

If the "real" fight is with Rafanjani on one side, (with the street protests a sideshow) this makes the political confrontation less "resonating" and less fundamental.

You write:
"George Friedman of Stratfor offers useful correctives to some of the narratives about the Iranian election that, due to the fact that they resonated with Western audiences, found fertile soil for propagation (that the conflict was one based on liberal reform vs. clerical rule, pro-Western/US factions vs. anti-Western/US factions, pro-domestic nuclear program vs. anti-domestic nuclear program, etc). This was the case despite the fact that those Western-oriented storylines only described a small portion of the overall picture - indeed, they served to conceal the larger tectonic clashes underneath:"

Larger tectonic clashes underneath? Between "elites" who "fundamentally agree".?

You know how in the televised debates between Obama and McCain you could get a sense of what their political programs were? Well you could in Iran too where that first debate was were it really blew wide open:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/world/middleeast/04iran.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=Iran%20Moussavi%20television%20debate&st=cse

"Mr. Moussavi, a former prime minister whose moderate views have won him support from other reformers in Iran, including former President Mohammad Khatami, has positioned himself as the strongest challenger to Mr. Ahmadinejad. Support from the Islamic authorities for the president, who is a religious conservative, appears to have weakened, and he is now widely criticized for Iran’s economic malaise.

With the presidential election to be held June 12, Mr. Moussavi was on the offensive during the debate, which was broadcast by state-run television. At one point he accused Mr. Ahmadinejad of moving Iran toward “dictatorship.” At another, he said that the president’s foreign policy suffered from “adventurism, illusionism, exhibitionism, extremism and superficiality.”

He also took issue with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s constant questioning of the Holocaust, saying that it harmed the country’s standing with the rest of the world and undermined its dignity. “For the past four years you kept saying that the United States is collapsing,” Mr. Moussavi said. “You have said Israel is collapsing. France is collapsing.”

He added, “Your foreign policies have been based on such illusional perceptions.”"

You and Stratfor want to make it primarily (weasle word on your part) about Rafsanjani and a squalid battle of elites over spoils. It's about much more. It's not pro-west/anti-west - which you seem obsessed about, it's about many Iranians wanting a more liberalized, less isolated country and if some peoples minds thats pro-west, so be it. Stratfor really disapoints.

Well we're getting circular and silly now aren't we, I stated they could have that deal if they wanted it, and stipulated that we haven't offered the total deal to them.

Probably because they publicly make it clear they won't recognize Israel, often, loudly and with vigor.

It always amazes me that,in the end, we are happy to criticize us and assume that dictators that subjagate their people through terror and violence, threaten their neighbors and regional enemies on a regular basis, export that terrorism and threaten nuclear destruction would suddenly become great guys if only we made a first step.

"But we haven't offered them that deal, so how do we know they wouldn't take it?"

Because we have a brain, five senses, and the common sense to evaluate our options in reference to who we are talking about. If they wanted a deal, they have the capacity to start the conversation.

First step, they say everything, including Israel is on the table. Next step, we say ok lets talk. That simple. Otherwise, reread all posts above on appeasement and negotiating for nothing.

First step, they say everything, including Israel is on the table. Next step, we say ok lets talk.

They did that. We rejected it. They even offered to recognize Israel. We rejected it. Somehow, our five senses betrayed us? Our brain?

PeterK:

Calm down your overheated rhetoric, respond to what I actually wrote without impugning motives (weasel word? Really?) and I'll gladly discuss this issue until the cows come home.

The election, and the aftermath, were about several things. I tend to think Friedman might have overstated his case slightly (but only slightly), but it was a useful corrective because the issues he discusses were nowhere to be found in the US press. You citing a NY Times article framing the issues in the election is not the most persuasive in terms of refuting the claim that the US press framed the issues a certain way.

At the end of the day, the street protests have come and gone, and the battle that I was "wrong to privilege" over those protests in terms of impact is still going on. And really, it's not about "privileging" and "valuing" and "diminishing". I find the protesters story to be much more compelling, much more noble and their sacrifices more extreme and authentic. But in terms of analysis, there are other stories that might be more important.

Please, try not to jump to 100 different conclusions in the heat of the moment.

It always amazes me that,in the end, we are happy to criticize us and assume that dictators that subjagate their people through terror and violence, threaten their neighbors and regional enemies on a regular basis, export that terrorism and threaten nuclear destruction would suddenly become great guys if only we made a first step.

See, that's why I thought Nixon was incredibly naive to go meet with Mao. Also, did Reagan really think the Soviets would become "great guys" if only he'd meet with them? I mean, the Soviets killed tens of millions of their own people in brutal purges! Would they suddenly wake up and say, "Now that Reagan met with us, we'll respect human rights and be angels"? I think not.

Those two leaders sure look foolish in retrospect. Right? Guys?

"They did that. We rejected it. They even offered to recognize Israel. We rejected it. Somehow, our five senses betrayed us? Our brain?"

yes

eric, I think you mean "discrete" in your 10:27 post "It was a discreet issue..."
(Just showing I actually read what you write)

Thanks JC. That one bedevils me always. It's like a mental block.

I think Post by: Peter K. | July 01, 2009 at 11:29 AM is closer to the truth. Or rather that the problem with the original thesis:
"The key to understanding the situation in Iran is realizing that the past weeks have seen not an uprising against the regime, but a struggle within the regime."

is that it was actually both and we are not really in a position to know how much of each was involved in the current state of affairs. What started as a "meaningless" choice between two candidates with nearly identical substantive policies as they related to US interests (but considerable stylistic differences) gained momentum as reformers came to believe that who was elected President actually did make a difference. I don't know how much this was the result of the performance of Moussavi's wife; how much was an Obama effect (if the US can elect someone intelligent and non-embarasssing why should we re-elect a Bush like person); how much was Obama is showing respect therefore we want someone who will negotiate with him. I think they all played a part.

None of this takes away from the point that no loss will occur from trying to negotiate.
The difficult question to answer is whether the Iranian regime will be too frightened to negotiate. But that is for them to answer.

Empathy is the key tool. Fortunately Obama recognizes its importance.


JC: I don't necessarily disagree. As I said, I think Friedman overstaes his case, but it was a useful corrective because that very large part of the story has been completely ignored, in favor of certain narratives that don't match.

Further, a significant portion of the protesters were not liberal, reform types, but were well established clerics. Early on, their presence was cited as one of the reasons that the regime was having such a tough time cracking down on the protests.

@Marty:

Finally, the very act of negotiating is not what I caqlled appeaeement, negotiating with nothing to gain is simply appeasement. Read what I wrote. The point was that there was no nuclear threat so why would we bother to start negotiating for nothing? Which in the article is pretty much what the Bush administration decided. It actually supports the lack of threat argument Eric made, that I didn't argue much, and that negotiations were therefore not important, which was my point.

Okay, let's look at that article you cited:

The United States does not expect Iran to pose a real nuclear threat anytime soon. Washington understands that Tehran currently is using the threat as a means of achieving other goals. Tehran manipulated the nuclear threat to get the United States to the table to talk about Iraq -- a goal that has been accomplished. Iran can return to the nuclear issue at a later date, and the Bush administration seems confident that it will have other ways and means to deal with the nuclear issue at the appropriate time.

Hmmm... Are we reading the same article? The one you quoted certainly doesn't seem to be saying that there's no American perception of an Iranian nuclear threat - it's saying that said threat (as of the article's writing back in '05) can be kicked down the road so as to not interfere with negotiation over Iraq. It can be addressed and dealt with later. Not that it doesn't exist, but rather that it is not so dire and pressing and time-sensitive that addressing it couldn't wait until after matters that were dire and pressing and time-sensitive were addressed.

This does not suggest that the US feels it has nothing to gain from negotiation - very much to the contrary. It suggests that the US recognizes that there are things it would like to achieve at a later date than that of the article's writing.

Eric:"JC: I don't necessarily disagree."

An almost double negative which leaves me wondering what part of what I said you may disagree with. (Or just an abundance of caution to avoid having to scrutinize my prose)

For my part let me say that I agree completely with the final three paragraphs of your original post.

with respect to this paragraph:

"Finally, the Mousavi/Rafsanjani faction was no more willing to cut a deal with the US government absent security guarantees and other concessions than the Ahmadinejad faction."

I certainly believe it was true on election day. Whether there has been any change since, I suspect you are correct and even fear M/R may be less willing if they come out on top to appear "weak" , but may be more willing to explore getting a really good deal.

and I almost totally agree with this sentence:
"Regardless of which side came out on top, the contours of the deal remain the same - as do our interests in pursuing that deal, and Iran's interests in the same"

to think big- suppose Obama could convince both India and Pakistan to renounce their nuclear weapons; or Israel to renounce its nuclear weapons in return for recognition by Iran

OK, JC, pardon the lawyerly parsing: I agree.

Keep in mind that the best way to protect America from terrorist attacks is to make sure Osama bin Laden attacks us.

The right to use as much violence as necessary is the right to be free.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad