Thursday, May 18, 2006

Iran and Bad Diplomacy

The administration still insists that it hopes diplomacy will solve the Iranian nuclear program controversy. But it's insisting on diplomatic measures that are unlikely to succeed.

It's bad enough that we'll only talk to Iran through proxies in the United Nations--we're negotiating with the negotiators--but to top it off, the deal we're authorizing the negotiators to negotiate with Iran is manifestly bogus.

A Reuters report from Monday carried the Bush machine's latest attempt to puppeteer an agreement with Iran.
The European Union is ready to share the most sophisticated civilian nuclear technology with Iran if it agrees to halt uranium enrichment on its soil, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Monday.

But the initiative seemed likely to be rejected by Iran.

Iran is likely to reject the deal for the same reason it rejected an almost identical deal offered by the Russians a few months ago. It's a raw deal. Saying you can have a nuclear energy program if you don't enrich uranium on your own soil is like saying you can have an automobile industry as long as you don't make your own cars in your own country.

Thinking Iran would fall for a scam like that is the rough equivalent of trying to buy 21st century Manhattan for a fistful of wampum. Only young Mister Bush and Dick and Don and Condi would think they might get away with it. Or maybe they know they can't get away with it, and don't care.

Are They Really That Dumb?

In January 2006, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said, "There is simply no peaceful rationale for the Iranian regime to resume uranium enrichment."

Condi's becoming more and more like her fellow Bush administration luminaries all the time. It's difficult to say whether she actually believes her own balderdash or if she figures she can say anything and nobody will call her on it no matter how ridiculous it is.

The argument that an oil rich nation like Iran doesn't have a legitimate reason to pursue nuclear energy is a non-starter. Iran has reasonable ambitions to emerge as a modern industrial nation. Building up its infrastructure will require increased energy consumption. The less of its own oil it needs to provide its domestic energy needs, the more it has to sell to other, larger emerging nations like China.

As time marches on, Iran's big oil clients will move away from fossil fuel energy to nuclear energy. At some future date, the demand and price of oil will drop to the point where it's not worth the cost of pulling it out of the ground. Other emerging nations of what we once called the "third world" will want to make the jump straight to nuclear energy, and will be looking to import the technology from countries that already have mature nuclear energy programs.

If, at that point, Iran cannot enrich its own uranium, it will be up the creek of proverbs without a paddle. Nobody will want to buy its oil, it won't have the kind of nuclear energy anybody wants to import, and it will be wholly dependent on other nations to supply fuel for its reactors.

One might reasonably expect Secretary of State and former professor of political science at Stanford University Condoleezza Rice to understand that. Is she playing dumb, or is she just being dumb?

Middle East, Take Two

Even as he echoes the diplomacy mantra, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is planning two big show-of-force demonstrations aimed at bringing Iran into line with America's demands: the big "bunker buster" test in Nevada and a multi-battle group naval exercise in the Arabian Gulf.

In "stick and carrot" diplomacy, you give an adversary a choice between a nice, tasty carrot and a club upside the head. What the Bush administration is practicing with Iran is "stick and kick" diplomacy. Take a club upside the head or a steel-toed boot up the other end.

For reasons we previously discussed, Iran cannot accept a "no enrichment" agreement. If America continues to insist on one, we'll all too probably watch a rerun of the Iraq show.

"Negative proof" arguments that the target nation has or seeks to possess weapons of mass destruction (we can't prove they don't have or want them, therefore they must have or want them).

Comparisons of the target nation's head of state to Hitler, and claims that he's psychotic.

Scare noise about "state sponsor of terrorism" and "destabilizing influence."

Half-baked attempts at diplomacy that have little chance of succeeding. When they don't succeed, blaming France, Germany, China, Russia, the UN, and any other scapegoat that happens to be handy.

What about a "catalyzing event," the next Pearl Harbor on 911? The U.S. naval maneuvers in the Gulf will supply ample opportunity for such a thing. Games of "chicken" on the high seas lead to shots being traded. Maybe a surface combatant hits a mine. Maybe an Iranian patrol boat gets lucky and hits an aircraft carrier with an anti-ship missile.

And the mightiest nation in history jumps headfirst into another quagmire.


  1. Am I to understand, Jeff, that you're fine and dandy with a country led by ayatollah's and a guy who said the holocaust was a myth, israel should be wiped from the map of the earth, and soon, god willing, they would be in a world without the U.S. and without zionism - you're fine with them enriching uranium and are satisfied to take the leadership at its word about their ambitions?

  2. Again, Scott, please be careful how you sling straw men around here. I didn't say anything remotely like that.

    I said they have a legitimate desire to have their own nuclear energy program, the ability to enhance their own uranium, and that our diplomatic efforts in this regard completely ignore those aims.

  3. Jeff:

    The sentence I had in mind was this one:

    "The argument that an oil rich nation like Iran doesn't have a legitimate reason to pursue nuclear energy is a non-starter"

    I take that to mean that you think any diplomacy or diplomatic solution has to allow for Iran to have a nuclear program. You also said they have to be able to enrich their own uranium or they'll be dependent upon others.

    So it seems to me you're in favor of them having a program to enrich uranium. The rest of what I posted was simply paraphrasing what the Iranian leader has actually said.

    While I may agree with you in theory, I'm not sure how wise it is to countenance a uranium enrichment program in Iran.

  4. I only have one concern. If Iran's nuclear energy program is so legitimate, why did it systematically hide the program for 20 years? If its legit, shouldn't they have done it in the open in accordance with the NPT?

    Just a couple of questions. Keep up the good work on the blog!

  5. TTL,

    I don't have easy answers to our questions. But neither, I think, do our intelligence agencies.

  6. Anonymous4:26 PM

    I don't think the question is "Are we comfortable with it?". Of course not! We should never be comfortable with a nation that we have the potential for conflict with advancing in areas useful for weapons development. The question should be "Is our level of discomfort great enough to violate our international treaties or even start a war over?".

    Iran hates the US and Israel. They are a couyntry we should be concerned with, but they can just now barely enrich uranium enough to eventually build a nuclear power program. We have a treaty with them that gives them that right. Even if I see evidence that they are on the road to develop the technology to produce weapons grade uranium, and are showing the intent to produce nuclear weapons, I may not be uncomfortable enough to want to start another Iraq.

    If, say ten years from now, they start producing weapons grade material, and assemble some weapons, and develop a delivery system that could launch a credible attack, then we should maybe start this kind of noise. Now, they are just making meaningness noises.

  7. Anonymous4:30 PM

    Israel bombed Iraq's reactors. I think I'd keep mine hidden if I were them.

  8. William:

    Is it wise to wait ten or twenty years, hoping that either a problem will never materialize or that it will be someone else's to deal with? It seems to me that trying to deal with such a situation after nuclear weapons are developed and after a delivery system is developed makes it a much more difficult problem to address.

    In the end, it is a true dilemma. The people of Iran have the right to have a secure and dependable energy source. We all know oil isn't going to last forever, and furthermore nuclear energy holds long-term promise. It is difficult to come up with an argument that they shouldn't have nuclear energy, because the people there deserve it. The Iranian people themselves are in many cases a fairly progressive group, with a fantastic history and culture (and good food to boot - I know an Iranian couple from Tehran who run a restaurant and it is wonderful).

    But putting aside the general population, the ayatollahs and the President seem to me to be nuts. And those are the guys who will control weapons systems, if any. Of course, Iran isn't a direct threat to the U.S., but it may well be a threat to our allies in the area.

    So what is the best course? I don't think military action is the way to go, but for right now it is just saber-rattling on both sides. I think if left to its own devices, Iran is as likely (or more likely) as any country in the region to end up reforming on its own, so that religious fantacism doesn't hold the reigns of power.

    A 'wait and see' attitude seems to be in order, but I'm not sure there's any harm in putting diplomatic and political pressure on the rulers of Iran in the meantime.

    It seems to me that Jeff will oppose any "noises" the admin makes simply because it is the admin making them. I suspect if we had a President Kerry and he were making the same noises, the content of this blog would be much different in terms of analyzing the actions of the administration.

    Comparisons to Hitler, for example, are generally idiotic, and they get thrown around too much, but when you get a guy talking about wiping the Jews off of the planet, you start getting a lot closer to Hitler than anyone else I've seen.

    What about terrorism? Jeff derides the fact that the admin talks about Iran and links to terrorism. Does he even care whether it is true or not? No, it is enough that the Bush admin said it and therefore it deserves to be attacked. Nevermind that:

    - Iran backs Hezbollah (with money and weapons, no less), and was apparently involved in its founding
    - Iran supports Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad
    - Iran has a price on the head of Salmon Rushdie for writing a book
    - Iran has been linked to the truck bombings of the Khobar Towers
    - Iran was involved in shipping weapons into Europe to be involved in terrorism (the weapon was discovered in Belgium in 1996)
    - Iranian officials were apparently involved in the assassination of kurdish leaders in Germany
    - Iran was involved in various bombings back in 83 including the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Marine barracks in Beirut, and French army barracks in Beirut

    And that just comes from a little bit of digging.

    So does Iran have ties to terrorism? I think they most certainly do. But if the Bush administration says it, then Jeff has to bash it - he doesn't really care whether it is true or not if he can try to make a political point about it. That's what it seems like to me. And that's precisely the sort of thinking and attitude that is what's wrong with this country today. A certain percentage of the population can't see anything other than the partisan nonsense they are steeped in. The blogosphere only makes the matter worse. Echo-chamber? The blogosphere is a bigger echo-chamber than the Bush administration could ever hope to establish, and it looks like Jeff has moved right into the middle of it.

    It's ridiculous, really, that in this country today it is so difficult to have an objective discussion about these important issues because many of the people doing the discussing don't care what is true and what isn't.

    Do we need to be attacking Iran? No. But having a realistic assessment of what the government of Iran is up to would be nice.

  9. Anonymous8:09 AM

    I am not opposed to monitoring Iran, and am not saying we should ignore them, and hope the problem goes away, but this "imminent threat" rhetoric coming from the administration is more likely to end with another Iraq than a diplomatic solution.

    There are reasons I am willing to take the Iranians at their word for now, that they will not develop nuclear weapons. First, at this point, there is no evidence they have done more than the NPT allows. Second, these Ayatollahs may be nuts, but they have declared nukes to be against Islam, and if nothing else, they take their religion seriously. Third, we will continue to monitor, and despite the current intelligence failures, I think we will know enough to tell when this is really becoming a problem. Finally, the Iranians know that if they do manage to develop a weapons program and credible delivery system, any actual attack will be met with an overwhelming response that will end their culture forever, and although they might hurt us, we will survive them.

    I fully acknowledge the terrorism, and a few other stunts, like the hostages. All except Rushdie are attacks on us and our allies based on policies that they see as an attack on them. That’s where diplomacy should be used. Rushdie, and things like their treatment of women are part of their culture, and it is their culture, to follow or to change when they decide to. All we should do about that is agree to disagree.

    I agree that it would be nice if we could discuss instead of screaming, but the extremes have never been able to do much more than scream. Jeff’s attacks on everything Bush says gives me hope that the system will eventually work. It’s not that I enjoy it happening, but you do have to admit that the right has earned a certain amount of it. The administration and congress continue to pull hard to the right, and Jeff and others like him pull back. Also, as long as Jeff can "rant", we are still free. I would become extremely worried if all of the "Bush bashing" suddenly stopped. Finally, I understand why Jeff joined the chorus. Something he truly loves has been attacked. It’s hard to not take that personally.

  10. This administration has done a bad job and done bad things, and continues to do both. It has squandered out "victory" in the Cold War, and has set us on a course of permanent war, one in which we have no real allies.

    If that's making a political point, so be it. I don't like the Bush administration. If that makes me partisan in your eyes, well, I don't care. If they ever do something well or (gasp) tell the truth about anything, I'll be happy to point it out.

    I'd say that what's wrong with this country today is that too many people are willing to turn a blind eye the sins of this government and make statements like yours that what's "wrong with this country" is the people who criticize their government.

    You've essentially accused me of half a dozen things I expressly make a point of avoiding, as you've done in the past. I'd say you might want to take a good look at your own relationship with the truth.

    Most of the time, my essays cover angles on major stories that aren't being pursued elsewhere. The point of this essay was to illustrate that the diplomatic "efforts" we're making with Iran are likely to fail and why.

    These last few comments of yours--what on earth? It looks like you got the latest copy of the talking points newsletter.

    And, as you've done in the past, you're trying to pull me into defending statements I didn't make.

    And I won't do it.

  11. William,

    Don't get too put out by Scott. He's trying to start a shouting contest so he can accuse everyone else of shouting.

    If he really wanted to have an "objective" discussion of the issue, he would have addressed the actual subject matter of the column. To do that, he would have had to come up with a compelling argument that Iran's best interests would be served by accepting a "no enrichment" agreement.

    That, of course, would have taken a lot of doing. ;-)

  12. "One might reasonably expect Secretary of State and former professor of political science at Stanford University Condoleezza Rice to understand that. Is she playing dumb, or is she just being dumb?"

    She's that dumb. I swear, I've seen her try to talk unscripted, and it's really not pretty. She's lost without talking points. All she's ever been, since joining the administration, is an echo chamber, which is what makes it so cute when she tries to act tough and stand up to Rumsfeld from time to time.

    I especially like how she points to Libya and says, see Iran, that could be you - having coffee with us and chatting nicely. And we could do that in 2006! This nicely ignores two points - one, Libya is still a monarchy (so much for the democracy support), and two, it took more than a decade to get Libya and the US to common terms. But we have to think of the PrezNut's legacy....

  13. Well, I don't know the woman, or know anyone who knows her. I have to assume she's quite bright in areas where she's comfortable--but I'm also guessing she's not that comfortable outside of academia.

    As I said in the main article, one can never tell with the Bush crowd whether they really believe their own rhetoric. But from what they're saying, especially in the case of Iran, they refuse to recognize that all political entities--whether we like them or not--have legitimate ambitions.

  14. Hi William:

    I don't think we necessarily take Iran at their word, but I don't think any military action should be taken either. That is, I'd keep as close intelligence as I could on them, to find out whether they are actually interested in weaponry or not, but I'd continue to pursue diplomatic channels, and I think talk of launching strikes or any other use of force is counter-productive.

    Realistically, I don't think there is much hope for a diplomatic solution as long as the current administration is in power. They are completely lacking in credibility in that part of the world, and no one in that part of the world (or much of the rest of it for that matter) trusts them. If we can keep things from boiling over until a new administration arrives, then we may have a better shot.

    As for the 'right' and what they've done in the country, you're absolutely right. What is the saying about power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely? You simply can't have one party in control of everything; it's a recipe for disaster. The best thing that could happen right now is that the Democrats take both houses of Congress come November (even though they're going to waste a bunch of money on investigations if they do). It's imperative that this happen if there is going to be a change. But the Democrats may well not pull it off despite the fact that the GOP has botched things so bad. Chances are, we'll be left with poor government, and left with it again in 2008.

    Now as yourself why we get such crap government. It is our own fault (the citizenry as a whole). And in my opinion, a MAJOR contributor to why we have such bad government is the blind partisanship on both sides of the aisle. I was talking to a colleague yesterday who would vote for Bush if Bush were caught molesting children and farm animals. To him, nothing the GOP does can possibly be wrong, nothing the Dems do can possibly be right. Jeff seems to be the flip side of this coin (and this attitude is pronounced in both the left and right wing blogospheres). What effect do this have? Two things:

    1) It shuts down objective discussion, because rather than look at the issue and make a decision, one need only look at which party is in favor of it and oppose or support it accordingly. It dumbs down the electorate and allows them to get by without thinking; and

    2) It leads to apathy. How many people who aren't dyed-in-the-wool Democrats care waht Michael Moore says about the GOP? No one. The guy is a completely biased knee-jerk anti-republican and people know it. When he says something against the GOP, people think to themselves "Oh, whatever, he's always bad-mouthing them." The problem is, EVEN IF Michael Moore has a good point, much of the message is lost because he's known to be unobjective. It's a boy who cried wolf scenario. Likewise, do you think any but hardcore GOPers care at all what someone like Pat Robertson says about the Democrats? No, and for the same reasons.

    So when you've got a substantial (or at least vocal) portion of the population is who 100% blindly partisan up and down the line, you're doing harm to the political process in this country. That's why it frustrates me so much. Even when these people are right about something, the message is lost in the white noise of all their other objections. And furthermore it gives an automatic "out" to the other side. You've probably seen it in this blog before, and plenty of other places, where pointing out the "source" of something automatically disqualifies it from further thought. The message is lost because the messenger is being hacked to death.

    You can't have effective self-governance if this sort of thinking becomes dominant. It is counter-productive, and as long as that's what we feed on as a populace, we're going to continue to get the crap government we deserve. I'd like to see something different.

    Lastly, I should say that criticism of the Dems, or criticism of knee-jerk bashing of the GOP does not correlate to defense of the GOP, or particularly of this administration, whom I frankly cannot stand. I've probably pointed out before that I've never voted for a Republican for national office, but have voted for plenty of Democrats. Of course, as I said above it is easier to focus on the messenger than the message. I get exactly the same grief from GOP-types about being anti-american and all that bullshit because I don't support their President.

    Anyway, that's my take on it. The reason I get exorcised over this kind of behavior is I think it is very detrimental to our Democracy.

  15. Jeff:

    Right - if I say something you don't like, it must be "talking points" sent from the GOP. You've illustrated my points perfectly.

  16. J:

    I don't think she's dumb at all (in fact, such a view is somewhat incredible). But I do think she's being intellectually dishonest and that's a problem. She's smart enough to know that much of what she says is BS, but she says it anyway because that's her job (I would have resigned by now). If she doesn't have notes and really has to defend a lot of things on her own, I'm not surprised she stumbles through it. That's my impression.

  17. Anonymous1:47 PM


    I agree with most of what you said above, but do disagree with a few points.

    The Democrats taking both houses could either be the best thing, or an absolute disaster. Many of the Dems are as out of touch with the American people, and as focused on political power over what's best for America, as the Republicans currently are. The right Democrats, or the right mix of Democrats and Republicans may be able to reach across aisles to re-unite this country and start repairing the damage done. The wrong ones will just assume the same "mandate" Bush currently thinks he has, and tear the country further apart, pulling from the other direction.

    Second, you are a bit hard on Jeff over this. I've been on a few other left wing sites, and compared to many, Jeff keeps it "under control". He is quick with the "talking points" accusation, and definitely is ready to do a bit of bush-bashing, but I very much understand why. We both took the oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic". We invested years of our lives, and more than a bit of ourselves into that defense, and to see it broken by someone like Bush tears us up.


    I'm not put out a bit by Scott. He pulls me back away from an extremism that I think we both know does this country no good. He makes a great counterpoint to your blog, and I value what he says as much as what you do. In many ways, I consider him a co-blogger here, and think this blog would be less without his opinions.

  18. Scott occasionally makes a good counterpoint, but not when he makes straw man attacks and uses other Limbaugh Letter rhetoric tricks to pull the discussion off the subject point.

  19. LOL. Now I'm using the Limbaugh letter. And you're the one talking about fallacies, Jeff?


    I appreciate the kind words. I don't put nearly the time into my posts as Jeff does keeping this blog going. Jeff tends to make very good points and I appreciate his knowledge of the military. I've seen other blogs, as you suggested, and I don't read any of them anymore. The only thing that I disagree with here is the quickness in resorting to ad hominem attacks (and saying "talking points" or "Limbaugh letter" are really just ad homs and a poor substitute for debate). It occurs to me that, being of rank in the military, Jeff isn't used to disagreement and doesn't know how to handle it effectively. If I disagree, I'm "this" or "that" or don't think for myself. Whatever.

    I also took an oath to uphold the laws and Constitution of the U.S. and my State, but I've never been in a position of having to defend that oath with my life, so may hat is off to you, Jeff, and anyone else who has served in the military. My father and grandfather were both in the Navy (my grandfather was stationed on the Arizona leading up to WWII, but was on leave in Georgia during Pearl Harbor because my grandmother was pregnant and expecting my father), and I've a number of friends and family in the military (mostly Marines it seems).

    Back to the topic: you're right about the Democrats largely being out of touch, but even so I think it would be better than leaving all the reins in the hands of the GOP. If the Dems win, I'd like to see some attempt at unity and not what I fear we'll get - endless investigations in an attempt to impeach Bush before his term is out (after the GOP did it to their guy, now they're going to want revenge).

    I'll try not to be so hard on Jeff (sometimes it may come across harder than intended). Like I said, I like the blog. He's a good writer and he knows a lot (and more importantly how to convey a lot).

  20. Anonymous6:07 PM

    I don't care if it's little green men, we need a system of checks and balances and it ain't happening now.
    I really would like to see more dems in in 06, then more progressives and even some radical fundies to split the vote up on issues.
    We need to get back to a real representation of the constituency!

  21. Very quick note - I instinctively say "Condi is dumb" but of course as you all note, she isn't dumb, she's very intelligent. She's also intellectually dishonest, disinclined to present original thought, and is an echo chamber for Bush when we needed a tough, honest and straight-minded defense thinker (when she was the national security advisor). My appologies for being inexact.