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. 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.

  2. TTL,

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

  3. 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.

  4. Anonymous4:30 PM

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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. ;-)

  8. "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....

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.