Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Responding to a comment

While I always enjoy receiving comments on my posts, yesterday's comment was a bit confusing. Firstly, the author used a perjorative expression "these people" which pretty much says it all. Whoever posted the comment clearly doesn't believe that any negotiation is possible with "these people", probably because they're crazy muslims or something.

But what was really confusing was the brief history reference.

Claim: Ronald Reagan negotiated with Iran.

Fact: Only when he illegally sold weapons in the Iran-Contra scandal.

This was the most confusing claim of all because what is very clear is that Reagan NEVER negotiated with Iran. There is a conspiracy theory that suggests that the Reagan campaign asked the Iranians to not release the hostages until after the Carter-Reagan election, but this theory is self-evidently stupid since the Iranians would have had absolutely no incentive to go along with such a request since Reagan was more hardline toward the Islamic Republic than Carter. At any rate, what is clear is that Carter negotiated the release of the hostages, even if it was too late to save his presidency.

However, even more bizarre (as related to the comment) is that everyone should have seen by now the photos of Donny Rumsfield shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, circa 1983. That's because the Reagan administration sided with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Iran was (and remains) our enemy and for a lot of reasons, but mostly out of a fear of the spread of Islamic Fundamentalism, Reagan actively worked to contain Iran, including launching a one-day offensive at the end of his term in retaliation for the mining of one of our navy vessels.

Ultimately, any suggestion that "Reagan tried negotiating" with Iran is distrubingly inaccurate. You can read the highlights here.

The second claim from the comment is that Iran's president embarrassed Clinton at the 2000 Millenium Summit. This claim is just bizarre to me. I've never heard of such a claim before and a quick google search reveals no further information. What is clear, however, is the history (as detailed in this excellent CRS Report).

When Clinton took office in January 1993, he strengthened the US containment policy toward Iran primarily by increasing the depth and impact of the previous sanctions regime. In 1997, the Iranian reformer Khatami won a landslide victory for president and the US almost immediately shifted it's containment policy to one of rapproachment. There were some talks, initial steps were made, Albright conceded that the US had meddled with internal Iranian affairs in the past, and generally good will was generated (a prerequisite to substantive talks). This all culminated at the Millenium 2000 conference where Albright and President Clinton attended President Khatami's speech as a sign of respect.

The Bush administration put and end to this touchy feely rapproachment. Six years later, we've got an Iran with a crash nuclear program, a conservative president, and a policy of undercutting US action and leadership in the Middle East.

All of this (as well as the report I posted yesterday and the above mentioned CRS report) suggests that we had a real chance to begin a substantive rapproachment with Iran that could have yielded tangible benefits. That doesn't mean it would have worked. But we had a great opportunity and Bush blew it.

The last part of the comment that is more frustrating than anything is this part:

"It's not that we don't negotiate with the Iranians. We do, on background. It's that we don't go to them hat in hand. Sure they want "grand bargain" negotiations, where they end up in charge of the Persian Gulf and domination of the Arab League states is assured."

These sentences suggest I either failed to be clear in my original post or that the commenter has the reading comprehension level of a 2-year old. Of course we have had "quiet diplomacy" and "background" talks with Iran. We have those things with most of our "enemies". That wasn't my point at all.

In fact, I borrowed the phrase "grand bargain" for what I imagine was the exact same reason the orginal author used the term: To highlight the differences between peicemeal negotiations and comprehensive negotiations. If one thing is clear from recent history with negotiating with rogue states, it's that peicemeal negotiations don't work, primarily because it usually involves us asking them to do something they're not inclined to do absent a "grand bargain".

North Korea is a great example of this. In the early 90's, they racheted up their nuclear program and their rhetoric, primarily to get to the bargaining table. They wanted a comprehensive deal with the US, including a formal end to hostilities, lifting of sanctions, and an eventual reunification with the South. The first step to that was the Agreed Framework which was negotiated in November 0f 1994 and essentially guaranteed that the US would build nuclear reactors for the North, provide fuel oil during the construction phase, and in exchange, the North would cease it's nuclear program. This was a first step in what should have been an eventual resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Unfortunately, domestic political problems in the US essentially slayed the deal. While there were definitely problems on the North Korean side (mainly missile sales unrelated to the deal, but perceived by the GOP Congress as a violation of the spirit of the deal), what ultimately killed the deal was two things. First, the US didn't really follow up on the construction of two nuclear reactors as promised. At least, three years later, nothing had been done. North Korea, rightly, questioned if anything was ever to be done. And second, in 1997, the Republican Congress slashed the fuel oil funding from the budget, essentially as payback for the Lewinsky scandal. The effect of the budget cuts left North Korea with no way out. Either they had to restart their reactors to power and heat the country, or they had to suffer the indignity of a freezing winter and frequent losses of electricity. Ultimately, the North perceived these two actions (or inactions) as the straw that broke the camel's back. The US "broke" the deal, according to them, so they did the logical thing and restarted their nuclear program.

The point of this historical diatribe is that comprehensive negotiations worked with North Korea. And they could have (can?) worked with Iran. Even though the deal eventually fell apart, North Korea shelved it's nuclear ambitions with the drop of a hat because their goals were not simply to acquire nuclear arms. Just as Iran's goal in 2002-2003 wasn't simply to become a nuclear power.

A lot has changed since then and it remains to be seen if comprehensive negotiations could work with the current Iranian government (not to mention the Bush government), but I think the clear point from this history lesson is that peicemeal negotiations don't work. North Korea is not going to shelve it's nuclear program just because we demand it and use sanctions to back up our demands any more than Saddam Hussein was going to or Iran will.

Any negotiation between parties has to include tangible benefits for both sides and the US posture the last 6 years (if not a lot longer) has been to essentially demand a rogue take the first step with the promise of eventual negotiations and benefits in the future.

In essense, it's like walking into McDonald's where they demand you give them a fiver with the promise that the next time you come in, they'll give you a Big Mac combo. You wouldn't do it, just as a rogue state won't give up it's one bargaining chip in exchange for the possibility of future talks over normalizing of relations, easing of sanctions, etc.

So that's the point, Captain Anonymous. Sanctions don't work. Piecemeal negotiations don't work. Creating deals and then breaking them doesn't work. Perhaps it's time to step up to the table and actually give the strategy of comprehensive negotiation a real try.

And if doesn't work? Ok, we go back to shunning Iran and North Korea with as much fervor as possible. But I gotta say, if one things clear, it's that not only has our coercement/containment strategy completely failed to prevent North Korean (and Iranian) nuclear development, but it's also completely unlikely that it will cause Iran or North Korea to come to our table with their hat in hand, asking for forgiveness as Condi Rice likes to think.

So there you have it. Either we continue with the status quo, nuclear proliferation in hostile states continues, risking nuclear or dirty terrorism in American cities, as well as undercutting our Middle East strategy, or we take a chance on some real, comprehensive negotiation and see what type of deal we could get. I'm with former Sec State Baker on this one. Let's sit down at the table and see if a deal is possible.

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Blogger section9 said...

Reagan tried negotiating with the Iranians. He tried an opening. You can lie your way out of it, but the Khomeinists stood him up and embarrassed him.

Clinton tried negotiating with those people. Their then-President was supposed to "bump into" Clinton in the hallway and converse with him. Ayatollah Khameini vetoed the meet at the last minute and cancelled it.

The Agreed Framework was a huge scam. The North Koreans used the time allowed them by this Clinton blunder to accelerate work on plutonium research underground. Only a liberal is stupid enough to believe that North Korea began plutonium research once Bush got nasty with them. PU research takes eons.

They snookered both Administrations. Why can't liberals get angry at the North Koreans, instead of the Republicans.

Jesus, you need to be horsewhipped for posting something that stupid.

10:38 PM  
Blogger SJH said...

Now that's not very Christmassy of you, now is it.

9:07 AM  

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