08 December 2006

Iraq Study Group, Part One

Having read the whole thing, I can now make comments.

I presume that anyone with an interest can and will download the silly thing themselves. I will not summarize the document, there is too much summarizing going on in the debate on Iraq already. That's part of my peeve with the American people--I can spend a year in Iraq, but your average civillian won't take two hours to read a report on the subject. Feh.

Part One: Ummm, OK. The situation in Iraq sucks rocks. We're tracking. While this section is pessimistic, it is realistic and more or less accurate. I have not seen anything that contradicts this assesment of the strengths and weaknesses of the US approach in Iraq, the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi Security Forces.

I think I just excommunicated myself from the War Hawk Blogger Coalition, because I'm willing to admit that the situation in Iraq is not all roses and flowers. It's not an unrecoverable catastrophe, and those in the antiwar crowd who pretend it is are bonkers, cowards, and need a boot up the butt. Some of the faults of the IA/IP are unavoidable. Some of them are just part of the startup process. Some of them aren't. Some of the stresses in Iraqi society are unavoidable. Some aren't.

Part Two, the recommendations.

I'm just going to address the initial set of recommendations, for the diplomatic side of the house.

What some folks are up in arms over is the idea of negotiating with Iran and Syria. Iran and Syria are the enemy, blahblahblah, appeasement blahblahblah, Chamberlain blahblahblah Danegeld.

Have I summarized the objections of the folks who are sitting in a nice comfy chair in their living rooms adequately?

Let's look at a couple things. Diplomacy isn't just asking someone nicely to do what you want them to do, and the panty-waisted effeminate Europeans who think that is diplomacy have the Iron Duke spinning in his grave. Diplomacy is finding acceptable compromises, and sometimes it is communicating blunt threats that if compromise is not reached, countries will be smacked upside the head.

That's Point Number One. Negotiating with Arabs cannot be politely asking them something, because they will stall and avoid saying no, while doing precisely as they please. The Persians are considerably more civilized, but they are a real culture, not some hopped-up desert bandits.

We have Bad Things we can do to Iran and Syria. Diplomats call them "disincentives" and they range all the way up to making Damascus disappear in a puff of radioactive smoke.

On the other hand, we also have incentives. Normalized diplomatic relations, economic relations, etc.

The way intelligent people negotiate runs something like this, "If you, Mr. Amenawhatever, continue to act the fool and inconvenience the United States, we will apply these disincentives. If, however, you stop acting the fool, we are prepared to offer these incentives."

What are Iran's national objectives?
Can these objectives be met in such a way that the United States can live with them?
Are the incentives we can offer significant enough to entice Iran to change their behavior?
Are the disincentives significant enough to deter Iran from continuing their current course of action?

And most importantly:

Will Iran negotiate in good faith and live up to their negotiated commitments?

Now, negotiating with Iran is going to be a radical departure from the United State's current stance, which is a hard-line commitment to severed diplomatic relations and rhetoric in favor of regime change.

Disincentives: Actual regime change. Bombing raids. Arming of minority groups inside Iran. Nuclear strikes.

Incentives: Normalized relations. Trade relations. Tolerance of Iranian nuclear power program. Just treating Iran like they are a real country would be a step up for them.

We want Iran to stop sponsoring militias in Iraq and Lebanon and other terrorists. They want us to stop calling for regime change. If we are willing to do the one, are they willing to do the other? Has anyone ever freakin' asked them?

Now, there is also the question of Iranian nuclear status. Perhaps it is time to make realism the guiding light here. Nuclear bombs can be built by crappy little countries run by goofy-looking degenerates who can't even manage to get a decent haircut. It is unrealistic to expect that we can keep them out of the hands of determined countries. What we can do is make the consequences clear to Iran--that with the power will come a certain level of responsibility to control their nuclear power, and also that the United States will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if forced to a direct confrontation with another nuclear power.

The United States can posture all we like about the Axis of Evil and war to the death with Iran. It's not realistic, and if we meant it, we'd be working a lot harder for regime change. Hence abandoning a rhetorical stance that serves no one and means nothing in favor of a no kidding offer of substantive negotiations in good faith (an approach not yet tried in dealing with Iran) costs us nothing but has the prospect of huge payoff. Maybe it is time to realize that the Shah fell the year after I was born, and nothing is going to put him back. We can't have a puppet government in Iran, but maybe we can have one we can get along with. After all, the French are just as hostile and George isn't calling for regime change in Paris.

And heck, let's get real honest. If they don't play ball, we can always nuke them into glass.

But the Persians were a civilized people when our ancestors were painting themselves blue and running around naked. Treating them like they are defined by a handful of religious nutjobs doesn't get us anywhere.

We are more likely to cause Iran to evolve in positive directions (secular, democratic, free) by having contact with America and Americans through diplomacy, trade, even tourism than we are by ranting in their direction while they rant at us. We can support economic and human rights reforms more effectively within the framework of normalized relations than we can from the otherside of a self-imposed moat.

And George Bush is the perfect person to restart relations with Iran. After all, there is an old Vulcan proverb: "Only Nixon could go to China."

I'm tired and going to go curl up in bed. Let me know what you think, folks.


Blogger Tim Covington said...

I think this is a well reasoned and thought out post. I think the lack of willingness to compromise across the US political spectrum has colored are foreign policy. The vocal extremists will castigate any government official who seks compromise with Iran and Syria. Unfortunately, to many voters will listen to these nattering nut jobs and add their voices to the opposition of compromise.

As an aside, I have friends who paint themselves blue and run around naked on occasion. So, for some people, it's not just their ancestors.

12:08 AM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughtful perspective. I've linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2006/12/re-iraq-study-group-part-one.html

3:11 AM  
Anonymous montieth said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this. You're well read, rational and not taken to shying away from a fight that needs fighting. That said, I'm somewhat disinclined at the idea of asking Iran to cooperate in Iraq. What "cooperate" exactly means, I'm not sure. I've been under the impression that we've been negotiating with Iran on the subject of their Nuclear program through the conduits that the UN provides and those negotiations have gone no-where. Perhaps I'm wrong on this, but I suspect that negotiations will not go anywhere. I would like that they would, but I doubt that will be the case.

3:56 AM  
Anonymous Supe said...

Since I'm always happy to tell folks what I think...

I believe we have already asked Iran if they would stop sponsoring militias in Iraq and Lebanon and other terrorists, if we stopped calling for regime change. I find it impossible to believe that all of those incentives and disincentives haven't been offered one way or another. Maybe Bush didn't stop in and have tea with Amenawhatever, but diplomats from several nations including ours have met with his diplomats. I feel sure one of those countries who say we're diplomatic clods, made that overture.

But more than that, I fail to understand why all the same people who got so wrapped around the axel about detainee abuse and the civil rights of terrorist, can disregard the civil rights of people being hanged, stoned, impaled in Iran. If we are to have any kind of serious moral high ground in the world, we can't stay quiet about such things. We can't cosy up to people who allow such things to go on. Talking to Saddam just put off the inevitable. Talking to Iran probably won't even get that far.

Besides that, you can negotiate all you want with people in that part of the world, but all you will ever get is stalling such as we saw Saddam do for years. And Iran will never stop trying to harm anything associated with the US or anyone from the West.

But honestly, I am losing faith in America. We elect politicians and allow the dog and pony show to go forward without any real substance. Then, we engage in foreign policy as if we're serious or something- only we're not. Because the politics of manipulating the public opinion to steer election outcomes will always take precedence over whatever is actually best for the US and her allies, as well as whatever the morally correct thing to do happens to be.

I will never give up, because like you, I believe there is a way to salvage everything. But I don't see expecting help from Iran as a way to do it.

5:35 AM  

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