Not Knowing the Meaning of Words: Special Diplomacy Edition

Christian Brose writing at the Shadow Gov’t on the ForeignPolicy blogroll:

Is negotiating akin to appeasement? No, not inherently, but as with everything, the devil’s in the details. Diplomacy is not just a synonym for talking. It is the balancing of incentives and disincentives to elicit changes in another party’s behavior. So the question should never be, are we negotiating? — but rather, are we aligning our tools of engagement and coercion to get our desired result?

I’d be the first to say that the Bush administration did not always pass that test. Indeed, one of the many tragedies of the Iraq war was that, at the moment (in April 2003) when U.S. leverage over Iran was highest, the Bush administration did not attempt to use it to change Iran’s behavior. Would it have worked? Who knows. But it should have been tried, because the administration then spent its final years trying (unsuccessfully) to recreate the leverage it once had for a policy that was too-little-too-late.  (my italics)

This is not so smart.  This is the same Washington establishment mindset Brose cheers that ED recently and quite brilliantly jeered.

The stupidest thing about this ‘graf, which I’ve italicized for effect, would require 2.5 seconds of thought to formulate a cogent retort if you know any history on this subject.  In the beginning of the Afghanistan Conflict and prior to the Iraq War (2002 basically) the Iranians offered help to the US in the building of a post-Taliban Afghan government since the Taliban were/are sworn enemies of the Tehran regime (bonus: oops there went the whole worldwide united Islamist threat canard–kinda hard to be a united world front when you are busying fighting and killing each other).  The Iranians even offered a deal whereby they would help train Afghan police under US auspicies (i.e. with US training manuals, in US style, etc.).

For Iran’s (otherwise quite helpful) effort, especially via their strong connections to the Northern Alliance and being arguably the central cementing power that formed the Bonn Agreement, they were put in the Axis of Evil.

Then in the run-up to the Iraq War, Iran told the US it would help in the post-conflict stabilization, which the US of course needed having gone in without strong Allied Support–sorry Coalition of the Willing :(    Iran also made entirely clear to the US that this was a one time offer and that if the US rejected it (which Bush of course stupidly did), America could enjoy holding the chaotic post-war Iraq bag.  To the tune of thousands of US deaths/critical injuries.

And then as a last ditch effort (before the Presidential Elections that brought to power Ahmadinejad btw), the Reformist crew in Iran sent a communique to the US offering a realistic path to full normalization (Iran off of sanctions and the regime no longer targeted for destruction; Iran offering to stop aiding Hamas and Hezbollah for full diplomatic recognition).   You will all remember how President Bush wisely took that course leading to Peace between the two nations and a Nobel Prize for him.  Oh wait….

All this and Brose is (seriously!@#??)  writing about how the real problem was that the Bush administration did not leverage its then 2003 initial post-Iraq invasion maximal power to coerce Iran into changed behavior.  W, T, & F.  Here’s an idea–how about having just taken the deals they offered?  Instead of diplomacy as only defined by incentives and disincentives (engagement/coercion in Brose’s language), howza ’bouts good ol’ tit for tat?  You scratch my back, I scratch yours.  You help out in Afghanistan, get rid of a common enemy, we don’t label you in a worldwide Axis of Evil.  Seems pretty logical yes?

Notice in that case the diplomatic space is already there, (no need to engage/coerce particularly, no incentives needed).  When Khatami was President of Iran, we were told we couldn’t deal with him (i.e. the communique) because he had no power.  Then Ahmadinejad became President and suddenly The President of Iran is now the all-powerful ruler of the country and we can’t deal with them because they are run by a madman.  Huh?  Meanwhile the guy that actually does have the most (though by no means all) power in the country, Supreme Leader Khamenei is not dealt with at all.

Of course anyone who knows anything about Iran’s rather byzantine workings will know that the Supreme Leader only deals through his handpicked intermediaries.  To wit, does anyone seriously think Khamenei did not give the green light to Khatami & Crew to send that note to the US?  As they said in Clear and Present Danger, he couldn’t so much as tie his shoes without permission.  Do you think that fact that Khamenei was not a big fan of Ahmadinejad and didn’t support him in the Presidential Elections, but since has found him useful as to goad the West maybe has just something, just even a little bit, a tiny weenie bit to do with the fact of being snubbed and labeled an Evil Axis member after making a decent (very possibly good faith) offer as well as performing seriously helpful actions?  Maybe?

No, that’s right it couldn’t be.  I must be crazy.  Was what I thinking?

What this fundamentally comes down to is a point captured in yet another Brose quotation (again I’ll recommend reading ED’s post on this where he makes the proper critique of this attitude in more detail and more eloquently than I):

Similarly, there’s [Fareed] Zakaria’s assertion, which is echoed so often by people in Washington, that “other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own.” Well, there’s interests, and then there’s interests. It is perfectly legitimate for Russia to use its national power to advance its commercial and security interests…The real sticking point is how a Syria or a Russia defines some of its “interests.” Damascus’s desire to dominate Lebanon is not an interest. Nor is Russia’s attempt to create a sphere of influence in its old imperial stomping grounds and prevent sovereign nations from making free choices about their own foreign policies.  (my italics)

Again I’ve italicized the relevant (not so bright imo) assertion.  Newsflash:  Russia isn’t trying to create a sphere of influence it already has one.  That’s the whole point.  Going out on a real limb here, I’m imagining Russia sees its action in its near-abroad as in its security interests (which Brose just said were legit).  Or more to the point, Brose still sees commercial interests as separate from security ones, when in reality at this point Russia is basically a monopoly energy-company state with an army who will on occasion also employ mercenaries to fight asymmetric wars on their behalf (as they did when they cyber-attacked E-stonia and their e-government).

In other words, by what logic is the US presumed to have the power to go global and engage/coerce/invade other countries justified under the rubric of its security interests and not even grant a modicum of such a possibility to say a Russia?  (An alternate scenario of how to approach US-Russian relations, here).  If nothing else, on the foreign policy front, monkey see, monkey do.  How is this point not more seriously factored in?

It’s not, contra Brose, that every decision in the region has to be vetted first by Russia, but simply that nothing of any lasting value is going to get done without at the very least Russia not objecting.  And I do mean the absolute very least.  There are no solutions to Central Asian security, European integration, Iran, and a whole host of issues without the Great Bear.  Sorry (Comrade) Charlie that is just the reality.

The basic problem is this foreign policy debate in the abstract.  In this worldview, US policy should be based on these arguments about whether Country X’s interests are legitimate or not–never approaching the question of whether or not they already have influence, power, or a foot in the door–whether in other words (using ED’s phrase), they are already gunslingers in the local geopolitical saloon.

The Fareed Zakaria piece Brose is critiquing can be read here.  Worth a read.

btw, If you really want to “coerece” Russia into changed behavior, it will not come with NATO expansion, proclaiming  “We Are all Georgians” now, or insane Missile Defense shield boondoggles, but will come by attacking them where it hurts: asymmetrically and energy-sector aimed.

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