Wednesday, May 24, 2006

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Someone explain the hawks' plans to me

As near as I can figure out, the Bush/Cheney line on Iran is that neither direct dialogue nor indirect dialogue is worth it.

On the direct dialogue, it appears that the administration is ignoring Iran's repeated entreaties for direct negotiations -- at least, that's what I gather from Karl Vick and Dafna Linzer's front-pager in the Washington Post:

Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent letter to President Bush with explicit requests for direct talks on its nuclear program, according to U.S. officials, Iranian analysts and foreign diplomats.

The eagerness for talks demonstrates a profound change in Iran's political orthodoxy, emphatically erasing a taboo against contact with Washington that has both defined and confined Tehran's public foreign policy for more than a quarter-century, they said....

[Saeed] Laylaz and several diplomats said senior Iranian officials have asked a multitude of intermediaries to pass word to Washington making clear their appetite for direct talks. He said Ali Larijani, chairman of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, passed that message to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, who arrived in Washington Tuesday for talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

Iranian officials made similar requests through Indonesia, Kuwait and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Laylaz said. American intelligence analysts also say Larijani's urgent requests for meetings with senior officials in France and Germany appear to be part of a bid for dialogue with Washington.

"They've been desperate to do it," said a European diplomat in Tehran.

U.S. intelligence analysts have assessed the letter as a major overture, an appraisal shared by analysts and foreign diplomats resident in Iran. Bush administration officials, however, have dismissed the offered opening as a tactical move.

The administration repeatedly has rejected talks, saying Iran must negotiate with the three European powers that have led nuclear diplomacy since the Iranian nuclear program emerged from the shadows in 2002. Within hours of receiving Ahmadinejad's letter, Rice dismissed it as containing nothing new.

But U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said government experts have exerted mounting pressure on the Bush administration to reply to the letter, seconding public urgings from commentators and former officials. "The content was wacky and, from an American point of view, offensive. But why should we cede the high moral ground, and why shouldn't we at least respond to the Iranian people?" said an official who has been pushing for a public response.

On the indirect dialogue, Guy Dinmore and Daniel Dombey report in the Financial Times that U.S. hawks don't like the EU3 offering anything to Iran:
Opposition by US “hawks” led by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, is complicating efforts by the main European powers to put together an agreed package of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to suspend its nuclear fuel cycle programme, according to diplomats and analysts in Washington.

London is hosting on Wednesday political directors of the “EU3” of France, Germany and the UK, together with China, Russia and the US to look at the twin tools of incentives and sanctions.

Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, was said by one diplomat to have “gone out on a limb” in an attempt to back the EU3’s package of incentives but was facing resistance from Mr Cheney who is playing a more visible role in US foreign policy. Another diplomat said US internal divisions were holding up an agreement with the Europeans....

Mr Cheney is said to oppose the notion of “rewarding bad behaviour” following Iran’s alleged breaches of its nuclear safeguards commitments. The hawks – who include John Bolton, the US envoy to the UN, and Bob Joseph, a senior arms control official – fear a repeat of a similar agreement reached with North Korea in 1994 which did not stop the communist regime from pursuing a secret weapons programme.

The last point is a valid one -- the 1994 agreement with North Korea merely kicked the can down the road.

Here's my question, though -- even if this skepticism is warranted, exactly what is the hawkish set of policy options on Iran? Is there any coercive policy instrument that is a) publicly viable; and b) would actually compel Iran into compliance without negotiations?

If not, then why not negotiate?

UPDATE: Some of the comments respond by telling me what the hawks want -- a non-nuclear Iran that undergoes a regime change. Hey, I want those things too -- and a free pony.

This doesn't answer my question, though -- how, exactly, do the hawks plan on attaining these things? I don't think either economic or military coercion will work, unless there's Security Council backing. I don't think a unilateral invasion is publicly or militarily viable. Am I missing something? Why can we offer a peace treaty to North Korea but not talk to Iran?

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- If the regime in Iran is willing to trade off its WMD program in return for the U.S. abstaining from an active policy of regime change, that's a deal worth making.

posted by Dan on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM


At the risk of stating the obvious here, the answer to your question is that Dick Cheney is the pure evil. He is the most evil man on earth and is willing to kill millions of people to achieve his own political goals. He knows Iran is not producing nuclear weapons and he want to act like there is no need for negotiation because that would prove he was wrong. so, like with Iraq, he acts like there is no possibility but that he is right and dismisses any other options as useless or stupid on their face (like the 12,000 pages of documents Saddam gave to Blix saying he had no weapons). Cheney is against Iran as a matter of ideology, not actual threat (yeah, 10 years from now, even if they were trying). Therefore he pushes his insane war agenda all the while he alienates people who oppose him because he does not like in the "reality based community" and he makes the rules.

I am starting to believe that his ideology has matured since the days when he wanted to "starve the beast" and cut taxes while raising spending. Now, i bet, he has come to the conclusion that he can totally destroy any faith in even the idea of government by turning the American gov. into a mindless psycho killer. If they keep going as they are now, there is no doubt that even lefties like myself would prefer to abolish the whole government all together.

Cheney is a particulary evil man, but even the "doves" like Condi are no less the world's garbage. I hope to god that they end up in the Hague. It is only too bad that the American people are not so bold as the Romanians, because I would love to see the whole Bush gang suffer the same fate as Nicolae Ceausescu.

posted by: joe m. on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Why not negotiate? Because it takes two to compromise.

posted by: Alan Kellogg on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Ahmadinejad has proven himself, as we all know, to be a reliable partner. A rational person, moderate in his views. Well, except of course for his views on Israel, the US (great satan), Christians, Jews in general, other religious minorities in Iran, Iraq, dress codes for Muslims...
But that's besides the point.

posted by: Liberty and Justice on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

... why not negotiate? - Dan

Because negotiation -- direct or otherwise -- will not help achieve the Bush administration's goal of regime change in Iran.

Neocons may be losing face these days but they remain stubbornly focused on the goals: spread American-style democracy in the Middle East -- and get dibs on the oil while you're at it. That hasn't changed at all.

If you accept this, then you see that coaxing Iran into rational behaviour is counterproductive. If Iran does things like make concessions and develop diplomatic ties with the West, the U.S.'s goals will be thwarted.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

good question Dan - and so obvious that one must wonder what's really going on. My answer would be that since there are no realistic policy options for the hawks when it comes to forcing Iran to 'behave' one is left to logically conclude that a live fire confrontation IS their goal.

Or Cheney et al could just be playing hard to get. But awash as they are in petro dollars and with Russia and China being attractive suitors in their own right, don't see Iran begging for love here, despite what WP article seems to want to believe.

posted by: saintsimon on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Event Transcript
Islam and the West: A Conversation with Bernard Lewis
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Hay-Adams Hotel
Washington, DC

JAY TOLSON, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT:Professor Lewis, you mention a fascinating fact, which is how effective Osama bin Laden's talk was, arguably, in drawing the U.S. into a response that, in some ways, as you say, has worked out as an unhappy case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I wonder what the parallels might be with Ahmadinejad's current posture toward the West, and particularly that very similar style of taunting. I would like to get into a lot of other things with you about Ahmadinejad as well, but I will just limit myself to that.

Do you think that that represents something new, particularly within the Iranian context, a Persian context, of, in a way, speaking for the larger Islamic world, or do you think Ahmadinejad is simply a cunning opportunist using religion to solidify his Iranian political base? Or, is he actually trying to compete on the pan-Islamic level with Osama bin Laden, and in fact using the very successful tactic, I would say, or strategy, of Osama bin Laden, of taunting the great Satan who, so far, has proved very ineffective in responding?

MR. LEWIS: I am inclined to believe in the sincerity of Ahmadinejad. I think that he really believes the apocalyptic language that he is using. Remember that Muslims, like Christians and Jews, have a sort of end-of-time scenario in which a Messianic figure will appear. In their case, in the case of the Shiites, the hidden imam who will emerge from hiding, who will fight against the powers of evil, the anti-Christ in Christianity, Gog and Magog in Judaism, and the Dajjal in Islam, a role in which we are being cast now. And he really seems to believe that the apocalyptic age has come, that this is the final struggle that will lead to the final victory and the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Others in the ruling establishment in Iran may share this belief. I am inclined to think that most of them are probably more cynical and regard it as a useful distraction from their domestic problems and also a useful weapon in their external relations, because he has been doing very well and he seems to be succeeding, for example, on the question of nuclear weapons. And every time they make an advance, we move the point at which we won't tolerate it anymore, and this has happened again and again. Each time, we say, the next step we will not allow. We have shown ourselves to be, shall we say, remarkably adaptable in this respect, and this is no way to win friends and influence people.

I think that the way that Ahmadinejad is talking now shows quite clearly his contempt for the Western world in general and the United States in particular. They feel they are dealing with, as Osama bin Laden put it, an effete, degenerate, pampered enemy incapable of real resistance. And they are proceeding on that assumption. Remember that they have no understanding or experience of the free debate of an open society. Where we see free debate and criticism, they see fear, weakness and division; they proceed accordingly, and every day brings new evidence of that from Iran.

I think it is a dangerous situation. And my only hope is that they are not right in their interpretation of the Western world. I have often thought in recently years of World War II — you were told earlier that I'm ancient myself. The most vividly remembered year of my life was the year 1940. And more recently I have been thinking of 1938 rather than of 1940. We seem to be in the mode of Chamberlain and Munich rather than of Churchill.

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

But awash as they are in petro dollars and with Russia and China being attractive suitors in their own right, don't see Iran begging for love here, despite what WP article seems to want to believe.

Good point.

What can other countries offer iran? Free trade. Technical help for oil extraction, their own refineries, nuclear power. Mutual defense pacts. Lucrative markets.

What can we offer iran? That we won't attack them -- now. Or that we won't attack them ever.

We promised we wouldn't attack cuba, and 40+ years later we still haven't done it. Promising not to attack iran would look like a giant defeat.

And what kind of precedent would it be? Start to build nuclear weapons and get rewards for it whether you succeed or not. Like in the old novel, The Mouse That Roared where the scheme was to attack the USA and lose and get tremendous benefits as a defeated enemy. (Heh heh. Those were the days, my friend.) We don't want lots of nations to start nuclear weapons programs with the idea we'll reward them to quit any more than we want lots of nations to build nukes.

So there's the argument. We can't offer iran any rewards for not building nukes. And we can't bargain away our right to attack them. So what's left to negotiate about? We have absolutely nothing to offer.

posted by: J Thomas on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

L & J - The President of Iran sounds just like the guy who was Saddam's Minister of Communications. A lot of hot air.
How big a threat he really is... I doubt it.
We have him surrounded. Look at a map of US bases. IF we park 30 nukes at local bases what does he get to do?

St J the L - Refresh yourself on the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) plan for Rebuilding America's Defenses. Democracy gets barely a mention. The overarching neocon goal is American preeminence and more specifically military preeminence. It is a pdf document. Do a wordcount.
This plan includes control of outer space and the communication networks.

Cheney & Rumsfeld were two of the founders of PNAC. They have not waivered from their goals or their plan. They have in Bush the ideal president - a steadfast Decider. The decision has been made.

posted by: Detail devil on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

There was a printing error in the edition of "Great Quotes from Winston Churchill" that was distributed to members of this administration. So all of them think that they are emulating the great man by following the maxim "To war-war is always better than to jaw-jaw." I wish someone would tell them that the actual quote is "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

Before the Invasion of Iraq, (Aug 29, 2002), Churchill's grandson, Nicholas Soames, was interviewed by the BBC. This after Rumsfeld "drew parallels between Churchill's "lone voice" in the 1930s and American warnings about Saddam Hussein."

Mr Soames said: "I think Churchill, if he was alive now, would be anxious about the Americans' apparent constant grandstanding without giving the reasons."

We need to get at least one of either the Senate or House into Democratic hands this November to put some sort of check on this evangelical zealots.

The BBC interview with Soames is at:

posted by: Realist on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Folks, we had an election on this! Kerry =terroist appeaser...vichy French etc. He lost. Bush = heroic wartime leader...smokem' out! You can't negotiate with trrerist and killers etc. He won.

This deadly stand off is exactly what the public voted for....and is getting in spades.

posted by: centrist on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

I think a big part of their reluctance to negotiate is that none of the key players in the Bush administration has ever made any form of personal sacrifice for the country. They themselves dodged vietnam by various means and their children appear to be notably absent from the ranks of the men and women risking their lives every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Don't you think if one of the Cheney daughters was in Iraq risking her life (to say nothing of the Bush twins) that these guys would be much, much more reluctant to put Americans in harms way?

I think nothing in the life experience of Bush or Cheney has given them the sense of tragedy necessary to be willing to do deal a deal with a regime they don't like. Instead, they act like hard asses with statements like 'bring em on' because it ain't their kids that are going to be on patrol in Fallajuh (or on a strike on Isfahan). Its pretty easy being a tough guy when you are a chickenhawk.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that the military service is a precondition for leadership in the US. However, it seems to me that our leaders either need to be empathetic, ala Clinton, or they need some sort of direct connection to the consequences of a potential conflict. They need to understand the consequences of their actions on an emotive level in the gut where it hurts.

What makes me truly sick is that the crisis with Iran was (and still is) preventable. Properly handled, Iran could have ceased being a major problem for the US after Sept 11. Iran reached out to the US and was looking for dialogue, but Bush rejected the overture. Bush couldn't bring himself to be Reagan in Rejkyavik or Nixon going to China. Instead, the Bushists stoked the flames by calling the Iranians part of the axis of evil. Then we actively interfered in their elections, which backfired and now we've got a nutcase running Teheran.

posted by: SteveinVT on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity. Isn't it at least possible that Cheney and Bush are merely spectacularly incompetent?

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Is it thus you console us, OpenBorderMan?

The guy who said Bush was "all hat, no cattle" didn't get it right. We are Bush's cattle. If he's malicious he might still take decent care of his own cattle. But if he's incompetent then all bets are off.

posted by: J Thomas on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

What I don't get is the hawks' insistence that we can't negotiate with these guys.

Before the war, we told Hussein that if he didn't let the weapon inspectors in, we'd attack. So he backed down, and let the weapon inspectors in. It proves the point - these middle-eastern leaders may be violent, they may be extremists, but they're not suicidal. They will negotiate, if that's what it takes to save their skins.

posted by: Josh Yelon on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

> As near as I can figure out, the Bush/Cheney
> line on Iran is that neither direct dialogue
> nor indirect dialogue is worth it.
> On the direct dialogue, it appears that the
> administration is ignoring Iran's repeated
> entreaties for direct negotiations

Of course, given that situation for the president of Iran NOT to be pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons as fast as he can would essentially be treason. Given the amount of $$$ that Iran can bring to bear if it so chooses I have a hard time thinking they couldn't get their hands on 2-4 ex-Soviet weapons if they wanted to.

I wish someone with a public spotlight would point this out: W's actions are making it MORE likely, not less, that Iran will acquire a serious nuclear deterrent.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Something just came to me...

To negotiate successfully with Hussein, Bush needed a credible threat of force. So he went to the congress and obtained a resolution allowing him to attack if Hussein didn't back down. So Hussein did back down, and Bush attacked anyhow.

Now, in order to succesfully negotiate with the Iranians, Bush needs another credible threat of force. So again, he needs a resolution allowing him to bomb if they don't back down. But... fool me once, and all that. So he'll never get the resolution.

That means, all negotiation with Iran is inherently going to be done from a position of weakness. Perhaps the best thing is to wait until we have a president who can ask congress for a credible threat of force, and be trusted with it.

posted by: Josh Yelon on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

One of my favourite poems is Kipling's Dane-geld

In these affairs, it is always cheaper and better in the instant case to pay off the hostage taker.

Sadly, the US (and UK) have long histories of doing so. From the above comments I gather that I am evil, stupid, or both, on the basis of my support and gratitude to Cheney and his allies in taking a stand against incentivising brinkmanship.

Taking a principled stand and not compromising is always costly (or there'd be no reason to compromise). In this instance the benefit, and the cost, of failing to compromise is reduced by the craven European negotiating team. Why should the US enter into negotiations that the Europeans are already undertaking? Better to intimidate the Iranians through overt hostility and, more importantly, intimidate the Europeans into making an effort to get an agreement that is not humiliating to the west.

posted by: James of England on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

I think trying to explain policy by saying "Cheney is pure evil" is no more revealing than calling Iran part of the "Axis of Evil." As much as I disagree with the Bush/Cheney policy, I don't see much point in reducing people to one dimensional figures.

I think that Bush/Cheney and the rest see negotiation as essentially pointless and likely to lead to either appeasement or division among the western powers. You can't really say there is no basis for those fears considering that Admadinejad has been consistently playing a waiting game, essentially expecting them to get tired and not having the stomach for a confrontation. Moreover, given Admandinejad's comments, it's not totally unreasonable to wonder if this guy is really interested in negotiation.

Having said that,I think it's a mistake to ignore any potential opening, even if it seems rather bizaare. Quadafi seemed just as dangerous as Ahmadinejad a few years ago; things can change and it doesn't hurt to keep the lines of communication open. It's hard to say how Admadinejad would react, but, Iran is not Nazi Germany in the thirties. I think the neocons see Hitler in every third world dictator and think that negotiation is showing weakness. And, of course, the Axis of Evil line was completely pointless and accomplished nothing except to help Bush domestically.

I think, however, the idea that Iran is acquiring nukes because the US won't negotiate is specious. Iran has its own reason for getting nukes, not least of which is its desire to be the major power in the region. This seems to be a goal of Iran regardless of the government and one that much of the population might support. Of course, the invasion of Iraq has given Iran an additional rationale.

posted by: Marc Schneider on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Barely 2 years back, we were told that Khatami had no power, that real power in Iraq rested with Khamenei. Now Ahmadinejad is apparently the real power, the new Emmanuel Goldstein.

We're told Ahmadinejad is totally sincere when he muses about his belief in the 11th Imam, and is a nut, but Dubya is a dedicated religious man. We're told that Ahmadinejad is totally sincere when he rants against Israel, but totally insincere when he talks about wanting peace.

We're told that Iran, which has not invaded another country in a lifetime, has never used WMDS except when used against them, is somehow so eager and willing to initiate war against countries that are thousands of times more powerful than it.

The pre-war propoganda has already begun. Amir Taheri came out with his lies on the yellow badge story last week, and the wingnut media (Canada Post, New York Sun, New York Post) picked it up.

Well, fuck you (that includes you Bernard Lewis). You fooled us once and got us into a war that will cost probably a trillion dollars. We're not going to be fooled twice.

posted by: erg on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

n these affairs, it is always cheaper and better in the instant case to pay off the hostage taker.Sadly, the US (and UK) have long histories of doing so.

In fact, the US and UK have long histories of invading other countries on any pretext or no pretxt whatsoever. The only thing that stopped them historically was when forced to pay in blood and treasure. And lets face it, the reason Americans are turning against Iraq is because its consting them blood and treasure, not because it was prosecuted on the basis of lies.

posted by: erg on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]


Yes. It's called "war". Eliminate the mullah regime and install a new democratically elected one.

War is a common, and often totally effective, "coercive policy instrument" capable of compelling "compliance without negotiations". Ask Saddam Hussein.

It need not be used directly. A sufficiently gory example of what happens when compliance is not forthcoming can induce compliance in others. Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi told Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in September 2003 that "I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

I don't often agree with erg, but he's right this time (on the immediately above post): Americans have become a belligerent people and don't even realize it.

We go to war under increasingly weak pretexts and ask only of our government that we kick some foreign ass. The largest reason for Bush's drop in the polls is because we are not winning.

But a nice li'l bombing of Iran will make us feel good again. Just a matter of time.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

I think J Thomas basically has it right.

My analogy would be this: Two cops (EU and US) go to interview a suspect (Iran). They want him to let them search his place, but the judge (Security Council) won't give them a warrant.

The good cop (EU) talks to the suspect, trying to appeal to his rational self-interest, etc etc.

A couple of years ago, the bad cop (US) blew away the crack dealer (Saddam) next door. He stands there with his hand resting on his gun and glowers. He's a loose cannon -- people argue over whether shooting the crack dealer was justified, whether it was even in the bad cop's self-interest. Even some in bad cop's own family argue that he's
"pure evil... the most evil man on earth and is willing to kill millions of people to achieve his own political goals"
and is just itching for an opportunity to shoot down the suspect.

Suspect talks with good cop, and keeps nervously looking at the bad cop. He periodically tries to draw bad cop into the conversation -- as long as bad cop sees a point in talking to suspect, bad cop won't shoot, right?
It would be foolish for bad cop to shoot suspect without cause. He'd be busted for sure... but is bad cop rational? If bad cop would talk, we could hope to discover his rationality or lack thereof.

Or, to put it more shortly: silence can be more menacing than explicit threats, due to the level of uncertainty it creates (will he just beat me, or will he kill me?)
The US practicing silent menace, which bolsters the EU-3s negotiating position.

posted by: Mike D on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

No go with the analogy, Mike D. The bad cop is more like the squinty-eyed man in For a Fistful of Dollars: crazy bastard happy to shoot anyone any time, and worse, answers to no one.

posted by: Racer X, Speed Racer's (unbeknownst to him) brother on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

What is there to negotiate? I always worry when IR people talk about "direct talks" as if the process were more important than the substance. Of course the Iran governnemt wants to initiate a new set of talks. That lets them stall for more time until they get the bomb. And of course the Euros want to be let off the hook for their failed all-carrot, no-stick posture. Anything to shift the blame to us.

Now, a public letter in response to the Ahmadinejad screed might be a good propaganda move. But to portray that as negoitiations or traditional diplomacy would be distorted.

posted by: srp on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

> Or, to put it more shortly: silence can be
> more menacing than explicit threats, due to
> the level of uncertainty it creates (will he
> just beat me, or will he kill me?)
> The US practicing silent menace, which bolsters
> the EU-3s negotiating position.

Three problems there:

1) Assumes that Iran is not a soverign nation with its own interests

2) Assumes that Iran does not have the ability or willingness to protect its own interests and/or its own honor politically and/or physically

3) In order for the Doomesday Machine to affect the strategic calculations of others, it must be known to or believed to work. Per this comment over at Kevin's, I don't think the rest of the world takes the US very seriously anymore. Invading Iran would be the final end of our actual military strength, just as occupying Iraq spelled the end of any belief in US omnipotence.


PS Given that "Axis of Evil" is official policy of the US, I don't quite see how it is unreasonable to analyze the evilness quotient of major players such as Cheney.

posted by: Cranky Observer on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]


There's a big difference between Iran and Iraq. If anything, the Europeans are more convinced that Iran is going to build weapons than the US is. This is not trumping up intelligence to make a case, unless you assume that the Europeans are eager to fight. So, trying to compare this to Iraq is pointless. Just because Bush was wrong or lied about Iraq doesn't mean that there are no threats in the world. The fact that Iran has never invaded anyone is besides the point. Iranian nukes would create a strategic environment in which other countries would be trying to get them too. Not everything that happens in the world is the fault of the US; some things inhere in the nature of international relations.

I agree that US policy has become increasingly belligerent. But that doesn't mean there aren't real threats out there.

As for Ahmadinejad, let me turn it around on you. Why do you think he is more sincere in calling for peace than he is in denying the Holocaust and saying Israel should be wiped out? As I said, I think we should talk to the guy and look for every opening to find out what he really thinks. But, I can't see how you can simply dismiss the problem.

Cranky Observer,

I don't see what the "official policy" of the Bush Administration has to do with discussing the issue. I thought it was ridiculous for Bush to come up with the Axis of Evil. Are you now saying that because he used it, that has to be the paradigm for discussion? All I said is, I don't see that talking about "pure evil Cheney" has much meaning. Unless your paradigm for discussing politics is "24."

And, yes, Iran is a sovereign nation with its own interests. But when its interests conflict with those of other countries, that is a cause for concern, regardless of whether or not Bush's policy in general is correct. Remember, this is not Bush, this is the European Union too.

posted by: Marc Schneider on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Mike D, one of the problems here is the europeans don't have a lot of leverage with us. If they get an agreement with iran we're likely to attack anyway. So it doesn't increase the chance of negotiation succeeding.

Think of it this way -- imagine we agreed to negotiation in public. And the iranian government representative asked us, "What exactly do you want? What could we do that would really satisfy you?"

And then the US representative said, "We want regime change. We will not be satisfied until we have supervised elections in iran that result in a US-friendly iran that accepts US bases for the foreseeable future and that agrees never to attempt any technology that could lead to nuclear weapons. Nothing less is acceptable. Your government must fall and we must have an ironclad guarantee that no successor government ever builds nuclear weapons. Unless we get both of those we will attack."

What basis is there for negotiation? We have severely criticised Hamas because their charter calls for regime change in israel. We say they must agree to the continual survival of the current israeli government forever, before we will negotiate with a palestinian government where Hamas has a majority. Now we are taking an active stand about iran that's like the Hamas passive stand about israel.

Is there anything the iranian government could do that would keep us from attacking? (Iraq did everything we asked, and we invaded anyway. We gave them a last-minute ultimatum and they *accepted* it, and we had to add on to it further before they realised that no matter how much they agreed to we would always demand more. As I remember, the part they choked on was the demand that beyond everything else they'd already agreed to, they had to deliver Saddam and his sons to us for trial or else we'd invade. Presumably if Saddam had agreed to that one too we'd have said he had to castrate himself with a rusty knife in front of iraqi TV before he turned himself over to us, or the deal was off.

Given the iraqi example, why would iran think that negotiation with us could possibly do them any good? And wouldn't they be right?

To change your example around a little -- two vigilantes have cornered somebody. The first one, this little thin guy, is playing good-vigilante. "We heard you're trying to get a gun. We want you disarmed. So if you just agree to let us search you and make sure you don't have a gun or any bullets, I'll give you some cookies. I'll even throw in a glass of milk! And maybe some mellybeans." And meanwhile the other vigilante, the big guy who's carrying more guns than he has fingers and a thick bulletproof vest, does this loud whisper. "Hey buddy, I'm going to kill you no matter what. And this twerp beside me can't stop me. Want your cookies and milk first or you wanna just try to draw quick and see how lucky you get?"

posted by: J Thomas on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

I can't add much to the irrelevant chatter upthread. However, I would suggest in answer to Dan's last question that the internal dynamics of the Bush administration are as important as the policy views of its major figures.

In this administration the Defense Department is unnusually influential in the making of foreign policy, and the Office of the Vice President unprecedentedly so. They have not gotten that way by encouraging the assignment of major new responsibilities to the State Department -- through which negotiations with Iran would of necessity have to be conducted (this situation has not existed in all administrations. Nixon's, most famously, conducted its most sensitive negotiations through the National Security Adviser. But Steven Hadley is no Henry Kissinger).

As long as direct talks with Iran are avoided, the Cheney/Rumsfeld axis can maintain its dominance of policy toward Iran -- but the requirement that this dominance be sustained effectively limits the policy options available to the administration. Now, as to substance, my guess is that Rumsfeld does not have strong views on the question of direct talks (there are conceivable products of such talks to which he might object). Cheney for his part supported reducing the sanctions applied to Iran when he was out of power during the 1990s, and while his thinking may have undergone a transformation since then it is more likely that his hard line now reflects the change in his position since then.

Finally, it is just possible that administration figures who do favor negotiations with Iran could carry the day if they knew what they wanted from such talks, what they would not accept, when they would press for an agreement and when they would walk away. Assuming that Sec. Rice and other State Department officials do look more favorably on talks with Tehran than the Cheney/Rumsfeld axis, it is probably not true that they have much in the way of a strategy for them. A strong negative beats a weak positive here, even if the negative is based primarily on a desire to keep such options as we have in the hands of the people who have them now rather than on a coherent strategy for dealing with the Iranian problem.

posted by: Zathras on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Perhaps you could help me understand what Dick Cheney's motivations and ultimate goals are. With that information we could analyze this topic (and many others) more realistically.

> Finally, it is just possible that administration
> figures who do favor negotiations with Iran
> could carry the day if they knew what they
> wanted from such talks, what they would not
> accept, when they would press for an agreement
> and when they would walk away. Assuming that
> Sec. Rice and other State Department officials
> do look more favorably on talks with Tehran than
> the Cheney/Rumsfeld axis

I take it from your opening sentence that you do not think this topic is being discussed at the level of seriousness that you think appropriate. Forgive me, but I have seen no evidence whatsoever that the depth of thought which your analysis presupposes exists anywhere in the Bush Administration. Again, what DOES Dick Cheney want? What is he trying to achieve? Without knowing that chiding others for their lack of seriousness is a bit, well, silly.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Again, what DOES Dick Cheney want?

Masrch 8 2006
Cheney told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee yesterday that the United States "is
keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime" and is sending "a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."

Cheney does not want iran to have a nuke.

Jan 22, 2005
"It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world", the 51 years-old US President said, pointing his fingers at regimes like those of Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea or Zimbabwe.

He was echoing earlier statements by both Vice-President Dick Cheney and the newly installed State Secretary Condoleezza Rice.

"You look around the world at potential trouble spots, Iran is right at the top of the list", Mr. Cheney said Thursday in an interview with radio host Don Imus, hours before being sworn in to a second term.

Cheney wants regime change in iran.

May 19, 2006,1,7501303.story?coll=la-headlines-world
"The administration is trying to make regime change through democratization the policy, instead of making confrontation by military means the policy," said Trita Parsi, a Middle East specialist at Johns Hopkins University who advocates direct U.S. talks with Tehran.

At the Pentagon, the new Iranian directorate has been set up inside its policy shop, which previously housed the Office of Special Plans.

The new focus also may be contradictory, Richard N. Haass, a State Department official during President Bush's first term and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said at a conference in Washington this month. .

"We are telling Iran, 'We want regime change, but while you're still here, we'd like to negotiate with you to stop your nuclear program,' " Haass said.

posted by: J Thomas on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Because they are looking towards 2008 and/or the possible investigations and impeachment that will follow a likely Dem. win in 06 and they might NEED a war then.

posted by: r4d20 on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

> Cheney does not want iran to have a nuke.

I am sorry; I thought I was being clear but it appears I was not. What is Dick Cheney's overall goal for the United States? What is his desired end state in 2016 and 2056? How do the actions he is taking now contribute/not contribute to that end state? How does the apparent fact of impending death from heart failure figure in to those goals?

That is what we need to know to have this discussion. _Rise of the Vulcans_ goes into some detail on those people, but even there one never gets a sense of what their goals are.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Oh, the big goals. You might figure he signs on to the PNAC goals. It was people working for him who wrote the book on that, back in the old days.

posted by: J Thomas on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

DAN .. Why they wun't negotiate? because by direct negotiation the US smear campaign aganist iran would be revealed to world's judgment. people throughout the world would understand the real intentions laid under US pressure on iran.They have to confess that the accusations against Iran are mere lies fabricated to help
US establish it's favorite regime and secure cheap oil for american companies and an obediant stooge for US and Israel in middle east.Though they have a long history of aligning people's mind-lines through(so called )media whose duties are to brain-wash western people and it is no wonder if they won't negotiate directly. AND here is BUSH with that ridiculous statment on iran nuke affair that" All options are on the table" Why not direct dialoge as a very primary way to contact others should be an OPTION??

posted by: mehdi-f-k on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Some of the comments respond by telling me what the hawks want -- a non-nuclear Iran that undergoes a regime change. Hey, I want those things too -- and a free pony.

Will someone please give Prof. Drezner that pony he keeps asking for.

(of course, free ponies, aren't free once you figure the costs of stabling and feeding the beastie)

With regards to Iran, I think the Bush Administration's position of demanding serious engagement before even approaching talks directly with Iran is warranted and desirable.

Same with the EU3+2, even indirect talks need positive goals involving real consequences for Iran if they cheat. Right now, the countries we need to treat Iran as a real threat, refuse to.

The feel good strategy used against NK of empty promises and ballroom dancing with a dictator was a disaster, that model must be rejected.

When Iran quits ending every public meeting with 'Death to Israel' and 'Death to America', then we can talk, until then, we should pressure our friends to shun, isolate, and undermine the current Iranian regime.

posted by: XWL on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

I have one good reason not to negotiate: It seems to be working. Has anyone noticed that this whole crisis between Iran and the US has been the sound of one hand clapping? The United States has effectively completely ignored Ahmadinejad. He makes scary speeches full of implicit and explicit threats to America and Israel, overtures to "intermediaries" and sends a whackjob letter to the President and although the media is doing it's thing generating hysteria, at no time has he gotten more than a dismissive one-sentence comment from Condi.
All the while he seems to be moving in the right direction - now he's asking for negotiations. This guy needs to deliver "Iran the Superpower". If he can't get the US to talk to him, then he has not succeeded.
As an Israeli, I can tell you that the rate of progress toward the table shown by this despotic regime is remarkable and well… if it ain't broke…

posted by: Lauran on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Lauran, at this point what's the difference between working and not working?

We refuse to talk to them while we prepare to attack. They tell the world we're refusing to talk and that they want to.

How can we tell what's being accomplished? We won't know what they're willing to concede until we talk to them. Them telling that they want to talk and we don't, doesn't say anything about what they'd concede.

They've said all along that they won't concede their enrichment program for power plants, and we've said all along that we absolutely won't accept anything less. So unless one side or the other is lying, there's really not much to discuss. Either we back down, or we attack, or we wait until it isn't Bush's decision any more.

Note that entirely apart from whatever illegal nuclear program they might have, we say we're going to attack unless they dismantle the programs that they are allowed under NPT. They say no, they are allowed these. We say no, they're a threat to the world and we're going to bomb them away.

Does it matter at all how this looks to the rest of the world? If it does, we don't look good to take a stand that doesn't follow the legalities to threaten a war that isn't allowed under our international treaties, and refuse to discuss it ahead of time.

But *maybe* the iranians are getting so desperate about our coming attack that they'll back down provided we finally give them the chance to.

Or maybe we don't want to give them a chance to back down. Maybe the US government is so intent on forcing regime change that we're going to attack no matter what.

posted by: J Thomas on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

> Has anyone noticed that this whole crisis
> between Iran and the US has been the sound
> of one hand clapping

Well, three sets of one hand each: Bush's, Cheney's, and Rice's. But yes, that is a correct observation.

Oh, that's not what you meant? Ha ha.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Violent student protests in Teheran, some Azeri violent protests...the regime isn't going to fall soon or quickly, but it's clear that the internal opposition has these guys more spooked than anything we might do. In fact, Luttwak might me right that some in the government want us to launch an attack in order to improve their domestic political position.

There is option value in delaying military action as long as possible (i.e. up until the Iranians are at the point of no return on a nuke). But "negotiations" would take the mullahs and the Euros off the hook. Letting them stew is much better. Being begged to come to the table and get involved is better than pushing our way to the table.

posted by: srp on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Dan, your update shows that the doves have nothing in the tank either. The deal you propose sounds great, but NoKo so far has rejected those terms; what makes you think Iran will be more receptive? And if they don't take that deal, what else have you got to offer them? Peaceful use of nuclear technology? We gave that to NoKo in our last peace treaty with them, and now they're a nuclear state. What else have you got? A pony, maybe?

Consider, too, the opportunity cost of negotiations. If the US had proposed unilateral talks with Iran, it would have been denounced for trying to sabotage the EU effort. Isn't that precisely what Ahmedinejad is trying to do? He doesn't like the direction those talks are going, so he wants to go elsewhere and start over. Direct talks with the US would harm EU credibility, sending the message that the EU is ultimately irrelevant in difficult foreign policy issues and that the only decision-maker that matters is the US. Plus, this sets the US up to be blamed when Iran eventually stonewalls.

Keep in mind that they're not that desperate to talk to us. They just rejected direct talks with the US over Iraq, after all. The requests from Ahmedinejad are largely an attempt to game the system.

posted by: Tom T. on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Tom T, I agree that we have basicly nothing to offer iran except the choice not to attack them, and we don't intend to make that offer either.

On the other hand, what does the EU have to offer? Nothing they offer is any use to iran if they can't stop us from attacking. And they can't. EU shouldn't have any credibility, they *are* irrelevant when the issue on the table is what the US military does. The only decider that matters for that is Bush. Nobody else.

So OK, if the Bush administration talks to iran and Iran doesn't surrender, Bush will rightly be blamed for it. And if they attack without ever talking to iran first, they'll rightly be blamed for that too. And if they don't attack they'll be blamed by their base for not attacking.

The Bush administration has maneuvered themselves into a position where anything they do is wrong. They did it for short-term partisan political advantage, and they deserve all the scorn they can get for it.

posted by: J Thomas on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

> Oh, the big goals. You might figure he
> signs on to the PNAC goals. It was people
> working for him who wrote the book on that,
> back in the old days.

Funny how the Radicals never run on campaign platforms of what they actually believe. I guess we sheep just can't handle the truth the way big boys such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Feith can.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Lauran, "not negotiating" is a downright irresponsibe option. So let's say neither the EU nor the US responds to Iran. Does the UN bother to sanction them? Will that get the Iranians to stop nuke-getting?

Then fast forward some five years and Israel feels increasingly threatened by Iran. It bombs Iran, and since our two nations are joined at the hip, suddenly U.S. foreign policy has been decided by Israel.

Not a pretty picture. I saw your site, Lauran, and can understand you feel that there can never be peace between Palestine and Israel. But don't go selling that same solution to the rest of the world.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

"We are gonna shoot you in the face no matter what you do, but we would like you to give us your money first."

posted by: Babar on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

They could buy a nuke from Russia tomorrow and we couldn't do a goddamn thing about it.

We are currently the world's superpower at schoolyard threats that lead to us looking like clowns.

Our "regime change" in Iraq did a huge favor for the Iranian regime that we are now trying to undercut.

The Decider needs to find a new form of stupidity, this one has gone stale.

posted by: Babar on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 26 — Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari of Iraq today endorsed the right of Iran to pursue the "technological and scientific capabilities" needed to create nuclear power for peaceful purposes, in the first high-level meeting between officials from the new Iraqi government and its eastern neighbor.

posted by: Babar on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

The Decider needs to find a new form of stupidity, this one has gone stale.

Oh please no, far better for him to rest on his laurels.

posted by: J Thomas on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

Lauran, "not negotiating" is a downright irresponsibe option. So let's say neither the EU nor the US responds to Iran. Does the UN bother to sanction them? Will that get the Iranians to stop nuke-getting?

But negotiating can also be downright irresponsible. Sometimes there are no good options. Sometimes negotiations are impossible. Negotiations rely on both parties being able to trade into a preferable situation. It is entirely possible for no successful negotiations to be possible because each side prefers the status quo.

posted by: John Thacker on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

The iranians have publicly offered a solution.,8599,1192435,00.html

This was presented to Time magazine by Hassan Rohani who represents Ayatollah Ali Khameini, on the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and Iran's former top nuclear negotiator. Maybe the iranian government wouldn't actually agree to do the things he says, but it's a very good offer.

I don't understand why this hasn't gotten more attention.

posted by: J Thomas on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

You write: "Some of the comments respond by telling me what the hawks want -- a non-nuclear Iran that undergoes a regime change. Hey, I want those things too -- and a free pony.... This doesn't answer my question, though -- how, exactly, do the hawks plan on attaining these things?"

One answer to this question was provided by David Wurmser, Cheney's Middle East expert. In his 1999 book, "Tyranny's Ally" he proposed that a certain Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah named Sistani might help the US achieve "dual rollback" in Iraq AND Iran. The idea is that Sistani is a critic of the Iranian regime and he outranks Khamenei, etc. A Shiite rebellion against the incumbent Iranian regime.

See my ZNet article "Beyond Incompetence: Washington's War in Iraq" and related posts on

posted by: Cutler on 05.24.06 at 12:24 AM [permalink]

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