James Baker, co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, has, along with his group, called for negotiating with the Iranians over Iraq. The idea is that either the Iranians will talk and stop supporting the violence in Iraq, or they won’t show or stop supporting the chaos in Iraq and we will show the world that Iran is the problem. This is a standard argument made by the diplomacy always crowd. I’ve heard it too many times to count since I began paying attention to world politics a dozen years. It is tried time and time again despite one simple reality, it almost never works and offers the rogue nation the opportunity to constrain the power who initiated it.
The basic problem with this policy is that it assumes many things that are usually not true. Firstly it assumes that the offending country is interested in meeting and compromising on an issue. It next assumes that whatever countries are meant to be impressed by this display will actually be impressed and offer support after the offending nation rejects or refuses the advance. Essentially this means that these countries are willing and able to do something but are not doing anything merely because the offending nation has not been offered the chance to resolve the dispute diplomatically (the fact that the offending nation has not itself tried diplomacy doesn’t matter of course). Lastly it assumes that even should the offending nation show up and agree to stop its behavior for some carrots, that it will actually stop its behavior as it promises.
Due to its history of failure and its inaccurate understanding of the current situation we can fully expect such a policy to fail every bit as miserably today with Iran as it has in the past. Each of the above assumptions is wildly off in today’s standoff with Iran:
Iran wants a stable Iraq like the rest of us
This is only correct if you allow for Iran’s different definition of a “stable Iraq”. Sure they want it stable, under the Ayatollahs as a totalitarian Shiite government like Iran’s. This is obviously not what most of the world considers a “stable Iraq”. Iran is also damaging our geopolitical position and making it much more difficult for us to do anything about their nuclear program because of the continued violence. The violence is ensuring that no American government will initiate another preemptive war anytime soon. Thus it is in Iran’s long-term interests to see that things are as bad as possible as long as possible in Iraq to make sure this opinion reigns in the US for as long as possible. Why then would Iran help us form a stable Iraq that is in our interests and not their’s?
Europe, Russia, and China will finally accept the need to do something about Iran
Not likely. These powers do not support our efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program and restoration of the Achaemenid Empire because they have no ability to do so and would lose too much in the process. Russia and China support Iran as part of their campaign to multi-polarize the world. Iran is working miracles for them in this regard so they are not going to support us no matter what. Europe will be no more capable of doing anything to stop Iran tomorrow as they are today. Except for the British (who aren’t in a position to help anyways), they have no projectable military power and won’t support sanctions since it would cost them business contracts with Iran. Iran imports almost $6 billion worth of goods from Germany, $3 billion from Italy, and $2.5 billion from France. None of those countries has seen much economic growth in the last 15 years, and none are willing to take an economic hit for us or the world. Europe further knows that if Iran does become a major threat, they can beg us to rescue them, and we’ll ride to their rescue as we have for the last 100 years. We are after all building missile defense sites to protect Europe from Iranian missiles free of charge in Poland.
Iran will accept a good offer and stop supporting the violence in Iraq
The first half of that statement is almost certainly true. If we offer Iran tribute to stop being bad they’d be idiots not to accept it. That doesn’t mean they will stop supporting violence. If we make a deal with them and they continue supporting the violence, then what? We have a deal with them Europe, China, and Russia will intone; we cannot risk wrecking the deal over such a trifle thing as Iran not living up to its end of the bargain. Rather than add impetus to the effort to stop Iran, all we will have done is pay off the Iranian government, give it credibility amongst the Iranian people, and further hamper any effort to head off the major storm coming down the road.
Even though a clear understanding of the situation and the interests of the powers involved would indicate the deal will not work and will only hurt us, there is also history to add to the argument against it. The Munich agreement would of course be the most glaring and devastating example of this. Hitler accepts a deal, doesn’t live up to it and everyone looks the other way. Israel has had countless similar deals with the Palestinians. Most notable was the Camp David Accords of 2000. Israel offered the Palestinians almost everything they want. Arafat not only walked away but soon after started the second intifada. Initially the diplomacy always crowd argued this was great for Israel since the Palestinians had shown that they were the true obstacles to peace. Despite this, world support for Israel lasted only as long as Israel did nothing about the suicide bombers attacking her civilians (that is to say a very short time indeed). I’m not even going to go through the 17 times we tried this with Saddam, including not once but twice prior to the 2003 invasion. Most relevant of all, what happened to world support for punishing Iran when it didn’t stop enriching uranium on August 31st? The idea was Iran would stop enriching or else. If they didn’t the world would supposedly see that Iran was the problem and support efforts to stop their nuclear program. Well, Iran didn’t stop and what was the world’s reaction?
Russia- said no to sanctions or any action; but they did regret Iran’s actions.
Europe- demanded…. more talks since 8 years is obviously to short a time to rush to impose visa sanctions on Iran’s leaders.
UN- nothing, not even a statement since it was the ambassador from Ghana’s last day, and as he told reporters, “give me a break.”
Why anyone believes the world’s reaction will be any different this time round is beyond me. Whether Iran simply refuses to talk or takes our tribute and continues supporting violence in Iraq, the result will be the same. Unless we accept, and accept soon, that Iraq does not exist in a vacuum, that our titular allies have neither the will nor the capability to do anything, and that Iran, Russia, and China have no interest in seeing us succeed in forming a stable mostly free/democratic Iraq, we will lose in Iraq and the price for us and the world will be incalculable. The realists’ motto appears to be, “Pounds for the cure tomorrow, not an ounce for prevention today”. However, guessing by last month's elections, it is how the American people want it, so it is how the world will get it.
I'd add liberal foreign policy in the title, but for liberals to have a foreign policy that learns nothing and forgets nothing, they'd, well, first have to have a foreign policy (and no, blaming America and Israel for everything, worshipping the UN, and extolling the virtues of oppressive anti-American Third World despots doesn't count as a foreign policy).