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April 21, 2008

Negotiating in Bad Faith
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Dr. Irak (Ya I dig the handle) points out that Michael O'Hanlon's quest to become the President of AEI continues.  This time it's Iran.  O'Hanlon thinks we should talk to the Iranians because those talks will likely fail, but we will then be in a better position internationally to put together the right coalition to pressure the Iranians.  But as the good Dr. points out:

starting these negotiations under the assumption (hope?) that they will fail risks encouraging U.S. diplomats to underrate the possibility that they might actually succeed.

He then goes on to explain that the fact that Iran played a major role in mediating the agreement on Basra is a good indicator that it does in fact have an interest in maintaining stability in Iraq.  And that we actually need to engage in real conversation.

The only thing I would add is that publicly articulating a message that "we want to talk to you so that we can build a coalition to get on tough on you" is not a good way to start a negotiation.  Part of the problem with the U.S.-Iran relationship is that both sides spend so much time calling each other names and using overblown rhetoric that they can never actually recognize that the two countries have a number of common interests.  It may be that talks will fail, and that in the end American and Iranian interests are not compatible.  But any engagement with Iran needs to start with a civil tone and an open mind.  O'Hanlon's approach is a self fulfilling prophecy.  It dooms the project to failure before it starts.


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Maybe dooming any such project is O'Hanlon's actual intent.

This latest example of O'Hanlonism about talks with Iran is somewhat similar to the rationales Hillary Clinton gave for such talks in her February, 2007 Aipac speech. She offered two main reasons: The first is that talks will be a good way to gather intelligence on the functioning and and main power centers of the Iranian government, so that if and when we attack Iran we will know whom best to hit. The second reason is so that when we put the screws to Iran we can say "we tried talking first."

"Once bit, twice shy."
Iran has actually been "bit" a good deal more often than that. The last go-round involved asking Iranian help in Iraq and then kidnapping and torturing the people Iraqis asked to visit.
Iran has the other perceptual difficulty of being close enough to tell exactly what has been happening in Iraq over a period of years : not just when U.S. sponsored Saddam thought he'd like to take them over. Today airborne gunships are at work strafing villages and towns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan....etc.
When Iran does make overtures, their declarations are mistranslated and 'spun'.
Seen this ?
'Talks.' With the murderers from half-way across the world who still think Iranians are the despised Arabs : and who the neighbours can't get rid of.
I can see where they'd be in a desperate hurry to do this : after being repeatedly rebuffed.

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