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June 11, 2008

Off the Table
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, I was at the CNAS conference today, which had a really interesting and provocative panel on Iran.  You had Nick Burns, who basically ran Iran policy for the Bush Administration for a couple of years along with Dennis Ross, Suzanne Maloney (Who Burns referred to as the person who knew the most about internal Iranian politics in the U.S. government for the years she was there) and Jim Dobbins. 

All of them agreed on the need for diplomatic engagement and the reduction in emphasis on the military option.  But even more interestingly at one point a Republican staffer from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was in the audience, asked whether or not it was possible for any diplomacy to work without an effective military threat.  In other words, should we take the military option “off the table.”

Ross and Maloney both totally shot him down.  They argued that the whole idea of “on the table” or “off the table” was silly.  The reality is that the U.S. has more than 200,000 troops in the region in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Gulf States.  And a large naval presence in the Persian Gulf.  U.S. military power is in full display and thus the threat is implicitly there if Iran should choose to do something that is completely off the wall.  But the question of “keeping it on the table” is really a question of whether you continue to blatantly threaten military force, which they believed was not helpful.

Jim Dobbins - A man who has just a bit of history of dealing with some pretty bad guys and doing it effectively - then chimed in arguing that the whole idea that blatant military threats had to be a part of effective negotiations was simply ahistorical.  He argued that we never used military threats when negotiating with the Russians or Chinese during the Cold War.  We just made clear what our redlines were and that worked pretty well, but we never in negotiations actually threatened them.  He then said that in his forty year career he had negotiated with Soviet Apparatchiks, Afghan warlords, Somali warlords, Serbs and Bosnians.  He found that when explicit military threats were part of the negotiations the negotiations would fail.  So we should just stick the military threat back in the drawer.  The Iranians know it’s there.  We don’t need to waive it in their face.

(I've already written that the CNAS Iran report is a must read and also check out Attackerman for more commentary on the conference)

Update:  March Lynch also has the Iraq panel summary


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The US position on Iran was pretty well summed up by Nicholas Burns who "basically ran Iran policy for the Bush Administration for a couple of years" -- "Iran needs to learn to respect us. And Iran certainly needs to respect American power in the Middle East."

The Carter Doctrine, "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America" has been interpreted to mean that any country which resists US hegemony in the Middle East is an "outside force" which must be neutered. Iran fits in that category, and Burns has been the chief US antagonist against Iran.

Iran is not a military patsy like Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada and Panama. Iran has not taken the military option off the table if it is attacked, nor should it. A substantial portion of that large US naval presence in the Gulf and a good part of the 200,000 troops in the region would be negatively affected by an attack on Iran, which apparently none of these geniuses mentioned.

What is there to negotiate with Iran? They've gained so much from US stupidity, why should they give any of it up?

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