TCS Daily


Talking to Evil

By Gregory Scoblete - June 13, 2006 12:00 AM

Conservatives have greeted the news that the U.S. will directly negotiate with Iran provided it halts its uranium enrichment, with dismay. Conservative hawks -- both within the Bush administration and without -- have argued against such bilateral negotiation on the grounds that they won't convince the Islamic Republic to abandon nuclear arms and will diminish the prospects for internal revolution by legitimizing the mullahs.

American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin claimed in the National Review Online that "the damage caused by Rice's offer to the people of Iran may be irreversible." The Wall Street Journal editorial page argued that Iran had no incentive to moderate its behavior in light of Secretary Rice's diplomatic gambit. "Given the concessions he has already won by refusing to cooperate, Mr. Ahmadinejad won't be in any hurry to oblige now," they wrote.

In an editorial on the news, NRO noted that the "best case scenario" would be that "Iran agrees to suspend enrichment and reprocessing, which in turn delays its construction of an atomic bomb. That puts us where we were roughly six months ago."

It's useful to note that six months ago, Iran did not possess nuclear weapons. Six months ago, Iran's ruling mullahs were deeply unpopular among the Iranian people.

Indeed, while conservatives are clearly right to be skeptical about the likelihood that negotiations will disarm Iran, they're wrong to pooh-pooh them. Even "failed" negotiations can redound to our benefit, particularly given the circumstances of the current crisis with Iran.

Buying Time

On the disarmament front, conservative skeptics like Rubin are clearly correct. The complex mix of national pride, insecurity, hegemonic ambition and revolutionary zeal that animates the mullahs' pursuit of nuclear weapons will not be neutralized with access to the WTO. Yet negotiation -- both bilaterally and within the multilateral EU-3 and Security Council framework -- is just what the U.S. should continue to do. Not simply because Winston Churchill was correct when he quipped that "to jaw jaw is better than to war war" but because effective jaw jaw could buy the U.S. time. And in the conflict with Iran, time is on our side.

In fact, the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton Administration and North Korea provides an interesting lesson for U.S. strategy vis-à-vis Iran. Not because the Agreed Framework was a success -- it was not -- but because the way in which the Agreed Framework failed provides a glimpse of the route toward a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis.

The Agreed Framework was negotiated in the same crisis atmosphere that currently envelopes the Iranian negotiations. After a standoff with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over inspections at the Yongbyon nuclear facility, the North Koreans declared they would pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The ensuing crisis prompted then-President Clinton to send Robert Gallucci to negotiate an end to the stand off and avert possible military action.

The end result was the Agreed Framework in which the North Koreans pledged to "freeze and eliminate" their nuclear programs. Of course we know now that they did no such thing. The U.S. later discovered a clandestine program to produce nuclear weapons using enriched uranium, and made public this finding in 2002.

For many conservatives, the failure of the Agreed Framework demonstrated the futility of negotiating with rogue or totalitarian states; dictators accustomed to arbitrary rule at home could not be expected to submit to agreements and compacts abroad.

Yet if the Agreed Framework failed in its avowed purpose of disarming the North, it did succeed in slowing the pace of Kim Jong Il's bomb production. Prior to entering the Agreed Framework, the North was hard at work on plutonium-based weapons. According to Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institute, the Agreed Framework forced the North Koreans to pursue an alternative "bomb in the basement" approach:

"Basement-bomb programs are slow and inefficient. Rather than build large nuclear reactors that bombard uranium with neutrons to form plutonium and then chemically extract that plutonium as North Korea probably did to develop its first one or two bombs, an underground bomb program requires energy-intensive devices that mechanically or electromagnetically separate lighter U-235 from the heavier U-238. Only U-235 can sustain the chain reaction needed in a bomb, but it constitutes just 0.7 percent of natural uranium. The separation process can use various devices... but all are complicated, expensive, and slow."

According to Global Security, at the time of the 1994 accord, the CIA estimated that North Korea had reprocessed enough plutonium to manufacture one or two nuclear devices. In addition, the North had enough plutonium in its spent reactor fuel rods that, if reprocessed, could yield another six or seven weapons. By 2002, when the crisis flared anew, that number had not changed. (U.S. intelligence believed that the North's clandestine uranium program would not be ready to produce bomb-grade material until 2005.) The time it took to purchase the uranium enrichment equipment, experiment with it, build and hide new facilities slowed the North's march toward building-out its nuclear arsenal.

Conservative skeptics correctly argued that all the Agreed Framework did was punt the North Korean can down the road and into the lap of the Bush administration. What exacerbated the failure of this eight year interregnum was the relative paralysis on the part of U.S. policy-makers to attempt to alter the dynamic of the North Korean crisis. The Agreed Framework was seen as a period, not a comma, to the North Korean nuclear crises and further momentum stalled.

Iran presents a very different opportunity. It's not that the clerical theocracy is any more trustworthy than the Stalinist leadership of North Korea. Iran has pursued its nuclear weapon with the same duplicity as its Axis of Evil counterpart, but its internal dynamics are quite different.

First, unlike the North Koreans, Iran comes to the negotiating table with no nuclear weapons. Intelligence agencies differ on the speed with which Iran will acquire enough enriched uranium to produce a weapon, but they all agree that Iran has not yet crossed the nuclear Rubicon.

The more fundamental difference, however, is in the nature of the regimes. Both are dictatorial, but the North's brutal police-state is vastly more oppressive than the Iranian theocracy. Citizens of North Korea are essentially slaves, unable to leave or access any media other than state-sanctioned propaganda. In Iran, despite recent crackdowns, there are independent blogs and newspapers. As Edward Luttwak noted in Commentary, there is even a healthy "interchange between the two sides, with Iranian-Americans traveling back and forth and not a few operating businesses in Iran while residing in the U.S. and vice-versa."

There is no doubt that the mullahs rule with an iron fist, but they have not replicated the North's "hermit kingdom" -- an isolated, Orwellian prison state where the authority of the "Dear Leader" is absolute. In fact, as Luttwak notes, the Iranian regime has "lost of all its moral authority" among the people and is in "permanent collision with its culture."

Despite favorable diplomatic intercessions from Russia and China, Iran does not possess an intimate relationship with a great power patron such as the one North Korea enjoys with China. In its predominately Sunni Arab neighborhood, the Shiite theocracy is isolated and unpopular. In North Korea, the rule of Kim Jong-il is uncontested. In Iran, massive protests occur frequently.

When debating how to approach the Iranian nuclear crisis, it's important to keep these differences in mind -- they underscore why Secretary Rice's precondition that negotiations begin when uranium enrichment ends is so critical.

The current diplomatic framework endorsed by Secretary Rice holds out the opportunity to slow (but not stop) Iran's drive toward nuclear weapons. The longer Iran is stalled along the atomic path, the greater the chance that the internal dynamics in the Islamic Republic will lead to what conservatives most desire: regime change. If Iran consents (admittedly a big if) to a suspension of its enrichment and (another big if) ultimately agrees to some negotiated settlement that leaves inspectors on the ground and enrichment performed in Russia, it would likely follow the example of North Korea and seek alternative paths to a bomb. But those paths would be slow and tortuous, adding years to Iran's quest. All the while, discontent with the regime would build and (one hopes) U.S. intelligence gathering on the ground would improve.

The key question remaining is whether Iran's dissidents would be so dispirited by the talks that they would cease pressing for change. In arguing against talks, Michael Rubin noted that: "In 1953 and 1979, the U.S. government supported an unpopular leader against the will of the Iranian public. Why, in 2006, should we make the same mistake a third time?"

It's fairly obvious that Iranian discontent toward the mullahs springs from the clerics' domestic misrule, something which is unlikely to change with any American negotiations. And besides, the historical circumstances are in no way analogous. In 1953 the U.S. and British actively engineered a coup against the Iranian Premier Mohammad Mossadeq. In late 1978, as revolutionary ferment grew, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was receiving phone calls from then National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, reassuring him that the U.S. would back the Shah "to the hilt." In both instances, the U.S. was intimately involved in the internal affairs of the Iranian state. In 2006, the U.S. is proposing to provide the Islamic Republic with greater access to the global economy and maybe sell them a few spare parts for their decaying airplanes.

Undoubtedly our negotiations will temporarily deflate the morale of Iran's dissidents, but they should not derail their ambitions. As Henry Kissinger recently observed in the Washington Post, Reagan's "evil empire" speech was followed by an invitation to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev for bilateral talks. Those talks did not stem the collapse of the Soviet system and likewise will not prop up the Mullahs past their due date.

No one can know precisely when the clerical regime will collapse and as such, the U.S. can never rule out the use of military force to prevent the emergence of a nuclear Iranian theocracy. But the current round of talks holds out the opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the crisis by putting the brakes on Iran's drive just long enough for the country's disaffected citizens to retake the wheel.

Gregory Scoblete is a senior editor at TWICE Magazine He writes regularly about technology and politics at www.gscobe.blogspot.com.

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37 Comments

Talking to Evil
Well, I guess there's no harm in "negotiating". The problem occurs if we believe what we're told by regimes that not only lie, but brag about it. Don't we look sort of stupid negotiating, yet again, with liars and to people who have so little regard for international conduct that they would attack a foreign embassy? Do we get a warm, false fuzzy feeling "negotiating" with such people? OK, we can delay their progress for the bomb (IF you believe this intelligence as to their current status of bomb readiness - we're only reinstating our intelligence since the Church years all but killed it off) and pass the problem along to our children as have prior presidents. I rather like our current president looking evil in the eye and dealing with it.

Talking with N. Korea sure kept them from going nuclear.
...

Talking to Evil
I don't think our entire strategy in dealing with Iran can be centered on keeping it nuclear free until the local university students overthrow the mullahs.

What we need is more stick and less carrot, the opposite strategy that is being pushed from Germany, France and the UK. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have not given any indication that they intend to negotiate in good faith. Each takes turns rattling sabres and making demands of the EU parties involved. This is not a basis for success on any level.

In my opinion, which is not supported by any outside sources, the Iranians only want U.S. involvment in the talks so they can attempt to humiliate us as they did when they captured out embassy in 1979. Those readers old enough to remember can recall the daily frustration and embarrassment of being unable/unwilling to free our people. That event was the high-water mark of recent Iranian history and it remains a rallying point for a large portion of its population.

I believe Iran's leaders wish to recreate this environment, but this time instead of threatening to kill the hostages it is holding the possibility of nuclear destruction over our heads. The increasingly unpopular Iranian government needs to win an international crisis of this magnitude, it feels, simply to retain enough popular support to remain in power.

Instead of heading off to the negotiating table, with or without the uranium enrichment process halted, we need to show Iran what happens when it plays for high stakes. Instead of allowing Iran to threaten us with no oil shipments, we should have pounced first and said we will halt its oil shipments and that we would be willing to suffer the consequences to our economy. If they threaten our shipping, then we destroy Iran's ability to pump oil. Once we remove the energy weapon from the table then, and only then, will the mullahs understand what it's like to play with the big boys.

Skeets11
I enjoyed you excellent response.

Too bad the U.S. has been rendered impotent by the likes of the far left and foreign America haters. I would back your suggested response in a nanosecond!

Bring your daughter to the slaughter
Unleash the atomics on Tehran. Immediately.

No troops. This is not invasion nor attempt to occupy. The purpose is to annihilate Iran as it presently is. "Annihilate" here certainly does not mean to kill all the Iranian people. It means to utterly and totally incapacitate politically--and militarily if it comes to that.

Our policy toward Iran cannot be oone of peaceful co-existence. Most people don't seem to realize that Iran declared war on the US in 1979, and a ceasefire treaty has never been signed.

This is no matter of mercy. This is no matter of laws. Plenty of Iranian Muslims will kill us for their fanatical cause. This is a matter of their fatal flaws.

Nixon talked to China - Reagan talked to Russia
Without talk, their can be no diplomacy.

Rhampton
"Without talk, there can be no diplomacy."

I honestly don't think diplomacy can result with talks with Iran. Much like Neville C. talking with Hitler.

Sabers Can Be Loud
I'm sure Nixon was given the same advice. To put it in more practical terms, we don't have the finances or the troops to fight Iran, and Russia and China (Iran's backers) are only angling for U.S. concessions and the like, not war.

Isn't that what Chamberlain said?
Sure worked for him didn't it?

Tactics and Strategy
The author offers a reasonable tactic to slow Iran's nuclear weapons program. We also need a strategy to deal with the Tehran regime with finality. I don't have one but nuking Tehran ain't it.

Retarget then negotiate
We need to retarget one of our missles that we usually use for testing and send to the Kwajalein Atoll to the US Embassy in Tehran (US territory).

After a dummy warhead hits its target, tell the Iranians that we are sorry we scared them and that we are now willing to enter into one-on-one negotiations with them.

Always negotiate from a position of strength!

Its all in what you say and how you say it
"Mr. Gorbechov, tear down this wall." was great negotiating!

Don't leave all the negotiating to the diplomats.

It worked for Nixon and Reagan
When the British Prime Minister met Hitler, the Rhineland had been annexed and tens of thousands of German citizens had already been forced into concentration camps. Iran simply does not compare.

But diplomacy did work for Presidents Nixon and Reagan. Would you have preferred a nuclear strike against China in the 70's and Russia in the 80's?

It Worked for Nixon and Reagan
Mixing of apples and oranges is always obvious to all except to the mixer! Not comparable. Think about it.

Tear Down this Wall
I agree. Right up there with the "negotiating" when we had a naval blockage of Cuba! Talk on!

Nixon And Reagan
This is a false analogy.

First, Reagan did not negotiate with the Soviets. He built up our military capabilities at such a rate that the Soviets ended up bankrupting their economy in an attempt to remain on par with us. That tied to the fact that the Soviet system simply did not work led to its downfall.

Nixon did go to China, but from a position of strength, plus the Chinese and Russians thought he was three kinds of crazy. Both of our enemies felt it was better to talk to Nixon then have him go off the deep end one morning and decide to launch a nuclear attack.

Trying to negotiate with the Iranians is an impossiblity because, in this case, one side does not intend to negotiate in good faith. Everything the Iranians have done to this point proves that they not only want nuclear weapons, but they want the West to help them with the construction.
A particularly gullible person might call these machinations political brinksmanship, but I don't thing the Iranians are that savvy. Iran's leaders known the EU has no desire fight and that the U.S. is militarily tied up at the moment. So they are using their stick and carrot approach to beat us into giving them what they want.

Nixon And Reagan
This is a false analogy.

First, Reagan did not negotiate with the Soviets. He built up our military capabilities at such a rate that the Soviets ended up bankrupting their economy in an attempt to remain on par with us. That tied to the fact that the Soviet system simply did not work led to its downfall.

Nixon did go to China, but from a position of strength, plus the Chinese and Russians thought he was three kinds of crazy. Both of our enemies felt it was better to talk to Nixon then have him go off the deep end one morning and decide to launch a nuclear attack.

Trying to negotiate with the Iranians is an impossiblity because, in this case, one side does not intend to negotiate in good faith. Everything the Iranians have done to this point proves that they not only want nuclear weapons, but they want the West to help them with the construction.
A particularly gullible person might call these machinations political brinksmanship, but I don't thing the Iranians are that savvy. Iran's leaders known the EU has no desire fight and that the U.S. is militarily tied up at the moment. So they are using their stick and carrot approach to beat us into giving them what they want.

"This is a False Analogy:
AMEN Skeets11.

Would these same people expect Israel to negotiate with Iran I wonder. Iran has said they have no right to exist and no doubt we can easily figure out who their first target will be when they do get the bomb. Were I Israel, a pre-emptive strke would be on its way now.

Dual-Track Diplomacy
Give Diplomacy a Chance
by Michael McFaul and Abbas Milani (Hoover Institute)
San Jose Mercury News, November 28, 2004

...In the first years of his presidency, Ronald Reagan labeled the Soviet Union the "evil empire" and went out of his way to avoid contact with such a regime. Over time, however, REAGAN CHARTED A NEW COURSE OF DUAL-TRACK DIPLOMACY. He engaged Kremlin leaders (well before Gorbachev) in arms control and also fostered contacts and information flow between the West and the Soviet people in the hope of OPENING THEM UP TO TH POSSIBILITIES OF DEMOCRACY. In the long run, it was not arms control with the Soviets, but democratization within the Soviet Union, that made the United States safer.

http://www.hooverdigest.org/051/milani.html

Major Factors for Victoty
The personal diplomacy of Reagan
by Edwin Meese, III
Heritage Foundation, June 9, 2004

Ronald Reagan was a strong believer in personal diplomacy -- the idea of having a face-to-face discussion with those he was seeking to persuade. That's why, after becoming president, he often talked privately about the desire to engage the leader of the Soviet Union in a one-on-one conversation, to diminish any fear of the United States' intentions and to seek common ground for reducing tensions and promoting peace...

...While Ronald Reagan stood firm in his opposition to Communist expansion and imperialism, his personal diplomacy and his relationship with Gorbachev were major factors in shaping the forces that ultimately led to the end of the Cold War -- with victory for the cause of freedom.

http://www.heritage.org/Press/Commentary/ed061404c.cfm

Whoever wrote that
is so full of s*** that I could squeeze his head and fertilize my abundant gardens for a decade.

Appeasement always produces the same results
Too bad he and other European leaders hadn't used diplomacy to give away the Saar, Austria, the Sudatenland before they finally surrendered Czechlosavkia (or should I say offered uo).

Appeasement as Churchill said is the vain hope that by feeding an crocodile that the appeaser will be the last eaten.

What would I have cared if the Russians had taken out the PRC in the 70s?

I wasn't aware that the PRC was planning a nuclear strike on Russia in the 1980s. What is your source?

I was always impressed with Reagan's arms build up
As were the Soviets. Its clear that what destroyed the Soviets weren't endless talks but forcing them into a race they couldn;t match. By confronting them around the world and aiding their enemies the Soviets were defeated. He abandoned the futile and sterile policies of containment and achieved a victory that eluded all other US presidents.

Perhaps this demonstrates that the pin stripe brigade is good for pushing cookies and nothing more.

One should never mistake integrity for diplomatic skill
Reagan had a clear vision that he stuck with. Diplomats are nothing but cookie pushers without vision nor character. Your comment only serves to demonstrate the futility of diplomatic talks conducted by those without clear visions or integrity.

Edwin Meese, III
From the Heritage Foundation:

Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese was AMONG PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN'S MOST IMPORTANT ADVISORS. As Chairman of the Domestic Policy Council and the National Drug Policy Board, and as a MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL, he played a key role in the development and execution of domestic and foreign policy.

During the 1970s, Mr. Meese was Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Management and Professor of Law at the University of San Diego. He earlier SERVED AS CHIEF OF STAFF FOR THEN-GOVERNOR REAGAN and was a local prosecutor in California. Mr. Meese is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute of United States Studies, University of London.

http://www.heritage.org/About/Staff/EdwinMeese.cfm

Edwin Meese III
Your point being . . . ?

Edwin Meese III
Your point being . . . ?

Edwin Meese III
Your point being . . . ?

My comment
demonstrates that I have greatly clearer vision than that essay's author.

My comment expresses my total dissatisfaction with the notion that Reagan's diplomacy brought down the Soviets. I liked his stance with them, but he certainly didn't bring them down. Their collapse was inevitable.

The way in which Reagan truly contributed to the speeding up of the Soviet demise was by making it clear that he was fueling a massive new US buildup of military and intelligence capability--something which the US could afford but the Soviets could not afford to keep pace with. IE--he intimidated them. The Soviets were greatly displeased when Reagan entered the Oval Office from the beginning.

Intimidation of that kind will not work with Iran, because it is a primitive nation and in fact should not be considered a "nation" at all (because it is not willing to ever enter into real negotians with other recognized nations--a trait which is a prerequisite for being recognized as a nation). Iran will never yield until the West strikes it. The Soviets had the sense to know what lay in store for them and the world that they wanted if they got crazy. Iran does not.

It is pathetic how averse to warfare (real warfare, not this display of ineptitude in Iraq) the West has become. Iran exploits this feeling at every turn.

My Comment - David Brant
I agree with most everything you have said. Very well put! I'm afraid the west has become, what, anti-war, anti-self preservation, anti-realistic, all of the above?? It is, as you say, pathetic. In this age of nuclear weapons in the hand of terrorist "nations" and terrorist individuals, it will not be enough to go to war, as in World War II, after you have been struck. A first strike might be all it takes to bring a super power to its knees, much less a tiny country like Israel. I guess our far left "elite" (and perhaps some not so far left)cannot get it that these people are capable of this - even given what they know to be the truth - beheadings, World Trade Center, etc.

Nice comment
Brant you nailed it. I am tired of those who believe you can negotiate with people who support people who broadcast beheadings. What crisis has State ever stopped? It is because they fail so often that we have to use our military.

Using diplomacy is the same as advocating cutting off each area of the body afflicted with leprosy. It cures nothing but prolongs and increases the agony.

No Subject
Brant_David said of my post,

"Whoever wrote that is so full of s*** that I could squeeze his head and fertilize my abundant gardens for a decade."

Since I DID include the author's name (Edwin Meese III) in the original post, I had to assume that Brant_David was ignorant of Mr. Meese's service to President Reagan. Thus I included a brief bio from the Heritage Foundation for the benefit of Brant_David.

Now if Brant_David wants to claim that Mr. Meese is full of ****, he'd better be prepared to back that up.

Not just talk...
Reagan did not just "talk" to Russia. He made it clear that he thought that there system was evil, that they were to stop stoking up the commie flames throughout the world, and that we would negotiate only from a position of strenght. Only after the Soviets realized that Reagan was serious about the "strength" part, did the Soviets begin to negotiate seriously. Up to that point, treaties all favored the Soviets. Reagan ended that disastrous plan, to the great consternation of Gorbechov and his (and the Soviets) eventual downfall.

Yes, Reagan is a good model, and Bush is true to the course. Negotiating from a position of weakness leads to bad agreements.

-Bob

Of course it was David-was that after they declared victory in
Laos, South Vietnam, Cambodia, Somilia, Nicargua, Afgganistan, Yemen, Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Eithiopa, Peru,
Gernada.


Just can't face reality can you.

My name is Brant David.
"Just can't face reality can you."

That would be you. You can't even handle me having an unusual first name.

Reagan the good model
Bush is an idiot. The nadir of the office of President.

Moonbat braying byDavid brant whatis
I love it when moonbats cannot refute arguments with facts, reason or logic which is mostly always. So they resort either to the old projection act, "you're a racist bigot" or my favorit first grade tactic-"your mommy wears army boots."

Whats a matter dim bulb? Going to tell us about how the Russians were just wussies waiting to have their asses kicked by Hillary?

Bray on!

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