Thursday, April 05, 2007


A New Pragmatism

The New York Times published an OP Ed today, written by a couple of academics, extolling the virtues of resolving any and all differences with Iran by acquiescence, concession, willful ignorance, or submission to Iran.

Yes, I’m quite sure that would make Iran less belligerent. As a model for negotiation, however, Nasr and Takeyh provide a breath-taking example of “winning consensus” by surrendering every objective in contention. Iran clearly subscribes to the North Korean school of conflict resolution, and in this Op Ed, the Times suggests that we would benefit playing the same game with Iran.

Only a career diplomat or foreign relations academic could so thoroughly hold to artifice as reality and ignore inconvenient truths. Missing in this OP Ed is any mention of two facts very inconvenient for the authors’ hypothesis.

One is that Britain benefited in any way from the “successful resolution” of this crisis, other than the minor achievement of (possibly) saving the lives of 15 British Marines. (Possibly, as we cannot know for certain to what ends Iran might have put the captives, beyond the obvious PR benefit they well and fully derived.) Rather, Britain was humiliated, and completely exposed as one of the Paper Lions her very real non-state and state enemies consider her to be.

The other is that, rather than the benign “status-quo power” the authors portray, Iran has been an active participant in directing, fomenting, and supporting armed violence and terror attacks against US and coalition forces, Iraqi Security Forces, and Iraqi civilians of all ethnic groups and allegiances. More to the point, for the authors to contend that Iran “abandoned the goal of exporting its revolution to its Persian Gulf neighbors at the end of 1980s” reveals them as willfully ignorant, or propagandists.

This is the New York Times, so one might be tempted to presume that anyone invited to write an Op ED for the Times on matters of Iran might, by design intent, be a propagandist. That makes them perhaps of the same stripe as the Editorial Board.

I am sure Nasr and Takeyh are very well versed in the Persian object of their admiration. But either they advocate for a committed cause, are not as well schooled as they think, or are genuinely dishonest. There is that much disconnect between the diplomatic situation they describe, and the gritty self-interested aggression of the Iranians, that clearly refutes the basis of their proposition.

The disconnect starts from the first paragraph:

THROUGH the capture of and subsequent announcement that it would release 15 British sailors and marines, the Islamic Republic of Iran sent its adversaries a pointed message: just as Iran will meet confrontation with confrontation, it will respond to what it perceives as flexibility with pragmatism. This message is worth heeding as the United States and Iran seem to be moving inexorably toward conflict.

I think a good proportion (however much in the minority) of US and British populations think that makes a good suggestion for us as well, and are bitterly disappointed that Britain didn’t send an equally pointed message to Iran in response.

I don’t care how they craft their justification of Iran’s action, it strikes me as irrelevant. They premise their opinion that Iran’s act of “confrontation” was in response to some manner of prior British “confrontation,” and all adversaries should take note.

What an interesting argument. Iran creates an international crisis through aggression. When those aggressed against demure and react with caution and politeness, then the Aggressor shows great “pragmatism” in reversing the hostile act they have undertaken. The Aggressor at the same time creates a big media splash and accomplishes a pubic relations coupe, with the humiliation and emasculation of their victims.

And the lesson we are all to learn is, not to do as Iran as done, but to learn the lesson of surrender. (Earlier in the crisis, Britain’s EU and NATO allies showed apparent mastery of the lesson in advance.)

Diplomatic solutions can resolve conflict based on military aggression. But repeated military aggression answered solely by diplomacy and never with military countermeasures can signal to an enemy, that they need never worry about retaliation for acts of war or violence.

As Democrats point to any violence of any kind by any person or faction, for any purpose and against any target, as evidence that our efforts in Iraq “have failed,” so too Nasr and Takeyh view the Iranian capture of British military – on patrol under UN auspices in Iraqi waters – as evidence of the failure of America’s tough line against Iran:

The timing of the Britons’ capture was no accident. The incident followed the passage of a United Nations resolution censuring Iran for its nuclear infractions, the dispatch of American aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf and the American sanctioning of Iranian banks. Although the Bush administration has been busy proclaiming its increasingly confrontational Iran policy a success, Tehran’s unsubtle conduct in the Persian Gulf suggests otherwise.

How so does this suggest failure? In that Iran still acts belligerently and with aggression, continues to fund, sponsor, direct and support acts of terror against the US and its allies, civilians (overwhelmingly Muslims)? Yes, it’s quite true our response to Iran has not caused them to change their behavior.

I would rather argue that we have not reacted with anywhere near enough “response in kind” to Iran, we have not allowed the consequences of Iranian aggression to sufficiently inform Iranian interests. They do not suffer at all from the errors of their ways.

But Nasr and Takeyh – and the Editors at the NY Times – think it high time we take the opposite tack with Iran. Any other more muscular response would have “escalated the conflict.” Thank goodness the British didn’t do that, or no doubt the “confrontation” with which Iran would meet that confrontation would be terrible to behold! (Who do these guys work for, beyond their university employers?)

Nasr and Takeyh make the logically false argument that each intransigence and violation by Iran – of international agreements, UN mandate, Geneva Convention, civil rights violations, funding and supporting of terror proxies, and other acts of war – are evidence of the failure of our approach to Iran. Because Iran is stubborn, and continues to spread violence and seek Nuclear weapons, that shows that trying to stand up against Iran is a mistake:

The United States, meanwhile, has pursued its policy of coercion for two months now, and one is hard-pressed to find evidence of success. Beyond even the symbolic move of apprehending the British sailors, Iran’s intransigent position on the nuclear issue remains unchanged. To underscore that point, Iran has scaled back cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and released a new currency note adorned with a nuclear emblem.

Moreover, although Iran has proved willing to talk to Saudi Arabia, especially regarding Lebanon, it has yielded no new ground. In fact, Saudi Arabia’s concerns, relayed to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, during his visit to Riyadh in January, went unanswered. And if the March 10 meeting of neighbors in Baghdad was supposed to bring a chastened Iran to the table, the opposite happened. Far from being accommodating, Iran boldly asked for a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. But the meeting was noteworthy in making a show of Iran’s regional influence and its importance to the future of Iraq.

How does that not equate to surrender? Steps taken against Hitler in the 1930s didn’t cause him to change his behavior, either, but I think the world knows what happens when you view each act of violence and aggression as a new opportunity for diplomacy and concession. Doesn’t that define appeasement?

I don’t at all argue with this conclusion:

The United States faces a stark choice: it will have to either escalate its confrontational policy or adopt a policy of engagement.

That amounts to what I would consider a rhetorical question. Not so Nasr, Takeyh, and their NY Times abettors. Even the NY Times must have to stifle a chortle over this assertion:

Far from arresting the Iranian danger, escalation would most likely present the United States with new perils. Given the balance of power in the region, a continued confrontational course with Iran would saddle the United States with a commitment to staying in the Persian Gulf indefinitely and deploying to other conflict areas in an environment of growing radicalism. It would place the United States at the heart of the region’s conflicts, leaving it all the more vulnerable to ideological extremism and terrorism at home and abroad.

You mean like, more than we are already? You mean, even more than what we’ve gotten ourselves into with Iraq? I think that’s precisely the point, gentlemen.

We’re in this thing already, and by choosing to take up arms against us and our new Democratic allies in Iraq, Iran has picked a course for their future. They want to create, they do create, that “environment of growing radicalism.” But I think Nasr and Takeyh know that, and they mean statements such as this to mean, “If you keep this up, you’ll see just how terrible the costs to you and your friends will be. Back away now.” In that, they don’t sound any different from Iranian President Ahmadinejad in his regular tirades against the US.

That’s further reinforced by the veiled threat contained in another warning from Nasr and Takeyh:

Since the United States entered Iraq in 2003, Washington has complained about Iran’s meddling, and about its involvement with radical groups and militias. Still, Iran, far more than any of the Sunni Arab regimes, has also supported the Shiite-dominated government and the Iraqi political process that brought it to power. If Iraq were to exclude Iran and seek to diminish its regional influence, Iran would have no further vested interest in the Iraqi political process, and it could play a far more destabilizing role. Therefore, the current policy will not reduce the Iranian threat to Iraq but rather increase it.

Think what Iran has done so far is bad? What till you see what we do if you try to resist us!

I suppose that any academic who can perceive any meaningful American-Chinese relations worthy of note can likewise advocate the same model for US-Iranian relations. Maybe I’m all wet here, but can someone drop me a line with what we gained out of China by Nixon’s much celebrated overtures to the dictator in China? Because I don’t see the net benefit, not then, and not since. I suppose we have lots of cheap imports selling at our Walmarts, but anything else?

I think it strikingly ironic than when diplomacy minded types advocate more thoughtful approaches to aggression, they always involve some form of genuflection and humbling at the feet of those whose behavior is at the roots of conflict.

Above all else, according to Nasr and Takeyh, we must stop criticizing Iran for its proxy wars against us and our allies. We must end “provocative naval deployments in the Persian Gulf,” however much defensive and offensive potential they afford, and we must acknowledge the primacy of Iranian influence in the Middle East.

In short, we must start by surrendering all levers of influence over Iranian behavior before we can then, without precondition, normalize relations with a State active in conflict against us and our interests.

Funny, how it always comes back to meeting the demands of our enemies before we can rightfully expect them to behave like a civilized nation.

Nasr and Takeyh end their paean piece to Iran with the following pronouncement:

After 28 years of sanctions and containment, it is time to accept that pressure has not tempered Iran’s behavior. The announced release of the British captives shows that the Islamic Republic is still willing to mitigate its ideology with pragmatism. A policy of patient engagement will change the context, and that may lead Iran to see relations with America to be in its own interest. Only then will Tehran chart a new course at home and abroad.

I keep coming back to the word Nasr and Takeyh use to describe Iranian’s release of the hostages they took to precipitate this crisis: pragmatism. Nasr and Takeyh never define how they mean that. It’s an odd choice of phrase. The first time the authors invoke it, is as Iranian response to British “flexibility.” I have to presume that “flexibility” means, by Britain ignoring that Iran had conducted an act of war upon the British Navy, in favor of seeking a diplomatic solution to aggression.

Two paragraphs later, the authors state that “The Iranians received this as pragmatism on London’s part and responded in kind,” presumably referring to British temperance of language and their announcement that the crisis could only be resolved “diplomatically.”

And now at the end of their scolding of the US, Nasr and Takeyh suggest that Iran is “still willing to mitigate its ideology with pragmatism.”

A definition of pragmatism, from

1. character or conduct that emphasizes practicality.

2. a philosophical movement or system having various forms, but generally stressing practical consequences as constituting the essential criterion in determining meaning, truth, or value.

I think Nasr and Takeyh use this word with the most serious of intentions.

For Britain and the US, pragmatism is to measure the practical consequence of continuing to confront Iranian acts of aggression and terror, and their pursuit of greater military power and influence, especially seeking nuclear weapons. We are to recognize that our continued resistance will only harden Iranian resolve and cause us further harm and violence. Pragmatism calls us to renounce policies of conflict and confrontation, in favor of accommodation and seeking satisfaction of respective self interest.

For Iran, pragmatism is acknowledging when they’ve successfully achieved all of the public relations and international media goals, and that retaining some hapless British military hostages can’t really afford them any benefit greater, than what they’ve already achieved in humiliating Britain and her erstwhile allies. For Iran, pragmatism also involves weighing the consequences of naked aggression and proxy warfare against the US and our allies. There are few, some might say none, and if we continue to reward aggression with concession, there will never be any.

Iran, and indeed the entire Muslim world, can see the consequences for themselves. Why shouldn’t they take the pragmatic approach?

Why shouldn’t we?

Of course, that’s the greatest illogic in Nasr and Takeyh’s argument. If pragmatism is the path to follow, then a pragmatic approach to Iran would be to coldly calculate the consequence of continued avoidance of the facts of the war waged against us.

There is nothing less pragmatic than pretending an enemy can be an ally, or considering appeasement an effective preventative for war.

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