One of the most prominent debates in the presidential race has been whether it is wise or foolish to talk with our enemies. Numerous arguments have evolved on both sides to justify what we would gain or lose from sitting down with the likes of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is subtly, if not expressly, suggested that a forum is needed to hear him out and to give our negotiators the opportunity to transform Ahmadinejad into acceptance of our will or to devise a compromise that satisfies all parties concerned.
Similarly, contrary positions have been staked as to how such talks give needless stature to an undeserving tyrant, empowering him with his supporters. Such talks are also deemed to constitute appeasement. This side also argues that talks have been occurring through the proper sources such that Iran has already been given ample opportunity to be heard.
The more important issues are When should talks be deemed to be useless? and What is to be done when that point is reached?
At one level, the game is not terribly complex. America does not want Iran to possess nuclear weapons. There are certain stages of development at which experts can agree represent a point of no return. The goal is to keep Iran from getting there.
The Iranian goal is to either get there or extract as much as possible for voluntarily giving up getting there. If, for instance, Iran’s goal is the latter, it needs to make the west clear about what those concessions are at some point. If its goal is the former, it needs to stall and prohibit any action by the west that would interfere. Simple enough.
It is either sheer ignorance or simple dishonesty for any of the candidates to suggest that talks are not going on with Iran. The Europeans have been “negotiating” to no real end with the Iranians for years and the Americans are intimately involved in those talks.
The notion that there is no opportunity for Iran to express the concessions it desires is simple nonsense. Rather, it is obvious that the Iranians have accomplished the alternative goal of simply stalling any western interference without consequences that would otherwise force them to change tactics.
To suggest that a president to president meeting would facilitate better communication such that the Iranian goal would be changed serves only to satisfy fantasy, not advance serious debate. President Bush made this point clearly in his recent speech at the Knesset and there is no wise counter position.
Staying simple, force of some kind is required to get Iran to either change its goal or to proffer concessions it desires which would be equally acceptable to the west. Force need not be military but without any credible threat of military force, all other forms of force such as economic sanctions or political alienation are irrelevant. That credible threat is simply the lynchpin that makes or breaks any tactic the west employs.
This was clear in 2003. Following the speedy liberation of Iraq, many in Iran were concerned that President Bush was going to make a right turn into Tehran. Substantial sums of Iranian Revolutionary Guard assets were sent to the likes of Dubai and elsewhere for protection and many individuals left the country. It often escapes notice that that was also the period in which Iran is said to have been helpful to America in its efforts against al-Qaida. The threat of military force was credible and delivered results.
It was only after our nation entered into years of self-paralysis, with many in the State Department and CIA sabotaging all that President Bush sought to accomplish with the threat of force, that the threat began to lose all credibility. The Iranians tested it by increasingly making more demands and being less and less cooperative until Western efforts to negotiate with them met only failure.
As the Iranians became more and more confident that America had lost all will to add to its military agenda, Ahmadinejad became more emboldened.
Further talks only send the message that we are still not prepared to enforce any threat militarily and invite the Iranians to continue their disingenuous stall until they reach whatever is deemed the point of no return. Many Westerners, who years ago would have found the notion of allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons unacceptable are now uttering acceptance at its inevitability.
Our problem is not whether to talk with the Iranians. It is when to acknowledge that talks are useless and proceed to the next step. This was precisely what happened with Iraq where the U.N. “talked” endlessly with Saddam only to have 17 resolutions disregarded. Saddam knew that he had bought off the Russians and the French with lucrative oil contracts and otherwise and did not believe there was any credible threat of force against him.
With Iran, many Westerners are willing to continue to avoid declaring that talks have failed for fear that we have no alternative option other than military force. As such, the absurd falsehood that we do not talk to Iran and the notion that a president to president talk is necessary serve the purpose of stalling us from facing the facts — all to the benefit of Iran.
Such meetings with Iran would be a failure if America were not prepared to respond aggressively when those talks fail to yield anything.
Reciprocally, if the Iranians know America will not respond aggressively, they will be enticed to ensure that the talks yield nothing. Such talks likely have been avoided precisely because the political environment in America has not been open to military action.
Many think our forces are stretched too thin, any action against buried nuclear sites would prove ineffective and cause disastrous retaliation, we would further destroy our image in the world and so forth. Without any support, a threat of force would too easily be shown to be a bluff and an exposed bluff would be a fatal blow to our future efforts to establish any credibility in the region.
Therefore, it truly only makes sense to enter such high-level talks as a last measure of warning before military action. This is how Bush approached his final actions with Saddam and the result was to establish a high degree of credibility that Bush will use force when he threatens it. Unfortunately, that credibility has since been almost fully diluted.
Consequently, arguing over further talks is counterproductive. Rather, the issue is when to talk.
Until America can regain credibility such that its threat of ultimately using military force against Iran is taken seriously, talks will continue to stall progress, all to Iran’s benefit.
Once America is able to regain that credibility, the issues of whether to talk and with whom will be simple to answer. President Bush has tried to re-establish this threat in many ways. Whether others will allow him to be successful or not will prove more important to our future than who wins the debate of talk or no talk.
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