October 17, 2008

Sending Iran’s Regrets

Senator Barack Obama hopes to be the first American president to engage in diplomatic negotiations with the Islamic Republic regime in Iran. He even says he's willing to meet with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions. Surely he must understand that what he's proposing is a radical departure from foreign policy as practiced by both parties. Franklin Roosevelt didn't meet with Adolf Hitler or Emperor Hirohito, Harry Truman didn't meet with Kim Il Sung, Ronald Reagan didn't meet with any Soviet leader until after glasnost and perestroika were in place, Bill Clinton didn't meet with Saddam Hussein or Iran's Mohammad Khatami and Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and no American president met with Fidel Castro.

In any case, whether Obama's wish to engage Ahmadinejad is mainstream or radical, and whether it's foolish or wise, may not even matter. It isn't likely to happen. Obama may not care about preconditions, but the Iranian governmentcertainly does. Mehdi Kalhor, Iran's Vice President for Media Affairs, told the Islamic Republic News Agency that "as long as U.S. forces have not left the Middle East region and continues its support for the Zionist regime, talks between Iran and U.S. is off the agenda."

Read the rest in COMMENTARY Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 17, 2008 10:45 AM
Comments
Franklin Roosevelt didn't meet with Adolf Hitler or Emperor Hirohito, Harry Truman didn't meet with Kim Il Sung, Ronald Reagan didn't meet with any Soviet leader until after glasnost and perestroika were in place, Bill Clinton didn't meet with Saddam Hussein or Iran's Mohammad Khatami and Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and no American president met with Fidel Castro.
And Nixon did not meet with Mao, and Kissinger did not talk with the North Vietnamese, and the Reagan administration did not have arms talks with the Soviets.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 17, 2008 12:07 pm
Aw geez, forgot to mention my least favorite negations between the Reagan administration and Iran.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 17, 2008 12:11 pm
Phillip Weiss of the Mondoweiss blog and critic of Israel's long-term oppression of Palestinians and of America's subsidization thereof, might find it amusing that Zionist Lobby agent Totten calls him tacitly a "disgruntled American radical."
Published frequently also by American Conservative, Weiss calls for a modification of Jewish identity,a true assimilation which would distance American Jews from properly being accused of dual loyalty.
Weiss has expressed hope that Obama will do about what Jackson rightlky or wrongly predicted: reduce the baleful influence of the Lobby which pushed America into Iraq and which is key in pushing Congress to subsidize Israeli oppression.
Weiss also seems pretty happy to me, not particularly disgruntled.
Posted by: truthteller at October 17, 2008 12:47 pm
More negotiations:
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States would be prepared to reconcile with the Taliban if the Afghan government pursued talks to end the seven-year conflict in that country.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 17, 2008 2:16 pm
Truthteller: Zionist Lobby agent Totten
I'm a writer. I don't work for any lobby, Zionist or otherwise.
One more idiotic crack like that and you will be banned from publishing comments at this Web site.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 17, 2008 2:36 pm
DPU,
Yes, Nixon met with Mao. That's the exception that proves the rule. None of your other examples are exceptions. There may very well be negotiations with the Taliban, and such negotiations may or may not be wise and appropriate, but the president of the United States isn't meeting with the "president" of the Taliban. Kissinger met with North Vietnamese, but he wasn't the president. Etc.
Of course there should be some communication with Iran, no matter what Iran does. There has been sub-presidential level discussion with Iran throughout the Bush Administration. Everybody who pays any attention at all to international relations in the Middle East knows that.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 17, 2008 2:42 pm
Yes, Nixon met with Mao. That's the exception that proves the rule.
I'm not sure what you mean by that. I'm also not sure if Obama said he would do it in person rather than personally is okay with negotiations. And I'm not sure what difference it makes if he's doing it personally or through proxies.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 17, 2008 3:49 pm
DPU,
Presidential-level negotiations bestow a certain level of legitimacy. Rogue state leaders generally do not like to be shunned, although Iran's real leadership might not actually care. They are the ones who cut off relations with us.
The other problem with high-level negotiations with some dictators under some conditions (both Syria and Iran today) is that negotiations create the illusion of progress. Syria's Assad understands this perfectly well. He loves sham negotiations. They make him appear reasonable when he isn't, and they bring him somewhat out of the cold when he doesn't deserve it. I'm slightly surprised the Iranians haven't figured this out, but it appears that maybe they haven't. Hamas hasn't figured it out either. Some adversaries are dumber than others.
What would you think if George W. Bush agreed to meet with Osama bin Laden?
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 17, 2008 3:59 pm
What would you think if George W. Bush agreed to meet with Osama bin Laden?
Depends what the purpose was for. I can't think of too many realistic circumstances that would be desirable, but if it was to negotiate conditions for giving himself up, then sure.
There are, however, a number of positive outcomes from negotiations with Iran that I can imagine that would justify negotiations. But I don't place a lot of value on symbolic political gestures.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 17, 2008 4:38 pm
DPU: There are, however, a number of positive outcomes from negotiations with Iran that I can imagine that would justify negotiations.
Here's the problem I have with this. Negotiations are based on the principle that I give you something if you give me something. What should we give to Iran? I'd be happy to help the Iranians build non-nuclear energy infrastructure if they would scrap their nuke plans (for real), but they've already made it clear that that's out of the question.
We aren't going to throw Israel to the wolves, we aren't going to withdraw from the Middle East, we aren't going to hand them Lebanon and Iraq, we aren't going to drop them from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, etc. We have nothing to give them, and they have nothing to give us.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 17, 2008 4:46 pm
"The interests of the U.S. and Iran are diametrically opposite, and they have been since 1979."
Both the US and Iran had a shared interest in over throwing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.
They currently have a shared interest in curtailing the drug trade in Afghanistan, and fighting the spread of wahabism, which is making large in roads in Lebanon.
Furthermore, Iran is neither engaged in genocide or invasions of its neighbours, making the Hitler analogy inappropriate.
Posted by: Joe Rushty at October 17, 2008 6:49 pm
DPU,
US has always talked to Iran and the Taliban, in a way or another. Just this year a State Department official went there and talked to them. We also sold them plenty of grains at a time when there was a crisis and states were scrambling to secure supplies. That's normal and in many cases it's done in secret or they hide the true meaning. To invite a psycho to the White House to meet with the President it's very different.
Regarding Jesse's comment: I have to wonder if he wants Obama to win or not. Even if we assume that Obama will do just that (very unlikely) it's very bad politics to announce it before the election. Maybe with a black man in the WH Jesse might lose some busine$$ and Jesse would not be it on race issues.
Posted by: nameless-fool at October 17, 2008 6:59 pm
Joe Rushty: They currently have a shared interest in curtailing the drug trade in Afghanistan, and fighting the spread of wahabism,
Iran's tool against radical Sunnis in Lebanon is Hezbollah. Our tool against radical Sunnis in Lebanon is the liberal March 14 movement that Iran wants to destroy.
The US cannot work with Iran in Lebanon.
In Afghanistan? On the drug trade? I don't know enough about that to comment.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 17, 2008 8:34 pm
Michael, even Nixon's meeting with Mao was not an "exception". As McCain pointed out in an excellent interview conducted by a hostile journalist, this meeting was not "without preconditions" but rather Nixon and Kissinger spent months laying the groundwork so it would be a productive encounter for the US. Not the least of considerations was that we were playing off China against a more significant adversary, the USSR.
McCain also pointed out that we *do* have contact with Iran at lower levels, and that all we hear from them is the same kind of tripe we get from Ahmedinejad. If Iran is *really* interested in engaging with us seriously we will find out and then we can proceed, otherwise it would be nothing other than a propaganda stunt for Iran's benefit. I was already committed to voting for McCain when I read this but reading this and grasping his understanding of how to deal with tough adversaries solidified my support for him.
An example of a poorly-thought-out meeting was the encounter between Khrushchev and Kennedy shortly after Kennedy took office, which led to the construction of the Berlin Wall.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at October 17, 2008 9:05 pm
I think we are paying too much attention what Iran says. They are smart people and they know very well that nobody is going to sit down to talk to them without preconditions regardless of what Obama is selling with campaign pitch. They also know that US/Israel demands will be outrages as far as Iran is concerned. So, why not make similarly outrages demands.
It keeps their defiant renome intact should there be no progress in 'preconditionless' negotiations with President Obama.
Iranians are just hedging their bets. Call it fallback procedure.
Posted by: leo at October 18, 2008 2:28 pm
What did Pelosi gain by visiting Syria as her way of thumbing her nose at the Bush Administration? She got no concessions and Assad, the Syrian dictator, got fantastic p.r. that boosted him politically.
These totalitarians dont live in a vacuum. They read Western media sources and know exactly what we debate.
Posted by: Freedom Now at October 18, 2008 6:41 pm
She got no concessions and Assad, the Syrian dictator, got fantastic p.r. that boosted him politically.
I must of missed that. What form did this boost take?
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 20, 2008 3:59 pm
I must of missed that. What form did this boost take?
I can't believe you missed it, DPU. A freedom-loving crowd of Syrian patriots had chased Mr. Assad onto the roof of his palace. And as he tried to shimmy up the cupola, Nancy Pelosi came by in a helicopter and boosted his popularity!
"Syrian patriots", Nancy Pelosi said, whatever your serious reasons for hating Bashar Assad, like he had your children killed - or your serious reasons for liking him - say, maybe he pays your salary and did not have your children killed, or protects you from the unshaven Sunni masses, etc - please, throw your logic aside and listen: you should get behind Mr. Assad. And here's why! Because I, U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader, was photographed standing next to him! Yes!
Posted by: glasnost at October 20, 2008 8:26 pm
What would you think if George W. Bush agreed to meet with Osama bin Laden
As soon as the Iranian government massacres several thousand American citizens, this will be a valid comparison. Until then....
But I don't place a lot of value on symbolic political gestures.
Smart man. This whole line of thinking is a variant of the Green Lantern Theory of foreign policy.
Now, a successful negotiated agreement between US and Iran might have some ramifications on how Iran is treated by third parties. Because people might come to believe we are no longer out to metaphorically kick Iran's a** in the first dark alley we happen to come across. But, frankly, even then there would need to be quite a few other accompanying executive branch actions.
Meanwhile,
We have nothing to give them,
Are you kidding? How about the suspension and cessation of more hostile, damaging policies towards them then I can count on both hands?
and they have nothing to give us.
What this means is that you, using your magic camera that lets you see inside the minds of the Iranian government, have decided that you know that Iran will never concede on any of the various things we'd like Iran to stop doing.
Probably you think your quote up there demonstrates how Iran has said with its own words that it won't move an inch on core issues, etc.
You should consider another possibility: they don't trust George Bush and the Republican Party not to double-cross them. They think he's a nutjob, and have decided they can stiff him and get a better deal from the next guy.
In other words, of course they'll say they refuse to concede anything... until they change their mind.
This is kind of like how North Korea never ran around telling anyone it could find that it was really ready to stop producing plutonium and/or uranium, if only someone would just ask it to stop. Please!
You'd never know from their rhetoric that they'd agree to a deal, but I look over there and see them no longer on the "State Sponsors of Terror" list. Huh. Did the Bush Admin capitulate, or did the crazy implacable America-hating, proliferating, terrorist-sponsoring dude decide to play ball?
Posted by: glasnost at October 20, 2008 8:40 pm
"As soon as the Iranian government massacres several thousand American citizens, this will be a valid comparison. Until then...."
Do you mean to say Iran has nothing to do with death of US Marines in Beirut in 1983? Or that there were not that many dead?
There may be legitimate reasons why US should talk to Iran. Excuse you are offering is not it.
Posted by: leo at October 21, 2008 5:27 am
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