Wednesday, July 25, 2007

To Talk Or Not To Talk

I hate to beat up on Andrew Sullivan around these parts, but sometimes it really is too easy. Yesterday he posted a video of a public hanging in Iran, rightly noting the barbarity.
A young woman is hanged, as a mob shouts "God is great!" The method of hanging is not by knocking someone off a gallows. It's an excruciating, slow ascent. The woman struggles for a long time.
After coming real close to drawing a moral equivalence between the Bush administration and the Iranian regime, he finishes with an observation about "this barbaric justice."
This is part of a regime we are trying to negotiate with.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but this seems like me to be disbelief, and to be a tacit acknowledgment that there is no arguing in good faith with a regime that acts like this. But it's hard to tell, because Andrew has been all over the map in the past over what to do with Iran.

24 May 2005
We are fighting a global war with the manpower for a minor spat. Technology can only do so much. And when you further consider that, in order to win, we need to deal with Syria and Iran at the very least, you can see the scale of our problem.
03 March 2006 (Speaking of a development in Iraq that "merit[ed] cautious optimism"):
Scott McClellan has confirmed that Zalmay Khalilzad has been authorized to negotiate with Iran solely on the issue of Iraq...And so, as I put it the other day, "sometimes the darkest days are inevitable - even necessary - before the sky ultimately clears."
06 September 2006:
Fighting does not merely mean brute military force. It can mean more skillful global diplomacy with other great powers to isolate Iran's regime, better counter-insurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan, covert military action, expanded intelligence, as well as subtle but real support for the people of Iran.
07 September 2006 (in response to a reader who said we need to talk to Iran):
Practically speaking, I'd pour many more troops into Iraq, especially Baghdad, ratchet up the diplomatic isolation of Iran, encourage the domestic unrest in that country, and wait till we have a functioning executive branch in Washington.
How do you isolate someone while at the same time negotiate with them?

22 October 2006:
At some point, Washington may have to talk to Iran and Syria - or face meltdown.
09 November 2006 (In response to Bush 41 advisers Gates and Baker):
Daddy's back to clean up the mess. Between Gates and Baker, we may have to talk to Iran. What other options are there?
07 December 2006 (This one's a little convoluted. Get ready to be confused):
Many neoconservatives argue that Iran has precisely the opposite intention, and so we have no leverage; and even if we did, Ahmadinejad is not someone any rational actor can negotiate with. I don't want to go all Baker-Hamilton on you, but both sides may have captured parts of the truth. Let's assume the neocons are right (and I think they are) about the nature of the Tehran regime.
Did you get that? Neocons argue the regime is so bad that you can't negotiate them. Put simply, Ahmadinejad is an irrational actor and another rational actor simply cannot deal with him. Andrew agrees with that assessment. You would infer from this that he too would find it difficult to negotiate with an irrational actor. But you'd be wrong. From the same post:
And why not talk to the regimes in Syria and Iran? If they are what the Bush administration says they are, the diplomacy will go nowhere, and we can then be seen to have at least tried.
This assumption that diplomacy is either advantageous or neutral is rather common. There is a third possible outcome. We've seen in the past how negotiating with dictators who are acting in bad faith (and, as Andrew agrees, are not rational actors) can actually be a net negative for us, whether it increases a state's prestige in parts of the international community or encourages dictators to pursue their own agenda, knowing we're going to talk to them no matter what they do.

29 May 2007 (Responding to an argument from Juan Cole for engagement with Iran):
I'm still a skeptic, but see few other good options right now...
His latest comment seems to suggest that little will come as a result of negotiating with such a barbaric regime, but it's hard to tell.


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