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Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity
Posted by: Jon Henke on Sunday, June 18, 2006

One of the alleged benefits of the Iraq war was that it would put our enemies on notice — clean up or we'll clean you up — making them more pliable, more responsive to US interests. I mean, who knows, maybe we could have even gotten Iran, Terrorism Public Enemy #1, to crack down on terrorists and even recognize the State of Israel. Short of peacefully replacing the Islamic tyrannies with democracies, that would be just about the best possible outcome.

As Neil the Ethical Werewolf writes, the idea was that "we'll be better able to intimidate bad countries into changing their ways." Such results would be impressive. Apparently, however, positive rapprochement wasn't enough; we were holding out for the pony...
Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by U.S. forces three years ago, an unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table — including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.
[...]
The document lists a series of Iranian aims for the talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology and a recognition of its "legitimate security interests." Iran agreed to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, "decisive action" against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending "material support" for Palestinian militias and accepting the Saudi initiative for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That's quite an impressive list of concessions! But not only did the administration ignore the overture, they criticized the Swiss for passing it on. As Kevin Drum points out, this means we rejected "an unprecedented offer from Iran when they're weak and we're strong, and then three years later reluctantly agree to much narrower talks when they're stronger and we're weaker."

The incident, said Trita Parsi ["a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace"], "strengthened the hands of those in Iran who believe the only way to compel the United States to talk or deal with Iran is not by sending peace offers but by being a nuisance."

And so we have gotten a very big nuisance, a very small stick, and not a lot of good options. This is precisely why the 'intestinal fortitude' style of foreign policy is so dangerous. If you're determined to defeat every potential enemy, you'll end up in a lot of unnecessary fights; and miss a lot of potential solutions.

UPDATE:

Allahpundit at Hot Air seems to think we were right to hold out...
WaPo sells the ‘03 offer as having placed “everything” on the table, but that’s not true. There’s nothing in it about domestic reform, particularly the democratic kind upon which the Bush doctrine insists. It’s a naked attempt by the mullahs to preserve their own power by compromising on the more belligerent points of their foreign policy.
I'm not sure why Allahpundit thinks regime change or domestic political reform was ever on the table. The daydreams of Michael Ledeen and Dick Cheney notwithstanding, there's no real chance at an internal Iranian revolution now or in the foreseeable future. If we were holding out for that kind of change, we may as well have asked for the pony, too.

Democracy promotion is a good policy within certain limits. One of the more important limits, however, is that such efforts should be reasonably possible. Imagination is not a foreign policy.
 
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And so we have gotten a very big nuisance, a very small stick, and not a lot of good options. This is precisely why the ’intestinal fortitude’ style of foreign policy is so dangerous. If you’re determined to defeat every potential enemy, you’ll end up in a lot of unnecessary fights; and miss a lot of potential solutions.
Interesting.

As I recall, this is about the same time we got the same sort of an approach from Lybia. Any clue as to why we took Lybia up on their offer and not Iran?

 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Oh god.

Despite never feeling anything more than lukewarm toward Bush at best, I’ve often found myself defending him on foreign policy. That ends now. It’s worse than I’d ever imagined. Nobody this stupid should ever be allowed near the White House.
 
Written By: Matt McIntosh
URL: http://catallarchy.net/blog/
As I recall, this is about the same time we got the same sort of an approach from Lybia. Any clue as to why we took Lybia up on their offer and not Iran?
A cynic might say because the Iranians were only making concessions on the inconsequential matters of terrorism, nuclear weapons and recognition of Israel; whereas the Libyans were able to offer progress on the real issues.

On the last weekend of January [2005], the Libyan National Oil Co. announced that 11 of 15 new oil and gas exploration concessions would go to American oil companies. Primary among them was Occidental Petroleum of Los Angeles, a big donor to Republican campaign finances, including to the inauguration. Alexanders Gas & Oil.

Damn cynics.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
The "clean up or we’ll clean you up" is a lethal game of chicken. We can’t really clean very much up. What we can do is make life rather hard for most any individual government in the Middle East - if we try hard enough, and with enough of a cassus belli to get the various intermediaries to play along.

Middle East governments have been using terrorists as foriegn policy tools for a long time. It doesn’t take much for them to hand over terrorists that are not useful as tools. Libya had an empty deck and nothing to lose. Syria and Iran have a full deck and have resisted even the "clean up or else". Their terrorists are too useful to them.

Therefore, I’m a little bit skeptical about what Iran was really offering back then, but June 2003 was definitely our point of maximum leverage. Not even the Iranians were really thinking rationally about the limits of our ability to replicate the Iraq project.

It would have been worth looking into. But the best we could have done was, maybe, some nuke cooperation in exchange for what would have had to have been a "treaty of friendship" or to that effect. And such an event would have had a lot of trouble in the court of US public opinion.


You are certainly right about the "do what we tell you or else" school of diplomacy. It works great until you run out of bullets in the gun, and then it pretty much falls apart. And here we are.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Libya was in talks prior to 2002 and it took a while to finish those up. I’m not sure that the Iranians wouldn’t end up stalling any talks as they saw our hand weaken. But still, we should have taken a close look at the offer.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Sound like Clinton foreign policy approach. Push the problem off into the future.

But what else would you expect. Instead of looking at the situation pragmatically and acknowledging an aggressive approach with Iran as a necessary option for the President, Democrats in congress and liberal voices in media would crucify this President for going that route.

After these last 8 years, no President will take a serious stand on anything with the slightest potential to backfire. Especially when the military may be necessary. Clintonian politics (push it off into the future until its someone else political disaster) will reign.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
After reviewing the list of concessions they offered...I want more information.

It seems too good to be true that suddenly the Iranians send you a fax saying that they will accept Israel and cut funding to the Palestineans among a list of other very substantial concessions. Is that how normal negotiations are started? I’d think they’d start off with something less than a complete cave-in. (or were they that close to having their regime fail that they were willing to bet the farm?)

If they wanted to get our attention, wouldn’t something symbolic like an apology for the suffering of the hostages be a better beginning? Sort of like Libya sending the agents off to jail at the Hague.

Maybe I am just suspicious, but if all this was on the table then, why would it be off the table now if the Iranians are serious about wanting peaceful nuclear energy? Oh, sure, we’ll let them not recognize Israel and, uh, they can get European trade rights and a free light-water reactor. (Personally, I don’t care too much if they sign up for the Saudi plan since I don’t think it’s gonna happen anyways.)

Was this an offer certified by the mullahs? Why is the offer being brought up now instead of October 2004? Besides the Bush embarrasment factor, if I were the USA I’d be sort of happy this is in the media because it shows to the world the sort of deal which should still be possible.

I am not skeptical that the Bush team could blow this, though, just wondering aloud here to see if there’s anything else to this story.









 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
While awaiting more details of this missed opportunity may be prudent, I’m predisposed to believe it. I’ve just come not to trust what the Bush Admin says about the state of affairs in the world, whether Iran or Iraq. Our own embassy in Iraq belies the "happy news" issuing from Rove and the White House.
 
Written By: Mona
URL: http://
Unaha Closp has forgotten the Iran also has oil.

Mona, you don’t think Democrats work in Iraq?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Uh, Tom, whether or not Democrats "work in Iraq, the embassy memo describing the hellishness of life in Iraq is signed by Khalilzad — the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq that Bush appointed.
 
Written By: Mona
URL: http://
That’s quite an impressive list of concessions! But not only did the administration ignore the overture, they criticized the Swiss for passing it on. As Kevin Drum points out, this means we rejected "an unprecedented offer from Iran when they’re weak and we’re strong, and then three years later reluctantly agree to much narrower talks when they’re stronger and we’re weaker."
And we’re supposed to believe that the regime in Iran would actually honor such concessions more than they’ve honored, say, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, exactly why?

yours/
peter
 
Written By: Peter Jackson
URL: http://www.liberalcapitalist.com
As I recall, this is about the same time we got the same sort of an approach from Lybia. Any clue as to why we took Lybia up on their offer and not Iran?
That’s an excellent question. I wish I had a definitive answer. My guess would be that the reasons were threefold:

1) As the article said, the administration was less interested in policy change than in regime change. They believed (correctly) that regime change in Libya was impossible, but that regime change in Iran was possible. (ridiculously incorrect)

2) Libya was no longer a problematic state sponsor of terrorism, while Iran was. And we "don’t negotiate with terrorists". Even, apparently, about ending terrorism. Except, of course, we do.

3) (I’m guessing) The administration was very irrationally optimistic about the correlations of forces over the next few years, believing our approach to Iraq would put us in a better place, and Iran would be in a worse place.
Nobody this stupid should ever be allowed near the White House.
A long time ago, I called for the resignation of Dick Cheney. I still believe that, without him, things would be a lot better. Bush, of course, is responsible for listening to him...
A cynic might say because the Iranians were only making concessions on the inconsequential matters of terrorism, nuclear weapons and recognition of Israel; whereas the Libyans were able to offer progress on the real issues.
Funny, but I doubt it. We have sanctions on Iran, too, and I’ve no doubt they’d be every bit as anxious to see those sanctions raised as is Libya.
After reviewing the list of concessions they offered...I want more information.
I agree. It’s important to note that they didn’t offer those concessions for nothing, though. They offered to put them on the table and negotiate over them. Clearly, they had their own interests, but — considering the atmosphere at the time — I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe they wanted security garauntees and nuclear energy in exchange for some relatively reasonable concessions.
Maybe I am just suspicious, but if all this was on the table then, why would it be off the table now if the Iranians are serious about wanting peaceful nuclear energy?
(1) Iran is in a better bargaining position, and (2) Iran has seen that they stand to increase their bargaining position by agitating, rather than offering concessions. Crazy, as I’ve pointed out, is a strategy.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Of COURSE the Iranians were willing to to agree to EVERYTHING... Heck Adolf Hitler attended Disarmament Conferences..."Talk is Cheap." You can disaagree, but I suspect that the US Government felt that the Iranians were being "disingenuous" with their proposals. I love this place, someone releases a document that is CRITICAL of the US, IT MUST BE TRUE, George Bush is NOT: a) Democrat or b) libertarian. NOTHING he says or does is to be trusted, in fact we will take the word of an OPPONENT of the US! What ever...
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
And we’re supposed to believe that the regime in Iran would actually honor such concessions more than they’ve honored, say, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, exactly why?
That’s what negotiations are for, Peter. You can build verification into the bargain.

As for the NPT, perhaps Iran has violated it in some areas, but they do have the legal right to obtain nuclear energy. Do you know of specific violations?
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
As for the NPT, perhaps Iran has violated it in some areas, but they do have the legal right to obtain nuclear energy. Do you know of specific violations?
Jon, the Iranian regime is quite trustworthy, I agree let them develop nuclear power all they want, they’d NEVER lie or use it in a manner unintended.

In fact, the Russians HAVE offered them this option, but for some reason the Iranians have declined.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I think the Iranians are more concerned about what the US will offer them than what Russia will offer them. In any event, I’ve repeatedly pointed out that verifiability is important, but — and please remember this — that’s something that can be arranged in negotiations. ("trust but verify")
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
What the Russians have offered them, Jon, is nuclear power, only the RUssians re-process the fuel, not the Iranians.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
The worse form of verifiablity is the type that was in place for North Korea and Iraq.

I am all for the "trust but verify" option so long as the verify component of that option actually works. I think it may be easier said than done. But hope springs eternal.
 
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
(1) Iran is in a better bargaining position, and (2) Iran has seen that they stand to increase their bargaining position by agitating, rather than offering concessions. Crazy, as I’ve pointed out, is a strategy.


Iran is now under a completely different adminstration as well.
Do you know of specific violations?
Secret nuclear facilities count, right?

And I know what negotiations are for, but the very act of negotiating presumes good faith on the part of all parties involved. Iran, especially under their latest administration, has given us no reason reason to believe they possess this prerequisite. But such is the danger of negotiating with tyrants. Historically it bears its own reward.

yours/
peter.
 
Written By: Peter Jackson
URL: http://www.liberalcapitalist.com
And I know what negotiations are for, but the very act of negotiating presumes good faith on the part of all parties involved. Iran, especially under their latest administration
Peter, something that Jon and others mayhap DON’T consider, "What ARE negotiations for?" "Negotiations" have many uses, and agreement is NOT always one of them. Negotiations can be to forestall actions, Iran or Nazi Germany, seeking to forestall actions being taken against them for their policies. They can be to stall out or under-cut ongoing actions, e.g., the PRC’s agreement to enter into "Peace/Armistice Negotiations" in 1951, to undercut UN will to continue the war and to limit UN/US actions against the PRC. They can be to determine how exactly the war is to end, also the 1951 negotiations and the Paris Peace Talks in Vietnam. Negotiations are NOT always about reaching a negotiated settlement on the issues raised. They can be about buying time or forestalling one’s opponents. That’s what’s so funny about Jon and his focus on offers of agreement in "Negotiations." There is the assumption that negotiation is actually occurring, when in fact, it need NOT be occurring
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
And we’re supposed to believe that the regime in Iran would actually honor such concessions more than they’ve honored, say, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, exactly why?
Well, according to the US State Dept. and the IAEA, Iran is not yet in violation of the NPT.

Unlike say, India who found that refusing to sign on had significant advantages such as the recent agreement we reached with them.
 
Written By: davebo
URL: http://
Negotiations are NOT always about reaching a negotiated settlement on the issues raised. They can be about buying time or forestalling one’s opponents.
America IS in negotiations with Iran. These negotiations are being conducted through the European quartet.

Comparing the possibility of negotiations in 2003 and the existing negotiations in 2006 it is obvious that it was better to have negotiated then. Then American power had just destroyed a military comparable to Iran, now Americans are getting killed by irregulars in orchards. Then President Bush & the neo-conservatives were firmly in power and popular, now only shark & a few other folks like him. Then Israel was led by a man capable of making hard decisions, now it is led by a yes man. Then negotiations for the free world would be led by a world bestriding hyper-power and now they are conducted through the French.

Negotiations conducted from strength would have allowed the Iranians to be forced into a reasonable (for America) position where their (inevitable) violation would be seen as tantamount to nuking an orphanage. This could have been used as a pretext for war. But Bush refused this.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
"The daydreams of Michael Ledeen and Dick Cheney notwithstanding, there’s no real chance at an internal Iranian revolution now or in the foreseeable future."

When I lived in Indonesia under Suharto, I could not conceive of a day when people power would remove him from office.

I was wrong.

Be careful what you assume about regimes that control their news and people.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
My theory on why as of March 2003, the Iranians might have been willing to do this deal:

They assumed we would find WMD and the case for pre-emptive war against WMD seeking regimes would become stronger, not weaker.

I don’t buy that they were afraid of our military, since they have known since 1991 we can slice through middle eastern armies with ease.

I don’t buy they suddenly had an epiphany either, I would suggest the regime WAS having problems then, and the Iranian moderates offered this up as a way to improve the regime’s chances.

It’s interesting that they would be willing to sell out Hamas in 2003. How about in 2006 when Hamas has won an election?



 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Jon: a wonderful piece. The blind faith in transformationalism in the Middle East was well-meaning and misguided. Fresh off a huge Cold War victory, the potent forces of democracy and capitalism looked invincible. But they’ve met their match in Islamic intransigience, tribalism and ignorance. I especially love the last sentence- imagination isn’t foreign policy. It so true. It’s also reminiscent of the limits of Wilson and Carter- well-meaning, pure of heart, faithful and ultimately naive. I’m afraid the Administration’s well-intentioned aspirations will end up in line with these failed presidencies.

You might check out tigerhawk.blogspot.com, where they bemoan the lost impulse of Condi’s "different course" speech in Cairo (now 1 year old). Your piece provides the perfect response.
 
Written By: kreiz
URL: http://
Whatever Una-hop, I’m of the opinion that the OFFER of negotiations and OFFERS of concessions were merely that OFFERS, not substantive proposals. And since I believe that progress IS occurring in Iraq, I would argue that the US is still in a position of strength. Further, Israel NEVER had the possibility of terminating Iran’s nuclear program and the Iranians KNEW it, so Israel is a NON-PLAYER in the equation, in so far as the capability to acutaully hurt Iran.

As you point out Americans are dying in Iraqi orchards... uh dude in 2003 the Iraqi’s OWNED those orchards. So I would say that the Iraqi’s have suffered FAR MORE than the US has suffered, a posittion that the Iranians have noted.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://

 
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