North Korea, the Model
What to do? Obama calls for "aggressive diplomacy" instead of "farming out the diplomatic activity to the Europeans" --by which he seems to mean replacing European carrots with American apple pie. McCain calls for "Working with our European and regional allies" -- which sounds like adding peas to the carrots.
And they're both behind the times. The Condi Rice State Department has already developed a framework for threat-managing such unfortunate developments, in which diplomacy of every variety is on offer -- unilateral, multilateral, a dazzling poker game of peas, carrots, plutonium, uranium, cash and pie-in-the-sky. North Korea is the model. Working from that template, here's what comes next:
Assorted powers convene yet again to exert multilateral pressure, with maybe a few futile UN resolutions thrown in. Much talk. Special envoy Chris Hill, or his moral equivalent, is dispatched to conduct aggressive diplomacy. Time goes by.
Iran tests a nuclear bomb (which is referred to as a "device').
More talk. A nuclear disarmament deal is announced. Iran immediately demands additional concessions, not mentioned in the public deal. Chris Hill, or his backup copy, hops to. Millions in frozen funds are released back to the Tehran regime, preferably with the help of at least three central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve. New deadlines are announced for Iran to declare and give up its nuclear program.
Iran ignores the deadlines. Iranian nuclear experts are discovered to have been collaborating with another terrorist-sponsoring state on the near-complete construction of a secret reactor with no apparent purpose but to produce plutonium for nuclear bombs. But that's OK because it gets quietly blown up by an Israeli air strike, which the U.S. administration then keeps secret for months, lest such realities make a big enough splash in the news to interfere with the rapport at the negotiating table.
Finally, many months past various deadlines, Iran delivers an incomplete, narrowly defined nuclear declaration, the documents themselves dusted with enriched uranium. The White House promptly announces that Iran is being removed from the list of terrorist-sponsoring states. With great fanfare, Iran responds with the televised demolition of a large hunk of concrete appended to one obsolete portion of its sprawling nuclear program. U.S. taxpayers bankroll the demolition, and America swings into action to ship hundreds of millions worth of aid to the government of Iran, filtering some of it through the same UN that ran the Oil-for-Food and Cash-for-Kim programs.
It is a performance dazzling in its way, a circus act both unilateral and multilateral, soft and agressive, punctuated with announcements of progress and warnings that above all, there must be no serious threat of military action against Iran -- lest it derail the diplomacy.
... Of course, if you tally it all up, Iran's government under this scenario (like North Korea's today) would still be in possession of all nuclear bomb ingredients, known or unknown, declared or undeclared, stockpiled at the beginning, manufactured since, or contracted out for supply by third parties. And Tehran's mullahs and Revolutionary Guards would have greater access to their global nuclear supply and proliferation networks, as well as pockets stuffed with pay-offs from America (and Europe). Not least, they would have the distinct pleasure of strutting this successful shakedown on the world stage, both as warning to their own people not to get uppity over domestic repression, and as prelude to the next round of nuclear extortion -- or worse.
What would America get? A big stack of paper, some of it contaminated with uranium, providing an incomplete guide to nuclear weapons material over which the U.S. has no control; a stack of bills for U.S. taxpayers; video clips of a large hunk of concrete being blown up. And quite likely a queue of despotic governments looking to sign up for this kind of deal.
That's how it works right now. Which is pretty strange. Just as things have been looking up in Iraq, the administration on other fronts has been abandoning the principles of Iraq, the Model. Instead, American foreign policy now pivots around such stuff as North Korea, the Model. Keep yer lead-lined raincoats handy.