Faster, Please!

The Negotiation Gambit

Henry Kissinger once remarked that if an intellectual gets it wrong, all he has to do is write another book, while if a policy maker gets it wrong, people may die.  To which I would add that our pundits have learned that they don’t have to pay any attention to getting the past right;  they can ignore it.  Hardly anyone bothers with history, so the scribblers simply look at the headlines and think as deeply as they can.  And so, in all the commentary on the latest “negotiating” fiasco with Iran, I look in vain for someone who points out that we have just witnessed the umpteenth iteration of Western diplomats getting kicked in a tender spot by the mullahs.  Nothing new at all.  But nobody seems to know that.  They think it’s all about these Americans, or these Iranians, these Brits and these French.  Not so.  It’s part of a well established pattern.  And to make matters worse, our leaders don’t seem to know that, either.

After all, every president from Jimmy Carter to George W.  Bush sooner or later  become convinced that it is possible to strike a grand bargain with the mullahs, if only we could find the right formula.  I devoted a long chapter to this sad story of self-deception in “The Iranian Time Bomb,” noting that the most egregious example came during the Clinton years, which in many ways prefigures the current embarrassment.  Clinton had been very critical of Bush-the-Elder during the presidential campaign, and, once elected, talked very tough about Iran.  But then Khatami was elected president, and Clinton, Gore, Albright, Lake and Berger decided that they had a glorious opportunity to make a deal.  No doubt the “intelligence” supported that fanciful conclusion, and the administration went all-in (I’m writing this in Las Vegas and that’s a common expression in these parts) to sweeten the pot for the mullahs.

Iranian assets were unblocked, wrestlers got visas, the president and the secretary of state fell all over themselves talking sweetly, apologizing for sins real and imagined, trade deals were offered, etc. etc.  Just like today.  And then, one fine day, the Supreme Leader–the same as today–dissed the Americans and that was the end of it.

We just won’t accept the fact that Iran is at war with us.  From time to time I ask an audience:  “you’ve all seen demonstrations organized by the regime in Iran, thousands of people in the streets, chanting ‘death to America,’ right?”  And they agree, yes, they have seen it.  And then I ask them, “what do you think they mean?  Is it some subtle nuanced message to us, or what?”

They’ve been trying to kill us since 1979, and yet we still think we are one little clever move away from the Grand Bargain.  We’re not.  They don’t want a bargain, they want to destroy us.  And they will keep at it until they have either won or lost.  Yes, there are various tactics now and then, but they don’t really matter much.  At the moment they just want to get to November, when they think Obama will be elected, and Obama has already bought into the deception;  he’s good for a few years of folly, at a minimum.  They don’t know about McCain (nor do I), but they suspect he’d be more of a problem.

They have plenty of willing allies in the scribbling community.   Thus, Elaine Sciolino, of the New York Times, commenting on the BS the Iranians provided the Western diplomats:

The Iranian document, which has not been made public, offered a snapshot of Iran’s negotiating style. It put the burden on the other parties. Its imprecise language and misspellings were in sharp contrast to the rigorous approach by Iranian negotiators, many of them career diplomats, who were in charge in 2003 when France, Britain and Germany began the initiative of incentives in exchange for suspension of major nuclear activities. Those diplomats have since been replaced.

Yeah, those more disciplined spellers were a lot better, weren’t they?  They kicked us with good grammar.