There Is No Plan

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Using Peace as a Weapon. Dealing With Iran.

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hey, barack, you wanna like talk or something?

To paraphrase Clausewitz, “Peace is war by other means”. It sounds nutty, but in certain situations, extending the hand of peace and cooperation is far more devastating to our adversaries.

In April, Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying on Good Morning America of all places that if Israel was attacked by Iran, “we would be able to totally obliterate them”. Now this was said during the heat of a brutal primary campaign that Hillary was in the process of losing to Obama, and the primaries she was fighting at that moment were in Pennsylvania, where muscle flexing is valued highly. But it also happens to be the same a quote from Hillary Clinton that has just been nominated as the nation’s next chief diplomat. And dealing with Iran will be one of her top priorities.

President Ahmadinijad is the kind of sly propagandist who can take the “obliterate” comment and turn it into more opportunities for mischief than Baskin Robbins has flavors. Hate-talk about Iran is a big fat BP fastball to the Iranian President. Every angry word about Iran can be used to keep the Iranian population fired up. It’s an old trick in the Middle East. When your people have no jobs, high inflation, a stagnant economy, a crumbling infrastructure, and no political freedom, just blame it on Israel or the Great Satan. This kind of stuff has been Iran’s second-most effective export after oil. It’s used it to finance it’s highly effective proxy networks in Lebanon, and to a lesser extent in Iraq. It’s used it to drive forward it’s nuclear policy. They all perform one profound function. Preservation of domestic power.

As for sanctions, they aren’t really diplomacy at all. They’re economic warfare. And often, all they too serve to do is prop up the dictatorship they’re targeting. The sanction experiment in Iraq was a proven failure. For years Saddam was able to blame the West for the sanctions and their effects on the population, propping up his own power in the process even as the country sank deeper into the mire. The same will be even truer in Iran, where there is a very real risk that they could get a nuclear capability and where the chances of us barring the sale of Iranian oil with the petroleum market as delicate as it is are very slim. Without sanctions of Iranian oil exports, they’re lifeline stays open, and the mullah’s domestic power-base can be maintained.

But there’s far more to Iran than meets the eye. Firstly, it’s had a short taste of democracy (before we put the Shah in charge). Secondly, it’s urban population is about as westernized as anyone in the region. Thirdly, the mullahs are holding onto power with force. And that can change. And fourthly, Iran is in terrible shape. The awkward attempt by Ahmadinijad to congratulate Obama on his victory was his skewy way of saying “maybe we should talk or something.” He’s not doing it because he wants to have a beer with Barack. He’s doing it because he believes it to be in his best interests to take relations between the US and Iran beyond the back channels. That is fraught with risk for Ahmadinijad who’s powerless domestically next to the mullahs, but if it is taken seriously by the new administration would put America in a very strong position.

An awful lot was made of Obama’s suggestion that talking to enemies, like Ahmadinijad was a good idea. Hillary laid into the idea, and so did McCain, but General Petraeus and just about every living Secretary of State and National Security Advisor said it’s a great idea. After all, the reason the whole business of dealing with other states is called diplomacy is because you have to be diplomatic with your enemy, not your friends. Diplomacy among friends is an oxymoron. If friends do wrong, you’re frank with them.

Talking with Iran in a friendly, courteous and respectful manner would put Tehran in a terrible bind. Either it spurns America’s hand of peace or is seen as contradicting its own Great Satan propaganda. And if the American outreach comes with potential of serious economic aid that could make a big difference in the lives of ordinary Iranians (implicitly requiring Iran to back off its nukes), that would make Ahmadinijad’s task that much harder. Europe would back American overtures, which it has been seeking for years, and depending on the Iranian response would temper its goodwill towards Tehran. Iran could end up isolated and its power base weakened both at home and abroad.

The Mullahs don’t talk peace because they don’t want peace. To them peace with America is a bad idea, because if you open trade markets, and allow tourism, it will encourage a sophisticated urban population like Iran’s to bridge the gap between the two countries. That would ultimately lead to the end of the Iranian theocracy, because the students would find their power again and the secular elite would develop a real powerbase. The end of Iranian theocracy would come with a profit for the US, not at the cost of trillions in lives and treasure spent t finance a war, with all the horrific human costs and unpredictability that would entail.

And what would all this mean for US interests in the region. the benefits would be huge. The Mid-East would become far more stable. America would have one less war to discuss. Hezbollah would wither, and Israel and the Palestinians could get on with the real business of peace. Lebanon would stabilize. Syria would abandon its ambitions to its West and would be forced to the peace table with Israel. Iraq would have a far better chance of success with genuine Iranian help rather than Iranian meddling. And Iran could once again be a positive influence, an intelligent, westernized Muslim country, like Turkey, proving that Islam and secularism can live side-by-side.

Ironically, Iran is the one place where the neo-con dream actually has a chance, but to bring it about requires us to meet them with respect. It’s my belief they will have no choice but to accept our offer of peace.

For the current leadership in Tehran, that would be a disaster, for the Iranian people, it would be a new beginning, and for the United States, it would mark the beginning of a new era of American diplomatic power.

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