Wednesday, February 14, 2007

George Bush: Not Ready to Make Nice

Update, February 15th: Laura Rozen reports on a speech that Nicholas Burns gave at the Brookings Institute in which he indicated support for the "time out" proposal--Iran suspends enrichment and the UN suspends sanctions while negotiations go on--that ElBaradei has endorsed.

She discusses the confusing mixture of overt bellicosity and conciliatory diplomatic feelers that characterize our current Iran policy and wonders if the Bush administration's ultimate objective is the "grand bargain" culminating in a normalization of relations between Iran and the United States, or military confrontation using the nuclear issue or "force protection" of our troops in Iraq as the causus belli.

My personal feeling is that the ambiguity is deliberate, and is aimed at our allies, not necessarily Iran.

Most of our allies support a diplomatic resolution to the Iran issue, while only Saudi Arabia and Israel are genuinely committed to following the U.S. if we switch exclusively to the hard power track.

So it's important to give our allies hope that we are really going for "the grand bargain", even if that's the least attractive outcome to the folks that matter in the White House...

...especially if that perception allows the U.S. to win international support for more onerous (and destabilizing) U.N. sanctions against Iran as part of the "coercive diplomacy" approach, and avoid the "IAEA negotiations" dead end that China and Russia are preparing to sideline the Iran issue.

In other words, the Bush administration will continue to pursue the diplomatic route as long as it offers the prospect of stripping away support from Iran and acquiring diplomatic capital for the United States.

In a contradictory fashion, diplomatic success for the U.S. may increase, instead of decrease, the possibility of a military conflict with Iran.

There is something of a debate going on as to whether the North Korean deal represents a triumph of the realist professional wing of the U.S. foreign policy establishment and the world can breathe easier now that President Bush is finally under adult supervision.

Corrosive cynicism here (I examined the deal's value to American interests in Northeast Asia in this post, and found it wanting).

As much as I like the idea of diplomacy, compromise, win-win, and all that, I have trouble characterizing Chris Hill’s deal as “brilliant”. I think George Bush went into the tank on this one.

With the post-election American public, Congress, the GOP establishment, significant elements of the military, diplomatic/security professionals, and probably even Laura and Barney extremely dubious about the advisability of attacking Iran, I suspect President Bush gave a green light to Christopher Hill on North Korea as a piece of emergency image management.

Also, as an admittedly outside view of State Department dynamics, I think President Bush wanted Condi Rice to feel beholden to him for tossing her the North Korea bone, so she can stop nagging him about how he should be doing the grown-up diplomacy thing and singlemindedly push his Iran strategy instead.

Now President Bush can tell the world and the inside-the-Beltway crowd that he’s not just a war-hungry nut—he’s the Negotiarator!

So he gains some credibility and some slack, especially from his beleaguered foreign policy team, which he will promptly abuse by setting the bar for success of any Iran talks impossibly high. But there will be a massive effort to blame the Iranians because, you know, we love to make deals. Look what we did with North Korea!

Condi Rice sez: This president loves peace! But those Iranians are too wicked. Bombs away!

Then Bush gets what he really wants: hot containment of Iran.

Either the international community lines up behind the U.S. and gives us the diplomatic cover of sanctions, or we have something better than sanctions: a state of armed hostility between Iran and the U.S., with the terms of engagement—no-fly zones, acceptable dual-use targets, attacks on “proliferation-related” physical and financial infrastructure—defined so we can just go and blow their sh*t up—not just nuclear facilities, but oil terminals and refineries and pipelines—whenever we feel like it.

Maybe we won’t get an arrangement as good as we had against Saddam’s Iraq, where he couldn’t export oil or import equipment without our approval. But in one way a state of hostilities is even better, because then Iran has to negotiate directly with the U.S. instead of running to the U.N.

Nutshell prediction: Non-stop push to make an attack on Iran palatable to the international community and domestic audience; North Korean deal does not outlive its political usefulness and dies in the working groups. 2008: angry and armed Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China.

In other words, just like 2006, only moreso.