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Bolton’s Bombs: Regime change, or…bombs

Let us return to Boltonland, shall we? With yet another ridiculous op-ed in a major paper, former U.S. ambassador to the UN (*shudder*) John Bolton gives us the current state of the Battle for Iran (war has already begun!): the people are longing to rise up, but they only need a helpful American hand to help them overthrow their government (not that we haven’t tried that before…); a feckless and “empathetic” Barack Obama is so eager to sit down and sip tea with Iran’s hardest hardliners that he can’t understand that Iran is going to nuke everyone and everything no matter what we do; and if we just poke a stick into Iran’s complicated ethnic politics, everything will be hunky-dory.


As vehement as his hatred for diplomacy may be, Bolton’s chief target here is, quite simply, the Obama Administration. The op-ed, like many others on Iran, is written for baldly partisan purposes. Nowhere does Bolton actually suggest how the United States could “support” his desired goal of regime change; he is able to get away with such ambiguous criticism because, were his preferred policies of strict belligerence and hawkish interference to actually be pursued, his party would bear the inevitable political fallout. As it is, though, even when he admits that “we’re not really in a position now to offer much concrete assistance” (h/t ThinkProgress), his criticism will emerge unscathed. And whenever something violent or unsavory happens in Iran — imagine that! — he will undoubtedly reclaim his mantle as the right wing’s favorite bullish prognosticator.


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Kasparov check-mates his own logic

I can understand why Garry Kasparov hearts dissidents, since he’s one of Russia’s most prominent himself. And he may be able to beat anyone but a computer in chess, but his logic falls seriously short here:

But the Soviet Union used tanks to quash dissent when it could. Dictatorships use force when they can get away with it, not when a U.S. president makes a strong statement.

Okay, agreed. Nothing Barack Obama says or doesn’t say about the Iranian “revolution” will affect how the country’s leadership, who seem to be pretty desperate to hang on to power, employs violence. But then how does this follow?

President Dwight Eisenhower might have learned that lesson in 1956 when he said nothing and the Soviets sent tanks into Budapest anyway. Likewise, in 1968 the Soviets cracked down in Czechoslovakia even though the West said little. Regardless of what Mr. Obama says, the Iranian leaders will use all the force at their disposal to stay in power.

“That lesson” is not that silence from a U.S. president will cause a dictatorship to send in tanks to quash dissidents; it is, in fact, the opposite, as Kasparov said in the previous paragraph. There is no relationship between what the “leader of the free world” says and what the leader of an unfree country does to his own people. So, contrary to the thrust of this much emulated argument, Barack Obama not issuing his “support” for Iranian dissidents will not “cause” a greater crackdown in Iran. History is being twisted into erroneous causation here, and it’s being used for purely political purposes.

(image from flickr user arellis49 under a Creative Commons license)


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Another country that we won’t NOT be talking to

No longer will the United States’ top Syria hand (whoever that may be) have to pull a Nick Burns and try to work with Syria without actually talking to any Syrian officials. Via Laura Rozen, WaPo reports that the U.S. will be sending an ambassador to Damascus, a position that the Bush Administration recalled four years ago. Sense prevails:

“It did not make any sense to us not to be able to speak with an authoritative voice in Damascus,” the senior administration official said. “It was our assessment that total disengagement has not served our interests.”

Amazing that no one could come to this conclusion after four years of unproductive non-relations.


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Ohhh, so it’s a “cooperative” Arctic strategy you want, eh?

In an article about the increasing diplomatic pressure and military build-up in the melting Arctic Circle, this is the extent of the response that Reuters got from a top U.S. official:

“We will seek cooperative strategies,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg told Reuters during a meeting of Arctic Council foreign ministers in Tromsoe, Norway.

I can’t help thinking the obvious: that signing the Law of the Sea treaty is one of the easiest “cooperative strategies” that the United States could already be pursuing. They wouldn’t even have to “seek” it; it’s right there on the table, open for Senate ratification.


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The most clear-cut case I’ve heard for engagement with Iran…

…comes from the mouth of Nick Burns, who was once effectively paid by the U.S. government not to talk to Iran.  Speaking at a fascinating panel discussion currently going on at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Burns, in his own words, was in the “incredibly awkward position” of being the point person for Iran from 2005 to 2008, a period during which he “never met an Iranian government official.”

When your lead Iran diplomat (who’s a very good one, by the way) does not even speak with a single government official from Iran, that it not diplomacy, and that is not progress.  And Burns is not an unrestrained “talk with your enemies” kind of guy; he doesn’t think the Obama Administration should give any undue legitimacy to the Ahmadinejad government by engaging on the nuclear or any other issue as long as there is still any hope for the opposition.  But that someone who sees this kind of realpolitik angle still expresses shock that he was tasked with dealing with Iran without communicating with them only further proves how nonsensical a policy of estrangement and isolation really is.  Iran will not be the same after these most recent elections, and neither, hopefully, will the United States’ undiplomatic Iran “diplomacy.


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The only person who can argue for war AND diplomacy with a straight face

From the stark-raving mad department…John Bolton targets his Israel’s missiles on Iran again. In Boltonland, Iran already has dozens of nuclear weapons pointed at Israel and the United States Chicago, anything short of pre-emptive warfare is “weakness,” and the fact that Iran’s presidential elections are tomorrow — and may actually unseat neocons’ favorite whipping boy — is a reason not for nuance, but for publishing a warmongering op-ed sooner rather than later.

In fact, Bolton crookedly argues that a pre-emptive attack on Iran should actually have occurred under the Bush Administration, which at least did not engage in the kind of “apologetic” outreach that just might undo some of the ill will that a good bombing campaign could generate in the Muslim world. (His answer to the problems that a regional attack on Iran would cause? Unsurprisingly, more bombs!) What is truly unfathomable, though, is that Bolton somehow thinks that we can just attach a nice note of diplomacy alongside the missiles that should rain on Tehran.

Many argue that Israeli military action will cause Iranians to rally in support of the mullahs’ regime and plunge the region into political chaos. To the contrary, a strike accompanied by effective public diplomacy could well turn Iran’s diverse population against an oppressive regime.

Bomb first, negotiate later.

The other strikingly dense aspect of these two sentences is how utterly — but unsurprisingly — Bolton has failed to learn the lessons of Iraq. There is absolutely nothing to back up his blithe assertion that Iranians would most likely “turn against” the regime in the face of an Israeli bombing campaign. The same sort of forecast, equally unsupported by fact, was precipitously used to simply explain away any complicating reactions from Iraqis beyond their relief at the ousting of a tyrant (and one with much, much more blood on his hands than Ahmadinejad). This strategy, of course, proved disastrous in its oversimplification. Millions of Iranians have been rallying during their country’s election campaign, but an unprovoked military assault would only sow disorder and antagonism.


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