• 3 August 2008
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Diplomacy, Legislative Agenda, US-Iran War

David Ignatius, a columnist for the Washington Post, has an interesting op-ed today in which he argues the prospects for a military attack on Iran–at least in the near term–appear unlikely.  At the center of his argument is the contention that the Bush administration (including Vice President Cheney) uniformly believes the military option is not the way to go–at least not right now. 

Additionally, Ignatius paraphrases an administration official saying the US would strongly oppose an Israeli strike for a number of very logical reasons: an Israeli strike wouldn’t destroy Iran’s nuclear program, it would just retard it; a strike would strengthen Ahmadinejad; it would undermine US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a strike on Iran would open up a pandora’s box of unpredictable (and probably nightmarish) consequences. 

(Interestingly, he also cites a senior administration official as confirming plans to announce the opening of a US diplomatic interests section in Iran later this month). 

But one issue that Ignatius brings up at the end of his column, echoing an argument going around Washington since Amb. Burns’ trip to Geneva, is very troubling.  He says:

For now the United States and its allies, including Israel, seem willing to pursue the diplomatic track. But if that doesn’t work — and there are no signs yet that Tehran is willing to bend — all the deadly options will remain on the table.

Since when have diplomatic negotiations run on such a short timetable?  International negotiations are not supposed to measure progress by the hour–if anything, they move at a glacially slow pace.  That’s why they are often so frustrating. 

There are countless examples of diplomacy taking years for any tangible benefit to materialize–Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho met in secret for 3 years before signing the Paris Peace Accords; talks with North Korea under both the Clinton and Bush administrations stalled for years at a time before their respective breakthroughs; and the US and Soviet Union negotiated the SALT I and II treaties over the course of ten years, from 1969 to 1979.

In all, the US and Iran have engaged in 10 hours of Ambassadorial dialogue in Iraq, plus Amb. Burns’ recent trip which the administration made abundantly clear was intended only to listen to Iran’s response, not to contribute in any substantive way.  So yes, I guess the diplomatic route has run its course…

NIAC has always stressed the importance of negotiating with Iran, but these talks must be done in good faith.  If we are seen as pursuing negotiations only as a prerequisite for bombing–as something we have to check off our “to do” list before we can go ahead with an attack–then we will at once miss the best chance for resolving this conflict and also create an entirely new problem in the Middle East.  And I worry that this one could be the worst yet.

Posted By Patrick Disney

    6 Responses to “Diplomacy must be exhausted (and exhaustive) before bombing”

  1. Intersting article and analysis.

    There must be discussions and negotiations first before negotiations can be claimed. The European 5 HAVE done some negotiations. Therefore, if they claim that negotiations have been exhausted and it is time to talk to Iranians about military action and THEY take military action it would be something else.

    However, it would be totally something else if Europeans negotiate and Americans take military action. Where is the American diplomacy? Just sit there for an hour and exchange smiles?

    The unfortunate thing is that those who want war don’t want others or media to discuss it or have a legitimate national discussion on the subject. Editorials or interviews on TV are not taken seriously enough, at least not yet anyway.

    Even Obama who wanted to have a different foreign policy said last week than he thinks if negotiations fail Israel will attack. That’s pretty much saying they’re going to attack and it is pretty much a matter of when and not if.

    Even if US or Israel want to attack, at least say or discuss what is your after attack plan? In Iraq mission was accomplished in a month, what then?

  2. AnIranianinMontreal says:

    Well, when diplomacy is failed (or one side(s) substantially wants to fail), war is inevitable. Of course, we do not welcome war inside our border, but if the other side(s) wants to impose war on our country, we must not, for the sake of our sovereignty, give in and we won’t. But, for the diplomacy to fail, scarification of American realism and opportunism would need to fail as well.

    The problem in the U.S side is, it’s not just the U.S, there are other countries’ interests as well. While Iran knows what it wants and its objectives and concerns are relatively obvious for the U.S administration as its readiness for talk, the U.S is undecided. Unfortunately (or fortunately if we look at the issue the other way around), Iran-U.S relation can either be violated or close. I don’t see anything in between to happen for the time being (I mean, a de facto relation between Iran and America is not possible, or at least I see that way). If Iran-the U.S get close, then there are some countries which are gonna lose. Israel would be the most important one especially if it really wants to make peace with Syria (and later one with the Palestinians) and return the Golan high (it’s less likely possible with the current situation though). If so, Israel will lose its strategic importance almost entirely especially with the rise of Arab nationalism, it will be too dangerous, more than Iran’s nuclear program as they claim so.

    However, the U.S seems to be willing to accept some of Iran’s legitimate interests in the region. From its approval to Iran’s invitation to (P)GCC to recent movement of an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, the U.S is reaching the point of involving Iran in the security of that region, particularly with the rise of Gulf Arab states due to high oil price, an accommodation of Iran’s power projection in the Persian Gulf is going to be predictable. From Afghanistan (unless they are not thinking of disintegrating Afghanistan and consequently Pakistan) to Caucasia and also Iraq (in case the dream of Iraq’s disintegration and making a new middle east is gone in the mind of American and Israeli policy makers. It doesn’t seem to be gone totally with the push for federalism though), there are many areas to work (Iran even can help the U.S economy by opening of its market and energy sectors). So long as these areas of cooperation exist, the door for diplomacy is opened, and it would be really foolish to close this door. Ironically, Iran’s persistence on peaceful purposes of its nuclear program gives the U.S an opportunity to safe the face and it would be a grave mistake not to take this and instead emphasizing on some superficial objectives.

    I personally think, apart from Israelis and some other states of the Mideast wariness regarding Iran-the U.S rapprochement, Central Asia, and it growing energy competition, with the rise of Russia, is the critical question in Iran-America’s equation. Another problem is, unlike their predecessor British Imperials, Americans are suffering from the lack of long term objectives and insight in their colonization policy! They look history in a period of 200 years and even less, 63 years.

  3. One of the problems in the middle east is the “failed” policies of Israel. I know this sounds like a cliche but this comes from the most moderate voices in the middle east, as far as Israel is concerned. Countries like Egypt and Jordan who have peace treaties with Israel and are trying to integrate Israel in the reagion have long sought a change in Israeli policies.

    The fact that the Palestinian issue is “complex” is an understatement. But it is not just the Palestinian problem. Israel thinks Arabs won’t have peace with them until the Palestinian issue is resolved and since they can’t resolve it, then they must use force or threat of force to make their points. Does this really work? Has it worked? Maybe in the 60s but where recently? In their first invasion of Lebanon they can only claim Sheba Farms as their victory? In their second invasion, what is the victory?

    Unfortunately their “same” old policies are working against themselves. They are shooting themselves in the foot. Actually thinking about that other blog in July, this IS a case where Israelis know that Iran is not Iraq or Syria that they can bomb a building or a rag tag nuclear plant and be done with it. They know because they can see what Hezbollah did in that summer. And by their own account the weapons were “sent” to Hezbollah by Iran. Presumably they were knockoffs or “bad” ones. So what’s gonna happen if Iran used their OWN weapons?

    If Israel attacks and bombs few buildings in the Iranian desert, what would they do when Iranian missle’s come their way? How much casualties can they accept? Presumably none, so they know in the battle of suffering casualties they can’t compare themselves to Iran. It is a sad story. Really sad. They know this yet they keep beating the drum.

    Iranian Govt is not a monolothic Govt. It goes from Khatami to Ahmadinejad in one breath and MORE importantly Ahmadinejad can’t do squat since he had to RETRACT his own wipe Israel off the map rhetoric over and over again. He can only claim that he made Iran more oil money by upping the ante, by raising rhetoric and watching oil prices go through the roof. That is his ONLY accomplishment and oil investors around the world love him! Wouldn’t you?! He is Bush-Cheney-big oil’s good buddy!

    I believe as NIAC puts it, Iran is a quasi-democracy. So it is not only hosh posh and mombo jumbo, some maybe a lot but not all. There is pride and they will respond. Even if US and Israel want to use a pre-emptive strike BECAUSE they think Iran WILL attack one day, they should be prepared for retaliation. What is the game plan for responding to an Iranian retaliation?

    If war is inevitable, surely a full scale war is the “response” to a retaliation. There can be no middle respone, medium response or semi pregnant. What are US and Israel going to do when Iranian missles cause massive casualties? Their only response can be inflicting massive casualties. And in the end, in response to massive casualties on both side, what should history and public opinion say about who “started” the war? Iran whose nutty President made some derogatory comments or US and Israel “launched” pre-emptive strike?

    In the absence of WMDs in Iraq, history and public opinion about US invasion of Iraq has been taking shape. Has this war caused US and Israel more friends or enemies? This WAS a pre-emptive strike in a country where US had defeated militarily before in 1991 and for more than 12 years enforced a no-fly zone.

  4. james stewart says:


    armadinejad didnt say he wanted to wipe isreal off the face of the earth.

    he was talking about the iman and saying that period of history must be removed – its a horrible misquote that the american media wont let him forget!

  5. RaiulBaztepo says:

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  6. PiterKokoniz says:

    Hello !!! ^_^
    My name is Piter Kokoniz. Just want to tell, that I like your blog very much!
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    Sorry for my bad english:)
    Thank you:)
    Your Piter Kokoniz, from Latvia

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