Thursday, August 30, 2007

Defining diplomacy down 

Finally, George W. Bush has secured the support of the "traditional ally" most favored by the American left. You would think the New York Times would be delighted. You would be wrong.

Nicholas Sarkozy, George W. Bush, the editors of the New York Times, and I all believe that it would be much preferable for Iran to negotiate away its nuclear fuel cycle and weapons programs, rather than for the mullahs to get an atomic bomb or for some great power or combination thereof to destroy its facilities from the air. The editors of the Times, however, not only believe that the West must use "diplomacy" rather than military action, but that it must be devoid even of threats:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy made the wrong gesture at the wrong time by brandishing the possible use of force against Iran’s nuclear weapons program in his first major foreign policy address. The United States and its allies need to be stepping up their efforts to resolve the serious dangers posed by Iran through comprehensive negotiations and increased international economic pressure, not by talking about military action...

The chance of persuading Tehran to forsake nuclear weapons at this point may be slim. But the international community has at least one more opportunity to intensify sanctions. Over the past few years, the United States, Britain, France and Germany have made remarkable strides in forging an international consensus opposed to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But for that to translate into effective sanctions, the U.N. Security Council must remained united.

Tehran made a deal this month with U.N. inspectors to resolve questions over its nuclear program that is just another pretense of addressing international concerns. China and Russia, the main obstructionists on the Security Council, will try to use that deal as another excuse to resist tougher sanctions. The United States and its allies must creatively push for the maximum sanctions possible. This is the time for robust diplomacy, not threats.

This is silliness on stilts for at least two reasons, both of which are blindingly obvious to our regular readers.

If diplomacy in the absence of "threats" -- implicit or otherwise -- were so effective in restraining rogue states, then there really is no excuse for Switzerland, Sweden, and New Zealand not to be doing their fair share to contain Iran, is there? After all, their diplomats are as capable of doing the talking part of diplomacy as anybody. Why aren't the smooth-talking and experienced Irish settling wars all over the world? Because it's the threats that make diplomacy work.

Presumably the editors might then say, "well, sure, but you do not have to stoke the nationalist passions of the Iranian people by making the threats in public."

Well, you do if your most important intended audience is the French electorate. Sarkozy's speech was obviously intended to build support within France for a sanctions regime that will not come cheap to the French economy.

Considering that the New York Times constantly accuses the Bush administration of propagandizing to build support at home for its forward foreign policy, you would think its editors would notice when the leader of another democracy does the same thing.

Of course, Sarkozy was also speaking to Iran's government. Much as the Times might deplore it ("What’s scary is that his comments may reflect his understanding of where American policy is headed"), Sarkozy was sending the message to Tehran that Saddam's strategy of dividing the West will not work this time. That ought to increase the credibility of the G-3 (the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) and improve their chances of forcing the mullahs to fold, just as the Times itself recognized when it said "the U.N. Security Council must remain united."

Frankly, the Times editorial is so confused -- read the whole thing if you do not believe me -- that I wonder whether it was motivated by an entirely hidden agenda: the undifferentiated fear that Nicholas Sarkozy might actually have validated some aspect of George W. Bush's foreign policy. Is this editorial an attack on Nicholas Sarkozy because he supports the administration's position on Iran? Given the shoddy reasoning, it is hard to extract a more likely motivation.


By Blogger AmPowerBlog, at Fri Aug 31, 01:41:00 AM:

I think NYT's going to oppose anything that's pro-Bush. But hey, let's not let the constitutional issues of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness get in the way of good analysis!  

By Blogger James of England, at Fri Aug 31, 08:52:00 AM:

Forgive me if this seems frightfully naive, but what makes diplomacy "robust", if not threats?

What could the last sentence possibly mean?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 31, 09:29:00 AM:

re.Donald Douglas

With all due respect, and I mean that sincerely, those are issues mentioned in the D.of I., not specifically in the Constitution. It's ironic because the NYT got beat-up the other day for making the same mistake.
So I'm guessing that those are "rights" not given by gov't, but given by the creator, and therefore not exactly enshrined in law.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Aug 31, 09:31:00 AM:

Anonymous 9:29 - I would be amazed if Donald Douglas did not have his tongue wedged firmly in cheek when he cracked wise on the NYT and the "constitutional issues of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  

By Blogger PJ/Maryland, at Fri Aug 31, 09:37:00 AM:


I think the Times' "robust diplomacy" involves staying up really, really late.  

By Blogger Brendan, at Fri Aug 31, 09:38:00 AM:

i suppose they take the threat of layoffs, RIFs, firings, etc - before negotiating with their unionized employees?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 31, 09:47:00 AM:

Gawd, they say it themselves.

The United States and its allies need to be stepping up their efforts to resolve the serious dangers posed by Iran through comprehensive negotiations and increased international economic pressure, not by talking about military action...

is concluded with this:

Tehran made a deal this month with U.N. inspectors to resolve questions over its nuclear program that is just another pretense of addressing international concerns.

Talk doesn't work? No problem apply MORE TALK.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Fri Aug 31, 10:00:00 AM:

The NYT are just modern day Chamberlains who want to wave a bit of paper and declare peace in our time.  

By Blogger K T Cat, at Fri Aug 31, 10:32:00 AM:

Forgive me if this seems frightfully naive, but what makes diplomacy "robust", if not threats?

What could the last sentence possibly mean?

You silly. "Robust diplomacy" is diplomacy done over red wine. You know when the NYT suggests putting away the Chardonnay, they're really getting serious.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 31, 10:54:00 AM:

What's more, the NYT contradicts itself:

Suggesting the U.N. is the key to unlocking a nuclear-free Iran, the article says that the U.N. Security Council has to "remain united". Then, 2 sentences immediately thereafter, the article refers to Russia and China as "obstructionists" who will continue to resist efforts at meaningful economic sanctions.

How is the U.N. Security Council "united" at all in the first place, if 40% of the Council is "obstructionist" and clearly not cooperating with diplomatic efforts to punish or persuade Iran?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Aug 31, 10:57:00 AM:

Indeed, QuickRob, indeed. The editorial is so incoherent I am forced to conclude that its real purpose has nothing to do with the apparent purpose.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 31, 11:00:00 AM:

The editorial is only incoherent because you want it to be. Power diplomacy requires a stick, but it also uses a carrot.

A powerful country like the U.S. can offer Iran much more in the way of a carrot than, say, Ireland or Switzerland can. That carrot may not necessarily be in direct aid, but in easier relations with other countries, trade and organizations.

But it's probably much more fun to pretend that the editorial is stupid.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Fri Aug 31, 11:09:00 AM:

PJ/Maryland said...


I think the Times' "robust diplomacy" involves staying up really, really late before giving away the store.

Fri Aug 31, 09:37:00 AM

There, I fixed it for you.  

By Blogger Cosmo, at Fri Aug 31, 11:13:00 AM:

No anon. It really IS incoherent, and it would take massive doses of delusion to see anything in this string of 'conflict resolution' fantasies but what Tigerhawk called it -- rank, reflex oppositionalism.  

By Blogger submandave, at Fri Aug 31, 12:13:00 PM:

I would only ask that the NYT provide examples where UNSC sanctions by themselves were ever effective in reigning in a rouge state or curbing weapons proliferation.

BTW, Anonymous (09:29), I assumed DD knew full well the source of those "rights" but was echoing the words of the NYT to emphasize the poor logic too often endemic in their editorials.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Fri Aug 31, 12:30:00 PM:

Maybe incoherent is the wrong word, in terms of its connotation. I use that word to describe the letters my mentally ill cousin sends to me. There is certainly a degree of logical inconsistency, which happens when there are too many cooks in the kitchen and there are multiple drafts. Could there be mild disagreement among the editorial page editors at the NYT? Is a deviation from the orthodoxy happening? Even the Politburo had its factions.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Fri Aug 31, 12:57:00 PM:

All talk about international diplomacy from the NYT has the American electorate as its audience. Whether Diplomacy Method A or Diplomacy Method B actually works better out in the world is of no importance. There is a narrative that the NYT believes which would help to elect, uh, certain people. Their goal is to convince you of the narrative.

They're just helping out by warning us, you see, or we might go astray. People might get the wrong ideas about how the world works if journalists didn't provide context for us.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 31, 01:24:00 PM:

I'm pretty sure "robust" in the context of a linguini-wristed NYT editor means wearing spats and a sash when sitting down with Aminijihad's wild-eyed boys.  

By Blogger Foobarista, at Fri Aug 31, 01:29:00 PM:

There is an amazing number of people who think diplomacy is some sort of therapy, like visiting a marriage counselor to "talk out differences".

The problem is that diplomacy is bargaining and haggling, with successful diplomacy resulting in deal-making. But to get to the table, you have to have something the opponent wants, either positive (trade, etc) or negative (stopping a war/boycott/etc).

Whenever I see someone say "we should talk to Country X", 99% of the time it's clear the person has the "therapeutic" model of diplomacy in mind...  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Fri Aug 31, 01:34:00 PM:

Submandave - Sanctions alone, no. Are they a useful tool to have in the toolbox? Well, as others have said quite effectively here, they would need to have teeth and military force is certainly a powerful set of jaws. It also depends on how great a threat isolation, ostrasizing and economic hardship are to the regime whose behavior sanctions are intended to change. Doesn't seem to work on Mugabe, but did smack apartheid South Africa right on its aspirations -that, along with an increasingly unpopular bush war in Angola and Namibia, the inability to keep the lid on at home, and the Soviet's loss of appetite for foreign adventurism in the late 1980s. So an aggregation of factors, in which sanctions had a role but were by no means the only or even the decisive factor.

I think what may be going on here is not simply an aversion to the threat of force, though that may be part of it, but also the lack of credibility of the Bush administration and consequent distrust of its motives and capabilities. An unfortunate situation from a foreign policy perspective, whatever side of the argument you come down on.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 31, 03:21:00 PM:

UN sanctions? Could the NYT be thinking that they will work this time because the leaders of France and Germany are no longer in a position to profit from them?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 31, 03:48:00 PM:

"...the U.N. Security Council must remained united."

Is there no copy editor for the editorials? Did that job get cut?  

By Blogger Harry Eagar, at Fri Aug 31, 05:56:00 PM:

Spot on, Gordon, except that the 'peace in our time' bit came rather late in the appeasement process.

This Times editorial is rather more like what was being written in '36, right after Germany reoccupied the Rhineland.

The journals of A.L. Kennedy and Collin Brooks, two of the leading appeasement newspapermen of the '30s, have been published recently. The Times' editorial could be dropped into them, just changing the names of the players, and no one would ever spot it as out of place.  

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