The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Case Against Negotiation

Kevin Drum points us to a report from Tehran by David Ignatius, which says in part:
Perhaps the most interesting fact of life in Tehran this week is that you can't find anyone who is opposed in principle to dialogue with the United States. Even a few months ago, that topic was almost taboo, but now here's Ahmadinejad himself calling for a public debate with Bush.
Mr. Drum thinks that this makes the case for negotiation:
Even now, it's not too late to talk to Iran. There are things they want and things we want.

That much is true. However, one of the things Iran's leaders want is simply to negotiate. The very act of opening negotiations contains two major concessions:
  • It undercuts the years of time invested in the G-3 negotiations, giving the Iranian regime an immediate excuse to reset the clock and postpone a reckoning over their nuclear efforts. Have our European allies asked us to negotiate directly with Iran?
  • It legitimizes the regime in the eyes of its own populace and the rest of the region, alowing it to demonstrate possession of strength sufficient to bring the possibility of U.S. concessions. As Pejman Yousefzadeh observed in discussing the Carter-Brezhnev summit:
    ... leaders seek legitimacy by being associated favorably with leaders who have achieved a mandate by democratic means. And what better way to garner such legitimacy than by receiving the implicit stamp of approval of the President of the United States?
It is possible that the Iranian government is strong enough that this grant of legitimacy will have little effect. And it is possible that our negotiations can be so much more effective than those of the European G-3 that we can afford the delay. But a call for direct bilateral negotiations should be understood as a call to concede both of these points and likely to receive nothing in return.

Entering into negotiations with America and then refusing to concede anything is a clean win for the Iranian regime -- and would mean an unmitigated loss for us.