Sunday, January 29, 2006

Outside View: The art of diplomacy

Bijan Kian, United Press International:
Sometimes, smart people do stupid things. Take the international reaction to Iran's nuclear brinksmanship. The French, Germans and British are all scrambling to find a way to stop Iran's uranium enrichment, while the Russians have actually endorsed it, offering simply to move the process to their country. The U.S., meanwhile, is busy issuing warnings and carefully worded statements to avoid escalation and encourage this exhausting diplomatic dance. Logic has left the building. READ MORE

Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in a room with the Iranian regime's top political, military and economic strategists.

The subject? Hegemony in the greater Middle East and dominance in the Muslim world.

The task: bamboozling the United States and the rest of the Free World.

The priority? Continuity of the Islamic Republic.

Accomplishing these goals obviously requires an understanding of American interests in the Middle East. Thankfully, those are easy to discern: the free flow of oil; stability in Iraq and the beginnings of democracy in the Middle East; protecting the interests of the United States' strongest ally in the Middle East, Israel; achieving sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinians; and confronting the threat of global terrorism.

All of these priorities can serve as bargaining chips for the Islamic Republic. Through a series of steps--such as threatening the free flow of oil from the Gulf, interfering in Iraq, and launching a war of words with Israel -- Iran can severely complicate U.S. policy in the region. Such steps are perfect for starters, but by themselves they are not potent enough. A more terrifying bargaining chip is necessary, and Iran's strategists have hit upon one--the specter of a nuclear bomb. Harnessed properly, an atomic capability will be the ticket to securing the continuity of the Islamic Republic.

That, after all, is the "end game." Indeed, Iran's entire strategy of escalating diplomatic crisis and strategic pressure is built around the goal of forcing the West, and the United States in particular, to cut its losses and provide the Islamic Republic with some sort of a "grand bargain."

Iran's first bargaining chip is Iraq. Through infiltration and covert influence, Iran has already succeeded in ensuring a favorable outcome in the country's recent parliamentary elections. Now, all the Islamic Republic has to do to "help" bring stability to Iraq is to call off its dogs.

If this move doesn't work, however, Iranian leaders can always promise to reign in their unpredictable new president, so that he never again utters a word about wiping Israel off the map. And since the Iranian elections are a stage-managed affair, at the end of the day they even have flexibility over exactly who serves as their public face.

A multitude of other potential steps are possible. Iran's ayatollahs can offer to roll back support for Hamas and Hezbollah, for example. Since it is a major contributor of funds of both groups, such a step would be a cost-free action for the Iranian regime.

All the while, Iran will work to keep the international pressure on through provocative moves on the nuclear front, such as its recent decision to break UN seals and restart its enrichment processes.

If Tehran is successful, and the United States falls for these theatrics, the dance will be over.

The Islamic Republic will get its desired "security guarantee." The tyranny of the Islamic Republic shall remain intact, at least for the foreseeable future. Yet none of the threats posed by Iran shall be reduced or eradicated fully.

Diplomacy, the old adage goes, is the art of doing something to your opponent that he doesn't like and making him feel content in the process. By that measure, the Islamic Republic of Iran is scoring high marks indeed.


(Bijan R. Kian is a Senior Associate at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.)