Friday, December 01, 2006

Talking with Iran and divorce mediation: the naked emperor (shh, little child!)

It's not just that I disagree with the "we need to talk with Iran" folks. It's that they actually seem demented and deluded. Their suggestion makes no sense--or about as much sense as "talk with Hitler" would have made in the middle of WWII.

Faith in the overwhelming power of talk has gone beyond the bounds of rationality into an irrational and yet strongly-held belief system. I read pundits and watch talking heads nodding in agreement that talking with Iran might just be the ticket, the get-out-of-jail-free (or relatively free) card needed for extricating us from a difficult situation in Iraq. And it seems patently absurd to me, actually laughable--if it didn't have such potentially enormous consequences.

I usually manage to see some sort of reason in the proposals of the other side, however much I may disagree with them. But this proposal seems so dangerously divorced from reality as to be as absurd as the emperor prancing around nude when he thinks he has a fabulous suit of clothing on, while those on my side seem like the voices of the little child shouting "But wait! He's naked. Don't you see it?"

Iran is not only our enemy, it's our overt and blatant enemy, and has been since 1979. Ever since its revolution, Iran has been boldly proclaiming its aim to destroy us--the Great Satan. We are so unacquainted with evil that, to many, the over-the-top nature of such charges sound almost comical; surely, they can't be serious (in much the same way, many dismissed Hitler as ridiculous: the strutting, the rhetoric, the silly little mustache).

But, we cannot afford to not take Iran seriously, any more than we could with Hitler. And, although the turmoil in Iraq is multiply-determined, one of the proximate causes is the direct and intentional influence of Iran in that country.

Frank Gaffney says it well in the Daily News:

...the new talk-to-Iran conventional wisdom is irresponsible.

Why? Because Iran is, hands down, the main impediment to freedom and stability in Iraq. Together with its client state, Syria, Iran is directly implicated in murderous attacks on American forces in Iraq. Iran is arming and training Shiite militias. And it's using violence, intelligence and money to dominate oil-rich southern Iraq.

If we have any hope of turning the tide in Iraq, our strategy must negate those threats. Diplomatic appeasement won't work. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who run the show in Tehran will only be emboldened and intensify their efforts to dominate the region and destroy those who stand in their way.

Instead, it's time for a concerted effort to isolate, counter and help the Iranian people take down that regime from within.

To do so, we need to adapt theCold War strategy Ronald Reagan used to destroy the Soviet Union. It is an urban legend that Reagan brought down "the Evil Empire" by negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Nonsense. In fact, Reagan systematically cut off the USSR's funding, empowered its opponents and thwarted its military programs. Similarly, we should use political, financial and intelligence tools to enable the mullahs' domestic opponents to undermine their power.

An enemy is an enemy, and pretending it's not is a self-destructive act. Munich and Chamberlain comparisons are, once again, very apt. Those who say that Iran can't hurt us because they are militarily weak ignore the fact that they are already hurting us through asymmetrical warfare and propaganda, and that they are pursuing a path that will give them atomic weapons for blackmail or actual use.

I've written before about the futility of talking with this particular enemy. But now I'm curious to understand what motivates those who advocate such talk in the face of overwhelming evidence of its futility and its danger. My current hypothesis is that it's another example of the progress we've made in the West (which I wrote about yesterday): our own society has become so relatively peaceful, benign, and cooperative that many have lost sight of the fact that reason is not always possible--and that tyranny and cruelty, and lust for power and control, exist on a scale (in other nations such as Iran) that would make any fears about BushHitler, the Patriot Act, wiretapping, Guantanamo, and all the other myriad charges the Left has against the Bush Administration (trumped up or otherwise) seem like a walk in the proverbial park.

Among other things I've done in my life, I was briefly a divorce mediator. It sounded like a great idea, and sometimes it is: get the warring parties to sit down , away from those lawyers who stir things up and often lead to an even more adversarial climate, and have the couple talk it out together. After all, these people are married, and once loved each other, right? Surely they would have the ability to agree to things that, after all, are in their best interests to solve by themselves?

And I quickly learned the first rule of divorce mediation. As far as I know I'm the person who originated it, so I'll state it here: if divorce mediation works, the couple usually didn't need a mediator in the first place; they could have done it themselves with only the help of a booklet explaining the laws of their state. Oh, it's nice to have a little guidance to keep things on track, but it's not really all that necessary in most cases, and it costs money.

But there are always a number of cases--and the number is not small--where divorce mediation not only does not work, but leads to greater turmoil and/or inequity. If the bitterness is too huge, it affords the couple the opportunity to engage in more and more vicious exchanges to no avail, whereas dealing with lawyers at least gets them out of each others' faces. And in particular, if there's a differential of power, or any sort of abusive situation (and sometimes that's a thing the mediator cannot determine at the outset), mediation can lead to a far less equitable solution, one in which the weaker party gets a manifestly unjust settlement, despite the pretense of biparty acquiescence.

The divorce mediation situation, of course, is hardly analogous to talking with Iran. But it's an example of the limits of conversation, despite a firm belief in its power. And talking with an enemy such as Iran, where there is no common ground for agreement and no common goals, is far far worse. At stake are not just the assets and children of a married couple--which, of course, are important--but the future of millions of people, of history.

Chamberlain had an excuse, he didn't have the example of Munich before him. What's ours?

[ADDENDUM: To those who mentioned the precedent of talking with the USSR, I replied in the comments section, and am reproducing my reply here:

The USSR and the US agreed on some common goals. They didn't want to blow each other to kingdom come, for starters. The USSR was a secular government (not a religious one) interested in power in this world, not matyrdom in the next. They also cared at least somewhat about the welfare of their people, if only as a demonstration of the superiority of their system.

None of that is true of Iran. There is no common ground for a talk. If by "talk" you mean threats with a big stick to back them up, I'm all for talking. But that's not what these particular talks would be about. The talks that are proposed right now are to elicit Iran's cooperation in covering a planned retreat from Iraq, to "stabilize" the country. The only stabilization Iran is interested in there is stabilization under Iran's thumb, and they will say anything and do anything to get it. Thus talks are inherently duplicitous and counterproductive.]

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