Thursday, October 01, 2009

Unfortunately, diplomats too often focus on the process of talking rather than the desired end results and the latest round of diplomacy with Iran is following that pattern.

And contrary to what diplomats would like people to believe, there is nothing complicated or inherently difficult in the process of talking to another country.

Here is how it should proceed:

The United States must first decide on the minimum of what we want Iran to do. Do we want a total cessation of Iran's nuclear program? Do we just want to keep Iran from turning an allegedly civilian nuclear program into a military program? Or possibly, would we be satisfied if Iran didn't use the nuclear weapons it is spending billions of dollars developing? We also have to decide on the level of proof we will insist on.

Once we have decided what we want, we have to decide what we are willing to do to Iran in order to make that happen. Are we willing to use our military? And if so, just how must damage are we willing to do to Iran? If not, what economic or other sanctions are we willing to impose on Iran? And from a slightly different perspective, what are we willing to offer Iran if they go along with what we want. Are we willing to relax sanctions? Are we willing to stop with the anti-regime blather? Are we willing to help them destroy Israel by means other than nuclear weapons?

And we also have to decide what we are willing to do to others who might present an obstacle to our 'persuasion' of Iran. Are we willing to impose economic sanctions countries that continue to do business with Iran? Are we willing to risk a military confrontation with countries that, for example, might try to ignore a blockade or whose citizens might be harmed during a military attack on Iran? And we need to decide what we're willing to help otherwise reluctant partners to get their cooperation. Are we willing to give up Taiwan in order to get China to help out?

Once we have figured out what we want and what we're willing to do, it is time to talk. But not with Iran to start, but rather with the other countries who need to be informed as to what our plans are. If, for example, we are willing to impose economic sanctions on countries that continue to do business with Iran, we need to tell those countries of what lies in wait for them. If we're willing to use our military to enforce a blockade of Iraq to prevent them from exporting oil or importing gasoline, we need to tell those countries who are likely to be affected.

And then we tell Iran what we want and what will happen to them if they don't comply.

Now there's nothing wrong with telling Iran we want more than we really do. Nor is there anything wrong with telling Iran we're willing to do more than we really plan to. Doing so builds wiggle room and allows us to graciously compromise with Iran, saving them some face.

Given that the Bush Administration did a lot of talking but did nothing of substance, and the Obama Administration doesn't exactly cause our enemies to cower in fear, it is extremely critical that we persuade Iran that we are serious this time. And doing so may require a demonstration, a shot across the bow that Iran has to take notice of.

See, a pretty straightforward process. Nothing complicated. Just a matter of deciding what we want and what we're willing to do to get it. The process isn't different from what millions of people do every day in regards to their lives. Bigger stakes, sure. But the process remains the same.