Dancing with the Devil

dancMichael Rubin will be speaking at the Freedom Center’s Wednesday Morning Club on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Los Angeles. For more information, click here.

Many books have been written about the cost of war. Far fewer have been written about the cost of diplomacy.

Diplomacy, diplomats assume, is always a good thing. There can be no harm in talking to an enemy. Talking, talking and then talking some more. It’s the myth that Obama has built his entire foreign policy around, broadcasting his eagerness for unconditional dialogue with totalitarian states, and it is a myth that Michael Rubin challenges with a combination of hard facts, historical accounts and bigger ideas in Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes.

Despite the presence of “Rogue Regimes” in the title, a favorite buzzword of the post-Cold War diplomatic establishment, Rubin analyzes and challenges the term “rogue” and many of the other comforting clichés of modern diplomacy whose real goal is to avoid coming to terms with reality.

The biggest of these clichés is that talking is a sign of progress. As Rubin demonstrates, enemy states use diplomacy to buy time or intimidate an opponent as summed up in the famous aphorism about diplomacy being the art of saying nice doggie while picking up a rock. Except we’re the doggie and the rock is radioactive.

In Dancing with the Devil, Rubin shows how totalitarian states like North Korea, Iraq and Iran used negotiations as levers for achieving their own goals without giving up anything in return. Totalitarian states have learned that a combination of diplomacy with aggressive threats leads to a rewards cycle as Western diplomats struggle to sustain diplomacy with more generous concessions of appeasement.

For Western diplomats, success means bringing an enemy to the negotiating table and keeping him there, but as Rubin’s book quotes Kissinger as saying in regard to negotiations with the USSR, “When talks become their own objective, they are at the mercy of the party most prepared to break them off.”

That is the phenomenon that we are seeing in the latest round of negotiations between Israel and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas who has to be bribed with an escalating series of freebies just to stay at the negotiating table to negotiate the pre-negotiating process.

It was also the response of Obama to any talk of sanctions on Iran as the negotiations process became something that Iran offered as a reward to America in exchange for ‘good’ behavior… instead of the other way around.

Diplomats take the grievances of totalitarian states seriously and seek to appease them which only encourages them to cultivate further grievances. Rather than stabilizing the conflict, appeasement further escalates it as totalitarian states find more things to be angry about and more grievances to threaten war over.

Western diplomats, Rubin writes, are content to negotiate endlessly and to treat these serial negotiations as signs of success. Enemy diplomats however want instant benefits for their regime while offering worthless long term promises that they intend to break at the first opportunity having learned that this will only lead to more negotiations. They can’t lose and we can’t win.

Rogues continue to “go rogue” while negotiating with multilateralists. The multilateral diplomacy fetish perversely punishes fellow mulilateralists while rewarding rogues thereby incentivizing rogue behavior and disincentivizing membership in the multilateral club.

Western governments that commit to the diplomatic route become practiced at ignoring threats and aggressive activities as mere “provocations” so that Obama’s interlocutors dismiss Iran’s threats of war as a negotiating strategy rather than statements of intent.

Rubin documents how Russian espionage under Obama in 2010 was quickly resolved by releasing the spies to avoid disrupting the ephemeral “reset”. Bill Clinton ordered a cover up of the Khobar Towers bombing to avoid ruining diplomatic outreach to Iran. Arafat’s links to terrorism were likewise covered up to avoid the end of foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority and the end of the peace process.

By positioning war and diplomacy as opposites on a spectrum representing a range from hostility to peace, the false perception was maintained that any move toward negotiations was also a move away from war. Negotiations however are not the opposite of conflict. Sometimes they are an extension of it.

As Chinese Communist leader Zhou Enlai said, “All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means.”

The West has made peace into an absolute good, but that assumption is not shared by its enemies. Western diplomats seek to integrate “rogue states” into a peaceful multilateral consensus, assuming that this is something that they want as well, when what the rogue states really want is to humiliate and defeat their enemies.

While Obama tells Putin that Ukraine is not a zero sum game, Putin wins by behaving as if it is. Diplomats believe in compromise, but totalitarians do not.

Authoritarian regimes do not believe in mutual gain. A totalitarian system treats everything as a zero sum game. Its structural setup rejects compromise domestically and internationally. Furthermore regimes such as North Korea and Iran learn from each other when it comes to gaming out successful strategies against the West so that a concession on one front becomes a sellout on many.

Diplomats, Rubin points out, have come to define success and failure in terms of ‘talking’. They do this without questioning their assumptions about the virtues of the ‘talking cure’ for totalitarian tyrannies. Diplomacy however works best as a velvet glove over an iron fist. A Western velvet glove without the iron is useless against totalitarian regimes that come to the negotiating table with their iron fists out.

Diplomacy may offer rewards, but when dealing with declared enemies, genocidal tyrannies and totalitarian states, it must be armored with a punitive element.

Dancing with the Devil also highlights the problems of diplomacy when conducted between consistently hostile dictatorships with one ruler and adversarial democracies whose newly elected leaders are quick to blame their predecessors for the former intractability of Russia, Iran, North Korea or the PLO, and to assume that it will be different with their new approach at the negotiating table.

Hillary’s reset button ignored all the lessons learned about Russia by her Republican predecessors by assuming that what had gone before had somehow been Bush’s fault. This is how American diplomats find themselves playing the short game while their opponents, who answer to a single dictator whose program goes back decades, are the ones playing the long game.

The final cost of diplomacy may be military, but the first cost of diplomacy is moral as Western countries look the other way at the abuses and atrocities of the tyrannies they are engaging diplomatically.

Rubin points out that Iran actually began executing more people during Clinton and Obama’s bouts of outreach to the Islamist theocracy in its so-called moderate phases. Bill Clinton ignored Assad’s bloody track record in the hopes of getting him into a peace process with Israel.

Negotiations with totalitarian states don’t save lives. They cost lives. They cost honor. And they take away the peace that might have been possible and substitute for it a state of endless negotiated war.

Obama’s foreign policy has demonstrated once again the timeless truth that appeasement does not secure peace.

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  • truebearing

    Great review, Daniel. Perfect clarity in laying out Rubin’s brilliant argument.

    “Dancing With the Devil” couldn’t be more relevant. Perhaps Mr. Rubin can follow it up with a very short companion book called ” Great Empires Built on Diplomacy.”

    If talking is the goal of the multilateralists, then failed negotiation is their desired outcome. How can it be otherwise? There is no need to talk if the issue is resolved, but an issue can’t be resolved if there is no resolve on our part.

    If you overlay everything we know about behavioral modification onto multilateral diplomatic theory, you instantly see that the diplomatic theory runs contrary to the desired outcome of behavior modification…unless you are Russia, North Korea, or Iran. The problem for the capitulationists is that they are the ones who purportedly believe in the efficacy of talking, but it is the countries “on the wrong side of history” who are winning every round. Where is the reward for our side and where is the electric shock for the bad actors? Can Kerry or Obama learn which button to push to get the banana…before every country in the Middle East can push a button and initiate WWIII?

    In Obama’s case, you have to wonder if the devil is dancing with his twin.

    • bigjulie

      Your suggestion of a “follow -on” volume is priceless! However, we can all laugh ourselves right into the Gulag if we don’t get some truly effective action soon. Unfortunately, it will take truly effective LEADERSHIP to obtain said action instead of the amateur clown act currently performing in DC and London.

      • truebearing

        America needs a precision strike on it’s self-indulgence powered snooze button. With 40% of the country still polling in favor of Obama, he thinks he still has a mandate, and he might think the same if his numbers were in the single digits. Obama is hell-bent on destroying this country. It will take a massive, collective dry heave to dislodge him.

        • Drakken

          It’s going to get a h*ll of lot worse before it gets better.

        • bigjulie

          My first choice of emetics will be to send EVERY Democrat eligible to go, packing in November, and get as many Tea Party candidates elected as possible!

  • wileyvet

    Hello, State Department? Anybody home? Anyone remember World War II? You know, Adolph Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Munich, ” this is my last territorial demand etc. etc.” , Peace in our time. Hello.

  • Naresh Krishnamoorti

    I think the pathology here is a little bit different. Obama and his ilk no longer believe in the idea of national interest. They are incapable of dealing with leaders who act in their own national interests. Obama wants to pretend that such leaders do no exist, and he sticks his head in the sand like an ostrich. Thus, he empowers Putin, Khamenei, and Assad to do what they will.

    Obama does not understand that Putin places more value on his poll numbers skyrocketing in Russia after his actions in Crimea than in membership in the G-8. Putin’s “bullying” has immensely increased his “soft power,” both domestically and internationally.

    Obama is more concerned about following through on his ideologically-driven emasculation of American power in favor of a multilateral global order than in his own poll numbers, and he expects Putin to act in the same way.

    That’s why all that Obama can do is lecture Putin on how he cannot go around transgressing the expectations of the international order, as if Putin’s only problem is that he never got the memo. Similarly, Obama cannot understand any Israeli concern for self-preservation.

    Years of Pax Americana and free trade have lulled America and Europe to sleep about the costs of keeping the peace in a world of real conflicts of national interest more powerful than economic unity, and caused the Western world to drift toward a dangerous international order, where people exchange their freedoms for bread and circuses, and expose themselves to the predations of roving nomads who will not conform and are willing to die for their ideology.

    I hope Putin actively starts rebuilding the Russian empire. I hope China becomes a lot more belligerent: but only if these actions wake up the West from its inane fantasies about a new global order, before it’s too late. Before Iran and North Korea start launching nuclear weapons.

    • bigjulie

      Naresh, your analysis is spot on! The entire Obama regime is composed of posturing fools completely blinded by their own self-images of diplomatic perfection. Daniel’s review of Rubin’s masterwork should remove all doubt about how American “diplomacy” is being snookered into complete ineffectualness by skull-bursting egos who cannot even detect that much of the rest of the world is laughing themselves to tears at their stupid posturing.
      The time is at hand to realize that we are actually dealing with “barrel of a gun” practitioners who have become past masters at disguising the threat of brutal force into their ultimate “negotiating” tool and that there is only one answer to it, which is more, and more brutal force, in order to get the job done.
      Obama and Kerry can pooh-pooh Russian and Palestinian brutality as “so 19th century” but they are jeopardizing us all to become victims of it. Once we are all behind barbed wire fences we will indeed find out just how “19th Century” their actions really are!

    • truebearing

      One of the ironies of Obama is that he has employed the tactics of fascism in the US, but decries them when he sees Putin showing the world what fascism really looks like. The biggest difference between Obama and Putin is that Putin’s fascism is nationalistic and for the benefit of Russia, while Obama’s fascism is designed to tear down the US to clear the way for transnationalism. Obama wants to use fascism as a tactic to progressively segue into full blown, global socialism, while Putin knows that communist revolutions never really get any further than fascism. Genius that he isn’t, Obama thought Putin was the ideologue he is.

    • Judahlevi

      All rogue nations are being empowered by Obama’s fecklessness. When they see an American president who creates “red lines” and doesn’t enforce them, it is all downhill from there. It will accelerate over the next three years.

      Obama is a academic utopian who doesn’t ever want apply the power of the American state. He would prefer everyone play nice until he gets out of office with his pension. He is very upset that Putin is making moves which may keep him off the golf course.

      Being president means making the difficult decisions. Obama was never ready for this, didn’t want to have to make difficult choices, and just wants to work on his domestic agenda of income equality (it will never happen). As America declines under his watch, the people who voted to make history are making the wrong kind of history.

  • tagalog

    When we send in the armed forces with paralyzing rules of engagement and limited goals, we are misusing our armed forces, something the totalitarians know quite well but we seem to ignore.

    Also, totalitarians understand the use of force better than they understand diplomacy. They can thrive having our boot on their neck better than we can thrive when they are conquering and slaughtering.

    • bigjulie

      If the operant definition of “Diplomacy” is the art of letting the other side have your way, we are doomed by the Obama regime!

  • BagLady

    That is the phenomenon that we are seeing in the latest round of
    negotiations between Israel and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas who has to be
    bribed with an escalating series of freebies just to stay at the
    negotiating table to negotiate the pre-negotiating process”

    Pre negotiating process? Is that how far we’ve got after more than half a century, a pre-negotiation process. G-d I’m bored.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Yes and lots are dead.

    • objectivefactsmatter


      • BagLady

        Half a century of talking and they are still at the pre-negotiation stage (whatever that means) and, as Daniel says, many dead. They must be turning in their graves.

  • retired22

    Winston Churchill told Neville Chamberlain “You were given the choice between war & dishonor,you chose dishonor & you will have war”.

    • bigjulie

      …and history, as usual, will repeat itself!

  • EamonnDublin

    I’m slightly off topic here, but I couldn’t see an alternative slot in which to post – so, apologies! I just wanted to ask, is it me, or did anybody else consider that Obama’s slight slant in the direction of Pope Francis – as opposed to his back breaking gymnastics when he meets a Muslim leader – was probably his own way of showing a bit (or a lot) of contempt for Christianity? Éamonn Gavin.

    • tagalog

      Who knows what guides Obama’s behavior? I bet if you raised that question to him, he truly wouldn’t know what you’re talking about, although it’s tempting to want to answer your question in the affirmative.

  • Arizona

    ANY country who eats children,like the chinese do,ARE IN BED WITH SATAN,and the chinese are,WHY do americans support these guys?..THEY will be running the FEMA DEATH CAMPS and americans will be treated like animals,the children will be murdered at will by these guys and no one cares……………..

    • BagLady

      What are you on?

  • mtnhikerdude

    History will record this administration and the people who voted it in twice as “The Wimpiest most destructive of American principals and our Constitution ( which is the longest standing Constitution on the Planet ) to ever rule . The backlash of another Democratic victory in 2016 will be the final nail in America’s coffin If it is not pounded in by the Obamas . Instead of wielding Champagne bottles to launch ships they are caressing hammers to launch the “Death of A Nation”.


    Sad but true. So I have to agree with Rubin. It costs more lives,consumes more resources Cloward and Pivon strategy,provides a greater platform for diversions as resources and energies are concentrated more. When you attempt to negotiate with the non negotiable irreconcilable authoritarian despot tyrants. It’s also a lose lose no matter what accolades,experience or Nobel Peace prize one might have going for their name and character.

    Figuer out where and on what exactly they disagree and then succeed and part company.

    No more compromise and collusion DEPART from one another when your in disagreement.

    Because tyrannical depravity from despots knows no bounds,observes no customs or human decency with genuine respect to personal and persons private property.Depravity also knows no authority but their own and assumes all jurisdiction is their right of passage and free for all for them alone,unless that door or opportunity is shut on them.

    Good luck or blessing with your book Mr Rubin. I probably won’t read it because I don’t read many books. Because It’s likely I have to live in the reality of it everyday instead and I don’t want to do both unless it’s about something good or a win win. We The People of the World except for God alone and a few good hearts left have had enough of the lose lose scenario constantly being served up to us from the power structure and elite!

    Succeed and withdrawal your consent,your lives,your wealth and what’s left of your dignity from the despots regime governing authoritarianism class of elitists no matter where you live. So something worthwhile might be left for you,your and our posterity and offspring individually and together. With respects to each and latitude from the outside to only the one “together”. So that we all might partake on life’s greatest discoveries and adventures with what’s truly worth building,learning and growing together for all humanity. Instead of being occupied like a dog chasing it’s tail who is never achieving,advancing or ever really arriving anywhere on anything that blesses all people and families as God describes in Psalm one what is possible for the Righteous.

    If God said it even from the Holy Bible that’s His Word,then it’s obtainable and will be a blessing to all mankind even if it doesn’t look it or feel it at first.

    If the Establishment says it then it’s a fleecing,charade with the imposter incorporated masquerade and Devil for their profit alone at everyone elses expense.

    So now the difference for yourself.


    ‘Bet that’ and live that which WILL endure forever so your not wasting your time,your talents,your resources or your posterity on meaningless pursuits from meaningless and despot persons from their lack of vision and lack of true discipline.

  • pfbonney

    So basically, what the “anti-war” left’s slogan, “Give peace a chance”, really means, or would result in, is to let the enemies of the United States further their agenda at a cost to the United States, then.

    Or, “Give our enemies a chance”, is more like it.


    – PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas who has to be bribed with an escalating series of freebies just to stay at the negotiating table to negotiate the pre-negotiating process;

    – Russian espionage under Obama in 2010 was quickly resolved by releasing the spies to avoid disrupting the ephemeral “reset”;

    – Iran being protected when Bill Clinton ordered a cover up of the Khobar Towers bombing;

    – Arafat’s being protected by Clinton when links to terrorism were likewise covered up to avoid the end of foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority and the end of the peace process;

    – Iran, again, being protected although their regime actually began executing more people during Clinton and Obama’s bouts of outreach to the Islamist theocracy in its so-called moderate phases;

    – and Bill Clinton protected Assad despite his bloody track record, in the hopes of getting him into a peace process with Israel.

    Good job, Democrats, for protecting totalitarians as we “gave peace a chance”.

    But then, the left never had much enthusiasm for forwarding the interests of the United States, anyway. They’re not sorry for any of this.

  • Lanna

    Iran and other Islamic nations represent anything but freedom and democracy, that’s why the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah have been rejected!

  • Texas Patriot

    There is only one valid rationale for negotiating with rogue regimes: i.e. to lay the necessary predicate under international law that no efforts were spared to avoid violence before the regime was neutralized or destroyed.