Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The killing of Qassem Soleimani by a U.S. drone strike, and Iran’s accidental downing of a Ukrainian commercial airliner, have both humiliated the mullahs and exposed their lethal incompetence. Continuing protests by Iranian citizens against the feckless and corrupt regime reveal deepening fissures in the Iranian political order, as President Trump’s “maximum pressure” on Iran’s economy continues to bite deeper.
But while we should be pushing harder on the tottering regime, the same old voices of idealistic internationalism are calling for “diplomatic outreach” and “negotiations” to rewrite the nuclear deal. President Trump’s goal of that pressure, at least rhetorically so far, is also to renegotiate the nuclear deal and give it teeth, though he has put the burden on Iran to take the first step. And Britain, France, and Germany have triggered the nuclear agreement’s “dispute mechanisms” which could lead to broader “snap-back” sanctions on Iran. They too are calling for a renegotiated agreement.
But instead of yet again mining the fool’s gold of diplomacy, we should resist this glittering fraud. Diplomatic “engagement” with Iran will achieve nothing other than to give Iran time to spin its centrifuges, and inch closer to a nuclear weapon and the missiles to deliver them.
That dangerous outcome may be closer than we think. The Israeli Defense Force estimates Iran may have enough fissile material for a bomb by this spring, and in two years missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs, thanks in part to the $150 billion Barack Obama handed over as a reward for signing the nuclear deal. Israel, of course, whom Iran has promised countless times to “wipe off the map,” understandably has an interest in possibly exaggerating the threat, especially given the proven indifference of the “international community” to the incessant rocket-attacks from terrorists sponsored by Iran, and to the global, vicious anti-Semitic calumny usually shrugged off with Diplospeak tut-tutting. Israel can’t afford such insouciance.
But no intelligence agency or the IAEA can definitively prove the IDF wrong, or say just how close Iran is. The nuclear deal is riddled with loopholes and sunset clauses that make an Iranian nuke not a question of “if,” but “when.” After all, the critics of Bush’s Iraq war who called it illegitimate because no WMD stockpiles were discovered, can only say so because U.S. forces destroyed Saddam Hussein’s military and gained access to the country. Before then, in the late Nineties Hussein had serially violated UN Security Council Resolutions, 16 in all, and obstructed IAEA inspectors until in 1998, he simply kicked them out of the country.
But the more important playbook for successfully gulling the “rules-based international order” can be seen in North Korea’s brilliant diplomatic bait-and-switch. As I wrote at the time,
The chronology of the U.S.’s dealings with three psychotic Kim regimes makes for depressing reading. Start in 1991, when President George Bush Sr. withdrew 100 nuclear weapons from South Korea as part of a deal with Mikhail Gorbachev. That same year South Korea formally abjured the production or use of nuclear weapons, a deal the North cheerfully went along with, fully intending to violate it. The next year the North signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and allowed in inspectors. A mere two months later the U.S. had to impose sanctions on two companies in the North involved in developing missiles.
In little more than a year, the pattern of North Korea’s defiance and duplicity, and Western appeasement and inaction, had been set. The North would make an announcement promising to let in inspectors in order to head off sanctions, or threaten to withdraw from the NPT to wring concessions from the West, and then would come the revelation that the North had taken yet another step towards creating a nuclear weapon.
Then “bilateral talks” would be announced and conducted, “agreed frameworks” and “moratoriums” signed and touted, promises of suspension of forbidden activities made by the North, “appropriate compensation,” i.e. bribes––like food aid, South Korea’s “sunshine policy” of détente and economic cooperation with the North, “economic normalization,” and free light-water nuclear reactors (!)––for such duplicitous concessions delivered by the West, all followed by more sanctions imposed when the North was caught out lying and cheating.
If a failed pygmy state run by a political mafia family could play the U.S. for suckers, what makes us think that Iran, with the bargaining chip of the world’s fourth largest oil reserves, and Europeans eager to restore business ties, can’t pull off the same scam?
That fiasco was just the latest of a long string of diplomatic failures, starting in 1919 and the creation of the League of Nations, which failed miserably to halt the relentless march to world war. In the subsequent two decades after Versailles, equally useless diplomatic “breakthroughs” were announced. In 1925, The Locarno Treaty was signed by Germany, France, and Belgium, along with mutual defense pacts between those countries and several other nations. Its signing was followed by widespread celebration, England’s Austen Chamberlain’s Noble Peace Prize, and a New York Times headline blaring, “France and Germany Bar War Forever.”
But all it amounted to was what one wag called “Locarney-Blarney.” As historian Corelli Barnett writes, it was a “hollow gesture to soothe the French; a bogus commitment, a fraudulent IOU.” In the next few years, during which Germany continued to violate the terms of the Versailles Treaty, yet another diplomatic “breakthrough” occurred. In 1928 the Kellogg-Briand pact eventually was signed by 49 nations, including the future Axis powers Germany, Italy, and Japan. Kellogg-Briand, whose two namesakes won Nobel Peace Prizes, naively “condemned recourse to war for the solution of international controversies,” and stipulated “that the settlement or solution of disputes and conflicts” should come only from “pacific means.” In three years signatory Japan would invade Manchuria, as the League of Nation meetings in Geneva preached “sermons praising the reconciliation of ancient enemies and the reconciliation of mankind,” as Barnett writes of the impotent League. A decade later the Munich debacle was merely the capstone of these decades of illusion.
But the lesson wasn’t learned even after 60 million dead and a gruesome genocide proved the futility of diplomacy when it is not backed up by the willingness to use lethal force. The UN was created, which today exists not for any of its professed idealistic purposes, but as a “cockpit in the tower of Babel,” to borrow Churchill’s phrase, where sovereign nations pursue their zero-sum interests, many of them inimical to ours.
Given that sorry record of diplomatic failure, one wonders why anybody thinks that even if Iran is forced to the bargaining table, that it will negotiate in good faith, particularly at this moment. For all its travails, Iran is cunning enough to think it can prevaricate, delay, and pretend to negotiate until November, on the hope that a Democrat will win and return the country to the halcyon Obama years of groveling appeasement. And why shouldn’t they hope for a Democrat, when the party has beclowned itself by condemning Trump’s killing of Soleimani, blamed Trump for “escalating” a conflict started and stoked for 40 years by Iran, fingered Trump’s “escalation” for causing Iran to shoot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, and in general has given Iran every benefit of the doubt? As for the Europeans, the mullahs know they are eager to do business with them, and that the recent triggering of possible snap-back sanctions could end up another Brexit vote, subverted and undermined by procedural delays.
And even if Iran enters into negotiations, it has a thousand different way to prolong the process, just as North Korea did: Nugatory concessions, token gestures, and incessant wrangling over procedure can buy time for years, and wring more concessions out of the Western powers, especially France and Germany who want to get back to business. And Iran will know that neither the U.S. nor the Europeans will walk away from the table, or seriously enforce violations of any revised treaty that Iran signs. So we’ll be right back to where we were when we left the agreement, with the possibility of a Democrat president eager to restore the status quo ante.
But the fact is, Iran will likely not sign a legitimate treaty that includes unrestricted, at-will inspections anywhere in the country, and serious consequences for violations, instead of stern diplomatic scolding and feeble threats. And if they do sign, they’ll just cheat and lie, as they did with the first agreement. Thus the mullahs will still participate in renegotiating a treaty, for they see negotiation as an emblem of Western weakness: Its failure of civilizational nerve, a reflection of its primary purpose in life, which is to live in abundance, comfort, and pleasure for another day.
They know too that our leaders lack the ruthlessness needed to convince a passionate enemy to give up its aggression, because politicians have to go before the people every two, four, or six years and don’t want the political baggage of unforeseen consequences, blunders, and gruesome death and suffering that has attended every armed conflict in history. And the mullahs know that for the West, “diplomatic engagement” is the go-to excuse for inaction, the way to kick the can down the road and let other politicians and voters deal with the consequences.
Finally, the calls for renegotiating the nuclear deal reflect a failure of imagination, our chronic inability to understand correctly the other side’s motives and mentality. The Iranian theocracy is shaped and motivated by Shi’a Islam, and the divine imperative to order every aspect of human life by Sharia law. Our secular liberal-democratic ideals of peace, prosperity, individual rights, and freedom are alien, infidel innovations that threaten the souls of the faithful, and so must be resisted with force. What part of that belief, evident in 14 centuries of history, do we expect the mullahs to negotiate away? How has that worked out in Turkey, where nearly a century of Kemalist secularizing has been stopped and reversed by the Islamizing policies of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?
As history shows, negotiation will only give the mullahs breathing space in which to continue their mischief in the hopes that Trump doesn’t win reelection or they acquire a nuclear weapon. That outcome is too serious for us to gamble on a Trump victory, when presumably he will be more “flexible” in dealing with Iran. Before the election the pressure must to be ratcheted up, and assaults on our troops and citizens met with serious destruction. Peace will not be purchased with the fool’s gold of diplomacy.
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