Maybe it's just my advancing age, but I don't have the patience I used to have, and I never had a great deal of patience to begin with. Increasingly as the years go by, I find myself wanting to cut to the chase in every circumstance. This doubtless makes it a good thing that I didn't choose international diplomacy as a career, where "going through the phony-baloney, plastic banana, good time rock & roll motions" is the coin of the realm. One can usually take the lay of the land in any set of negotiations and have a pretty good idea of what's realistically achievable. The more adversarial the negotiations, by and large, the lower that ceiling falls.
By far the greatest diplomat and negotiator of all time was Germany's first chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck. The Prussian aristocrat was the ultimate practitioner of realpolitik. He had realistic goals and expectations, he knew those of his opponents, and as a result he was able to completely neutralize the Second Reich's enemies (Britain, France, Russia) in a serious of mutually reinforcing treaties that split them from each other by exploiting the points where their respective interests diverged. He divided and conquered the nations that threatened the new German state at the negotiating table without firing so much as a baleful glare, much less a shot in anger.
Then Kaiser Wilhelm I died, his son Wilhelm II succeeded him, and the son thought he was smarter than his chancellor (and also wanted the very war Von Bismarck sought to avert), and so ordered him to undo his diplomatic masterpiece. Von Bismarck balked and stood his ground, and the new Kaiser fired him.
If that doesn't sound like Donald Trump, I'll eat the spike off my Imperial German helmet.
As I have previously indicated, I applauded Trump's withdrawal from the disastrous Iran nuclear sellout, while still chastising him for waiting so long to do so. The path forward, though not optimal, is clear: reimpose what economic sanctions we can while making every effort to persuade our allies to join us (not alienate them by sending ambassadors to stupidly try to order them to do so) and lay down military "red lines" that we're committed to holding. As I've argued from the beginning, there is no way on Earth that we're going to talk or wheedle or bribe the mullahs out of their nukes, just as we'll never do the same with Kim Jong-Un, because both of them witnessed what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi when they didn't have a nuclear deterrent. And indeed, the mullahs have an added wish to use them offensively against their declared archenemy, Israel, and they're, you know, wannabe genocidal maniacs. I'm skeptical that they can even be contained, and still believe that invasion and regime change is the only sure way to stop their nuclear ambitions. Certainly trying to appease such creatures was folly when Obama tried it and it would every bit as foolish for Trump.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a steep list of demands Monday that he said should be included in a nuclear treaty with Iran to replace the Obama-era deal, threatening "the strongest sanctions in history" if Iran doesn't change course.
Following Donald Trump's withdrawal from the deal, the United States will ensure "Iran has no possible path to a nuclear weapon — ever," Pompeo said. As he called for a better agreement to constrain Iran's activities, he said the U.S. would "apply unprecedented financial pressure" to bring Tehran back to the table.
After the cushion of the hundreds of billions of dollars that Barack Obama lavished upon Tehran, I doubt that Pompeo's "unprecedented financial pressure" (trademark Trumpesque bluster, that - similar to "fire and fury like this world's never seen", and now Trump is all but smooching Kim Jong-Un's bunions) would have nearly the impact he's trying to claim here. And even if it did, and even if they don't yet have nukes, which I doubt, how would such attempted strong-arming accomplish anything other than reinforce the mullahs' determination to obtain them?
Pompeo's list of twelve requirements included many that Iran is highly unlikely to consider.
He said Iran must "stop enrichment" of uranium, which was allowed within strict limitations under the 2015 deal. Iran must also allow nuclear "unqualified access to all sites throughout the country," Pompeo said, alluding to military sites that were off-limits under the 2015 deal except under specific circumstances....
Pompeo also demanded that Iran cease from a range of activities throughout the Middle East that have long drawn the ire of the U.S. and its allies. He said Iran must end support for Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, "withdraw all forces" from Syria, halt support for its ally Hezbollah and stop threatening Israel.
Twelve....poison....pills (to the tune of "Five golden rings" from The Twelve Day Of Christmas, in case you were wondering). Those are things WE want, and we darn well should, but each and every one of them is a deal-breaker, and Pompeo's got to know it. How many cycles of negotiations did we go through with Iran before Obama finally just backed up the truck and gave them more than even they ever dreamed possible? The process lasted a dozen years, and in each cycle but the final one, we went in with semi-serious demands, the mullahs balked, the talks fizzled, and then the next cycle began anew because we ultimately wanted an agreement, a piece of paper to Chamberlainly waive around, no matter how terrible it was. And on and on it went until The One finally dropped all pretense and just folded our hand and capitulated. That is the only "deal" the mullahs will ever accept. And come to think of it, they did.
And that begs the question: why start talking about yet another cycle of negotiations? Why signal that we still want a "deal" when one that is even balanced, much Pompeo's virtual ultimatum, is clearly not possible? It's not like it's going to bring the Euros around, since they're still in the JCPOA and see no reason to replace it. It's still employing the language of diplomacy when there's no diplomatic solution to be had. It's a complete waste of words and time.
And it's also dangerous, because Pompeo also included the same sort of cooing flirtation with another el foldo that he's been flashing at the Norks:
At the same time, Pompeo offered Iran a series of dramatic potential U.S. concessions if it agrees to make "major changes." Under a new agreement, the U.S. would be willing to lift all sanctions, restore full diplomatic and commercial ties with Iran, and even support the modernization of its economy, Pompeo said.
The pattern in every negotiation with rogue regimes pursuing nuclear weapons is the same: Western concessions get made, Western demands are ignored and abandoned, and the rogues win, because the West wants an agreement, a piece of paper to waive around, more than they want their objectives to be met. To my trained, jaded ears, it sounds like history is gearing up to repeat itself.
The first rule of negotiating is that the first side that is willing to walk away from the table is the one that has the upper hand. That's what President Reagan did in Reykjavik in 1985 in his first summit with Mikail Gorbachev, after Gorby demanded abandonment of the Strategic Defense Initiative as a prerequisite to any new U.S.-Soviet detente. Thereafter the last Soviet dictator took the Gipper seriously, and that began the process of the USSR's eventual collapse six years later. And while Reagan did propose, shall we say, grandiosely idealistic notions like total elimination of both nuclear arsenals, he never dangled frosted carrots like offering to unilaterally disarm first, which is the best equivalent I can offer to Pompeo's wish list of mullah enticements.
Now if this is all just for show, taking for granted that the Iranians will balk to provide a cover for moving toward the inevitable conflict to come, why bother with the artifice? Let's just get on with it.
But it isn't, I fear. Trump's ego will see to that. It's the same reason why he continues to push for a "Middle East peace plan" that has always been impossible as anything other than the effective dismantling of Israel, and which the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, as welcome as that is, will only make more so. Again, why bother pretending? Why not simply stand with the Israelis and tell the Pals that they'll never get a state of their own carved out of the Jewish state, and they don't deserve one of any kind anywhere until they liquidate Hamas and Fatah and summarily and permanently abandon jihadism and Jew-hatred? If Trump is about "telling it like it is," why is he not saying that?
Because he lusts after that mythical Nobel Peace Prize, that's why. And that's why his foreign policy legacy will make its tumultuous way back full circle to stand not far from that of his predecessor.