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Negotiating, as a Precursor to an Attack

From Colin Rule’s blog.

Reuel Marc Gerecht in the NYT 2/20/08: “The Bush administration should advocate direct, unconditional talks between Washington and Tehran. Strategically, politically and morally, such meetings will help us think more clearly. Foreign-policy hawks ought to see such discussions as essential preparation for possible military strikes against clerical Iran’s nuclear facilities…
For far too long, the United States has failed to wage a war of ideas with the Iranian regime over the proposal that scares them the most: the reopening of the American Embassy. Washington has the biggest bully pulpit in the world, and we are faced with a clerical foe that constantly rails against the intrusion of American values into the bloodstream of Iranian society. There are profound social, cultural and political differences among Iran’s ruling elites, let alone between that class and ordinary Iranians. Some of these differences could conceivably have a major effect on the progress of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. And the way to make these differences increasingly acute is to apply American soft and hard power.
Ayatollah Khamenei needs to be put off balance, as he was in 1997 when Mr. Khatami unexpectedly tapped into a huge groundswell of popular discontent and became president. What we need now is a psychological repeat of 1997: a shock to the clerical system that again opens Iran to serious debate…
It would be riveting in Tehran — and millions of Iranians would watch on satellite TV — if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice challenged the regime in this way: Islam is a great faith; the United States has relations with all Muslim nations except the Islamic Republic; we have diplomatic relations with Hugo Chávez and American diplomats in Havana. Why does the Islamic Republic fear us so? Is the regime so fragile? President Khatami repeatedly said that he wanted a “dialogue of civilizations.” The United States should finally say, “O.K., let’s start.”
If the Bush administration were to use this sort of diplomatic jujitsu on the ruling clerics, it could convulse their world. No, this is absolutely no guarantee that Tehran will stop, or even suspend, uranium enrichment. But a new approach would certainly put the United States on offense and Iran on defense. We would, at least, have the unquestioned moral and political high ground. And from there, it would be a lot easier for the next administration, if it must, to stop militarily the mullahs’ quest for the bomb.”
Bill Lincoln, co-founder of the International Coalition of Concerned Mediators, has responded to the Op-Ed this way:
‘”Attack Iran, With Words” purports to advocate direct negotiations and diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran but it does so with allowance for a possible permissible purpose of entering into negotiations in ‘bad faith’. ‘Bad faith’ in that the true intention of entering negotiations may NOT be to deal with the conflict’s substantive issues, but instead possibly to misuse one’s own invitation to negotiate as a mere perfunctory gesture or even as a “checked off” pretext for justifying the use of military force against Iran.
For anyone to misuse or even to suggest abusing the process’ trust and good faith commitment necessary for candid negotiations to be successful would cheapen and discredited the whole professional conflict resolution field and diplomacy itself. Not only would the prospect of achieving a durable non-violent solution to the Iran-US conflict become considerably remote, but other future negotiations processes, or even current international commitments, would be rightly scrutinized for ulterior motives and dubious sincerity.
Whenever we see a negotiation or mediation processes being exploited in this manner as a means to tease or to deceive the public and media that all non-violent options were exhausted we as professional mediators and negotiators must speak out in defense of the integrity of the processes and the profession itself. We do not believe that op-ed author Reuel Marc Gerecht’s intent was to promote deception, but he planted a very unwelcome and dangerous seed.’
I guess it’s not surprising to hear such cynicism around the power of negotiation from a resident scholar at AEI and a former fellow from the Project for the New American Century. But to begin negotiations from such a bad-faith perspective is particularly cynical.


Colin Rule

Colin Rule is CEO of Resourceful Internet Solutions, Inc. ("RIS"), home of,,, and a number of additional leading online dispute resolution initiatives.  From 2017 to 2020, Colin was Vice President for Online Dispute Resolution at Tyler Technologies. Tyler acquired, an ODR provider that Colin co-founded,… MORE >

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