When a tone becomes the tune

Reuters

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) are seated during a meeting of the foreign ministers representing the permanent five member countries of the United Nations Security Council, including Germany, at UN Headquarters in New York September 26, 2013.

It is hard to resist the wave of optimism sweeping over Washington and Brussels this week. It seems that, after years of stasis, there is a sudden dawn of diplomatic engagement on two of the thorniest issues facing the West: Iran and Syria. The highest-level meeting in over a half-decade between Iran and the United States took place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly when Secretary of State John Kerry sat down with Tehran's foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif. Walking out of the meeting, Kerry lauded the "very different tone" coming from the Iranians, including a nascent agreement to start "substantive talks" on Tehran's nuclear program in October. All the while, Iran continues to spin its 3,000 centrifuges, getting ever closer to the amount of uranium needed to produce a bomb.

Meanwhile, most Americans have likely forgotten that just a few weeks ago, President Obama was on the verge of ordering some type of limited military strike to punish Damascus for its gassing of over a thousand innocent civilians. After Russian president Vladimir Putin jumped on Kerry's offhand remark about Syria giving up its chemical weapons, the Obama administration found itself maneuvered into a new Russian-brokered, U.N. diplomatic process. Yesterday, that process produced a completely predictable U.N. resolution calling on Damascus to surrender all its chemical weapons, one that is supposed to be "binding and enforceable" but includes no mention of the use of force to punish noncompliance. The stage is now set for Moscow to permanently block any future attempts to authorize military strikes, since such would undoubtedly be portrayed as counterproductive to the ongoing negotiations. Instead, Washington is now fully enmeshed in an open-ended set of negotiations, in which Syria's major benefactor, Russia, plays the role of supposedly disinterested umpire.

Yet John Kerry is simply following the examples of Republican and Democratic secretaries of state before him, all of whom got sucked into years of meaningless negotiations while their antagonists steadily developed weapons of mass destruction, gutted their countries' liberal opposition, and formed global networks of terror supporters and weapons proliferators. Few in America seem to care that dozens, maybe hundreds of U.S. troops were killed by Iranian-supplied IEDs and other weapons in Iraq. All that matters now is that a different tone is heard. 

The fairly recent Western belief that diplomacy is the only assured means to a more peaceful world of mutual understanding is light years away from older conceptions that hewed in spirit to Clausewitz's oft-misquoted remark that war is a continuation of policy by other means. Today authoritarian regimes that understand that diplomacy is an extension of conflict by other means, a perfect way to tie down, misdirect, and absorb the energies of your opponents. Dangle in front of them the glittering prize of peaceful coexistence, and you buy yourself at least a couple of years (and usually more) respite from any type of real pressure or threat of military action.

Yet common sense in international diplomacy seems to be as rare as optimism is overabundant. One does not need grand diplomatic conferences to solve problems like Syria's civil war, control of chemical weapons, or Iran's (or North Korea's) nuclear programs. If those regimes truly wanted to act according to international law and norms, they would. We would not have to entice them to do so. However, when we legitimate them, and undercut those struggling against their oppression, then we enter a world where words and agreements have no objective meaning. Our adversaries understand that, but sadly we seem not to. Tehran, Damascus, and others are simply playing the tune that Barack Obama wants to hear, not changing their tone in any real or meaningful way.

 

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Auslin

What's new on AEI

Defeating ISIS: AEI experts weigh-in before the president’s address on Wednesday
image Degrading, defeating, and destroying the Islamic State
image Wealth Building Home Loan: Building wealth through homeownership and retirement savings
image The $3 iPhone
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 15
    MON
  • 16
    TUE
  • 17
    WED
  • 18
    THU
  • 19
    FRI
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
The Constitution as political theory

Please join us for the third-annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture as James Ceasar, Harry F. Byrd Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, explores some of the Constitution’s most significant contributions to political theory, focusing on themes that have been largely unexamined in current scholarship.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | 8:10 a.m. – Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 1:30 p.m.
Third international conference on housing risk: New risk measures and their applications

We invite you to join us for this year’s international conference on housing risk — cosponsored by the Collateral Risk Network and AEI International Center on Housing Risk — which will focus on new mortgage and collateral risk measures and their applications.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 2:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Speaker of the House John Boehner on resetting America’s economic foundation

Please join us as Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) delivers his five-point policy vision to reset America’s economy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, September 19, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Reforming Medicare: What does the public think?

Please join us as a panel of distinguished experts explore the implications of the report and the consumer role in shaping the future of Medicare.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.