Haass' 'Tacit Diplomacy' Is Just a Smokescreen for Starting a War

Haass’ “tacit diplomacy” amounts to making threats to commit illegal aggression against Iran.

Richard Haass dismisses negotiations in Vienna to salvage the nuclear deal, and then makes this assertion:

And even if they do [succeed], any agreement will not resolve Iran’s push for regional primacy – or for nuclear weapons.

If Iran were seeking “regional primacy,” it lacks the power projection and resources to achieve it. Then again, there is scant evidence that Iran is interested in “regional primacy.” Their security strategy is not that ambitious. Iranian “regional primacy” or hegemony is a scenario that Iran hawks throw around to frighten people into supporting their bankrupt policies. Haass is simply engaging in threat inflation as a way to belittle current diplomatic efforts to resolve the nuclear issue.

There is also no evidence that Iran is “pushing” for nuclear weapons. Iran may want to have that option available in the future, but everything we have seen for the last 18 years points to a government that wants a developed nuclear program that stops short of building nuclear weapons. That may not be the optimal outcome, but it is the best one that is realistically available to us. If the administration wants to resolve the nuclear issue so that Iran doesn’t feel compelled to build a deterrent of its own, it would do well to ignore what Haass is proposing in this article. There is an achievable compromise to be had, but Haass and the Iran hawks aren’t interested in taking it.

Some of Haass’ article is little more than the typical whining that the JCPOA does not restrict things that it was never intended to restrict and never could have restricted. He trots out the old chestnuts of “regional activities” and ballistic missiles, which the Iranian government isn’t going to discuss in any case, and then faults a revival of the JCPOA for not addressing things that are far beyond the capacity of any nonproliferation agreement. These are silly and irrelevant objections to continued diplomacy with Iran, but Iran hawks hope that if they throw enough mud against the wall that something will stick.

Haass proposes substituting “tacit diplomacy or arms control without agreements” in the place of real diplomacy and a nonproliferation agreement that was working well until it was sabotaged by Trump. Haass’ “tacit diplomacy” amounts to making threats to commit illegal aggression against Iran: “the US and other concerned governments (including Israel) would communicate to Iran the limits to their tolerance regarding its nuclear capacity.” Since the U.S. and Israel already communicate this threat to Iran regularly, Haass’ proposal adds nothing new, and it shows how quickly he is willing to resort to threatening the use of force. It is relevant to note that Haass recently said in a podcast interview that he doesn’t think force should always be a last resort. His idea of “tacit diplomacy” doesn’t really have anything to do with diplomacy as most states understand it. He is talking about starting a war if Iran doesn’t capitulate. This is an inherently unreasonable position to take, but because it gets the stamp of approval from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations it is taken seriously.

When critics talk about the “Blob,” this is exactly the kind of hawkish, conformist, and morally bankrupt thinking that we’re referring to. Almost everything that’s wrong with U.S. foreign policy is on display in this article: threat inflation, a failure to understand or even attempt to understand the other government’s position, a dismissive attitude towards diplomatic compromise, a proclivity to use force when it is both unnecessary and illegal, and unrealistic expectations of the efficacy of military action. Haass is not as much of a fanatical hard-liner as Bolton or Pompeo, but the core of his argument is no different from the ones they have made. When an analyst assumes that the U.S. has the right to attack other countries that can’t and don’t threaten our country, that is how you know that he is part of the “Blob.”

The best way to guarantee that Iran builds nuclear weapons is to threaten them with attack and then to attack them. A wise statesman would recognize that Iran’s interest in nuclear weapons will only increase if its leaders believe their country’s security is threatened. Haass’ “tacit diplomacy” would push Iran towards acquiring nuclear weapons. Instead of avoiding war and preventing further proliferation, Haass’ approach would practically guarantee both war and proliferation.