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There Is No Good Reason to Give Up on Diplomacy with Iran
Opponents of diplomacy can pretend that this has something to do with standing on principle, but it is really just vanity.
Hillary Clinton offers some bad advice:
The US should not be negotiating with Iran “on anything right now,” including a nuclear agreement, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday.
“I would not be negotiating with Iran on anything right now, including the nuclear agreement,” Clinton told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday, adding that the horse is “out of the barn.”
Clinton is hardly alone in calling for an abandonment of diplomacy in response to Iran’s crackdown on protesters, so it may be worth spelling out why this sort of short-sighted posturing is harmful to U.S. interests and to the people of Iran. If the U.S. is ever going to have success in negotiating with adversarial authoritarian governments to advance toward its policy goals, it cannot tie its hands by conditioning the negotiations themselves on other actions that those governments take in unrelated areas. The nuclear issue is one where the downsides of refusing to negotiate are potentially so great that it makes no sense to reject engagement unless one wants to create conditions for rising tension and conflict.
The aversion to negotiating stems in part from the idea that negotiating with an oppressive government is a reward for them and therefore one shouldn’t “reward” a government that is abusing its own people. That idea gets things as wrong as can be. Our government doesn’t negotiate with another government as a favor to their side, but as a means of securing our interests. If it is done well, diplomacy should produce mutually beneficial agreements, but then that means that refusing to negotiate amounts to denying yourself the potential benefits of an agreement out of spite. Opponents of diplomacy can pretend that this has something to do with standing on principle, but it is really just vanity. It is the position that people choose to take when they already wanted to oppose diplomacy but need a plausible excuse for it.
Critics of the nuclear deal have tried to bring in other issues to undermine negotiations for many years. Sometimes they will talk about Iranian missiles, and other times they will complain about Iran’s support for regional proxies, and now some of them point to domestic repression as the latest reason to give up on talks. The purpose of bringing up these unrelated matters is to distract people from the reality that the only thing that has reliably limited Iran’s nuclear program is a negotiated compromise.
Ellie Geranmayeh sensibly argues against giving up on addressing the nuclear issue through diplomacy:
The West is right to condemn Iran’s domestic repression and should look at measures to protect Iranian protesters. But it needs to also make a new diplomatic push to ensure Iran doesn’t get the bomb. Guaranteeing that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and safe is in the interest not only of the West, but also of Iran’s neighbors and the Iranian people.
Giving up on nuclear negotiations won’t do anything to improve the Iranian government’s conduct anywhere else, but it will make the nuclear issue the cause of renewed tensions that may lead to a crisis in the next year or two. Abandoning diplomacy isn’t doing anything useful for the people of Iran. It is obvious that keeping Iran under Trump-era sanctions even longer only hurts ordinary Iranians, because they are the ones that suffer the most under those sanctions and because their government’s repression intensifies while those sanctions are in place. The most realistic way to deliver sanctions relief to the people is to conclude the negotiations with their government, no matter how unsavory one may find the latter to be. Continuing negotiations to salvage as much of the nuclear deal as possible is still the best way forward, if only because we know that every other course of action is a dead end.