Saturday, April 12, 2008

Diplomacy, and the Coming War with Iran

(Updated)

And now, events begin to accelerate...

I've been reading some interesting analysis from the US Navy, in particular this. While the document itself is a look at the Reagan-era Cold War, the part I'm excerpting is a general look at diplomatic theory, that, to me, seems particulary relelvant to our ongoing war of nerves with Iran:

This research suggests that a purely hard-line strategy aimed at forcing the other state out of existence is unlikely to be successful...Coercive diplomacy is a strategy that employs threats, especially military threats, to pressure a target state to change its behavior. Research...finds that the strategy fails much more often than it succeeds...Coercion is especially unlikely to succeed when the other side would threaten its survival by giving in to the demands placed on it...

In contrast to coercive diplomacy, which seeks to stop or change a course of action already underway, deterrence seeks to prevent an action from being initiated by threatening to impose costs on the target state if it takes that action...the most powerful threat the deterrer can issue is the threat to eliminate the ruling regime in the other state.

So...coercive diplomacy is threatening them to change their behavior, and deterrence is threatening them if they change their behavior.

For this deterrent... to work, the target state must have assurance that, as long as it does not take the action being deterred, it will not suffer the threatened punishment...If the deterrer announces plans to try to change the regime in the other state whether or not it acts aggressively, then the other side has no incentive to be deterred. Without the assurance that the regime will be permitted to survive if it behaves itself, the target state might as well take a chance on obtaining the benefits of aggression... an expressed intent of forcing the other side's collapse undermines the chances that coercive diplomacy will lead to behavior modification. Without an assurance that a change in behavior will result in the lifting of the coercive pressure, why would any state give in? In contrast, coercive diplomacy is more likely to succeed when it is accompanied by positive incentives...The net benefits of changing its behavior are made greater if, in addition to the lifting of coercive pressure, the target state can also obtain new, positive rewards. This also provides a degree of face saving for the other side, which can claim it accepted a bargain and did not simply cave in to outside pressure. Coercion is most likely to be effective, therefore, if it seeks to change the other side's behavior without seeking to cause the other side's collapse and it includes the promise of positive benefits...

So. A stick and a carrot. The classic tools of conditioning. Let's look at this a little more closely. And any effort to coerce is more likely to succeed if accompanied by an opportunity.

For this deterrent threat to work, the target state must have assurance that, as long as it does not take the action being deterred, it will not suffer the threatened punishment.

Therefore, if we were truly trying to change Iran's behavior, we would be offering some positive re-inforcement, negotiations, perhaps the groundwork for some sort of diplomatic reconciliation, or something else-but something. We are not. Not only that...one thing the invasion of Iraq and the hanging of Saddam Hussein proves is that neither nations nor individuals must always be guilty, or if guilty, not of the stated charges.

If the deterrer announces plans to try to change the regime in the other state whether or not it acts aggressively, then the other side has no incentive to be deterred.

This was the whole point of Iran's inclusion on the "Axis of Evil" target list, and is considered policy by no less than General William Odom, in his testimony to the Senate..."If the president merely renounced his threat of regime change by force... " Another thing the Iraqi tragedy demonstrates is the willingness of the US to use a pretext to effect a regime change, which in Saddam's case has been sought since 1991. Iran and the US have been engaged in hostilities since 1979. Hence, Iran would be wise to assume that any excuse would do for the US, and they thus have very little to gain by cooperating.

Without the assurance that the regime will be permitted to survive if it behaves itself, the target state might as well take a chance on obtaining the benefits of aggression.
Therefore, the motive exists for an Iranian first-strike, possibly in southern Iraq, possibly in the Gulf or Straits of Hormuz, probably through its assymetrical surrogates like Hezbollah and Hamas. It seems that a goal of diplomacy, any diplomacy, should be toward reducing incentives for a first-strike, instead of provoking one. Therefore...what would a policy designed to be provocative towards Iran look like? It would threaten military action, and therefore demand a ready Iranian hair-trigger response; and it would have a covert-action component, gathering intelligence, marking targets, and probably running operations inside Iran, trying to provoke that response. It makes me wonder about this.

Research...on...attempted coercive diplomacy finds that the strategy fails much more often than it succeeds.

Simply stated, the likelihood of "success" in this impending misadventure is small. Why pursue it? Who benefits?

So. The whole point of the campaign against Iran is regime change, just as it has been since 1979 (except when Reagan was selling them weapons). There are frequent comparisons of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad to Adolf Hitler in the US media. US naval forces are massing in the region.

And then there are those bitterly cynical political questions re attacking Iran: benefits? risks? opportunities?
Americans will simultaneously rally around the flag and denounce the attack, splitting the country into a bitter division that politically benefits reactionary conservatives by disillusioning and demoralizing the young and newly-idealistic. The Straits of Hormuz may be closed, sending oil into a price spike, with the resultant unemployment and inflation echoing through the economy. Spiking prices means spiking profits. Hmmm. The opportunity to further extend military control over the oil resources of the Middle East, although this would require declaring victory in Iraq and sending that Army into Iran.
I think I am somewhat measured in my take of most things. However, I believe that a cold reading of the theory, juxtaposed, with the reality of our actions, lead to a conclusion: our intentions are either to start a war with Iran, provoke Iran into starting one with us, or create the climate where a mistake or accident that can be claimed as just cause will occur. I am not an alarmist...but it sure looks to me, for the first time, like Bush might really do it. If so, my current prediction is: new moon, first week of August. Knock the Democratic Convention right off the TV. Secondary prediction: new moon, 29th October. An "October Surprise" to help elect John McCain, make all of the Democrats Iraq arguments irrelevant, and put opponents neatly back into that "support the troops" trap, which no tactician has yet learned how to effectively counter. A divided and disillusioned electorate stays home in November, further helping McCain...
I reserve the right to change my mind, and I pray to the powers that I am wrong, but as I write this, I really think Bush may go for it.

God help us all. I'd like to wake up now, please.

4 comments:

snowman429 said...

I too fear an October Surprise and am actually expecting one. My question to you is how can another war be stopped by us citizens. After all, we still can't get out of Iraq.

Ron said...

Hi Snowman. The range of possible actions a citizen can take are too many to list, but a wise person once told me, "If you want to bring the system to its' knees, stop consuming." I think this is still true; I think strikes, targeted boycotts, informational campaigns, donating money to worthy causes and marching are all valid tactics. Write letters. Make phone calls. Volunteer for progressive candidates. Work for justice, fairness, and equality at every opportunity. The only rule is don't quit-ever.

Thank you for coming by, and please come again!

Galrahn said...

Ron,

Great read, excellent analysis.

Mike said...

Ron, this is an excellent analysis of the threat of a tyrant; ours, I mean. It was very well said. I hope, for our nation's sake, that you are wrong on both dates.