Permissible Arms

Slingshot politics

A lot to cover today.

I got oversaturated pretty quickly with information and speculation about the Times Square bombing, but I recommend Kings of War, All Things Counterterrorism, and obviously LWJ for the story. And Steve Coll has some perspective:

Anyone who tries to set a vehicle on fire in Times Square on a warm Saturday night is going to make news in a big way. Presumably that was the primary goal of the perpetrators—to attract attention, to spawn fear. The very amateurishness of the attack—unlike the Christmas Day attack, for example, it does not immediately call into question the competence of the government’s defenses—offers President Obama the opportunity to start talking back to terrorists everywhere in a more resilient, sustainable language than he has yet discovered. By which I mean: They intend to frighten us; we are not frightened. They intend to kill and maim; we will bring them to justice. They intend to attract attention for their extremist views; the indiscriminate nature of their violence only discredits and isolates them.

Secdef Gates delivered some mixed news to the Navy this morning (full remarks h/t DoDBuzz):

“Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?” Gates asked. “Any future plans must address these realities.”

In a pointed speech about the future of the naval arsenal, the secretary told a gathering of naval officers and contractors that no U.S. adversaries are attempting to out-build the U.S. fleet. Rather, he said, they are developing other ways to neutralize U.S. power. He cited Hezbollah’s anti-ship missiles and Iran’s use of everything from cruise missiles to “swarming speedboats.”

In response, he called for more shallow-water capabilities, long-range drones and sea-based missile defenses.

What’s the saying, fighting the next war while you’re still building for the last one? That seems to be the idea Gates is battling.

Two bits on Kyrgyzstan, which has kind of dropped off the face of news coverage in the last several days. First, the interim government has turned the state-run KTR television channel into a public broadcasting station, which is effectively a show of faith from the interim government to show Kyrgyzs that it’s going to keep the promises it made. Which is great, but more than anything I really love the picture that accompanied the article, reposted here.

The interim government has also authorized cash rewards in exchange for information that helps capture the former government’s leadership, presumably to answer for crimes committed.

Of interest, AFRICOM is undergoing a three-week Operation Flintlock as part of its The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. It’s effectively a military exercise designed to train partner African nations in counterterrorism programs as a deterrent method. At least twelve nations and 1200 people are involved. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

From Diplopundit, it’s been a tough time for mandarins as of late.

And finally, I’m reading Paul Scharre’s article in the AFJ about meeting needs for irregular and conventional warfare in the Army. More thoughts when I’m finished reading, but figured the COINers and anti-COINers would be interested.

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Friday Errata

Linkdump of what I’m reading over the weekend:

How to Measure the War by Jason Campbell, Michael E. O’Hanlon and Jeremy Shapiro:

The news is not all bad, however. With the help of outside donors, the Afghan government has made great strides in providing increased access to basic health care, with 82 percent of the population now living in districts that have a basic package of health care programs, up considerably from 9 percent in 2003. This metric is of limited value for truly sick individuals, who probably still cannot access health care in many cases. But it has translated into significant improvements in the rate of vaccinations as well as infant and child mortality rates. Though literacy rates continue to linger at less than 30 percent, more than 6 million children currently attend over 9,000 schools. Gender equity is improving as 2 million of the students are girls and 40,000 of the 142,000 teachers are women. This represents a marked improvement over the Taliban years. Finally, telephone usage has increased dramatically to an estimated 7 million Afghans, up from just 1 million in 2002.

Course Correction by Ganesh Sitaraman:

The project underway at Camp Julien aims to help the United States and its allies succeed where King Amanullah, the Russians, and even the mujahedin failed. Julien is home to the Counterinsurgency Training Center–Afghanistan, where U.S. and coalition forces are trying to teach themselves and Afghans how to fight a different kind of war. For one week each month, 130 students descend on Julien to learn about counterinsurgency. Attendees come from every possible background: U.S. and coalition troops of all ranks, ages, and nationalities; State Department and USAID personnel; Afghan soldiers and police; members of NGOs; contractors; Army anthropologists. (I was there in July as part of my research on law in situations of counterinsurgency.)

The Missing Debate in Afghanistan by Peggy Noonan:

It is strange—it is more than strange, and will confound the historians of the future—that Gen. McChrystal has not been asked to testify before Congress about Afghanistan, about what the facts are on the ground, what is doable, what is desirable, how the war can be continued, and how it can end. He—and others, including experienced members of the military past and present, and foreign-policy professionals—should be called forth to talk to the country in the clearest terms under questioning from our elected representatives.

Before the surge in Iraq, we had the Petraeus hearings, which were nothing if not informative, and helped form consensus. Two generations earlier, we had the Fulbright hearings on Vietnam, which were in their way the first formal, if deeply and inevitably contentious, airing of what was at stake there and what our position was.

Why are we not doing this now? Why are we treating Afghanistan almost like an afterthought, interesting and important but not as urgent a question as health care?

Robert Gates: Solidly in the Middle of the Afghan Strategy Storm by David Wood:

Today, that hard work is paying off as even some congressional Democrats, skeptical of McChrystal’s proposed plan for Afghanistan, are suggesting they wait until they’ve heard what Gates thinks. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has criticized the McChrystal proposal as too troop-heavy. Congress at some point ought to hear directly from McChrystal and Petraeus, Levin said last Sunday. “But above them all is a secretary of defense. We ought to focus on what will Secretary Gates’ recommendation be to the president . . . we ought to listen to the secretary of defense when he makes up his mind.”

If Tehran Gets the Bomb: How Iranian nukes would reshape the Middle East by Lee Smith:

If Iran gets the bomb, other regional powers will pursue nuclear programs—if they are not already doing so. Inevitably in a region as volatile as this, there will be a few small-scale nuclear catastrophes, probably rulers targeting their own people. Saddam gassed the Kurds and slaughtered the Shiites, Hafez Assad massacred the Sunnis of Hama, and mass graves throughout the region testify to the willingness of Arab rulers to kill their own people—in their hands, a nuclear weapon is merely an upgrade in repressive technology. Still, it’s extremely unlikely the regimes will use these weapons against their regional rivals. Remember, the main reason these states support nonstate terror groups is to deter one another and thus avoid all-out war.

Ingushetia’s cycle of violence by Dom Rotheroe:

It is a complaint we hear all over Ingushetia, that there is no law or justice. In a society in which blood vendettas are part of a man’s honour, young male relatives of the deceased have to seek their own justice.

They head into the hills to get a gun and take revenge. And while with the extremists, their ideology may shift accordingly. Some may become suicide bombers, of which the North Caucasus has seen a resurgence this summer, culminating in an attack on Ingushetia’s main police station in August which killed 21 and injured more than 100 more.

My most poignant memory of the Albakov family is of Batyr’s younger brother, Beslan. Beslan’s rejects blood revenge and wants legal justice for his brother, a justice he knows will never come. He also knows that the security forces will suspect him of seeking revenge and therefore may come for him at any time.

His quietly desperate face is the face of Ingushetia today, trapped between the rock and hard place of the militants and the authorities who seem intent on feeding the ever-growing cycle of violence.

I could be reading Shakespeare right now.

Posted in us politics by Karaka on 27 September 2009

I had the dubious pleasure of reading Paul Wolfowitz’s analysis of current foreign policy in the current issue of, well, Foreign Policy. (Link.) I know it came out six weeks ago, but seriously, the gall and idiocy and revision of history that this man is intent on portraying is shocking and abhorrent to me. Some thoughts in response. Warning: long. Warning: Wolfowitz is as hawkish and frustrating now as he was eight years ago.

Unquestionably, what makes realism seem so plausible today is skepticism about the war in Iraq and the belief that it was part of a crusade to “impose” democracy by force. I believe, to the contrary, that the purpose of the war was to remove a threat to national and international security. Whether the Iraq war was right or wrong, it was not about imposing democracy, and the decision to establish a representative government afterward was the most realistic option, compared with the alternatives of installing another dictator or prolonging the U.S. occupation. In Afghanistan, the same choice was made for the same reasons after the Taliban fell, and many realists not only supported that decision, but argued for putting even more effort into “nation-building.” This is not the place to reargue the Iraq war. So let’s stipulate that the issue here is not whether to use military force to promote changes in the nature of states; it’s about whether — and how — to promote such changes peacefully.

First of all, way to be unclear about whether that threat was Saddam Hussein or his mythical arsenal. I should think it’s pretty clear that Wolfowitz has had a hard-on for ousting Hussein from power since the Gulf War, and that Wolfowitz genuinely believes removing him from power was a valid reason for invading the Iraqi nation. Second of all, “the most realistic option” was to propagate a democratic system so fragile that international forces remain on the ground seven years post-invasion to secure an election? Excuse me if I am not convinced by this reasoning. I agree with Wolfowitz that the reason for the invasion was not to promote a democracy; no one in the administration gave a flying expletive for what happened after the Republican Guard was taken down and Saddam Hussein was captured. No, Wolfowitz, nation-building was not the goal. The goal was far more thuggish than that, and to gloss over such reasoning by claiming “this is not the place to reargue the Iraq war” undermines your very thesis, for without the pretext of nation-building there is nothing but schoolyard power plays to explain your pretext for war and invasion seven years ago.

Third of effing all, CAN WE PLEASE STOP COMPARING AFGHANISTAN TO IRAQ. It is a FALSE COMPARISON and you, sir, should know better.

U.S. foreign policy does indeed have multiple goals that must be balanced, but promoting reform is often one of them. Brutal regimes will not behave better if the United States speaks nicely about them. In fact, the perception of U.S. weakness in supporting its friends is a great disadvantage when negotiating with regimes like those in North Korea and Iran that are quick to perceive vulnerability. These states will negotiate — if they do — when they see it in their interest, not because the United States soft-pedals its differences. And eliciting this cooperation requires leverage. For example, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program not because the Bush administration spoke nicely to him, but because he feared American will. Sometimes, the pressure for change that comes from a country’s own people or elites might be the United States’ best source of leverage on such regimes.

You know, “American exceptionalism” is not an excuse for undermining the governments of other countries. The sanctity of “American interests” does not insulate this nation from behaving in accordance with the accepted civility of most of the world’s nations. The United States comes out looking far more like Iran and North Korea in terms of brutish regime when it chooses by will to enter other countries and topple their governments.

I do acknowledge that the lives of the citizens of those countries are often ones led in poverty, fear, and abuse by the regimes that rule them. But we did not enter Afghanistan to liberate its people. We did not invade Iraq to address human rights violations. To claim otherwise is blatantly lying, and to insinuate that a show of American power and strength is valid reasoning for martial foreign policy is foolish, short-sighted, and as brutal as the regimes Wolfowitz claims to abhor. Promoting reform does not mean capturing a nation’s leader on trumped-up crimes. Promoting reform does not mean making up an excuse to enter a nation against that nation’s wishes. And promoting reform sure as hell doesn’t mean assisting in the ousting of the leaders of a nation to institute a democracy from the outside.

I am not naive; the United States has done this and more by the will not only of its President but by the representatives of its people in Congress. But that does not make it right. And past history does not make the argument any more valid today; in truth, it makes the argument less valid. Should we not learn from our mistakes? Must we be doomed to repeat them again, and again?

It is not uncommon to hear realists today arguing that Muslims don’t really want U.S. support for democracy, especially after the Iraq war. And yet, when Obama announced, during his important speech at Cairo University, that he would address democracy, his audience applauded before he could say another word. His three short paragraphs on democracy were interrupted twice more by applause — and then by someone shouting, “Barack Obama, we love you!” to yet more applause. Although the president spoke of “controversy” surrounding the promotion of democracy, his Arab audience welcomed this allegedly controversial subject with enthusiasm.

That a large audience in the heart of the Arab world is so eager to hear the U.S. president champion democracy is an important fact that any realistic foreign policy must consider. The Obama administration’s temptation to distance itself from its predecessor’s policies is understandable, but this shouldn’t mean abandoning the promotion of democratic reform.

Oh, fuck you, Wolfowitz. To claim that the reaction to Obama’s speech in Egypt, whose relationship to the West is at least as strong as its relationship to the Muslim world, is a purposeful obfuscation of the event. Egypt is one of a handful of representative governments in the Arab world, first of all, and while the Bush administration was very public about its dubious view of Egypt’s democracy it is in fact a republic. The fact that Obama received such a strong reaction to the subject of his speech spoke more to the Maṣreyyīn populace’s desire for more transparency and a refinement of their own democratic process than any high-minded pan-Arabic call for democracy across two dozen nations.

The best word for these two paragraphs is “appropriation,” an action which Mr Wolfowitz is very talented at doing.

“Promoting Democracy Is Dangerously Destabilizing.”

Not necessarily. Elections, even flawed ones, can be positive catalysts for change in autocratic states, as we saw in the Marcos case and during the recent events in Iran. It is true that elections are no panacea: The Bush administration was frustrated when terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah gained power through the ballot box. Elections alone don’t automatically produce the institutions needed to protect liberty and foster tolerance. But if there is risk in promoting democratic reform, there is also risk in doing nothing, which hurts America’s reputation as people see the United States acquiescing in their oppression.

RECENT EVENTS IN IRAN, AGAIN, DID NOT SERVE AS A CATALYST FOR CHANGE. And Iranians were not wroth at the re-election of Ahmadinejad per se; to borrow Hooman Majd’s argument, they were pissed off that their haq had been screwed around with. And furthermore, the election never addressed the true base of power in Iran, namely the Ayatollahs; so whatever the sweet hell he’s talking about with regards to Iran has no basis in reality.

And OF FLIPPING COURSE the Bush administration was pissed when political groups they considered terrorists ascended to power, but you know what we call that? DEMOCRACY, ASSHOLE. Jesus christ, can we get some definition of terms up in here? [Sorry for the allcaps. Sometimes there is no other way to convey one’s intense feeling on the inter-tubes.]

“As people see the United States acquiescing in their oppression.” Oh, please. See above as to why the United States should not simply saunter into a country and oust a government it doesn’t like; and any such action sure as hell has nothing to do with the United States Government’s concern about the human rights of the citizens of other nations. Not to be cynical, but when 13% of the United States own citizenry live in poverty, human rights is not a grave concern for this nation.

The goal should not be revolution, but rather evolutionary change. That’s the best chance for true long-term stability. Most of all, when opportunities for genuine reform open up, as is happening now not only in Iraq and Lebanon but also in Morocco and elsewhere, the United States should give reformers all the support that it can. Of course, the United States will depend on some Arab autocrats to help promote a peaceful settlement of Arab-Israeli issues — issues that constitute another, perhaps even greater, source of anti-Americanism. But the role those leaders play in any peace process will turn on hard calculations of their own self-interest, not the stance the United States takes toward reform.

Does support mean arming reformists or revolutionaries so they can send their country into civil war? Does it mean occupying a country until it pushes out a president despite massive election fraud and personal threats to its citizens? Does it mean using brute strength to depose a nation’s leader? Gee, I wonder what “opportunities for genuine reform” and “support” actually mean! Let’s dance around the words a little more.

And excuse me if I’m being willfully obtuse, but if the author chooses to criticize other nations’ self-interest yet privilege the self-interest of the United States, doesn’t that seem grossly hypocritical? Or are we just supposed to assume that American self-interest is, really and truly, the only self-interest that matters?

“Paul Wolfowitz Is a Utopian.”

No, I’m just being realistic. I’ve been called many things, and utopian is hardly the worst. Ironically, while “utopia” is Greek for “nowhere,” almost everywhere you look today you find people who share a belief in democracy.

Pardon my hysterical laughter. Utopian, noun: an idealistic (but usually impractical) social reformer. Oh, honey, it’s not the impracticalness that concerns me. It’s the blind zealotry, the absence of any understanding of the United States in relation to the rest of the world, the privileging of the United States over all other nations, and the “reform” that amounts to brutal, martial thuggishness in search of ill-defined, unpredictable, awful goals.

I don’t know what world Wolfowitz believes he in living in, but this glimpse at his worldview terrifies the crap out of me.

Two Older White Dudes, Reviewed.

Posted in afghanistan, american media, pakistan, us defense, us politics by Karaka on 22 September 2009

There are a couple profiles out of key players in today’s military-political-defense scene. First is Noah Shachtman ‘s look at Sec. Defense Robert Gates over at Wired:

Every secdef talks about changing the Pentagon, then almost immediately gets stymied by bureaucratic resistance. Only this time, Gates’ talk is turning into action—a Gates Doctrine, if you will. Its core tenets: Base policy on the wars that are most likely to happen and the technology that’s most likely to work. Stop trying to buy the future when you can’t afford the present. With a White House veteran’s feel for Washington, a love of policy, a penchant for secrecy, and an old man’s sense of the ticking clock, the silver-haired administrator has become the most dangerous person in the military-industrial complex. “I’ve referred to myself as the secretary of war, because we’re at war,” he says in a nasal Kansas twang, raising his voice over the roar of the plane’s engines. “This is a department that principally plans for war. It’s not organized to wage war. And that’s what I’m trying to fix.”

Also related, a similar look at Gates from the NYT:

The looming decision on Afghanistan could put Mr. Gates’s experience to the test as never before. With both Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now on record as saying more combat troops would be required for victory, Mr. Gates must balance his commanders’ desires and his president’s stated skepticism.

As sort of the single major holdover from the transition from Bush to Obama, Gates seems to be in a unique position to advise the President on previous doctrine, namely the “suggestions” and “deadlines” left in place by a Cheney-directed group of defence aides; the desires of the military officials (McChrystal and Mullen and, as other bloggers never fail to remind me, McKiernan as well before his dismissal) to shore up the troops and resources; the limits of Obama’s political willingness to remain in Afghanistan; and the places all of those different things intersect.

Either way, he’s an interesting man to follow.

The New Yorker’s George Packer goes in-depth with US Special Representative to Afghanistan-Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. That links to the abstract; the print edition won’t be out until the 28th, and I will be patiently waiting for it until then. (Unless some friendly reader can hook me up with an electronic copy?) Either way, given how much influence Holbrooke has on the President, I am certain it will be an interesting read.

Boom boom boom

Posted in iran, iraq, united states, us politics by Karaka on 16 September 2009

Quick hits on the American government:

Defense Sec. Gates addressed and reviewed the Air Force today [Stars & Stripes]:

“Contrary to what some have alleged,” he said, the Pentagon’s efforts at “institutionalizing” irregular warfare capabilities, such as Predator and Reaper drones — which have doubled in Afghanistan this year — is not a sign of a total restructuring.

Interesting in light of the several Predator missions that have been in the news lately.

In your hit of feel-good news today, US Military News reports on the opening of schools in Karmah, Anbar Province, Iraq.

The opening of the first of two dozen new and refurbished schools and a new meeting place were celebrated Sept. 9, in an area northwest of Baghdad thought by many to be lost to poverty and violence…For the more-than-three-dozen ongoing school and water projects begun in the Karmah area by the ISF and Marine partnership, the Marine civil affairs planners and their Army counterparts are working hard to enable a seamless transition, [Sgt. 1st Class David Lowry] said.

Seriously, give me a couple more stories like that. Of course, if similar stories are published, they will be used as propaganda to fuel a withdrawal from Afghanistan (because as we learned earlier, Iraq and Afghanistan are the same thing).

From the NYT, Sec. State Clinton talks about Iranian talks:

“Iran says it has a number of issues it wishes to discuss with us,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters. “But what we are concerned about is discussing with them the questions surrounding their nuclear program and ambitions.”

What I would give to be a fly on the wall in a room with both Clinton and Ahmadinejad. Jesus.

Michael Lynch analyzes the impact of elections in unstable countries. Three stars, well worth the read.

The similarity in American thinking about the role assigned to elections in the Iraqi and Afghan case bears particular attention. In each case, the elections are supposed to do very specific things for American strategy: legitimate the political order, bring excluded challengers into the political process, resolve enduring political conflicts, create a political foundation for the counter-insurgency campaign. … As the national elections approach, then, analysts and policymakers should be attentive to what might go wrong and should not assume that the elections will “solve” anything. Politics won’t end.

To which I say again: IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN ARE NOT THE SAME NATION.

Sigh.

Finally, The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder looks at Obama’s changed view on the Patriot Act.

The Obama administration wants Congress to reauthorize three controversial provisions of the 2001 USA Patriot Act scheduled to expire later this year, but said in a letter to two senators that it is open to adding (unspecified) civil liberties safeguards. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the sunsetting provisions next week and wants to consider broader reforms. Five months ago, it asked the administration for its views; just yesterday, the administration responded. Some of the changes to the law Barack Obama sought as a senator — including modifications to the administrative subpoena power known as National Security Letters — are not part of the corpus of his views today.

Interesting, and worth reporting, but not altogether that surprising.

A bicycle built for two.

Posted in iran by Karaka on 14 September 2009

The hardest thing about going away is catching up when you get back. I took a folio of articles, position essays, and papers with me, and managed to get through about quarter of them in the relatively distraction-less trip out East; but on the way back I was too shot to think intelligently about anything, much less contemporary war doctrine. So I’ve spent the last several days earmarking the (many, many) many things I need to follow up on; in the meantime, I’ve managed to connect a couple dots.

I’m in the middle of Hooman Majd’s excellent book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ. This is the 2009 edition, with Majd’s new preface addressing the Iranian election process from this summer. He writes:

Over forty million voted in Iran’s presidential election, 63% for the sitting president, according to his own Interior Ministry. It took a day or so, but that’s when it struck dismayed Iranians: of course, they were never going to let anyone but Ahmadinejad win. That’s why his campaign was anemic, that’s why he didn’t seem to care that his challengers were gaining on him, and that’s why he was so arrogant in the aftermath. This had never happened before…Thirty years have passed since the revolution, exactly thirty years, and Iranians weren’t mad that Ahmadinejad won reelection on June 12. They were and are still mad that the one thing, the one true element of democracy they had–their vote–had seemingly become meaningless.

I reference this passage (from page XV) not because it’s an insightful look at the drama that took place this summer, and offers a distinctly Iranian perspective that counters the generally Western perspective about that election, though it certainly is insightful. But the central thesis of his book–the Iranian preoccupation with haq, or rights (I can’t immediately find a good explanation of this) as a fundamental way to understand the Iranian people–is as omnipresent here as it is in the Iranian government’s position on nuclear development.

The Times reported today the news that the United States and Iran would enter into talks for the first time in thirty years, since the American hostage crisis in 1979.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, vowed last week that Tehran would never halt its production of enriched uranium — the fuel used in nuclear weapons. At the same time the Iranians offered western critics a broader discussion on “co-operation, peace and justice”. US officials said expectations of a breakthrough were “extremely low”, but the State Department said Washington was ready to test whether Iran was genuinely interested in dialogue.

Even acknowledging Russia’s clear disinclination to support UN sanctions against Iran, I find it interesting that this attempt is being made. It seems like all the pieces are firm on the chess board, and at most this is a show of the Obama administration’s commitment to a different appearance on international affairs from his presidential forbears. And should that be true, it seems unlikely that this new attempt to open talks will result in anything but a stalemate. If, as Majd suggests in his book, Iran in the form of its government (in the form of Ahmadinejad) views the development of nuclear technology to be a fundamental issue of haq, then an international (Western) force to constrain or halt that development could only be viewed as an infringement on haq, reinforcing anti-Western-imperialist fervor.

What is gained by taking this route if the pieces won’t move? I’m reminded of the May debate on NPR’s Intelligence Squared, whose topic was Is Diplomacy with Iran Going Nowhere?. It was debated by Liz Cheney and Daniel Senor in favor of the motion, and Nicholas Burns and Kenneth Pollack against. Both sides eventually came around to sort of agreeing that as there currently is no diplomacy with Iran (and there has not really been for thirty years), the motion could be interpreted in two ways. Either we have not had diplomacy (or we have not had enough diplomacy) with Iran, and thus we should start before taking more drastic, permanent measures; or we should thus assume that we have not had diplomacy with Iran because we could not have diplomacy with Iran, and there is no reason to disbelieve that such a state would not continue, so we should go forth with stronger UN-backed sanctions to corral Iran’s nuclear programme.

I acknowledge that I greatly simplify that debate, and it’s well worth the time to listen to. Christopher Hitchens’ new article on these talks with Iran, “Engaging With Iran Is Like Having Sex With Someone Who Hates You,” (which wins my favorite title of the day) says:

So it would be nice to know, even if no “conditions” or “preconditions” (this seems like a distinction without much difference) are to be exacted, whether the administration has assured itself on two points. The first of these is: Do we seriously expect the Islamic Republic to be negotiating in good faith about its nuclear program? And the second is: What do we know about the effect of these proposed talks on the morale and the leadership of the Iranian opposition? … Might it be possible—you will, I hope, forgive my cynicism—that this latest initiative from Tehran is yet another attempt to buy time or run out the clock?

and I ask that we consider this. Is there any possible outcome of talks that would truly secure Iran’s agreement to abandon, or at least limit, its nuclear programme? Because, taking also Majd’s subtext that Iranians and Americans are somewhat more alike than either people would like to admit, if it was American rights being infringed upon, American defensive capabilities being restricted by a larger force, would we ever agree to such a limitation?

Doubtful.

I for one hope that something useful can come out of these talks, however they come about, but at the end of the day I suspect my cynicism runs closer to Hitchens’. Outside looking in, it seems so unlikely that anything truly productive for either side could come out of these negotiations. But I suppose that’s no reason not to try.

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