"Take your carrots and stick 'em up your…"

With Seymour Hersh’s piece on US plans for a possible attack on Iran, with nuclear weapons being discussed, I’m starting to wonder about the Bush administration’s ability to actually practice diplomacy. And I think they might be on to something.

I once read that “diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ while reaching for a stick.” In that sense, that very well could be the Bush administration’s notion of diplomacy with regards to Iran. And with the current Iranian regime acting like a mad dog, it might just be the right approach.

Traditional diplomacy has followed the carrot and stick approach. Go along, and get a reward. Cause problems, get whacked. Liberals show their disdain for the stick, preferring to go for the carrot/no carrot model. That is a nice, moral, ethical position, but doesn’t take into account the situations like Iran, when they don’t put much value on the carrot.

The Bush administration (from my perspective) seems to have realized that the carrot is pretty useless here — the only use Iran has for any carrots we offer is to stick ’em up our… well, where the sun don’t shine, and then break it off. That leaves us just the stick approach.

Fortunately, there are numerous sticks available. One such is the UN. (Yeah, that’s a pretty flimsy twig, but it’s something.) We’re pressuring the UN and the IAEA to lean on Iran over its nuclear ambitions. That isn’t doing much, but the mere thought that the IAEA might refer the matter to the UN Security Council has Iran in a huge hissy.

Another stick is public statements and public pressure. We’re doing that, too.

A third stick is subtle, unspoken threats. In Hersh’s piece, he reports numerous military exercises being conducted right in front of Iran. We are showing them just what we can do, should we so choose. We even have bombers practicing the “over-the-shoulder” bomb-tossing maneuver that has only one application — releasing a nuclear bomb, and then getting the hell out of the bomb’s blast area.

A fourth stick is just a theory I’ve heard, but it makes sense. Hersh’s piece is based on a bunch of sources. Every single one that talks about Bush the war-monger, Bush the psycho, Bush the Messiah, is anonymous. Could this whole story be a deliberate leak by the Bush administration, playing the good cop/bad cop game? Could Hersh have been used to deliver a message to Iran and the world at large, making threats on behalf of the Bush administration while not committing them to actually carry them out?

If Bush were to come out and say publicly “Iran will NOT be allowed to possess nuclear weapons, and we are prepared to attack and destroy any facilities and their associated defenses to make sure that happens,” then he’s committed himself to a certain course of action. Iran might decide he’s bluffing and publicly defy that. And then Bush would be forced to carry out the threat or back down — and he doesn’t have much of a record of backing down.

But if the New York Times’ star investigative reporter gets a bunch of anonymous sources to all make Bush’s threat for him, in their own words, the threat is delivered without binding the US to actually carrying it out.

It’s not the most subtle, nuanced, civilized form of diplomacy. But Iran hasn’t shown much interest in subtlety, nuance, or civilized conduct. And Bush’s critics call such tactics as barbaric and stupid.

But as a wise man once said, “if it’s stupid and it works, it ain’t stupid.”

(Typo fixed in first sentence)

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  1. Doug April 10, 2006
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