My brother-in-arms Starbuck has no problems with our President's unilateral and unsolicited open message to Iran, and thinks it is just common sense that we talk to Iran. I beg to differ. I'd like to think that President Obama's message was sent in order to achieve some level of strategic surprise before we start an Iranian thump-a-thon, but I'm certain that's not the case. Starbuck states that, back in the bad old days of the Cold War, we talked to the USSR and China, didn't we? Yes, but each Presidential engagement was initiated only after countless minions and fuctionaries had scuttled back and forth; giving a "competitor" regime access to an American President occurred only after certain milestones were met. I think that AMB John Bolton makes a pretty good case of why we should be a little leary of having our Number One dude talk to the Iranians.
President Obama is, I think, viewing the US population, the rest of the world, and Iran as a monolithic audience. What it makes sense to say to one, it makes sense to say to all. Any reply that the Iranians craft will be made to exert various levels of influence on four audiences that the Iranians will view as very disparate: the Iranian people, the Middle Eastern people (and governments), the rest of the world--particularly those that don't mind seeing the US taken down a few notches, and finally the US. I don't think that this portends well for our country.
The assumption is that we want to avert the worst case, war with Iran. The fact of the matter is that we are already at war with Iran, we just refuse to acknowledge it.
Case in Point: I'm an American advisor, training and advising the Iraqi Security Forces and providing them with (woefully little) material support. I am a combatant. Open source references demonstrate that Iranian military and intelligence professionals are in Iraq, training and advising and providing material support to insurgents. They are combatants--even if they have diplomatic cover. We ignored the gnat bites Al Qaeda put on our ass for years, and the result was 9/11. Superimpose that recent history onto a nuclear Iran, and we ignore the threat at our own peril.
The fact is that we have offered the Iranians the opportunity to inflate their perceived importance and influence in the region by swatting down and rebuffing the US President. They've already done it twice, once after campaign remarks by then-Senator Obama, and once after they published (and ridiculed) his "secret" letter to them. Our foriegn policy apparatus has a hard time acknowledging that the Iranians actually mean what they say, probably because what they say sounds so irrational. Let's see with which audience Iran decides to maximize its message.
The current attempt to talk to Iran--with whom we are already at war--demonstrates an ongoing cognitive flaw in our foreign policy. If war is politics by other means, it correlates that politics is war by other means. We always forget that countries that insist on fomenting an adversarial relationship with us are not necessarily desirous of coming to any terms other than their own. Diplomatic "win-win" situations are few and far between. Where's the happy medium when Iran has goals like these?
I go back to the lessons taught to me years ago by Sister Mary Joseph when she used a devilish combination of rewards and punishments to inculcate me with the Catholic Act of Contrition: "I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love." So while we should strive to resolve our conflicts through mutual understanding and enlightenment, we should damn sure guarantee that our enemies dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell.
Our foreign policy is exactly backward: first we should send in the guys like Mongo and Starbuck and all the Mungadai, then we send in the tie-wearing State guy in his Gucci loafers who says,"look, either we work something out or they're coming back."
Winston Churchill was exactly right when he said that "jaw jaw is better than war war." But, there's no point jawing when you're already at war.
When we abjure the use of arms for any but the absolutely last option, we often matriculate that very option. As a peace-loving child who grew up mostly overseas, and mostly in places where I was the only American or white or "rich"(i.e., possessing such luxuries as food, water, and electricity) kid in the neighborhood, I learned to minimize the fighting I had to do by developing the rule of super-escalation. Mongo's rule of super-escalation states that, once an adversary crosses certain pre-established trigger lines, you hit him so hard and so fast with such a disproportionately strong response that he winds up lying on the floor, choking on blood and spitting teeth thinking,"man, that was fucked up." I learned that from Pops Mongo, a certified SOB whose three rules of fighting are do it first, do it fast, and do it dirty.
As an intellectual exercise, after Russia's Georgian incursion, do you think the Iranians would be a little more pliable if Mother Russia came out and stated that Iranian nukes would be unacceptable and would result in "the strongest possible response?"
I posit that had we obliterated a militarily significant target for every US serviceman in Iraq whose death we felt was caused by Iranian meddling, President Obama's message would be much better received. The President issued his one-way message on the Iranian holiday of Norwuz.
I wonder, do they use pinatas on that holiday?