Neoconservative Diplomacy: “Capitulate or Die!”

It’s interesting to see Michael Rubin, the former CPA staffer alleged to be the author of a pro-regime change Pentagon memo on Iran, lamenting the decision to allow pragmatic former president of Iran Mohammed Khatami to come to Washington to speak.

In protest, Rubin points to Khatami’s odious remarks in 2000 about Israel and argues that “If Khatami really cared about a dialogue of civilizations, he would go to Jerusalem, not Washington.”

Actually, though, if Khatami–the closest thing to a moderate anywhere near the levers of power in Iran–wanted to completely destroy any chance of having any influence in Iran ever again, the first thing he would do is take Michael Rubin’s advice.

Neoconservative grumbling about diplomacy is nothing new, but this tone has become increasingly common.  Regarding Syria, Iran, anywhere, if diplomacy can’t provide a slam-dunk, total, and complete resolution of all the issues, then it’s held out as a worthless exercise in jaw-jawing.

To some extent the point is well-taken: Diplomacy can be difficult, and can fail, and it always produces temporary, imperfect solutions.  But that’s the point: all foreign policies produce temporary, imperfect solutions.  Crusading in search of silver bullets puts us in predicaments like those of Iraq.

In the course of pooh-poohing talks with the Syrians, for example, we’re regaled with tales of how past dialogues have failed to wean them away from their client Hezbollah, and how the Assad regime is still, well, nasty.  Since Iran hasn’t agreed to capitulate before even coming to the negotiating table, the supposed uselessness of diplomacy is demonstrated.

But the point isn’t to hold diplomacy out as the way to magically eliminate foreign policy problems.  There is no way to eliminate problems in foreign affairs entirely.  But diplomacy is a tool for managing crises, and for finding limited areas to cooperate or compromise.

By setting the standard for diplomacy so high as to demand a nice, neat, tied-up-with-a-ribbon solution in order to prove success, neoconservatives are framing the debate such that diplomacy is always a sure-fire “failure.”  That’s harmful, because it misconstrues the choices and unnecessarily limits our options.

For more on the failure of the “we don’t do diplomacy” policy, see John Judis’ TNR piece from yesterday.