Thursday, March 29, 2007

Negotiating,,, Redux

Iranian rebuttal shown via BBC World

Any diplomat who has ever worked in Iran can tell you that negotiations rarely go your way once the issues become public.

The problem is that in a case like this one: where 15 British sailors were nabbed while boating in troubled waters, in front of 2 journalists, which pretty much meant that there was no way of keeping the event quiet. This also meant that there was no way to have a kind of low-key negotiation behind-the-scenes.

It is only normal that the British public would demand a show of strength from its government. Unfortunately, it is likely that this show is also jeopardizing the negotiations. As Keivan and I have learned in much, much lower stakes negotiating, any show of desperation or demand is met by stonewalling and backtracking. Many Iranians seem to have no concept of win-win negotiating, which makes them dangerous.

“If I am not screwing you, you must be screwing me,” is how many Iranians seem to think of the negotiating process.

I am sure that the British politicians and diplomats understand all this, but now they are stuck with a public “ratcheting up” that just may end up meaning a few months of detention for the British sailors. Hope I am wrong.


Anonymous said...

I believe opinion is hardening in the UK for some kind of military intervention, possibly with US support. Unfortunately I believe any conflict with Iran could escalate rapidly, given the strength of Iranian forces; it is entirely conceivable that tactical WMD would be used in the event of a massed Iranian counter attack, simply because it is almost impossible for the US battle groups to operate defensively in the confined area of the Persian Gulf. What is hard to understand is why Iran would want to provoke such a response, and why Iranian people seem to be embracing the possibility with relish.

danielspengies said...

The problem with a lot of world politics, especially on the part of western powers, is everyone wants things done on THEIR cultural terms. The British, like the US, don't seem to have a firm grasp on Iranian culture, and how the Iranian people, and their government, are culturally conditioned to respond to an event such as this. They see it in "western" terms, which is aggression. This is a fatal flaw that can ultimately lead us to a violent conflict that will, like ALL violent conflicts, only lead to my violence and death in the future.

scott said...

With a president who is calling for the destruction of the United States and expecting the 12th imam to arrive by fighting the great Satan, I think its Iran who is turning up the violence.

Ahmadinejad believes that it will be he and his fight against the oppressive Great Satan which will bring about the 12th Imam and thus saving the world. He has apocalyptic visions, and is moving forward in that direction.

danielspengies said...

And feeding into his beliefs by setting up the situational constructs for such behavior to be reinforced is doing what exactly???

danielspengies said...

You also make the incorrect assumption that the president of Iran has total power in all situations. In reality he's pretty neutered on a lot of his actions.

Fear mongering is nothing new from westerners though.

scott said...

And you seem to think The president can invade Iran without the approval of congress.

danielspengies said...

No. But I do think the president can and wants to order surgical strikes into Iran. Actually, the president really only needs congressional approval for declaring war. As far as I know he can order the military itself to do pretty much whatever he wants to do, at least initially.

Vince P said...

Iran wants a fight. Lets give it to them. We should have done at each of thier tests of us but we were too short-sighted and dont appreciate thier culture.

The long we wait , the more of thier plan will be in place. Time is on their side not ours.

And the President can go to war without Congress' consent.

Thomas Jefferson engaged in teh First Barbary War without Congress because he feared if he had asked for a declaration he wouldn't ahve gotten one.

Vince P said...

We should shut off the flow of petrol to Iran. Take out thier sole refinary and then blockade them. And then if they still haven't handed the UK people back, start sinking thier navy.

Iran has no problems being bold and doing whatever it wants... we must be so as well.

Anonymous said...

I find it hilarious that people consider Iran's leaders as the only apocalyptic ones (which some are), when the President of the United States thinks God told him to invade Iraq and that the rapture is going to happen.
This is just masturbation material for all the born-agains.

danielspengies said...

Vince, you are a fucking psychopath. Plain and simple. There are so many logical arguments against the filth you put up that I don't even know which one to choose...

The idea of attacking, causing untold death and chaos, and making the problem even worse then we've already made it is just completely savage.

But given the ideology you seem to sponsor, I'm not shocked.

Jshope said...

Are you in the military? Do you want your kids to fight this war for you? What the hell. DO you know anything about the Iranian people? Or is your plan to kill just the people involved? So many armchair soldiers. Daniel hit the nail on the head. He just left out you're a fucking idiot.
Do everything we can diplomatically and then take these things in steps. No, not Vince. Let's flatten the fucking place. Are your prepared to strap a bomb to your ass for the cause. The extremist will. I could go on for days.

danielspengies said...

All human conflict is brought upon by behavioral elements. Vince cannot see that the west and Iran are very much in a cyclic game in which one side presents baiting elements, and the other side bites. This situation, like all situations, can be solved without violence. However such an idea is often scary to those who like to hide behind guns and tanks.

ET said...

Anon you said:

"What is hard to understand is why Iran would want to provoke such a response, and why Iranian people seem to be embracing the possibility with relish."

Relish? What in the world makes you think that war is being embraced in Iran? It's a ridiculous notion. The only people who want war are hard-core fundamentalists who want to test themselves against the great satan and hard core anti-regimers who seem to think war will free the people of Iran.

Most of the Iranians I have met are moderates. This is even true of the ones who go into the streets with their fists in the air and shout Down with America!

In addition, until yesterday, there was next to nothing in the Iranian media about this incident. None of our family knew anything about it. No one was talking about it except for the foreigners (like me) and the foreign journalists.

Yesterday it became big news in Iran. But like I said, everyone is on vacation.

Vince P, I am a Washingtonian, which means I think war is a bad idea. War with Iran is what the Islamists here want. Why? It will strengthen their power not limit it.

I agree with danielspengies that feeding the desire for war would be like giving fuel to a dragon.

I have written many times that the Iranian population is the most pro-American and Israel-agnostic country in the region. Why not feed the moderates?

danielspengies said...

There is very little in the past fifty years of US interaction with Iran that indicates "feeding the moderates" is ever going to occur. War, by large, is a complete failure politically. Going to war with Iran would do nothing more but bring death salience to those who are way outside of the extreme, and push them further and further away from the middle.

Not every American wants war, but the majority of blind patriots that I've talked to seem to...(Note: Blind patriotism is different than normal patriotism)

Max said...

Political opinion may be hardening for military intervention (although there's no sign of it -- and I'm pretty sure that attacking Iran/killing Iranians wouldn't free the 15 Britains), but public opinion? Nobody knows, has been following the story or cares.

Here are 2 points:

1. The 15 Britains have not been allowed consular access but have been shown on television and have been allowed to write letters to Parliament? That comes across as very strange and very political (obviously) in the UK.

2. Oil has gone up. After months of the Saudis overproducing/driving down the oil price, the price of oil has gone up. Good for Iran in the short term. Bad for the American economy.

That said I'm always surprised that such a good blog has such numpty comments. If the UK/US went to war with Iran they would fare much worse than in Iraq. If there's a lesson to be learned from the Iran/Iraq war it's this: don't fuck with the Iranians.

Anonymous said...

"The British, like the US, don't seem to have a firm grasp on Iranian culture, and how the Iranian people, and their government, are culturally conditioned to respond to an event such as this. They see it in "western" terms, which is aggression"

That's relativistic nonsense. It's impossible to interpret the kidnap at gunpoint of 15 UK servicemen, who are subsequently paraded on Iranian TV for propaganda purposes, as anything but an aggressive act. Under international law this is an act of war, and the UK would be within its rights to respond with force.

"We should shut off the flow of petrol to Iran. Take out thier sole refinary and then blockade them. And then if they still haven't handed the UK people back, start sinking thier navy."

You do realise that Iran is the World's second largest oil producer, don't you? Cutting them off means oil at $200 per barrel and global recession.

The UK/US response must be proportionate. No sabre rattling, just calm, sensible negotiation to free the hostages. There's no need for war - yet.

Anonymous said...

Charles Collins is starting to bore me.

Nima said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nima said...

Your perception of the way Iranians negotiate is utterly wrong. The Brits are just making the Iranians angrier and giving leverage to those on the Iranian side who want to make matters worse.
If the Brits showed some humility and patience they would get their sailors back.

ET said...

Agha Mohandes Nima, Humility? You may be right. But we basically have no idea what was happening behind the scenes.

The problem is that it is also hard for Iranians to understand how much pressure an incident like this puts on British politicians who have a hard time being humble. The IRanian government had no problem keeping it out of the news here for almost six days. Could that have ever happened in the UK? Yet, it seems to me that the IRanians often negotiate as though western countries have just as much control over their press as the regime has over its.

But actually, had the sailors been granted consular access within 24 hours I think there would have been a little more humility.

And you think I have no idea how Iranians negotiate? Educate me. I am interested. Really.

Mimi said...

I hope you are wrong too but I do not believe it !!

Anonymous said...

Actually, on UK opinions about the use of force, I don't think opinion is harding as much as some of you seem to think.

"A poll published in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper found that 66 percent of respondents trusted Blair and Beckett to resolve the crisis, while 28 percent did not. Only 7 percent thought the government should be preparing to use military force.

Pollster ICM interviewed 762 adults by telephone March 30 and 31. The margin of error is 4 percentage points."