Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Most of the world operates on the barter system, thus most people understand the mechanics of negotiation strategy. In America, other than buying a car, the majority of people (especially the upper middle-class) have limited experience in bargaining. As a consequence, much of our foreign policy negotiations seem to have more basis in altruism than realpolitik.

One would think Mr. Obama has never bargained with a rug merchant before, yet in his dealings with House Republicans over the stimulus bill he showed that he knows how to play hardball. With the Iranians, however, its been more like T-ball.

To advance their nuclear program, the Iranians have been playing for time. Mr. Obama opened his presidency by conceding them more. Now he is conceding the principle that Iran’s nuclear program can somehow be tied to Israeli concessions on West Bank settlements.

What we have gained by these opening gambits is less than clear. If you were seeking a successful conclusion to any endeavor, the very last thing you would want to tie it to is an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Since we are on a timeline, it is simply the kiss of death.

I'm beginning to think Mr. Obama is Iran's most skillful negotiator - experienced rug merchants that they are, they just don't have anybody in their corner near as good. And this after Iran's supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected Obama's "hand of friendship" out of hand. If Tony Blair was George Bush's lapdog, then Barack Obama is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's puppy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu shares none of these delusions. He understands quid pro quo, and isn't giving anything away. He is trying to keep the focus on Iran and off the Palestinians, and he is not willing to bargain with the security of the state of Israel as part of any deal with Iran. He knows that making any concessions at this point is only a sign of weakness that will encourage the enemy to stall for more time, break agreements, and circumvent sanctions. If Mr. Obama does not take care, Iran will likely enter the club of nuclear powers as a member with full voting rights. Mr. Obama, by tightening the noose on Israel, you have only encouraged Iran, Hamas, Syria and all the other agents of terror to proceed... nice move... don't forget your umbrella on the way out.

We Americans have such a desire for peace that we are often prepared to offer unconditional concessions in order to gain it. We expect that if, in the spirit of good faith, we make a concession, then, in the same spirit, the opposition will accept our terms. They might even throw in a concession on their part. In the Middle East, these illusions can be very costly. When you visit the nuclear souk, Mr. Obama, you had best come prepared to drive some tough bargains.

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