Day: November 30, 2010

Gates crashes

Secretary Gates thinks the impact of the diploleaks on U.S. foreign policy will be modest:

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think – I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.

…some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

I am an admirer of the Secretary, but this is old think.  We are less indispensable than once we were, and we are declining in importance relative to others as their economies grow, ours stagnates, and our oil dependency sends hundreds of billions abroad that are much needed at home. Sure others will continue to deal with us, but they will do so with less commitment and enthusiasm if they feel we are unreliable–and in diplomacy keeping private conversations private is an important dimension of reliability.

Michelle Kelemen got it right on NPR yesterday.

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Pressure and engagement go together in dealing with Tehran

I’ve been hesitating to comment on what the diploleaks tell us about Iran, or more accurately about U.S. efforts to block Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons.

But Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett have provoked me into it. They essentially want engagement without pressure.  This is the flip side of the neoconservative approach, which is pressure without engagement.  Both are wrong.

We can argue about the right proportions, but Matt Duss is correct in concluding that the leaked cables tell us there really is a concerted diplomatic effort underway, one that depends both on pressure and ultimately on willingness to engage. The question is whether targeted assassinations are part of the pressure, or an independent, parallel effort by Israel.  Hard to believe there is not a wink and a nod from Washington.  Certainly Arab leaders are unlikely to protest much, given what they had to say about Iran and nuclear weapons in the leaked cables.

The engagement part will have its next moment Monday in Geneva, when and where the P5 plus Germany, led by the EU’s Catherine Ashton, will meet with Iran. It seems unlikely in the current atmosphere, but I can’t help but wonder if Lady Ashton will be empowered to open up the possibility that Iran might get acknowledgment of its “right” to enrichment while agreeing to limit its quantity and extent.

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