Friday, December 08, 2006

Bluffing the Mullahs

Writing of Bush’s absurd suggestion that he won’t work with Iran or Syria until they do what Bush wants, Juan Cole writes:
In other words, Bush wants compromise before negotiation, and virtual submission to Washington as a prerequisite even for talks. Same old W.

And this is just insanity and shows a complete miscomprehension regarding diplomacy.  But it makes sense in his weird world.  To Bush, being “friendly” is an enticement used to obtain his goals.  Like chumming-up with a scumbag reporter and giving him a fratsy nickname.  He’s done his part, now the reporter has to do theirs.  Friendliness isn’t something that you give for its own sake.  Or even as a general principle regarding standard human behavior.  It’s a temporary reward bestowed upon others for personal gain.  And it only lasts as long as Bush needs it to.

And so Bush wants to see results before he’s willing to play nice.  The neo-cons put Iran in the shithouse as far as our president is concerned.  They’ve already taken the extreme measure of being anti-American and nothing can change that in Bush’s mind, short of the impossible goal of complete capitulation with no chance of backsliding.  And for Bush, complete capitulation doesn’t occur until his dad’s buddies have a strong position in Iran’s economy and he’s riding on the Disney Iran trolley on his way to see Mickey.  As a compromise, Bush will allow them to dress Minnie in a manteau, scarf, and black leggings, though Donald will remain pantless.  That’s our Bush.

Having Hand

And what’s totally stupid is that the Bushies once again have the diplomatic situation backwards.  It’s like they’ve internalized the idea that you always want to have the upper hand to the point that they’ve failed to grasp exactly how that’s supposed to work: Namely, that you have the upper hand.  Otherwise, you’re just bullshitting and probably making a fool of yourself.  But I suppose these people are bullshitters to such an extent that they don’t even realize they’re all bullshit.  

Like with Rumsfeld's final Iraq memo which substituted political spin for military strategy.   But that wasn’t merely for our benefit, but rather a showcase of Rummy’s inability to grasp non-bullshit.  This wasn’t a personality quirk.  It’s his modus operandi and how he’s been running Iraq from the start.  He got to be Secretary of Defense because he’s such a hard-headed bullshitter, which is sadly ironic as the skill that got him the job was the one that should have disqualified him in the first place.  And that goes doubly so for Darth Cheney, who never saw a good thing he couldn’t ruin for his own advantage.

As with the rest of their ilk, they’re so focused on political spin that they’ve failed to grasp that they’re holding an empty bag.  Or that there’s a bag at all.  And they’re surely convinced we’re bullshitting too, and just aren’t as good at it as they are.  In fact, it looks like they’re so full of shit that they’ve forgotten that they’re bluffing.  It’s like J.T. Walsh’s character in Grifters, the great conman who thought he could hear the computers he had imagined for his con game.  They’ve been running the con so long that they’ve forgotten it’s a con; thus becoming they’re own biggest sucker.

Going Strong

And we see this with Iran, which knows how to play the cards it has.  It’s almost impossible that we will attack them, thanks largely to Bush’s horrendous foreign policy.  Not only do we not have the forces to do so, but we’d be roundly condemned worldwide if we tried.  Plus, it would just make us even more radioactive to any Muslim leader we might need to stay friendly with; burning all who touch us.  And don’t forget the whole oil thing, which has clearly blown-up in our faces in Iraq.

And Iran knows that better than us.  So why not take advantage of that by brewing up a storm that will force us to give them something?  Or to just weaken our standing overall?  It’s as if we’re playing cards with someone who brought their own card-making machine.  Just like North Korea demonstrated.  They’re not building nukes as much as turning abstract threats into more concrete ones.  The threat of nuclear weapons is always there, but somehow our neo-cons fail to respect that fact until a country decides to make it a little more explicit.  And the more the neo-cons try to bully other counties, the more those countries will want to make that threat more explicit.

So it’s best for these countries to play really, really strong .  Heck, them threatening to have a nuke program is, in many ways, more diplomatically powerful than the nukes themselves.  It’s even possible that they themselves have been pimping the rumors about it.  Because it’s unlikely that they’d want to use the nukes, and there are certain dangers for just having the damn things.  This isn’t an attempt to destroy us, as these guys are, at their core, the same power-hungry old men running the show in every other country.  They’re satisfied running the show they’ve got and are fairly risk averse.  In the end, it just comes down to people playing the cards they think they should in order to grab as much power as they think they can.  Same old story.

So this is an attempt to use the threat as a means of maneuvering us.  Just like North Korea did.  But it wasn’t an idle threat or bluff.  They’ll do it if they have to, and the closer they get, the stronger their position becomes.  Those are just the facts of the situation and no amount of bluster or bull can change that.

Strong-Arm Appeasement

So the longer we fail to negotiate, the more powerful they get.  While neo-cons deride any other option as the equivalent of appeasing Hitler, in many ways their own policy is considerably worse.  Because we’re not stopping their actions and we’re dealing with an enemy that really can be appeased.  The reason Hitler couldn’t be appeased wasn’t because he was a madman (though he was one), but because he thought he could win the whole shooting match.  The appeasements merely aided his long-term goal of global domination.  But leaders in Korea and Iran are under no such delusions and merely want to strengthen their weak hand.

And hell, at least Hitler had to lie about what he was doing.  But North Korea and Iran actually benefit by us hearing about their activities.  It only makes their position stronger.  Sure, that didn’t really pay-off for Saddam, but that was just because the neo-cons forgot that they were supposed to be bluffing and Saddam couldn’t imagine we’d be dumb enough to actually go through with it.  And Korea kept up with that policy until they took it too far, by actually testing a nuke.  But the end result is the same and Bush will have to compromise if he wants this to end.  He knows that he wants the upper hand, but it’s just not there.  Unfortunately, few around him will actually tell him how weak his hand really is.  It’s possibly they don’t know themselves.

And so this opens all kinds of power moves for Iran, one of which is to demonize the US further in order to have a better excuse for weakening the rebel elements in Iran and getting them to rally around the Mullahs.  That’s how Saddam, Castro, and the Soviets did it.  Not only did it give them an excuse to crackdown on dissidents, but it strengthened their economic control over their countries.  Somehow, conservatives have failed to grasp that freezing a country’s economy aides the status quo and allows the powerful to remain powerful.  Particularly if they can control the market system.  

But perhaps some of them do understand this principle, which would explain why our economy usually sucks during Republican administrations.  Sure, they like the added money they get from a good economy, but not if it means their polo club gets overrun by nouveau riche.  For the super-rich, a robust economy is worse than inflation.  And it’s even harder on dictators and totalitarians.  Money converts into power quite easily, and the end result is Power Inflation, where a little power just doesn’t seem to buy what it used to.  And so economic sanctions can really help an evil leader keep a lid on the economic situation, while having a handy foil to blame for it.

The Eternal Bluff

And regarding tough diplomacy, the refusal to negotiate can often be a very effective technique in negotiation.  That you take such a hardline position that the other side has to compromise just to get you to the table.  But if that’s a lesson that conservatives once taught, the students weren’t listening.  Because they’re not using this as an effective diplomatic strategy, but as if it’s proof of the err of diplomacy.

Most likely, they saw the Soviets and others use these non-diplomacy diplomacy techniques and didn’t realize they were part of diplomacy.  They thought it was the whole point.  In fact, that goes a long way towards explaining much about conservatives.  That they’re mimicking behaviors that they’ve seen others use but have no idea of why they were done or when to do them.  Like a poker player who’s seen that good players can win by bluffing, so they bluff on every damn hand; while not even understanding the fundamentals of getting a good hand.  As if bluffing was all that it took to win.  

Or imagine a baseball team that bunts every time they’re at the plate.  Or a football team that always goes for the on-side kick, with a Hail Mary on every play.  They see that these Get Rich Quick schemes can work, and with far less hassle than doing things the hard way; but haven’t yet realized that they only work as infrequent tactics, built upon a solid foundation.  They mimic what the experts do and have no idea why their results differed so greatly.

When the Soviets played tough with Nixon, they got results.  Our conservatives want those results, not realizing that the Soviet’s were merely playing on Nixon’s obvious weakness and weren’t always in a position to do so.  Yet they have no idea of what they’re really playing for or how to obtain it.  They have a basic idea that they want to “win”, but no real clue on how to get from here to there.  They just know that quitters never win and somehow imagine that that’s enough to ensure victory.

Go strong.  Fight for every inch.  Never back down.  Those can be strategies used to great effect.  But for conservatives, those are mottos.

Side Note: Over the Thanksgiving break, I played Madden 2007 with my young nephew and he really did do on-side kicks every time and almost always went for the Hail Mary.  And he kicked my butt.  So that’s not necessarily a bad strategy.   But then again, I had never played the game before and he was extremely lucky on numerous occasions; as well as scoring a touchdown while I was out of the room.  Needless to say, his parents are both Republican.  Perhaps someday I’ll be a president’s uncle, though I’d be loath to admit it.


Fledermaus said...

Shit, good doctor you have hit the nail on the head. Is it any wonder why Bush's businesses all went belly-up? When you are preparing for a negotiation you need a reality based assessment of your position.

But no, Iran will kowtow to us because we are AMERICA! Everyone knows that we can kick anyone's ass if they piss us off too much! [peanut gallery: But what about Iraq? Bush: Stop looking behind the curtain]

whig said...

You lost me when you wrote, "But leaders in Korea and Iran are under no such delusions and merely want to strengthen their weak hand."

We don't know how to read minds, and I don't think we know enough about North Korean or Iranian society, much less their leaders, to make predictions as to their rationality.

With that said, you are right that Bush thinks people should consider it a real favor that he even looks at them. I think we know the boy well enough that we can diagnose his narcissism.