Nevada’s junior Senator, Dean Heller (R) is one of the signers of the now infamous ‘enlightenment letter’ to the Iranian leadership. Heller, who has a certain flare for the dramatic – if not the practicable – has demonstrated his willingness to participate in amateur political theatricals before. Witness the “Balanced Budget Amendment” which he hauls out every session only to be reminded that the budget of a sovereign nation doesn’t have the same characteristic as a household budget in East Deer Breath. Or, there was the gallant attempt to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, in tandem with former Senator (now Heritage Foundation guru) Jim DeMint. This scene evaporated as well. Considering the matter at hand, here are some absolutely unsolicited bits of advice for the junior Senator:
#1. “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.” Before signing on to this line, one might be aware that the recipients include Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who attended Drew College Prep in San Francisco, got his B.A. in International Relations from San Francisco State University in 1981, and a Master’s in 1982. He did post graduate work at the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and received his PhD in International Law and Policy in 1988. Here’s guessing that the Iranian Minister for Foreign Affairs might have some knowledge of U.S. governmental operations?
Opening lines such as this are patronizing or at least condescending, and one of the Things Not Done in international relations is being… patronizing or condescending. Iran, love it or loathe it, is a sovereign nation, and that pompous, supercilious, opening sounds suspiciously like the #Iran47 would like to teach their “little brown brothers” about U.S. politics.
#2. Don’t make obvious errors. It really doesn’t do to have a legal heavyweight from the Bush Administration tell you that the Senate may “offer advice and consent,” but “The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification” (my emphasis). [Goldsmith] In athletic parlance, this fumble is often called an Unforced Error.
#3. You will be known by the company you keep. Very junior Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has made it very clear that he wants to scuttle all attempts at diplomacy with Iran. “The end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence. A feature, not a bug, so speak,” Cotton said in January, speaking at a conservative conference hosted by the advocacy group Heritage Action for America.” [Huffington Post] This puts the #Iran47 deep in the realm of American hardliners who see no practicality in negotiating a deal with the current Iranian government. Not everyone has dived into that pool, including acknowledged foreign policy expert former Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN). If Senator Heller would like to retain his “periodically moderate” label, this is not the way to do it.
#4. The more flexible you are the more options you’ll have. Taking the hard line stance as a signatory to the Cotton Letter means that diplomacy is off the table. What does that leave? Let’s assume the old adage is correct: War is the failure of diplomacy. If diplomacy is removed as an option then the only way to resolve an international dispute is with armed forces. But, what of economic sanctions?
#5. Don’t discard options merely because they require assistance. Unilateral economic sanctions never work. At best they can be functional in about 13% of their applications, at least since 1970, and usually with small countries. (Rhodesia comes to mind) [Hill] Then there’s this observation from the Director, Institute for International Economics, a panelist at the CFR:
“There is no case—repeat, no case—where unilateral sanctions have ever worked to induce a sizable country to make a major change in policy, no case in history that we have been able to discover. The simple reason is that the United States no longer dominates the world economy. There are always alternative sources of export, import markets, finance, whatever it may be. We alone cannot coerce others. And there are always alternatives, and they will always be available.”
And, this leads us to the next point.
#6. The more friends you have the better. The current negotiations involve members of the P5+1 who are actually negotiating the deal with Iran. The U.S. isn’t the only country with a negotiating interest in the talks, the other nations include the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the U.S. Some care should have been taken that what was perhaps meant as a poke at Iran wouldn’t be received as a slap in the face of the other negotiating countries. Now, consider the next point —
#7. If the #Iran47 intend for the talks to collapse, then the intended (or unintended?) consequence could be the U.S. wedded to a unilateral policy calling for a military solution to the issue of Iranian nuclear development? After all, why would the UK, France, or Germany participate in military operations if they assume their negotiations were in good faith, and the U.S. was the one to pull out?
Should the U.S. become embroiled in a war with Iran, a nation with about 450,000 regular military personnel, some 120,000 in the Army of the Guardians, and about 3 million combat trained paramilitary Basij, it should be reasonably obvious that the conflict would not be a simple matter of a few air strikes. And, while the U.S. is thus engaged what happens in, say, Ukraine? Iraq? Central Africa? Nigeria? North Korea? Libya?
#8. “Regime Change” is a term freighted with negative associations. In an ethereal world of ideals, as opposed to the practical one in which we are living, we could bargain very nicely with a ‘new’ regime in Tehran. That is, IF, the new regime was cooperative. However, as we learned to our dismay in Iraq, a new regime doesn’t necessarily equate to a cooperative ally. The ‘new regime’ in Iraq refused to negotiate a status of forces agreement with two American administrations, insisted on the pull out of U.S. combat forces, and then proceeded to make a hash of Sunni-Shia power relationships giving ISI a wedge into the fray.
#9. Striking a pose and taking a position are two different things. Striking a pose is easy. One may be belligerent – fists at the ready, emotions on high; or pacific – fists down, brain engaged. Taking a position requires thought, especially forethought, and the inclusion of a host of factors which may or may not prove to be critical elements. One of the conveniences of militarism is that it requires little forethought – have a problem with someone? Simply shoot’em up. The current situation in the Middle East is not a scripted melodrama from film writers; the good guys are difficult to identify and may not always be ‘good,’ and the bad guys may be helpful in one area (think Iran and its assistance against ISIL) and unhelpful in others.
Signing on as an original founder of the #Iran47 wasn’t the best idea Nevada’s junior Senator has had, and in fact it may prove to be one of his worst moments. Unless, of course, he would like to posture as a belligerent, mindless subscriber to militarism and the notion that not only is might always right but it also always works. This is a dubious proposition at best, and it certainly offers a future challenger an opening on an unforced error.