Tuesday, July 3

Tehran's Fight Fight Talk Talk strategy finally gets a proper response

December 2005
In the years right after World War II, when the United States was striving to negotiate a deal between the Nationalist government of China and the insurrection, the Communist leader Mao Zedong formulated the strategy known as "fight fight talk talk." It was a brilliant success.

The idea was that even as you seek opportunities to make gains on the battlefield, to expand your territory and gain in strength, you keep on negotiating even though you have no interest in a compromise solution and intend to win complete victory.

The talk-talk part of the strategy gives mediators the sense that they are doing something useful, while, by holding theoretically to the possibility of a negotiated solution, you deter great-power military intervention in support of your adversary. Iran seems to be following a similar strategy, and it has been working for the simple reason that the European/ American plan provides no way effectively to counter it.(1)
The only effective counter to Mao's strategy is to mirror it, which the US has been doing since Operation Phantom Thunder got underway in Iraq; the strong military actions shored Washington's newfound willingness to chat up Tehran.

Tehran's response to the US mirror strategy was alluded to in a Sunday Washington Post op-ed. General Mohsen Rezai, secretary of Iran's "powerful" Expediency Council and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, invited Newsweek's Michael Hirsh to tea. After dispensing with small talk, the general laid Tehran's cards on the table:
[Rezai] pointed out that his is the only country that can help Washington control Shiite militias in Iraq, slow the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and tame Hezbollah's still-dangerous presence in Lebanon all at once. "If America pursues a different approach than confronting Iran, our dealings will change fundamentally," he said.
In other words Tehran as much admitted that they are orchestrating attacks against Coalition and NATO forces and against Lebanon's government, which the US and European allies back.

Mr Hirsh, being a senior Newsweek editor and all, chose to interpret the general's conversation in a Newsweeky sort of way; he thinks that Iran is offering an olive branch.
Rezai suggested that Iran is searching hard for a face-saving way to end the standoff over its ever-advancing uranium-enrichment program. He endorsed, in a more forthright way than I have heard from any other senior Iranian official, a "timeout" proposed by Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"What it means is for Iran to stay at the [enrichment] level it has reached, with no further progress. By the same token, the U.N. Security Council will not issue another resolution," said Rezai, who indicated that the idea is gaining support inside the Iranian regime.
Hirsh mentions that Rezai isn't the only Iranian in power to be making conciliatory noises. He clearly believes that the US should grasp at the straw and consider Baradei's timeout proposal. Hirsh's reasoning seems to rest on a flawed perception; he states, "The [Bush] administration doesn't seem to recognize that diplomatic coercion by itself can't work."

Ah, but the days of the US trying to deploy only diplomatic coercion are gone, on the well proven theory that there is no such thing as effective coercion with an militarily aggressive government unless there is significant force deployment backing up sanctions and chitchat.

The US response to Tehran's faux olive branch came yesterday:
The U.S. military accused Iran on Monday of a direct role in a sophisticated militant attack that killed five American troops in Iraq, portraying Tehran as waging a proxy war through Shiite extremists.

The claims over the January attack marked a sharp escalation in U.S. accusations that Iran has been arming and financing Iraqi militants, and for the first time linked the Iranian effort to its ally, Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah militia. [...]

U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner said the Quds Force, part of Iran's elite Republican Guards, was seeking to build an Iraqi version of Hezbollah to fight U.S. and Iraqi forces -- and had brought in Hezbollah operatives to help train and organize militants.

"Our intelligence reveals that the senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity,'' Bergner told a Baghdad news conference. He said it would be "hard to imagine'' that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did not know about the activity.[...]
Of course Tehran and Hezbollah hotly deny the charges, but Iran's orchestrations are leaving more and more tracks.

I hope this latest turn does not derail planned talks between Tehran and Washington. The US needs to keep up their end of jabber, although Pundita suggests the US diplomatic team haul along a woman who sits at the discussion table and does nothing but knit.

Eventually, an Iran official or member of the press who is steeped in English literature will figure out the significance of the knitter.

1) Mao's 'fight talk' strategy is a winning one for Iran by Richard Bernstein, The New York Times, December 1, 2005

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