Friday, April 10, 2015

Dripping with amphibology

Tehran, April 2nd. Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images.
World-famous master diplomacy maven David Brooks has ferreted out the hidden flaw in the framework for a nuclear agreement between the US and Iran: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei doesn't care whether there's an agreement or not, as he inadvertently revealed yesterday, talking to an "audience of religious chanters in his Tehran office" or "orators" or more specifically
in a meeting on Thursday with a group of women, poets and eulogists writing poems in praise of the Household of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), [where he] extended his congratulations on the birthday of Hazrat Fatima (the beloved daughter of the Prophet Mohammad) and made very significant remarks about nuclear talks and the developments in Yemen. 
No, really, Khamenei says he's
asked the Iranian negotiators to demand the removal of sanctions all at once. “This issue is very important and the sanctions should be annulled the same day an agreement [would come into force].” 
Which doesn't sound quite the way the P5+1 envisaged it, with each sanction tied to some particular action on Iran's part. And he's saying he doesn't accept the idea of inspectors poking around Iran's security installations either, just in case that's what the US was hoping for:
Absolutely, [they] should not be allowed to infiltrate the country’s security and defense sector under the pretext of monitoring, and the country’s military officials are by no means allowed to let foreigners into this sector under the pretext of monitoring and inspection, or to halt the country’s development in the defense sector.
So Brooks's blood is curdling with the outrage and terror of it all. According to his high-level sources (at the TelegraphWeekly Standard, or Spectator), the decorous and lyrically-minded ladies of the audience
chanted “Death to America” during his speech, and Khamenei himself dismissed America’s “devilish” intentions. When a radical religious leader uses a word like “devilish,” he’s not using it the way it’s used in a chocolate-cake commercial.
Much less like a cake commercial than like the Seder ritual. Except every day for 35 years instead of once a year for 3000. Indeed, in much the same way, the Haggadah curses against the Egyptians used to be brought forward by the anti-Semites in, oh, the 15th century, as evidence of the Jews' implacable vindictiveness, but I digress. The main thing is how the Ayatollah's
words dripped with a lack of enthusiasm for the whole enterprise.... demanding total trust from us while offering maximum contempt in return. Khamenei communicated a smug and self-righteous sense of superiority toward the West throughout his remarks.
I hope he had a bib, because that dripping lack of enthusiasm makes stains that can be really tough to get out of your shirts.

I can't see where Khamenei did say "devilish", by the way; nobody offers any context, and there's nothing like that reported at his own website, which is the most thorough English-language report. Though he did say,
the opposite side is obstinate, unreliable, dishonest and into backstabbing 
which you could think of as not very flattering.

But seriously, what are Brooks and his fellow Chickens Little actually frightened about in this story? Juan Cole has interpreted the Ayatollah's remarks on the nuclear negotiations better than I can, with plenty of detail: the takeaway being that
The speech is all over the place and seems to me to involve a lot of posturing without much substance. Presumably the speech was intended to mollify the hard liners upset by the enormous concessions Iran was alleged to have offered. At the same time, Khamenei did not want to crush the spirits of his negotiators. And, I think he is still pessimistic about the very possibility of a final deal by June 30 and is preparing the public for the possibility of failure.
And this is pretty much how I see it too; I can't see at all how this demonstrates that Iran will cheat on the deal, as Brooks and his colleagues are claiming. If what his Supremacy says is to be taken at face value, it just means there won't be a deal at all.

That is, if he really does have a fantasy that all the sanctions will be lifted as soon as Rouhani has signed the final document and clings to it, that's just too bad. If the US really does cling to the idea of spying on the military installations any more than they're already doing, to get a look at the missile program (because it would be the missiles they'd be looking for; the nuclear program is a civilian program, by definition, and there aren't any centrifuges or uranium on a base somewhere, and the negotiators know this), it's not going to happen. What Khamenei is threatening isn't the kind of "subtlety" Brooks is worrying about:
If Iran still has revolutionary intent, then no amount of treaty subtlety will enforce this deal. Iran will begin subtly subverting any agreement.
(a) It's not "treaty subtlety", it's an extremely strict and intrusive inspection regime. Can you just look at the text?

(b) What he's threatening, rather, is the breakdown of talks. Give me what I want or I'll walk. Just what Brooks and his patrons are hoping for.

(c) But Khamenei would obviously rather have a deal; Iran is not much of a democracy at the moment, but the regime does have to respond to public opinion, and the population is going crazy with mixed hope and hopelessness over this agreement; the Guardians really fear a repeat of the Green Revolution of 2009. And so his ultimate message is actually pretty positive, and suggests an interest in working on stuff beyond the nuclear issue:
“If the other side avoids its amphibology [ambiguity] in the talks, it'll be an experience showing it's possible to negotiate with them on other issues.”

Thus what Brooks is trying to frighten us with has literally no logical connection to what the Ayatollah said.

On the subject of Saudi Arabia's Yemen incursion, Khamenei has a good deal to say, incidentally, in which he seems to be pretty correct:
“The killing of children, destruction of houses and annihilation of the infrastructure and national wealth of a country constitute a big crime.... We have numerous differences with the Saudis on different political issues, but we always said that they show dignity and humbleness in foreign policy. However, a group of inexperienced youths have taken the helm of affairs in that country and are getting barbarism overcome dignity and pretention, and that will definitely be to their detriment.”
The destruction caused by Saudi bombs is really horrible, and of course the party that is profiting is the Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula organization, as I think I predicted a couple of weeks ago. To Brooks, that counts as
he is still intent on putting Iran on a collision course with Sunnis and the West. He attacked the Saudi leaders as “inexperienced youngsters” and criticized efforts to push back on Iranian efforts to destabilize Yemen.
His misreading of the situation couldn't be more complete if he was an employee of AQAP, or Israel's happy new ally Saudi Arabia.

I can't say Brooks doesn't have a clue, because he does, exactly one:
Khamenei’s remarks could be bluster, tactical positioning for some domestic or international audience.
But he drops it again as soon as he's picked it up, His main shtik is that those Iranians are fanatical Revolutionaries, like Lenin, who will never give up because that's just who they are:
The core question is: Are the men who control that country more like Lenin or are they more like Gorbachev? Do they still fervently believe in their revolution and would they use their postsanctions wealth to export it and destabilize their region? Or have they lost faith in their revolution? .... 
Negotiating an arms treaty with Brezhnev and Gorbachev was one thing. But with this guy? Good luck with that.
That flip conclusion shows pretty much where he's at now, backed up from his philosophical distance right into 2003-style demonization, showing up on the unspeakable Hugh Hewitt show. Mr. Moral Philosophy has generally re-enrolled with the Keyboard Kommandos, praying for war.

And remember how after the October Revolution all the European powers got in touch with Lenin to see if they could put a deal together? No, neither do I.

Update: I'm not too happy with my take, too angry to be fully coherent. BooMan, who doesn't often waste his time with the Brooksology, dipped into this one and brought something important up out of it.   

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