Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Don't Hate The Player Or The Game

The paragraph excerpted below, from an interview with Iran's Ambassador to the UN, Javad Zarif, touches on some of the themes discussed in my previous post on the solipsistic approach to diplomacy. In that post, I argued (in the context of Pakistan's interference in Afghanistan) that in order to forge long-lasting and durable solutions to regional conflicts, we must recognize that each party has what it considers to be legitimate interests and, as such, the relevant players will not simply bend to our will because we claim to occupy the moral high ground, or some other similar exceptionalist boast.

Due to the forces of geographical proximity, and the relative primacy of interests, even where we are able to strong-arm the parties in to adopting our preferred "resolution," such one-sided deals, or deals brokered along the lines of our outsider's wish list, tend to unravel eventually.

Further, the ability to differentiate between regions, actors and interests (even if there are common underlying cultural ties such as sharing the religion of "Islam" - albeit with different sectarian leanings and levels of orthodoxy in many instances) is crucial to the counterterrorism strategy of disaggregation. Without such a specialized approach, we tend to create broad-based, unwieldy and inefficient solutions to narrow, focused problems.

Yet, it is precisely this type of uncompromising and myopic approach to diplomacy that, while perhaps a widespread affliction in some form or another among the US foreign policy elite, has been championed without restraint or remorse by the Bush administration to consistently disastrous results. Javad Zarif:

As far as U.S. polices are concerned and the aftermath of the Baker-Hamilton report, what is needed is a change in the approach of the U.S. towards Iran, towards Iraq, and towards the region. What has brought all these miseries to the region is that the U.S. has dealt with the region based on wrong perceptions and a totally erroneous approach. The U.S. must come to realize that other countries have interests, have concerns, have anxieties. The U.S. must deal with these anxieties, concerns and interests, and not be concerned with only its own. Of course any country in any situation will try to maximize its national interest. That’s a given. But, you have to address any situation based on a recognition that the other side also has these similar national interests.
It is a bit odd to be lectured about international relations by the Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. - the government he represents being no paragon of virtue in this regard. Still, his ability to offer such guidance is more a testament to the fact that the Bush administration has run so far afoul of basic principles of international relations than any particularly enlightened approach by the Iranians.

It reminds me of this passage from Fred Kaplan that I have returned to on more than one occasion because it stubbornly refuses to become irrelevant:

The list [of policy proposals in the Democratic Party's national security plan] may seem obvious, like those "Do not use in water" tags that come with electrical appliances—except that Bush & Co. have been spinning fan blades in bathtubs around the world the past four years. This is the advantage that the Democrats hold at the starting gate: The Republican administration has violated so many precepts of International Relations 101 that clichés take on the air of wisdom. It may be that the Dems don't need to put forth their own agenda; promising to pull the plug out of the socket might be sufficient.
So Javad Zarif assumes a sagacious tone in explaining such basic concepts to us. Meanwhile, the Bush administration, and its dwindling coterie of doctrinaire supporters, remains befuddled at the way the game is played - or better yet, our inability to change the rules whenever it suits us.

(hat tip Greg Djerejian)

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