Lipstick on a Pig

Diplomacy is the art of putting lipstick on a pig.”

United States Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice returned this week from yet another futile negotiating session between Iran and the six world power nations regarding the halting of Iran’s program designed to produce nuclear weapons — a negotiating process that has been going on for five years. Secretary Rice concluded that Iran is not serious about the negotiations and that it has been giving the parties the “run-around.” If, in fact, it has taken Sec. Rice and the diplomats from the other super power nations five years to figure this out, it would suggest that the United State and its five fellow “”super powers” need to clean out the rat holes of their diplomatic corps and start over with people who can realistically and timely assess the character of rogue nations.

The whole concept of diplomacy rests on the notion that all parties to a dispute are reasonable, rational and honorable. Differences arise between nations just as differences arise between people in a civilized society. The art of negotiating a resolution to those differences assumes three things: that all parties want to find a solution, that all parties occupy relatively comparable positions of power, and that all parties are willing to accept a solution short of their initial demand.

In the United States, when negotiations fail between people, we have access to the courts in the form of litigation where the court ultimately imposes a resolution. The parties accept that resolution because 1) they have become accustomed to the process and/or 2) the might and power of the government is present to enforce the resolution. (Remember this latter element.)

On the world stage, however, when negotiations fail between nations there is no court system except in instances where the parties have agreed to submit matters to a world court. And even in those instances, because there is no effective enforcement mechanism, the party nations can choose to ignore both the process before the international tribunals and the results.

When negotiations fail between nations, there is only fight or flight. In most instances continued attempts at “diplomacy” serve only to delay the inevitable or mask the choice of “flight” that has already been made.

John Kenneth Galbraith, not exactly a “take-no-prisoners” hawk, was once quoted as saying,

“There are few ironclad rules of diplomacy but to one there is no exception. When an official reports that talks were useful, it can safely be concluded that nothing was accomplished.”

And that is precisely the case with negotiations with Iran over their intended development of a nuclear arsenal. It was precisely the case with Saddam Hussein and nearly fourteen pointless years of negotiating with him to cease development of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The same is true with Kim Jong Il and the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea.

What each of these rogue nations has in common is its recognition that diplomacy is a toothless tiger — a process to be manipulated while continuing to pursue the very conduct that is offensive to others. It is uncertain when rogue nations with their tyrants (Chavez in Venezuela), lunatics (Kim Jong Il in North Korea) and zealots (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran) first learned this lesson but it is certainly no later than Neville Chamberlain’s capitulation to Adolph Hitler immediately preceding his attack on Poland and the commencement of World War II.

International relations could use a good dose of playground reality. The only thing that ever stopped a playground bully was superior force — you either beat his eyes shut or the threat of beating his eyes shut became immediate and recognizable. Short of that you were forced to capitulate — you might avoid a beating but you never avoided the imposition of the bully’s arbitrary demands.

Kofi Busia, the Prime Minister of Ghana is quoted as observing that

“Diplomacy means the art of nearly deceiving all your friends, but not quite deceiving all your enemies.“

So it appears today that often times diplomacy is merely the smokescreen of capitulation. It is a means of keeping one’s own citizens at bay while allowing some despot to tweak the nation’s nose. And the consequences of capitulation are extreme. Does anyone think that once Ahmadinejad has access to a nuclear weapon that he will hesitate even a nano second before releasing it on Israel?

Fortunately, in today’s global economy, superior force does not necessarily mean armed conflict. (It does, on the other hand, help to be able to have certainty as to the ability to repel armed aggression.) President Ronald Reagan demonstrated that a superior economic force could bring the mighty Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to its knees. And the same is true in dealing with Iran. The economic measures available can crush Iran’s economy whether it comes from economic boycotts or by military build up designed to force Iran to spend itself into bankruptcy.

But none of this can be done while the United States is absolutely dependent on oil from the Middle East. Until the nation secures its own energy self-reliance its threats of superior force are just as hollow as its attempts to employ diplomacy.

In the end, we as a nation must decide on fight or flight. Five years of screwing around is quite enough.

(P.S. I searched Bartlett’s Quotations to determine whether anyone had come close to the opening quote. I found nothing and so I lay claim to its origin.)