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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Talking With The Enemy

If nothing else, the 60 Minutes show aired tonight (2006/08/13) with Mike Wallace's interview of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should raise at least one key question with all Americans.

For enemies with whom we've previously denied relations or contact, who would benefit more from establishing contact, us or our foe, and why?

There are at least a few possible answers that come to mind.

The Foe Benefits via Elevated World Stature -- I think this is the default assumption of most people in our government (of both parties). By talking to someone like Arafat, Ahmadinejad, Quadaffi, Kim Jong-il, etc., we immediately grant world stage status to someone we fundamentally view as a tin-pot dictator or sectarian / religion nutjob. This complicates our goals by possibly encouraging 3rd party players to view the foe as more substantial and potentially weigh in on their side rather than staying out of the fray or siding with us. I'm not so sure this argument holds much weight when you consider some of the people we HAVE engaged who have murdered or oppressed millions.

The Foe Benefits By Tempting Us Into "Diplomacy" While They Continue to Pursue Their Goals -- This might be the backup response to many people in America who feel diplomacy moves too slow to address urgent economic or military threats posed by these countries.

America Benefits By Learning More About the Psychology of our Foe -- Think about what an astute observer can glean from a few days of discussion with an opponent. In a "kumbaya" sense, one could learn more about the true motivations of the foe and possibly find areas of common agreement that could be used to develop a better sense of cautious trust or ways to defuse unproductive tension. In a pure Machiavellian sense, one could get a little insight into their thought process, emotional hot buttons, or logical weak points that could be very useful in determining our strategy. More importantly, no meeting of heads of state takes place without DOZENS of lower-level staffers having DOZENS of meetings beforehand, giving us even greater insight into the people feeding information to the top and how that might be manipulated or used to our advantage.

The Enemy Benefits By Learning More about Our Psychology -- if it is possible for us to learn something damaging to the foe by direct talks, it works in the other direction as well.

In the case of the 60 Minutes interview, I'm not sure which case might apply. Ahmadinejad proved he understands US media and politics by appearing to appear reasonable as he criticizes Bush for his belligerence and claims Iran is not interested in a bomb, knowing full well the initial American reaction will likely be to rally around the President. In reality, that is exactly what he wants us to do. Ahmadinejad ran as what passes for a moderate in Iran and only after taking power and finding how difficult it was to control the Revolutionary segment of his party and the mullahs, found it easier to keep the masses distracted from local problems by returning to the "US as bogeyman" theme knowing we'd return the favor and justify his tactic.

Lurking beneath the feigned "reasonableness", he still came across like the religious nutjob he is and demonstrated the combination of that zealotry and his intelligence is something we cannot ignore or eliminate through isolation or ignoring them willfully.

Part of me wonders if we couldn't use negotiations with Iran to weaken their government. How convinced would the global jihadists within their government be of their revolutionary purity after seeing their government deal directly with the "Great Satan?" It's time we start using some reverse psychology on them.