In Iran Sanctions; Bolton on Regime Change, I wrote
This gives the a priori probabilities:
- chance of negotiations = 28%
- chance of positive outcome to sanctions = 14%
This is really just a recapitulation of Carl von Clausewitz. The enemy will react. Tactical and diplomatic brilliance are required to cause the enemy to choose the path of our choice, not his. Quoting (italics mine),
“But everything takes a different shape when we pass from abstractions to reality. In the former, everything must be subject to optimism, and we must imagine the one side as well as the other striving after perfection and even attaining it. Will this ever take place in reality?”
But it is necessary for us to commence with a glance at the nature of the whole, because it is particularly necessary that in the consideration of any of the parts their relation to the whole be kept constantly in view.
The relation to the whole is the sanctions ecosystem, and the willingness of U.S. allies to embrace the result, a need for a military coalition to keep the oil moving out of the Gulf. In misuse of logical positivism (show me the money) Germany and Japan voice skepticism of Iran’s responsibility for the tanker attacks, because it’s their veins that get cut.
While keeping up the logical positivism in public, Russia, in the first favor to the U.S. since record-keeping began, has refused the S-400 to Iran. (Bloomberg) Russia Rejected Iran S-400 Missile Request Amid Gulf Tension. Of course, Russia may not be unhappy with the price support from keeping Iranian oil off the market. There are also intimations that Russia is also concerned about Iranian expansion via Hezbollah in Syria.
Since the decided U.S. policy is to derail Iranian expansionism by the use of economic pressure, with the possibility of military conflict, can we can improve our game? (CNN) US policy toward Iran is all stick and no carrot. Consider an active shooter, who might be a religious fanatic, barricaded inside a house. Do you just toss a phone inside, and yell, “Pick up the phone and we’ll negotiate your surrender terms”? It doesn’t work this way; a trained hostage negotiator is called in, perhaps a team, so they can go at it 24/7. With an informed psychological approach.
Diplomacy, and diplomacy backed by power, is not usually so enlightened, unless Henry Kissinger is involved. Instead, it appeals to the imagined self interest of the adversary. From Checklist for Middle East Foreign Policy; When to Hold & When to Fold,
- To think one correctly identifies the adversary’s most important self-interest, and that it will act according to that interest, is usually wrong. (Sanctions.)
There is an alternative to the volitional, conscious, overtly coercive approach. “Carrot and stick” oversimplifies. Without entirely abandoning the current U.S. coercive approach, consider ways in which it could be elevated to the exalted Iranian level of manipulation.
With such dismal odds for the success of sanctions, this is another opportunity to suggest B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning, referenced in Russia, proposed Syria cooperation with United States; Is Russia a Rational Actor? and related articles.
If you’ve read about the Skinner Box, your reaction may have been that it is too hard to implement in practice, requiring major revisions of U.S. administrative law. With Iran, it’s much easier, because the primary export is oil. Simply take charge of Iran oil sales.
- Take charge of sales.
- Induce a state of learned helplessness.
- In return for good behavior, restore empowerment by degrees.
This will not appeal to those who think in terms of finality. But on how many occasions has history gifted us with beneficent finality? With the salting of Carthage?