We Are Playing With Fire, and Radiation, in Iran

Father’s Day is coming, that special time when we honor a generation of men’s men who ruthlessly crushed us in Monopoly. Somehow they could all negotiate us into submission. Each ensuing sweetheart deal to save us from paying at the hotel nudged us closer to the flophouse. The game always ended with Dad’s top hat perched jauntily on Boardwalk while our little doggie was hunched, woebegone, on Water Works.

Not all of these wheeler-dealers were satisfied to settle in the sylvan bowers of suburbia. Some signed on with their rich uncle, Sam. Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, said the poet Gray, but these fellows were determined not to let their bargaining skills go underused. Why haggle with hags at garage sales when you can use your indignation on dignitaries? Why hondle with handymen over frozen pipes in winter when you can wangle plenty out of the plenipotentiaries? So Mister Smite goes to Washington.

Oh, no, they don’t like war, those guys. They are killer negotiators, not killers. They are cutthroat when it comes to caviling at ever clause, but they have no real claws with which to cavalierly cut throats. Not because they’re peaceniks, mind you, but because the notion of conflict turning unmanageable is an affront to their virtuosity. No need for soldiers to settle anyone’s hash as long as we have these diplo-crats to hash it out. Just give them a round table and they will deliver… "peace in our time," to coin a phrase. Meet the boys who have been entrusted with handling the Iran situation.

Nor do I relish here the role of skeptic. I am as enamored as the next guy with the image of ‘our team’ running rhetorical circles around the primitive hooligans who run Iran. We could get them to agree not to nuke Manhattan Island, and all it will cost us is $24 worth of trinkets. Show those guys once and for all that the Great Satan can pitch you anything with forked tongue and make you like it. Worse comes to worst, we might have to throw in a boatload of free burqas as an incentive, complete with ILGWU labels.

The problem is this. There is one sucker punch that Western negotiators always take on the chin. It’s a trap that we tend to set for ourselves. First we demand talks. The other side refuses. We demand more stridently. They show signs of weakening, say something noncommittal. We push and pull, we coax and cajole, we bluff and bluster, we waggle our fingers and raise our voices; finally, they break down and agree to talk. This feeds our ego. You see, we got them to sit down. Now they’re listening. We got ’em where we want ‘em.

At the bargaining table, they show recalcitrance. Not to mention intransigence. A touch of intractableness. A dash of obduracy. A pinch of obstinacy. Our guys keep hammering while the other guys keep sawing, and eventually we get a deal that has been whittled down significantly from our initial position. They’ll enrich a little uranium and cook a little plutonium and ice the isolated isotope, but they won’t push all the buttons on the machine or invite Madame Curie for dinner. And that is where we always get bitten. Nothing fools the honest negotiator more than inducing a reluctant "Yes!" after a hard sell.

Think about it. Did Hitler say no to Chamberlain? Did the North Vietnamese say no to us in Paris? Did North Korea say no to Clinton? Nope… they all ran the sting to its full length and then let us eke out their affirmative response. We fall for it because of the process. The initial resistance tricks us into believing that they are bringing good faith to the table. After all, if they wanted to lie they could have said "Yes!" right away. Wrong. They want to lie, but effectively, by lulling us into complacency.

In the case of Iran, there is an extra threat from the fact that we foolishly asked China to intercede by speaking to Ahmadinejad and his boys. Yecch, very dumb move. This gives Iran a powerful China Option. They can carefully time a huge announcement in conjunction with Beijing, that in respect to China they have agreed to stand down. This gives China diplomatic points and buys Iran a lot of time. If they secretly continue their program, we will be hesitant to look too closely lest we embarrass China.

All in all, the Iran situation calls for Military Dad to go in there and break some stuff. By letting Monopoly Dad run the operation, we are at risk of seeing Park Place turn into Free Parking.