Agreement is futile … when

Henry Kissinger (and this is not an endorsement of this individual) wrote a fascinating and disturbing book, A World Restored. It covers Metternich, Castlereagh, Tsar Alexander, and Napoleon, among others, in an era of much military and political change.

The book’s hero is Metternich, who maneuvers everyone so that from being sort-of head of an empire which is tattered, falling apart, and unarmed, his Austria/Hungary becomesĀ  the armed negotiator of the peace after Napoleon. The central theme of the book is that, when everyone’s understanding of what can and cannot be done (between nations, in this case) is shaken up badly, the world is uncertain and unstable. Metternich restored stability with a series of maneuvers, none of which were suspected, all subtle, apparently pointless, misleading, always doing what he was asked to do – which moved his country/empire to his goal. At the end, a new set of understandings was in place, and the world was restored.

All that is a fun read, and I recommend it. Today’s post is about something you will find in the introduction. I will try to recapture the discovery here.

Kissinger defines a revolutionary power as one that does not believe the current system, which is a collection of tacit understandings of what can be done and what consequences will ensue. Napoleon was such a revolutionary power. In dealing with such, agreement is futile. Negotiation is futile. The revolutionary power does not believe “you” or the system can or will give it what it wants. Therefore its demands appear to be unlimited. Nothing is good enough. No promise is respected.

Today we have several examples of a revolutionary power, I will list just a few. Israel with respect to the Palestinians. We’ve had fifty years of negotiation, all of which resulted in more settlements, poorer living conditions for the Palestinians, with reduced economy, freedom, even tax income withheld. And still it is not enough. Israel seems to need the utter defeat of the Palestinians, just as Napoleon needed to utterly defeat his enemies.

As a footnote, Kissinger later in the book notes that this made Napoleon a very weak negotiator later, as he had had no practice in it.

Another revolutionary power is the USA. If you read any CRS reports about national interest, you will eventually notice that there seems to be no morality involved. What’s best for the USA, and that’s that. Therefore nothing offered is ever enough. We want it all.

I suspect that Iran is a revolutionary power, but cannot be certain as the truth of various news sources is hard to prove. I note that the USA is now blurring “evidence” from as far back as 1983, restating “no evidence of weapons development” as “no proof of not developing”. To quote Rumsfeld, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We may see another smoking gun argument, shortly.

This means that, with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, which may or may not be trying to build, or to be ready to build, or to threaten to have, nuclear arms, with respect to that, negotiation is futile. Negotiation is futile when agreement is futile; the revolutionary power will immediately demand more.

Iran behaves like a revolutionary power. It does not believe the system (NATO, UN, Europe, Doha negotiations, whatever) will give it what it wants: freedom to act plus international respect.

The USA is a revolutionary power. It does not believe that that same system will give it what it wants: absolute control over energy, and then economics, food, and water.

So, with respect to the Iranian nuclear efforts, negotiation is futile. Any agreement is subject to immediate doubt and contradiction. This is one thing that makes Ahmadinejad so interesting; his speeches are meant to be outrageous, and generally succeed.

I suspect the Palestinians have also noticed that negotiation is futile.

This is not to take sides (being a bleeding heart, I have a reflexive sympathy for the oppressed or exploited or economically sanctioned, but that’s just me) in either International Discussion, I think the rest of the world should realize: if you want this resolved (either problem) you have to change the rules for the participants. This means changing their perception of the rules, of what can be done and what will result. There has to be something in it for any participant in negotiation who believes himself to be giving up something. And that gain has to be fairly well guaranteed. The latest incursion into Gaza makes such a guarantee hard to make credible. The American experiments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, plus the history of the Shah in Iran, make such a guarantee hard to make credible to Iran as well.

Negotiation is futile. Change the rules instead. But how?

Remember the softwood lumber and related agreements. Agreement was futile there, too. The revolutionary power promptly re-interpreted the agreements, or broke them, and waited for the repercussions. What to do?

The 99 percent may have it right. A decent break for the middle class would be a good start; then their influence might increase enough to move their governments to follow the rules of decency, humanity, and fair play.

I suspect this will not happen this year. The cold weather, government repression, legal arguments, smear campaigns, and a few black block incidents, and we’ll all forget that those demonstrators, however incoherently, were talking back to the establishment … for us.

Meanwhile, watch the negotiations with Palestine and Iran. But don’t expect to see any agreement, not just yet.

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