Diplomatic Relations With Iran

Whatever you think of the events of the other day involving some Iranian and U. S. ships, Fred Kaplan’s advice makes good sense to me:

…as Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, told the Boston Globe’s Bryan Bender and Farah Stockman on Monday, the U.S. commanders have no systematic way to halt a conflict if it begins to spiral. “I do not have a direct link with my counterpart in the Iranian Navy,” he said. “I do not have a way to communicate directly with the Iranian Navy or [Revolutionary] Guard.”

Through the darkest days of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow maintained a hot line. During most of those times, there were parallel forums for communication between the two sides’ senior officers. Iran doesn’t pose anything remotely resembling the threat that the United States and the Soviet Union posed to each other in those years. Here is yet another reason to establish diplomatic relations with Iran. You don’t have to be friends to talk.

Kaplan also cites Walter Russel Mead’s WJS op-ed in which Mead observes:

Last weekend, the Iranians fled before shots were fired. Good for them. If Iran wants a large-scale military conflict with a U.S. that is angry, aroused and united, endangering American naval vessels in the Straits of Hormuz is the right way to get one.

Mead also points out that

From the 18th century to the present day, threats to American ships and maritime commerce have been the way most U.S. wars start. The pattern began early. Attacks by the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean led President Thomas Jefferson to send the U.S. Navy thousands of miles on a risky expedition to suppress the threat to American merchant ships in 1801. During the Napoleonic Wars, British and French interference with U.S. commerce led to a series of crises and undeclared “quasi-wars” that culminated in the War of 1812.

Sumatran attacks on U.S. ships in the 1830s led President Andrew Jackson to dispatch naval forces on a retaliatory mission. The widespread (though probably erroneous) U.S. belief that the USS Maine had been destroyed by a Spanish mine in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, forced a reluctant President William McKinley to launch the Spanish-American War in 1898.

The 20th century was no different. German attacks on U.S. ships in World War I brought America into that war; the Japanese attack on the fleet at Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II. The Tonkin Gulf incident in 1964 (alleged attacks on U.S. ships by North Vietnamese boats) led Congress to authorize President Lyndon Johnson’s use of force in Indochina. The North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo in 1968 touched off a near-war crisis at the height of the Vietnam conflict, and the Cambodian seizure of the Mayaguez, a container ship, led President Gerald Ford to dispatch combat forces back to Indochina less than one month after the U.S. withdrawal from Saigon in 1975. President Ronald Reagan dispatched forces to Libya in the 1980s when Moammar Gadhafi tried to claim the international waters off his coast behind a “Line of Death.” President Bill Clinton rattled the saber when Chinese forces fired missiles in the Taiwan Straits in 1995 and 1996.

Whether we can arrive at points of agreement or not, it’s in both our countries’ interests to have formal relations. It lowers transaction costs if nothing else and the contingency costs of a lack of formal relations could be very, very high.

10 comments… add one
  • Robbie Robinson Link

    Hooray! Some sensible answer to this ludicriously blown out of proportion (or misleading) story. Do I hear echos of the “Gulf of Tonkin” that started Vietnam? I can see the headlines: “Giant warships threatened by little motorboats!!” Give me a break.

    Okay, so we can’t attack them because they are not building any nuclear bombs, so we now can say they are charging our very big warships with powered rowboats. Yea, that works. Makes about as much sense.

    Would somebody in Congress PLEASE get Cheny and Bush out of there before they do something really stupid!!

  • I’m posting here because the WSJ doesn’t provide a space. I suppose I agree with the basic tenet of this page: that any way Iran can avoid being teased into conflict with our Task Force Provocateur is in everybody’s interest, everybody but Wall Street and City of London, who fund both sides of all wars, because war is the most lucrative crime they can find.

    But there is a deafening absence of mention of the staged and provoked (google OPLAN 34-A) nature of the Gulf of Tonkin “Incident” in Mead’s [expletive deleted, but read “obsequious”] WSJ piece, staged and provoked exactly like this Hormuz business, complete and replete with black ops inside Iran for several years now, right? RIGHT???

    I suppose I should credit Mead for at least mentioning that the sinking of the Maine was not as advertised:

    “The widespread (though probably erroneous) U.S. belief that the USS Maine had been destroyed by a Spanish mine in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, forced a reluctant President William McKinley to launch the Spanish-American War in 1898.”

    The not-reluctant efforts of Wm Randolph Hearst to foster that war (“how do you like the Globe’s war?”, and “you provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war”) are fully equalled by Robert Bartley’s eager stumping for the Iraq fraud (Bush’s first SOTU: “And he did that by making it pretty clear there’s more war ahead, you know. This Enron story isn’t going to last very long if we invade Iraq.”)

    I don’t see a lot of reluctance in Mead’s piece, either — I’ll just leave it at that.

  • I can see the headlines: “Giant warships threatened by little motorboats!!” Give me a break.

    Yeah, that could never happen.

  • Yer darn tootin’, Icepick. The mockery of the U. S. response I’ve read here and there is either ill-informed or malicious or just plain dumb. I also think that the accusations that the entire incident has been trumped up by the U. S. military under command from the Bush Administration are scurrilous. I’m confident that our military isn’t political in this sense and if anybody has evidence to the contrary, I’d like to see it. I think that most of the complainants are upset by the way that real events have of sabotaging their preferred policy position.

    For me the bottom line is that both Iran and the United States have legitimate interests in the Gulf and it’s about time that both countries recognized the legitimacy of the other’s interests. We don’t have to agree with the way we see each other’s interests but we really should acknowledge, for example, that Iran, the regional superpower, has legitimate interests in its own neighborhood.

  • I have never denied that Iran has legitimate interests in the region. I have believed that re-establishing diplomatic relations serves no purpose. I’m having to re-evaluate that position currently in light of recent events.

  • Alain Link

    So funny how all the BDS-deranged folks out there that are claiming that the U.S. govt. lied about this treated the N.I.E as the absolute gospel truth!

  • What puts a burr under my saddle is how many folks are willing to take the account of the Iranian government as fair dinkum.

  • What do you suppose the costs were of the Iran hostage-taking, not only in financial terms, but the very real costs to the United States as a consequence of that national humiliation, as well as the costs in blood and treasure of Iran’s warfare against us since that time?

    Can we get a refund?

    I’ve quoted you and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2008/01/re-diplomatic-relations-with-iran.html

  • Some of the commenters here need to read this in its entirety.

  • Fletcher Christian Link

    Iran, with its current government and prevailing attitude of its citizens, doesn’t have any legitimate interests anywhere. The people running that pestilential swamp of violence, barbarism and intolerance want to go back to the Dark Ages. They should be accommodated in their desire. In fact, they should be helped along the way.

    Iran will cease to be a threat when not one stone stands atop another, and not before. Or if and when they grow up and manage a thousand years of social development in a decade or so. Ain’t gonna happen.

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