Petraeus: Diplomacy, Not Force, With Iran

Petraeus: Diplomacy, Not Force, With Iran David Petraeus says force should be our last option in solving our disputes with Iran.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, President Bush’s nominee to lead U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, supports continued U.S. engagement with international and regional partners to find the right mix of diplomatic, economic and military leverage to address the challenges posed by Iran.

In written answers to questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he will testify today, Petraeus said the possibility of military action against Iran should be retained as a “last resort.” But he said the United States “should make every effort to engage by use of the whole of government, developing further leverage rather than simply targeting discrete threats.”

Petraeus’s views echoed those expressed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who this month said that talks with Iran could be useful if the right combination of incentives and pressures could be developed.

Sounds a lot like appeasement to me. That is, if we redefine the term to mean anything other than “shoot first, ask questions later.” Which, as I understand it, we have.

Seriously, Winston Churchill, we perhaps coined the term appeasement in its post-Munich sense, famously said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” Petraeus and Gates apparently agree. Despite years of speculation to the contrary, I still believe the man who appointed them believes that as well, at least with regards to Iran.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Sounds a lot like appeasement to me. That is, if we redefine the term to mean anything other than “shoot first, ask questions later.” Which, as I understand it, we have.

    We are lucky we didn’t have this guy during Hitler’s time–otherwise we would all be speaking German.

    Patraeus–don’t betray us! Bomb Iran!

  2. Bithead says:

    David Petraeus says force should be our last option in solving our disputes with Iran

    Isn’t that always the case? In fact, it HAS always been the case. The argument, to my mind has been how much negotiation do you attempt before you get down to that last case? Apparently, the answer according to some, is ‘forever’.

    Sounds a lot like appeasement to me. That is, if we redefine the term to mean anything other than “shoot first, ask questions later.” Which, as I understand it, we have.

    non-concur.

    Appeasement, in this context has always meant ‘unconditional’ talks with Iran.

  3. Michael says:

    Isn’t that always the case? In fact, it HAS always been the case. The argument, to my mind has been how much negotiation do you attempt before you get down to that last case?

    Actually it more a matter of defining which possible actions are considered “options”. Attacking Iraq was our last option because all other possible actions (like, not attacking Iraq despite Saddam’s refusal to step down) were not deemed “options”.

    If we say that the only “options” in Iran are “the complete removal of the theocratic government and the establishment of a liberal democracy”, and “war”, then yes, war will technically be used as the last option. However, some of us want other possible actions to be considered as options.

  4. Michael says:

    Appeasement, in this context has always meant ‘unconditional’ talks with Iran.

    That’s a stupid definition.

  5. Anderson says:

    I love it. “Unconditional talks.”

    That is, talking to the other side, without their having to give up anything *first* just for the *privilege* of talking to us.

    Tell ya what, I’ll discuss buying your car with you, provided you first hand me the keys. Once I have those, then we’ll talk.

  6. Bithead says:

    I love it. “Unconditional talks.”

    That is, talking to the other side, without their having to give up anything *first* just for the *privilege* of talking to us.

    Tell ya what, I’ll discuss buying your car with you, provided you first hand me the keys. Once I have those, then we’ll talk.

    Apples, planets.

    Sale of a car, and the price thereof is negotable. Iran is making no bones about what it wants; The destruction of the ’stinking corpse” of Israel, and the establishment of a world-wide caliphate. Since both those goals are totally unacceptable, will someone please tell me what the hell we’re supposed to negotiate? Is such a thing even able to be broken out where Iran gets part of it’s stated goal?

  7. yetanotherjohn says:

    Actually, the question of appeasement is in one sense what do you give in order to get what you want.

    If Iran would agree to shut down its nuclear program in a verifiable way in exchange for a face to face meeting with the president, then technically it would be appeasement, but it would be a good deal.

    The problem is when you give more than you should have. Chamberlain’s problem was not that he went to Munich, its that he sold out the Czechs for a piece of paper that was worthless. And when a naive and inexperienced president meets with a foreign leader, this can lead to bigger problems down the road as with Kennedy and Kruschev.

    But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. Despite his eloquence, Kennedy was no match as a sparring partner, and offered only token resistance as Khrushchev lectured him on the hypocrisy of American foreign policy, cautioned America against supporting “old, moribund, reactionary regimes” and asserted that the United States, which had valiantly risen against the British, now stood “against other peoples following its suit.” Khrushchev used the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting to warn Kennedy that his country could not be intimidated and that it was “very unwise” for the United States to surround the Soviet Union with military bases.

    Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world.

    Kennedy’s assessment of his own performance was no less severe. Only a few minutes after parting with Khrushchev, Kennedy, a World War II veteran, told James Reston of The New York Times that the summit meeting had been the “roughest thing in my life.” Kennedy went on: “He just beat the hell out of me. I’ve got a terrible problem if he thinks I’m inexperienced and have no guts. Until we remove those ideas we won’t get anywhere with him.”

    A little more than two months later, Khrushchev gave the go-ahead to begin erecting what would become the Berlin Wall. Kennedy had resigned himself to it, telling his aides in private that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.

    p.s. Obama is holding up Kennedy as an example of the kind of negotiating president we need. Which just shows Obama’s inexperience.

    It is just logical that war is the last resort. Once the bombs start falling, it is pretty hard to stop things with just talk. On the other hand, negotiating without the realistic option to use force hampers our negotiations. A huge amount of leverage is removed. And that is where the left has a lot to answer for. They create uncertainty in the US foreign policy that increases the chance of war and decreases the chance of a diplomatic solution.

    Imagine if Iran saw a united United States that would undoubtedly “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe”. We then go to Iran to negotiate an end to their nuclear weapons program that is verifiable. We may have to ‘appease them’ with concessions to get what we want, but if the Iranians knew without doubt that we would pay any price to stop their program, including all out war, they would also know that if they don’t negotiate an end to the program they would see a war they could not win. But instead they see huge rifts in US foreign policy. They question if the president could bring the US to war even if he wanted to. So they think that they don’t have to strike a deal. The question then becomes are we better off letting Iran go nuclear and potentially putting nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists or seeing Israel wiped of the map by nuclear war and the inevitable nuclear retaliation or should we got to war which we have the technical capabilities to carry out but lack the will to pursue.

    It isn’t a question of war or no war, but rather undermining diplomacy today that increases the chances of war tomorrow.

  8. cian says:

    Resurrecting the appeasement slur was always a bad idea and, for anyone paying even the slightest attention to what’s happening in the country, was always going to play to Obama’s strengths (he thinks things through). And now the most respected soldier in the country has just endorsed his position.

  9. John425 says:

    Petraeus notes: “…the United States “should make every effort to engage by use of the whole of government…”

    That precludes the Democrats from sniping and having one Senator staking out one position at odds with the Administration, one Congressperson or another trying to conduct foreign policy behind the back of others and Democrat candidates weakening our united front when dealing with American interests.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Petraeus, Gates and also Israel have joined the ranks of “appeasers”. When will the right take them to task? Actually, reasonable people can see what is going on and only the far fringe will continue to screech about appeasement.

    Appeasement, in this context has always meant ‘unconditional’ talks with Iran.

    Ummm, what a complete crock of S__t. I guess life is simple when you just let Rush do all your thinking for you.

    The context you are referring to is an attempt you use an emotionally charged buzzword in an attempt to smear the candidate you don’t like. Its far easier, and in the case of simpletons, more effective than a dialog on the issue. But it does not serve our country.

    We also have to keep in mind that the current discussion of Iran that carries the implication that we are at some sort of crisis point is something that has been entirely manufactured by Bush & his friends at Fox News.

  11. Bithead says:

    I guess life is simple when you just let Rush do all your thinking for you.

    I wouldn’t know, bing unable to get any AM in this building, and therefore unable to get the show.

    Bush & his friends at Fox News.

    Gee… my comment must have been fairly close to home. You’ve broken out all three boogie-men in one post.

  12. Michael says:

    Iran is making no bones about what it wants; The destruction of the ’stinking corpse” of Israel, and the establishment of a world-wide caliphate.

    You’ve yet to demonstrate that Iran wants a Caliphate. As for the destruction of Israel, I’m pretty sure that’s negotiable.

  13. anjin-san says:

    I wouldn’t know, bing unable to get any AM in this building, and therefore unable to get the show.

    You spend your entire life in one building? Interesting. No radio reception in your SUV? I told you those things suck. I guess you have not heard that Rush has a website, and you can check him out on the internets. Clearly you are completely cut off from any access to Rush’s thinking. Remarkable.

    As for the “stinking corpse” comment, Israel is well able to take care of Israel. Hillary Clinton was talking about obliterating Iran recently. Politicians say all sorts of things, and a lot of it is just red meat for the masses.

    I have seen absolutely nothing to indicate that Iran is actually considering going to war with Israel, or that it is intent on establishing a “World-wide Caliphate” Tell me Bit, how are these Muslims you so fear going to get here in force to convert you at the point of a sword?

  14. Michael says:

    You spend your entire life in one building? Interesting. No radio reception in your SUV? I told you those things suck. I guess you have not heard that Rush has a website, and you can check him out on the internets. Clearly you are completely cut off from any access to Rush’s thinking. Remarkable.

    So first you accuse him of being a mindless drone who listens to Rush all the time, then you mock him for…not being a mindless drone who listens to Rush all the time?

  15. Bithead says:

    So first you accuse him of being a mindless drone who listens to Rush all the time, then you mock him for…not being a mindless drone who listens to Rush all the time?

    (Chuckle)
    Well, you know how it is, Mike.
    Yeah, I do know he’s got a website, but of course that would require two things; I’d have to pay for it, and I’d have to be within a network hat wasn’t run behind a firewall which blocks audio streams.

    He’s on WHAM locally from 2 to 5, locally, and 5 is when I leave work.

    All that being beside the point that you needed support, so you fell back on your boogiemen as a prop for your argument.

    As for the “stinking corpse” comment, Israel is well able to take care of Israel.

    And what do you suppose that would encompass? Do you really consider that allowing that situation to develop, given nukes would be on the table, is acceptable? Do you actually think about what you say?

  16. Michael says:

    Do you really consider that allowing that situation to develop, given nukes would be on the table, is acceptable?

    Do you really think that situation is avoidable? The nuclear genie is out of the bottle, our only option now it to hold off the inevitable long enough to figure out how to survive it.

  17. Michael says:

    Yeah, I do know he’s got a website, but of course that would require two things; I’d have to pay for it, and I’d have to be within a network hat wasn’t run behind a firewall which blocks audio streams.

    He charges for his website’s rebroadcast? As for the second, you just have to find yourself an anonymizing proxy that isn’t blacklisted by your firewall. Though that could get you into some trouble with security. Firewalls are a stupid idea anyway, much better to just let everybody know that their internet activity is monitored.

  18. Bithead says:

    He charges for his website’s rebroadcast

    well, you might be able to pick up the show from individual station sites… maybe. I dunno. But the last I checked…(A little over a yer ago) I couldn’t get the thing to feed directly from his site; You had to be a member/subscriber.

    Firewalls are a stupid idea anyway, much better to just let everybody know that their internet activity is monitored.

    I suspect it’s more to address an available bandwidth issue at the pop.

  19. Bithead says:

    Do you really think that situation is avoidable?

    It rather depends on who is in power there.

  20. Michael says:

    It rather depends on who is in power there.

    Correction: It depends on everybody who will ever be in power there. At some point in the future Iran (or the area that is currently Iran) will have nuclear power for electricity generation, transportation, and yes, even weapons, because at some point in the future everybody will have that.

    So again, our task isn’t to avoid it indefinitely, our task is to figure out how to live in that situation, and to postpone it until we’re ready for it.

  21. Michael says:

    I suspect it’s more to address an available bandwidth issue at the pop.

    That’s what managed switches are for.

  22. anjin-san says:

    then you mock him for…not being a mindless drone who listens to Rush all the time?

    No, I mock him for claiming that the inability to get AM reception in one building means that he is unable to get Rush’s show should he care to.

    The nuclear genie is out of the bottle

    Indeed. Are we going to destroy any country we don’t like who we think might be pursuing nukes? That would make us well, worse than the folks we do not like.

    We don’t seem to have any trouble doing business with China, a nation ruled by ruthless and brutal communist despots. Or Pakistan, an unstable Muslim nation which has allowed Al Qaeda, and quite possibly Bin Laden sanctuary within its borders.

    The whole Iran question is a manufactured issue designed to take focus off of Bush’s bungled war in Iraq and to provide another bogeyman for domestic political consumption. After all, Saddam is gone and they have been telling us for years that Bin Laden is now irrelevant. How can they play the fear card without a few jokers in the deck?

  23. Michael says:

    No, I mock him for claiming that the inability to get AM reception in one building means that he is unable to get Rush’s show should he care to.

    Well that’s still a pretty stupid thing to mock him for if you’re trying to prove that he’s a devout Rush follower.

  24. anjin-san says:

    if you’re trying to prove that he’s a devout Rush follower.

    Not trying to prove anything. But when someones thinking is almost entirely dogmatic, the dogma has to be coming from somewhere.

  25. yetanotherjohn says:

    But when someones thinking is almost entirely dogmatic, the dogma has to be coming from somewhere.

    Pot meet kettle.

  26. anjin-san says:

    Yea John I am a far left wack job.

    I voted for Reagan twice, and am happy to say I thought he was an excellent president. I strongly support what we are doing in Afghanistan & wish we would stop pursuing Bush’s windmills in Iraq and would go after our real enemy in Afghanistan. I support a strong national security policy and want to see us support our troops with deeds, not lapel pins.

    My first choice for president is Chuck Hagel, a Republican.

    Yes, clearly I am all dogma…

  27. John425 says:

    anjin-san says; “I have seen absolutely nothing to indicate that Iran is actually considering going to war with Israel, or that it is intent on establishing a “World-wide Caliphate”.

    anjin-san doesn’t get out much. But…being homebound, he could always check out the Little Green Footballs website for current info about the goings-on of Iran and the Caliphate.

  28. Bithead says:

    True enough, John.
    Or, he could try getting his news from somewhere other than CNN, and MSNBC.

    (Hey, those kind of comments are credible when HE makes them….)

    That’s what managed switches are for.

    (Shrug) Not my network. Bt they’re obviously running some fairly heavy page cache on the proxy they have set up on the cold side of the wall.

    I guess I don’t much mind. I have a fairly busy day, and a decent MP3 collection.

    No, I mock him for claiming that the inability to get AM reception in one building means that he is unable to get Rush’s show should he care to.

    No, you’re trying to save face. It’s OK by me, but let’s call it what it is.

    Well, here’s a clue; I’ve not heard much of his show (Save the occasional repeat) for some time, now. Not that I object to the man, I’ve just never bothered chasing it all that much. On the occasions I’ve tried, it’s not been available in the building I work in, and frankly, I never bothered chasing it past the casual attempt. (And yes, I do use him as a source for the blog occasionally)

    It’s not that I’ve never heard the show. Indeed;
    I managed to catch Limbaugh’s first show from a local then-Rimshotter, WYSL which was then a daytimer on 1030 here in Rochester. (they’ve since gone to 1040 and gone to 20kw. ) I was sitting in front of my 286-12, at the time, and doing up some new programming for my BBS, if that’ll date the thing for you.

    He was snapped up by Clear Channel within months, and ended up on the 50kw WHAM in town. (Funny… Err America tried the same path, and failed… they’re stuck on Rimshotters to this day.)

    Now, the transmitter site for WHAM is in Chili which is perhaps 20 miles west of town, and I work , and I work about 40 miles away, about 20 miles EAST of town, in a steel building, way out on the east side. No AM and few FM signals penetrate that building, at all. Half the time even my cell phone doesn’t work.

    Since I”m in a generous mood, here’s another clue as to why it’s not overly important: Limbaugh is as popular as he is, and has been for 20 years, not because he tells others what to think, but because he says what they’re thinking already. Now does that give you another source to suggest I’ve been getting my ‘dogma’ from? Like for example, I’ve reasoned it out for myself?

    I have a certain level of experience with it, too… I’ve been blogging for a hair under 8 years now and writing online editorials for longer than the 20 or so years Limbaugh has been on, dating back to the FIDONET and GT net days, back when a BBS was the way to get around… one line at a time, at 300 baud, and the net was Al Gore’s wet dream.

    Trust me when I tell you I don’t need others to do my thinking for me. Are we clear on this, now?

  29. Bithead says:

    Correction: It depends on everybody who will ever be in power there

    Eh… Ever is a long time. One supposes that once the regimes change a few times, the belligerency level will go down to a manageable level.

    On the other hand we could always have another Jimmy Carter to screw that up again.

  30. anjin-san says:

    I don’t need others to do my thinking for me. Are we clear on this, now?

    Ah so. Then the small minded, paranoiac, right wing rants spring from your own cerebral cortex. OK, then…

  31. glasnost says:

    Petraeus has effectively annihilated McCain’s argument. Expect Obama to break this out in debates and McCain to break out a stutter.

  32. Bithead says:

    (Chuckle)

    Well, I’ll let folks read your output and mine and let them decide who it is that’s being small minded. Thats kinda how that works.

  33. glasnost says:

    Appeasement, in this context has always meant ‘unconditional’ talks with Iran.

    Yes, what Petraeus surely meant, when he said we should talk rather than use force, is that we should refuse to talk until Iran does everything we want, and then if they don’t, we should use force.

    He said we should talk, rather than use force – but he meant that talking is still appeasement if it’s not done in the non-conditional way you prefer.

    Hmmmm. I think you’re kidding yourself if you think that Petraeus has just agreed with your point of view.

  34. Bithead says:

    Petraeus has effectively annihilated McCain’s argument. Expect Obama to break this out in debates and McCain to break out a stutter.

    What you guys seem to be missing is Petraeus is issuing a warning, here, to the Democrats: Stop playing political games with the situation or that last resort will happen.

  35. anjin-san says:

    Petraeus is issuing a warning, here, to the Democrats: Stop playing political games with the situation

    Right because you know, Republicans never play politics, just those horrible, awful Democrats.

    The only reason we are even discussing Iran is because the Bush White House has been hard at work trying to manufacture an Iran crisis, just as it manufactured an Iraq crisis that led to the war there.

    Besides, I think a military man interfering in the civilian leadership process would be a tad improper now, would it not? Or is the job of generals now under Bush to issue “warnings” to the opposition party?

  36. anjin-san says:

    Little Green Footballs website

    I find far right rant sites just as annoying as far left rant sites…

  37. Michael says:

    Eh… Ever is a long time. One supposes that once the regimes change a few times, the belligerency level will go down to a manageable level.

    Not if we don’t have a dialog with the future leaders, or offer incentives for the Iranian people to elect those less belligerent leaders. We ignored the significantly less beligerent Khatami, and all it got us was Ahmadinejad, what makes you think ignoring him will get us someone less beligerent in the future?

  38. anjin-san says:

    Perhaps a little historical perspective is called for, from Wikipedia:

    The 1953 Iranian coup d’état saw the overthrow of the democratically-elected administration of the Iranian Prime Minister Mohamed Mosaddeq and his cabinet from power by British and American intelligence operatives working together with Iranian agents and elements of the Iranian army. Bribing Iranian officials, news media and others with British and American funds, Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),[1] organized the covert operation aiding retired Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi and Imperial Guard Colonel Nematollah Nassiri. The project to overthrow Iran’s government was codenamed Operation Ajax.

    Yes, a Republican administration overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran and replaced it with a brutal dictatorship because the Iranians had the gall to think they should control their own oil. I can’t imagine why these people don’t trust us.