From Stephen Walt:
If someone threatened to punish you unless you did something you didn’t want to do, how would you respond? Unless the threatened punishment was really horrible you’d refuse, because giving into threats encourages the threatener to make more demands. But what if someone offered to pay you to do something you didn’t want to do? If the price were right you’d agree, because that act of cooperation on your part sends a very different message. Instead of showing that you can be intimidated over and over, it simply lets people know that you’re willing to cooperate if you are adequately compensated.
In the case of Iran, the threats against it have already materialized into actual punishments, including a cyber attack by the US, the murder of its scientists, in addition to the several rounds sanctions that have largely only punished the civilian population (the medical supply shortages certainly won’t affect those with power).
The US and Israel are not simply demanding that Iran submit to international law, since it has the right under the NPT to enrich uranium (and agreement that Israel refuses to sign and the US violates by failing to make good faith efforts to reduce and eliminate its nuclear weapons). So let it be clear that the US is ‘blackmailing’ and punishing Iran for something that all other nations have a right to do.
But if Iran did eventually cave in to US/Israeli demands, what would that show? That violence and intimidation are effective in coercing foreign countries?
As Walt says:
States (and people) tend to resist a blackmailer, because once you pay them off the first time, they can keep making more and more demands. And in international politics, giving in to one state’s threats might convey weakness and invite demands by others.
…The other problem with the Western approach, of course, is that threatening Iran reinforces their interest in having a latent nuclear weapons capability, and might eventually convince them that they need to get an actual bomb.
(Incidentally, the message that Palestinians can sometimes get is that violence does work. Hizballah kicked Israel out of southern Lebanon in 2000 with violence, and Hamas has gained a minimal form of autonomy in Gaza and made deals with Israel after bouts of violence. Meanwhile, the West Bank Palestinians are repressed by their own security forces, have protested non-violently for years, and remain fully occupied.)
So why is it that other methods of persuasion are being avoided in the confrontation with Iran? Walt has a good answer: it’s about the self-interest of Washington officials.
Because Iran has been demonized for so long, and absurdly cast as the Greatest National Security Threat we face, it has become largely impossible for anyone to speak openly of a different approach without becoming marginalized. Instead, you have to sound tough and hawkish even if you are in favor of negotiations, because that’s the only way to be taken seriously in the funhouse world of official Washington.
This is in line with what Glenn Greenwald has pointed out with regard to “national security professionals;” namely, that they have an interest in supporting hawkish views and outright aggression. He points to Leslie Gelb, former Pentagon and State Department official and chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, who wrote that support for wars can be due to
unfortunate tendencies within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility.
Again, the idea of “credibility” and was boils down to keeping your job – aka “self-interest.”
Hopefully, the voices advocating blackmail towards Iran will eventually be drowned out by a those advocating backscratching. And those voices do exist. But ultimately, the whole system needs to be changed so that the people who have to most influence (the “foreign policy community,” “national security professionals,” Washington officials,” or whatever other groups they may belong to) over these important decisions do not have anything to gain by advocating blackmail.