I consider myself a good negotiator.
Some critical questions I ask clients before entering negotiations are: What is your bottom line position, i.e. on what points, if not conceded, are you are willing to walk out and not look back?; what points are you willing to concede, ideally after bargaining, to keep the negotiations going?; and, if we reach a tentative agreement, are you willing and able to live with the result?
If I apply these questions to what I observe to be the Obama administration’s stance in the Iran nuclear negotiations, the answers seem to be: 1) at one point there may have been walk-away points but they have been long abandoned; 2) concessions have been made without obtaining a quid pro quo in order to keep Iran at the table; and 3) an agreement, any agreement, is the goal.
Regarding the last point, either the administration entered into negotiations with the acceptance of living with a nuclear Iran or it has not given thorough thought to the consequences.
President Obama seems to want his Nixon-China moment for his legacy, to prove deserving of the prematurely awarded Nobel Peace Prize or to garner another one. It is as if we are watching a nuclear version of Moby Dick, with Obama as Captain Ahab and rapprochement with Iran as the Great White Whale. The United States, ostensibly in the stronger bargaining position, has willfully forfeited negotiating power to mollify Iran and keep it at the table.
What is missing from the American negotiating stance is a sense of resolve, principle, and commitment to national and world security.
What I find missing in the American stance is strongly present in the Iranian position. After “agreeing” on the so-called framework, and yet another extension in the deadline to reach a final agreement, both sides presented dueling fact sheets.
Iran says the United States has “devilish intentions” and that everything the U.S. says about the framework is a lie. Concessions in favor of Iran were made, but not acknowledged by the United States. Days after the announcement of the framework, Iran was still calling for “Death to America.”
An agreement is a contract. A contract only exists if there is a “meeting of the minds.” Based on the statements and responses from Washington and Tehran, it seems that there is no such thing.
Iran is crystal clear about its bottom-line positions: 1) the immediate lifting of sanctions and 2) no inspection of military facilities (How to avoid inspection? Declare every nuclear facility a military site). Although not part of these negotiations, their third bottom line — the destruction of Israel — does not seem to have gone away.
Obama’s response was to call for “creative negotiations” to allow Iran to sell the framework internally. It is to laugh. In Iran, only one person makes decisions of this magnitude, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
How was an agreement with Iran to be sold in the United States? The initial reaction from the White House was to implement it by executive decree, bypassing Congress. By declaring the deal an executive agreement instead of a treaty, the administration would not need the approval of two-thirds of the Senate as required by the Constitution. This is government by diktat. One who governs by diktat is a dictator. The Constitution was framed in such a way as to prevent concentration of power in the hands of a single person.
This led to opposition in Congress. One of the leaders of the opposition to the administration’s Iran policy was New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who was indicted for corruption by the Justice Department at the time the framework was announced. Political pundits speculated that this might be a warning shot to Senate Democrats not to break ranks with the White House.
The message may have been received by some influential Senate Republicans as well. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker has drafted a bill that puts the onus on Congress to muster 67 votes to block the agreement instead of the required 67 votes to approve the agreement as required of a treaty, standing the Constitution on its head. Treaties are not automatically ratified unless the Senate votes to block ratification.
Compare the administration’s approach to negotiations with those offered to Britain in May 1940. Hitler, through Italy, offered Britain an easy out of the war on the Continent. Britain stood alone, its expeditionary force surrounded at Dunkirk. Churchill had been prime minister for only three weeks.
Among the advocates of negotiation were Neville Chamberlain, who brought “peace” back from Munich, and Lord Halifax, who was George VI’s choice for prime minister.
Churchill knew that Britain would be the weaker party, and that to enter into negotiation would be tantamount to surrender. He stirringly rallied his cabinet against the appeasers: “If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood on the ground.”
Could you imagine this administration taking such a principled and steadfast position? Instead we get “creative negotiations” to appease Iran and creative dodges around constitutional constraints to avoid listening to the sentiment of the people.