Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 2, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

STICKS AND CARROTS....In an interview with the New York Times yesterday, Barack Obama spelled out his Iran strategy in a little more detail than he has before. He promised "aggressive personal diplomacy" and then added this:

Making clear that he planned to talk to Iran without preconditions, Mr. Obama emphasized further that "changes in behavior" by Iran could possibly be rewarded with membership in the World Trade Organization, other economic benefits and security guarantees.

"We are willing to talk about certain assurances in the context of them showing some good faith," he said in the interview at his campaign headquarters here. "I think it is important for us to send a signal that we are not hellbent on regime change, just for the sake of regime change, but expect changes in behavior. And there are both carrots and there are sticks available to them for those changes in behavior."

This is good stuff, and I'm all in favor of it. But as a small point, I've long wondered if this kind of language is really helpful. When you talk about "rewarding" a country, or "expecting" certain things, or offering "sticks and carrots," do your words work against your intentions? It's one thing to offer a grand bargain of some kind, but when you publicly refer to it as "sticks and carrots" aren't you just making it harder for the other side to accept it? People and countries, after all, are less likely to accept a deal if they think they're being crudely manipulated like a wayward teenager given inducements to clean up his room.

This is not a big deal, and not a criticism specifically of Obama. This kind of language gets used by virtually everybody. But if you've decided to pursue the aggressive diplomacy route as a break from the past, it seems like it might be worthwhile to go ahead and modify your language as a break from the past as well.

Kevin Drum 1:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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Comments

People and countries, after all, are less likely to accept a deal if they think they're being crudely manipulated like a wayward teenager given inducements to clean up his room.

Only if they are children. Adults understand how the game is played.

Posted by: Disputo on November 2, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

can it be worse than labeling a country as a member of the axis of evil?

Posted by: mudwall jackson on November 2, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Two words: domestic consumption.

Posted by: F. Frederson on November 2, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is taking the GOP back to foreign policy kindergarten.

Posted by: goethean on November 2, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Btw, whyTF does everyone want their pols to speak honestly to them, and then when they do, criticize them for being too honest?

Obama seems to be the recipient of more than his fair share of this peculiar dynamic.

Posted by: Disputo on November 2, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

He has to win elections to implement his plan. Saying "current policy is all stick and no carrot" is a good way to communicate his message.

Just compare the lingo to the current level of discussion. I doubt the Iranians and others will be put off by a change from "bomb bomb bomb iran" to "carrot and stick."

Posted by: blatherskite on November 2, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I think it is Iran who needs to see assurances of good faith by the US and changes in US behavior before Iran can trust anything any US politician says. Obama's invocation of the stick belies his intention, which is to continue US militant policy to dominate smaller, weaker nations with coveted natural resources. Until the US changes that behavior, all nations should shun its overtures for 'cooperation.'

Posted by: Brojo on November 2, 2007 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

If Russia started to offer the United States "carrots and sticks", how would we respond? When you look at long-term natural resource availability it is quite possible that Russia will be able to push the US around in the not-too-distant future. Yet I guarantee our response to any such move on Russia's part would be defiance and counterattack.

Yet we expect that other nations will respond as we wish to our "carrots and sticks". What immaturity.

Cranky

Of course, "carrots and sticks" are big favorites of management consultants and human resource experts - as opposed to understanding and managing interests.

Posted by: Cranky Observer on November 2, 2007 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

It is precisely this language that shows Obama's lack of experience with foreign policy. His sentiments are correct and fall in line with Clinton's. But she has a more cosmopolitan way of expressing this.

Posted by: Tang on November 2, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

It is precisely this language that shows Obama's lack of experience with foreign policy. His sentiments are correct and fall in line with Clinton's. But she has a more cosmopolitan way of expressing this.

Okay, that was hilarious.

Posted by: junebug on November 2, 2007 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

' But she has a more cosmopolitan way of expressing this.' - Tang

No, she doesn't. Clinton also used the 'carrots and sticks' metaphor in the debate.

Posted by: nepeta on November 2, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

B -- is for "breathlessly dramatic prose and writing as affected as a junior high school girl's"

R --- is for "reliably Unamerican and even more reliably uninformed."

O --- is for "Oh, Jesus, how can anyone still support Nader and argue there's no difference in the parties?

J --- is for "Just tiresome."

O --- is for "OUTRAGEOUS. See little Brojo shock us all with his OUTRAGEOUS opinions. OUTRAGEOUS! Like if Madonna was posting!"

Posted by: Pat on November 2, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, part of this is just reality -- accelerated, of course, by the TV/Internet age. It's no longer really possible to tell Us how you're going to deal with Them in a forum that is isolated from Their attention. Currently, Obama is trying to win an election, which requires talking to Us about Them. When he wins, he'll have the luxury of actually talking directly to Them.

All in all, I wouldn't panic too much.

Posted by: Daniel Munz on November 2, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky makes a good point.

Posted by: optical weenie on November 2, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

The "stick" in "carrot & stick" isn't punitive; it's part of the lure. As in, you hang a carrot from the end of a stick.

Carrot OR stick approach is what most people think of.

Posted by: Grumpy on November 2, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

It's unfortunate that Obama must simultaneously appeal to the Dem base while also sending a message to Iran. The idea of sticks and carrots may be reasonable, but saying it destroys its effectiveness.

The proper way to negotiate is to start at or beyond one's default position. Negotiating theory would support Bush's strong statement that the US will never permit Iran to develop nukes, as well as his hints about WW3. Bush can always negotiate down from this position.

But, you can't negotiate up. Once the President mentions "carrots and sticks, he's in a weak position. Having mentioned rewards, any negotiation will, at best, focus on the nature of the rewards.

Unfortunately, there's no much we can do to reward Iran. I don't believe we have a plausible carrot that would convince them to verifiably relinquish their nuclear program. Unlike NK, they're certainly not desperate for energy.

Also, it's an unfortunate precedent to reward Iran for bad behavior. (That is, building nukes is bad from our POV.) It encourages other nations to behave badly.

Posted by: ex-liberal on November 2, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin -- I have a feeling a fair share of poli-sci types would simply not accept your premise about reluctance and simply point to interests. Would it be in Iran's interests to enter the global economy? The mullahs might say no, but a lot of other Iranians would say Hell Yes, including much of the political class. One might say it is actually more interesting the extent to which countries do not behave like the teenagers you describe -- and possibly, for that matter, teenagers.

Posted by: Martin on November 2, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

But she has a more cosmopolitan way of expressing this. Posted by: Tang

Growing boys need tang.

Posted by: Disputo on November 2, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

All in all, it's an ugly metaphor. I googled its derivation and, although there's some minor disagreement, it originated as 'carrot on a stick' to describe how people would entice donkeys to continue moving by holding a carrot in front of the donkey's head but just out of reach.
A completely different meaning! Still a trick, but no punishment involved anyway.

Posted by: nepeta on November 2, 2007 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Grumpy - How did you know that??? Good for you.

Posted by: nepeta on November 2, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

'Carrot OR stick approach is what most people think of.' - Grumpy

Most people think of it because that's the current meaning of a 'carrot and stick' approach.

Posted by: nepeta on November 2, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

The proper way to negotiate is to start at or beyond one's default position. Negotiating theory would support Bush's strong statement that the US will never permit Iran to develop nukes, as well as his hints about WW3. Bush can always negotiate down from this position.

And in doing so, completely undermine his initial position and his positions on whatever negotiations might follow. Jaysus, but you're a complete moron. Are you reading this shit off of a cereal box?

Posted by: junebug on November 2, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on November 2, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

it's an unfortunate precedent to reward Iran for bad behavior. (That is, building nukes is bad from our POV.) It encourages other nations to behave badly.

Running unnecessary wars unilaterally and badly also encourages nations to ignore American saber-rattling.

Posted by: yocoolz on November 2, 2007 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone else see the problem in offering carrots to badly behaving nations?

Doesn't that in some ways encourage other nations to behave badly in search of their own carrots?

Should carrots be reserved for my friends and sticks for my enemies?

Posted by: dennisBoz on November 2, 2007 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

When the US offers to ram carrots and sticks up other nations' asses, and when those nations bend over to receive their American masters' penetration, that positive reinforcment rewards neo-conmen buggering behavior.

Posted by: Brojo on November 2, 2007 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

On starting from a harsh bargaining position and easing off during negotiations:

"And in doing so, completely undermine his initial position and his positions on whatever negotiations might follow."
__________________________

Hmmm. No, that's not how it works. In serious negotiations, both sides should expect to back off a bit from where they start.

Posted by: Trashhauler on November 2, 2007 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

"Does anyone else see the problem in offering carrots to badly behaving nations?"
________________________

It depends upon the country. Nobody on the Left was interested in offering any "carrots" to apartheid South Africa, even though they were an important source of strategic materials for the West. Instead, they found sticks aplenty.

By contrast, Iran is merely thought to be building a bomb to kill Jews. For many, that's simply posturing, at most a mere pecadillo. Even though Iran has a solid track record of arming people to kill Jews, they can't really mean it, now can they?

Maybe if we offer them enough carrots everything will turn out okay. Certainly, we have few effective sticks that any around here would be willing to use.

Posted by: Trashhauler on November 2, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK
It's one thing to offer a grand bargain of some kind, but when you publicly refer to it as "sticks and carrots" aren't you just making it harder for the other side to accept it?

Probably not. There is a potential problem when you say you are trying to influence another nation's policy's at all (how big of a problem depends on how committed the regime and its constituency are to the policy in question) but characterizing the means of influence as "carrots and sticks" or other similar language doesn't really add much complication beyond what is already inherent in saying that you have an interest in a particular policy to start with.

People and countries, after all, are less likely to accept a deal if they think they're being crudely manipulated like a wayward teenager given inducements to clean up his room.

Real leaders of national governments are probably aware that every other national government in the world is trying to serve either the interests of its own citizens or the personal interests of its leaders, and that every action by every actor in foreign policy is an attempt to manipulate other countries in precisely the way you describe. It only becomes a problem if the way you publicly portray the effort makes it difficult to sell their response to the constituencies they have to appeal to, and I don't think Iran is going to have trouble selling anything it does to get a "carrot" that is a reward for giving up the nuclear arms program that it keeps denying it has , especially if the carrot is assistance with the nuclear energy program that the regime has claimed is its only interest in nuclear technology. Hell, they sell that as "We tricked the Americans into helping us with a national priority by agreeing to give up something we weren't doing in the first place."

Obviously, its more problematic if you publicly are proposing carrot/sticks directed at getting a regime to stop doing it has sold to its people as a core national priority, but you are going to have an inordinate amount of trouble getting a regime to publicly repudiate such a priority once it has been embraced whether or not you are characterizing your efforts as carrots/sticks.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 2, 2007 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: "This kind of language gets used by virtually everybody."

That's because arrogance is deep and pervasive in the US foreign policy establishment, across the whole range of political persuasions.

There are differences of opinion about means -- emphasize "carrots" or emphasize "sticks" -- but there is no difference of opinion about the "fact" that the powerful elites of the US corporate state are all-knowing and all-wise and it is their role to tell everyone in the world how to live.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on November 2, 2007 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I see that trashhauler not only subscribes to the bigoted notion that Zionism=Judiasm but also promulgates the bigotry that Iranians hate and are targeting Jews.

In fact, Iranian Jews are doing just fine.

But at least trashhauler is no longer bothering to promulgate the cover story that Iran having a nuke has anything to do with *US* national security and instead is all about preventing a Muslim Middle Eastern country from reaching nuclear parity with Israel.

Posted by: Disputo on November 2, 2007 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

"arrogance is deep and pervasive in the US foreign policy establishment, across the whole range of political persuasions."
________________________

As contrasted, one must suppose, to the humility and downright human goodness found in the foreign policy establishments of the EU, China, Iran, Russia, Japan, India, etc, etc, etc.

Posted by: trashhauler on November 2, 2007 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmm. No, that's not how it works. In serious negotiations, both sides should expect to back off a bit from where they start.

If you begin from the position that you will never permit something, and you evoke images of World War III in order to emphasize your point, then negotiate down from your original position, the only person you've negotiated with is yourself. And you've already lost that negotiation, so you don't look particularly formidable to the person you're supposed to be negotiating with the first place. You & ex-liberal must be reading the same shitty cereal box.

Posted by: junebug on November 2, 2007 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

arming people to kill Jews

Their are more Jew killers in the US than all of the Middle East, and many of them are in the Evangelical Air Force.

Posted by: Brojo on November 2, 2007 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

Disputo wrote: "Well, I see that trashhauler not only subscribes to the bigoted notion that Zionism=Judiasm but also promulgates the bigotry that Iranians hate and are targeting Jews."
__________________

I said no such thing, disputo. Zionism does not equal Judaism, anymore than radical Jihadism equals Islam. Anyone who believes either is a nitwit. However, it's a safe bet that most Jews in Israel are Zionists, at least to the extent that they won't sit idle while their country is threatened or attacked.

So, what is equally clear, is that when men armed by Iran attack Zionism, of necessity they wind up killing Jews. Targeting them, in fact. I have no idea whether they hate Jews, but they sure as hell have no problem with killing the ones in Israel. Just as most Israelis won't hesitate to kill Muslims when they think it necessary.

But of course an Iranian nuke still threatens US national security even without the threat to Israel. With so much of the world depending on Middle East oil, anything that threatens the balance of power in the region concerns us greatly, even if we can do without that source of oil ourselves.

Posted by: trashhauler on November 2, 2007 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

"If you begin from the position that you will never permit something, and you evoke images of World War III in order to emphasize your point, then negotiate down from your original position, the only person you've negotiated with is yourself....
_____________________

You wrote it yourself, "negotiate down from your original position." Firstly, there have to be negotiations in order to for someone to negotiate down from a previous position. Until then, a hardline position on the key issue might be helpful. It's been pretty obvious that the Bush Administration and the Europeans have decided to play "good cop/bad cop" with the Iranians. The Europeans certainly didn't have much luck in the absence of US sabre-rattling. Perhaps the combination might work better. I pray to God it does.

Posted by: trashhauler on November 2, 2007 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

"Their are more Jew killers in the US than all of the Middle East, and many of them are in the Evangelical Air Force."
______________________

Eh? How... Oh, nevermind....

Posted by: trashhauler on November 2, 2007 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

Repeat it often. Write it on your aeroplane. Write it in the sky. Preach it at your prayer meetings. Spit the words into the night. Jew killers fly fortresses of death as they build the New Jerusalem.

Posted by: Brojo on November 3, 2007 at 3:30 AM | PERMALINK

B -- is for "breathlessly dramatic prose and writing as affected as a junior high school girl's"

A certain reader has heart palpitations upon reading about my discontent.

R --- is for "reliably Unamerican and even more reliably uninformed."

The writer thinks killing innocents civilians is an American behavior. She's right!

O --- is for "Oh, Jesus, how can anyone still support Nader and argue there's no difference in the parties?

Who would Jesus have voted for in 2000? I doubt the Democratic nominee merited Christ's vote.

J --- is for "Just tiresome."

We have your whimpers to the moderators to define the word tiresome.

O --- is for "OUTRAGEOUS. See little Brojo shock us all with his OUTRAGEOUS opinions. OUTRAGEOUS! Like if Madonna was posting!"

Lamenting the killing of people is outrageous in America.

Posted by: Brojo on November 3, 2007 at 4:07 AM | PERMALINK

Viagra yome. China has fired Luo Gan.

A. B. C. D. E. F. G. H. I. J. K. L. M. N. O. P. Q. R. More or less the way to curee one child vomits is A model of Viagra which isn't rapey but medicationmannamaterile. T. U. V. W. X. Y. Z. a. b. c. d. e. f. g. h. i. j. k. l. m. n. o. p.

Posted by: Blasphemy According To Li Datong on November 3, 2007 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

You wrote it yourself, "negotiate down from your original position."

I also wrote that he's simply negotiating with himself. And losing those negotiations. Beginning from an absolute -- in Bush's case, from the position of refusing to even negotiate with Iran in the first place -- then coming off that absolute, makes him look schizophrenic or incredibly weak. You decide.

It's been pretty obvious that the Bush Administration and the Europeans have decided to play "good cop/bad cop" with the Iranians.

Keystone Kops would be a more apt description. It's not at all obvious that the Europeans & Bush are in sync on anything with regard to this one.

The Europeans certainly didn't have much luck in the absence of US sabre-rattling.

Yes, that saber rattling changed everything. Now we've got the Iranians right where we want them -- pursuing macramé instead of nukes.

Posted by: junebug on November 3, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

People and countries, after all, are less likely to accept a deal if they think they're being crudely manipulated like a wayward teenager given inducements to clean up his room.

Yeah imagine if people who have gone trough a US run coup, a US backed war with a killer like Saddam, years of sanctions trough pressure not just on US banks but banks all over the world which want do work with dollars*, day after day of being bombarded with the silly propaganda that wouldn`t even work in Texas... and rumor after rumor of the US feeding (ethnic?) tension with (armed?) groups like MEK, Aziri`s.... imagine if these people felt like the US was manipulating them? And thats just US history in Iran, Iranians might have some feelings about US involvement in the rest of the region as well!

Seriously Kevin! I love the blog and the graph`s. I am glad you are one the side of godless realist on this. And carefully choosing words like Obama did here is way way more important than anything Karen Hughes used to do so keeping an eye on this matters a great deal... but that was just a brainfart argument.

IMHO The single most important thing Iran wants to hear is that the president of the US puts a leash on both the peacefull-ish and the "faster please" regime change crowds so their reformist, Kurdish, MEK and other friends stay quiet and, possibly, stop bombing people. Obama signaled he is serious about talking (mentioning carrots) and that he cares about controlling the both the Washington players with carrots and those with sticks.

Iran can`t make a deal with the president and state dept. if the next day the vice president appears on a DOD aircraft carrier of their coast and says (This is of course a quote): "f@#$ off Iran, Or I will nuke you in the face". Especially if this is the vice president who may actually be in power (at least enough to order civilian airliners shot down). And he will be in what he perceives as absolute power the moment the president chokes on a pretzel or breaks his neck on a segway. (Hey, at least the guy stays away from horses, anyone taking bets the chainsaws are as plastic as a thanksgiving turkey?)

Just re-read the 2003 Iranian proposal and pay attention to the order in which the subjects of a deal are put forward. I suspects its the subjects most important to the Iranian leadership that are mentioned first.

Bush can always negotiate down from this position.

The Iranian political system is way more complicated than the US system. You don`t think that Iranian negotiators understand US politics enough to see the friends Bush would upset if he publicly committed himself to negotiation instead of letting Condi do some on the side?


But of course an Iranian nuke still threatens US national security even without the threat to Israel. With so much of the world depending on Middle East oil, anything that threatens the balance of power in the region concerns us greatly, even if we can do without that source of oil ourselves.
There is a balance? It matters to world prices which source of oil has production troubles? IMHO An Iranian nuke threatens US economy, security less so. But a crazy Saudi royal with a gun and a grudge against a family member is as much of a potential problem.

*) Wont pressure like that backfire in some way the moment the US economy takes a dive?

Posted by: asdf on November 3, 2007 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

You are so noble, Brojo! Pointing out the inhumanities of the world while small people in organized political parties throw rocks and you and recoil from your shocking and outrageous honesty! Shine on you crazy diamond!

Posted by: Pat on November 5, 2007 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

You are a child killer. You have raised your children to kill children. Killing children is your reason for being. You think it means you are alive. You are alive, but your soul is dead. Like the living dead, you require the flesh of the living to continue your existence. You find living flesh in Iraq but find it wanting, that is why you covet the flesh of Iranians. Regardless of how many children you consume, you will always find yourself wanting more, until you consume your own offspring, and then you will be left all alone to dominate this cinder you have left behind as a trophy to your god. Remember your foreskin. The unconscious memory of your father eating it disturbs your dreams and drives your desire to chew the foreskins of all the children in the world.

Posted by: Hostile on November 5, 2007 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Pussy.

Posted by: Brojo on November 6, 2007 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK

Nice post, thanks for writing!

Posted by: seolace on May 6, 2010 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK
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