Stephen Walt's comment on a gesture towards Iran

Stephen Walt has a gem in his blog:

For Haass (and many other Americans, one suspects), Obama was being incredibly generous last week. In Haass's mind, saying that the world's most powerful country won't seek regime change in Iran is a wonderful gift, a lavish sign of American goodwill. Never mind that overthrowing the Iranian regime would be an illegal act of war. Never mind that Haass would probably not see a pledge by Rouhani that Iran does not seek regime change in America as giving the United States "quite a lot."
This attitude is symptomatic of an enduring U.S. foreign policy mindset: Overthrowing other governments is just one of those "normal" options that we keep in our foreign-policy tool kit, and telling another country we won't actually use it this time is a really big sacrifice on our part. Haass probably thinks it is, because he was openly calling for the United States to topple the clerics back in 2010. And he now thinks those pesky Iranians ought to be grateful that Obama didn't follow his advice.
Similarly, it is not an act of generosity for the United States to "accept" Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program. That right is enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which Iran is a signatory.
By Stephen M. Walt

I agree and would like to add that the U.S. also signed and ratified the NPT and thus long ago accepted Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program*. It furthermore deposited after Iran did so, thus in effect recognizing Iran's right not just in general.

The bigger point is a different one than the technicalities, though: It is a common pattern in both domestic and international conflicts that certain incompatibilities occur because the agents have utterly different views of the world, utterly different perceptions. The Vietnamese were essentially fighting a war of national unification in the 60's, with a kind of Bolshevism as the icing of the cake. The Americans misunderstood this as a step in a global communist master plan. The misunderstanding killed more than a million people.

There's also an incompatibility between a few countries asserting extraordinary justifications and responsibilities (with the club known as NATO joining this group), a group of countries which don't feel threatened by this behaviour but usually prefer a rule of law, a group of countries apathetic on the issues and a group of countries feeling negatively affected by the assertions and pushing back to some degree.
The miscommunication on this is epic.


*: See the preamble of the NPT ("Affirming the principle ...") here


  1. SO,

    "a few countries asserting extraordinary justifications and responsibilities (with the club known as NATO joining this group)"

    Might makes right, once more? Perhaps it is in the vested interests of these states not to resolve any miscommunication.

  2. Realpolitik? An officer must obey commands, these include the laws. In foreign relations diplomats and politicians are measured by their effectiveness of pressing national interests and projects in face of other nations' hesitance and resistance.
    "Stop quoting the laws, we carry weapons!" (Pompey the Great) Neatly sums up the difference between laws meant to avoid violent friction and extreme measures to achieve one's objectives. Foreign relations are among the later and have limited influence by the former, usually quite opposite to interior relations based upon laws.