Colonel's Corner: Negotiating By Proxy

Lt. Col. Bill Cowan
August 24, 2006

Our nation's policy since the late '70's has been starkly clear: “We don't negotiate with terrorists.” But in dealing with Iran, decidedly the world's foremost sponsor of terrorism, we've obviously found a good way around our own policy. We negotiate through our partner, the United Nations.

Yes, that's the same United Nations that just stiffed us and our Israeli allies, using panic-stricken verbiage and posturing to effect a cease-fire which gives virtually nothing to Israel and which gives Hezbollah the wherewithal to rebuild and prepare for the next onslaught.

To date, there's no clear indication yet that negotiating with Iran through the U.N. is any more fruitful than not negotiating at all. The issue, of course, is getting Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, which could allow them to produce a nuclear weapon. On this matter, there is no hammer. The U.N. has about as much meaningful interest in forcing anything on Iran as it did in seeing a strong mandate put in place over Hezbollah.

Iran's recent reply to the U.N. call for a freeze in enrichment is convoluted, confusing, and sure to cause delays as the various members try to interpret it. And as an August 31 deadline on freezing enrichment comes and goes, the U.N. will likely respond by passing a new 'preliminary' resolution of some sort while they 'study' and 'contemplate' and 'discuss' and 'draft' and show about as much conviction at getting something done as Iran does at ceasing enrichment.

With luck, a few of our allies in this matter will agree with us that 'something needs to be done,' but China and Russia, both eager to see the U.S. continue to be marginalized by the world community, will not cast key U.N. Security Council votes which could impose sanctions or any other meaningful actions against Iran. Russia and China are also ever-mindful that their economic ties with Iran could suffer if they cast the wrong vote, so their posturing will always be more bluff than substance.

In appearing to want to resolve the problem, the Iranians, masters at manipulation and deflection, will throw a crumb this way and watch the scurrying, throw a crumb that way and watch the scurrying, and carry on as usual with development of their weapons. Of course, these are the weapons which will ultimately find their way to Israel and the United States. And because those are clearly the intended targets, there is actually little incentive for some of the other nations to take a hard stand. Why would they? The last thing they want is to themselves anger the Iranians and find themselves in the middle of the bulls-eye!

Accordingly, those who follow these matters and care deeply about a nuclear-armed Iran can only seethe with frustration. There is simply no chance that anything the United Nations says or does will deter Iran from its objectives. Even if the Iranians were to announce today that they already had a weapon in hand, at best the U.N. would express dismay, some member states would call for a resolution of condemnation, and business at the world body would go on as usual. The Iranians continue to show themselves to be masters at this negotiating game.

What, then, to do? First, if Iran having a nuclear weapon really isn't a big deal, then maybe we shouldn't worry about it. But, to those of us who have been involved with Iran, in one fashion or another since the hostage taking of 1978, if Iran having a nuclear weapon really is a big deal, then worrying about it is the least we should do. In fact, we should be looking for viable alternatives to either stop the madness of them producing one, or looking for viable alternatives to oust those who would use one were they to gain it. On both counts, the U.S. is behind the power curve. Instead, we're somehow content to negotiate by proxy with a negotiating partner whose credibility has a long way to go before it's proven.

Lt. Col. Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations. He spent 11 years doing undercover operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria. Read his full bio here.