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Thanks to the heads up from Soosan Khanoum, I was able to just make it into the speakers event NIAC put on today in DC. The topic was "The Day After Baghdad: Assessing the Nuclear Talks".
Today, the US tried round 2 of what I will now bet will be 5 rounds of talks. Before Iran announces their bomb just before the US election. I say this because I know what "Hal-Giri" feels like. Just before it happens, my left shoulder aches. Kind of like predicting rain.
As we all expected, since the US offered nothing, Iran gave nothing. Then they agreed to meet in Moscow (Pay up Afshin!), packed their gifts for the kids, got on their planes and flew back home. Apparently the US does not actually know how to negotiate. Apparently Iran sure as hell does. Well, that is natural. We did invent the bazar after all. And bluffing.
The speakers were:
PJ Crowley - He is the administration cog that was removed/retired/quit/fired, for wildly suggesting that the Wikileaks whistle-blower Bradley Manning, was being "mistreated" during his arrest. Or, Homeland Security Uber-Alles. Apparently Crowley has been tamed because today he offered probably the most "...well, it could mean this, or it could mean that..." winning the NIAC award for most boring and untalented assessment one could imagine. Bordering on Tom Ridge-era banality. Sorry PJ, dig deeper next time. You still have a few rounds left in the 'ole chamber. OK, 2.
Aaron David Miller - Singlehandedly finally explained to me why the 6 Secretaries of State he has advised, have mismanaged almost every foreign policy issue related to Iran, that they were presented with. Because he was advising them. While eloquent and humorous at times, Miller apparently still retaining what has got to be the leftovers of the genius of his past, apparently could not fathom why Iran would ever conceive of getting a bomb, AND why Israel could not possibly be seriously considering attacking Iran for having one.
Aaron Hint: Because thanks possibly to you, the US has taught Iran (like N. Korea, Pakistan and Israel) that if you get a bomb, we will instantly take you seriously, and pretty much cater your whole country. Showering you with gifts that would make the new post Arab-Spring now Islamic-Brotherhood-Summer newly elected Pharaohs in Egypt, blush. Or blech. That's why, Aaron.
Bijan Khajehpour - Actually the 2nd smartest man on the panel. Yes, before you go there, this is the very same Bijan Khajehpour the head of the infamous Atieh Bazar and their assorted franchises. I know, but Bazar sounds more accurate. But, he was smart and charming and funny and you know what? You cannot fault his logic. He is right, as much as you might want to wish it wasn't so, Iran is what it is, and you have to deal with them. That, and Iran is really far smarter than the US.
What I saw in Bijan's eyes however, was not a defiant IRI aparatchik or a cocky back-dealing businessman as advertised. I saw quite a bit of fear. Possibly the fear that spending time in an Iranian prison affords you. Possibly the fear that one gets when you suddenly realize, "Holy Shit! I'm the smartest person here! These guys are total idiots! And if I'm the smart one.... Holy Shit!"
George Perkovich - I take it back, George was not the most totally boring American in a Grey Flannel Suit. Although for a Nuclear Policy expert, he was surprisingly out of Nuclear Policy ideas. Actually now that I think about it Nuclear Policy is pretty banal itself. I mean, how hard is it to policy? All you really need to do is determine the conditions whereby you either will Nuke your adversary, or you won't. End of Policy. How much do these jobs pay?
Trita Parsi - Before the meeting began, I went up to him to say Hi. Given my recent amped attacks on NIAC not engaging Iran, I did not want him to scan the room during the event, and then suddenly lock on me and freak out. Not that he would. He was genuinely happy to see me, which was a relief, and glad I came, and after some words of hello and how are you, he said, "Be Fair".
So to be fair, Trita was the smartest person in the room.
After the discussion, the floor opened up to questions, mostly from the media and Capitol Hill. John Garamendi's Chief of Staff Charles Dambach announced that they had recently signed a bill increasing the reasons why the US could attack Iran, then in the same breath mind you, asked if this was helpful or harmful. And in one short sentence, beautifully proved everything that we have ever feared about Congress, to be entirely true. The good news is that it turns out not to have been the case, that George Bush was smarter than we thought. It is that Congress is really this dumb.
The conclusion? Like all perfectly poetic punditry, blissfully inconclusive. And certainly worth every penny the price of admission. The room was full with about 100, mix of interns, assorted media, and the well-miked if not well-liked. The refreshments about as tepid as the conclusion, bottled water and watered down cafeteria coffee. Left over from the Eisenhower era I believe. One sure sign that NIAC is not an IRI lobby? The IRI has better food. Actually the IRA has better food.
After the event I hung around to close it out properly and had a fascinating conversation with my first actual Zionist. Daniel, (no really!) who was obviously concerned. I took the opportunity to correct his pronunciation of Iran (ah-ran). And listened to the fears and obvious concern. During a pause I had to interject the issue of the Palestinians and suggested that from this side, "Ghettofication" with a full on proper wall, was a big PR problem for Israel. Daniel tried to suggest most of the barrier was a fence, but soon smiled and backed off realizing he wasn't helping the image with that. We settled nicely though, and exchanged cards. I hope to engage him more. That was very good.
Thanks to Reza Marashi, NIAC's Research Director, I was also able to somewhat clear up NIAC's seemingly unreasonable position against the MEK delisting. He clarified that NIAC is not that against it as long as the MEK gives up their weapons and renounces the use of terror and violence. Which makes total sense. I think we'd all sleep safer knowing that the MEK in our midst, aren't packing.
The event was funded by the Ploughshares fund. Which is somewhat baffling because for an organization that is primarily dedicated to getting rid of Nuclear weapons, I sat though an event today that was pretty much focused on how smart Iran was in its path to getting them, and how stupid and inept the US is at preventing Iran from it.
Which brings me to my usual tirade. Namely that NIAC's continued refusal to engage Iran in any way, with the interests section in the Pakistan embassy, barely a scant 10 minutes from today's meeting, especially with these kinds of experts, on this very important topic, is stunning.
One can forgive the US for its ignorance, ineptitude, and inability to engage in common street merchant haggling. Bowling and Golf can do that to you. But to pretend that the red, white, and green elephant, the only one in the room with the nuclear intent, is not practically part of the conversation, is seriously frightening. Serious, dude. Don't.
Scarier still, is that Ploughshares and the Pundit Confit assembled for a mid-afternoon tea, all appeared to cordially agree that where Iran's nuclear ambitions is concerned, Iran has no place at this table.
Sitting in the cheap seats, one has to wonder if there is ever any intention at all. Any real solution that can come of it, and if all of this is just purely for the titillating thrill of pretending to play Foreign Policy. The bored game.
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