Negotiation 101: Democracies Keep Agreements, Dictatorships Cheat

Negotiation 101: Democracies Keep Agreements, Dictatorships Cheat

President Barack Obama will attempt to convince Senators from both parties today that Congress should not slap new sanctions on Iran for failing to halt nuclear enrichment. But there are many reasons to reject the president’s request, especially the fact, noted today by former Bush administration official Douglas Feith, that while democracies tend to keep agreements, dictatorships like Iran and the Soviet Union routinely violate them.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Feith warned Americans not to trust  Obama’s promises that sanctions, once relaxed, could be strengthened again:  

An agreement that actually dismantled the Iranian nuclear program would be a formidable accomplishment. But if Mr. Obama can justify his deal with Iran only by promising to “crank up” the relaxed sanctions if and when the Iranian regime cheats, no one should buy it. History teaches that we should expect the cheating, but not effective enforcement.

The Obama does not understand that new sanctions would make it easier, not harder, to reach a peaceful resolution with Iran, even though they are an escalation. If the U.S. came to negotiations at the end of this week with its hands demonstrably tied, the Iranians would understand they could not obtain a better deal than the one being offered (which, hopefully, will be stronger than the one nixed by France two weeks ago). 

As Natan Sharansky noted in his own op-ed in the Journal yesterday, Ronald Reagan’s hand was strengthened in negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev by his support for anti-Soviet demonstrations, despite warnings that the protests would derail détente: “It gave President Reagan an opening: You see, he could explain to Mr. Gorbachev, my people will not allow me to ask anything less from you than to open the iron gates.”

Ironically, by bending over backwards to show Iran that the U.S. is willing to compromise when Iran is flagrantly violating UN Security Council resolutions, President Obama and the White House could make war more likely by encouraging Iran to believe, wrongly, that it can continue to move towards nuclear weapons without provoking a regional war.