Sticks and Carrots

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.