Publicly Accusing Iran of Bluffing Not Best Way To Get To a Deal

I’ll let others cover all the atmospherics and nuances of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress–including its impact back home in pre-election Israel. But the basic thrust of his remarks was to publicly accuse Iran of bluffing in its resistence to a nuclear deal far less stringent than the one he is insisting is possible, which is another way of saying he’s accusing the Obama administration of being suckers gambling with Israel’s future. I don’t know what else these words could mean:

Iran’s nuclear program can be rolled back well-beyond the current proposal by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.

Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff. They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.

Now I’m not a game theory maven or a professional negotiator (though I did do well in collective bargaining class in law school), but publicly accusing someone of bluffing is not generally the best way to get them to back down, much less accept a deal (a completely, absolutely hypothetical deal that Netanyahu did nothing to explain) which would represent a humiliating back-track that only fear of immediate war could possibly justify. If the U.S. were actually to take Bibi’s advice, it would require a period of extended saber-rattling brinkmanship to convince Tehran that we’re not the ones bluffing.

This just isn’t how diplomacy is done. But I think we all know that’s not Bibi’s objective anyway.

One other thought offered on Twitter by Peter Beinart is worth passing along:

It’s pretty shocking that Netanyahu was able not only to dictate a speech to Congress and its timing, but the scope of issues he’d need to address. It’s less a reflection of his cleverness and audacity than of the peculiar needs of our country’s Republican Party.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.