Did Iran’s Nuclear Negotiators Use the Carcassonne Strategy?

News Abroad
tags: Iran, nuclear program

Robert Hardaway of Professor of Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and the author of twenty-three published books on law and public policy.  

In 720, the starving defenders of the medieval fortified city of Carcassonne in Southern France employed an innovative strategy to defeat an army that had besieged it for six years. When an inventory of available stocks of food revealed but a single pig and one sack of wheat left to feed all the townspeople, the defenders realized that they would have to capitulate or starve to death—until, that is, they came up with a brilliant strategy. Instead of parceling out the solitary pig and sack of wheat, the defenders instead fattened the pig with the wheat. Then they rushed to the ramparts waving flags and banners, and threw the fattened pig over the walls to the besiegers. Demoralized by the realization that that after six years of siege the defenders still had fattened pigs to spare and even share, the besieging army lifted the siege and left the next day. The bells of the city rang out in triumph at their great victory.

Fast forward to the U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations. At a time when economic sanctions against Iran were finally beginning to bite, Iran figured it could play hardball by convincing the American negotiators that the economic sanctions imposed no real hardship, and would never be sufficient to induce them to give up their nuclear ambitions. In fact, their economy was still so robust that they could afford to join the fight against ISIS in Iraq, and even send troops to Yemen. Like the besiegers of Carcassonne, the American negotiators left the table with their tails between their legs, convinced that if they didn’t accept Iran’s largely symbolic concessions to delay nuclear production for a period of time even while it kept thousands of centrifuges, the U.S. would be faced either with even greater nuclear production by Iran—or war. And like the pig thrown over the ramparts of Carcassonne, the oil wealth of Iran convinced the Americans that their economic “siege” was futile. (Not surprisingly, by the first week of April, Iran had repudiated even the symbolic concessions they had made to the demoralized American negotiators in return for the lifting of sanctions.)

Meanwhile, the head Iranian negotiator returned to a victory parade in Tehran, while the American negotiators returned to a mortified Congress, the outrage of the French negotiator who saw only a Munich-like capitulation, and the consternation of our few remaining Middle East allies who now despair of avoiding a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world. (One wonders whether JFK in 1962 would have dealt with this kind of nuclear threat in a similar fashion when the U.S., rather than just a faraway ally was faced with such a threat.) Nor can the failure of the Iran talks be attributed just the lack of negotiating skill of the kind exhibited by the trading of an American deserter for five dangerous terrorists, three of whom may have already re-entered the fray. What is required is not skill, but firmness.

There are those who now claim that only the threat of pin-point cruise missile strikes on Iran’s oil facilities and nuclear sites will ever induce Iran to give up its ambitions to become a nuclear power. But until American negotiators allow the full force of global economic sanctions to take their effect, we will never know if the Great Middle East Nuclear Arms Race can be avoided through diplomatic means.

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