All Stick and No Carrot Makes Diplomacy Go AWOL

They say that you catch more flies with honey than with threatening rhetoric. Both Iran and South Korea, two of the three “axis of evil” countries Bush named in his 2002 State of the Union address, have expressed unwillingness to talk with Washington because of its hostile policy and confrontational attitude.

After weeks of the Bush administration and its neoconservative cronies hinting at strikes on Iran, an Iranian cabinet secretary has fired back, “We have said that if anyone wants to talk to us in a threatening language, we will adopt the same tone.” Abdollah Ramazanzadeh, who also acts as an Iranian government spokesman, has stated his government’s unwillingness to negotiate with the Americans is in large part due to the continual threats and demeaning manner in which the Bush administration has treated Iran. (Meanwhile, the European Union, which has been actually using the diplomatic approach, is making significant headway with Iran.)

Last year, North Korea put a grinding halt to the seemingly productive six-party talks, citing the United States’ “hostile policy” as the reason, and claiming that the success of the talks will depend on Bush’s foreign policy. Already seven months into a standstill, some diplomats are worried that the deadlock will lead to the failure of the negotiations. And though Bush points to nuclear proliferation as the single most serious threat to national security, the White House has set no deadline for resuming the talks.

This is not a call for coddling dangerous leaders, but there needs to be recognition that “Do it or else” cannot continue to be implemented as a one-size-fits-all policy.