Dancing with the Devil - Encounter Books

Dancing with the Devil

The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes

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Publication Details

Hardcover / 432 pages
ISBN: 9781594037238
PUBLISHED: 02/18/2014

Dancing with the Devil
The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes

The world has seldom been as dangerous as it is now. Rogue regimes—governments and groups that eschew diplomatic normality, sponsor terrorism, and proliferate nuclear weapons—threaten the United States around the globe. Because sanctions and military action are so costly, the American strategy of first resort is dialogue, on the theory that “it never hurts to talk to enemies.” Seldom is conventional wisdom so wrong.

Engagement with rogue regimes is not cost-free, as Michael Rubin demonstrates by tracing the history of American diplomacy with North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Further challenges to traditional diplomacy have come from terrorist groups, such as the PLO in the 1970s and 1980s, or Hamas and Hezbollah in the last two decades. The argument in favor of negotiation with terrorists is suffused with moral equivalence, the idea that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Rarely does the actual record of talking to terrorists come under serious examination.

While soldiers spend weeks developing lessons learned after every exercise, diplomats generally do not reflect on why their strategy toward rogues has failed, or consider whether their basic assumptions have been faulty. Rubin’s analysis finds that rogue regimes all have one thing in common: they pretend to be aggrieved in order to put Western diplomats on the defensive. Whether in Pyongyang, Tehran, or Islamabad, rogue leaders understand that the West rewards bluster with incentives and that the U.S. State Department too often values process more than results.

About the Author

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, and senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly. Between 2002 and 2004, Rubin worked as a staff advisor for Iran and Iraq in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon, in which capacity he was seconded to Iraq. Between 2004 and 2009, he was chief editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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Decades ago, proposing to talk to terrorists would lose an official his job.

Times have changed. Three years before becoming CIA director, John Brennan suggested working with “moderate Hezbollah.” The State Department now considers the Muslim Brotherhood a partner, and the group receives U.S. taxpayer largesse. So too is the Palestine Liberation Organization. Sen. Chuck Hagel proposed talking to Hamas, a position endorsed by senior statesmen like Jimmy Carter and Brent Scowcroft. Engaging terrorists is now vogue. After engaging rogue states like Libya and Iran, it is not a huge leap to sit down with rogue groups. Indeed, many intellectuals find talking to terrorists the epitome of sophisticated statecraft.

France and Britain long fought terrorist insurgencies in their colonies before granting them independence. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” became a catchphrase to justify engagement with terrorist groups. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of al-Quds al-Arabi, expressed a common Arab view when he explained, “If you are with the Americans, you are a legitimate fighter, you are a hero, but if you are fighting against a country supported by America, then you are a terrorist.” For Chris Patten, the European Union’s chief foreign policy official between 1999 and 2004, the ends justify the means. “For years, terrorist groups have fetched up in government,” he explained. “Their access to respectability, from Israel to Kenya to South Africa to Ireland, has been part of the political settlement of one dispute after another.” Patten saw terrorism simply as a launching pad for third world politicians’ careers. Bobby Sayyid, a research fellow at the University of Leeds, went further, calling the designation of terrorist groups racist, an attempt by the West to keep formerly colonized peoples subjugated. In American circles too, the victory of David over Goliath imbues terrorism with romanticism. There is hardly a college campus where Che Guevara, Latin American revolutionary and mass murderer, does not adorn t-shirts or posters. Diplomats seeking talks can always massage the definition of terrorism to justify dialogue. Today, the West uses more than 250 definitions of terrorism.