Sunday, June 15, 2008

"All Options" Are Off the Table

It is one of the tragedies of the post-9/11 era that it has become popular in certain circles loudly to insist that "all options" are on the table precisely when the speaker is determined to avoid the whole range of positive, ameliorative, conciliatory options that virtually always exist. Instead of implying an openness of mind, "all options" in fact has come to signify that all options except military ones are precluded.

Even a lightning bolt zigzags its way to earth. It would be a challenge in international affairs to identify many historical events when absolutely nothing of value could have been achieved by trying one of the infinite number of conciliatory options that always exist. It is scientifically impossible to predict in advance that such options will all prove to be worthless. At the very least, their failure provides justification for harsher measures and rallies the uncertain to the cause.

But the extremists now having their moment at such extraordinary expense for the rest of us have made a fine art of fake offers of compromise. Offers to “negotiate” are delivered to public fanfare with the worm of preconditions having already rotted the timber. The process is simple. Identify the key goal of the opponent (e.g., security) and the key lever the opponent has for obtaining that goal (e.g., rocket attacks on the colonial power or gaining the technical ability to refine bomb-grade uranium) and then “welcome” the opponent to the negotiating table, provided only that he gives up precisely that lever which gives him any hope of ever achieving his goal. When the opponent then predictably rejects the offer or as soon as any individual public figure from the opposition camp even reacts negatively, one immediately sighs sadly and condemns the opponent’s “intransigence,” thus firmly bolting the door that was in fact never cracked open in the first place.

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