'Stick and carrot' approach has been the bread and butter to diplomacy when dealing with prickly nations since long. Toast their bread until they come to the talking table and then twist their arm at the right moment has been 'Negotiating 101', despite diplomacy having become a subject actually taught academically in professional colleges with tips and tricks and made to known to all and sundry. When a person sitting across the table can read the mind with the same ease as the one proposing the plan, why even do the dance, why the pretense that talking things through will help at the mutual understanding of the thorny issues, when all that each side is looking for is how to walk away from the table is yielding less and gaining more. Because that is what at the heart of diplomacy - how to gain an upperhand without actually showing one's hand, all over smiles and handshakes. When the idea of having a member of foreign government over for a cup of tea is mooted in the first place, it automatically means that in that discussion, there is an aggressor and there is an aggrieved. The platform can be anything - trade, bilateral relations, immigration, border...anything. And then starts the charade, the sleight of hand between two magicians, the mental upmanship between two psychologists. The goal of every session is the same - how to bring to a balance a lopsided deal. The aggressor knows the monetary worth (isn't that what it all boils down to) of what he has at hand and the bargain of how much the aggrieved is willing to pay for his peace of mind (which is again, what it ultimately is for the paying side) is the dance of diplomacy. None understood this better in the recent times than North Korea and no other nation paid up more than US, in its position as the world's sole gatekeeper in the quest for peace.
The fall of the Soviet Empire has done more harm to the US's interests than the perceived good, as it suddenly was thrust into the midst of every battling forum saddled with the responsibility of placating the sides, even it means paying the expenses out of its own pockets, for no immediate strategic benefit to show for its largesse. And North Korea exploited this to the hilt. Persuaded by a 6 nation group (US, UK, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan) to come to the talking table, North Korea fully took advantage of its position as a rogue state, which was all too willing to abandon its feverish pursuit of nuclear arms for a good price....a large price. And so, during the Clinton era, a deal was struck similar to the (much abused) Food-for-Oil program for post Gulf war Iraq, where North Korea was to suspend its hunt for weapons of mass annihilation for which it would receive substantial aid - cash and food, both of which it was in serious scarcity of. But how could this be? Why reward a rabid animal by throwing it a bone? Isn't it common sense and once it is done playing with the bone, it is going to resume its regular duties rabble rousing? Deal makers look at it in a different way. Though the press conferences post the deal making are peppered with phrases like 'long term strategic interests', 'greater good of the society', everyone knows walking into the conference rooms, that whatever deals struck and hands shook are strictly short term. Though all these terms 'long term', 'short term' are only relative, with no explicit expiration dates that come along with the deal, negotiators still want to go through the process, with the wide-eyed hope that things might turn for the better in that short period of lull - the aggressor might have a change of heart, or change of regime and thus might keep themselves away from this whole hara-kiri. In effect, while in short term the goal of diplomacy is to put out the immediate fires, long term goal is one that is based on optimism. And that is what keeps the US plunking down more than a fair share at the table, when dealing with the tyrants and the wretched.
There are two questions that arise out of this situation - why only US and what if the rogue nations reneges on the deal. While the Indian firefighting with its nagging neighbor is based on the former's economic interests, US's involvement in practically every conflict of the post industrial society is made with an eye on much longer term strategic interests. So what are these strategic interests - Oil, raw materials, markets, and the more recent and the most important need, national security. Though the Cold War era headbutts with the erstwhile USSR was more ideological (capitalism vs socialism, democracy vs communism) than it was strategic (NATO vs Warsaw Pact), the post Iron Curtain involvements have been targeted towards expanding the US's interests in whichever region it chose to pick a side with an eye on one of the agenda items above (Oil, minerals....). And that answers why it chose to turn a blind eye on the blatant involvement of Saudi Arabia in the rise of militant Islamic extremism, through its unabated funding to institutions that fostered the virulent strain of Islam (Wahabism). What is this, if not for an indirect endorsement of terrorism? While the 'Bush Doctrine' which promulgates the first strike rule against any nation that not just attacks, but even aids and abets activities that support and sponsor and terrorism against American interests, US chooses to look the other way - the way of the Saudi's vast oil fields, which turns the gears of America. In this case, interests trump ideology. Resources play a very rich part into the shaping of any country's foreign policy and US is no exception, in much the way as China, and even India. (China - which doesn't seem to lose sleep over dealing with the despotic dictators of the African continent for want of their precious raw materials to fund its bursting growth, and India which suffers no pangs of guilt or cries of conscience hobnobbing with the military junta of Myanmar, the worst human rights offender in the region, all to keep China at bay). So, when US becomes the largest trading partner with China (all the while denouncing its civil rights records and protectionist agendas) in the name of keeping its own economy afloat, when it keeps doling out billions of dollars in military, civilian and humanitarian aid to Pakistan, knowing fully well that the dog might turn against its master in no time, in the name of its national security, when it keeps trying every which way to bring Kim Jong Il back to the table, luring him with all sorts of goodies (and that means, yes, iPods and costly Mercedes car, and precious rugs and carpets) in the hope that he doesn't let his nuclear weapons/technology fall in the hands of its enemies, it is not about what is right or wrong, moral or unconscionable, legal or otherwise. It is about what can be achieved in the short term with little loss of blood, while giving enough berth for the tide to turn in the passage of time in the long term.
It was not so long ago every ill that ailed the US, internationally, had a solution in its military might. That, coupled with the CIA's penchant for fomenting trouble and ultimately deposing leaders of countries that didn't toe the line of US's interests (read, Latin America and Middle East), US was in an enviable place seated always at the head of the table and courted with all the deference reserved for might Empires. During that period, war was the cost to pay for the peace. All that changed with 9/11, when the enemy was no longer a regular nation with finite boundaries against which battle plans could be drawn nor a conventional military upon which its precision weaponry could be aimed at. Al-Qaeda is no more a military outfit than radical Islam, a conventional enemy. And this new scenario changed the game plan for wars and the very meaning of victory. This dawned a new realization among the thinking heads at Pentagon that the idea of radical Islam can never be decimated and buried through traditional means, as was evident in its too-proud-to-call-it-a-failure-too-dire-to-call-it-a-success campaign in Iraq, where a semblance of peace was finally restored in the tattered and battered nation only after bribing all the feuding war lords to lay down their arms and allow the will of the people to be heard, after having failed to bring the country under control with surging troops and hovering drones. This might not be what the then Defense Secretary of US, Don Rumsfeld, meant by 'winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis'. So, the feuding sects were all brought to the table, offered hundreds of millions of dollars with the assurance of more to come their way when the oil fields of the country finally start pumping the black gold in full capacity, and made to promise that the democratically elected regime will be allowed to assert itself (but not too pronouncedly, of course).
How's that for teaching the miscreant a lesson? The more troublesome one is, the more he is rewarded. With a speck of sanity returning to Iraq, the focus is now turned to the ground zero in the war of terror - Afghanistan. And what is US's exit strategy on this one? After being proved that the war games have turned into a stalemate, with no sight of victory, and the amount of money spent on each troop reaching a million dollars a year (and there are about 300,000 US troops being stationed there, for the past 10 years), all in search of the elusive ideal of turning the region into a bastion of democracy (which hopefully will side with the US, when tensions flare again with another irksome Islamic nation - Iran). Well, details now emerge of US trying to broker a peace deal with the Taliban allowing it to share power with the existing puppet regime, only after taking a few assurances that the nation would not play host to American enemies as before, so that the troops can return home and the country can finally put up the altered banner - MISSION (SOMEWHAT) ACCOMPLISHED. In this era of tightly intertwined fates, futures and fortunes, war is not the cost of peace, reward is.