Edward S. Herman


of the tricks of imperialism is to pretend that a targeted enemy has been

offered a negotiating option, quickly claim that that option has been rejected,

and then ruthlessly attack or continue sanctions that may be taking a heavy

human toll. The beauty of this system is that no matter how many are killed by

bombs, and how numerous the children who die as a result of the sanctions, it is

not our fault: they refused our (by definition) reasonable offer to

"negotiate." They brought it on themselves.


United States as an imperial power has done this repeatedly. Of course, with

really petty targets like Manuel Noriega or Muammar Kaddafi it doesn’t even

bother with any such pretence–it simply bombs or invades, its

"patience" with the bad guy finally exhausted. But in cases where

world attention is focused and larger issues seem to be at stake, it often plays

the negotiations game and gambit, nominally offering its victim a chance to

arrive at some mutually acceptable solution by discussions and bargaining at a

diplomatic conference.


in these cases the United States is not prepared to make any real concessions

and engage in genuine diplomacy. It doesn’t feel that it has to, as it can

easily beat up its targets, and it may be eager to do that to teach the

recalcitrant–and others who might step out of line–a lesson, or to give the

military establishment an occasion to show its value and to test its weapons,

and perhaps for other political and geopolitical reasons as well. Public

relations, however, calls for expressions of an interest in settling disputes by

peaceful means, and the U.S. leadership is often willing to oblige.


they do is announce their willingness to meet, sometimes exchanging diplomatic

messages and even participating in conferences with the enemy about to be

pulverized. They tell the media that they are truly eager for a negotiated

settlement, but that the enemy refuses to meet with them or is being stubborn

about accepting the reasonable terms being offered. The gambit is to offer the

enemy the option of de facto surrender to U.S. terms or be bombed, and to get

the media to swallow the surrender option as reasonable and to portray the enemy

as stubbornly refusing to "negotiate" with the patient leaders of the

imperial power. It works every time.


the Vietnam war, with public opposition in the United States substantial and

growing, the Johnson administration offered a "bombing halt" every six

months or so, at which time it claimed to be offering North Vietnam unlimited

talks looking toward peace. In this case, however, as was acknowledged in the

Pentagon Papers, the administration told North Vietnam through back door

channels that nothing would change unless they were willing to surrender–

withdraw all troops from the south, get the indigenous NLF to lay down its arms,

and allow the minority and puppet government installed by the United States to

rule a "South Vietnam." The media swallowed this, James Reston

expressing amazement that the North Vietnamese didn’t accept this generous

offer: "the enduring mystery of the war in Vietnam is why the Communists

have not accepted the American offer of unconditional peace negotiations."


the Gulf War, the Bush administration refused to let Saddam Hussein get out by

negotiations, turning down out of hand half a dozen or more diplomatic options,

and insisting on bombing. The Bush team always claimed to be trying to get Iraq

out of Kuwait by diplomatic means, when in fact it insisted on abject and total

surrender. But the U.S. mainstream media made the diplomatic failure, and hence

the destruction of Iraq that ensued, the responsibility of Saddam Hussein.

Similarly, Madeleine Albright has repeatedly explained that the thousands of

dying children in Iraq are strictly Saddam Hussein’s responsibility as the

killing sanctions remain in place only because he has rejected our (by

definition) reasonable offer on continuing UN-US inspections of his military



of the reason the surrender option can be interpreted as a diplomatic option is

that the mainstream media always portray it as entirely reasonable, so that any

give and take and bargaining that characterize negotiations and diplomacy is

inappropriate. This was very clear in the Kosovo war case where the pre-Rambouillet

and Rambouillet "negotiating position" of NATO, which NATO repeatedly

stated to be non-negotiable, was that, first and foremost, NATO be permitted to

occupy Kosovo. As NATO was clearly the Serb enemy and allied with the KLA, this

called for Serb surrender, but as the Serbs had been demonized and any sovereign

rights they had to Kosovo had been put in question, their complete surrender was

made to seem reasonable. The Serbs were willing to make negotiating

concessions–international, but not NATO, monitors, and significant autonomy

steps for Kosovo–but NATO would have none of this. NATO got real impatient,

stuck in the Appendix B requirement in the Rambouillet agreement that Serbia

permit NATO occupation of all Yugoslavia to assure Serb rejection, got the

Kosovo Albanians to sign on, and then unleashed the bombs.


if you read the U.S. press or watch TV you will have gotten the distinct

impression that Milosevic was dragging his feet on something called

"negotiations" and "diplomacy." You would never have gotten

the truth–that there was never any intention on the part of NATO to negotiate

anything; they were there to accept Serb surrender of Kosovo, and in the end

NATO wasn’t even satisfied with that alone–it wanted to teach another demon and

his people a lesson and put them in their place. Any deaths and misery in

Yugoslavia are not our fault; they are the fault of those who rejected our (by

definition) reasonable negotiating offer.



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