I just wrote a draft of a forthcoming column on this subject and I thought it might be too out of left field, but fortunately along comes Sebastian Mallaby with the weird assertion of the day: "In North Korea and Iran, the United States has tried every diplomatic trick to prevent nuclear proliferation, making common cause with Western Europe, Russia, China and Japan, and wielding both sticks and carrots. The result is failure: North Korea has tested a nuke and Iran still presses on with its enrichment program."

Every trick? Really?

This sentiment is part of a bizarre American arrogance that seems to think "diplomacy" means "talking to people" and "every diplomatic trick" means "talking to them at great length." He's a trick we haven't tried vis-a-vis North Korea and Iran -- seriously offering to do things Pyongyand and/or Teheran would like us to do in exchange for them doing what we want them to do in terms of not building nuclear weapons. Similarly with regard to Russia and China. As I've been pointing out, we've been doing "everything" to get Russia and China on board with our North Korea policy except, well, setting priorities, making compromises, cutting deals and, um, conducting diplomacy. We want Moscow and Beijing to do such-and-such. Well, what do they want from Washington? Diplomacy means finding out what they want and then, if the price is worth paying, paying it.

That's negotiation, that's diplomacy. The Bush administration simply doesn't do it. It issues demands. And when it finds its demands can't be achieved through threats of force it . . . issues demands again. Sometimes it curtails its demands somewhat. What it doesn't do is diplomacy, the search for horses to trade, for positive-sum exchanges, for the reconciliation of competing interests.