What speechwriters have in common with negotiators

Posted on 21 June 2024

Alastair Crooke has become famous in his eighth decade. Fans of Judge Napolitano’s You Tube channel tune in every Monday to listen to his  commentary on the latest geopolitical developments.

He’s also a regular on The Duran, another independent geopolitics channel that has emerged in recent years. Like Judge Napolitano, The Duran is highly sceptical of Western narratives.

Who is this former diplomat – who was supposedly an MI6 agent? He now lives in Italy, from where he delivers his commentary. From time to time, he also broadcasts from a hotel room in Russia, where he’s attending a conference. What’s he doing there?

Looking a bit deeper, he published a book  in 2009 titled: Resistance, The Essence of the Islamist Revolution.

In it he not only defends the Islamic Revolution, he also gives insights into the spiritual and philosophical principles that Hamas and Hezbollah apply to politics.

Whose side is he on?

The answer lies in Crooke’s background as a negotiator.

It was his job to broker deals between Israel and Hamas and Hezbollah on behalf of the European Union.

As a negotiator, you have to get the trust of both sides. To do that you have to be able to leave aside your own prejudices and build a relationship. That requires you not to judge, but to listen.

As speechwriters, if we go back to our ancient training manual, we have a process that forces us to do this work. It’s called rhetoric and it’s a template for how to think about thinking.

On any issue we have to ask a question and then do exhaustive research into arguments for and against.

We first organise these arguments into two columns. Then we contemplate both sides.

The reason we do this is because, while we may be convinced our own position is the right one, we know that if we are to prevail we have to also persuade those people who don’t agree with us.

When we do this, we begin to detach emotionally. We can set aside our own interests, and begin to see why others might not agree with us.

We don’t do this necessarily because we want to be fair (although to seem to be fair obviously adds to our credibility).

We do this because having got the big picture, we then work to organise our own arguments, not using the ones that have convinced us, but using the ones that will be most appealing to those who are undecided.

We go through the process of purging arguments of emotions, only to rebuild our case calculating which arguments will have the strongest emotional impact on those who don’t think the accused is guilty, or who don’t want to adopt the new law.

Why do we have to do this? It goes back to Aesop’s fable of the sun and the wind. They both compete to get the chap to take off his coat. The wind employs coercion, the sun uses persuasion.

Because we live in democracies, we don’t believe in coercion.

And philosophically we believe in abstractions, we believe that society is held together by ideas.

A negotiation, like a speech, invites the parties to change their thinking.

A negotiator, like a speechwriter, is searching for the higher ground. A ground where shared interests transcend immediate self-interests.

This is how rhetorically-trained individuals and negotiators think, it’s not necessarily how modern politicians view the world.

Crooke has now retired from working for the UK Government, so he can air his own views.

Crude politicians would say Crooke is an apologist for evil regimes, but he is saying that these regimes don’t like us, not because they’re primitive, corrupt or consumed by nihilism, but because they have consciously rejected the philosophical and religious ideas that underpin our societies and are seeking to create alternatives.

He  has become intimately acquainted with the players in some of the contemporary conflicts.

He argues that Russia, China and Iran can now challenge the dominance of the West because of changes in technology and failures within our own system.

If we think we can defeat them with military force, we risk getting into wars that we can’t win.

That’s a point of view that many American and European politicians don’t want to even consider.

It’s just an ‘idea’. It’s just an argument. It’s not necessarily true.

But it’s an idea we have to hold in the balance when make decisions about defence and security.

The strength of our system has traditionally been our willingness to allow ideas to circulate freely.

Crooke is not afraid to articulate ideas that undermine the ideological certainties of Western societies. He sees secularisation and the use of scientific thinking to depoliticise societies as particular weaknesses.

He hopes that if we can re-evaluate our thinking, it may be possible to imagine new strategies that will lead to peace and understanding rather than endless global war.

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