They’ve got a crazy hunch that Iran’s just jerking us around to buy time. The obvious solution: More diplomacy.

After 30 years of mutual isolation, we fully support Mr. Obama’s constructive tone and efforts to engage the mullah-led government. But we wonder whether this incremental, seemingly ad hoc approach is best…

The difference [with Bush] is that Mr. Obama is making a serious effort to find common ground with Iran on Afghanistan and Iraq and to dispel the Bush-era threat of regime change. The administration’s decision to invite Iran to the Afghanistan conference was a smart one. It was encouraging that Iran offered to help combat the Afghan drug trade. It would have been even better if it had also promised to stop aiding the Taliban…

Iran has elections this June, and there may be an argument for waiting to see how they play out. But we suspect that subtle and tentative approaches are not going to change much in Tehran.

Mr. Obama will soon have to decide whether to go for a potentially game-changing gesture — like offering to open an interests section or sending his secretary of state to Tehran. That could force Iran’s leaders to make a choice — and leave no doubt in Iranians’ or anyone else’s minds about what it is.

Sending Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang sure “changed the game” in North Korea, didn’t it? In fact, a Hillary visit to Tehran would probably accomplish less than Albright’s visit did for the simple reason that Iran doesn’t seem to crave U.S. recognition as an imprimatur of legitimacy to the extent NK always has. For Kim Jong-Il, having the Americans come to town and implicitly endorse his hermit state was arguably as much of a boost to the country’s prestige as having nukes was. For Khamenei, who commands a regional power, an oil weapon, and proxies in Iraq and Lebanon, owning the first Islamic nuclear weapon in the Middle East is much more prestigious, especially given the amount of nationalist propaganda they’ve poured into it. It’s easy to imagine Clinton being received cordially, promised cooperation on Iraq and Afghanistan in return for lifting the UN sanctions, and being told that nuclear issues are absolutely off the table. In which case the mullahs get their U.S. photo op and keep their trump card. Win/win for them.

Left open in the last paragraph of that blockquote, of course, is what happens if Iran chooses to continue enrichment. What does the Times imagine will happen if they “leave no doubt” in the world’s mind that they intend to press on with nuclearization? More sanctions? That depends on Russia and China, in which case, good luck. A military attack? The One will never go for it; it’s Netanyahu or nothing. In fact, in all my posts about Iran, I don’t think I’ve ever asked what we expect to happen if the diplomacy dance continues until Iran finally announces it has a working nuclear weapon. What’s the punishment going to be in that case? I’d hope that at the very least Obama would refuse to negotiate with them for the remainder of his presidency, but I have a hunch — and I’ll bet Iran does too — that, if anything, he’d be even more anxious to talk at that point to convince them to put down their nuclear scimitar. Which is to say, if Iran really does value a visit from Hillary for its own prestige, why not press on towards the Bomb and then demand she come to town?