Via the Corner. If you’ve lost Howard Dean, you’ve lost … Howard Dean, I guess. The rest of the left (which is not the same in this case as the rest of the Democratic Party) is lockstep behind Obama in striking a deal at virtually any cost. They have two goals — secure a “win” for O’s legacy and create conditions that will make an attack on Iran’s enrichment plants politically impossible. A deal achieves both, whatever the fine print may say, so the deal will happen.
Dean himself isn’t opposed to a deal, in fact. He’s pro-deal. What he opposes is the White House’s crappy negotiating “strategy” of refusing to walk away, even temporarily, to put pressure on Tehran, which naturally has encouraged them to increase their demands at the last second. Which raises a question: If Dean is right that sanctions have left us in a position of strength, why does the White House seem more eager than Iran is to reach an agreement? The strong party is the one you’d expect to up the ante at the eleventh hour to secure more concessions. Either Obama’s an historically bad negotiator (possible) or Obama has reason to believe our position isn’t as strong as Dean thinks (also possible). Maybe O thinks that if the U.S. walks, Iran will have no choice but to cancel negotiations entirely. A regime founded on the principle of “death to America” might not accept such a high-profile snub by the Great Satan, let alone the prospect of then returning to the bargaining table and agreeing to a worse deal than what’s in front of them now. Their “hardliners” might not tolerate it. Obama may think, in other words, that he has no room to bluff. Meanwhile, as Iran gains influence in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, they may suspect that even if the U.S. walks away now, we’ll have no choice but to come crawling back soon to deal with the region’s new Shiite hegemon. They’ve survived sanctions to this point and there’s no sign of popular revolt that might threaten the regime a la the Green Revolution in 2009. They’re not going anywhere, except maybe to Damascus, Beirut, and Sanaa. The more power they amass on the ground, the more potential they have to threaten American interests, the more pressure Obama will feel over the next two years to reach an understanding with them — maybe not just on nukes but with a true grand bargain recognizing the legitimacy of the regime. And of course, every day that passes without a deal is a day that Obama has to explain why he’s holding off on military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program. They can afford to be patient; Obama, for strategic and selfish political reasons, arguably can’t. Who’s really the strong party here?
Via Philip Klein, your exit quotation comes from Reuters and perfectly captures the absurdity of this long kabuki: “Negotiators have a tentative agreement on the rough outline of a possible public statement on the progress they have made so far that would also highlight areas of disagreement, diplomats close to the talks said.”