Dialogue helps us isolate Ahmadinejad rather than empowering him to isolate us. More important, even if we fail to reach an agreement, engaging Iran will spark three conversations likely to strengthen our position…
The third conversation is with the world. By engaging Iran, we reclaim the moral high ground — no small feat. If Iran refuses to budge, we have new leverage to expose it as a threat whose bad intentions cannot be explained away.
I’m curious to hear how Iran’s intentions might otherwise be “explained away.” Presumably he believes, as Obama does, that “Iran’s support for militant groups in Iraq reflected its anxiety over the Bush administration’s policies in the region,” but as I’ve noted before, that theory fails to account for the fact that both Hezbollah and the nuclear program were in business long before Bush came to power. Even under the most blinkered, charitable reading of the regime’s behavior, that they’re fighting some sort of defensive war instead of engaging in fundamentalist expansionism (or something even darker), their “anxiety” over Israel’s capabilities will remain no matter what sort of deal we reach with them. How far is Kerry willing to go to ease Iran’s troubled mind? Or to put it differently, after years of negotiations with Europe plus an offer of unspecified concessions from the United States in 2006 which, per Condi Rice, apparently remains on the table, at what point will it be safe to conclude that Iran has refused to budge? This goes to the heart of conservatives’ fears about Obama, not that he’d be willing to talk to Iran before considering a military option but that he’ll never consider a military option, no matter how dire the threat may become. It’s diplomacy literally unto death, which I think is why so many righties equate his rhetoric about negotiation with appeasement. To borrow a favorite concept of the left, how about some benchmarks up front to gauge whether progress in negotiations is sufficient to warrant further diplomacy or whether it’s time to consider other options?
The other two “conversations” he has in mind, incidentally, are with the Iranian people, who supposedly need to be formally informed that their government’s earning them a bad name internationally even after two rounds of UN sanctions, and with the regime itself, which may ultimately warm to a deal “at the right moment” even though Democrats are hellbent on removing any leverage we might have in moving the warming process along. Exit question one: If Obama does meet with Iran, it’ll be perfectly okay if McCain tries to undermine his presidential authority by badmouthing him abroad, right? Exit question two, per Kerry’s reminder that Ahmadinejad is “neither Iran’s supreme leader nor someone whom Obama specifically promised to meet”: If he’s so inconsequential a figure, why did Waffles himself single him out as the world leader he’d most like to throw off a cliff two years ago?