Lots of agita about this yesterday on social media. Didn’t America’s right wing have a collective aneurysm in 2007 when Obama said at a Democratic primary debate that he’d talk to Iran without preconditions? We sure did!
Our Republican Secretary of State has embraced the Obama position. Important footnote, though: The Obama position also happens to be the Trump position. Don’t the people freaking out about Pompeo remember that POTUS said the same thing last year?
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 30, 2018
You can play the “What if Obama did it?” game to gauge righty hypocrisy with virtually every outre thing Trump does, but I do think it’s possible to have opposed talks with Iran in 2008 and to support them in 2019 for reasons other than rank partisanship. Time does matter in a situation like this. I can remember feeling incensed at reports circa 2008 that the U.S. wanted to talk to the Taliban to see if the two sides could feel their way towards some diplomatic resolution in Afghanistan. We were less than a decade removed from 9/11 and already we were looking to accommodate the jihadi enemy? Unthinkable. Outrageous.
Eleven weary years of stalemate later, the choice has narrowed to talks with the Taliban or unilateral withdrawal and outright forfeiture of the country to the bad guys. What do we have to lose by hearing them out?
Same goes for North Korea, although in that case the options have narrowed not to “talks or defeat” but to “talks or nuclear war.” A decade ago, it was possible to believe that sanctions might grind down the regime before it managed to build a nuclear ICBM. In 2019 it’s no longer possible. As gross as it was to see the president of the United States reward Kim Jong Un for his brinksmanship with a face-to-face summit, I grudgingly supported Trump on it just because the alternative is unthinkable. He tried something bold diplomatically to avert cataclysm. It’s hard to fault him for it.
Although it’s easy to fault him for all the vomit-generating warm words he’s wasted on Kim since then.
Talking to Iran without preconditions is reluctantly defensible along the same lines. We’ve been waiting a long time for the Great Pumpkin of regime change to arrive there. We expected that the Iraq war would frighten them into a more modest regional role. We hoped that jettisoning the nuclear deal would force them to the table for fear of new sanctions by the United States. It may be worth following that last strategy for awhile longer but eventually, and maybe sooner than we think, Iran will reach the point that North Korea has in developing a nuclear weapon with intercontinental reach. What then?
I’ll repeat what I said last year too after Trump’s comments, that “talks without preconditions” is more digestible when you’ve worked to improve your bargaining strength. One of the things that alarmed righties about Obama calling for talks as a candidate was that it played into the fear that he’d be a pushover as a commander-in-chief. He hadn’t even taken the job yet and was already seemingly inviting Iran to the Oval Office. In Trump’s case, though, he’s torn up the nuclear deal, bombed Iran’s client in Syria twice, hugged Saudi Arabia’s crown prince as tightly as he can, and most recently ordered a naval build-up in the Gulf to deter possible attacks by Iran on U.S. interests there. He’s not pitching “talks without preconditions” so much as he’s pitching “talks without preconditions or else.” If U.S. muscle-flexing ends up frightening Iran into conciliation, talks may be worth holding.
In lieu of an exit question, a trip down memory lane.