Dionne: Incoherence works

E.J. Dionne tries to issue an apologia for Barack Obama’s lack of engagement during the Iranian crisis, as well as an explanation as to how the President allowed the US to fall behind France and Germany in speaking out for freedom and liberty.  Unfortunately, it falters in its own incoherence.  Even Dionne recognizes that the crackdown in Iran has made diplomacy with the mullahs a dead letter, which should have been apparent even before this crisis arose.

First, Dionne says this:

Before the election, he had set the United States on a path to negotiation with Iran’s government — the very government whose legitimacy was crumbling over the weekend as it cracked down hard on the opposition. As a foreign policy realist, Obama knew that at the end of the current struggle, the United States would still have to deal with Iran on the issue of its nuclear program and other matters related to our “long-term interests.”

And then:

If the Iranian regime simply suppresses its political adversaries, it will be impossible anytime soon to resume diplomacy as if nothing had happened. And even if the present government survives in the short term, we now know that its hold on power is shaky. There is more opposition in Iran than we — and probably Iranians themselves — knew existed, and thus more opportunity for change.

At least Dionne has the sense to realize that direct talks are politically dead after this week.  The White House didn’t, as the Washington Post reported yesterday, which I characterized as “stupid,” touching off a series of responses in the blogosphere and on Twitter.  Will the same people call Dionne out for making the same point?

And more to my point, Dionne admits that the level of opposition to the Iranian regime has caught most of what he calls the “realists” on the Left by surprise, apparently including the White House.  Why are they surprised?  The Iranian regime has been unpopular for years at home, especially with a younger population who have no personal experience of a pre-Khomeini Iran.  Instead of cutting deals with the aging oppressors, we should be looking for ways to engage with the upcoming generation of Iranians.

Moreover, Dionne also agrees that the mullahcracy will be “shaky,” even if it survives this crisis, which is not inevitable.  Should the US act to prop them up by giving them more credibility than their own people?

But the main basis for my criticism is the idea at the White House that we can trade our support for freedom and liberty for a seat at the mullahs’ table in any circumstance.  Consider the following:

  • Ronald Reagan sold Iran missiles and unfroze part of their money.  Iran continued to support terrorists and wage low-level war against the US.
  • Bill Clinton apologized for the CIA role in the mid-1950s coup that put the Shah back on the throne.  Iran continued to support terrorists and wage low-level war against the US.
  • From 2003 to the present day, Iran supplies terrorists in Iraq with munitions that kill American soldiers, and at least occasionally supplies the personnel as well.  Shouldn’t Iran be forced to stop doing that, rather than having the White House suck up to the mullahs, in order to get direct talks?

The idea that keeping quiet while Iranian protestors try to free their nation will convince Khamenei to not only sit down with us openly but give up the nuclear weapons they have spent years developing is beyond naive, especially considering the history of the regime.  It crosses over into stupidity. It comes from a mindset that the problem in the relationship is America and not the extremist mullahs ruling Iran, an argument that the Iranians themselves rejected this week in protests across their nation.

France and Germany, which trade with Iran, haven’t been foolish enough to surrender their right to express outrage at the mullahs and support for the protestors.  If Obama did the same, it wouldn’t kill the possibility of disarmament through direct talks, because that possibility never existed at all.  Instead, we would give encouragement to the people of Iran to keep working for freedom, which is much less of a long shot than Obama talking Khamenei out of his nuclear weapons. (via Jim Geraghty)