Why is the U.S. yielding to Iran now?

There’s a line of argument among certain foreign-policy types that imagines Iran as an “Open Sesame” kind of problem: Just intone the right verbal formula, and the obstructions will all roll away. Its proponents claim that the rulers of Iran and the United States might have reached a rapprochement after 9/11 if only the Bush administration had not labeled the ruling Iranian regime as part of the “axis of evil” in the 2002 State of the Union speech. This fantasy is built on the assumption that the rulers of Iran have no intentions or agency of their own. It assumes that the United States dictates the terms of the relationship, and that Iran merely reacts…

Isn’t this all bizarrely upside down? It’s Iran’s client states in Iraq and Syria that are threatened by the Islamic insurgency of ISIS. One might think that ISIS was more Iran’s problem than America’s. It’s the Iranian economy that was collapsing under the pressure of economic sanctions, at least until the Obama administration relaxed them last year. Why isn’t it the rulers of Iran who feel a “sense of desperation” about breaking the logjam with timely concessions to U.S. concerns about their nuclear ambitions? The answer to this question lies in the realm of psychology, not strategy: The Obama administration wants to escape the confrontation with the rulers of Iran—and is looking for a face-saving escape route.