Talking with Iran

This April, as we awaited Iran's official response to the IAEA's April 28th 'deadline' to halt its uranium enrichment, Amir Taheri predicted that the Mullahs might offer 'confidence building measures' — namely, a temporary suspension of the enrichment process — as part of an overall strategy to "play" the diplomatic game for another two years until Bush becomes a "lame—duck,' unable to take military action against the mullahs.

Little to do with potentially nuclear—armed Iran is ever encouraging, but in the short—run, if Taheri had been correct and Iran was waiting out the Bush administration, we'd at least have stepped back from the precipice of confrontation.

But Taheri was flat wrong. With the American left and the 'international community' pre—emptively and systematically de—fanging any threat of military action, Iran perceived little need for diplomatic maneuvering, and knew it was free to proceed at will — with little to fear but an oversupply of rugs and caviar. In short, the IAEA 'deadline' wasn't a 'deadline' at all, but yet another milestone for Iran's emergence as a frightful nuclear maverick.

As so often happens, the onus thus fell squarely on the US to formulate a plan to save the world from nuclear—armed Iran. One month after the IAEA deadline, the White House stunned some people when it announced the US would negotiate with Iran, albeit only after Iran 'fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities.' US hawks and weasels alike chastised the administration for its abrupt change in course, though for different reasons. Writing in the Washington Post,  the AEI's unabashed hawk Richard Perle was beside himself, lamenting that Bush had 'blinked' in the face of the Mullahs' 'glare'; he called it an 'ignominious retreat' for W.)  The left, predictably,  went much further and seemed pleased at what they perceived as a sign of American 'weakness,' which their Viet Nam—era ethos informs them is good news.

Not so fast. It's fair to wonder whether the President's arctic approval ratings colored the decision to offer face—to—face talks.  But the White House strategy is, in retrospect, more nuanced than many of us believed, and despite the latest installment of bravado out of Tehran, it's been effective: on the thorny question of confronting Iran, in the course of two months the US has gained much—needed leverage in at least two respects.

First, the offer, made credible thanks to US participation, apparently exacerbated real fissures between Iran's hard—liners (led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his prayers for a hasty return of 'al—Muntazaranda,' the Hidden Imam) and the relative doves, who want more negotiation and less apocalypse.  By forcing some response from Iran, the offer also compelled the doves to maneuver, and attempt to seize the reins. 

Iran's rejection of the offer on Tuesday isn't good news, but it wasn't unexpected, either, and it's been widely observed that the very process by which Iran reached the decision, and the infighting it sparked, may prove to have weakened support for Ahmadinejad. Whatever ambivalence the Iranian people hold toward Ahmadinejad—style brinksmanship, it's likely to become more vocal — and powerful — if a less apocalyptic alternative seems available, and as confrontation seems to be approaching.

The President's entreaty also reinforced the Administration's public 'commitment to diplomacy.' Facts are facts: this isn't to say the White House believes diplomacy is useful. (In fact, one imagines Iran perceives the 'international community,' and their inconsequential, feckless 'deadlines,' as useful — a deadline approaches, a deadline passes, and Iran has more chance to remind us how helpless we are to stand in the way of Iran's nuclear destiny; Bush and Ahmadinejad could probably agree that the idea of 'resolve' among the 'international community' is a gigantic, calamitous farce.) 

Nonetheless, the post—Iraq reality for the Bush Administration is that its diplomatic i—dotting and t—crossing must be beyond reproach.  With this in mind, the conditioned US offer to resume diplomatic ties will, if nothing else, assist the President in persuading our allies those ballyhooed 'diplomatic measures' — those fruitless, meaningless semantic farces — were tried (again), and failed (again).  Once more, facts are facts: the 'international community' treasures such empty gestures, and the US is on better footing for engaging in them.

The proverbial 'elephant in the room' following the May 31st announcement was that the US, Germany, Britain, France, Russia, China and Iran all knew that the offer, in the absence of anything short of a coup in Iran, would be rejected. The Bush administration also knew diplomatic ties wouldn't need be restored.  And Tuesday, Iran's bluster led it down precisely the path the Administration set for it — reminding the world that 'diplomacy' is feeble in the face of a threat like Iran. 

The Bush Administration realized that Iran would fasten its own noose. Now, with Iran staying its announced course, the case for confrontation, if it becomes necessary, is crystallizing, and the US comes away from the last two months on far more solid ground — the anti—war nuts will be hard—pressed to portray the President (credibly, at least) as 'mongering' for war with Iran.  Let's give President Bush credit where it's due.

Bill Lalor is an attorney in New York City and proprietor of Citizen Journal.

This April, as we awaited Iran's official response to the IAEA's April 28th 'deadline' to halt its uranium enrichment, Amir Taheri predicted that the Mullahs might offer 'confidence building measures' — namely, a temporary suspension of the enrichment process — as part of an overall strategy to "play" the diplomatic game for another two years until Bush becomes a "lame—duck,' unable to take military action against the mullahs.

Little to do with potentially nuclear—armed Iran is ever encouraging, but in the short—run, if Taheri had been correct and Iran was waiting out the Bush administration, we'd at least have stepped back from the precipice of confrontation.

But Taheri was flat wrong. With the American left and the 'international community' pre—emptively and systematically de—fanging any threat of military action, Iran perceived little need for diplomatic maneuvering, and knew it was free to proceed at will — with little to fear but an oversupply of rugs and caviar. In short, the IAEA 'deadline' wasn't a 'deadline' at all, but yet another milestone for Iran's emergence as a frightful nuclear maverick.

As so often happens, the onus thus fell squarely on the US to formulate a plan to save the world from nuclear—armed Iran. One month after the IAEA deadline, the White House stunned some people when it announced the US would negotiate with Iran, albeit only after Iran 'fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities.' US hawks and weasels alike chastised the administration for its abrupt change in course, though for different reasons. Writing in the Washington Post,  the AEI's unabashed hawk Richard Perle was beside himself, lamenting that Bush had 'blinked' in the face of the Mullahs' 'glare'; he called it an 'ignominious retreat' for W.)  The left, predictably,  went much further and seemed pleased at what they perceived as a sign of American 'weakness,' which their Viet Nam—era ethos informs them is good news.

Not so fast. It's fair to wonder whether the President's arctic approval ratings colored the decision to offer face—to—face talks.  But the White House strategy is, in retrospect, more nuanced than many of us believed, and despite the latest installment of bravado out of Tehran, it's been effective: on the thorny question of confronting Iran, in the course of two months the US has gained much—needed leverage in at least two respects.

First, the offer, made credible thanks to US participation, apparently exacerbated real fissures between Iran's hard—liners (led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his prayers for a hasty return of 'al—Muntazaranda,' the Hidden Imam) and the relative doves, who want more negotiation and less apocalypse.  By forcing some response from Iran, the offer also compelled the doves to maneuver, and attempt to seize the reins. 

Iran's rejection of the offer on Tuesday isn't good news, but it wasn't unexpected, either, and it's been widely observed that the very process by which Iran reached the decision, and the infighting it sparked, may prove to have weakened support for Ahmadinejad. Whatever ambivalence the Iranian people hold toward Ahmadinejad—style brinksmanship, it's likely to become more vocal — and powerful — if a less apocalyptic alternative seems available, and as confrontation seems to be approaching.

The President's entreaty also reinforced the Administration's public 'commitment to diplomacy.' Facts are facts: this isn't to say the White House believes diplomacy is useful. (In fact, one imagines Iran perceives the 'international community,' and their inconsequential, feckless 'deadlines,' as useful — a deadline approaches, a deadline passes, and Iran has more chance to remind us how helpless we are to stand in the way of Iran's nuclear destiny; Bush and Ahmadinejad could probably agree that the idea of 'resolve' among the 'international community' is a gigantic, calamitous farce.) 

Nonetheless, the post—Iraq reality for the Bush Administration is that its diplomatic i—dotting and t—crossing must be beyond reproach.  With this in mind, the conditioned US offer to resume diplomatic ties will, if nothing else, assist the President in persuading our allies those ballyhooed 'diplomatic measures' — those fruitless, meaningless semantic farces — were tried (again), and failed (again).  Once more, facts are facts: the 'international community' treasures such empty gestures, and the US is on better footing for engaging in them.

The proverbial 'elephant in the room' following the May 31st announcement was that the US, Germany, Britain, France, Russia, China and Iran all knew that the offer, in the absence of anything short of a coup in Iran, would be rejected. The Bush administration also knew diplomatic ties wouldn't need be restored.  And Tuesday, Iran's bluster led it down precisely the path the Administration set for it — reminding the world that 'diplomacy' is feeble in the face of a threat like Iran. 

The Bush Administration realized that Iran would fasten its own noose. Now, with Iran staying its announced course, the case for confrontation, if it becomes necessary, is crystallizing, and the US comes away from the last two months on far more solid ground — the anti—war nuts will be hard—pressed to portray the President (credibly, at least) as 'mongering' for war with Iran.  Let's give President Bush credit where it's due.

Bill Lalor is an attorney in New York City and proprietor of Citizen Journal.