Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ignoring Iran

In 2003, according to WaPo, the State Department received "a proposal from Iran [via Switzerland] for a broad dialogue". Apparently, "everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups". But this was in the wake of the fall of Baghdad, and "top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative".

Why the outreach from Tehran? One expert suggests "the U.S. victory in Iraq frightened the Iranians because U.S. forces had routed in three weeks an army that Iran had failed to defeat during a bloody eight-year war". At the time, then, the U.S. could have dealt with Iran from a position of strength. Not so now. The Iraq War has spawned a civil war, or at least something very much resembling a civil war, Iran has developed its nuclear program to the point where it's enriching its own uranium, and the tension between the U.S. and Iran has deepened. Washington is now talking to Tehran, but that strength has devolved into a desperate weakness. Iran may have been serious about negotiating in 2003. Why should it be serious now?

Of course, Iranian President Ahmadinejad should not go without much of the blame. His Iran, a nationalist theocracy, is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. But shouldn't some of the blame also be levied at the Bush Administration? Instead of looking at reaching some sort of accord with Iran, it succumbed, as it so often has, to cockiness, to the arrogance of perceived power, to self-intoxication, to unreflective righteousness. It got Iran wrong at a time when getting Iran right could have prevented this emerging crisis.

So much of our focus has been on Iraq, which has been such a disaster both for Bush and for the U.S. generally. We mustn't forget, though, that the incompetence of Bush's foreign policy extends well beyond Iraq's borders.

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