There's a rapidly developing consensus among Washington's Very Serious person set that Obama's plans to negotiate with Iran should get only one try,
November 30, 2008

There's a rapidly developing consensus among Washington's Very Serious person set that Obama's plans to negotiate with Iran should get only one try, and if that fails then the bombing should begin.

Today Iran's parliamentary Speaker and the Ayatollah's most trusted negotiator, Ali Larijani, told the press that Iran's parliament is considering a request from the U.S. Congress to "parliamentary negotiations between the two countries". (And just wait till the wingnuts start howlking about a Dem Congress sidelining the Lame Duck In Chief!) Also today, France's President Sarkozy partly walked back his previous confrontational rhetoric on Iran and said that Obama's statements "reflect our shared views on the necessity of dialogue without concessions with Tehran as the only way to obtain a negotiated end to the crisis."

It would seem that prospects for an international consensus on negotiations, and prospects for Iran actually taking those negotiations seriously, are quite hopeful. Yet David Ignatius in today's WaPo leads the bellicose VSP charge to give Obama a very short timeline to make any diplomatic initiatives work, echoing the tack of more rightwing and neocon thinktanks.

He begins by lamenting the fact that the Bush administration's hawks appear to have failed in their push to attack Iran and then recapitulates hawkish hype over Iran's nuclear program, conveniently forgetting that both the IAEA and the last US intelligence community's NIE say there's no evidence Iran has a weapons program behind its civilian one. He then goes on to catalogue repeated Bush administration failures in the diplomatic arena, seemingly without irony, and to say that Obama must have a Plan B if his own venture fails at the first hurdle.

It's impossible to say whether Iran's march toward nuclear-weapons capability could have been stopped by diplomacy. But there hasn't yet been a good test. Because of bitter infighting in the Bush administration, its diplomatic efforts

were late in coming and, once launched, have been ineffective.

Bush stayed on the diplomatic sidelines for more than five years. A 2003 Iranian overture for a "grand bargain" that would address the nuclear issue went unanswered. Britain, France and Germany (the so-called EU-3) were left alone to try to negotiate a compromise. They concluded the Paris agreement of Nov. 14, 2004, in which Iran agreed to suspend its enrichment efforts. But without U.S. support, this deal withered and the Iranians resumed enrichment in August 2005.

Bush finally agreed to join the nuclear talks in 2006, but only if Iran agreed as a precondition to halt enrichment. Not surprisingly, that diktat went nowhere. The administration effectively dropped that demand this year, sending Undersecretary of State William J. Burns to join an EU-3 meeting in Geneva with Iranian representatives.

Bush also missed the chance to engage Iran in a constructive dialogue about the future of Iraq. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, agreed to send his top negotiator, Ali Larijani, to Baghdad for talks with the United States in March 2006. That upset Iranian hard-liners, but they needn't have worried. The administration backed out.

It's easy to criticize the Bush record on Iran. But anyone who thinks it will be easy for Obama to make a breakthrough hasn't been paying attention. Iran moves closer every day to becoming a nuclear-weapons power. It views America as an aggressive adversary that wants regime change, no matter what Washington says. Dialogue is worth a try, but Obama and his advisers should start thinking about what they will do if negotiations fail.

Two ignored "grand bargains", in 2003 and 2006, and a sham of diplomacy in the meantime that set out as a precondition exactly what was to be negotiated. Is it any wonder, then, that Iranians see America as "an aggressive adversary that wants regime change" after the last eight years of Bush and the neocons, to say nothing off nonsense like this from VSPs? Yet despite this, and despite the fact that Bush squandered repeated opportunities over the years since 2003, Obama should "start thinking" about what happens if Iran is slow to be convinced that an Obama administration is different? One gets the distinct impression that a failure at the first hurdle would please Ignatius very much indeed.

Shouldn't an Obama administration get at least as long to get it right as Bush did to foul it up? "What they will do if negotiations fail?" How about more negotiations, over the course of years, until we know there's definitely no hope of resolving issues and differences? That's how diplomacy is supposed to work in the world outside the cloisters of the American-exceptionalist D.C. set.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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