The date from hell

Earlier today, I mentioned the column about U.S.-Iranian negotiations by David Ignatius, which he calls “Looking for a Date, Maybe More.” Ignatius argues that the upcoming talks between the U.S. and Iran are “an important step in the right direction.” He believes that the two countries share a common interest in stabilizing Iraq. In addition, “the United States cannot stabilize the Middle East without building a new regional framework that includes Iran.” This is because “the Iranians are poised to obstruct America at every crossroads — in Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories and even Persian Gulf states such as Kuwait and Bahrain.”

Igantius is an astute guy, but I don’t think that’s reflected here. For one thing, he ignores the pressing issue of the Iranian nuclear program. Perhaps Ignatius doesn’t regard it as pressing. Perhaps he considers Iranian nukes a done deal, and one that makes negotiations over other matters all the more urgent. But that’s a view that needs to be defended, not assumed. It’s also a view that, one hopes, the Bush administration doesn’t share. To that extent, as I have argued, it’s difficult to see what these talks are going to accomplish.

In addition to Iranian nukes, Ignatius ignores another very large (and related) gorilla — the Iranian regime. There’s a reason why Iran has caused so much trouble for the U.S. in so many different parts of the region, including now Iraq — it’s still under the control of Islamic revolutionaries, at least with respect to foreign policy. The closest Ignatius comes to addressing this issue is to note that the Iranian people are tired of being in an adversarial relationship with the U.S. That’s true, but there’s no evidence that the regime is. There is evidence that some officials would like the current president to tone down his rhetoric, but that’s a different thing. It’s fine to say that “a successful U.S. policy for the region must take account of Iranian interests.” But if those interests are antithetical to ours, then negotiations hold no promise. Ignatius offers no evidence that the Iranian regime has any interest in helping us “stablize” the Middle East. In any case, it hasn’t been Bush administration policy to stabilize that region, given the terror that the old stability produced.

Finally, let’s consider Ignatius’ claim that, at least in Iraq, the two countries have a common interest in avoiding civil war. Perhaps. But then why has Iran been promoting instability? The most plausible answer is that the regime is rabidly anti-American and gives higher priority to inflicting a defeat on the U.S. than to promoting the interests of Iraqi Shiites.

Some date.

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