Talking to Tehran

TALKING TO TEHRAN….Thomas P.M. Barnett writes about the wider conflict in the Middle East:

Our tie-down in Iraq is real, and everyone in the region knows it, so if we’re not willing to engage the larger regional security agenda (and that’s the signal we send with this myopic focus on WMD that’s perverted our foreign and security policies almost like abortion has perverted our foreign aid agenda), then we give off the vibe that our diplomacy is fake, largely designed to buy time and consensus for ultimate military action. And guess what? The pigeons in question aren’t going to wait around for that plan to unfold on Bush’s watch, so they socialize their problem quite effectively through Hamas and Hezbollah.

As the NYT article pointed, it gets tough to seek diplomatic solutions when your basic foreign policy strategy is that we don’t talk directly to rogues, we just threaten them and let others speak on our behalf.

….When I wrote last year in Esquire that Iran can basically veto our peace efforts in Beirut and Baghdad and Jerusalem, this is exactly what I had in mind. We go myopic, they socialize the problem, and our only option is diplomacy to achieve the same ends that we earlier vowed never to accept, or we fight, which we can’t really pull off right now.

Iran remains the key, but this Administration hasn’t expressed any interest in trying to unlock that particular door, so this war is what gets lobbed over the transom instead, and now Israel is running America’s Middle East policy ? which is exactly where Tehran wants us.

Barnett is almost certainly too optimistic about what we could accomplish with Iran ? and far too cavalier about nuclear proliferation ? but this still seems mostly correct to me. Iran has always been central to the region, it has genuine interests that can be leveraged, and that means it’s not impossible to negotiate with them. It’s hard ? and getting harder ? but not impossible. And without them, stability in both Iraq and the broader Middle East will probably be forever unattainable. It’s time to talk.