Friday, February 09, 2007

Iran: Does Bush Administration Know What It's Doing?

One of the reason I'm hard on Condoleezza Rice is that people in foreign policy have a responsibility to make sure a president understands what's happening and Dr. Rice has fallen down on her job not once, not twice, but on several occassions. All too often we have heard Condi Rice say she didn't know about something, or something had not come to her attention. It's become a tiresome excuse. There have been earlier diplomatic overtures from Iran and Rice has claimed not to know about or remember them. Here's the story by Spencer Ackerman from TPM Muckraker on the 2003 potential overture from Iran:
Yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she doesn't remember if she saw a fax detailing an Iranian diplomatic overture in 2003. Today, Michael Hirsch of Newsweek has something that should jog her memory: the fax itself.

(snip)

Through a Swiss intermediary, the Iranian regime proposed the basis for comprehensive discussions. If accepted, it would have meant the Iranians would have put on the table ending its support for Palestinian terrorist groups; "action" on transforming Hezbollah into a "mere political organization within Lebanon"; "transparency" that Iran isn't trying to develop WMD; and "enhanced action against Al Qaida members in Iran." In return, the U.S. would ultimately lift all sanctions on Iran; ensure "full access" to nuclear technology (!); and provide, in general, a "halt in hostile U.S. behavior," to include action against "anti-Iranian" terrorist groups.

It's of course worth noting that the sincerity of the offer is not something to accept at face value. But that would have been the point: to create a diplomatic mechanism to find out how serious the Iranians actually were about reaching a modus vivendi with the U.S., and to determine if the price for that was acceptable.

The fax was an opportunity that should not have been ignored by Bush or Condi Rice. Most of the time, diplomacy begins by finding out what's possible; it almost never arrives fully packaged and signed like a gift out of the blue—you have to work for it to make successful diplomacy happen. There have been some useless PR stunts by the White House where a couple of quick phone calls are called diplomacy or a short trip is called extensive diplomacy. It doesn't wash.

One of the big issues that is overlooked by the media is that the Bush Administration is clearly losing the initiative and even losing control of its own foreign policy. We have an administration that has not understood from day one that while a strong military can be useful, an actual war is a failure of diplomacy, not an instrument of diplomacy. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia lately have been aggressively trying to influence American policy and it's not always in our best interest. Here's the story by Richard Boudreaux of the Los Angeles Times:
...Israeli officials have begun an unusually open campaign to muster international political and economic pressures against Iran. They warn that time is growing short and hint that they will resort to force if those pressures fail to prevent Iran's development of an atomic weapon.

Israeli leaders fear that an Iranian bomb would undermine their nation's security even if Tehran never detonated it. That Israel has its own nuclear arsenal would not counteract the psychological and strategic blow, they believe.

Israel began secretly preparing in the early 1990s for a possible air raid on Iran's then-nascent nuclear facilities and has been making oblique public statements about such planning for three years.

What is new is Israel's abandonment of quiet diplomacy to rally others to its side. Until a few months ago, Israeli leaders worried that high-profile lobbying would backfire and provoke accusations that they were trying to drag the United States and its allies into a war.

The Israelis are not the only ones trying to drag the United States into a war. We have a chorus of neoconservatives who don't seem to know any better. Not since the 1920s have we had a White House so lacking in imagination or so unwilling to engage in serious diplomacy that would clearly be in our national interest.

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