- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

As the possibility of military action against Iran is being considered, the reactions of politicians and opinion-makers range from mature and thoughtful (increasingly from some on the left) to the surreal and foolish.

In the latter category is European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who said over the weekened that no one was even considering military action over Tehran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has stridently denounced the idea. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar advocates direct U.S.-Iranian talks to resolve the nuclear dispute, and expresses optimism that the two governments will find significant areas of agreement. On Saturday, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported that Germany’s Green Party supports Iran’s right to “peaceful” use of nuclear energy and favors direct negotiations between the United States and Iran. The fact that Iran has shown no serious interest in negotiating does not appear to have affected the thinking of ideologues who believe that there is a negotiated solution to virtually every political problem.

The good news, however, is that a growing number of people on the sober-minded political left appear to grasp the reality of the situation: that the crux of the problem is not the Bush administration, which has for nearly three years largely deferred to Europe’s unsuccessful diplomatic efforts on Iran. The problem is the behavior of the Iranian government.

Speaking last month at a conference in Kazakhstan, for example, Richard Holbrooke — a former United States ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration, a diplomatic veteran of the Carter administration and an advisor to Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign — said bluntly: “The U.S. is upset at Russia’s stance on Iran. I believe Moscow should support Washington against Tehran.” Mr. Holbrooke urged his hosts in Kazakhstan to try to persuade Russia and China to help Washington tighten the noose against the Iranian regime, and praised Kazakhstan for relinquishing its nuclear arsenal more than a decade ago. “If Kazakhstan set such a fine example, Iran wants to go to the other way,” he lamented.

David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, is another moderate liberal who appears to have concluded that it is unrealistic to expect the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, to peacefully give up their quest for atomic weapons. “The United States and its allies talk as if it will be possible to stop the Iranian nuclear program short of war, through a combination of sanctions and diplomatic negotiations,” Mr. Ignatius writes. “But the Iranians push ahead, seemingly oblivious, and the ruling mullahs act comtemptuous of the West’s threats and blandishments.”

Moreover, according to Mr. Ignatius, “Iran’s implacability may have been the most important lesson of the three years of ‘negotiations’ over its nuclear program conducted by three European nations, France, Britain and Germany.” In the end, a French official said, it really wasn’t a negotiation at all: The EU nations talked, Iran responded, but didn’t even bother to offer any counterproposals. Mr. Ahmadinejad also dismissed the concept of U.S.-Iranian talks over Iraq, saying that Coalition forces should simply leave. A large part of the reason why negotiations with Tehran bog down is the very nature of Islamism, reasons Mr. Ignatius: “For a theocratic regime that claims a mandate from God, the very idea of compromise is anathema. Great issues of war and peace will be resolved by God’s will, not by human negotiators. Better to lose than to bargain with the devil.”

Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for Britain’s Guardian newspaper, was strongly opposed to the war that deposed Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. But according to Mr. Freedland, the combination of Iranian threats to destroy Israel, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s messianic talk of a hidden imam and Iran’s support for terrorism make the current Iranian regime a much more serious threat to peace than Saddam was. “Iran is led by a man who cannot let a week go by without issuing an annihilationist threat to one of his neighbors,” Mr. Freedland writes. “Put it together and it forms an alarming picture: a state galloping towards a nuclear bomb, led by a messianist bent on destroying a nearby nation.”

Kenneth Pollack, a Brookings Institution scholar, handled Persian Gulf-related issues for the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. His service in the administration made him very skeptical of the idea of working out some kind of “grand bargain” between Washington and Tehran — the core of the Clinton administration’s efforts to reach an accomodation with the Iranian government. The problem, Mr. Pollack says, is that the Iranians demand in essence that the United States government afford the Iranian government “respect” by never criticizing it for terrorism, torture, persecution of dissidents — anything. In essence, Tehran is demanding better treatment than we afford our closest allies, a standard that makes compromise impossible.

In short, there are thoughtful people on the political left who understand reality: that it is difficult verging on impossible to negotiate with the people who run Iran today.

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