David Ignatius, a columnist for the Washington Post, has an interesting op-ed today in which he argues the prospects for a military attack on Iran–at least in the near term–appear unlikely. At the center of his argument is the contention that the Bush administration (including Vice President Cheney) uniformly believes the military option is not the way to go–at least not right now.
Additionally, Ignatius paraphrases an administration official saying the US would strongly oppose an Israeli strike for a number of very logical reasons: an Israeli strike wouldn’t destroy Iran’s nuclear program, it would just retard it; a strike would strengthen Ahmadinejad; it would undermine US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a strike on Iran would open up a pandora’s box of unpredictable (and probably nightmarish) consequences.
(Interestingly, he also cites a senior administration official as confirming plans to announce the opening of a US diplomatic interests section in Iran later this month).
But one issue that Ignatius brings up at the end of his column, echoing an argument going around Washington since Amb. Burns’ trip to Geneva, is very troubling. He says:
For now the United States and its allies, including Israel, seem willing to pursue the diplomatic track. But if that doesn’t work — and there are no signs yet that Tehran is willing to bend — all the deadly options will remain on the table.
Since when have diplomatic negotiations run on such a short timetable? International negotiations are not supposed to measure progress by the hour–if anything, they move at a glacially slow pace. That’s why they are often so frustrating.
There are countless examples of diplomacy taking years for any tangible benefit to materialize–Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho met in secret for 3 years before signing the Paris Peace Accords; talks with North Korea under both the Clinton and Bush administrations stalled for years at a time before their respective breakthroughs; and the US and Soviet Union negotiated the SALT I and II treaties over the course of ten years, from 1969 to 1979.
In all, the US and Iran have engaged in 10 hours of Ambassadorial dialogue in Iraq, plus Amb. Burns’ recent trip which the administration made abundantly clear was intended only to listen to Iran’s response, not to contribute in any substantive way. So yes, I guess the diplomatic route has run its course…
NIAC has always stressed the importance of negotiating with Iran, but these talks must be done in good faith. If we are seen as pursuing negotiations only as a prerequisite for bombing–as something we have to check off our “to do” list before we can go ahead with an attack–then we will at once miss the best chance for resolving this conflict and also create an entirely new problem in the Middle East. And I worry that this one could be the worst yet.