Iran Wants To Talk
Image courtesy of MSNBC
Sometimes, in the midst of stressful negotiations or when someone is a little too full of themselves, they say stupid things and put themselves out on a ledge. If this happens repeatedly, you can question whether or not the extreme behavior or comments are more for public consumption or a different audience than the one they are immediately directed at. In the case of Iran, a country that was called a member of the Axis of Evil months after they offered to help us track down Al Qaeda, and after they sought a direct relationship but were rebuffed by this Neanderthal cabal, I guess we should be somewhat glad that they still want to talk with us at all.
But they do want to talk with us, directly. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sent a letter today to Bush through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, seeking a direct dialogue with Washington on “new solutions for getting out of international problems and the current fragile situation in the world," according to the Iranians. This came after months of nationalistic saber-rattling from Ahmadinejad about their right to develop a nuclear program, in the face of what happened next door to another member of the Axis of Evil that didn’t have a nuclear program.
The administration's initial reaction was to state the obvious: Gee, maybe they are doing this to influence the current Security Council deliberations. Duh.
It is easy to chalk up this latest overture from Ahmadinejad as a face-saving way to at least pretend to be a statesman, after showing himself to being an amateur on the world stage these last several months. Then again, after five years, Bush is also an amateur on the world stage, made larger than life only by a military that is currently bogged down in a war of choice that will be Bush’s biggest fiasco among many. But this latest move by the Iranians may also signal that despite the chest-thumping from Ahmadinejad for the crowd at home as a way to maintain and increase his hold on power, the Iranians may want to step back from the ledge of their own rhetoric.
As I have said previously regarding Pyongyang, in foreign policy you frequently have to deal with unstable blowhards as foreign heads of state, people you otherwise wouldn’t want to be caught anywhere near. Even though you are the leader of the free world, wisdom and responsibility dictate that dialogue with these nutcases and creeps is better and more forward-looking that calling them names and ignoring them. (See: Libya) This administration, of course, is the most imbecilic group of overrated foreign policy loons in recent history, and has adopted the “burn in hell” approach while problems only got worse. In fact, these unstable heads of state are looking for the same thing that others want from us: face time and respect. They want to be treated like a member of the world community and have their picture taken with the leaders of the free world for the same reason that they want to have their nukes: nationalistic pride and personal ego. Is that what Ahmadinejad is looking for here? Sure, as well as possibly a chance to walk back off the ledge of his own rhetoric.
Will the administration do anything about this, aside from the usual Cheneyesque response of “we won’t talk to you until you totally disarm, give up all your programs, and swear fealty to us as your lords and masters”? Publicly no, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the administration sends a private response to Ahmadinejad that is a little less “go f*ck yourself” and a little more “we can talk, but we’ll deny that we are.” Condi knows full well that any long-term solution in Iraq now requires Iranian cooperation, thanks to how badly Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have screwed up things. And with James Baker making the rounds of neighboring states looking for a way out, any overture by Iran has to be given some consideration, even if the public responses from this administration are to the contrary.
The kids inside the Adminstration will be quick to say "see, our 'stay-tough' rhetoric has pushed the Iranians to this; they are scared and want to talk." Whatever. If that is what you need to tell yourself that you are a smart boy little Johnnie Bolton and little Dickie Cheney, then you've got real issues. But at least do the right, and smart thing here, and allow Zalmay Khalilzad directly and Condi indirectly to have these discussions with the Iranians to dig yourselves out the hash you have made in the region.
There is another reason why the Administration may talk: domestic politics. Sure, the American Taliban may want a war with Iran this fall to drive the sheep from the pews to the polls one more time, but the vulnerable GOP incumbents, and there will be plenty of them, will want the talk of imminent war with Iran to be replaced with a calming that can bring down gas prices. A large part of the high gas prices and resulting bad poll numbers that are crippling the GOP are the result of not only oil company collusion and price gouging, but tensions in the region caused by Bush's botched handling of Iran and their recent rhetoric. Moving this pot of boiling water onto a cooler burner can only help gas prices and therefore the GOP this fall. This is where you will see a true clash between what Rove wants and what the Hill Republicans want.