Senator Barack Obama wants to talk to our Middle Eastern enemies, notably Iran. He can't imagine a happy resolution of the war without such talks. And he seems to think this desire is something new, maybe even revolutionary.
He apparently does not know that it is not at all new, and certainly not revolutionary. It is instead the fully tested "policy" of the United States for the past thirty years, ever since the seizure of power by the mullahs in 1979. We have had high-level and low-level talks, public and private talks, talks conducted by diplomats, by spooks, and by a colorful array of intermediaries ranging from former Spanish President Felipe Gonzales to nephews of Rafsanjani, Iranian-American businessmen, former NSC and CIA members, and others with more dubious qualifications.
All failed. As Ken Pollack recounts in his book, "The Persian Puzzle", every carrot was offered and every stick was brandished. We tried everything. The Iranians were not interested. It reminds me of that great scene from Goldfinger, with James Bond spread-eagled on a sheet of gold, and a laser beam slicing through it, headed for his private parts.
"Do you expect me talk, Goldfinger?" he asks.
"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."
That's Iran. The mullahs want us to die.
These talks were approved by every president from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, Democrats and Republicans, lefties and righties, in varying circumstances. Why would Senator Obama, or any of the other advocates of talking to the mullahs, think that they could get a different result? Some smart person defined a madman as someone who keeps doing the same thing, hoping that the next time he'll get a different result.
Slowly but surely, even those who desperately want to avoid the knotty problem of Iran (nobody asked General Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker what they thought we should do about it) are coming to see that the issue is inescapable. That is because the mullahs declared war on us in 1979 and have been killing us ever since, as they are now in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Congressman Wexler asked General Petraeus to explain what we're fighting for in Iraq, the General made three points:
It has to do with the possible spread of sectarian conflict in Iraq, a conflict that had engulfed that country and had it on the brink of civil war.
It has to do with regional stability of a region that is of critical importance to the global economy.
And it has to do with certainly the influence of Iran, another obviously very important element in that region.
Talking has failed for 30 years, but the hubris of leaders overwhelms common sense. Every president from Carter to W. has come to believe that a grand bargain is in the offing, if only we tried hard enough. Thus, the humiliating apologies from Clinton and Albright; thus, the dogged participation in negotiations by W. alongside our feckless European allies; thus, the call for talks from former officials like Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, Madeleine Albright and Brent Scowcroft, and now from Senator Obama.
In just one way, Senator Obama's proposal is indeed revolutionary. Previous presidents took a while before they embraced the talking cure. Obama would be the first one to call for it even before he's taken office.