Flynt Leverett has an editorial in the NYT about nuclear diplomacy with Iran. It is all about lost opportunities and helpful offers from both Iranians and others to solve the problem, all of which Bush turned down to the great expense of the world community.
During its five years in office, the administration has turned away from every opportunity to put relations with Iran on a more positive trajectory. Three examples stand out.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tehran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban and establish a new political order in Afghanistan. But in his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush announced that Iran was part of an “axis of evil,” thereby scuttling any possibility of leveraging tactical cooperation over Afghanistan into a strategic opening.
In the spring of 2003, shortly before I left government, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences. The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran’s power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A conversation I had shortly after leaving the government with a senior conservative Iranian official strongly suggested that this was the case. Unfortunately, the administration’s response was to complain that the Swiss diplomats who passed the document from Tehran to Washington were out of line.
Finally, in October 2003, the Europeans got Iran to agree to suspend enrichment in order to pursue talks that might lead to an economic, nuclear and strategic deal. But the Bush administration refused to join the European initiative, ensuring that the talks failed.
Now I’m neither a diplomat, nor on the inside track of the kind of information Leverett here offers us. But it reminds me of Avi Shlaim’s analysis of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, in which every offer made by the Arabs was an honest offer, sincerely made, and every lack of response by Israel a criminal refusal to solve the problem; and vice-versa, every Israeli offer (as in the offer to withdraw from the conquered territory after 1967 in exchange for peace and recognition) is insincere, and every refusal to respond (like the three No’s of Khartoum — no peace, no recognition, no negotiations), a reasonable caution. Similar to that book’s analysis, Leverett’s seems like a classic case of liberal cognitive egocentrism — they want to solve the problem just like us — mixed with that pathology of self-criticism, masochistic omnipotence complex — it’s our fault, if only we were more open to them.
What makes me suspect Leverett’s analysis of such shallow and misguided notions? For one thing he doesn’t seem to know much about the difference between Sunni and Shii Islam. To think that Iran would be a viable ally in cleaning up the Taliban seems bizarre to say the least. For another, he seems like a eager believer in anyone who says the kinds of things he likes to hear:
Last week, the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, suggested a way out of this impasse – one that might also help address other pressing challenges in the Persian Gulf. The Saudi prince noted that if Iranian nuclear weapons were deployed against Israel, they would kill Palestinians, and if they missed Israel, they would hit Arab countries. And so he urged Iran “to accept the position that we have taken to make the Gulf, as part of the Middle East, nuclear free and free of weapons of mass destruction.”
Note the classic appeal to rational analysis. As if Iran’s president (or anyone else in the Iranian government, or any other radical rejectionist of Israel, including the Wahhabi of the prince’s own nation) cared about Palestinian lives (including Shiite Palestinians), or the lives of any of the other Arabs in the region… as if the logic of suicide terrorism — sacrificing ourselves to exterminate the Israelis is a glorious deed — all of a sudden ceased to apply. This offer rings about as true as the Saudi plan for peace with Israel — addressed to liberal cognitive egocentrists like Leverett who salivate at anything resembling “our” kind of rational thinking coming from the Muslim world. Leverett then goes on to spin a plan for a Gulf Security Council that would include Iran, the Arab states, and the members of the UN Security Council, as if this were a) feasible, and b) would work in the ways he hopes it would.
But all this eager “liberal messianism” is nothing compared with the idea that the way to wean Iran away from its nuclear ambitions is to meet in Riyadh.
A diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem is still within reach. But successful diplomacy will require a bold new vision. The next time the five permanent members of the Security Council convene to discuss Iran, perhaps they should meet in Riyadh rather than London.
Bold new vision… the way to the Iranian’s heart is via the Saudi’s schemes… all dressed up to fill we Westerners with the kind of hope that we so desperately crave, and which is, in dealing with the current situation, killing us. And this man is a former National Security Council expert on the Middle East. No wonder we’re floundering. No wonder the NYT featured it on their Op-Ed page.