AEIâ€™s Reuel Marc Gerecht now believes that Washington should offer to engage in unconditional, high-level talks and even normalize diplomatic relations with Iranâ€¦apparently in order to rally support for war.
In a New York Times op-ed misleadingly entitled â€œAttack Iran, With Words,â€ Gerecht, who is certain thereâ€™s no way that the mullahs will agree to such offer, argues that their predictable refusal will rally the public and perhaps even Washingtonâ€™s European allies to support a pre-emptive attack on Tehranâ€™s nuclear facilities.
â€œIf the mullahs donâ€™t want to negotiate, fine: making the offer is something that must be checked off before the next president could unleash the Air Force and the Navy. To make the threat of force against clerical Iran again credible, there needs to be a consensus among far more Democrats and Republicans that a nuclear-armed Iran is intolerable. If the White House tried more energetically to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear threat, if it demonstrated that it had reached out to Iranian â€œpragmatistsâ€ and â€œmoderates,â€ and that again no one responded, then the military option would likely become convincing to more Americans.
â€œâ€¦If the Bush administration were to use this sort of diplomatic jujitsu on the ruling clerics, it could convulse their world. No, this is absolutely no guarantee that Tehran will stop, or even suspend, uranium enrichment. But a new approach would certainly put the United States on offense and Iran on defense. We would, at least, have the unquestioned moral and political high ground. And from there, it would be a lot easier for the next administration, if it must, to stop militarily the mullahsâ€™ quest for the bomb.â€
Itâ€™s worth noting that Gerecht, like other neo-cons including several of his AEI colleagues, appears to have given up hope of an attack before the end of Bushâ€™s term and now believes that it will up to his successor to decide what to do about Tehranâ€™s nuclear program. His argument echoes that of the generally more pragmatic Robert Kagan who came out in favor of negotiations after the NIEâ€™s release in early December in a Washington Post column entitled â€œTime to Talk to Iran.â€ Two differences: Kagan was less certain than Gerecht that Tehran wouldnâ€™t take up a negotiations offer. He also did not stress the importance of offering high-level talks, although that the fact that he suggested putting all outstanding issues between the U.S. and Iran on the table implied it. The basic line was much the same. Hereâ€™s Kagan nearly three months ago:
â€œBeginning talks today does not limit American options in the future. If the Iranians stonewall or refuse to talk â€” a distinct possibility â€” they will establish a record of intransigence that can be used against them now and in the critical years to come. Itâ€™s possible the American offer itself could open fissures in Iran. In any case, it is hard to see what other policy options are available. This is the hand that has been dealt. The Bush administration needs to be smart and creative enough to play it well.â€
It will be very interesting to see if Gerechtâ€™s and Kaganâ€™s advice, as cynical as it may be, is being considered by the hawks within the administration, and particularly in Cheneyâ€™s office.
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