Time For a Little Chat
The talk about talk with Iran is coming from the famously non-chatty Bush administration now.
But why would we want to talk with a terrorism-supporting nation that has defied all international norms for decades? The list of charges against Iran is endless:
- Seizure of the sovereign embassy of the United States, and the illegal detention of our people.
- Subsidizing, arming, training and directing organizations that terrorize the populace and seek to undermine governments in Lebanon and Iraq.
- Murdering U.S. servicemen by the hundreds in both of those nations.
- Threatening genocide against Israel and seeking the means to carry it out.
- Crossing an international border to seize British sailors and marines engaged in lawful business, detaining them illegally and subjecting them to public humiliation.
That's before we get to Iran's wretched domestic behavior.
- Requiring women to obscure themselves.
- Arresting women whose mandatory headscarfs are too cheerful.
- Allowing the vigilante murder of couples that whose love is not officially approved, and execution of same.
- The seizure and torture of foreign nationals.
Intimidation of the media.
Presumably, what Iran does within its own borders is none of our business. But Iran, in the three decades of its perverted Islamic revolution, has not shown itself to be in any way a reasonable, trustworthy partner for negotiations on any subject.
Since the graybeards of the "Iraq Study Group" came out with their "proposal" last December Democrats in the United States Congress have pushed for talks. Now Arab nations that we would like see play a more constructive role in Iraq, and elements of the Iraqi government are also pushing for talks with Iran.
But why would the Bush administration, always so obstinate, now seek to sit down with Iran, and why might those talks be useful? What has changed?
Short answer: Everything.
Here's a quick review, in case you've been discouraged by the news media's fascination with daily body counts and car bomb roundups as measurements of progress:
1) Since the ISG's call for appeasement was issued five months ago, the Bush administration's surge strategy has been brought to bear, and it has produced results. Sectarian violence in Iraq has been sharply curtailed, terrorists put on the run and killed and captured by the hundreds.
2) Anbar province, as recently as six months ago thought to be a lost cause, is turning to the government, and there are indications Diyala province, where many of the terrorists fled, may do the same.
3) Thousands of Sunni tribesmen in Anbar have turned on al-Qaeda, are actively attacking al-Qaeda, and want to join the Iraqi security forces.
4) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who met with Sunni tribal leaders in a gesture of reconciliation earlier this year, has been compelled to assure them a role in the security of their own areas.
5) The Iranian-founded and affiliated Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, despite its insistence that it has not repudiated Iran, has in fact publicly distanced itself from Iran, becoming the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, overtly an Iraqi organization under the spiritual guidance of Iraqi Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has counseled against and largely avoided religious interference in government.
6) The Mahdi Army, having largely stood down during the surge, is in disarray, reportedly divided between those eager to avoid conflict and extremists being trained and armed by Iran. Moqtada al-Sadr, in hiding in Iran, has been unsuccessful in his efforts to control and undermine Nouri al-Maliki's government.
7) Mounting evidence has emerged of Iranian support for both Shiite and Sunni terrorists targeting both American and British soldiers as well as Iraqis. The evidence includes both weapons and the seizure of Iranian agents engaged in supporting the insurgency.
Iran still faces a united international front against its nuclear ambitions, with sanctions added.
8) Despite the public perception of an Israeli disaster in Lebanon last summer, in fact Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, was decimated and marginalized.
9) Iran has suffered an embarrassing defection of a high-level general.
10) While the taking of British hostages by hardline elements gave Iran an opportunity to crow publicly, Iranian moderates forced the hardliners to back down.
11) Meanwhile, hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's international antics have brought him under heavy domestic pressure over the price of tomatoes.
12) Domestically, President George Bush continues to prevail against the efforts of an increasingly divided and ineffective Congress to curtail the war.
None of this means conditions are ideal for talks. They could have been better.
The Democratic leadership of the United States Congress, agitating for talks, hasn't helped. They could have significantly advanced their pro-dialogue agenda by remembering that partisanship stops at the water's edge, and helping to present a united front in our national interest.
The Royal Navy could have resisted the humiliating seizure of its seamen, and the British could have avoided appeasing Iran's act of war.
Aggressive cross-border U.S. raids could have been staged on Iranian terrorist training camps and supply routes, and Iran's military and nuclear weapons infrastructure could have been reduced.
As a result, the United States is in a position it was not in five months ago. A position of strength.
Nevertheless, Iran's ability to influence events in Iraq and throughout the region has been compromised. And Iran can be reminded that the reduction of its capacity for causing trouble remains on the table. Iran can be encouraged to quit while it is ahead.
Is Iran likely to do that? Don't hold your breath. Here's Ahmadinejad leading a rally in Dubai, the day after Vice President Dick Cheney visited there:''Every time your name is mentioned, hatred builds up. Go fix yourself. This is Iran's advice to you. Leave the region... The nations of the region can no longer take you forcing yourself on them.''
(He isn't, but Ahmadinejad could be talking about his own beloved, belligerent Iran.)
No matter what happens, Iran can be expected to keep voicing public defiance. Iran can be expected to continue to pursue policies of interference.
So what, in the end, is the purpose of a heart-to-heart between the United States and Iran?
To deliver notice to Iran, face to face, that there will be a severe price to pay for continuing to meddle with murderous intent in its neighbors' affairs, for failing to act in its own interest.
That, after all, is a good reason for a little talk.
Jules Crittenden is an editor and columnist for the Boston Herald.
Crittenden's web page is at Forward Movement.