Faster, Please!

The Great Negotiations Hoax Redux

As I wrote on NRO last week, the advocates of negotiating with Iran and Syria act as if it would be something new, when in reality we’ve been talking to them for years. I pointed out that Ken Pollack devoted many pages to the history of the failed negotiations with Iran in his well-known book, “The Persian Puzzle,” and concluded that it wasn’t America’s fault if no deal had been struck. The Iranians just weren’t interested.

In the March 9th LA Times, Maggie Farley makes no reference to the earlier material on this subjects; she acts as if she’s just discovered it (which is probably true). The headline says it all: “U.S. and Iran Have Been Talking, Quietly.” But Ms Farley ignores Pollack’s work, instead buying the anti-Bush nonsense that we could have had good relations with Iran if only the Bush Administration had been more forthcoming. And she acts as if Iran and the United States shared a common dream: “an interest in the region’s security and resources.”

The actions of the Islamic Republic since 1979 would seem to prove the opposite: that Iran is a resolute enemy of the United States, and the only “security” that interests the mullahs is their domination of the region, and beyond. She quotes Tony Snow in an effort to make her case:

We think the Iranians can do a lot that will be conducive to peace in the region and good for them and good for their people…We’re going to continue doing whatever we can to encourage them to do it. And if they want to have bilateral relations, it is up to them.

Unluckily for Ms Farley, the quotation doesn’t prove her thesis. Snow didn’t say that Iran and the United States share a common security interest. On the contrary, his point is that Iran is NOT acting that way.

She doesn’t want to hear that stuff, and her only quoted sources are either Iranian diplomats like Javad Zarif, the mullahs’ smooth talking ambassador to the UN, or American diplomats who badly wanted to broker a deal. Foremost among these is an old colleague of mine from the State Department, Jim Dobbins. He and Zarif make a fine tag team, especially in a tale designed to show how marvelously cooperative the Iranians were in making peace in Afghanistan. According to Farley’s account, there was a conference in Bonn in December, 2001, about the structure of a post-Taliban government. The Northern Alliance representative was holding fast to his demand for control over 18 out of the country’s 24 ministries, which was a bit too much. So, at the crucial moment,

Dobbins said that…Zarif took (the Afghan) aside and whispered into his ear, “This is the best deal you’re going to get. You better take it.” (The Afghan) conceded two ministries and the deal was sealed. “It was decisive,” Dobbins said.

I wonder if this exchange was in English, because I don’t believe Dobbins speaks Farsi or Pushtoo.

Farley laments that, a bare six weeks later, Bush branded Iran a member of the Axis of Evil. I wonder why? Perhaps it had to do with the fact that, in the meantime, we had caught the Iranians organizing terrorist bands in Afghanistan to kill American soldiers. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Iran was known to be the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. Maybe someone in high office in Washington had noticed that Iran had organized the escape of leading al Qaeda killers from Afghanistan to Iran, and beyond. And perhaps the president realized that Iran was quite capable of feigning friendship at the conference table, while they killed us on the battlefield.

Farley of course refers to the now celebrated “grand offer” of the Iranians that was allegedly faxed to Washington in May, 2003. We have since had the chance to read that offer, which turns out to be the usual Iranian demand that all its assets be unblocked, that we make a series of concessions, in return for a promise that they would be cooperative with regard to Iraq and terrorism. Not such a wonderful deal, really.

And just yesterday in Baghdad, our diplomats schmoozed with Iranians. We reminded them that we’re unhappy with their meddling in Iraq and their murder of our children. They replied by suggesting we set a firm date for our retreat from Iraq. And today there were more suicide bombers at work, which is the real Iranian reply.

In the entire LA Times article, there is one single quotation from anyone who is critical of making a deal with Iran. That is John Bolton, described by Farley as a staunch defender of “regime change” (her quotation marks, not mine). And he attempts to introduce a note of realism into the discussion: “It’s not like we’re going to give them a pass on their nuclear program if they stop interfering in Iraq.”

And it’s not like we haven’t negotiated with them on THAT small matter.