Roger Cohen of the New York Times writes:
I’ve argued for engagement with Iran and I still believe in it, although, in the name of the millions defrauded, President Obama’s outreach must now await a decent interval.
I’ve also argued that, although repressive, the Islamic Republic offers significant margins of freedom by regional standards. I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness.
This is soggy thinking. A wrong thing never becomes right if you simply wait to do it when nobody’s looking. President Obama can ‘engage’ Iran now, but it must be the right kind of engagement. Not one which accepts the existence of a dysfunctional regime; that comes to terms with the devil. No. It must be diplomacy with the end in view of containing, and perhaps at some point facilitating the demise of a regime which the Iranian people themselves wish to be rid of.
The policy debate should not be about ‘decent intervals’ but whether the US aims for ‘behavior change’ or ‘regime change’. The tactics can be debated. But the strategy should be clear. If the strategy is wrong, the only thing an interval will do is change the timing of betrayal.