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Goodbye to Bush Silliness on Iran

One of the most flatly irrational aspects of George W. Bush's approach to foreign policy was his position that you don't sit down to negotiate with your enemies until they've already met your demands.

Sort of misses the point of negotiating, doesn't it?

Most notably, Bush refused to talk to Iran about foregoing its nuclear weapons program -- unless it agreed ahead of time to forego its nuclear weapons program.

Fresh on the heels of a European tour in which President Obama advocated and modeled a profoundly different style of American leadership, the Obama administration has now officially shelved Bush's no-talking policy for Iran.

One official even described Bush's approach as "silly."

Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "The United States said yesterday that it would directly participate 'from now on' in international talks with Iran over its nuclear activities, the latest move in the Obama administration's promised diplomatic outreach to the Tehran government.

"'There's nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon,' Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. The United States, she said in brief comments at the State Department, would be a full participant with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in any future Iran negotiations....

"A senior administration official, who agreed to discuss the issue on the condition of anonymity...said there was no internal debate over whether to fully join the negotiations if and when another round is scheduled. 'It was kind of silly that we had to walk out of the room' when the Iranians were present, the official said."

Laura Rozen blogs for Foreign Policy: "Last July, after previously insisting Iran must halt its uranium enrichment program before joining talks with it, the Bush administration sent a diplomat to Geneva to attend international discussions to which Iran sent a representative. But the Bush administration instructed the American official, undersecretary of state for political affairs William Burns, to observe, but not participate with his Iranian counterpart. They also said his presence would be a one-time affair, at which Iran could take or leave an international offer of inducements in exchange for Tehran giving up its uranium enrichment program."

Rozen writes that State Department spokesman Robert Wood said yesterday that "Washington's approach going forward would be more sustained diplomatic engagement. 'A diplomatic solution necessitates a willingness to engage directly with each other on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest,' he said.

"'If Iran accepts, we hope this will be the occasion to seriously engage Iran on how to break the logjam of recent years and work in a cooperative manner to resolve the outstanding international concerns about its nuclear program,' Wood said."

Farah Stockman writes in the Boston Globe: "In his inaugural speech, Obama pledged to 'extend a hand' to those who are willing to 'unclench' their fists.

"Yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner and staunch defender of Iran's nuclear program, spoke positively about Obama's offer, telling an audience in the city of Isfahan: 'If a hand has truly been extended with sincerity, based on justice and respect, Iran will welcome it.'

"But he also warned that if Obama's offer is only for appearances, then 'Iran's answer will be the same as the one given to Mr. Bush.'"

And today, Nasser Karimi writes for the Associated Press, Ahmadinejad "inaugurated a new facility producing uranium fuel for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor" that the West fears "could eventually be used for producing a nuclear weapon."

Where does the public stand on this issue? CNN reports: "Nearly six in ten Americans think that Obama administration officials should hold diplomatic talks with Iran without that country first making significant changes in its policies....Only about one in five view Iran as an immediate threat to the United States, although an additional 60 percent say that Iran represents a long-term threat."

Meanwhile, as Paul Richter noted in the Los Angeles Times, Vice President Biden on Tuesday "issued a high-level admonishment to Israel's new government ... that it would be 'ill advised' to launch a military strike against Iran."

"Biden said in a CNN interview that he does not believe newly installed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would take such a step."

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 9, 2009; 10:29 AM ET
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I'm not the first to say it, but I'll paraphrase the Economist: George Bush was indeed a negotiator. He was quite happy for his opponents to accede to his demands.

(The Economist's point was on Bush's and Obama's approach to bipartisanship, but I think it applies here too.)

Posted by: whizbang9a | April 9, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

As an added note: I don't trust the government of Iran, since it does seem to have a strong apocalyptic and fundamentalist component, but Iran is a sovereign state and absolutely has the right to pursue a nuclear weapons program, as does North Korea (I'm not aware if either is party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but I doubt it--I know the US isn't). At least recognizing that right is fundamental to any negotiations. Despite our overwhelming economic and military advantages, in negotiating with other states we need to recognize them as sovereign equals. Doing otherwise negates the premise of negotiation.

Posted by: whizbang9a | April 9, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Actually, Iran and the United States are both parties to the non-proliferation treaty. Korea was a party to the treaty as well, but they dropped out a few years ago.

The treaty says that countries will disarm and will not seek to build nuclear weapons. In exchange, they will get access to technology that allows them to build nuclear power plants.

What is at issue with Iran is that they claim to be working toward a nuclear power solution, but we maintain that it is actually a covert nuclear weapons program. Under the terms of the treaty they are allowed to pursue nuclear power and are even expected to get some help with that initiative.

North Korea was a party of the treaty until 2003. They pulled out of the treaty and announced their intention to create nuclear weapons.

Posted by: fletc3her | April 9, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

To me it's always seemed like Ahmadinnerjacketandtie has been quick to run his mouth and rattle his saber because he's not the real leader of Iran. He can just run and hide under the Ayatollah's skirt if he stirs the pot too vigorously, so there's no real check in place against his sort of behavior.

We would all benefit from an independent measured analysis of the true threat from Iran, unimpeded and undistorted by the right wing and others who desperately want to fan any embers of conflict they can find.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 9, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

whizbang9a noted: I'll paraphrase the Economist: George Bush was indeed a negotiator. He was quite happy for his opponents to accede to his demands.

Captures Mr. Bush very well in my view. Unfortunately, we have vey little to show for that "yer fer us or agin us" approach from his presidential terms.

Posted by: Mill_in_Mn | April 9, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Welcome Back, Carter!

Posted by: fishcrow | April 9, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

The new Thespian-in-Chief is being rolled by Russia, N. Korea and Pirates

Wasting no time being seen by our enemies and allies alike he is naive and weak. Won't be long before we start to see US Embassies being overrun again like under Carter...

Posted by: seawolfR | April 9, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile Netanyahu is ratcheting up the hysteria in Israel, ever the Chicken Little and alternating the usual "never again" howling with "the sky is falling." I can only wonder how long we let this lousy little religion-crazed country stoke the flames of war with all the other religion-crazed countries in the region ... Israel is like a criminal adolescent we keep bailing out of juvenile hall and never actually allowing him to be punished for his crimes. Only this adolescent is a criminal squatter movement that steals land and has its thefts protected by the military.

Time for some tough love. Cut Israel loose and let them twist in the wind until the settler movement is criminal under their law.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | April 9, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

And in 6-18 months when Iran has one or more nuclear weapons capable of being mounted to long range ballistic missiles made with North Korean assistance, surely we can point to the negotiations underway by our Dear Leader as yet another “step in the right direction”. After all, everyone agrees that words are better than results and that it is not futile to negotiate with a no faith partner.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 9, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

What is disturbing is this same self-assured pontificating by the usual suspects that Iran IS working on a nuclear weapons program. The same sinister use of language was used to stop Saddam's WMD programs. How soon we forget.

Posted by: slim2 | April 9, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

It is good to hear some opinions opposite to those held by the Neocons with respect to Iran. Scott Ritter was the only opposition they had in their drumbeat for war with Iraq. The Media enabled them to totally dominate the issue with the fervent support of the Administration.
The Neocons care not for the disastrous consequences of such wars, and all of them I know of are chicken hawks.

Posted by: grants1922 | April 9, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Why talk to Iran at all? While Bush was in office, everyone on the left insisted Iran was building nuclear centrifuges for peaceful means.

What's changed between then and now?

Posted by: enaughton27 | April 9, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

"Speak softly and carry a big stick." - Teddy Roosevelt

Strange, but I don't remember the empty bluster of the George W. Bush administration frightening anyone. When it comes to Iran, and North Korea in particular, Bush's "tough guy" posturing accomplished exactly nothing. Yeah, we need more that.

Posted by: sonny2 | April 9, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Why talk to Iranian leaders who have demonstrated over the most recent 30 years their disregard and contempt for complying with any international agreements? Obama will give the appearance of communicating but the Iranians will ignore him, too, while they go on building their WMD capabilities until it's too late for some unlucky people in what Iran considers "the community of unbelievers."

Posted by: DoTheRightThing | April 9, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Obama's consensus approach as against Bush's supercilious,arrgant and sabre rattling style has earned more friends than belligerence and bellicose reaction all around.One must remember Iran is also facing fudamentalism, though it is not visibile.Considering the situation in Pakistan,Afganistan Iraq, NKorea and AlQueda, discretion and maturity is better than
valour.Let us give the initiative a
chance.It might succeed, though not immediately.Immediate gain would be good will and an avenue to go forward.

Posted by: ramanan50 | April 9, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Given Bush's sabe-rattling rhetoric, Iran would be crazy to not prepare for its own defense. Recall the axis of evil speech; there were three countries named. The one with a nuclear capability got lip service; the one without weapons got invaded and its head of state turned over to a lynch mob. If I were Iran and my neighbor was overthrown, I'd be looking at North Korea's lack of foreign occupiers and see a lesson there.

Why not talk to Iran? Because bad things happen that way.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | April 9, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

OK! Let's not talk to Iran because bad things will happen. Yep, we didn't talk to Iran and bad things still did. Hmm! This is one for the 'decider'. Here's another:
Republikkkans have brought us this far, why not go the rest of the way with them?
Signed -- Thelma and Louise
And, in case you haven't noticed, the religious Christo-terrorists are still demanding that we do everything possible to hasten the end of the world and thus, bring about the second coming.
One can only hope that with 'W' gone, the world can move forward.

Republikkkans -- nunca mas.

PS If you don't trust N. Korea, Iran etc, then one must ask, were you the ONE that trusted 'W'? How about Rush, how about Gonzales? How about that?

Posted by: bgreen2224 | April 9, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

"Why talk to Iran at all? While Bush was in office, everyone on the left insisted Iran was building nuclear centrifuges for peaceful means.

What's changed between then and now?"
Seriously, I mean when you have an oil-rich country smuggling in centrifuges and nuclear materials, it has to be peaceful, right? I'm sure a food & fuel bribery program will get them to stop, just like the Clinton-North Korea arrangement that worked so well. Truly, the peaceful reconciliation between North Korea and South Korea and NK's complete disgorgement of its nuclear missile programs was one of Clinton's greatest achievements.

And don't look now, but IRAN is the country that refuses to negotiate unless other nations meet its preconditions, like cutting off all support to Israel and generally adopting the practices of a repressive Islamist regime. Bush rightly refused to do so. Obama's reaction? "Um, then maybe we can talk to you anyway?" The only hope we have is that the Iranians refuse to let Obama use a teleprompter during the talks, flustering and enraging him.

Posted by: zippyspeed | April 9, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"Bush refused to talk to Iran about foregoing its nuclear weapons program ..."
You should have mentioned that the Iranian claims they are not after nuclear weapons or and there is no solid evidence to prove otherwise, or at least used the word 'alleged' before 'weapons program'.

But apart from this little bit of misinformation, this was a good read.

Posted by: mohajaf | April 9, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Yes, maybe OBAMA will bow to the ayatollah too like he did to the saudi king....The word is out Obama is a wimp and the dictators are cackling.

Posted by: pwaa | April 9, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

"As an added note: I don't trust the government of Iran, since it does seem to have a strong apocalyptic and fundamentalist component, but Iran is a sovereign state and absolutely has the right to pursue a nuclear weapons program, as does North Korea (I'm not aware if either is party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but I doubt it--I know the US isn't). At least recognizing that right is fundamental to any negotiations. Despite our overwhelming economic and military advantages, in negotiating with other states we need to recognize them as sovereign equals. Doing otherwise negates the premise of negotiation"

This is absurd. A criminal has no right to a gun like a law abiding citizen. To act as if gangster governments are the equal to democratically elected governments is the height of idiocy...

Posted by: pwaa | April 9, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Bush was to the USA what Ahmadinejad is to Iran. Unpopular, not speaking for the majority view. What would you do if a long time foe, just for the fun of it, invaded the countries on either side of you.

If Iran had nuke capabilities and the US none, and had invaded Canada and Mexico, would the USA try to get nukes?

Posted by: jfern03 | April 9, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

DoTheRightThing: "Why talk to Iranian leaders who have demonstrated over the most recent 30 years their disregard and contempt for complying with any international agreements?"

Oh my. Richness. Not to defend Iran, because they are certainly not telling the truth about many things. But you could take out the word "Iranian" and add "American" and you'd have the opinion of a good chunk of the world.

Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty?
Convention Against Torture?
Geneva Conventions?
U.N. Charter?

We've violated all of them with impunity, particularly in the Bush era. So why would anyone talk with our leaders?

It's this attitude that our doody doesn't stink that makes people hate us, not our "freedom".

Posted by: mberube | April 9, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

The extremist Muslim leadership in Iran wants to wipe the US and Isreal off the face of the Earth. They think nothing of lying as long as it enhances their agenda. To lie to a non-believer is encouraged in their faith, as is killing us.

Trying to negotiate with someone with this mind set is useless and only empowers them more. If Obama is stupid enough to believe that he can trust this man and dumb enough to sit down and meet with him then he is truly dumber than I thought possible.

Posted by: tbastian | April 9, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse


Few things in life are guaranteed but I believe that, above all else, there's one event you can absolutely count on happening.

When Israel perceives that Iran HAS a nuclear weapon, they will attack and devastate this hideous country.

Posted by: bgreen2224 | April 9, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

While Sharpshooting pugilist seems to think North Korea has missile technology Iran wants, the case is, in fact, exactly the opposite.

Ollie North, Elliot Abrams, and their co conspirators sold IRAN very high tech missile gear, to include the spare parts and theoretical materials needed to maintain the program, in order to continue a flatly illegal war in Central America. THAT technology made its way to North Korea, Libya, and other countries that Iran felt like dealing with at the time, more or less with Ronald Reagan's blessing. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg went to their deaths for less.

Since there is actually NO evidence that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, except for the garbage we are being fed by Israeli "Intelligence" experts who decide what they want their intelligence to say and make up the parts they need, we ought to actually treat Iran as if they are actually doing what they say they are doing, (and what our Intelligence people seem to think they ARE in fact doing) and tell Israel to tone it down.

On a related note, Iran would weaken its own defenses were it to get nukes, and would then have to worry that internal factions might get one of their nukes and use it to try to dictate to Iran itself. The nuclear threats Iran faces from Israel and Pakistan are not the sort that getting into a MAD contest would bring under control, so Iran is better off pointedly not joining the nuke club, and hoping world opinion will help protect them.

Should Iran start doing things like producing lots of enrichment waste stream, say on the order of ten to twenty times as much nuclear waste as they would generate making nuclear fuel, and building telefactoring canyons for the machining of nuclear materials, (Fuel elements don't require much machine work) then we might suspect nuclear weapons ambitions, but there being none of those indicators in Iran now, your "six months" is just plaim bull.

Treat Iran honorably until we have reason to do otherwise and at least we avoid one more draw on our over stretched military.

Posted by: ceflynline | April 9, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

It is embarrassing as an American to see the right wingers, who inevitably spout some rah-rah kill 'em all while spouting fake "Fox Facts" about issues they don't understand, trying to go back to the Cheney-sponsored disasters of the past. These bozos have no clue about history, not even of their own party and political orientation. Blind, imbecilic followers and chanters who don't care that under Bush we became a nation of thieves and liars and torturing murderers. They think Obama has taken their rights away in 12 weeks, when it was Bush over 8 years with the Patriot (not) act, Military Commissions act, and sneaky secret spying and "not playing" statements appended to every law. We have less credibility than Iran does-people know they're nutso, we can't even be trusted to not torture children to death. That's your conservative worldview in a nutshell: pro-life mass murderers with sadistic fetishes for torture.

Posted by: sparkplug1 | April 9, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

If anyone remembers. When the hostages were taken Carter's response was for all Americans to turn on their headlights in solidarity. That really showed them. It will be a long time before they mess with us. If Carter would have had a pair he would have supported the Shah and let his son take the thrown and much of the mess that we have today would have been adverted.

Obama is a clown. Maybe he can go and bow and snivel to Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollah as Muslims really respect weakness.

Posted by: Bubbette1 | April 9, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

When the drunk-reborn-christian-macho-cowboy-saber-ratteleing-axis-of-evil Bush became President, Iran had 2000 centrifuges. Bush is gone and now they have 7000 (read today's news). Bush helped more than anybody else in buying time for the Iranians to perfect their nuclear program.

Posted by: babtistj62 | April 9, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

The whole U.S.-Iranian affair is a blunder
at its core, and it is not going to go ANYWHRE! The U.S. and Israeli policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and keep it in an inferior political and military position in Middle East forever. Iran will never accept to be controlled by an outside power on what it can do, or cannot do in its territory, period.

The new Israeli PM Bemjamin Netanyahu said recently that "if Iran is prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons, the clout and military power of both Hamas and Hezbollah will wane, and Israel can live in peace."
And, of course, the U.S. went to Iraq to sandwich Iran with allies in the West, and Afghanistan in the East, and its aircraft carriers in the south - the Straight of Hormuz- and then threatened Iran with combined U.S. and Israeli military force to force it to stop its nuclear program.
But Iran had already prepared itself with S-300 Russian anti-aircraft batteries, and an arsenal of it own missiles that can reach Israel, and didn't buckle.

Now, if Iran didn't buckle under Bush's warmongering bravado, why should it buckle under Obama's empty rhetoric. After all, Obama wants exactly what George Bush wanted upfront from Iran - to stop its nuclear program- and that issue is not negotiable - either upfront or in the negotiating table. And why should it be? If there was no issue with the U.S. when Israel tested a nuclear devise in South Africa [under the then apartheid regime], why should it be an issue with Iran? Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert Bragged that "Iran cannot be a member of the nuclear club" [powers possessing nuclear weapons]. Who is Olmert -or Netanyahu- to decide the destiny of the Iranian nation?

The whole affair boils down to the Israeli Political Action Committee (IPAC) that is rumored to control 70 U.S. senators with political contributions, and most U.S. Representatives, as well as each elected president. And Iran has made it clear that is not going to be controlled either by Israel or its stooges on Capitol Hill.

What is the prospect of U.S. and Iranian negotiations about reapproachment? ZERO, as long as the U.S. can be pulled by the nose from Israel. Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by: Nikos_Retsos | April 9, 2009 6:27 PM | Report abuse

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