A Costly Diplomatic Error
New talks put us on track to make the world a far more dangerous place.


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s announcement Tuesday that the United States was now prepared to begin negotiating directly with Iran and its proxy, Syria, over the future of Iraq is the latest evidence of the complete unraveling of what was once a principled, coherent American approach to foreign and defense policy. Today, the Bush team’s motto seems to be: Anything goes. Among the things that are poised to go over the side is the nation’s security.

There are fundamentally three things wrong with negotiating with the Islamic Republic of Iran — whether over Iraq or anything else. First, such negotiations will legitimate one of the most dangerous regimes on the planet. By acceding to the pressure to accord the mullahocracy in Tehran the status of equal partners and members in good standing of the “community of nations” — especially against the backdrop of its increasing aggressiveness, we reward that bad behavior. It should come as no surprise that there will be more of it in the future.

Second, embracing Ahmadinejad and his mullahs in this way can only alienate our natural allies: the people of Iran. They have lately been demonstrating a growing willingness to challenge the Islamofascists who have oppressed them for so long. The intensifying economic pressure of recent months — a product of efforts to divest the stocks of publicly traded companies doing business with Tehran, the declining price of oil and international economic sanctions (such as they are) — has helped make the Iranian regime even more unpopular at home. Now, it is inevitable that such pressure will be alleviated, as governments and businesses seize on the new diplomatic opening to rush in and prop up Ahmadinejad.

Third, the adoption of the negotiating track effectively forecloses other options for dealing with the danger posed by the Iranian regime. In particular, efforts to bring about its downfall will be precluded. Diplomats predictably will insist that nothing be done — for example, through covert operations, more far-reaching and effective economic sanctions, military preparations, or political warfare — that will jeopardize the prospects for successful negotiations.

The cumulative effect of these three repercussions will be to buy more time for the mullahs in Iran. They will use this time not to slacken their efforts to destabilize Iraq and hand the United States an epic defeat there, to suspend (let alone dismantle) their nuclear-weapons programs or to terminate their active and generous support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Qaeda.

Instead, Ahmadinejad and the mullahs for whom he fronts will perceive the new U.S. diplomatic opening for what it is: evidence of the collapse of George W. Bush’s resolution and ability to contend with the danger posed by what our president once correctly called “the Axis of Evil.” By substituting an unabashed appeasement strategy with respect to Iran — on the heels of the administration’s recent, appalling accommodation of North Korea — for policies aimed at containing and, where possible, eliminating the regimes that comprised this axis, the administration has declared an open season on American interests.

Like bullies everywhere, the Iranian leaders and their enablers in Russia, China, North Korea, and Venezuela, will take America’s submissive behavior as an invitation to become even more assertive at our expense and that of our allies. The world, in short, will become a far more dangerous place.

To be sure, the Bush team will win plaudits domestically for its volte-face on dealing with Iran. The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Survey Group is wildly enthusiastic that President Bush has effectively embraced its central proposal for extricating the United States from Iraq, namely by surrendering the Iraqi people to the tender mercies of their neighbors. Democrats on Capitol Hill are thrilled, too. They will show their pleasure by finding additional ways to encourage the administration’s newfound flexibility by ruling out other options, notably that of using military force against Iran without congressional assent.

For its part, the press will laud the creation of this new diplomatic process with much the same lack of skepticism and rigor it recently applied to the appalling deal struck recently with North Korea. Even foreign governments and publics that detest President Bush can be expected to see him in a more favorable light for coming around to the conventional wisdom that there are essentially no costs to negotiating with your enemies.

Sadly, the seductiveness of such favorable notices obscure a harsh reality. There are real and potentially very high costs associated with negotiating with those like the leaders of Iran who are determined to “wipe Israel off the map” and achieve “a world without America.” It is an error of the first order to disregard these goals even as we take steps that could help their realization.

 – Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy.


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