Politics & Policy

To Meet Or Not To Meet?

Amidst Obama's folly, can we finally pronounce Bush's Iran policy a disaster?

In late spring 2006, Condi finally got her way.

For nearly three decades, sensible American policy had dictated resisting official meetings with and overt legitimization of Iran’s murderous jihadist regime. But in May 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice persuaded President Bush that direct negotiations were the way to go.

Let’s ignore that back-channel talks had been ongoing since the Khomeini era . . . leading to such debacles as the Iran-Contra scandal.

Leave aside, too, that the Bush-negotiation initiative, far from a position of strength, was launched out of weakness: The mullahs were actively orchestrating the murder of American troops in Iraq, all the while defying pusillanimous efforts by the U.S. and weak-kneed Europeans to forestall Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

In fact, let’s even ignore Khobar Towers. In 1996, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had coordinated a bombing in Saudi Arabia, an act of war that killed 19 members of the United States Air Force. It is not enough to say the Clinton administration did nothing; it actually obstructed the investigation that would have brought Iran’s attack on the United States to light.

The Bush administration, similarly, did nothing — even as Iran stepped up its anti-American aggression, harbored al-Qaeda fighters, and (as even the 9/11 Commission grudgingly conceded) very likely facilitated the travel of the suicide hijackers who killed nearly 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001.

No, let’s forget all those things ever happened. Let’s just stick to Spring 2006.

To recount: We were dealing with an apocalyptic regime certain that radical Islam’s global triumph was as imminent as the long lost Mahdi’s arrival any day now. President Bush had said time and again that it was pointless to negotiate with terrorists because they are — surprise! — incorrigible. Yet, Secretary Rice convinced the president that the ball would really be advanced by [drum-roll] . . . direct U.S. negotiations with Iran.

Flash forward to 2008. The Democrats’ presumptive (and increasingly less-compelling) nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, has rightly been ridiculed for his offer to meet, without preconditions, with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His stated policy is so patently idiotic that Obama, on the cusp of the brass ring, has been reduced to lying about whether he actually stated it (he did, repeatedly), and to dissembling about whether preconditions are the same thing as preparations he now purports to have envisioned all along.

My question is: Why?

Why does Obama feel the need to lie about a suggestion that, at best, is only marginally more vapid than what has passed for the Bush Iran policy?

Back to spring 2006. Iran was being particularly obstreperous about its nuclear-technology development. The State Department proposed direct negotiations — i.e., face-to-face meetings between the president’s emissaries and Ahmadinejad’s subordinates.

What was the price? What stringent preconditions did Condi Rice persuade the president that we should demand?

A commitment to foreswear, or at least suspend, the development of nuclear weapons?


A commitment to refrain from abetting Iraqi insurgents in the murder of American troops?

A commitment to stop funding Hezbollah, the world’s most adept terrorist organization — and the one that, prior to 9/11, had trained al-Qaeda operatives and killed more Americans than any other?

#ad#A commitment to restrain its Revolutionary Guards and Qods force from targeting Americans?

A commitment to retract its threats to wipe Israel from the face of the earth?

Well . . . not exactly.

In the midst of the war on terror, at a time when the express policy of the United States was to regard and treat as terrorists the regimes that sponsor terrorism, in circumstances where Iran was actively coddling al-Qaeda and killing American soldiers, the Bush administration insisted on . . . no preconditions for negotiating with Iran.

Sure, Bush (unlike Obama) did not offer a personal sitdown with Ahmadinejad. But does that really matter? Top-level meeting or no meeting, what happened was a disgrace.

As I’ve previously detailed, the United States offered Iran:

‐ Support for a new conference to promote dialogue and cooperation on regional security issues.

‐ Improvement of Iran’s access to the international economy, markets, and capital, through practical support for full integration into international structures, including the World Trade Organization, and the creation of a framework for increased direct investment and trade.

‐ Establishment of a long-term energy partnership between Iran and the European Union, among others.

‐ Support for the modernization of Iran’s telecommunication infrastructure and advanced Internet service, including the lifting of American export restrictions.

‐ High-tech cooperation.

‐ Support for agricultural development in Iran, including possible access to American and European agricultural products, technology, and farm equipment.

Oh, and there was one other thing. Condi offered Iran cooperation in the field of civil aviation, including the removal of export restrictions which forbade American and European manufacturers from providing the mullahs with aircraft and spare parts.

You know why the last offer is worth mentioning?

Because, as would have been effortlessly predicted by anyone who has followed Iran for the last 30 years, when the mullahs looked at the Bush administration’s front-loaded, precondition-free offer, they laughed their heads off. They told us to take a $3- (now $4-) dollar-a-gallon hike.

So what did the Bush State Department do?

It gave Iran the civil-aviation assistance anyway. And it continued to sit down with the regime’s diplomats while the regime continued to build nukes, kill Americans, and dispatch Hezbollah to kill Israelis.

That is to say, we not only demanded no preconditions for negotiations; we persisted in patently futile negotiations even as they thumbed our eyes.

So I’m delighted to hear President Bush has determined, as he told the Israeli Knesset last week, that it is irrational to “negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.” I’m just wondering why he hasn’t clued his State Department in on this obvious truth.

Just like I’m wondering why Sen. John McCain hasn’t objected to the administration’s precondition-free negotiations with the jihad’s string-pullers.

And why Sen. Barack Obama feels like he has to lie about what he said rather than argue that it’s not all that more delusional than the farce in which we’ve been engaged for several years running.

Andrew C. McCarthy is author of Willful Blindness: Memoir of the Jihad and director of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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