We need to negotiate directly with the Iranians, and this is where Mr. Rubin and I likely part ways. But doing so without any immediate consequence for Iran seems to cheapen U.S. diplomacy, in my view. We may soon miss those heady days when simply getting the Americans to the negotiating table was considered to be an Iranian gain in and of itself.
I actually disagree with Mr. Sullivan less than he may realize. As analysts, we have to take what the situation is (in this case, President Obama’s apparent decision to waive the demand that Iran cease suspension) and then recommend the best course forward through the prism of our perception of U.S. interests and so, putting aside the debate about whether Obama’s decision is wise, this is what I worry about:
- Obama has failed to define the terms of success and failure. He is entering into a dialogue which is part of no clear plan and no clear strategy. Too often, pundits confuse analysis and advocacy. To consider that diplomacy might fail does not mean a desire that it does fail. And to consider worst-case scenarios does not mean a desire to see them occur. Obama or Secretary Clinton should certainly be able to answer the question: How will they gauge whether the Iranians are sincere (or whether their interlocutors are empowered to make decisions) and what happens if they conclude that, for the Iranians, engagement is just a stalling technique?
- There is also a dangerous tendency in U.S. administrations to try to sequence approaches: Let’s try diplomacy, and if that doesn’t work, then we can try economic coercion, and if that fails, well maybe we can focus a bit more on public diplomacy, and military preparations might be a last resort. Strategy should be comprehensive. To borrow the military DIME paradigm: Strategy should have diplomatic, informational, military, and economic components being implemented simultaneously. (Military, of course, does not necessarily mean kinetic, but could mean planning, or preparing for containment and deterrence).