Jonah, that’s a very incomplete account offered by Noah Pollack. I realize it is a blog post rather than one of his more fully developed Commentary essays, but he left out the part that most helps his case: what happened in 2006 and afterwards. That’s when the United States directly joined the EU-3 diplomatic effort — in a performance which (as I have recounted a few times) was the kind of textbook appeasement that would no doubt be the Obama approach (Obama might raise it to the presidential level — that is what he’s now waffling about — but that’s more a matter of form; the substance is already in place).
I think it is a disaster to talk with the mullahs given the history and the current state of play: They are a terrorist regime — featuring not only the Hezbollah forward militia but an arm of government (the IRGC) that we have actually designated formally under U.S. law as a terrorist organization, which means that when we negotiate with them we are negotiating with terrorists; when we offer them concessions (as we have in abundance) we are providing material support to terrorists … a felony our government prosecutes people for when not itself committing the offense. More importantly, they are killing American troops in Iraq (as DCI Hayden reaffirmed only a few days ago). Consequently, even if you leave aside that they are not rational actors and therefore that there is nothing to be gained by talking with them, we are badly hurting ourselves by negotiating. If they kill you and your reaction is to say, let’s chat about this, and then they keep killing you and you keep chatting and offering concessions but do nothing else, you are emboldening them to keep killing you. If your policy is that terrorists can’t be negotiated with and then you negotiate with the world’s number one terrorists, then you and your policy have no credibility, which has a lot of attendant consequences, all bad.
Far more important than this “to meet or not to meet” idiocy is the core question on Iran: What should our policy be? The sensible answer is: Regime change. Whether you want to talk to them or not, the current approach holds that we don’t need regime change because, with the right menu of carrots and sticks, we can alter the regime’s behavior in a meaningful way. After 30 years, you’d think we might have gotten the point by now that that is not going to happen.
Regime change does not necessarily mean you need to invade Iran — though I think it’s nuts that we’ve sent the signal to them that we will not attack their territory even if they continue killing Americans in Iraq (i.e., we respond against Iranians only inside Iraq). But regime change would inform our policy accross the board: from whether we sit down with them (no) to the deployment of every other instrumentality of government (military, treasury, law enforcement, covert ops, support for dissidents, etc.) working toward the goal of squeezing, starving and killing this regime until it is gone. And there’s an added benefit: in the unlikely (I’d say impossible) event they ever do modify their behavior, you can deal with that when it happens. Beyond that, they’re the enemy (which, by the way, is how they look at us) and we want to see them gone.