And That's That
Sadly, the biggest near-term result of the election strife in Iran is the end to diplomatic channels for the Obama Administration. I have no doubt that he still wants to talk with the Islamic Republic, but as a political reality, that's dead for now.
President Obama acknowledged yesterday that his hopes for a direct U.S.-Iran dialogue, one of his signature foreign policy initiatives, had been dashed for now by the Iranian government's violent quashing of protests over the disputed June 12 election.
Obama's proposed direct outreach to Iran dates to the 2008 presidential campaign. Even last week, well after Iranian police began beating and shooting at mostly young protesters, the president and his aides insisted that engagement was still possible.
Yesterday, however, Obama said there was "no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks."
Nevertheless, Obama said Washington would continue to take part in multination talks with Tehran over its suspected nuclear-weapons program "because the clock is ticking," a reference to the possibility that Iran in the coming years will acquire enough fuel to build a nuclear weapon. That's the approach former President George W. Bush adopted during his last six months in office.
I don't see what choice the President has. Clearly the right wing would pounce if engagement continued with an illegitimate government last seen beating and killing their own people. In the long run, however, the uprising of more moderate voices in Iran, which will play out over years, does strengthen the hand of engagement, and while I don't think Obama played a huge role in that, he is well-positioned to capitalize on it down the road.
The other part of this is that reducing countries like Iran to a caricature and preferring to bully them around than talk with them has led to a serious proliferation in their nuclear capability since 2000. I agree that acting like the repression inside the country didn't happen would be a mistake now, but that doesn't mean isolation and belligerence are somehow vindicated as a foreign policy.