What's the Best Case Scenario With Iran?

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 1:55 PM EST

Kevin Drum has some thoughts on whether or not it's feasible to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iran, and I quibble only with his assertion that there is the possibility that Iran could turn not only from an enemy into a partner, but from an enemy into a friend.

Here's Drum:

Iran is not some wayward child with a heart of gold that can be made into our bosom buddy by sitting down and swapping a few stories. It's a harsh, illiberal theocracy that's been a state sponsor of terrorism for decades. But the weird thing is that this senior official [Earlier, Drum quotes a senior Iranian official who calls the U.S. and Iran "natural allies."] is right: there really aren't any fundamental geopolitical reasons that Iran and the United States need to be enemies. Iran isn't territorial, they're happy to sell their oil to the highest bidder, and they really do hate al-Qaeda.

Agreed on all counts. I would argue that in addition to the three criteria Drums lists at the end of this paragraph, we have to include the subject of Israel because there are too many staunch defenders of Israel in Congress, Washington's think tanks, and America's special interests. And on the Israel question Iran fails absolutely. But Drum isn't dumb and anticipates my thinking. "I know, I know. There's still Israel. And obviously I don't have any magical solution to that," he says. "But even there, there might be a deal to be struck. Not an easy one, or a quick one, but something."

I don't know if a deal needs to be struck. We're not talking about pacifying the region here; we're just talking about whether or not the U.S. and Iran can get along well enough to start talking again. I would venture that all we need are guarantees from Ahmadinejad to stop making loony "Death to Israel" pronouncements and to start making high-profile assurances that Iran's nuclear program is not meant to be a threat to Israel. Some people in the United States aren't going to be satisfied with that that. They're still going to see Ahmadinejad as a dangerous wildcard and will insist that we can't negotiate with a country run by such a man. They'll just have to realize that talks with Iran fundamentally make the United States safer. Right now we have no influence over Iran, and, if anything, continue to antagonize them. Entering a tense but workable diplomatic relationship humanizes both sides, allows them to talk through grievances, and begins the process of making concessions and finding middle ground.

Think of it this way: There's a crazy man running around down the street and the neighbors are getting worried. Do you poke him with a stick? Or do you try to settle him down and find out what ails him? And do you wait to act until the crazy man gets a gun in his hand, or do you try and talk to him before it gets to that point?

Here's the quibble that I mentioned earlier. Drum says:

The Soviet Union turned from implacable enemy to semi-friend in a remarkably short time, and that conflict was far longer lasting and more deeply rooted than our conflict with Iran. And remember: Ronald Reagan ensured his legacy by cutting a deal with the Soviets during his final two years in office. Maybe Bush should try to do the same.

I guess I just don't see it. The Soviet Union was a westernizing country that was ready to admit that the models it had used to construct its economy and basic national outlook were corrupt and rotting. They were ready for an alternative. If the people of Iran are dying to burst out of their burquas and hit the club, I haven't seen any indication. I think the best we can hope for with Iran is detente, but I think that's good enough. And like Drum, I think we'll never know unless we try.