The Prospect‘s Ezra Klein cornered John Edwards yesterday and got him to clarify some of the tough speechifying he has been doing in front of pro-Israel groups like AIPAC. The concern Klein had was that Edwards’ extremely strong support of Israel could be interpreted as more saber-rattling at Iran, and this would indicate that Edwards didn’t properly learn the lesson of Iraq — namely, “toppling Middle Eastern governments, occupying their societies, and trying to impose pluralistic democracy is an almost impossible endeavor, one with far more potential for catastrophe than completion” — and that it wasn’t that Iraq was a mistake, but that invading or attacking anyone in that region, most importantly Iran, invites disaster.
In forcing Edwards to state where he stands on Iran, Klein has made Iran a campaign issue: every serious candidate will have to state his or her plan for dealing with the country. Here’s Edwards:
…you have a radical leader, Ahmadinejad, who is politically unstable in his own country. The political elite have begun to leave him, the religious leaders have begun to leave him, the people aren’t happy with him, for at least two reasons: one, they don’t like his sort of bellicose rhetoric, and second, he was elected on a platform of economic reform and helping the poor and the middle class, and he hasn’t done anything. In fact, while he was traveling, the leaders of the legislature sent him a letter saying, ‘when are you gonna pay attention to the economic problems of our country.’ So, I think we have an opportunity here that we need to be taking advantage of.
First, America should be negotiating directly with Iran, which Bush won’t do. Second, we need to get our European friends, not just the banking system, but the governments themselves, to help us do two things — put a group, a system of carrots and sticks on the table. The carrots are, we’ll make nuclear fuel available to you, we’ll control the cycle, but you can use it for any civilian purpose. Second, an economic package, which I don’t think has been seriously proposed up until now. Because there economy is already struggling, and it would be very attractive to them. And then on the flip side, the stick side, to say if you don’t do that, there are going to be more serious economic sanctions than you’ve seen up until now. Now of course we need the Europeans for this, cause they’re the ones with the economic relationship with Iran, but the whole purpose of this is number one to get an agreement. Number two, to isolate this radical leader so that the moderates and those within the country who want to see Iran succeed economically, can take advantage of it.
Now that’s on the one hand, the flip side of this is what happens if America were to militarily strike Iran? Well you take this unstable, radical leader, and you make him a hero — that’s the first thing that’ll happen. The Iranian people will rally around him. The second thing that will happen is they will retaliate. And they have certainly some potential for retaliating here in the United States through some of these terrorist organizations they’re close to, but we’ve got over a hundred thousand people right next door. And most people believe that they have an infrastructure for retaliation inside Iraq. So, that’s the second thing that’ll happen. And the third thing is there are a lot of analysts who believe that an air strike or a missile strike is not enough to be successful. To be successful we’d actually have to have troops on the ground, and where in the world would they come from? So, to me, this is the path…
The emphasis is mine, of course. The blogosphere will deconstruct this in the coming days, I’m sure, but Edwards’ main points are now clear: negotiate with Iran, use a combination of incentives and threats, and don’t make the mistake of attacking militarily.