Michael Hirsch outlines what one can only characterize as an appealing fantasy scenario in which George W. Bush suddenly comes to his senses and decides to have a “Nixon in China” moment and strike a grand bargain with Iran. This is grounded in a fairly sound analysis of the actual situation, but it’s pretty obviously not in the cards. Nixon, for all his many flaws, did have a grasp of the basic concept of the Cold War — that it was about containing the Soviet Union — whereas Bush’s approach to the “war on terror” seems grounded exclusively in fantasy life. We’re so far from a diplomatic opening with Iran, that we hear “It’s fair to say that Dr. Rice thought this was a bad idea. A really, really bad idea” when the idea was merely for the President of Iran to talk to members of the Council on Foreign Relations about stuff.
Rice, of course, is the moderate foreign policy voice in the administration. So where the impetus for this is going to come from, I couldn’t quite say. Realistically, the only question on the table is whether Bush is going to totally shit the bed by starting a war with Iran (to be sure, with bombs and missiles rather than soldiers and tanks, but still — it’d be a war) or whether things will drift along dangerously and unsatisfactorally until someone else takes office and gets the chance to try to fix things.
UPDATE: For more on this, you have to read Lawrence Kaplan’s explanation of why he doesn’t think there’ll be a war with Iran soon. Roughly speaking, according to Kaplan, Bush is determined “to go the last mile” with diplomacy “in the name of mollifying the Europeans” and that will take a long time. But this is just the point. The conception of diplomacy held by Bush and what passes for doves in the administration is an odd one. In essence, the White House is willing to give Iran a variety of opportunity to pre-emptively surrender on all issues in order to demonstrate that “diplomacy has failed” and war is necessary. What they’re not willing to do is conduct diplomacy, i.e. make good-faith efforts to resolve outstanding issues in US-Iranian relations in a cooperative, mutually beneficial manner.
In essence, then, diplomacy has been taken off the table. Iran will be given time to decide whether or not it wants to surrender, and Bush will be given time to try and shape US domestic opinion in a favorable direction. The policy, however, is one of confrontation and the administration — like Kaplan — persists in seeing the crucial variable here as Iran’s subjective assessment of American resolve.