A Question of Priorities

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Brian Beutler quotes Roger Cohen and finds some problems with this snip:

The United States should propose broad, high-level talks with Iran across the range of issues confronting the two countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine — while dropping its meaningless insistence that Iran suspend nuclear enrichment activities before talks begin….

If the answer to the invitation is no, and Iranian-orchestrated attacks in Iraq continue, America should play hardball.

For my part, not as an objection to Cohen but merely as an observation, the issue here is that it’s all a question of priorities. As Cohen notes, there are a lot of issues in US-Iranian relations. There’s also the question of escalating the level of US-Iranian conflict. From where I sit, the most important issues on the DC-Teheran docket are verifiably committing Iran to remaining a non-nuclear weapons state and preventing the emergence of al-Qaeda safe havens in Iraq and Afghanistan. These two goals can only be genuinely accomplished through peaceful agreement between the United States and Iran. Under the circumstances, I would regard the outbreak of open hostilities between the US and Iran as a disaster due to its deleterious effects on both the fight against al-Qaeda and our hopes for stopping nuclear proliferation.

Others, though, take a different view of the situation. Some place much higher weight on securing an Iraqi government that’s likely to be willing to play host to a large US military contingent for an indefinite period of time. Some place more weight on making Afghanistan a place where poppy for opium export isn’t grown. Some place more weight on trying to get Iran to stop its financial support of Hezbollah. What’s more, some think unilateral military action isn’t the method of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program that’s least likely to succeed — they think it’s the way that’s likeliest to work. My guess is that Cohen and I disagree about some of these things, though I’m not quite sure. My view is that it should be quite possible to secure my priorities through diplomatic means, and essentially impossible to secure them through military means. At the same time, my interest in preventing Iran from building a nuclear bomb and in preventing al-Qaeda from obtaining safe havens in Iraq or Afghanistan is sufficiently strong that I would agree to some deals with Iran that others would reject.

Photo by Flickr user Koldo used under a Creative Commons license