The Iran ‘Appeaser’ On McCain’s National Security Team

Our guest blogger is Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Just a few weeks ago, Senator John McCain endorsed President George W. Bush’s criticism that diplomatic engagement with Iran would be appeasement.

Now it seems McCain has open the door to his war cabinet to someone who has called for U.S. negotiations “without preconditions” with Iran.

Kori Schake, a research fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, former National Security Council and State Department official in the Bush administration, and former advisor to Rudy Giuliani, wrote an article last spring in the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, that in the case of Iran and its nuclear program, “We could assist our own case significantly by agreeing to negotiations without preconditions.”

Her article outlines a persuasive case against John McCain’s stated Iran position:

Opponents of negotiations argue that opening them would give away valuable leverage, reward Iranian misbehavior, and send a signal of weakness. They are mistaken on at least two of those points. If negotiations with the U.S. were such valuable leverage, the Iranians would likely have taken last summer’s deal. Moreover, the leverage argument assumes that negotiating with the Iranians is of more value to them than to us, which is at least questionable. If the Iranians are bent on nuclear weapons development, they will be unaffected by negotiations, whereas we will solidify domestic and international backing and have a direct channel of communication that could reduce miscalculation and expand our opportunities to separate the Iranian government from its people. Even if negotiations do not constrain the Iranian nuclear program, they will strengthen our standing and could help open up Iranian society.

Engaging with the Iranian government is an idea more anathema to American policymakers than it is to Iranian dissidents; they have confidence we can conduct diplomacy, as we did with the Soviet Union, without legitimizing the regime. In refusing to negotiate we help a dictatorial government control information; through negotiations, we further our aims and reduce their ability to mischaracterize our actions. If the Iranians are not bent on nuclear-weapons development, negotiations will give us a better understanding of tradeoffs that would constrain them.

In the same piece, Schake also argued that the United States should increase its threshold for military action against Iran to the actual testing of a nuclear weapon rather than uranium enrichment.


Schake joined the McCain team sometime this year and took part in this national security conference call with reporters earlier this month. Schake was even sent out to defend McCain’s position on Iran from Congressional critics of McCain’s 2005 vote against sanctions on Iran.