Sunday, June 18, 2006

If They Gave Out Academy Awards for Incompetence ...

Glenn Kessler reports that in 2003, right after the fall of Baghdad, the U.S. turned down a no-conditions offer from Iran to discuss a broad range of issues:

Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by U.S. forces three years ago, an unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.

But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.

Last month, the Bush administration abruptly shifted policy and agreed to join talks previously led by European countries over Iran's nuclear program. But several former administration officials say the United States missed an opportunity in 2003 at a time when American strength seemed at its height -- and Iran did not have a functioning nuclear program or a gusher of oil revenue from soaring energy demand.

"At the time, the Iranians were not spinning centrifuges, they were not enriching uranium," said Flynt Leverett, who was a senior director on the National Security Council staff then and saw the Iranian proposal. He described it as "a serious effort, a respectable effort to lay out a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement."

While the Iranian approach has been previously reported, the actual document making the offer has surfaced only in recent weeks. Trita Parsi, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he obtained it from Iranian sources. The Washington Post confirmed its authenticity with Iranian and former U.S. officials.

Kevin Drum congratulates the Bushies for a job horribly done, and notes the odd placement of this story:

That demonstrates some savvy foreign policy insight, doesn't it? Turn down an unprecedented offer from Iran when they're weak and we're strong, and then three years later reluctantly agree to much narrower talks when they're stronger and we're weaker. Great job, guys.

NOTE TO POST EDITORS: Nice job putting this on page A16. It's not as if this is anything important, after all.

Of course, you can't have a meeting of the minds if the minds are not all there:

... the minds in the United States government were convinced their counterparts in Iran would not be long in power, about to be overthrown from within. So the United States didn't even respond. Inaction has its consequences.

Parsi said that based on his conversations with the Iranian officials, he believes the failure of the United States to even respond to the offer had an impact on the government. Parsi, who is writing a book on Iran-Israeli relations, said he believes the Iranians were ready to dramatically soften their stance on Israel, essentially taking the position of other Islamic countries such as Malaysia. Instead, Iranian officials decided that the United States cared not about Iranian policies but about Iranian power.

The incident "strengthened the hands of those in Iran who believe the only way to compel the United States to talk or deal with Iran is not by sending peace offers but by being a nuisance," Parsi said.

Glenn Greenwald writes that Iran hard-liners are pushing for regime change rather than negotiation:

Just as was true with Iraq, most hard-line Iran war agitators are completely uninterested in inducing Iran to disarm. What they really crave is a change of government as soon as possible, something which is attainable most effectively by war. They don't want to pursue diplomatic measures that could result in a cessation of Iran's nuclear activities because a non-nuclear Iran with no regime change does not even remotely satisfy their goals. Anything less than forcible regime change will be perceived by them as dangerous "appeasement." Exactly as they viewed the first Gulf War, achieving concrete goals while failing to use our military to get rid of governments we dislike is weak and misguided. Government-changing war is the only solution that works.

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