31 May, 2008

Iran and the lesser of two evils

In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg (who also interviewed Senator Obama a couple weeks ago), John McCain mocks the idea of presidential negotiations with Iran:

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Um, Al Qaeda? I realize McCain was talking tough on Iran in the context of the safety of Israel. And clearly, Iran is currently, and probably will continue to be, a serious threat to various of our interests, from undermining us in Iraq to pursuing nuclear weapons. But from the view of US national security, it seems that international terrorism is the greater existential threat, and, moreover, one that could be more fruitfully addressed through some sort of detente with Iran.

In this sense, the "lesser of two evils" kind of thinking that McCain argues doesn't apply I would say actually does. Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups such as the Taleban are our mutual enemies. Their defeat and destruction would be in both of our interests. Could these shared interests not be the foundation of a regional security pact in which, say, Iran is guaranteed a supply of enriched uranium and assurances against UN sanctions or military strikes in return for, say, an agreement on the part of Iran to stop pursuing enrichment capability, to cut off funding of Iraqi shi'a militias, and support for NATO's counter-Taleban and counter-Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

Will the Iranians agree to anything like this? We don't know -- but it seems pretty certain that with a McCain campaign that is trying to out-bellicose Bush, we won't get a chance to find out.

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