Daniel Drezner has some remarks about some recent writing on Iran in the liberal blogosphere (predictably, there is much Bush bashing). I'm largely in agreement with him that most commentary from liberal bloggers here misses the point, but one claim he makes seems wrong to me: that, to date, the United States has not mismanaged the Iran issue. Drezner writes,
Consider what the U.S. has done vis-à-vis Iran:
1) Deferring to the EU-3 on negotiations towards Iran;
2) Backing away from having the IAEA refer Iran's noncompliance to the UN Security Council unless and until there was overwhelming international support from key members in that organization for the move;
3) Sharing their intelligence about Iran's nuclear ambitions with all the relevant governments;
4) Endorsing a Russian compromise proposal that would have allowed Iran to continue a nuclear energy program;
5) Securing the support of China and Russia in ratcheting up the rhetoric towards Iran.
My view is the exact opposite. I've been holding off on posting it since one never knows what initiatives are at works behind the scenes and so its difficult to assess the "Iran policy" of this administration. But assuming that publicly available information is all there is, the Bush administration has not handled Iran well at all.
Number 5 on Drezner list is an exceedingly mild accomplishment, entirely rhetorical in nature. Neither of those countries has come at all close to supporting military action, nor will they ever. Numbers 3 hardly deserves a mention. Numbers 1,2, and 4 are all passive in nature - the US has endorsed a proposal or initiative made by someone else.
What should the US have done? Engage Iran, obviously. Offer direct negotiations on the issue and put the removal of US sanctions on Iran and full relations on the table. Iranians have been complaining of US sanctions for years, and their complete removal would arguably have a significant economic impact.
But the United States never put this on the table. The rationale, as far as I can tell, is that such an action would "reward" nuclear proliferation. This may be so, but other options - a nuclear Iran, or air strikes on Iran, risking some sort of Iranian retaliation in Iraq - seem to be far more unpleasant options. Moreover, pursuing nuclear weapons takes a lot of resources, commitment, money. It creates ostracism from the international community. It brings the danger of pre-emptive war from threatened nations. "Rewarding" Iran by coming to terms is unlikely to play a major role in pushing any nations towards nuclear programs.
All of this is beside the point now. I fully support an air strike on Iran to take out their nuclear facilities - preferably by Israel, as that would let the US avoid a possible Iranian retaliation in Iraq, which would make the job of the US forces in Iraq still more complicated. But we'll never know if a compromise along the lines outlined here would have been possible.