When the Iraq Study Group report was released in December, much of the focus was on its recommendations regarding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. But it may turn out that the group's unanimous, bipartisan recommendation to negotiate with Iran and Syria will be the greater threat to the Bush Administration's plans for the Middle East. [Republican Representative Ron Paul has introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for the implementation of "Recommendation 9" of the Iraq Study Group report - the recommendation that the U.S. talk to Syria and Iran.]
President Bush told NPR yesterday he had no intention of "going into" Iran, but that statement means little. What he is clearly doing is trying to escalate, as much as possible, a confrontation with Iran. A military strike - which is much more likely than an invasion - which could be a disaster for the whole region, would not occur until the right moment, perhaps as a result of an incident or pretext. Clearly, the Bush Administration will wait until they think the situation is "ripe," and that ripening is what they are after with the propaganda campaign they are waging now.
That's why President Bush refuses to consider negotiation. He has already gotten the UN Security Council to impose sanctions (in December). For someone seeking to escalate a confrontation, negotiations would be a big step backward.
Negotiations could create the wrong dynamic for the Bush team. When the last round of negotiations were taking place between European countries and Iran over Iran's nuclear program, it became clear that Germany was willing to consider compromises that would allow Iran to enrich uranium under strict UN inspections. The Bush team did not want to allow this, even to allow discussion of it, since the real position of the Bush Administration is that Iran cannot enrich uranium on its own soil ever under its current government under any circumstances, even though Iran is guaranteed this right by international treaty. These kinds of divisions, and the attention (however limited) they get in the media, educate the public and show that the Bush Administration is not seeking a negotiated solution, but trying to avoid one. It therefore undermines the White House strategy.
On Friday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, said: "I call on all parties to take a simultaneous timeout. Iran should take a timeout from its enrichment activity, the international community a timeout from the application of sanctions, and parties should go immediately to the negotiating table," he said. "The right track is dialogue, negotiation."
"North Korea is a good example," ElBaradei said, stressing the need for US-Iranian talks. "For years, things were not moving. Only when the US talked directly with the North Koreans, we had a positive report. If we are able to talk to the North Koreans, we ought to be able to talk to the Iranians," he said.
The Bush Administration immediately rejected his proposal. The Iranian government said it needed time to review it.
Economist and blogger Max Sawicky noted yesterday, "Today the litmus test of an anti-war candidate and the "netroots" is where they stand on attacking Iran." Candidate John Edwards, for example, has taken Congress to task for not cutting funds for the Iraq war, but in a recent speech in Israel he stressed that "ALL options must remain on the table" for dealing with Iran, indicating that the U.S. should threaten Iran militarily, and thereby undermining those promoting negotiation.
The military option needs to be taken off the table, and negotiations begun.
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