Feinstein: Get Real with Iran Diplomacy

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET

Senator Dianne Feinstein seems to be playing a greater and greater role as an effective voice of reason in the Senate on Middle East policy.

It was Feinstein who initiated efforts, ultimately successful, to begin to impose some meaningful restrictions on the U.S. export of cluster bombs, following their devastating use by Israel in Lebanon in 2006. The Bush Administration is still shamefully attempting to obstruct the emerging international consensus for a total ban on these weapons, but now at least there is some progress on the domestic front in reversing US policy.

Wednesday, Feinstein published a very important piece in the San Francisco Chronicle. Noting the outrageous absurdity of our UN Ambassador being chastised by his superiors for participating in a forum with the Iranian Foreign Minister, she calls out the Bush Administration on its true Iran policy: "key Bush administration officials ... do not want to engage in diplomacy with Iran on any terms - with preconditions or without - let alone find solutions." Feinstein calls for the Bush Administration to get serious and "launch a major diplomatic effort with Iran." If the US continues down its current path, "it will only lead to higher tensions and increased risk, and it could allow a minor spark turn into a major conflagration."

Now is the moment, she writes,

for a bold U.S. diplomatic move to begin direct official talks with Iranian officials. And I believe the Bush administration's insistence that we wait until Iran suspends its enrichment program is counterproductive. This policy has given Iran incentives to increase its enrichment capacity under ever more hostile conditions.

Many Americans, understandably, are focused on the U.S. Presidential contest. Few expect anything good to come out of the Bush Administration, and in particular, many are hopeful that if Barack Obama becomes the next President, there will be a significant shift in U.S. policy towards real diplomacy in the Middle East. Iranian-Americans - whose views on how to help prevent their relatives from being bombed surely deserve some attention - seem to be moving towards Obama, Inter Press Service reports.

But we can't wait for the outcome of the Presidential election to take action. First, because we still have a year of President Bush to get through, a year in which the advocates of confrontation will still have a lot of resources at their disposal, to say the least. Second, even if President Obama enters office with the intention of fundamentally changing US policy, his efforts are much less likely to be successful if he can't rely on a united front of Democratic support and significant Republican support. Significant political forces in the United States are deeply committed to confrontation with Iran. It is likely that these forces will work strenuously to undermine efforts to change US policy, as they have in the past and continue to do today. To overcome these forces, the voices of reason have to be well-organized and public.

The peace movement should take a page from organized labor's strategy in trying to fix the labor rights crisis in the United States. (Yes, when companies like Smithfield Foods fire workers for exercising their legal right to organize without facing effective sanction, I do consider that a crisis.) Labor pushed Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, knowing it was highly unlikely the bill would become law while Bush is president. In so doing, they laid down an effective marker for what they expected the consensus Democratic position to be in a Democratic Administration.

Rep. Barbara Lee has introduced H.R. 5056, the "Iran Diplomatic Accountability Act of 2008." The bill would provide for the appointment of a high-level US representative for Iran for the purpose of easing tensions and normalizing relations between the US and Iran. This bill, if enough folks got behind it, could be the Employee Free Choice Act of Iran policy, setting down the marker for what US policy should be.

And it's to this end that Just Foreign Policy, working with many other groups, is conducting a 22-city tour with Stephen Kinzer and other speakers across the United States, to organize public opinion decisively against military confrontation with Iran and in favor of real diplomacy.