Whatever you think of Barack Obama, if you are concerned about the danger of war with Iran you have to concede that he did a big service today for those trying to stop such a war.
The New York Times reports:
Senator Barack Obama says he would "engage in aggressive personal diplomacy" with Iran if elected president and would offer economic inducements and a possible promise not to seek "regime change" if Iran stopped meddling in Iraq and cooperated on terrorism and nuclear issues.
There is plenty in this article to cringe at, beginning with the notion of "Iranian meddling" - a weasel term that includes peaceful and transparent diplomatic and economic activities along with alleged support of violence - but note that the term is supplied here by the New York Times reporters (or their editors) and not Obama.
But let's consider the really encouraging and helpful things Obama said.
1. He says he would engage in "aggressive personal diplomacy" with Iran. Regardless of how useful you think "aggressive personal diplomacy" is - and there's plenty of evidence that it has been tremendously useful in the past - when Sadat went to Israel, for example, it caused a decisive break in Israeli political consciousness - it indicates a level of seriousness that is encouraging. It's not implausible that Barack Obama could be the next President of the United States. If the next President engaged in "aggressive personal diplomacy" with Iran he (or she) would have a personal stake in a successful outcome. That alone would change the dynamics of the relationship.
2. He raised the prospect of taking "regime change" off the table. This would be a decisive and useful break from current U.S. policy. Regardless of what you think of the current Iranian regime, U.S. efforts to impose change on it from the outside are harmful. Iran's 70 million citizens are in a much better position to bring about regime change - if they wish to do so - than we are, and they are far better off if we stay out of it. Having a policy of "regime change" undermines serious diplomacy - arguably, a key motivation for many who support the regime change policy.
3. He asserted that "Iran's [alleged] support for militant groups in Iraq reflected its anxiety over the Bush administration's policies in the region, including talk of a possible American military strike on Iranian nuclear installations." Obama is acknowledging that Iran has legitimate interests - a key condition for serious diplomacy - and suggesting that the U.S. should be willing to change its own behavior.
4. Obama made clear he plans to talk to Iran without preconditions.
5. Obama says he is willing to offer economic benefits and security guarantees. Again, these are indications of serious diplomacy, unlike the fake diplomacy we have now.
6. Obama linked the ideas of "forging a new relationship with Iran" with "stabilizing Iraq" and a "speedy timetable for the withdrawal of American combat troops." This is tremendously important. The obsession of the neocons with regime change in Iran is killing American soldiers in Iraq, because it's obstructing diplomacy with Iran that would facilitate a U.S. withdrawal.
Kudos to Barack Obama today.
Ask your Representatives and Senators to oppose war with Iran.