12/05/2007 09:31 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hagel: U.S. Should Pursue "Direct, Unconditional and Comprehensive Talks" With Iran

Now it's official: President Bush has been misleading the nation on the alleged threat to the U.S. from Iran. As the Washington Post noted Tuesday, President Bush's warning in October that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to "World War III" came "at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program" in 2003.

So far the Administration has tried gamely to claim that nothing has changed. National security adviser Stephen Hadley "defended Bush's World War III reference in October and repeated it himself," the Post reports.

But if there was ever a time when sustained public and Congressional pressure could force a fundamental change in U.S. policy towards Iran, this is it. Certainly the Bush Administration will try to see if it can get away with maintaining its present course. But if Congress cannot rule out an unauthorized, "pre-emptive" U.S. attack on Iran now, when can it do so? It was Congressional pressure - backed by public pressure - that finally forced the Administration to disgorge the Iran National Intelligence Estimate. Congressional pressure, backed by public pressure, can force a fundamental change in Administration policy towards Iran.

Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, have said that the release of the new NIE on Iran offers the opportunity for a new U.S. policy towards Iran based on real diplomacy. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel called for the U.S. to offer " 'direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks' with Iran - where all issues, ours and Iran's, are on the table, including ... security guarantees, and other incentives." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged President Bush "to announce a top-to-bottom review of his Iran policy and a diplomatic surge."

It may seem to many beyond the realm of imagination that President Bush could change course and pursue serious diplomacy with Iran.

But recall Richard Nixon's political identity before he pursued détente with the Soviet Union and established diplomatic relations with China. Nixon owed his very existence as a national political figure to destroying his political adversaries by the repeated and effective use of unsubstantiated invocations of the "Communist threat."

President Bush warned us against succumbing to the "soft bigotry of low expectations." Let's stop oppressing President Bush with the soft bigotry of our low expectations. President Bush should heed Senator Hagel's call, and pursue "direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks" with Iran.

Ask Congress to force the Bush Administration to change course.