December 02, 2005

Jaw Jaw Time?

Well, lookie here...

The State Department confirmed Monday that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has been authorized to hold talks with Iranian officials on issues related to Iraq. But U.S. officials are downplaying the broader significance of such contacts.

The State Department is confirming Mr. Khalilzad's own assertion that he has been authorized to meet Iranian officials, but it is dismissing the notion that such contacts amount to a break-through in U.S.-Iranian relations.

Mr. Khalilzad told Newsweek magazine that President Bush had given him the go-ahead to engage Iranian officials, and that the move was a departure in the relationship with Tehran.

Official relations between the United States and Iran were broken off after U.S. diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage during Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

But the two sides have had occasional political contacts through the United Nations or Swiss channels, and diplomats of the two countries have engaged each other at multilateral forums, including so-called six-plus-two talks involving neighboring states of Afghanistan, the United States and Russia.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Mr. Khalilzad's mandate with the Iranians would be very narrow and focus on Iran's relationship with an emerging, democratic Iraq.

"We believe Iran and Iraq should have the kinds of good relations that most neighbors enjoy, that those relations be governed by mutual respect and transparency," Mr. McCormack said. "So we would expect nothing less from Iran with respect to Iraq. I think that you have heard the same from the Iraqis as well."

I've been roundly mocked by the likely suspects, rather often, for daring to suggest that limited engagement with Iran might be advisable. As Churchill said, jaw jaw--under certain circumstances--trumps war war. So it's nice to see Zalmay Khalilzad has got the go-ahead from POTUS on down (via Condi, doubtless dealing a defeat to Cheney--with increasingly reined-in Rummy no longer a player on such issues). I also think it's significant we are talking, ostensibly, about pretty direct bilaterals here between US Emb Baghdad and Iran. This might allow for discussions to skirt around the edges of some non-Iraq issues, one surmises. More on that another time.

P.S. Recall that I had written, way back in July of 2004, as follows:

But, given the critical import of the Iraq project to U.S. foreign policy objectives--and given the immense trouble-making so many of Iraq's neighbors could cause there--I think it behooves us to start moving this "non-interference" idea along in a more institutional framework.

Especially as, when U.S. troop levels begin to diminish in Iraq, the temptation of Iraq's neighbors to fill the vacuum will be even greater.

Not least, of course, Iran's.

We need to start this "track" to see if Teheran, acting rationally in its national interest (rather than purely through ideological lens), will make real compromises here (recall they were helpful to us during the Bonn 'loya jirga' process re: Afghanistan).

Now, unlike the Task Force members, I'm not so sure that it is in Iran's interest to necessarily have Iraq remain unitary (might they not simply wish to carve out some Shi'a lebensraum instead?).

But chaos isn't in their interests either.

And given that many Iraqi Shi'a feel a sense of residual Iraqi nationalism--even among some of the more religious, pro-Iran crowd--carving out parts of Iraq is not necessarily in Iran's best interest given that real conflict could result between and among some Shi'a factions.

Yeah, B.D. was calling for a track with Iran to be opened on Iraq issues way back in the summer of '04. Michael Ledeen, doubtless, will view me as a 'useful idiot' (the phrase, if memory serves, that he's served up to describe the likes of Richard Haass and Christiane Amanpour). Well, if calling for dialogue with Iran on Iraq policy makes one a 'useful idiot', chalk me up in the 'useful idiot' column then. I trust Zal Khalilzad to make things happen in this channel, much more than 100 op-eds in NRO wailing on about how Bush is selling us out on the GWOT because he's playing too much footsie with the Mullahs. It's this type of impestuous absolutism and historical myopia and missionary zeal that has gotten us in too many messes of late, and with apologies to Michael with whom I correspond not infrequently, this type of AEI think on steroids has been more than discredited amidst the hard realities of the Iraq imbroglio, and it's high time Michael start grappling with that more complicated state of affairs if he wishes to persuade on the merits.

P.P.S. Before commenters freak out, let me say for the record that I think Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a very dangerous fellow indeed. These purges are only the latest example of his recklessness. But I think he is over-playing his hand, and a reaction is in the offing. Look for Rafsanjani's power to increase in the coming months, despite the recent election. This last is hardly a saint, but I think all but the Pletkas and such will agree he's an improvement on Ahmadinejad. Finally, I'd wager that opening up the Iraq track with certain elements in Iran may well help further diminish Ahmadinejad's power, provided we are playing our cards right.

Posted by Gregory at December 2, 2005 01:02 PM | TrackBack (0)

Glad to see some activity after the hiatus. Yes, Jaw Jaw > War War. Plus, Jaw Jaw can help you learn some things in the unfortunate event of War War. Denying Jaw Jaw should only be brief.

Now, as for the secondary and tertiary issues in US-Iran relations, I think they are absolutely going to be brought up. It's sort of endemic to each side to have some baggage.

Posted by: Chris at December 2, 2005 03:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

With all the cross border traffic between Iran and Iraq, and Iran and Afghanistan, I would be very disappointed if conversations between Americans and Iranians had not be going on for quite a while now, conducted on the American side mostly by people from agencies other than the State Department.

Posted by: JEB at December 2, 2005 06:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I dont think Rafsanjani is the ultimate best hope for Iran.

I hope Khalilzad can manage to work tactically with Iran, while opposing the mullahs larger goals, as he did in Afghanistan (where we ultimately reduced Iranian influence in Herat) I do not think hes empowered to reach a "grand bargain"

I dont see how his discussions about keeping order in Basra (or whatever) will address the issue of Iranian nukes, which Sharon has said yet again Israel cannot tolerate.

Speaking of Israel, since it seems to be the time for going back to the past, and critiquing past statements of the Ledeens, Pletkas, etc, it seems to me its time for somebody to take another look at Sharon. Gaza first, Gaza last, indeed.

Id suggest Krauthammers column in todays WaPo as a good place to start.

Posted by: liberalhawk at December 2, 2005 07:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, although I agree that allowing Khalilzad to speak with the Iranians is a good thing. However, given what showed up in the "Plan for Victory" its pretty clear that Bush still believes in his original objectives in terms of "remaking" the Middle East.

Given Bush's continued "cluelessness and denial" with regard to the feasability of his overall strategy, do you think that the talks will result in anything useful?

Posted by: lukasiak at December 2, 2005 07:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dancing with the devil is a fickle folly.

In as much as we Americans have officially opened up dialogue with the Iranians, it is imperative we see this for exactly what it is. The sole purpose for these talks is the direct relationship between the Iraqi's and Iranians.

I suspect there may be some who look for "other issues" to be on the table but that is a waste of time. These open channels are specifically designed for US interests to be represented in the coming relationship between the 2 countries and nothing more.

In a more specific way, these talks are of the cause and effect type. Advancing good relations between Iraq and Iran will promote stability and prosperity in this region. Having Iran surrounded by fledgling democracies may pose a threat to some in power in Tehran. This idea must be nipped in the bud immediately. Interfering with the political process in Afghanistan or Iraq will result in dire consequences where conversely good relations with Iran's neighbors will be a tremendous benefit. Having secure borders with friendly neighbors that are producing trade benefits and reducing military needs costs is ultimately in Iran's best interests.

In the long term, it is much better for all concerned to figure out how to live with one another rather than how to destroy one another. I beleive that is the message that will be most ardently pursued. This is more like cold war proxy negotiations than direct dialogue but the benefits far outweigh the costs if we see the talks for what they are and not some breakthrough in American/Iranian relations.

Posted by: Bryan Kerwick at December 2, 2005 11:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In a general sense, I support tactical dialogue with Iran to avoid or minimize open confrontation between their proxies and US soldiers in Iraq, and on whatever points we can agree on in how the country should be run without sacrificing core principles.

I'd also like to bet dollars to donuts that the very obvious reason why GWB isn't pressing for sanctions on Iran's nuclear plans right now is that he's been handed some intel reports suggesting that Iran could cause immense, U.S. politics-devasating tactical setbacks for US troops in Iraq, with high deniability. Hell, if I was Iran right now, I would hardly be in a hurry to have US troops exit Iraq at all, given the barrel they have us over, while the Sunni minority continues to reject us.

Having said both of the above, I think that this exact time period - winter 2005 - is a bad time to be trying to negotiate with Iran, due to their domestics politics. Greg, Ahmadenijad is a dangerous man, a radical, unpredictable, and he is in a very confrontational post-ascendancy period right now, in which he has the upper hand. I think the risks of trying to play footsie with Rafsanjani at *this time, trying to have discussions that get concessions for us on Iran with freezing Ahmadenijad out, trying to subvert him by trumpeting how nice we play with his competitors, could be very dangerous. It could lead to Rafsanjani's dissaperance on charges of collaborating with us.
Ahmadenijad is clearly out for blood right now and probably has ideas like that in mind anyway. I think secret deals with the U.S., if we weren't careful, might give him ammo, and leverage.

I think a better time to do this would be in six months, when Admad has had time to build a substantial backlash against his reckless actions, and may be chastened and more willing to be in on the ballplaying.

Then again, if he's going to purge anyone pro-western anyway, then as soon as he's finished all deals or hope of them will probably be null and void anyway, so, one could argue, we might as well grab what we can while we can, and be ready for betrayal when the job of tossing the moderates over the side is complete.

To be honest, the real lesson to be learned from all of this is that we should have been talking to Iran 5 years ago, before Mohammed Khatami was well and truly undermined. I've never been a fan of the invasion of Iraq, but if we were going to do it, we could have coordinated it with Iran from the beginning. That could have been a brilliant move - given Khatami impeccable nationalist boost in Iran, making it seem like *he was responsible for negotiating the overthrow of saddamn, he might have had the chance to consolidate his power and really make structural changes in Iran in favor of democracy and political liberalism. That could have been a two-for one deal, in one sense or another.

But instead, we, with a total lack of realism, attempted to use our invasion of Iraq as a threat to Iran, rather than an opportunity, only to find out that we have well and truly exhausted our ability to intimidate anyone, after the mess we have found on our hands.

I could write a book on this subject. And hopefully will, you if you take that idea somewhere, pls credit me.

Posted by: glasnost at December 3, 2005 12:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

First of all, it's dubious that these conversations will go anywhere, as they didn't in regards to Afghanistan, in the post fall of the Taliban era. Second, Rafsanjani's and Ahmadinejaj, have made
similar states vis a vis Israel, two years apart. The Iranians want
to destabilize Iraq, in a similar way; that the Najafi circle, that
included Khomeini, destabilized Iran, from their Iraqi perch; a quarter century ago. Negotiating is unlikely to get us any
where,including the dismantling of the makings of yet another
Islamic bomb. Scowcroft, your new award winning statesman
was one of the leading opponents of moving onto Iraq, in 1991;
after our earlier pledge; much Shia ill will in Iraq is explained
by that fact. Powell, an associate of Prince Bandar since 1979;
and a charter member of the Carlyle Group, along with a major
player in the Azeri Chamber of Commerce, along with Armitage
(the earliest plame leaker; by some accounts); argue for the
faux stability; that fed the ambitions of bin Laden.

Posted by: narciso at December 3, 2005 02:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've only read a few of Ledeen's columns, but I thought the thrust of his argument was that we should be exacerbating the unrest in Iran in the same manner (and with the same enthusiasm) that we gave to Solidarity in Poland. I don't see why these tracks (jaw-jaw and war-war) should be necessarily exclusive. Today ten marines were killed by a bomb who's assemblers probably learned their tradecraft from Iran's surrogates, trying to bleed us as much as possible. Why should we not be returning the favor?

Posted by: wayne at December 3, 2005 02:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Being a glass is half full kind of guy, I cannot see any harm in opening up channels to Iran or better, participating in the opening of channels to Iran. I am saddened by all the predictions of failure and/or futility in the above posts, for so much in this process will depend upon the patience and the motivation of the individuals who carry out this policy. Zalmay Khalilzad has shown a great deal of finesse in his dealings in Iraq and I, for one will look forward seeing what happens. Opening a dialogue with Iran is not something that will show immediate fruit. However, the fact that there is a dialogue and that the fact of it is public can not help but encourage the democratic elements in Iran. This is a good thing.

And Mr. Dsagh, I agree with you 100%, I couldn't agree with you more.


Posted by: Michael Pecherer at December 3, 2005 04:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

thanks for some of the excellent comments in this thread guys, particularly glasnost's for instance.

as for narciso, he's entered michael moore terrain w/ the carlyle-bin laden musings. for the record, powell is not a "charter member of the Carlyle Group". You could say, perhaps if you must, that John Major is, or Frank Carlucci, or George Herbert Walker Bush, or James Baker--but Powell definitively isn't. But this comment does showcase well that Narciso don't know squat about Carlyle, and likely squat about how the private equity business operates generally. That's not surprising, of course, but I thought I'd point it out in case any of us girls got confused that powell was in bed with osama or such.

finally: "And Mr. Dsagh, I agree with you 100%, I couldn't agree with you more."

heh. good one michael. i'll delete this invasion of chinese characters to fight back against the spam bot.

cheers to all

Posted by: greg at December 3, 2005 12:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks Greg. I didn't know if anyone would pick that up what with the seriousness with which we take ourselves. And, I greatly appreciate your efforts here.


Posted by: Michael Pecherer at December 3, 2005 07:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

michael: " I didn't know if anyone would pick that up what with the seriousness with which we take ourselves."

Heh. It's pretty scary, isn't it?

Posted by: greg at December 3, 2005 07:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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