Richardson May Have Right Idea on Iran

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While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spar over who gets more of Hollywood’s money, Bill Richardson is writing thoughtful editorials on real issues. Richardson, former ambassador to the UN, current governor of New Mexico and presidential hopeful, lays out how he would approach Iran’s nuclear program:

No nation has ever been forced to renounce nuclear weapons, but many have chosen to do so. The Iranians will not end their nuclear program because we threaten them and call them names. They will renounce nukes because we convince them that they will be safer and more prosperous if they do that than if they don’t. This feat will take more than threats and insults. It will take skillful American diplomatic leadership.

… I have always believed in and worked to achieve tough, credible and direct negotiations with adversaries. To be tough, you need strong alliances and a strong military. And to be credible, you need a record of meaning what you say. By alienating our allies, overextending our military, making idle threats and antagonizing just about everyone, the Bush administration has undermined our diplomatic leverage.

Unquestionably, the Iraq War has put us in a difficult position in regards to Iran. We have neither the force of will at home nor the credibility abroad to meaningfully rattle our sabers. Yes, we could engage in air strikes but any greater military action would be politically impossible. And given our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, a ground war might be strategically impossible as well – at least under current conditions.

What that leaves us with is diplomacy. Many neo-cons believe that engaging in diplomatic relations with thug regimes gives those regimes undue legitimacy. In some regards, the neo-con philosophy is correct. We certainly don’t want to be hosting the leaders of The Sudan or Myanmar at White House dinners. But there’s a difference between small, strategically unimportant autocracies and regionally significant powers.

Like it or not, Iran is now a major player in the Middle East. We just eliminated their biggest foe in Saddam Hussein and now it behooves us to engage the beast we helped empower. As distasteful as it may be, we need a much more robust relationship with the Iranian government. That’s our best hope to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb.

Yes, military action must always remain on the table, but we simply can’t play cute with our diplomatic actions. Pretending as if Iran is unworthy of bilateral talks is not only unhelpful but a bit ridiculous. The world has changed quite dramatically over the last six years. It’s time to move away from the philosophy the neo-cons enacted when Bush invited them into power. It’s time to try it another way.

Richardson’s ideas seem a good place to start.