Leading neoconservatives WIlliam Kristol and Robert Kagan are disagreeing about President Obama’s approach toward Iran.
Writing at the Washington Post Web site, Kristol says Obama’s vow on Tuesday to be "persistent" with Iran was troubling:
But President Obama also invoked persistence with respect to Iran.
“When it comes to Iran, you know, we did a video sending a message to the Iranian people and the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And some people said, ‘Well, they did not immediately say they were eliminating nuclear weapons and stop funding terrorism.’ Well, we didn’t expect that. We expect that we’re going to make steady progress on this front.”
Is stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons really like improving health care or advancing the Middle East peace process? I would have thought not. The American (and European) position — and the position of candidate Obama — has been that this Iranian regime acquiring nuclear weapons is “unacceptable.” If that’s so, then there’s a deadline, so to speak, to all the incremental efforts. And since, by all accounts, that deadline is fast approaching, there would have to be a certain speed to the hoped-for “steady progress.” President Obama seems to evince no sense of urgency about Iran’s nuclear program. Did his relaxed statement about Iran tonight suggest he has quietly decided to accept the previously unacceptable?
But Kagan asks "What’s the harm?":
But there is logic to the administration’s approach. After all, if the White House is going to give diplomacy and engagement a chance, it might as well do so thoroughly and aggressively. Pay Iran’s leaders the respect some of our Iran experts claim they crave. Put on the friendliest possible face. Remind the Iranians of all the international goodies they can get if only they take the necessary steps on their nuclear program. Draw the starkest contrast between the present benevolent U.S. administration and the evil Bush administration.
What is the risk? It’s not as if the Bush administration was doing anything to help the people of Iran rid themselves of their leaders. And it’s not as if the Bush administration’s approach had slowed Tehran down, either in its pursuit of nuclear weapons or in its support of Hezbollah and Hamas. Of course, the Obama White House is trying a different tack. The American bottom line hasn’t changed, only the tactics — as the Iranians themselves have pointed out. “The problems will not be solved by them altering the words or selecting the terms they use,” said Ali Larijani, speaker of Iran’s parliament. So one of two things is going to happen: Either the friendly diplomatic approach works, and the Iranians actually cave and accept American and European demands, which would be good. Or the friendly approach doesn’t work, and the Iranians proceed on their present course, thus proving that even diplomacy sincerely pursued by a well-intentioned president has no impact on Tehran’s calculations. I honestly can’t see the harm in the Obama administration’s efforts. I hope they succeed.