Playing Nice With Iran

by Patrick Appel

Frum attended a debate on Iran between Michael Ledeen and Flynt Leverett:

[Leverett] acknowledges past attempts at engagement – but those attempts narrowly focused on some specific tactical issue. Leverett claims Iranians have in fact cooperated on the issue on which engagement was sought. They thought by doing so they might prompt us to rethink our willingness to live with the Islamic republic. The historical record: typically its the American administration that pulls the plug on tactical cooperation, either because of domestic political blowback or in reaction to some other Iranian provocation unrelated to the area of cooperation.

Leverett claims this is what happened in 2002: The Iranians were helpful on Afghanistan – their reward was to be labeled part of the axis of evil – and to see Afghan cooperation cut off.  Leverett argues that no president has ever proposed a “grand bargain.”  He asserts that Iranians would accept such a bargain – but his evidence for this proposition is lacking.

Full transcript of the debate here. Michael Ledeen's outlook is that every "American president has eventually come to the conclusion that we could make a grand bargain with Iran and has tried to do it." Ledeen:

What has changed?  Why would you think you could get a deal today when you couldn’t get a deal for 31 years?  I mean, surely none of us – even though everybody in Washington is famously egotistical – I doubt that anybody here thinks that he or she is more brilliant, more profound, more talented and so forth than all of the people who, for the past last 31 years, have tried to do this.

So why?  That’s my rhetorical question to the people who only want to engage or negotiate or try to strike a deal.  And, as I say, I’m not opposed to trying to strike a deal.  And if you can get one, god bless you.  I’m pessimistic.