When I'm looking for edgy, outside-the-box thinking on foreign policy, I don't generally turn to the Council on Foreign Relations (or, for that matter, to anything with the word "council" in it). But I have to say that the best truly new, even radical, idea on the Iran front comes from Richard Haass, president of CFR, and Michael Levi, a senior fellow there.
In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Haass and Levi is buried this paragraph:
One way to increase the odds that a deal would be accepted is to make the outlines of any compromise public. The Iranian people would then be able to see that the world was not trying to humiliate Iran but rather offering it something fair, if only Iran's leaders would agree. Political pressure could grow on those leaders to accept the compromise, gain relief from sanctions and avoid military attack.
The virtue of this idea was underscored when I spoke with Jason Rezaian, a journalist of American and Iranian citizenship who is based in Tehran. He emphasized how much mistrust of America there is in Iran, and it struck me that a publicized offer could help close the trust deficit--especially if the offer included a key ingredient that Haas and Levi embrace: granting Iran the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes so long as the enrichment is carefully monitored by the international community.
Unfortunately, when I ran the Haass-Levi proposal by Rezaian, he pointed out one practical problem with it:
In other words: An initiative like this would take great courage, skill, and creativity on President Obama's part. But if avoiding war doesn't call for a profile in courage, what does?