David Ignatius appears to have been convinced that the Obama administration is deftly playing its Iran hand. I am not so easily persuaded, but I did see in Ignatius’s report one thing worth praising: President Obama now appears to understand that the sanctions track is the diplomatic track.
There are basically three schools of thought regarding diplomatic engagement with Iran. One school thinks the prospect is hopeless from the get-go and not worth doing. I understand this school’s pessimism — for 30 years, anyone betting that diplomacy with Iran would fail made money — but I have not been in this school because of its naiveté. That’s right, naiveté. It is hardly naïve about the intentions and stubbornness of the Iranian regime, but it is naïve about everything else regarding American foreign policy options regarding Iran. Everything else we might have to do with respect to Iran — whether it is the hawkish option of military strikes or the dovish option of learning to live with an Iranian nuclear weapon — is easier to do if we have thoroughly tried and exhausted other diplomatic options. So pragmatism requires that we try diplomatic engagement, even if pragmatism also leads us to be bearish about its prospects for success.