Had the Taliban surrendered bin laden and had Saddam disarmed, both would still be in power today (in fact, one still kinda is)…
Actually, you don’t know that to be true at all. What you mean to say is that, if the Taliban and Saddam had knuckled under to non-negotiable demands from the US and its allies, then there wouldn’t have had to be any fighting. If they had been capable of acting upon our ideas about their and their theoretical constituents’ interests, however, they wouldn’t have gotten into trouble in the first place. Whether organizations or regimes built around cults of defiance can survive in the aftermath of surrender – at least without undergoing transformations that turn them into something different, under whatever name – is another question. The Taliban and Saddam preferred to fight.
The Iranian regime appears to be in a somewhat similar position. Giving up 30 years of “Death to America!” or what all the world perceives to be a drive to an Iranian nuke would either imply or call forth fundamental political changes in Iran, most likely accompanied by violence and an eventual re-division of spoils. The hard-liners will prefer to fight and to defy as they have grown accustomed to doing, and not just because it preserves their access to power and Paradise: It’s who they are and an end in itself for them. The evolution of US-Iranian relations amounts to a continual testing of their relative influence within a maturing, post-revolutionary Iranian polity. But the larger point is that the struggle against them from the West, as against the Taliban or the Ba’ath (or Hamas or Hezbollah), is always already a struggle for political change, a struggle to establish governance that can function according to our concepts of the social contract rather than merely as a rallying point for tribal militarism.
That’s why Obama comes across like such a wimp. The tribalists on both sides will disdain his overtures and soothing tones, whether or not a few “human right activists” can be found, even in a 3rd World Revolutionary Islamist country, who also happen to speak Obamian. I don’t think it means that there’s no hope for progress, but, as they supposedly say in the Middle East, watch the hand, not the mouth. When and if Iran is ever ready to make a deal, the words that dress it up will come easily to both sides.