Commentary Magazine


Sending Iran's Regrets

Senator Barack Obama hopes to be the first American president to engage in diplomatic negotiations with the Islamic Republic regime in Iran. He even says he’s willing to meet with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions. Surely he must understand that what he’s proposing is a radical departure from foreign policy as practiced by both parties. Franklin Roosevelt didn’t meet with Adolf Hitler or Emperor Hirohito, Harry Truman didn’t meet with Kim Il Sung, Ronald Reagan didn’t meet with any Soviet leader until after glasnost and perestroika were in place, Bill Clinton didn’t meet with Saddam Hussein or Iran’s Mohammad Khatami and Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and no American president met with Fidel Castro.

In any case, whether Obama’s wish to engage Ahmadinejad is mainstream or radical, and whether it’s foolish or wise, may not even matter. It isn’t likely to happen. Obama may not care about preconditions, but the Iranian government certainly  does. Mehdi Kalhor, Iran’s Vice President for Media Affairs, told the Islamic Republic News Agency that “as long as U.S. forces have not left the Middle East region and continues its support for the Zionist regime, talks between Iran and U.S. is off the agenda.”

Jesse Jackson likewise hoped Obama would pitch the “Zionists” over the side, but the Obama campaign repudiated him. The United States isn’t going to abandon a long-standing ally just because terrorists, Jew-hating dictatorships, and a minority of disgruntled American radicals find it distasteful. Even if the vote goes his way and Obama wins the election, Jackson will still have to keep hope alive, as will the Iranians.

Withdrawing all U.S. forces from the Middle East likewise is not going to happen. Obama may want to bug out of Iraq as quickly as humanly possible, but there isn’t even a small chance that he’ll shut down American military bases in Turkey, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Iran’s preconditions are unacceptable. Whatever preconditions Obama would have, if he had any, would almost certainly be unacceptable from the point of view of the Islamic Repubic. The interests of the U.S. and Iran are diametrically opposite, and they have been since 1979. Obama may not understand this, but at least Tehran does.

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