The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Lack of Vision

April 21, 2006

Yesterday, Kevin Drum had an interesting piece on the failure of the Bush administration to take Iran up on an offer to talk about its weapons program and support for anti-Israeli terrorists shortly after the President declared the end of ‘major hostilities’ in Iraq. The story goes that Tehran exchanged messages with the US through the Swiss in which they offered

…to resolve bilateral differences. The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran’s power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

What was the reaction by the administration? They complained that the Swiss were “out of line” for passing the message along.

If the story is accurate this was a missed opportunity of major proportions and on a number of levels.

First, and most obvious, the administration could have started an intense, formal dialogue with Tehran over its weapons program. As Kevin points out, these talks could have taken place at a time when the US was in a stronger position vis-a-vis Iran and relations were a bit more amicable:

[S]ince then things have only gotten worse: Iran has elected a wingnut president, they’ve made progress on nuclear enrichment, gained considerable influence in Iraq, and increased their global economic leverage as oil supplies have gotten tighter.

Second, part of the rationale for the Iraq War (both ex-ante and ex-post) was the supposed “domino-effect” it would set off by signaling to other rogue regimes that they better voluntarily give up their WMDs or else face regime change, an action the US was now willing and able to carry out as demonstrated by the Iraq War. So far, the only instance of a regime giving up such weapons has been Libya in December of 2003, an event the administration was quick to trumpet as the first domino to fall as a result of the Iraq campaign. And while the causal impact of the war on Libya’s calculus is debatable, this was precisely the kind of public event the administration had hoped for. But it seems that the US could have had a more important example to tout 6 months earlier. More importantly, the administration had already identified Iran’s weapons program as a major issue of national security, and with the Persian state’s proximity and ability to disrupt stability in post-war Iraq one would think the US would jump at such an offer for diplomatic dialogue.

Alas, it appears that once again the implementation of our new grand strategy was fumbled and an opportunity missed. We were supposed to gain a bargaining dividend from the outcome in Iraq, leading to favorable outcomes with rogue regimes without having to expend the same kind of force. However, it appears that many in the administration have failed to keep things in perspective and became enamored with the seeming ease with which our military could bring about regime change.

The sad thing is stories like the one above are no longer surprising.

Hat tip Laura Rozen.

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Petti is Associate Director of Insights and Analytics at Alexion . Previously, he served as Lead Data Scientist in the Decision Sciences group at Maritz Motivation and a Global Data Strategist and Subject Matter Expert for Gallup.