Condi’s Careful Steps
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | May 4, 2007
In Washington, the Party of Surrender continues to blast the Bush
administration for missing opportunities for Peace in Our Time. They
would like Condoleeza Rice to become their Neville Chamberlain and come
back from Egypt, where she is expected to meet her Iranian counterpart
today, waving the “Grand Bargain” towel.
Just days after their Easter recess trip to Damascus, which was
condemned (in diplomatic terms) by the State Department as “unhelpful,”
Speaker Pelosi and House Foreign Affairs committee chairman Tom Lantos
announced that they were ready to fly to Tehran to open a “dialogue”
with Iran’s leaders.
“Speaking just for myself, I would be ready to get on a plane tomorrow
morning, because however objectionable, unfair and inaccurate many of
(Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's) statements are, it is
important that we have a dialogue with him,'' Lantos told the San
It’s unclear what Mr. Lantos or Ms. Pelosi want to talk about with the
Iranian leadership, unless it is the terms of America’s surrender. I
say this not out of disrespect, but from sheer bewilderment.
I also mention it because Condi is not far behind them in her desire to
open a dialogue with Tehran’s leaders and strike a deal, although she
knows that she is walking on eggs.
Her caution was on display as she prepared to fly to Sharm el Sheikh
this week, after intense speculation (fueled by President Bush, among
others) that she would have a face-to-face meeting with her Iranian
“I'm not going there to have a bilateral with the Iranians or a
bilateral with the Syrians. I'm going there to meet with neighbors
about the future of Iraq and trying to help the Iraqis,” Rice said.
It is no secret that Condi is desperately seeking some way of
convincing Iran’s clerical leadership to freeze its military nuclear
programs, ends its armed intervention in Iraq, and curtails its support
for terrorists from Afghanistan to Gaza, and beyond.
All these are worthy goals. And the U.S. is willing to pay a very high price to achieve them through diplomacy.
For well over a year, the U.S. was even willing to overlook Iran’s bad behavior in Iraq as a price for getting the nuclear deal.
Indeed, as Bob Woodward revealed in his latest book, State Department
Counselor Philip Zelikow learned that the Iranian government was
supplying weapons and cash to the insurgents during a fact-finding
mission to Iraq in September 2005, but advised Rice to keep this
information under wraps.
Zelikow was worried that the Iranian action was “arguably an act of war
against the United States,” and that if the U.S. revealed what it knew,
“the administration might well start a fire it couldn’t put out.” And
so the U.S. put a cork on what it knew about Iranian support to the
insurgency until last December. (More about this in my upcoming book,
Last year at this time, Condi made the Iranian regime a “take it or
leave it” offer. If only they would freeze their nuclear programs, open
their facilities to verifiable inspections, and clarify past
discrepancies (ie, lies) in their statements to the International
Atomic Energy Agency, then the United States and its partners would
offer a rich series of benefits to the regime.
Tehran rejected that deal resoundingly. In response, the United States,
working through the Permanent 5 members of the UN Security Council plus
Germany (the “P5 +1”), made good on its pledge and gradually ratcheted
up diplomatic and economic pressure on Tehran through two UN Security
In addition, and to greater effect, the Treasury department negotiated
a series of bilateral economic agreements aimed at scaling back foreign
investment in Iran and Iran’s access to international financial markets.
State Department officials believe that the Iranians “are very much
feeling the pressure,” and have taken actions in response to that
“Has it succeeded? Not yet. But we remain committed to diplomacy and
will continue to increase the pressure,” one official told me yesterday.
He expected a new round of sanctions at the United Nations following
the next 60 day reporting deadline (May 25) on Iran’s compliance with
the UN demands.
All of these steps for increasing the pressure on the regime are useful
and good – not because they have any hope of success, but because
eventually, at some point, one of two things will happen: the United
States and the Europeans will wake up to the fact that the regime in
Tehran will not change its behavior through diplomacy, or we will
simply throw in the towel out of weariness and let them acquire nuclear
Exactly how has the Islamist regime in Tehran reacted to the steady
uptick in outside pressure since it rejected the P5 +1 offer last
- Iran has stepped up
uranium enrichment, and recently declared that it had “joined the
- Iran has stepped up its aide to insurgents in Iraq
- Iran has now begun to
ship weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan, as Gen. Peter Pace revealed
- Iran has re-armed
Hezbollah in Lebanon, and has expanded its military and financial
assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the West
- It took 15 British
sailors and Marines hostage in March, and kidnapped a retired FBI
special agent and continues to hold him hostage.
That’s a record of defiance second to none.
Advocates of the grand bargain, such as Robert Litwak of the Woodrow
Wilson Center, use this apparent “failure” of U.S. coercive diplomacy
to urge direct engagement with Tehran. That’s somewhere between
appeasement and surrender, depending on the term of the engagement.
“As with Libya, a credible U.S. assurance of regime security would be
central to any nuclear deal, Litwak argued. “The Bush administration
must make clear that it would be willing to take yes for an answer. A
major question is whether the administration's regime-change rhetoric
has priced Washington out of the reassurance market in Tehran.”
While Litwak is correct that the regime is seeking security guarantees
as the ultimate U.S. concession (and why should we even think of
offering them?), the history of the regime’s negotiating strategy
clearly shows that they will take any Western concessions as a sign of
weakness and simply stall for more time until they have acquired the
The State Department’s strategy of changing the regime’s behavior
through conventional diplomacy is competent and well-crafted; but it
will fail, because the regime in Tehran is not a conventional regime.
It does not respond to the pressure points the diplomats know how to
“In Tehran, Condi’s willingness to meet with [Iranian Foreign Minister]
Mottaki has sent a clear message: we won. The bullies won,” says Iran
analyst Shahriar Ahy.
“Instead, the U.S. needs to say that the regime caved, and that
pressure is working. That could change the atmosphere,” he added.
Instead of giving in, the U.S. should use the single most important and
most effective weapon in our diplomatic arsenal: aid to the people of
“Until now, the West has been squeezing the billiard ball,” Ahy said.
“And they don’t have the foggiest idea if that external pressure will
translate into internal pressure.”
Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former shah, told the Hudson Institute
last month that external pressure won’t change the regime’s behavior
until the Supreme Leader “wakes up one morning with an even greater
fear: seeing the Iranian people joining hands and rising up against his
When it came down to things that mattered, there was no point in
opposing “regime change” to “behavior change,” as most foreign policy
analysts tend to do, he argued.
“Those in Foggy Bottom who think they can make Ahmadinejad feel
isolated simply cannot see the world through his eyes. Even if he felt
isolated, it is doubtful he would change his behavior. Even the threat
of force is not enough to sway someone whose deepest beliefs welcome
Armageddon – to expedite the return of the twelfth Imam, his messiah!”
In fact, the same set of policies that will lead to a change of
behavior on the part of Iran’s current leaders, will also ultimately
lead to a change of regime, Pahlavi argued. But so far, the U.S. has
refused to implement them.
“The Departments of State and Defense were not structured to help
“velvet” revolutions, which have been the most significant patterns of
positive change in the world since the Cold War,” he said. “The problem
is that the US does not have a third foreign policy department; one
that understands, and can deal, with the peoples of the transitional
world, not just their failed states.”
Pahlavi provided a detailed roadmap for how the United States and other
interested parties could help social and professional groups in Iran as
they step up their struggle for a free Iran.
A key element, he said, was media “that can connect Iranian activists
inside Iran with each other….[T]there are a thousand circles of protest
in Iran, but no nationwide medium to connect them. Since the government
will not tolerate such a medium inside Iran, it has to be done from
Neither the Voice of America, the BBC, or the various “amateur”
satellite TV stations in Los Angeles can fulfill this role, he added.
“What is needed is engaging programming that builds audience share by
truly reflecting the needs, grievances and resistance of Iranian women,
youth, ethnic groups and the professional groups. …That is what it
takes to mobilize the Iranian people – without whom, we are back to war
or surrender. “
The United States plans to spend $75 million this year to promote
“civic education” in Iran. The overwhelming bulk of those funds – well
over $50 million – will go to expand lavish, failed, amateurish TV
programs run by the Persian service of Voice of America.
We have good alternatives to war or surrender. Time is running short to take them.