The stage has been set for a diplomatic showdown between America and Iran on October 1, when their diplomats and those from five other countries meet in Turkey. While some pundits question the very idea of talks with such a defiant regime, others demand the president punish Iran with heavy sanctions. Here are the best reactions to Obama's decision to engage:
- Bravo, cheers The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss: "Obama is doing precisely what he campaigned on, namely, to open a dialogue with Iran." He says Obama's softer stance is making all the difference. Bush's pro-regime change rhetoric only helped Iran's hawks, writes Dreyfuss, "while Obama's softer, dialogue-centered approach ... helped boost the power of the reformists." He urges the U.S. to allow Iran its uranium enrichment plan alongside a system of "stronger international inspections."
- Proceed With Caution, writes The New York Times editorial board. The paper applauds the president for engaging the regime when Iran is economically and politically vulnerable. They argue that as Iran's mullahs blame the U.S. for its sorry state, Obama's outreach could "undercut" such scapegoating. However, if Iran is "playing the same old game," the U.S. should lobby for heavy sanctions. The Washington Post editorial board also supports Obama's openness but urges him to get tough and enact global sanctions if they don't budge on the nuclear issue.
- Disengage Now to Prevent an Israeli Offensive, demands the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens. Iran's refusal to discuss its nuclear program is a nonstarter, so Obama should treat it like one, writes Stephens. Engaging with Iran now tells the Israelis we're not serious about stopping its nuclear program. Because of this, Israel might very well launch a "pre-emptive military strike" on Iran. The consequences of that would include, "price of oil at $300 a barrel, a Middle East war, and American servicemen caught in between." Israel's offensive capabilities are "iffy," explains Stephens. If anyone's going to bomb Iran, it should be the US.
- A Dubious Time to Engage Iran, worries Christopher Hitchens at Slate. "I am all for talks without preconditions," writes Hitchens. "But things have changed a little since the president and his secretary of state were sparring over the word unconditional during the primaries." Since then, Iran has employed "appalling" measures to remain in power and gotten closer to weaponizing its nuclear capacity. We wouldn't know if Iran was "negotiating in good faith," and even worse, engagement could demoralize Ahmadinejad's domestic opposition. In short, engaging Iran would be "a bit too much like having sex with someone who loathes you," cracks Hitchens.