There’s no guarantee that a policy of engagement will work. The Iranian regime’s desire to acquire nuclear weapons may be so unyielding that Tehran and Washington will remain on a collision course. But America and its allies will be in a stronger position for responding to Iranian calls for dialogue. Openness isn’t a concession by America, it’s a strategic weapon. ~David Ignatius, The Washington Post

Mr. Ignatius happens to be right on the immediate question of whether to enter into direct talks with Iran. He offers much the same common sense observations that I was making in the last post: isolation and sanctions reinforce the power of the targeted government. After that, it gets rather dicey. There is something far more troubling about Mr. Ignatius’ assumptions about the limits of this proposed “connectivity.” Besides the usual Popperian nonsense about open vs. closed societies that is now even infecting our top military officers, the problem here is the assumption that negotiations are a means to the same end as sanctions or war, namely forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear program and any plans for nuclear weapons. Put this way, negotiations are bound to fail, as no Iranian government of any composition is going to yield on this point of sovereignty and prestige. Only if negotiations can be said to “work” as well as these other options in forcing Iranian concessions does Mr. Ignatius credit diplomacy with much importance. The same limited goal of forcing Iran to give up this program dominates Mr. Ignatius’ thinking as much as it dominates Mr. Krauthammer’s–the permissible range of policy options stretches from whether the carrot or the stick will best achieve hegemony. A viable solution–rapprochement and normalisation of relations–remains untouchable because it concedes to Iran that it is actually a sovereign state with certain rights that cannot be rightfully taken away or violated, and that this means something for how Washington can treat Iran.

The Iranian government remains “unyielding” on this point partly because they continue to operate under the mistaken hope that international law will protect it against arbitrary action by a superpower (the product of faith in the reasonableness of a mythical “international community”?) and partly because they are becoming increasingly aware that international law will not prevent an American attack if Washington is committed to doing it. There is the danger of an impasse and a conflict because Washington insists that Iran do something it cannot reasonably do. In this situation, negotiations will simply be a new Rambouillet, a new pretext for a war the administration was already resigned to having because of the maximalist demands of current Iran policy.