The Obama-Cheney ticket

Thomas Friedman:

I have no idea who is going to win the Democratic presidential nomination, but lately I’ve been wondering whether, if it is Barack Obama, he might want to consider keeping Dick Cheney on as his vice president.

No, I personally am not a Dick Cheney fan, and I know it is absurd to even suggest, but now that I have your attention, here’s what’s on my mind: After Iraq and Pakistan, the most vexing foreign policy issue that will face the next president will be how to handle Iran. There is a cold war in the Middle East today between America and Iran, and until and unless it gets resolved, I see Iran using its proxies, its chess pieces — Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and the Shiite militias in Iraq — to stymie America and its allies across the region.

And that brings me back to the Obama-Cheney ticket: When it comes to how best to deal with Iran, each has half a policy — but if you actually put them together, they’d add up to an ideal U.S. strategy for Iran. Dare I say, they complete each other.

Vice President Cheney is the hawk-eating hawk, who regularly swoops down and declares that the U.S. will not permit Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Trust me, the Iranians take his threats seriously. But Mr. Cheney’s Dr. Strangelove imitation is totally wasted with President Bush and Secretary of State Condi Rice. Because the president and secretary of state have never been able to make up their minds as to what U.S. policy toward Iran should be — to bring about regime change or a change of behavior — it’s impossible to have any effective diplomacy.

If she were taking advantage of Mr. Cheney’s madness, Secretary Rice would be going to Tehran and saying to the Iranians: “Look, I’m ready to cut a deal with you guys, but I have to tell you, back home, I’ve got Cheney on my back and he is truly craaaaazzzzy. You guys don’t know the half of it. He thinks waterboarding is what you do with your grandchildren at the pool on Sunday. I’m not sure how much longer I can restrain him. So maybe we should have a serious nuke talk, and, if it goes well, we’ll back off regime change.”

Instead, we just have Mr. Cheney being Mr. Cheney, but the Bush team neither carrying out his threats nor leveraging them to drive meaningful diplomacy with Tehran. There’s no good cop, it’s just a bad cop/bad cop routine — a big reason our Iran policy has been a failure. It has not stopped the Iranian nuclear program or changed the regime.

“For coercive diplomacy to work you need to be able to threaten what the regime values most — its own survival,” said the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Robert Litwak, author of the book “Regime Change.” “But for coercive diplomacy to work, you also need to be ready to take yes for an answer.”

Mr. Obama, by contrast, has “yes” down pat. As he said on “Meet the Press” last week: “I would meet directly with the leadership in Iran. I believe that we have not exhausted the diplomatic efforts that could be required to resolve some of these problems — them developing nuclear weapons, them supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas.”


While Litwak is right about coercive diplomacy there is no reason to believe that Iran will say yes to anyone, even if Obama is willing to go over there and be humiliated like Jimmy Carter. It is however an important weakness in his and the other Democrats approach to Iran. It is all carrot and no stick. Despite Friedman's description of the current approach, it is actually much closer to what he is suggesting than anything being suggested by the Democrats. He omits the fact that we do not have diplomatic relations with Iran and that Iran does not want diplomatic relations with us. Despite that we have been conveying messages to Iran through the UN and through our European allies on what a settlement would look like. There have been plenty of carrots offered by the Europeans and even the Russians.

The reasons why all have been rejected is not for lack of carrots or sticks. It is because the Iranian religious bigots think they are on a mission from God and that it is God's will that they have nukes to destroy Israel and the US. People that nutty are not going to negotiate themselves into a position where they will go to hell rather than paradise. The only reason they even go through the pretense of negotiations is to buy time to achieve their objective.


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