What Obama should say about Iran in the debate

Robert Wright writes: Sunday’s New York Times carried a story that will presumably come up in Monday’s foreign policy debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney: The U.S. and Iran have reportedly agreed “in principle” to have direct bilateral negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, negotiations that could start after the election if Obama wins it.

If true, this is good news. Iran has long resisted direct talks with the U.S., and lots of people think this format would be more productive than the current cumbersome format known as “P5+1” (the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany on one side of the table, Iran on the other). One reason Iran may have been reluctant to depart from the P5+1 format is that it includes Russia and China, which are relatively sympathetic to Tehran. Maybe, now that sanctions are starting to do serious damage to its economy, Iran figures it can’t afford to hold out for the optimal deal and needs to cut to the chase. In any event, the new Iranian position reported by the Times is auspicious.

So, if we lived in a rational world, the New York Times story would be hailed as validation of Obama’s foreign policy — there might even be suspicions that the Obama administration leaked the news to glorify itself!

But we don’t live in a rational world. We live in a world where (on much of the right, at least) negotiation is equated with capitulation. And that explains why there’s been much speculation that the Times story was leaked by people who oppose these negotiations and/or people who want to help Mitt Romney. The thinking goes like this: In Monday’s debate, Romney can depict this as Obama’s secret plan to implement Munich-style appeasement after re-election, cutting some shady deal that would be bad for the U.S. and for its ally Israel. [Continue reading…]

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