THE PLANK JUNE 20, 2007
So Erza Klein has tried to fend off my attempt to steal his lunch money--in the process of writing about Iran and the military option and whether it should be left on the table--by branding me a drag queen. Well, not exactly a drag queen, but he does accuse of dressing up as the Secretary of State.
Taking issue with my argument that ruling out the threat of military force would cripple any diplomatic efforts toward preventing a nuclear Iran, Ezra writes of yours truly:
[H]e wants to pretend that he's part of the State Department. This is the second odd piece of the Iran conversation, in which pundits, with no role in our diplomatic efforts at all, think themselves so critical to America's success that they will publish the same feints and misdirections that our (theoretical) negotiators would use.
I think military force should be taken off the table, as the more we appear an existential threat to Iran, the more they're going to accelerate their nuclear program. The threat of force renders negotiations somewhat moot. But that's not a strongly held judgment, and I am not a diplomat. It is not for me to pretend that my readers are high-ranking civil servants in Tehran, who must be convinced of America's determination to disrupt their nuclear program. And so I, happily, can separate out the questions.
It would be a bad thing to bomb Iran. That means if we keep force on the table, and negotiations fail, we should not bomb Iran. And that means making the case for not bombing Iran, even as our negotiators may be relatively more belligerent towards Iran. Jason, on the other hand, thinks it's apparently a bad idea to bomb Iran, but also a bad idea to publicly say we shouldn't bomb Iran. He'll poke me in the eye for being a forthright opponent of military action here, even as he suggests he may also be an opponent of military action here, even as he warns that military action shouldn't be opposed or taken off the table.
But here's the problem. Ezra, while not being so immodest as to think he has readers in the Iranian civil service, does believe he has readers who'll play a role in the Democratic presidential primary--and he's argued, for all intents and purposes, that taking the use of force off the table should be a litmus test for any Democrat hoping to be president. And that's a really stupid litmus test. Because while Ezra and I won't ever talk about any of this with the powers that be in Tehran, it's a good bet--and, in fact, both Ezra's and my hope--that one of the Democrats running for president will eventually engage in that exact conversation. And that future Democratic president's diplomatic efforts to prevent a nuclear Iran will be that much more difficult if he or she has a priori taken the use of force off the table.
Now, if we eventually get to a make-or-break moment when the Bush administration appears to be on the absolute brink of launching a preemptive attack on Iran, or it has come to Congress to ask for authorization for a use of force resolution, then I could understand Ezra's demand that Democratic presidential candidates come out and flatly declare that they oppose the use of military force to prevent a nuclear Iran; but we're not there yet, and I see no reason for these Democrats to box themselves--and, potentially, the U.S.--into that corner.