Senate Foreign Relationscommittee chairman Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, likes to portray himselfas a realist, not an idealogue.
After a recent Lugar speech on America's "addiction" to foreign oil,New York Times columnist Tom Friedman gushed that readersshould "[d]rop what you are doing and readit."
But in his efforts to achieve a bipartisan approach toward Iran,Lugar has fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the Ayatollah'sbook. Speaking on ABC's "This Week" on April 17, Sen. Lugar opinedthat the United States should pursue direct talks with the IslamicRepublic over its nuclear program. "I think that would be useful," hesaid. "The Iranians are a part of the energy picture. We need to talkabout that."
He added that it was too soon to press for international sanctionsaimed at putting pressure on Iran to comply with UN Security Councildemands that it open its nuclear facilities to internationalinspection and come clean about suspected weapons programs. "Ibelieve, for the moment, that we ought to cool this one, too," Lugarsaid. "We need to make more headway diplomatically."
Senator Christopher Dodd, D-CT, made it a duet. "I happen to believeyou need direct talks. It doesn't mean you agree with them...Butthere's an option," Dodd said on the same program.
"Direct talks" with the Tehran regime are not just a bad idea. Theyare a monumentally bad idea, whose wrong-headedness has beenproven time and again over the past 26 years.
And yet, even smart people -- such as Sen. Lugar -- fall for the ideathat the Iranian leadership, in the end, is not all that differentfrom us. They have security concerns, economic concerns, andpolitical concerns. It's just a question of finding the rightinducements, and then reasonable people can cut a deal.
Here is what Lugar said about Iran in thespeech at Brookingsthat Tom Friedman found so illuminating.
At a time when the international community is attempting to persuadeIran to live up to its non-proliferation obligations, our economicleverage on that country has declined due to its burgeoning oilrevenues. If one tracks the arc of Iran's behavior over the lastdecade, its suppression of dissent, its support for terrorists, andits conflict with the West have increased in conjunction with its oilrevenues, which soared by 30 percent in 2005.
Iran literally has us over a barrel, Lugar argued. So we reallyaren't in much of a position to be talking tough with the ayatollahs(or the bearded boy president), unless we want to face $200-a-barreloil.
The only problem with Sen. Lugar's analysis is that it is factuallywrong. If one "tracks the arc of Iran's behavior over the lastdecade," one finds absolutely zero correlation between Iran's oilrevenues and its bad behavior.
None. Nada. Zippo.
In fact, as Iran's oil revenues have skyrocketed over the past year,it has not (yet) resumed its practice of sending hit squads aroundthe world to assassinate dissidents.
It began the assassinations in earnest in the mid-1980s, when oil hadplummeted to all-time lows (below $10/barrel) and continued themurders until 1997. What compelled Iran to put its goons on a leash-- at least, overseas -- was the sentence handed down by a Germancourt for the assassination of four Iranian Kurdish dissidents inBerlin's Mykonos restaurant five years earlier.
(By the way: the Austrian Interior Ministry is currently reviewingevidence that appears to confirm the personal involvement ofPresident Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 1989 murder of Iranian dissidentAbdelrahman Qassemlou in Vienna).
As for repression at home, that continues apace. Whenever the Iranianpeople rise up, the regime squashes their movement with brutal force,whenever and wherever it feels it necessary.
How about Iran's nuclear programs? Haven't they benefited fromskyrocketing oil prices? Undoubtedly. But the decision to pursue aclandestine program to master the uranium fuel cycle did not beginthis past year, or in 2004, or 2003: it, too, was launched when oilprices were at their nadir, in 1985. The decisions to build bigticket facilities such as the Isfahan uranium conversion plant or theNatanz centrifuge enrichment plant were taken in the 1996 and 2000respectively, when oil was running just over $20/barrel.
As Ayatollah Khomeini famously said, Iran's Islamic revolution "isn'tabout the price of watermelons." If it were, the clerics would havebeen long gone by now.
Lugar is not the first to suggest "direct talks" with Iran's clericalleadership. Jimmy Carter tried for two years during the hostagecrisis. Ronald Reagan sent Ollie North, Howard Teicher, and BudMcFarlane to Tehran in 1986 with a bible and a cake. Bill Clinton washoping to win the Nobel Peace Prize by personally traveling to Tehranduring his final days in the White House, and had named a SpecialAmbassador, David Andrews, to negotiate a "comprehensive settlement"with Tehran, as I reveal in Countdownto Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown withIran.
All of these attempts failed. Iran's clerical leaders ate all thecarrots, burped, and never even said "thank-you." And should we makesimilar offers today, they will do the same.
Zbigniew Brzezinski agrees with Sen. Lugar that the United Statesshould "negotiate" with Tehran. In case some readers are too young toremember, Mr. Brzezinski was Jimmy Carter's National SecurityAdvisor. His deep understanding of Iran gave us a 444-day hostagecrisis that began on Nov. 5, 1979.
Despite this stunning proof of Mr. Brzezinski's policy acumen, manyreasonable people still seek his counsel today. Together with Bush 41National Security advisor Brent Scowcroft, Brzezinski authored a 2004study on Iran for the Council on Foreign Relations, which urged theUnited States to craft a package of inducements for Tehran, includingsecurity guarantees for the regime.
During a Feb. 23, 2006 forum in Washington, D.C., with former Germanforeign minister Joschka Fischer, Brzezinski scolded Undersecretaryof state Nicholas Burns for saying the U.S. would not restorediplomatic relations with Iran because it doesn't want to bestowlegitimacy on the Islamic Republic.
Washington was talking directly to dictator Kim Jong-il. "Are wedeliberately legitimizing the North Korean government?" Brzezinskiasked. The real issue, he said, is the quest for nuclear weaponry,not the legitimacy of any regime.
Wrong, Mr. Brzezinski. And wrong, Sen. Lugar.
The real issue is not the quest for nuclear weaponry. If nuclearweapons were the problem, we'd be worried about Great Britain. OrIndia. Or Israel. Or France. (Okay, maybe we are just a littleworried about France.)
The real issue is the regime; and this is the reality neitherSen. Lugar nor Mr. Brzezinski want to face.
Talking to this regime would, in fact, provide legitimacy for a bandof international thugs who have broken every agreement they have evermade, and have never hesitated to use terrorists to accomplish theirends.
It would send a devastating message to the Iranian patriots who arebegging America to help them bring freedom to their country.
It would undercut President Bush's visionary calls for spreadingfreedom to closed societies, as America's best defense and theworld's brightest future. And it would guarantee that we would befacing a nuclear-armed Iran.
Surely Sen. Lugar can do better than this.