by Michael Rubin
During the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama promised to meet the leaders of
The pundits and journalists may applaud, but their adulation for Obama's new approach is based more on myth than reality. "Not since before the 1979 Iranian revolution are
In 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini's return gave an urgency to U.S.-Iran diplomacy. Many in Washington had been happy to see the shah go, and sought a new beginning with the "moderate, progressive individuals" — according to then Princeton professor (now a U.N. official) Richard Falk — surrounding Khomeini. The State Department announced that it would maintain relations with the new government. Diplomats at the
On November 1, 1979, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's national security adviser and now, ironically, an Obama adviser on Iranian affairs, met in Algiers with Iranian prime minister Mehdi Bazargan and foreign minister Ibrahim Yazdi to discuss normalization amidst continued uncertainty about the future of bilateral relations. Iranian students, outraged at the possibility, stormed the American embassy in
But the hostage seizure did not end the dialogue. For five months, even as captors paraded blindfolded hostages on television, Carter kept
Should Obama send a letter to
Obama's inattention to timing and target replicates Carter's failure. His outreach to Ahmadinejad comes amidst
Once out of office, Carter aides sought to secure history's first draft with a flood of memoirs praising their own efforts. Kissinger aide Peter Rodman noted wryly in a 1981 essay, however, that pressure brought to bear by Iraq's invasion of Iran did more to break the negotiations impasse than Carter's pleading with a revolving door of Iranian officials.
Carter is not alone in his failed efforts to talk to
The stars seemed to align for George H.W. Bush, however. Khomeini died on June 3, 1989, and, two months later, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose pragmatism realists like Secretary of State James Baker applauded, assumed
In his first term,
While the press paints George W. Bush as hostile to diplomacy and applauds the return of Bill Clinton's diplomatic team under his wife's leadership, it is ironic that the outgoing administration engaged Iran more than any U.S. presidency since Carter — directing senior diplomats to hold more than two dozen meetings with their Iranian counterparts. Yet, after 30 years,
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of the Middle East Quarterly, was an
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.