Coming Thaw with Tehran?

by Patrick J Buchanan – January 5, 2004

Can the Great Satan find common ground with a charter member of the Axis of Evil, the Iran of the ayatollahs?

Stranger things have happened in our own lifetimes.

In 1972, Nixon, who built a career on anti-communism, was walking on the Great Wall of China, the honored guest of a Maoist regime responsible for the deaths of thousands of U.S. soldiers in Korea.

In 1985, Reagan, a Cold Warrior who branded the Soviet Union an evil empire whose leaders reserved to themselves a right to “lie, cheat and steal,” was charming Gorbachev in Geneva. In 1987, the two signed the greatest arms-reduction treaty since the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-22. A year later, they would walk arm-in-arm through Red Square, to congratulations and cheers.

Several events suggest the real possibility of a thaw between Teheran and Washington. Iran’s cooperation in the Afghan war. The U.S. overthrow of Iran’s hated enemy Saddam. Deputy Secretary of State Dick Armitage’s testimony to Congress that we do not seek “regime change” in Iran. Colin Powell’s statement that Iran’s recent acts are “encouraging” and we are “open to the possibility of dialogue.”

Finally, Iran has agreed to inspection of its nuclear programs – a critical concession. For after Gadhafi agreed to abolish weapons of mass destruction, President Bush declared that Libya can leave the penalty box of sanctions and rejoin the international community.

Then there is Iran’s public welcome of U.S. aid for victims of the Bam earthquake. Looking closer, we appear to have interests in common. We both oppose a return of the Taliban, who gave sanctuary to al-Qaida and also executed Iranians. We both are alarmed by attempts by Muslim fanatics to assassinate Pakistani President Musharraf.

Should those fanatics succeed and assume power, they would support a Taliban return and control dozens of atomic weapons. Iran would be in greater peril than she is today, surrounded by U.S. power in Turkey, Iraq, the Gulf, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Nevertheless, there are grievances between us.

Iran remains bitter at U.S. Cold War domination and support for the Shah. Teheran believes that the downing of an Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes, in which 300 lost their lives, was no accident. Iranians claim America is freezing billions of dollars in assets that belong to them.

The United States, too, has a score to settle for the holding of 52 Americans hostage. And we have a right to justice in the Khobar Towers bombing in which Iranian intelligence is believed to have been complicit, and in which 19 Americans lost their lives.

Yet, Reagan did not let Moscow’s downing of a Korean airliner in 1983, where scores of Americans, including Rep. Larry McDonald, perished prevent his meeting Gorbachev. And George W. Bush did not let the massacre of the passengers and crew of Pan Am 103 prevent him from reaching a secret accommodation with Gadhafi.

Nor did Nixon let China’s appalling mistreatment of our POWs in Korea prevent him from taking a step he considered vital to U.S. security, by splitting China off from a rising Soviet Union.

The state is a cold monster, said DeGaulle. We may deplore it, but we have ourselves behaved that way at times. When we believe we have been savagely and unjustly attacked, our answer has been Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the need arises, we have not hesitated to bed down with dictators and monarchs – from Louis XVI to Napoleon to the Shah to Pinochet – and even embrace totalitarian-terrorist regimes like Stalin’s.

The question for 2004 is this: Will George Bush seek to reach an accommodation with Iran along the lines of his deal with Libya, which protects U.S. vital interests but suspends his crusade for “regime change”?

Or will he heed the neoconservatives’ non-negotiable demand that we overthrow all Arab and Islamic regimes that do not democratize, disarm and terminate support for Hamas, Hezbollah and Arafat?

In Iran, fanatic mullahs will fight any rapprochement – as will Ariel Sharon in Israel and his fifth columnists in the United States.

In the Dec. 31 New York Times is a full-page ad by “The American Committee for the Preservation of the Land and People of Israel.” The ad puts Iran’s reformist Prime Minister Khatami in the same bag as Osama, Saddam, Kim Jong Il and Arafat, and calls on Bush to finish the job and remove all “these tyrants from our midst.”

According to British journalist David Rennie, a new book by Richard Perle, “An End to Evil,” demands “regime change in Syria and Iran, and a Cuba-style military blockade of North Korea backed by planning for a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear sites.”

The battle for Bush’s soul – between the friends of Powell and the friends of Perle – continues into the New Year.