Thanks, Tabin, for giving this beleaguered international-law conservative a window of opportunity. I ought to be writing a very triumphant and high-toned vindication of my own podium-pounding on this subject, but I’ll have to leave it to the ABDs out there with plenty of time on their hands. The long and short of it is that talking to the bad guys has made sense for a long time, and that, now, time is running short. The USA has nothing to lose but the pay scale of some high-ranking diplomats (who’re being paid, I wager, anyhow) and everything to gain, including:
(a) an opportunity to drive procedural and substantive wedges between Syria, which jumped at the chance for talks, and Iran, which is far more recalcitrant and fractured a government;
(b) the sort of international cred that silences opportunist critics like France and Russia — most importantly, as in the case of Russia, regardless of how accurate their observations are;
(c) various back doors to negotiated settlements in Iraq, like what the Study Group supplied but on a far grander level.
Regardless of whether you think we should, must, or must not stick it out in Iraq, and regardless of which benchmarks you tie those imperatives to, setting the table for real, hard-nosed diplomacy marks a return to what once used to be de rigeur for realists, the original foreign policy hawks. Assuming, particularly, that you think the bad guys really are the bad guys and we ought to fight them in the most effective ways we can, I’d forcefully argue that fighting it out at the bargaining table is where it’s at. Attacking Iran is flat out madness and attacking Syria — now — is totally useless. Why not take the fight somewhere we can actually engage the adversary and seek accomplishments? We’ve heard the argument that the Administration saw nothing to gain, no leverage, in Iran negotiations. Well, now, clearly, that’s changed. And that’s good. Let’s get it on.