Speaking more widely, it strikes me as thoroughly perverse that those who like to argue that “nothing” should be off the table when it comes to Iran and Syria find a little diplomatic conversation as something too ghastly to contemplate. ~Andrew Stuttaford

Well, talking could lead to all kinds of embarrassing moments in the press and fills people with uncertainty, whereas first-strike nuking sends a clear signal that our government is run by madmen and fills people with terror.  How can you rule out the latter and actually engage in the former?  Let’s call that way the Tamerlane approach to foreign policy.

Half-joking aside, the turn to talk to Iran and Syria is good news and should have happened weeks ago at the very latest.  Mr. Bush has so boxed himself in with absolute statements about Tehran’s perfidy that it will be difficult for him to sell this move now as anything more than a last gasp desperation move, while he could have come from a position of strength had he done this a year or two ago.  Having waited until he has next to nothing to offer either state, Mr. Bush will find that Iran and Syria will be a lot more implacable than they might have been in, say, 2003, when at least one of them apparently wanted to make a deal.  Now that he has waited too long and negotiations may very well yield little or nothing, the very stalling encouraged by the hard-liners will then perversely vindicate these same hard-liners.  The negotiations, which they would have opposed in every circumstance, may wind up being fruitless in no small part because of their insistence that negotiations could never have yielded anything useful.  On the other hand, if the negotiations do yield some positive results in terms of Iranian and Syrian cooperation in Iraq (and at this point they have less reason to bother) and around the region, how much more might they have yielded if Mr. Bush had not heeded the counsel of Cheney et al.?   

Diplomacy is a tool of statecraft, just as war is, and for a President or any high government officials to refuse to use any tool when it can both justly and reasonably work in the interest of your country is an incomprehensible failure to fulfill one’s duty.