But Haass might also be called a principled realist. He believes that diplomatic engagement of repressive regimes must be justified by outcomes. And the benefits of engagement with the Iranian regime have been slim. ~Michael Gerson

It is a pretty low thing to be condescended to by the likes of Michael Gerson. Richard Haass might think about the fact that he is now being complimented by an “idealist” whose speechwriting and rhetoric helped pave the way for aggressive war and torture. This is the sort of person who is now declaring him to be a man of principle. These are the people with whom he has aligned himself.

Of course the benefits of engagement with Iran have been slim. The administration’s policy of engagement with Iran has been a joke. It is no surprise that it has yielded few results. It has been given barely ten months to work, and half of that time has been consumed by the domestic paralysis created by the post-election crisis in Iran. As Leon Hadar has recently argued, “President Obama has failed to devise a coherent strategy for engagement with Iran similar to the one that created the conditions for Nixon Going to China.” In absence of such a strategy, engagement meant nothing and was going nowhere. Gerson’s “principled realists” are people who feigned interest in engagement when it was fashionable and abandoned it as soon as it became controversial. Thirty years of isolation and vilification have completely failed, but engagement must provide results within a year or be found lacking.

Leon Hadar has responded to Haass’ call for regime change in a much more balanced way:

But as someone who is a “card-carrying realist” I find Haass’s recommendation to “promote” — he does not actually call for “doing” — regime change in Tehran as running contrary to any sensible realist viewpoint. As Machiavelli (or your dad) cautioned you, never start a fight — especially with a bully — you are not sure you could finish and win. There are so many “what ifs” involved in any scenario under which the U.S. pursues a policy of regime change in Iran: What happens if Iran retaliates by destabilizing Iraq? What happens if tensions between the U.S. and Iran degenerate into full-scale war? And what happens if the political upheaval in Iran evolves into a bloody civil war?

This appropriate skepticism and caution are remarkably different from Gerson’s fantasies. Gerson writes:

This change [regime change] would not solve every problem between America and Iran — some in the Iranian opposition support their country’s nuclear ambitions — but a more representative regime would certainly be less aggressive, less tied to terrorism and more open to international influence.

There is no reason to assume this. Why is a “more representative regime” going to abandon Hizbullah? Why will it not pursue its interests in Afghanistan and Iraq? Why is it going to be any less assertive in its pursuit of what it perceives to be Iranian national rights? Why will it be any more responsive to international influence if other nations make unreasonable demands that the Iranian public oppose? A “more representative regime” is also a regime that cannot impose policies that a large majority of the population rejects. Gerson’s statement is democratist fantasy on display. It is the flawed assessment of someone who analyzes every foreign policy problem through an ideological lens.

Every time “idealists” such as Gerson speak on such matters, it is necessary to emphasize that everything they have touched has been a disaster for the United States and the alleged beneficiaries of their “idealism.” Whatever the administration decides to do, I hope they do not sacrifice the welfare of the Iranian people to satisfy the fantasies and self-importance of Gerson and his confreres.

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