Watching the Obama administration launch its "new era of engagement" over the last 10 months, most seasoned observers have pondered two questions: first, if engagement fails, will the Obama team ever acknowledge that it has failed? And what then?This is followed by a long discussion of Iran and Russia.
Putin couldn't be bothered to meet with Clinton when she was in Moscow. He was in Siberia for most of the time, and then in China. While in China he called the idea of sanctions against Iran "premature."
Add to this the kerfuffle over the Arctic Sea, the ship that may or may not have been shipping missiles from Russia to Iran, and the answer to Mr. Kagan's question becomes even clearer.
The freighter was recovered by Russian forces off the Cape Verde Islands in August and had been under Russian Navy control until it was handed over to its Finnish owners off Malta this afternoon.Tests show no radioactive material, but that isn't what Iran needs right now. (They have their own enrichment program, or have you forgotten.) What Iran needs is long-range missiles. Those wouldn't be radioactive.
Mystery has surrounded the Russian-crewed ship, with international media saying it might have been carrying radioactive material or weapons. Both Russia and the Finnish owners denied the reports, insisting it is only carrying timber.
But probably none of this matters, because talking is all that counts.
Many of us worry that, for Obama, engagement is an end in itself, not a means to an end. We worry that every time Iran rejects one proposal, the president will simply resume negotiations on another proposal and that this will continue right up until the day Iran finally tests its first nuclear weapon, at which point the president will simply begin negotiations again to try to persuade Iran to put its nuclear genie back in the bottle. Russia, meanwhile, will continue to be accommodated as a partner in this effort, on the perpetually untested theory that if Obama ever did decide to get tough with Iran, Moscow would join in. Russia thus reaps all the rewards of engagement without ever having to make a difficult decision.Talk is cheap. It is only meaningful if both (all?) parties are negotiating in good faith. Even then it can be impossible to agree. Before you sit down to any negotiation you are supposed to define what you will and will not take, and what your "best alternative to a negotiated solution" might be. Because - at least outside the world of Beltway politics - negotiating is not an end in itself.