Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 18, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE IRAN BLOGGING....OK, I get it. There just aren't very many people who are interested in the fact that George Bush is planning to open an interests section in Tehran. But just in case you're one of the enlightened few, the New York Times confirmed the Guardian's original account today and added a few more tidbits:

The idea would be to open a so-called interests section, rather than a fully staffed embassy, with American diplomats who could issue visas to Iranians seeking to visit the United States....One senior European official said that Mr. Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, had told a number of his counterparts in Tokyo in recent weeks that Ms. Rice was committed to moving forward on the decision to put American diplomats in Tehran, but that the decision still faced opposition from conservatives opposed to any kind of closer ties with Iran.

"My feeling is that the decision was more or less taken and the administration's problem was when and how to announce it," the official said. "They want to do it, but for domestic political reasons they don't know how and when, and maybe even if, they can do it."

Another senior official from another European country who deals directly with Iran went further, saying Ms. Rice had indicated in recent private discussions that the decision was already final, and that it was only a matter of time before it was announced.

On a related note, Laura Rozen reports that national security advisor Steven Hadley and Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki both just happen to be in Turkey right now. Probably just a coincidence, but you never know.

Anyway, that's the latest. You may now return to whatever you were doing before you read this.

UPDATE: Oddly enough, the last paragraph I excerpted from the Times story is no longer there this morning. I have no idea if this means anything substantive.

Kevin Drum 12:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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This violates the Thirteen-and-a-Half Amendment to the Constitution, which states that the Vice President gets to kick the Secretary of State's ass if she even thinks about putting some damn passport-bureau in Iran without his approval, thank you very much.

Posted by: lampwick on July 18, 2008 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm, perhaps Rice is working on her own "legacy." You know, so people remember the last thing she did before leaving. She hopes history will forget that she was deeply involved in screwing up Iraq.

Posted by: rational on July 18, 2008 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

I imagine they intended to quietly announce it during August recess and hope nobody noticed.

This is the most schizophrenic administration evah!

(sorry... too much project runway blogging today has warped my sense of serious...)

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on July 18, 2008 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

I suspect that it isn't so much a lack of interest as a lack of anything substantive to say about it. It's odd. It doesn't fit with the rest of the bellicosity, it doesn't fit with the short and long term goals outlined by the Bush/McCain team, and it is potentially good news.

Which leaves people like me wondering what's ultimately going on, but nothing either constructive or destructive to say about it. Since I tend to be on the destructive side, I'm particularly without much comment


Posted by: the on July 18, 2008 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

How do you have a successful diplomatic mission and an active and open campaign to destabilize the government? I guess this is why I don't do international relations.

Posted by: asdf on July 18, 2008 at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK

"They want to do it, but for domestic political reasons they don't know how and when, and maybe even if, they can do it."

Hoist? Petard?

Posted by: Everyman on July 18, 2008 at 1:17 AM | PERMALINK

As soon as David Addington can get his hands on some fresh puppy blood and get it to the Naval Observatory, He Who Rests There will awake and reverse this silliness, and we can get back to the mindless Bush/McCain bellicosity we've grown accustomed to.

Posted by: Jeff S. on July 18, 2008 at 1:34 AM | PERMALINK

There just aren't very many people who are interested in the fact that George Bush is planning to open an interest section in Tehran.

It doesn't mean anything Kevin, until and unless the administration actually does it, actually uses it to do something, and so on.

As it stands, it sounds like a trial balloon. It might also be true that Syria was building a nuclear reaction, but I still see no real evidence.

['The Bush administration has six months left on the clock anyways, so what's going to happen?']

Posted by: max on July 18, 2008 at 1:50 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's to quiet the anti-war crowd so they can't say the Bush administration did everything they could to solve the Iran threat diplomatically. There are so many geopolitical implications in making decisions like this, I think it's somewhat naive to speculate we know exactly what's going on.

All we really know, is this is Iran's last chance to comply with the international community before Israel is left with no choice but to defend itself.

Posted by: John Infidelesto on July 18, 2008 at 3:40 AM | PERMALINK

Hard to interpret the current posturings towards Iran, since this is basically an irrational Administration steered by George W. Bush's "gut", whatever that means....

My guess is that even Numbnuts is starting to realize another preemptive war would not only destroy whatever "legacy" he will leave, but could also earn him impeachment and/or a prison cell, if he launched a preemptive strike. God knows I have written enough letters to Congress urging those actions.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 18, 2008 at 6:54 AM | PERMALINK

Like others, it's not that I'm uninterested, it's more a matter of bemusement and not being quite sure what to make of this.

But since Kevin seems to want us to talk about it, here's some totally baseless and irresponsible speculation:

1. Gas is over $4 and the economy feels like it's teetering on the brink of collapse. There must be some in the administration (not Cheney's people, obviously) who can recognize that bombing Iran would certainly drive oil up to $200, leading to economic chaos and (come November) a Democratic landslide. So maybe Bush decided that if he can't have "bomb Iran into the Stone Age" as his legacy, he'll go the opposite direction and try the Nixon-in-China thing.

2. Maybe they think they can help McCain out (which in turn would salvage a bit of Bush's legacy). Bush takes a bit of a softer line with Iran, which tamps down the anti-war issue a bit in the general public's mind ... while McCain is free to take a harder rhetorical line (thus appealing to his base) without panicking the rest of the country.

3. Maybe Bush's "big oil" base decided that with oil at $140 they can't afford current US/Iran policy any longer (ie, Russia, China etc gaining too much influence) ... see e.g. Halliburton's involvement with Iran in the 90s.

4. Maybe the hawks in the administration leaked this, hoping to set off enough of a furor among the GOP base to forestall any actual softening of our Iran policy.

Posted by: J on July 18, 2008 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Its hard to know if is serious or not. It could be Kubuki related to proving that his drill-drill-drill speech lowered oil prices, (i.e. giving the drilling speech just before a good inventory report, and peace rumours, so the downward price chance can be missattributed).

It isn't unprecedented if it is real, look at the North Korea thing, where the administration was implacably opposed, to the old policy, but eventually came around (but even then keeps throwing up obstacles).

Now if we go back to interests. If you are conservative, oh no, we can't have this -it must not be true. If you are liberal, this is way out of character, it must not be true. So neither side really wants to run with it, hence no interest in pushing it.

Posted by: bigTom on July 18, 2008 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

re: the update

the disappearing paragraph is in the print edition of today's NYT. regardless of whatever explanation may be for its removal online, it is preserved for posterity in print.

Posted by: upyernoz on July 18, 2008 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Domestic political reasons, indeed. What is happening in Washington is that State and Defense have won a turf war over Iran policy with the Vice President, by getting the President not to object to something they want to do. But they don't want to put the President in the position of publicly overruling his Vice President by endorsing the result through a formal announcement, or risk Cheney's response to the inevitable press questions.

It sounds unnecessarily complex, and it is. It is also typical of the kind of thing that happens in administrations headed by weak Presidents. Accustomed to leaning heavily on subordinates to decide issues about which he knows or cares little, the weak President is powerless to bring discussion to a close when those subordinates disagree.

Ironically, there are probably some coincidental similarities between the decision making process within the Bush administration and that within the Iranian government, which has a weak President by design.

Posted by: Zathras on July 18, 2008 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

I've been hoping Obama would jump all over this to embarrass McCain.

Actually Bush has already embarrassed McCain with this flip flop on talking to Iran.

Hard to tell the players without a program.

Posted by: Leanderthal on July 18, 2008 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

Nations always have backdoor communications lines anyway, so formal embassies or showing how tough one is by "refusing to negotiate with rogue states and terrorists" are mostly symbolic gestures.

Posted by: Luther on July 18, 2008 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Yesterday's NY Times (on-line) led with the headline about Israel's burial of the two deceased soldiers swapped for Lebanese prisoners. Today's NY Times has a guest editorial explaining why Israel will attack Iran and why it is a very good thing.

Posted by: Brojo on July 18, 2008 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe the diplomats will be facilitating visas for people who then defect, thus giving the administration access to a batch of Iranian Chalabis to help them sell another war ...?

Posted by: Erika on July 18, 2008 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Just when you thought it might be getting better, along comes another fucking nutter. Perhaps it is time to put the military option on the table to deal with such madmen!

Posted by: blowback on July 18, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

"Bush" and "foreign policy" -- two things you really don't want to hear together.

Posted by: MarkH on July 18, 2008 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

None of the commentators is nearly paranoid enough.

Cheney is letting Rice get her way on this so there will be Americans in Tehran by January. That way when he gives the order to bomb their nuclear facilities there will be some hostages close at hand. Obama's inauguration and first 100 days will be utterly overwhelmed and no matter what he does the Republican back benchers can start calling for his impeachment.

Call it a "Reverse Reagan" with a "Half Clinton".

Posted by: Tentakles on July 18, 2008 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

"They want to do it, but for domestic political reasons they don't know how and when, and maybe even if, they can do it."

Hehe, I like that "domestic political reasons". (The elephant in the room that we aren't allow to name.)

It was Simone Weil who said all war is domestic politics.

Posted by: PeaceThroughJustice on July 20, 2008 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

"The great error of nearly all studies of war... has been to consider war as an episode in foreign policies, when it is an act of interior politics." (Simone Weil)

Posted by: PeaceThroughJustice on July 20, 2008 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK



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