Last week, John McCain was very clear. He ruled out talking to Iran. He said that Barack Obama was "naive and inexperienced" for advocating engagement; "What is it he wants to talk about?" he asked.Not bad, Joe. I know this isn't a position with a lot of support, and that Biden himself is (apparently) angling to be secretary of state in an Obama administration, but I still think he'd be a pretty decent VP selection. Experienced, good debater, pretty smart on foreign policy, and willing to talk occasional smack — a better quality in a VP than a secretary of state.
Well, for a start, Iran's nuclear program, its support for Shiite militias in Iraq, and its patronage of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Beyond bluster, how would Mr. McCain actually deal with these dangers? You either talk, you maintain the status quo, or you go to war. If Mr. McCain has ruled out talking, we're stuck with an ineffectual policy or military strikes that could quickly spiral out of control.
Sen. Obama is right that the U.S. should be willing to engage Iran on its nuclear program without "preconditions" — i.e. without insisting that Iran first freeze the program, which is the very subject of any negotiations. He has been clear that he would not become personally involved until the necessary preparations had been made and unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.
President Nixon didn't demand that China end military support to the Vietnamese killing Americans before meeting with Mao. President Reagan didn't insist that the Soviets freeze their nuclear arsenal before sitting down with Mikhail Gorbachev. Even George W. Bush — whose initial disengagement allowed dangers to proliferate — didn't demand that Libya relinquish its nuclear program, that North Korea give up its plutonium, or even that Iran stop aiding those attacking our soldiers in Iraq before authorizing talks.