Talk Is Necessary

President Bush should talk to the Iranians. Refusing to talk is childish. How would the Cold War have ended if Ronald Reagan had refused to talk to Soviet leaders? How would relations with China have been established if Richard Nixon had said he would never talk to Chinese leaders?

For heaven’s sake, how would the American Revolution have ended if the Americans had refused to talk to the British?

It is those with whom you have a disagreement that you most need to talk to. There are only two ways to resolve a conflict — through negotiations or by force. Bush’s refusal to talk to the Iranians, except in terms of threats and ultimatums, seems reckless. Unlike the use of force, talking doesn’t cost you anything.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman said recently that if the choice is another military adventure led by this administration or a nuclear Iran, he’ll take the nuclear Iran and rely on conventional deterrence. Smart guy. That’s how any sensible person would see it. A nuclear-armed Iran would not be a threat to the U.S. or to Israel, both of which have plenty of warheads to act as a deterrent.

Let me offer this for your consideration: Beginning in 1991, we bombed and starved Iraq for 13 years. That country, with an area of about 437,000 square kilometers and a population of about 20 million, has nevertheless given us three years of hell — thousands of casualties, hundreds of billions of dollars spent on it, and even on this very day, we do not control Iraq.

What do you think will happen if we blunder into Iran — a nation of 65 million people and a land area of 1.6 million square kilometers? Some of the mental and moral midgets who talked us into the Iraq debacle may claim Iran can be handled by the Air Force. Not so. We drop one bomb on Iran and we are in a war right up to our necks. The Iranians will fight with every means at their disposal, and that’s a lot more than Iraq had.

There’s no country outside of the United States that wants a war with Iran. Iran has invaded no one and has threatened to invade no one. It is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that treaty gives it the right to enrich uranium for its nuclear power stations. That’s what Iran has done. There is not one shred of evidence that the Iranians seek to build a nuclear bomb. They say repeatedly that they have no desire to build a bomb, and we have no evidence to contradict them.

However, even if they did, no nation has the right to tell them they can’t. The U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel all have nuclear weapons — why not Iran? India, Pakistan and Israel, unlike Iran, have refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty and have refused to allow international inspectors. What kind of madness is it that makes an American president believe that he has the right to dictate to the world? It is wrong that Bush is sending his flunkies around the world to cause trouble for Iran with its banking and business connections. By what right does he do this? He does it because he has the power to do it, and that is the worst possible sign of a leader — that he does something just because nobody can stop him.

Justice is not on our side in this affair. Iran’s internal affairs are no concern of ours. If you wish to worry about nuclear warheads, you would be better to worry about those attached to intercontinental ballistic missiles and sitting in silos in China and Russia. I would worry more about those than about those not even built yet by people who say they have no intention of building them and who for some years won’t even have the capability.

I wonder if the president really thinks that after all his bullying, the Iranians are going to say, "OK, we won’t enrich uranium." Never in a million years. What they are most likely to do is tell the United States that if their rights under the nonproliferation treaty will not be respected, then there is no point in their being a participant, and we can stick it in our ear.

What will Mr. Bush do then? Go to war and wreck the world economy? I hope that then his rich friends will intervene and say, "Now, cool it, George, you’re about to cost us all a lot of money."

Losing money — that might dissuade him. He seems utterly indifferent to the loss of lives and moral standing.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.