It seemed like a good idea at the time. The Bush administration would use the earthquake tragedy in Iran that killed at least 30,000 people not only as an opportunity to show the United States was eager to alleviate international tragedy but also as a diplomatic wedge. Some officials believed that, as humanitarian aid was provided, discussions might open that could lead to a new relationship between the two countries. President Bush stated the potential political benefits of the aid when he said, "What we're doing in Iran is we're showing the Iranian people that American people care, that we've got great compassion for human suffering."
The United States would follow up its international version of compassionate conservatism with a high-level diplomatic team, headed by Sen. (and former Red Cross President) Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.). There was talk of sending a member of the Bush family along in case further evidence was needed to persuade the Iranian dictatorship of our sincerity. It would have been the first public U.S. diplomatic effort in Iran since the 444-day hostage ordeal when Iranian "students" held 52 Americans, releasing them the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated because they rightly concluded that if they didn't, Tehran might be turned into a parking lot. The one "diplomatic" effort since then involved trading "arms for hostages" in the mid-'80s.
Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed optimism about the latest diplomatic overture to Iran even before the Iranian government responded. He cited "encouraging" moves by the Islamic republic in recent months, which have included an agreement by Iranian leaders to allow "surprise" inspections of the country's nuclear energy program and diplomatic overtures to moderate Arab governments.
Iran's President, Mohammad Khatami, threw cold water on the U.S. wishful thinking when he said that while American aid to earthquake victims was welcome, it would not alter relations between his country and the United States. Iran understands the impossibility of making bargains with "the Great Satan." The U.S. government should take a similar view. Evil cannot be accommodated. It must be defeated.
In the 1980s, there were pleadings by the American left to decrease tensions with the Soviet Union. The proposal was for the Reagan administration to cease deploying missiles in Europe to counter a Soviet buildup and, instead, to unilaterally disarm in order to show Moscow we meant Russia no harm. At the time I said the strategy appeared to have been designed to make the Soviet army laugh themselves to death, but there would be enough of them left over to invade and subdue us.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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