On Iran, Bush seems to have chosen the diplomatic approach favored by the State Department over the approach, similar to Ronald Reagan's in Eastern Europe, of encouraging overt and covert efforts to overthrow the mullahs. But if, as seems likely, the diplomatic efforts of Britain, France and Germany fail to get Iran to agree to forswear nuclear weapons, Bush may take the second approach. Kerry seems unlikely to do so.
In March he called for a "nonconfrontational" policy toward Iran. John Edwards, in an August interview with The Washington Post, called for a "grand bargain" to provide fuel for Iran's nuclear power plants in return for Iran's promise to turn over nuclear material that could be used to make bombs. But the efforts of Britain, France and Germany to broker some such deal have not been fruitful. This sounds very much like Bill Clinton's 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea, which North Korea cheated on.
Kerry seems to favor another such agreement with Kim Jong Il. He has criticized Bush for refusing to negotiate directly with North Korea. Bush has insisted on bringing neighboring South Korea, China, Russia and Japan into the talks, on the theory that they have greater leverage to gain concessions.
Iran and North Korea are difficult issues. Negotiations seem unlikely to succeed, and regime change by military action seems unfeasible. But there is a third possibility: peaceful regime change. We saw it happen, and we did things to encourage it, in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. We know that the mullahs and Kim Jong Il are widely unpopular. At the debate this Thursday, Bush and Kerry will surely be asked about Iraq. Maybe someone will ask them what they would do to encourage peaceful regime change in Iran and North Korea.