Victor Davis Hanson

/>The Iraq Study Group, prominent U.S. Senators and realist diplomats all want America to hold formal talks with the government of Iran. They think Tehran might help the United States disengage from Iraq and the general Middle East mess with dignity. That would be a grave error for a variety of reasons — the most important being that Iran is far shakier than we are.

The world of publicity-hungry Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not expanding, but shrinking. Despite his supposedly populist credentials, his support at home and abroad will only further weaken as long as the United States continues its steady, calm and quiet pressure on him.

In Iran’s city council elections last week, moderate conservative and reformist candidates defeated Ahmadinejad’s vehemently anti-American slate of allies. At a recent public meeting, angry Iranian students — tired of theocratic lunacy and repression — shouted down their president.

By supporting terrorists in Iraq and Lebanon, enriching uranium and insanely threatening to destroy a nuclear Israel, Ahmadinejad is only alienating Iranians, who wonder where their once vast oil revenues went and how they can possibly pay for all these wild adventures.

Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad has invested little in the source of his wealth — the oil infrastructure of Iran. Soon, even the country’s once-sure oil revenues will start to decline. And that could be sooner than he thinks if the United Nations were to expand its recent economic sanctions in response to Ahmadinejad’s flagrant violation of nuclear non-proliferation accords.

So, as Iranians worry that their nation is becoming an international pariah and perhaps heading down the path of bankruptcy in the process, now is not the time for America to give in by offering direct talks with Ahmadinejad. That propaganda victory would only help him reclaim the legitimacy and stature that he is losing with his own people at home.

Better models to follow instead are our past long-term policies toward Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Libya and the Soviet Union of the 1980s. As long as Libya sponsored terrorism and attacked Westerners, we kept clear, and boycotted the regime. Only in 2003, when the Libyans unilaterally gave up a substantial program of weapons of mass destruction, agreed not to violate nuclear proliferation accords and renounced terrorism did we agree to normalize relations.

In other words, “talking with” or “engaging” Libya did not bring about this remarkable change in attitude within the Libyan government. In contrast, tough American principles, economic coercion, ostracism and patience finally did.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.