As the conversations continue to swirl about if and when the United States should attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Nicholas Burns’s latest Boston Globe column is a welcome voice of reason. Burns notes that few in America are particularly enthusiastic for another war, particularly after the long Iraq and Afghan struggles of the past decade. Nevertheless, the belief is growing, he says, that we are drifting toward war on autopilot, and that a war “is likely in the next year or two unless something alters our calculus.”
This outcome is precisely what Burns hopes to avoid. His argument—which is hardly original but well worth repeating—is that “the United States should do all it can to avoid war and look for another way to stop Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon.”
Two of Burns’s suggestions stand out. First, he argues the next president should “create a direct channel between Washington and Tehran and begin an extended one-on-one negotiation with all issues on the table.” In these discussions, Washington “must be ready to compromise by offering imaginative proposals that would permit Iran civil nuclear power but deny it a nuclear weapon.” This sounds basic, but it is an important rebuke to U.S. and Israeli hard-liners who have insisted that Iran must be denied any enrichment capability. Such a demand, as TNI editor Robert Merry has argued, is unrealistic and will forestall any agreement, making war more likely.
Second, the United States must keep control of the clock. In Burns’s words, “It is not in America’s interest to remain hostage to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s increasingly swift timetable for action.” This is exactly right. There may come a point at which Washington determines it has no choice but to attack Iran if it is to stop it from obtaining nuclear weapons. But for many reasons, we are not there yet. America should continue to reiterate its commitment to Israel’s security, while simultaneously making clear that it will not be pushed into war unless it has exhausted every other available option. Burns captures this sentiment well in a smart piece.