During another point in the conversation, she observes that the Soviet Union tested an atomic bomb five years before the West thought they would have one. This raises the question of whether the West can afford to take its time with Iran. "Well, the problem is of course that you never know what you don't know," she says.Stephens is correct to dismiss Rice's "State Department" approach to Iran (carrots, more, carrots), although considering the animosity engendered around the world by the administration's assertive foreign policy, a diplomatic approach on key issues may actually gain the U.S. favor in elite foreign policy circles (where many, I'm sure, are hoping for a Democrat in the White House in 2008).
But that sits somewhat incongruously with her broader approach to the Iranian challenge. "The international system will agree on a level of pressure. I think it will evolve over time." She opposes measures such as barring Iranians from international sports events or a gasoline embargo (to which Iran is particularly vulnerable, since it imports 40% of its refined gas), because of their "bad effect on the Iranian people." Instead, she stresses the benefits of a consensual, U.N.-centered approach, says the Europeans have been "very strong on this," and adds that she's had "very good discussions" with the Chinese and the Russians about what a sanctions resolution would look like if the Iranians don't suspend enrichment. She thinks even a comparatively weak resolution would have "collateral effects on the willingness of private companies, private banks, to do business with Iran." She hopes it will have an effect on Iranian officials who "do not want to endure the kind of isolation that they're headed toward." Do these people even exist? "I do not believe we're going to find Iranian moderates," she says. "The question is, are we going to find Iranian reasonables?"
That's an interesting way of framing the matter, although perhaps not quite in the way Ms. Rice intends. There are, in fact, Iranian moderates: They are the 80% of the people who oppose the regime. The House has just approved the Iran Freedom Act, which says the U.S. should "support peaceful pro-democracy forces in Iran," and mirrors the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act that became a precursor to regime change there. President Bush used the occasion of his speech to the U.N. General Assembly to speak directly to the Iranian people, telling them "the greatest obstacle to [your] future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism, and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons." The State Department itself has increased its budget for supporting Voice of America radio and TV broadcasts in Farsi. What's telling is that Ms. Rice mentions none of this: Her primary method for dealing with the Iranian regime, it seems, is to deal with the regime, not to seek to change it.
Early in the interview, Stephens mentions that Secretary Rice has consistently denied rumors that she'll be a candidate for president in 2008. Rice indicates that she's excited to return to Stanford, where she was a professor of political science and academic provost before joining the Bush administration. I'm interested to see how her return to the academic world goes.
It might be rocky, if her reentry ends up being anything like Larry Summers' at Harvard, although Summers lacked the diplomatic approach for which Rice is known (maybe gradualism, in Rice's case, will work better in the halls of academe than in government -- or maybe Summers could have been more gradual at Harvard).