TODAY'S MUST READ ON IRAN. A great deal of ink has been spilled on Iran of late, but very little of it on proposing any kind of US action other than engagement through the United Nations or (futile and probably self-destructive) air strikes. Slate's Fred Kaplan has started to close that gap, arguing:

The military option is so manifestly impractical that the Iranians don't seem to believe it. Their top officials dismissed Hersh's article as "psychological war." Even Iran's former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani�who has criticized the current regime's harsh anti-Western stance�said in Kuwait today, "We are certain the Americans will not attack Iran because the consequences would be too dangerous."

The one thing that Iran's leaders genuinely seem to fear is economic sanctions. They sprinted to the bargaining table, and opened more facilities to international inspectors, only after France, Britain, and Germany�which had always tolerated Iran's nuclear deceptions in order to protect their trade relations�joined in with the Bush administration's criticisms and pledged to support United Nations sanctions if Iran continued to enrich uranium.

Western Europe, Russia, and China may depend on Iran for oil, but Iran depends at least as much on them for capital investment. The United States isn't involved in either side of this equation�we've been boycotting Iranian imports and exports ever since Ayatollah Khomeini's "students" took our diplomats hostage�which is why our sudden engagement in face-to-face talks, after all these decades, would make quite an impact....

In other words, Bush should commence direct talks with Iran not because they offer a hopeful chance for peace and good will, but because they're a necessary prelude to an international campaign of economic pressure�and because more drastic military pressure would likely backfire. There are two likely outcomes from serious American efforts to negotiate, both good. First, if Iran cooperates with the talks, then it might suspend its nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits. Second, if Iran doesn't cooperate, then the Bush administration will have made its case to China, Russia, and Europe that the regime is dangerous and untrustworthy. At that point it will be much easier to impose the economic sanctions that will scare the Iranians into better behavior.

He makes a strong case.

--Garance Franke-Ruta