In response to a post yesterday about whether or not the Barack Obama administration was ever ready to deal seriously with Iran — i.e., negotiate in good faith towards a deal — our most loyal LobeLog commentor, Jon Harrison, wrote this:

Isn’t there a distinction between having little hope (or even not believing) that engagement will work, and “pursuing engagement to pave the way for more coercive options”? I don’t think Wikileaks proves the latter. You can try a policy even though you doubt its efficacy, without necessarily entering into it with the idea that it’s just a PR exercise designed to grease the wheels of more coercive options. I respect the Leveretts, but I think they go too far in their assertion.

In any case, as I wrote the other day, Obama needed help from the Iranians if he was going to sell engagement in the U.S. The political deck here is stacked against engagement. The Iranians gave Obama nothing. Indeed, their words and actions have made the situation worse. They are at least as responsible for the failure of engagement as is Obama.

I often disagree with Jon (far from all the time, though), but he’s committed to high-minded discussions about these matters, so I’m always happy to engage him.

In this case, I agree with much of his response. But I’ll also note, as Gary Sick pointed out, that the WikiLeaked cables show the administration had little hope even before the 2009 Iranian presidential elections. This is to say, from the start, they were convinced it would fail. Although it doesn’t prove wheel-greasing — it does mean the administration was less likely to put the concessions necessary for a deal on the table. The failure of the talks becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

It is a leap to say that engagement was disingenuous. But not a great one. Still, it’s a question worth asking, especially when people like Dennis Ross make U.S. policy.