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A Unified Theory Of Obama

Reading President Obama's interview with Newsweek, this passage struck me as crucial:

[W]e want to offer Iran an opportunity to align itself with international norms and international rules. I think, ultimately, that will be better for the Iranian people. I think that there is the ability of an Islamic Republic of Iran to maintain its Islamic character while, at the same time, being a member in good standing of the international community and not a threat to its neighbors. And we are going to reach out to them and try to shift off of a pattern over the last 30 years that hasn't produced results in the region.

Now, will it work? We don't know. And I assure you, I'm not naive about the difficulties of a process like this. If it doesn't work, the fact that we have tried will strengthen our position in mobilizing the international community, and Iran will have isolated itself, as opposed to a perception that it seeks to advance that somehow it's being victimized by a U.S. government that doesn't respect Iran's sovereignty.

This is, first of all, a persuasive defense of Obama's diplomatic approach. By negotiating, we demonstrate our goodwill, and if it fails the onus of intrasigence is shifted onto our adversery. Indeed, diplomatic failure can become a kind of success, allowing us to rally neutral countries to our side.

Second, this also perfectly describes Obama's approach to the Republican Party. He repeatedly demonstrates his goodwill and willingness to negotiate, and if and when Republicans refuse, they pay a heavy penalty in the court of public opinion. Obama's approach to international relations turns out to be identical to his approach to domestic politics. I think we've got a unified theory of Obama.

--Jonathan Chait