It’s worth noting that at the same time that Col. (and soon-to-be General) H.R. McMaster was telling an American Enterprise gathering that Iran has been carrying out targeted assassinations of Iraqi officials, three Iranian embassy staff and their Iraqi driver were fired on outside Iran’s Baghdad embassy. Iran blamed the attack, in which two of the employees were seriously wounded, on American security lapses.
Setting aside the question of whether or not to broadly engage Iran through direct diplomatic negotiations, the need to engage Iran on the more limited question of Iraq security has already been recognized. So far, the results of those discusisons have not been mutually satisfactory, but neither have the results since they were broken off. If things continue the way they’re going now, with no channels for communication other than ad hoc Iraqi delegations hurried off to Tehran, a direct confrontation with Iran is becoming more and more likely, regardless of the expressed or unexpressed intentions of both sides.
It’s important to remember that the Nixon administration continued to negotiate with North Vietnam while the two countries were actively and openly engaged in hostilities with each other. The negotiated settlement, while not enforced due to domestic political opposition to further involvement in Vietnam, was nevertheless a diplomatic success for the American position. In the same way, by further sapping popular support for the war, an escalation in conflict and confrontation with Iran in Iraq is more likely to undermine America’s ability to serve as guarantor of a negotiated security arrangement than to strengthen it.