The New Republic has a piece this week that really has gotten me thinking.  But sooner or later we will hit the limit of what conscience can bear. There are only so many tyrants and terrorists we can engage before we stain our principles, before the politesse becomes repulsive.”

Iran’s human rights record today is dismal”.

Even as someone who has consistently cheered the Obama administration’s efforts to engage Iran diplomatically, reports like this one do make me wonder whether or not these efforts are effectively rewarding, or even legitimizing, an oppressive regime.  Does talking to the likes of Ahmadinejahd reward his outrageous behavior?  These questions are certainly not limited to Iran; the United States regularly engages with a number of governments who have less than stellar human rights records.  But does that make it ok?  Should we restrict or limit our engagement with governments who are abusive or undemocratic?  Is that even a realistic option?  How do we tell the “good” governments from the “bad” ones?  It’s a double-edged sword; many countries are quick to point out America’s own questionable practices.

I don’t pretend to know the answers to these complex questions and I would be interested to hear others’ opinions.  As far as Iran, I tend to think that the Obama’s administration strategy has so far been a good one.  Diplomacy is necessary; the silent treatment and bullying of the Bush administration played directly into the hands of Ahmadinejahd and other conservatives who played the role of victim for their own political benefit.  However, the administration cannot forget that the Islamic Republic is in many ways a totalitarian regime.  Discussions of human rights and political freedoms should be treated with equal importance as discussions of Iran’s nuclear program.