The Iranian negotiation proposal provided diplomatic directions for the U.S. to have achieved almost everything we needed, but Cheney and his Uber-hawks wanted Iranian regime change, and felt that we could not do that if we were talking to the government like we recognized it. We had to keep the pressure of threatened force on them. Diplomacy would make regime change more unlikely.
Since we could only cause regime change by threats of force, the administration ignored the Iranian offers of negotiation that would have from the very beginning enlisted the Iranians on our side in the war against al Qaeda. Iran is the most powerful single nation in the Middle East.
The difference between how Iran and Pakistan were treated by the Bush administration was primarily based on two things. First is the fact that Pakistan has nukes and Iran does not, and second is that Cheney hates the Iranians and has hated them since the Hostage Crisis of 1979.
The result has been that from the Bush administration we get hate-based and fear-based strategy that has at every turn been incompent in achieving even the goals they set themselves, let alone the goals which would benefit America in general.
[via Kevin Drum]
Addendum 10:28 AM CDT
Steve Clemons quotes Flynt Leverett:
"the Bush administration's approach to nuclear diplomacy with Iran is strategically shallow. The decision to encourage direct talks with Tehran generated many headlines but was really only a limited tactical adjustment to forestall an embarrassing collapse in coordination with America's key international partners.
By continuing to reject a grand bargain with Tehran, the Bush administration has done nothing to increase the chances that Iran will accept meaningful long-term restraints on its nuclear activities. It has also done nothing to ensure that the United States wins the longer-term struggle for Iran. Such a grand bargain is precisely what is required, not only to forestall Iran's effective nuclearization in the next three to five years, but also to position the United States for continued leadership in the Middle East for the next decade and beyond." [Underlining mine - RB]
[June 22, 2006 - corrected title. I meant Iran, typed one letter off. I am used to typing Iraq. Really - I DID proof read it!]