Bush’s disastrous foreign policy — especially the Iraq fiasco — has led many to conclude that diplomatic “engagement” is our best hope for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. But while Bush’s policy is a failure, engagement is not the solution.

Bush’s “moralistic” approach, we’re told, entails denouncing nations as evil, refusing negotiations, and isolating and punishing hostile regimes. That, many believe, is how we landed in the catastrophe of Iraq.

And now Bush’s moral denunciations of Teheran have supposedly escalated the nuclear standoff, while his policy of pressuring and isolating Iran by limiting its use of foreign banks has made Iran more defiant. That is why, diplomatists claim, Iran responded to the latest American-backed U.N. sanctions by ramping up production of nuclear material. Military conflict, they warn, and an Iraq-like debacle, loom.

But engagement can supposedly end the Iranian threat bloodlessly, because it discards inflexible moral dogmas. Just as Iran has shown it will meet “confrontation with confrontation,” proponents write in the New York Times, so Iran will “respond to what it perceives as flexibility with pragmatism.” Iran’s recent release of 15 British hostages, we are told, was achieved precisely because Britain engaged in nonjudgmental, patient diplomacy. Putting aside our moral qualms about talking with monsters would free us to negotiate a deal whereby Iran stops its nuclear program in exchange for Western carrots.

This scheme presumes that Iran, like us, seeks peace and prosperity and that no one — not even the mullahs — would put their moral ideals before a steady flow of loot. But in the three decades since its Islamic revolution, Iran has dedicated itself to spreading its moral ideal — Islamic totalitarianism — by force of arms. Teheran spends millions every year, not to pursue prosperity for its tyrannized citizens, but to finance terrorism and to build a nuclear arsenal to wield against enemies of Allah. It is Iran’s commitment to the goal of subjugating infidels, not a quest for peace, that motivated its backing of the Hezbollah-Hamas war against Israel and its support for insurgents who slaughter American troops in Iraq.

Would diplomatic “incentives” encourage Iran to mitigate its ideology? No, they would only intensify its hostility. Negotiations buy Iran time; a settlement would provide loot to fund its nuclear program. Above all, diplomacy grants Iran moral legitimacy as a civilized regime: its hostile goals — “death to America” — and its murder of our citizens are made to seem reasonable differences of opinion. Such appeasement confirms the perverse notion that Allah’s warriors, materially weaker but morally self-righteous, can succeed in bringing down the mighty infidel West. The real lesson of the recent hostage incident is how readily Western nations will grovel to appease Iran’s blatant aggression.

The amoral policy of engagement fails for the same reason that Bush’s policy fails: both reject the need of morality in foreign policy. Iran is intransigent — but precisely because Bush’s policy merely pays lip service to rational moral principles.

What has been the administration’s response to Iran’s nuclear quest, to its funding of terrorists and Iraqi insurgents, to its hostilities stretching back to the 1979 invasion of our embassy? Did it morally judge Iran as an enemy regime waging war on America and fight to defend U.S. lives by militarily crushing Iran?

No. After 9/11, Washington cordially invited Iran into an anti-terrorism coalition; later, Bush denounced Iran as part of an “axis of evil”; now, he embraces diplomatic talks. To the extent that his administration does momentarily recognize Iran’s evil, its response has been ludicrous: to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. diplomats scrounged for votes at the U.N. to pass toothless sanctions, and tried to put financial “pressure” on Iran (e.g., by preventing it from trading oil in dollars), an absurdly futile scheme (Iran now trades in euros).

Moreover, when Bush has gone to war, it was not to crush an evil enemy, but to bring it “democracy.” Bush’s messianic crusade in the Middle East is a selfless war of sacrifice to needy Afghanis and Iraqis — not a war to uphold the moral goal of safeguarding the lives of Americans.

Bush’s self-effacing, immoral foreign policy — like the appeasing gambit of engagement — licenses Iran to pursue its hostile goals with impunity.

The rational alternative to both of these self-destructive approaches is a policy committed to American self-defense, on principle. It is a policy that morally judges Iran — and that ruthlessly renders Iran non-threatening by military force. That does not mean a selfless, Iraq-like crusade to bring Iranians the vote. It means upholding the moral right of Americans to live in freedom by destroying Teheran’s Islamic totalitarian regime. Nothing less will do.