I actually empathize with the fact that people have a tendency to fall back upon vagaries with an issue as complicated as Iran. But I don't think it's unfair to expect more specificity from the very serious people whose recent foreign policy judgment has been especially poor. Roger Cohen is just such a person.
The United States should propose broad, high-level talks with Iran across the range of issues confronting the two countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine — while dropping its meaningless insistence that Iran suspend nuclear enrichment activities before talks begin....
If the answer to the invitation is no, and Iranian-orchestrated attacks in Iraq continue, America should play hardball.
The thing is, I don't actually disagree with this. But that's because it doesn't really mean anything. It's perfectly possible for the United States to engage in "high-level talks" in bad faith--asking too much, offering too little, remaining inflexible--and to "play hardball" with an aerial bombing campaign. It's also perfectly possible for the United States to agree to lift sanctions if Iran agrees to subject its nuclear program to IAEA accounting, or to otherwise "play hardball"--along with the U.N.--by accepting the realities of the international nuclear market, continuing sanctions, and neither forestalling future negotiations nor goading Iran into using their weapons. These are two very different ways forward that, it just so happens, can be described using an identical set of platitudes.
I think it would be a great step forward if the U.S. suggested high-level diplomatic meetings with Tehran without insisting upon the stipulation that they suspend their enrichment program first. But that would create a series of important questions that somebody like Cohen should simply feel obligated to answer: Assuming they assent to the talks, What are we trying to get Iran to do, how flexible are we, and what are we willing to put on the table to achieve those goals? And, perhaps more importantly, if they decline the invitation, how exactly do we "play hardball".