Historians will view Bush as the President who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), made public on December 4, concluded Iran had closed its nuclear weapons program four years earlier. Bush could have attributed this “fact” to his aggressive rhetoric (threats). Instead, he whined at his press conference that day: “Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. The NIE says that Iran had a hidden — a covert nuclear weapons program. That’s what it said. What’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program?”
He seemed more compelled by his own words than by intelligence findings. Recall that in his January 2002 State of the Union Address, Bush — or speech writers–had placed Iran inside the elite Axis of Evil club.
OK. And now he could claim his threats worked. He got Iraq, North Korea, and Iran to stop nuclear weapons program (albeit Iraq didn’t have one). Bush could claim he even got Libya to quit the incipient nuclear club.
I can imagine him sporting his ubiquitous shit-eating grin and taking credit for international accomplishments. “Thanks to my inserting a perilous tone to my public discourse — one that has weighed on public consciousness like a toxic cloud–we won.”
Bush could have referred to post 9/11 days when the nation trembled in shock, and he swore “to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction.” He then characterized North Korea as “a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” Iran aggressively pursues “these weapons and exports terror.” The lead villain at that time, lest we forget: “Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror”
These states “and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.” Bush swore “the United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”
So, why didn’t Bush return to this theme and say “I didn’t permit it?”
Perhaps facts did play a strange role. Since thinking people understand that Iran did not threaten the United States or Western Europe, they will also recall how Bush’s “accomplished” mission in Iraq showed a less than accomplished President. Indeed, the hysteric in the White House invaded Iraq over non existent WMD.
Did Bush fear that boasting of another “mission accomplished would cause him more trouble? The NIE information on Iran combined with North Korea agreeing to dismantle its nuke program in exchange for fuel aid and normalization talks with the U.S. and Japan had dispelled Bush’s Harry Potter-like world of evil axes.
Nevertheless, Bush bleated about “dangerous” Iran. Keith Olberman of MSNBC called him a” pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief.” Why didn’t Karl Rove rescue him from such blasphemies? (Was he too busy writing “how to beat Hillary columns for Newsweek?)
Bush knew since early August that Iran had no operating nuclear weapons programs; so why, asked Olberman, did he on October 17 taunt Iranian President Ahmadinejad? “I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon.”
The answer: Bush apparently feels comfortable with inflammatory discourse; not with achievement oratory. Remember his July 24, 2004 fighting words: “Bring ’em on” he taunted the Iraqi insurgents on July 2, 2004, who had begun to attack US occupying forces. Maybe he recalls those words and the fiasco following his “Mission Accomplished” speech in May 2003 as Iraqi insurgent began killing and wounding US troops — and his ratings plummeted. For Bush, fear has worked well; especially scary are references to nuclear threats.
Compare President Franklin Roosevelt calming discourse to Bush’s alarmism. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said FDR in his 1933 Inaugural Address, when the Great Depression truly depressed millions of people, economically and mentally. Bush, in contrast, seems to feel comfortable as America’s year-round Halloween monster. “We have plenty to fear. Terrorism will never go away. The terrorists are everywhere, always plotting against us. Trust me to fight them as long as you people remain scared”
With that outlook, Bush probably didn’t consider sharing his knowledge with the public, that Iran had no operating nuclear weapons program. He did, however, slightly alter his tone, but never told the truth. The Washington Post’s chronology of Bush’s Iranian fright lines shows the nuance in his speech after the CIA informed him in August that Iran had shut its nuke program.
Look at the differences. On March 31 Bush stated definitively that “Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon” On August 6 he invented an Iranian provocation: “this is a government [Iran] that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon…” By August 9, however, as Olberman notes, fine distinctions began to appear in his alerts. Iranians “expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program…”
On October 4, Bush became semi biblical: “you should not have the know-how on how to make a (nuclear) weapon…”
Two weeks later, on October 17, Bush issued yet another veiled threat, without accusing Iran of actually trying to make a nuke. “Until they suspend and/or make it clear that they, that their statements aren’t real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon.”
On December 4, after the NIE report became public, Bush had to reluctantly acknowledge the key fact he had absorbed in August. But he nevertheless kept firing away. Indeed, with White House encouragement, his neo con acolytes like Frank Gaffney (Center for Security Policy) and Norman Podhoretz (Commentary editor and Rudy Giuliani adviser) compare Iran and Nazi Germany–on talk shows. As if!
After seven years in office, Bush has placed fear before victory. He saw how throwing panic at the public–terrorists everywhere — could serve his power. By seizing on the 9/11 tragedy and manipulating it as a symbol to keep the public terrified, he garnered unequaled presidential power and provoked world wide animosity–while Congress and the public were busy being scared. The rest of the nation didn’t do so well.
Under his and the malevolent Cheney’s guidance, the CIA used torture — while denying it — extraordinary rendition (kidnapping) and other invasions of the Bill of Rights and Magna Carta (no right to privacy or habeas corpus). Periodically, Homeland Security reveals how it foiled yet another terrorist plot. The latest of these alleged plots evaporated. Seven barely literate Miami men who know nothing of explosives or weapons were charged in June 2006 with conspiring to blow up the Chicago’s Sears Tower. One defendant was acquitted; the judge declared a mistrial for the six others.
Bush’s detractors accuse him of having the IQ of a moron and the morality of Henry Kissinger, but Bush has accomplished several missions: he has destroyed Iraq, caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and put the people of this country into deep stress. The so-called intelligence community (oxymoron?), beyond angry that their intelligence was distorted in order to give Bush a pretext to invade Iraq, no doubt predicted Bush would recoil at receiving the no nukes in Iran finding, that he would discount it and use the braggadocio that has flavored his sour administration to diminish its impact.
Ironically, the intelligence experts have yet to actually show evidence that Iran sought a nuclear weapons program. The NIE claimed Iran once had a hidden weapons program. Bush averred. “What’s to say they couldn’t start another nuclear weapons program?”
The lap dog press has yet to even pose the question about the “fact” of Iran’s supposedly hidden project. IAEA head Mohamed El Baradai has never claimed he found evidence that the Teheran government actually had begun such production. The powerful in government and media “deduced” the logic that Iran was going beyond nuclear energy reactors since Iraq was seeking a weapons program and Israel, the most dangerous enemy in the region, had accumulated some 200 nukes.
Hey, Libya and North Korea could also restart their programs–an old fashioned axis of evil revival? Brazil, Argentina and South Africa could refurbish their old nuclear dreams!
Evil billionaires like Rupert Murdoch or T. Bone Pickens could start private nuclear weapons operations–a real life James Bond movie! How frustrating for Bush, wanting to fight–vicariously–and getting a diplomatic victory that he refuses to acknowledge.
SAUL LANDAU is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His new Counterpunch book is A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD. His new film, WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE is available on dvd from firstname.lastname@example.org