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Cheney Beats the Drums of War

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, October 22, 2007; 1:56 PM

Just four days after President Bush said the best way to avoid "World War III" was to prevent Iran from obtaining the know-how to build a nuclear bomb, Vice President Cheney vowed that Iran would face "serious consequences" if "it stays on its present course."

In an address yesterday to a pro-Israel think tank, Cheney stepped up the warlike rhetoric against Iran, most notably by linking Iran's government to attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq more explicitly than ever before.

"Given the nature of Iran's rulers, the declarations of the Iranian president, and the trouble the regime is causing throughout the region -- including direct involvement in the killing of Americans -- our country and the entire international community cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions," Cheney said. He offered no new evidence for his accusation.

John Hendren reports for ABC News: "Cheney's statement bore a striking resemblance to this warning before an audience of Republicans on Jan. 31, 2003, less than two months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq: 'We will not permit a brutal dictator with ties to terror and a record of feckless aggression to dominate the Middle East and to threaten the United States.'

"A spokeswoman for the vice president said his statements today echoed his previous comments on Iran." (See, for instance, March 7, 2006, and May 11, 2007.)

"But analysts said the administration's talk on Iran has taken on a tone of rising warning and aggressiveness, particularly on a week that included an unusually strongly worded admonition from President Bush earlier this week. . . .

"The rising rhetoric could signal that President Bush intends to take action -- possibly military action -- to halt Iran's nuclear program before the president leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009, some analysts said."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "The remarks, just days after President Bush suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to 'World War III,' amounted to Part II of a one-two punch from the administration at a moment when it is trying to persuade its allies in Europe to impose stiffer sanctions on Tehran."

While Cheney's language was not radically different from what he has used in the past, Stolberg writes that "people at the conference said that, placed in the context of Mr. Bush's remarks, it represented a significant step toward increasing pressure on Iran. The speech seemed to lay the groundwork for the threat of military action -- either because the administration actually intends to use force or because it wants to use the threat of force to prod Europe into action."

Stolberg continues: "Mr. Bush has repeatedly said the administration would not 'tolerate' a nuclear-armed Iran. But during a news conference on Wednesday, the president went further, saying of Iran: 'If you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.'"

Furthermore, Stolberg notes: "That distinction -- having the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon, as opposed to actually having a weapon -- is one the administration has not made in the past. David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute who moderated a panel discussion before and after Mr. Cheney's speech, said the vice president also seemed to draw a new red line when, instead of saying it is 'not acceptable' for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, he said the world 'will not allow' it.

"'The first is a condition,' Mr. Makovsky said. 'The second is a commitment.'"


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