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Neck-Snapping Spin From the President

Bush's new mantra is: "Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." But one of the most telling moments of the press conference came when Bush entirely ducked a question posed by New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers: "The Non-Proliferation treaty doesn't prohibit a country like Iran from having the knowledge to enrich uranium. Are you setting a different standard, in this case, and a different international obligation on Iran? And is that going to complicate the efforts to keep the pressure on when it comes to sanctions at the United Nations?"

In his meandering non-response Bush insisted that "the Iranian people must understand that the tone and actions of their government are that which is isolating them."

Same here.

Credibility Problems

Even before Bush's press conference, a new raft of problems for the president were coming into focus.

Peter Baker and Robin Wright write in today's Washington Post: "President Bush got the world's attention this fall when he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III. But his stark warning came at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program.

"The new intelligence report released yesterday not only undercut the administration's alarming rhetoric over Iran's nuclear ambitions but could also throttle Bush's effort to ratchet up international sanctions and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his presidency."

National security adviser Stephen Hadley "said Bush was first told in August or September about intelligence indicating Iran had halted its weapons program, but was advised it would take time to evaluate. Vice President Cheney, Hadley and other top officials were briefed the week before last. Intelligence officials formalized their conclusions on Tuesday and briefed Bush the next day."

Brian Williams reported on NBC News: "This means, among other things, that during last week's Middle East peace conference where so much of the talk was centered around the Iran threat, US intelligence officials had information indicating they knew better, and the administration said so today."

Jonathan S. Landay writes for McClatchy Newspapers that the new findings "deal another blow to the administration's credibility and influence, already battered by its use of bogus and exaggerated intelligence to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq."

What Changed?

Dafna Linzer and Joby Warrick write in The Washington Post that the new estimate was "evidence, to many observers, of the intelligence agencies' new willingness to question assumptions and assert their independence from policymakers. . . .

"'The key judgments show that the intelligence community has learned its lessons from the Iraq debacle,' said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), who chairs the Senate intelligence committee. He was referring to long-standing Democratic allegations that intelligence on Iraq was skewed to help promote the administration's desire for war.

"In this case, Rockefeller said, 'it has issued judgments that break sharply with its own previous assessments, and they reflect a real difference from the views espoused by top administration officials.'"

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