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A Pattern of Deception

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; 2:27 PM

President Bush changed the way he talked about Iran in August: He stopped making explicit assertions about the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

On Monday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a new national intelligence estimate in which the nation's 16 intelligence agencies concluded that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program four years ago -- a dramatic rejection of an earlier set of findings.

Bush yesterday said he was only briefed about the new estimate last week.

But a close examination of his word choice over the past year suggests that he learned something around August that got him to stop making claims that were apparently no longer supported by American intelligence.

Instead of directly condemning Iranian leaders for pursuing nuclear weapons, he started more vaguely accusing them of seeking the knowledge necessary to make such a weapon.

Even as he did that, however, he and the vice president accelerated their rhetorical efforts to persuade the public that the nuclear threat posed by Iran was grave and urgent. Bush went so far in late August and October as to warn of the potential for a nuclear holocaust.

Indeed, a careful parsing of Bush's words indicates that, while not saying anything that could later prove to be demonstrably false, Bush left his listeners with what he likely knew was a fundamentally false impression. And he did so in the pursuit of a more muscular and possibly even military approach to a Middle Eastern country.

It's an oddly familiar pattern of deception.

Bush's Changing Words

A survey of Bush's remarks about Iran's nuclear ambitions in 2007 suggests that a shift took place somewhere between August 6 and August 9. There wasn't a change in his overall message, just his carefully chosen words.

Here's Bush on Jan. 26: "As you know, the Iranians, for example, think they want to have a nuclear weapon. And we've convinced other nations to join us to send a clear message, through the United Nations, that that's unacceptable behavior."

On March 31: "Our position is that we would hope that nations would be very careful in dealing with Iran, particularly since Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and a major threat to world peace is if the Iranians had a nuclear weapon. . . .

"We respect the history of Iran, we respect the rich traditions of Iran. We, however, are deeply concerned about an Iranian government that is in violation of international accords in their attempt to develop a nuclear weapon."


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