Pushing Bush to Attack Iran

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 4, 2008 11:57 AM

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to use his White House visit today to push President Bush to take a more aggressive approach toward Iran -- and there are some signs that he'll have a receptive audience.

Both Olmert and Bush are badly wounded and looking for salvation. Olmert is facing corruption allegations that could drive him from office. Bush is wildly unpopular, desperate to salvage his legacy and fighting irrelevance as the general election begins in earnest -- with even the Republican candidate trying to keep him at a distance.

It's in this environment that the Jewish Telegraph Agency reports: "Ehud Olmert will urge President Bush to prepare an attack on Iran, an Israeli newspaper reported.

"Citing sources close to the Israeli prime minister, Yediot Achronot reported on its front page Wednesday that Olmert, who is due to hold closed-door talks with Bush in Washington, will say that 'time is running out' on diplomatic efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program.

"The United States should therefore prepare to attack Iran, Olmert will tell Bush, according to Yediot."

Olmert certainly telegraphed as much in public last night. Matti Friedman writes for the Associated Press that "the Israeli prime minister told thousands of Israel supporters at the annual convention of the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the Iranian threat 'must be stopped by all possible means.'

"Olmert said international sanctions aimed at stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons must be ratcheted up urgently. . . .

"But sanctions are 'only an initial step,' and Iran's flouting of the international measures so far 'leave no doubt as to the urgent need for more drastic and robust measures,' Olmert said."

AFP reports: "'Israel will not tolerate the possibility of a nuclear Iran, and neither should any other country in the free world,' the premier said, in the strongest remarks the Israeli leader has made on the issue."

Tim Butcher writes in the Telegraph: "The speech shortens the odds significantly on military action against Iran's nuclear programme. Israel has twice acted by itself to stop its regional enemies developing a nuclear capability, in Syria last year and Iraq in the 1980s."

And he points out that Olmert's words echoed those used by Bush "in a speech last month to the Israeli parliament in which he said the free world had a duty to stop Iran from going nuclear.

"'Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations,' Mr Bush said.

"'For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.'"

Butcher also notes: "Among Israeli supporters of military action against Iran there is concern something must be done before Mr Bush's end of office next January as Mr Bush is perceived as closer to Israel than any potential successor."

A particular irritant to Olmert and others who support military action against Iran is last year's U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which reported that Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program four years ago. The NIE made an unprovoked U.S. attack on Iran's nuclear facilities politically impossible.

Bush has been trying to recast the NIE by focusing on its finding that Iran continues its nuclear enrichment program, but he hasn't gone so far as to reject its other conclusions.

Barak Ravid writes for Haaretz: "Olmert will try to convince Bush to set aside the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program in favor of data presented by Israel, and determine the administration's policy on Iran accordingly."

And at yesterday's press briefing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino confirmed as much, saying: "Israel has made it clear that they think . . . that intelligence is wrong, and that Iran is still pursuing a nuclear weapon."

Administration critics, who in this case represent almost the entire foreign policy establishment minus the neocons, warn that an attack on Iran would backfire even more spectacularly than the invasion of Iraq.

Nevertheless, Vice President Cheney appears to be on the warpath, pushing if not for a preemptive U.S. attack, then for an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities or U.S. airstrikes on suspected training camps for Iraqi insurgents within Iran -- either of which would presumably provoke a protracted U.S. military campaign.

According to the conventional wisdom, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been holding Cheney at bay. But as Helene Cooper and Isabel Kershner write in the New York Times, Rice "escalated the Bush administration's anti-Iran rhetoric on Tuesday, accusing its government of pursuing nuclear weapons and calling any dialogue with its leaders pointless until they suspend the country's enrichment of uranium.

"While Ms. Rice's message was familiar, the tone of her speech, before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was unusually sharp, taking oblique aim at Senator Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders who have called for the United States to engage Iran diplomatically. . . .

"Ms. Rice stopped short of calling for consideration of military strikes against suspected Iranian nuclear targets, as some national security conservatives in Vice President Dick Cheney's office have advised. But, in a pointed nod to her pro-Israel audience, Ms. Rice called on America's allies in Europe to look for ways to further press the Iranian government.

"'For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,' she said."

Bye Bye, Peace Push

Cooper and Kershner also note: "Ms. Rice's speech was also notable for what it did not contain; she did not say that the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that the Bush administration has been pursuing could be achieved by the end of the year.

"'We still believe that we have a chance to reach an agreement on the basic contours of a peaceful Palestinian state,' Ms. Rice said. 'But if we can pursue this goal by the end of the year, it will be an historic breakthrough.'

"The difference seems small, but in the past President Bush and Ms. Rice have both spoken of sealing a deal by the end of the year, rather than simply pursuing one."

Here's how Corky Siemaszko summed it up in the New York Daily News: "So much for President Bush leaving office with Mideast peace as his legacy."

Fallon Watch

Back in March, Bush set off it set off a round of speculation about a plan to attack Iran when he forced out Admiral William J. "Fox" Fallon from his position as the top U.S. commander in the Middle East.

Fallon's departure was apparently precipitated, in part, by a Thomas P.M. Barnett story in Esquire that depicted Fallon as brazenly pushing back against the White House hawks eager to launch another war.

Fallon spoke publicly for the first time yesterday on CNN. And while he denied that Bush "wants a war," he didn't entirely deny that he fought Bush's orders.

"[T]he facts are that the situation was one that was very uncomfortable for me and, I'm sure, for the president," he told Kyra Phillips. "One of the most important things in the military is confidence in the chain of command. And the situation that developed was one of uncertainty and a feeling that maybe that I was disloyal to the president and that I might be trying to countermand his orders, the policies of the country. . . . The fact that people might be concerned that I was not appropriately doing what I was supposed to do and following orders bothered me, and my sense was that the right thing to do was to offer my resignation. . . . "

Phillips: "Barnett made it appear that you were the only man standing between the president and a war with Iran. Is that true?"

Fallon: "I don't believe for a second President Bush wants a war with Iran. The situation with Iran is very complex. People sometimes portray it or try to portray it in very simplistic terms -- we're against Iran, we want to go to war with Iran, we want to be close to them. . . . The reality is in international politics that [there are] many aspects to many of these situations, and I believe in our relationship with Iran we need to be strong and firm and convey the principles on which this country stands and upon which our policies are based. At the same time demonstrate a willingness and openness to engage in dialogue because there are certainly things we can find in common. . . . "

Phillips: "So when talk of the third war came out, a war with Iran, the president didn't say to you, 'This is what I want to do,' and did you stand up and say, 'No, sir. Bad move'?"

Fallon: "It's probably not appropriate to try to characterize it in that way. . . . I was very open and candid in my advice. I'm not shy. I will tell people, the leaders, what I think and offer my opinions on Iran and other things, and continue to do that."

Congratulating Obama

Reuters reports: "President George W. Bush offered his congratulations to Sen. Barack Obama for securing the Democratic presidential nomination, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said on Wednesday.

"'President Bush congratulates Sen. Obama for clinching the Democratic party's 2008 nomination for president,' Perino told reporters. . . .

"Perino said Bush did not personally call to offer his congratulations."

McCain: Keeping His Distance, Sort of

If the 2008 presidential election ends up as a referendum on Bush, then Obama wins in a landslide -- and nobody knows that better than his opponent.

Michael Cooper writes in the New York Times from Louisiana: "Senator John McCain marked the unofficial beginning of the general election with a speech here Tuesday in which he sought to distance himself from President Bush. . . .

"Mr. McCain has worked to unite the Republican Party by vowing to continue many of Mr. Bush's policies, including continuing the war in Iraq, extending the Bush tax cuts and appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court. But he used his speech here to highlight his independence from the president in areas including the early handling of the war, global warming and government spending."

And yet on one particularly salient issue -- that of presidential power -- McCain appears to be changing his position to match Bush's. McCain had previously portrayed himself as an opponent of executive overreach, including signing statements.

But as Ryan Singel blogs for Wired: "If elected president, Senator John McCain would reserve the right to run his own warrantless wiretapping program against Americans, based on the theory that the president's wartime powers trump federal criminal statutes and court oversight, according to a statement released by his campaign Monday." Glenn Greenwald has more in Salon.

McClellan Watch

Joe Strupp, writing for Editor and Publisher, asks Washington reporters if they think the revelations in former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's new book (see my Monday column, Vindication for the Bush Critique) will affect future press-spokesperson relations.

"Some, such as Chicago Tribune Washington bureau chief Michael Tackett, say it will spark some closer scrutiny by both sides of how they relate to each other. 'Any time something like this happens, it places a greater burden on the White House press secretary and the White House Press Corps,' he said. 'The former to be more truthful and the latter to be more skeptical.' . . .

"Mike Abramowitz of The Washington Post said he was disappointed to find out that McClellan did not object more strenuously when he discovered he was misled by higher-level officials. 'I would like to think that if that happened in the future, the press secretary would resign,' he told E&P. 'It seems as if he was being a dutiful soldier.'

"But Abramowitz said he would not let McClellan's actions tarnish his view of future press secretaries, adding that each must be approached individually, but with clear skepticism.

"'Every press secretary is different. Every press secretary starts off with a clean slate with me,' Abramowitz explained, offering positive views of former spokesman Tony Snow and current press secretary Dana Perino. 'They are both very aggressive defenders of their boss, but I don't think that they lied to us point blank the way McClellan did. One goes into this understanding that everything they tell you is filtered through being an aggressive defender of the president.'"

Steven Pearlstein writes in his Washington Post column: "McClellan may have a detail or two wrong about who knew what when, but he pretty much nailed it when he described how Washington has been overtaken by a 'permanent campaign culture' with its constant spin and exaggeration and shading of the truth, all in the service of 'manipulating the narrative' to partisan advantage.

"What McClellan is describing is a dynamic in the political marketplace that can be found in other competitive markets -- labor markets, product markets, financial markets -- a dynamic often referred to as an 'arms race' or 'race to the bottom.' It's the kind of competition in which players -- acting rationally to maximize income, or to defend, attack or push a policy agenda -- wind up producing an irrational outcome that leaves everyone worse off. . . .

"As Terry Hunt, the Associated Press's veteran White House reporter, noted last week, spinning is nothing new to Washington, but it 'accelerated markedly' during the Clinton and Bush years. The reason everyone did it was because it worked -- or so it appeared. The conventional wisdom was that the only way to defeat spin was with more and better spin, creating an arms race in truth-shading, exaggeration and ignoring inconvenient truths.

"Somewhere around 2006, however, that began to change. An increasingly cynical public began to see through the deception, to discount the spin and to turn on politicians who practice it. . . .

"Now that McClellan has stepped forward to add his voice to this chorus clamoring for collaboration, the Washington of spin and deception has responded in the only way it knows how: questioning his motives and integrity. Bush loyalists see a sleazy effort to sell books, while cynics in the media are outraged that it took him so long to speak up. What nobody has yet challenged, however, is the essential truth of what McClellan has to say about the dysfunctional nature of American politics and the urgency of reestablishing a culture of candor at the highest levels of government."

Climate Change Watch

AFP reports: "US experts and environmental activists on Tuesday slammed President George W. Bush for threatening to veto a far-reaching climate change bill which is before the Senate for debate.

"'We have had seven years of President Bush trying to mislead the country about the science of global warming and the urgency of taking action,' Dan Lashof, climate center director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told a news conference.

"'Now he's trying to mislead the country about the economics of taking action.'"

The New York Times editorial board writes: "The Bush administration has worked overtime to manipulate or conceal scientific evidence -- and muzzled at least one prominent scientist -- to justify its failure to address climate change.

"Its motives were transparent: the less people understood about the causes and consequences of global warming, the less they were likely to demand action from their leaders. And its strategy has been far too successful. Seven years later, Congress is only beginning to confront the challenge of global warming."

Irony Watch

Bush delivered the final commencement address of his presidency on Saturday at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.

Scot Lehigh writes in his Boston Globe opinion column: "Our poor president - no, make that our exceedingly poor president - is obviously irony impaired.

"How else could he go to Furman University on Saturday and celebrate his time-tested - and now, time-graded and time-failed - theme of personal responsibility? Unless, that is, he intended to offer himself as a counter-example to the idealistic young collegians. . . .

"[H]ere's what took the commencement cake: Bush's warning to graduates to avoid amassing too much debt. . . . 'My advice to you is not to dig a financial hole that you can't get out of. Live within your means.' . . .

"It will take years to work our way out of the hole we're now in. A significant part of the sacrifice will fall on the young, who as taxpayers will have to help repay the debt rung up in this era, even as they build their own lives.

"And make no mistake: Much of the blame for that burden lies with a president who prefers preaching responsibility to practicing it."

Goodnight Bush

Joe Garofoli writes in the San Francisco Chronicle about " Goodnight Bush," the recently published parody of the best-selling children's classic "Goodnight Moon," and just the latest of "several recent political humor books that could be described as Good Riddance Lit. . . .

"It's full of lines like 'And a quiet Dick Cheney whispering "hush." ' The accompanying image: The vice president, wearing bunny slippers, with a shotgun across his lap. . . .

"The book is a visual critique of the Bush administration, from the culture wars to the Iraq War, with the only constant being George W. Bush, clad in a 'Mission Accomplished'-era flight suit, curled up on his bed."

Among the other lines: "Goodnight Constitution. And goodnight evolution." And: "Goodnight old growth trees. Goodnight detainees."

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Cartoon Watch

Pat Oliphant on the next White House tell-all; Bruce Beattie on Bush's book idea; Dwane Powell on the men behind the curtain; David Horsey on the Bush bubble; Tom Toles on the Cheney family tree; Pat Bagley on the Bush-Cheney inbreeding; and Ann Telnaes on Cheney unbound.

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