Pumping Up the Anxiety

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 3, 2008; 1:37 PM

It's not clear what was going through President Bush's head yesterday morning, but his words certainly didn't dampen the growing speculation that the U.S. -- or Israel -- is planning to attack Iran before January.

The words were familiar, as Bush repeated yet again that his preference is to address the Iranian nuclear threat diplomatically but that, as always, " all options are on the table."

It's the context that's key.

Brian Knowlton writes for the New York Times: "The president's comments on Iran essentially restated administration policy, but they came as the region has seen a confusing succession of warnings, threats and, just this week, signs of a suddenly more-conciliatory tone emanating from some Iranian officials.

"A major Israeli military exercise last month appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities, American officials said. In response, Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint at the mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 40 percent of the world's oil passes, if it were attacked by Israel.

"Then on Wednesday, the commander of United States naval forces in the Persian Gulf said the United States Navy and its regional allies would stop any such Iranian action."

Ed Henry reported on CNN: "Asked about a flurry of reports suggesting the U.S. or Israel may attack Iran by the end of the year, the president did little to discourage the talk."

Dana Milbank writes in his Washington Post column: "The doldrums of the Fourth of July recess have been enlivened by fresh talk of another war. Is it a diplomatic bluff or a serious possibility? . . .

"The administration, for its part, seems eager to convince Iran that President Bush is crazy enough to sanction an attack. In the Rose Garden yesterday, Brett Baier of Fox News asked Bush how confident he is that Israel won't launch a military attack on Iran before the end of the year. 'I have always said that all options are on the table, but the first option for the United States is to solve this problem diplomatically,' came Bush's mild reply.

"ABC's Martha Raddatz invited Bush to 'strongly discourage Israel' from such an activity. The president declined. 'I have made it very clear to all parties that the first option ought to be to solve this problem diplomatically,' he said.

"Neither did the State Department offer discouragement. Spokesman Sean McCormack, at his daily briefing, said the matter of an Israeli strike isn't 'under our control.' When it was pointed out that the U.S. controls Iraqi airspace, through which Israeli warplanes would travel to hit Iran, McCormack declined to answer a 'hypothetical question involving military planning.'"

Milbank also calls attention to recent comments from vice presidential daughter Liz Cheney:

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