What is it with Republican leaders getting confused about basics in the Middle East lately? John McCain got confused (on four separate occasions) about Sunni and Shia, Iran and al Qaeda. Not to be outdone, Bush flubbed one of his own on Iran and nuclear weapons.
President Bush contended that Iran has “declared they want a nuclear weapon to destroy people” and that the Islamic Republic could be hiding a secret program.
Iran, however, has never publicly proclaimed a desire for nuclear weapons and has repeatedly insisted that the uranium enrichment program it’s operating in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions is for civilian power plants, not warheads.
Asked about the president’s comment, Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said Bush had “shorthanded” Iran’s desire “to wipe Israel off the map,” its refusal to heed U.N. Security Council demands to suspend its enrichment work and Iran’s continued development of ballistic missiles.
Ah, yes, “shorthanded.” The White House uses this euphemism once in a great while to explain that while what the president said is clearly false, the inaccurate comments help summarize his broader point, thus making his mistake less of a mistake. Right.
But like McCain’s explanation for his confusion, the White House’s reasoning for Bush’s errors of fact and judgment doesn’t exactly add up.
Indeed, Bush and McCain have the same problem. When McCain falsely insisted that Iran is responsible for training al Qaeda terrorists and sending them into Iraq, he said he “misspoke.” The rationale looked foolish when examples emerged of McCain saying the exact same thing more than once.
Similarly, the president falsely argued that Iran has “declared they want a nuclear weapon to destroy people” and that the Islamic Republic could be hiding a secret program. Even Bush aides acknowledge that this is unsupported by the facts, but before they argue that he “misspoke,” remember that he made the same bogus claim in August. It’s likely, then, that the president, like the Republican who hopes to succeed him, just believes things that aren’t true.
Dan Froomkin hammered this home quite nicely.
President Bush on Wednesday said something demonstrably false and inflammatory about Iran — asserting that the Iranian government has “declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people.”
The Iranians have never done any such thing — and for Bush to say so at a time of great tension between the two countries is bizarre at best.
So why did he say it? Was he actively trying to misrepresent the situation? Was it just a slip of the tongue? Or does he believe it, despite the abundant evidence to the contrary?
It seems unlikely that Bush would choose this particular venue to launch a disinformation campaign: His comment came midway through a softball interview with an obscure U.S.-funded Farsi-language radio station, on the occasion of Persian new year. And the Iranian audience knows best that what he said is untrue. Such a blatant distortion only strengthens the Iranian government’s position that Bush is a liar.
So did Bush just misspeak? The White House certainly suggested that yesterday, with a spokesman insisting that Bush had simply spoken in “shorthand,” combining Iranian threats against Israel with concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
And yet, as disturbing as the third possibility is — that Bush is operating in an alternate reality — it’s supported by this simple fact: He’s said almost exactly the same thing at least once before.
It’s a reminder that having a clueless president is not without consequences. For that matter, it’s also a reminder of why McCain represents four more years of the status quo.