On Sunday, the New York Times revealed that Defense Secretary Robert Gates penned a secret memo warning "the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran's steady progress toward nuclear capability." Predictably, within hours of the story's publication John McCain pounced on the opportunity to bash President Obama on yet another issue on which George W. Bush kicked the can down the road. And as he made clear this week, McCain's ready to "pull the trigger" on his wish to ultimately "bomb bomb Iran."
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, McCain told host Chris Wallace:
"I didn't need a secret memo to know we didn't have a coherent policy. That's pretty obvious."
McCain opened a Senate hearing Wednesday by saying that Iran will get the bomb unless the United States acts more boldly.
Speaking figuratively, the Arizona Republican says the U.S. keeps pointing a loaded gun at Iran but failing to "pull the trigger."
In April 2007, then presidential candidate McCain described his approach in song, serenading his audience to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann":
"Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."
Meanwhile, the White House disputed the Times' characterization of the Gates memo as a "wake up" call.
National Security Adviser General James Jones insisted "we do" have "a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies." Among the most difficult of those scenarios is the "breakout," which the paper describer "a term nuclear specialists apply to a country that suddenly renounces the nonproliferation treaty and uses its technology to build a small arsenal."
But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon -- fuel, designs and detonators -- but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.
Unsurprisingly, McCain and the conservative echo chamber downplayed President Obama's successful nuclear security summit this week in which the United States garnered Chinese support for tougher sanctions against Tehran. And the neoconservative drumbeat ignores altogether George W. Bush's Iran can-kicking.
As the New York Times also reported in January 2009, President Bush refused to provide U.S. aid for an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. But in a less noticed development, the Times revealed that an indecisive Decider influenced by his defense chief, one Robert Gates:
The interviews also suggest that while Mr. Bush was extensively briefed on options for an overt American attack on Iran's facilities, he never instructed the Pentagon to move beyond contingency planning, even during the final year of his presidency, contrary to what some critics have suggested.
The interviews also indicate that Mr. Bush was convinced by top administration officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, that any overt attack on Iran would probably prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran's nuclear effort further out of view. Mr. Bush and his aides also discussed the possibility that an airstrike could ignite a broad Middle East war in which America's 140,000 troops in Iraq would inevitably become involved.
Instead, President Bush opted for an expanded covert action campaign, "having concluded that the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies were failing to slow the uranium enrichment efforts." And as the Times' David Sanger wrote on January 10, 2009:
Those covert operations, and the question of whether Israel will settle for something less than a conventional attack on Iran, pose immediate and wrenching decisions for Mr. Obama.
But not, apparently, for John McCain. Apparently, the growing tensions with Tehran are music to his ears. After all, he's been singing the same tune since 2007.