Daniel Froomkin Visits Bush's Alternate Reality
He is shrill:
Bush's Alternate Reality: 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. As Olivier Knox of AFP pointed out on Aug. 6, Bush said at a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that day: "It's up to Iran to prove to the world that they're a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon." Then, as now, there was no official retraction.
Washington wisdom has it that whatever military action against Iran Bush and Vice President Cheney might have been hatching was shelved after a national intelligence estimate released late last year concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program four years earlier. But a variety of reports have indicated that neither Bush nor Cheney were persuaded.... It's worth getting Bush on the record about exactly how he understands the facts here....
Here's the exchange in question, from Bush's interview with Parichehr Farzam of Radio Farda:
Farzam: "Mr. President, as you and your allies launched a global initiative to combat nuclear terrorism, what do you think is your most important challenge to expose and stop the secretive ambition of Iran's government to enrich uranium, while assuring its citizens that their happiness and prosperity and peace is a benefit within their reach?"
Bush: "Sure, absolutely. Well, one thing is, is to reiterate my belief that the Iranians should have a civilian nuclear power program. It's in their right to have it. The problem is the government cannot be trusted to enrich uranium because one, they've hidden programs in the past and they may be hiding one now, who knows; and secondly, they've declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people -- some in the Middle East. And that's unacceptable to the United States and it's unacceptable to the world."
William Branigin was first to break this story yesterday, writing on washingtonpost.com that, contrary to what Bush said, "the Iranian government has not publicly declared a desire to obtain such weapons. In fact, Iranian leaders have said the opposite, repeatedly insisting that they do not want nuclear arms and asserting that their nuclear program is intended only to generate electricity. . . . "
"Asked to explain Bush's comment, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said he spoke in 'shorthand,' combining Iranian threats against Israel with concerns about Iran's nuclear program. 'The president was referring to the Iranian regime's previous statements regarding their desire to wipe Israel off the map,' Johndroe said. 'The president shorthanded his answer with regard to Iran's previously secret nuclear weapons program and their current enrichment and ballistic missile testing'"...