George W. Bush has some adjustments to make.
At a news conference on October 17, President George W. Bush dropped a rhetorical bomb: "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
Now that bomb has turned into a rotten egg, for the U.S. intelligence community yesterday released a National Intelligence Estimate that concludes that Iran halted a secret nuclear weapons program in 2003, that Tehran is "less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," and that Iran probably could not produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon until the 2010-2015 timeframe. That is, it seems there is no immediate reason to fret about Iran going nuclear and triggering World War III. This NIE may well make it impossible for hawks in and outside the administration to pull the trigger on any military action against Iran.
At a press conference this morning, Bush, looking comfortable, tried to deal with this new reality. He repeated a mantra: Iran was dangerous before the new NIE, and it's dangerous now. Nothing has changed, he insisted. He said over and over that if Iran transferred knowledge it has about enriching uranium to a "hidden" nuclear weapons program, that would pose a danger to the rest of the world. If. He was pressed by White House reporters asking whether his credibility--whatever existed of it following the Iraq WMD fiasco--was tarnished by the NIE? Of course, he refused to concede any such thing.
The issue is not just that his saber-rattling was not in sync with the intelligence but that Bush did not take care to vet his hyperbole before displaying it in public. At the press conference today, NBC News' David Gregory referred to Bush's World War III comment, noted that the Iranian program had apparently long been suspended before Bush uttered that remark, and asked Bush, "Can't you be accused of hyping this threat."
Bush replied by noting he had only been made aware of the NIE last week. But Bush went on to explain that intelligence czar Mike McConnell had told him in August that the intelligence community had developed "new information" on Iran. (This was obviously intelligence indicating that Iran was not operating an active nuclear weapons program.) McConnell, though, didn't tell Bush what this "new information" was. According to Bush, McConnell said it would take time to analyze the data.
But Bush did not do two things.