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A Little Bit of Knowledge . . . Can Start World War III

Bush presser Oct 07After urging Congress to refrain from passing an Armenian genocide resolution because it might further provoke Turkey into invading Iraq and cutting off US supply lines, President Bush spent yesterday encouraging Congress to provoke China, while provoking Iran and Russia all on his own.

Our President made a big show of greeting the Dalai Lama and then attended a highly publicized ceremony in which His Holiness received the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation’s highest tributes for foreign dignitaries. Invited guests described the ceremony as a moving tribute to a man of peace.

Just prior to that, the President proclaimed that if anyone — probably meaning the Russians — wanted to avoid World War III, they should worry about Iran “having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” Like any diplomat, the President left it ambiguous whether Iran, the US, Russia or Israel would actually start WWIII once Iran acquired this knowledge.

The President’s wording is interesting. I thought America’s strategic concern was that Iran might actually acquire/develop nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them under conditions that suggested their likely use against its neighbors and/or our allies, including Israel. But I now see that my thinking was too subtle, especially in light of the President’s refusal yesterday to even discuss what he thinks the Israelis were bombing in Syria. Here’s what the President said at his press conference about WWIII (with video from C&L):

Q [Putin] said — well, at least the quote said that — and he also said, “He sees no evidence to suggest Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb.” Were you disappointed with that message? And does that indicate possibly that international pressure is not as great as you once thought against Iran abandoning its nuclear program?

THE PRESIDENT: I — as I said, I look forward to — if those are, in fact, his comments, I look forward to having him clarify those, because when I visited with him, he understands that it’s in the world’s interest to make sure that Iran does not have the capacity to make a nuclear weapon. And that’s why, on — in the first round at the U.N., he joined us, and second round, we joined together to send a message. I mean, if he wasn’t concerned about it, Bret, then why did we have such good progress at the United Nations in round one and round two?

And so I will visit with him about it. I have not yet been briefed yet by Condi or Bob Gates about, you know, their visit with Vladimir Putin.

Q But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so long — until they suspend and/or make it clear that they — that their statements aren’t real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it’s in the world’s interest to prevent them from doing so. I believe that the Iranian — if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace.

But this — we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So 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 from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously. And we’ll continue to work with all nations about the seriousness of this threat. [my bold]

Apparently it is US policy not merely to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but also to prevent Iran from acquiring the “capacity, the knowledge” to develop nuclear weapons, irrespective of their actual intent to build or use a bomb.

Perhaps this is nothing new, and we shouldn’t rely too much on the precise wording George Bush uses when answering questions off the top of his head. Still, if we see this wording repeated, it may make it even more likely that Iran will cross (or has already crossed?) that ambiguous line in the sand that presumably justifies US military actions. I just wish Bush weren’t so careless with his words, because you never know what Dick Cheney might make of them.

Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters: President Bush’ press conference, Oct 17, 2007.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley