Thursday, May 25, 2006

Once More in to the Breach, Dear Friends

The President and Tony Blair had a press conference tonight.

They talked about Iraq and lots of questions were asked about Iraq.

I just don't believe that Tony Blair went to Iraq in order to come back here and give the President his opinion on Iraq. And then have a press conference to discuss how we will win there.

I think Blair went to Iraq to talk to the elected leaders of Iraq to set the stage for military action against Iran. I think that is what Bush and Blair discussed--not the increasingly obvious victory in Iraq.

And watching the press conference made me convinced that something is up.

The President answered far more than asked when Iran came up. He put the blame on Iran for walking away from talks and refused to accept that we have any obligation to explore any other talking options:

"Of course, we'll look at all options. But it's their choice right now — they're the ones who walked away from the table," Bush said. "I think we ought to be continuing to work on ways to make it clear to them that they will be isolated."

Bush was dismissive of recent back-channel overtures from Tehran, including a letter to him from Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Bush said he read the letter, and "I thought it was interesting."

But he added: "He didn't address the issues of whether or not they're going to continue to press for a nuclear weapon. That's the issue at hand."

And the looks of grim determination on the faces of both Bush and Blair during the President's response to the "back channel" question, when otherwise they were capable of light banter and joviality, spoke volumes to me.

This was not about Iraq and assessing the past. Major leaders don't waste time on such trivial matters, I think. These two made a momentous decision to proceed on to taking care of the next problem we face. I may have worries about Tony Blair's Labor Party, but I am glad Blair leads Britain right now.

It will be a Tehran spring, I think.

This is necessary, I believe. But God help us all. This will be ugly.

UPDATE: Here is the exchange in the press conference that prompted this post:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. How close are you to an agreement on a package of incentives for Iran? And what does Iran stand to gain if it were to give up its enrichment program? And why are you ignoring these recent back-channel overtures from Iran?

PRESIDENT BUSH: We spent a great deal of time talking about the Iranian issue, and one of the goals that Tony and I had was to convince others in the world that Iran, with a nuclear weapon, would be very dangerous, and therefore, we do have a common goal. And the fundamental question is, how do you achieve that goal, obviously. We want to do it diplomatically.

Right now, we, as a matter of fact, spent a lot of time upstairs talking about how to convince the Iranians that this coalition we put together is very serious. One option, of course, is through the United Nations Security Council. And we strategized about how do we convince other partners that the Security Council is the way to go if the Iranians won't suspend like the EU3 has asked them to do. The Iranians walked away from the table. They're the ones who made the decision, and the choice is theirs. Now, if they would like to see an enhanced package, the first thing they've got to do is suspend their operations, for the good of the world. It's incredibly dangerous to think of an Iran with a nuclear weapon.

And therefore, Steve, to answer your questions, of course, we'll look at all options, but it's their choice right now. They're the folks who walked away from the table. They're the ones who said that, your demands don't mean anything to us.

Now, in terms of -- you said back channels --

Q Back-channel overtures.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I read the letter of the President and I thought it was interesting. It was, like, 16 or 17 single-spaced typed pages of -- but he didn't address the issue of whether or not they're going to continue to press for a nuclear weapon. That's the issue at hand.

And so it's -- we have no beef with the Iranian people. As a matter of fact, the United States respects the culture and history of Iran, and we want there to be an Iran that's confident, and an Iran that answers to the needs of the -- we want women in Iran to be free. At the same time, we're going to continue to work with a government that is intransigent, that won't budge. And so we've got to continue to work to convince them that we're serious; that if they want to be isolated from the world, we will work to achieve that.

Q Should this enhanced package include a light-water reactor and a security guarantee?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Steve, you're responding to press speculation. I've just explained to you that the Iranians walked away from the table, and that I think we ought to be continuing to work on ways to make it clear to them that they will be isolated. And one way to do that is to continue to work together through the United Nations Security -- if they suspend and have the IAEA in there making sure that the suspension is real, then, of course, we'll talk about ways forward, incentives.

It sounds pretty clear to me that talking is over. Really, the president gave a rather full answer to the reporter's question, don't you think? The press is all over the admissions of errors the two leaders made concerning Iraq, but I think they miss the point. Admitting mistakes is all about the past and these two talked about what is next. With Iran looming as the next test, admitting piddly mistakes in a fight largely won is no big deal.

We still think the Iranian people are not our enemy. And that only a clear decision by Iran to halt enrichment is acceptable. But as far as President Bush (and I'm assuming Prime Minister Blair, too) is concerned, the Iranians walked away from talk and now we will go on to the next steps. The EU-3 had that job and it didn't go anywhere.

Now CENTCOM will do our talking for us, I think.

Or I could be wrong. Again. I still think President Bush will deal with Iran before his term is over, but my past two predictions of action (after 2004 elections in the new year and last fall after the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was filled) were clearly wrong. So take my gut feeling based on how the President answered the question and how both Bush and Blair looked during the answer for what it is worth.