WASHINGTON - The White House on Sunday sought to dampen the idea of a U.S. military strike on Iran, saying the United States is conducting "normal defense and intelligence planning" as President Bush seeks a diplomatic solution to Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program.
Administration officials — from President Bush on down — have left open the possibility of a military response if Iran does not end its nuclear ambitions. Several reports published Sunday said the administration was studying options for military strikes; one account raised the possibility of using nuclear bombs against Iran's underground nuclear sites.
Britain's foreign secretary called the idea of a nuclear strike "completely nuts."
Dan Bartlett, counselor to Bush, cautioned against reading too much into administration planning.
"The president's priority is to find a diplomatic solution to a problem the entire world recognizes," Bartlett told The Associated Press on Sunday. "And those who are drawing broad, definitive conclusions based on normal defense and intelligence planning, are ill-informed and are not knowledgeable of the administration's thinking on Iran."
Anybody see a denial in there? Bueller? Anyone?
For the terminally dense: the fact that the Administration doesn't want us talking about this (or, to be really precise, the fact that they SAY they don't want us talking about it) is not at all the same thing as saying "Of course we are not planning to nuke Iran." In fact, they are effectively telegraphing the opposite message.
The tricky thing here is that, at least in theory, diplomacy is indeed strengthened to some degree if (a) Iran thinks Bush is a bit nuts and (b) Iran thinks the threat of war is credible. Though I think the conservatives wildly overstate its importance and effectiveness, that is essentially the way they think Ronnie Rayguns single-handedly beat the Rooskies. The problem is that (c) short of a gigaton-class doomsday, the war threat simply isn't credible, and (d) Bush may actually be nuts, in which case the whole thing moves beyond high stakes chess and into the realm of horrors rarely seen in human history.
Which is why I am not comforted one bit by such non-denials.