Bush, Putin and World War III

Parsing the president's reckless remarks about Russia, Israel and Iran. Plus: End the Larry Craig pity party!

Published October 18, 2007 10:36AM (EDT)

I was on "Hardball" Wednesday talking about President Bush's outrageous remarks suggesting that if Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't back his jihad against Iran's Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, he's risking the start of World War III -- a stunning statement given the long, dangerous history of Cold War and nuclear brinksmanship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Bush was reacting to Putin's warnings against military action against Iran, and his suggestion that he's seen no evidence the country is building a nuclear bomb.

What Bush said, exactly: "We've 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 having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." Nice going, Mr. President, placing Israel at the center of World War III.

Bush noted, correctly, that so far Putin has backed U.N. efforts to block Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. What's changed of late isn't Putin and it isn't Ahmedinejad: It's internal U.S. politics, with the Cheney administration ever more determined to strike Iran.

Almost as bad, Bush ducked repeated questions, most doggedly from NBC's David Gregory, about Israel's reported strike against a Syrian nuclear facility in September. This isn't a theoretical, it's been fairly well confirmed, but Bush won't defend or condemn it. (Apparently there's tension between the Cheney and Condi Rice factions over the wisdom of Israel's move.) He wouldn't even tell Gregory what he thought about Israel's 1981 strike against an Iraqi nuclear reactor, insisting he was busy raising his family in Midland, Texas, and can't remember what he thought. Of course, those were the days when Bush admitted he was "young and irresponsible," so maybe we can't blame him for forgetting the big news that year. Here's his exchange with Gregory:

Q: There's a report today from Israel Army Radio indicating that the Syrians have confirmed that the Israelis struck a nuclear site in their country. You wouldn't comment on that before, and I'm wondering if now, on the general Q, you think it's appropriate for Israel to take such action if it feels that there is mortal danger being posed to the state.

BUSH: David, my position hasn't changed.

Q: Can I ask you whether ...

BUSH: You can ask me another Q.

Q: Did you support Israel's strike in 1981 on the Iraqi reactor outside of Baghdad?

BUSH: You know, Dave, I don't remember what I was doing in 1980 -- let's see, I was living in Midland, Texas. I don't remember my reaction that far back.

Q: Well, but as you look at, as president now ...

BUSH: In 1981, in Midland, Texas, trying to make a living for my family and ...

Q: But you're a careful -- you know, someone ...

BUSH: Student of history -- I do. Yes.

No, I don't remember my reaction, to be frank with you.

Q: But if I ask you now, as you look back at it, do you think it was the right action for Israel to take?

BUSH: David, I'm not going to comment on the subject that you're trying to get me to comment on.

On another topic: Air America's Rachel Maddow rocks. I've seen her debate Pat Buchanan twice lately, and I think she handles him better than I do. On "Hardball" today Buchanan threw a pity party for poor Sen. Larry Craig, whom he depicts as struggling with his immoral attraction to men, and Maddow did a great job denouncing the hypocrisy at the heart of Craig's alleged suffering. I've expressed sympathy for Larry Craig before, on Salon and on "Hardball" as well, but enough is enough: Craig hasn't just suffered privately over his sexuality, he joined a political movement devoted to demonizing gays, contributing to the suffering of other gay men and women struggling to find the courage to come out. Enough sympathy already!

By Joan Walsh

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