So what do you do when the last thing in the world you want is a diplomatic solution to a crisis, but there are lots of annoying leaders around the world who keep insisting that before you can have what you really want, a war, you must first give diplomacy a fair try? How do you placate them?
Well, if you’re George W. Bush dealing with Iran, you announce “a major shift in policy” that’s anything but a major shift in policy, by making an offer to negotiate that’s anything but an offer to negotiate.
You do it by setting conditions on your willingness to negotiate that can never be met.
We have a name for that sort of offer in the lawyering business, by the way: It’s called bad faith bargaining.
Look closely at what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice actually said:
To underscore our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance prospects for success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table.
Ah, those three lovely words: “fully and verifiably.” You remember, I’m sure, how much luck Saddam Hussein had in verifying his compliance with United Nations resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction: Does anyone seriously believe that in the unlikely event Iran tries to comply with Bush’s demands that their compliance will ever be deemed sufficient?
Bush doesn’t want compliance, he wants regime change.
He wants war.
He wants it so badly he can taste it.
And in fairness, I have no doubt that he has sincere, if misguided, reasons for believing that starting such a war would be in America’s best interests. Although I also have no doubt that there are darker factors, involving hoped for political gain, at work as well.
But mostly I think Bush wants war for a more straightforward reason:
He loves war.
War is how he defines greatness in other leaders and it’s how he believes he can best stake his own claim to immortality.
Negotiating is for wimps. Real men grab evil by the throat and shake it ‘til it dies.
Then later generations sing their praises around campfires, or oil derricks, as the case may be.
You can sense this just by watching the man: When speaking on other subjects — economics, “compassionate conservatism,” environmental policy — Bush often has the look of an 11-year-old boy being forced to recite a Shakespearean sonnet in full costume in front of a school assembly. His discomfort is palpable.
But when the subject turns to killing, whether by way of the death penalty or on the battlefield, suddenly the sparkle returns to his eyes: This is the part of the job he loves — smiting evil.
Bush wants war with Iran.
He may not get it. As much as Bush and his inner circle like to pretend otherwise, reality does have an irritating way of inserting itself into such matters, and the truth is the United States, as overextended as we already are in Iraq and Afghanistan, is in no position to handle another major war.
But make no mistake, he does want it.
And the scary thing, of course, is that when George W. Bush really wants something he rarely lets a little thing like reality get in his way.